Once

by cuban_sombrero [Reviews - 0]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Drama, General, Missing Scene

Author's Notes:

Martha Jones, he says, his tongue rapid, clicking like a mouse, you’re brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

How many people has he said that to before? she wonders, and then he hugs her, and his fingers rest on the small of her back for just a second too long and she dares to dream, until he pulls away with a cough and she can just tell he’s thinking of Rose.

They tumble out of thin air, the universe unstitched by the tiniest tear, and Martha’s worried-but-not-really because he’s a Doctor, the Doctor, and he can fix anything with some imagination and a little time alone to juggle some bananas, right?

Right.

--

1969 tastes different than she expected, less like history and more like reality. The air is thick on her tongue and she can taste the expectation — moon landing in four days and counting, the lady tells her, and Martha can barely say she’s seen it before.

The Doctor mutters brilliant, and there he goes again, tossing the phrase out like a crumpled ball of paper, Martha’s hope twisted somewhere up inside the layers. He smiles that smile that tears Martha apart simply because it’s not hers and she can’t tuck it away in her pocket like the TARDIS key or that fob watch, twisting a part of him between her hands — black hands, hands that people mocked while she tried so hard to save him - until her sadness fades away.

Martha hates it, a burning, smouldering, all-consuming hate like the fires that raged in 1913, so close and yet so long ago. Time doesn’t move in a straight line for her, but she’s still left wondering if her journey will come full-circle.

She wasn’t jealous once, wasn’t possessive and greedy and irrational. Once, she was a sister, a daughter, a friend. Tangible things, recorded in chronological order between the pages of a dictionary, things that made sense like the bones in a foot or the chromosomes in a zygote or the idea that you fell in love with somebody who loved you back.

But Martha Jones is a fighter who saved New New York and Shakespeare and her family and him, so she grits her teeth, bites down hard on her tongue and smiles to avoid asking when they’re going to leave.

She brings him a hammer and a spanner and makes educated (oh, and what a joke, because once she thought educated meant textbooks, not time travel and aliens and a generous helping of improvisation minus the common sense) guesses, and pretends that she believes it’s all going to be okay. That’s what he’d want, Martha thinks, and it never occurs to her to be scared that she knows him too well.

--

Five days, it takes. Five days for her to go completely mad, insane-bored-useless mad, and march down the road with a makeshift resume to work in a shop.

Martha Jones is stuck forty years in the past (no, thirty-eight the Doctor corrects her, as though two years is a substantial difference, bigger and more consequential than the fact that she’s trapped in 1969 with a broken spaceship and a lack of sanity), and it’s bad enough without going crazy watching the Doctor tinker all the time.

“You’re what?”

“There’s a fashion boutique down the road and -”

“Martha Jones, most brilliant doctor of her times, working in a shop. Oh, this is priceless, absolutely priceless.”

His voice twitches on the word shop, catching like a scratched record. Martha studies him closer, an analysis and diagnosis, doctor stuff, stuff she learnt to do before, before… this. The Doctor, he smells like sadness and like war, and if he were the sort of man who could be labeled Martha thinks he’d read re: patient with a broken heart.

In 1913 Martha was the girl with chocolate hands, in 50 000 053 she was the girl with steady hands as she convinced everyone to believe in the Doctor and in 1969 she thinks she could be the woman with healing hands, if only he’d let her close enough to try. She knows he never will, and as the truth — he’ll never love you, not the way he loves her — knots itself together like a scar; it hurts both less and more than she expects.

--

“Martha Jones,” the Doctor says, the day she brings home her first paycheck and a bottle of wine with it. “You’re going to save the world one day.”

She smiles quietly and replies, “No, I’m just trying to save myself.”

--

Working in the shop is cathartic, organising dresses by size and filling in the order forms by colour. For a while, she’s just Martha, a how-may-I-help-you-my-name-is Martha, and it’s strange the lack of burdens the role brings. For a few stolen moments each day, she laughs over a cup of tea in the storeroom and counts up all the change and feels almost as though this isn’t 1969, but home.

Home. Intangible now, a word from a page torn from the dictionary and burnt in the fires they saw on that planet some fifty million years into the future (and seven months into the past).

It used to mean a dingy flat, an eight-hour night shift at the hospital, a fight with mum on the phone and a cup of two-minute noodles for tea. Now it means a dingy room in the back of the TARDIS, with the Doctor eyes running over her nightgown like he doesn’t even see her in it, and the stale taste of promises, caught in her mouth. All those places they could have gone, would have gone, might never go, and she’s stuck in 1969 for the fifth time with not even the whirring of the TARDIS engines to keep her sane.

Martha’s standing in the same city she’s always known, and yet home feels like it’s a thousand, no, a million planets away, and sometimes, she thinks with a wistful smile, it really is.

Maybe it’s time. She grits her teeth and tries not to think of the complications of that word.

--

“How do you do this?” Martha asks after they’ve been there for a month, or maybe two. They sit at the dinner table, fifteen dollars second hand, they paid, but with a vase of flowers and his coat draped across the chair, it’s both comforting and scary to know that once she owned a bigger table than this and wasn’t struggling to pay her rent. “Seriously, I mean, how do you put up with it and not go insane?”

“Do what? Put up with what?”

“You know, traveling around forever, no such thing as home.”

“I have my companions. They keep me possibly a little bit saner than I’d like to be but… they help. Some more than others, of course.”

The Doctor glances at the chips as he says that, and Martha can almost visualise the pain. He can feel the whole world, no, the whole universe spinning beneath his feet, and still all he does is ache for Rose and the fact she faded away.

“And Rose?” Martha treads carefully around the Doctor. She contains her curiosity to whispers, entwines her fingers together, clears her throat. She sucks in the oxygen, tries so hard to breathe. “Rose, she was the best?”

“Oh, yeah. She was brilliant, absolutely brilliant!” He pauses. “Wait, that was rude, wasn’t it? She always used to tell me off for being rude. Jackie too, oh, she loved to scream and shout at me. I offended her the day I met her, even though I was a different man back then.”

Martha laughs, because she can’t ever imagine the Doctor being different. Crazier, more reckless, but not different. In her mind, this Doctor, he’ll always stay the same. Others would have called it hopeless romanticism; she calls it photography, preserving the man he is in her thoughts for when she finally decides to step away.

Letting go is harder than she ever could have believed, but many things the Doctor has shown her were once beyond the range of her imagination too.

The girl she was once, Martha Jones (Ordinary) has turned into Martha Jones, (Legendary), and she only has the man sitting in front of her to thank for that.

--

She tries so hard to feel sorry for Billy, like compassion is something that can be store bought, wrapped in plastic and paid for with a handful of coins. She hugs him as he collapses on the ground in front of her and tells him it’s going to be alright — because, for him, it will be. Martha’s seen his future and knows that he will have a wife, kids, a family, a life. For him, being trapped in 1969 is a blessing; for her, it’s a curse (at least until the Doctor places an arm around her shoulders and tells her it’s going be okay).

After five weeks together, he buys her a cookbook and tells her to make something other than beans on toast; after five and a half weeks he creates an explosion trying to build some device; after six weeks he gives her a hug and buys her a box of chocolates — all girls like chocolates, he says with a smile, and she doesn’t have the heart to tell him that she hates mint.

After six weeks, Martha feels less like the Doctor’s companion, and more like his friend. The silence stretches like a ticking clock, its strokes slower, and slower and slower, and suddenly it stops.

The silence ends, the journey towards going home begins. Funny how it always ends up like that, Martha thinks.

--

Forward-rewind-stop, hang on, Martha’s not ready, go!

Filming brings out the best in them and the worst, Sally Sparrow’s folder lying neatly in front of them as they try so hard to pretend it’s not all rehearsed. Martha sits quietly beside the camera and waits for her cue, a subtle twitch no one else would see. She waits for the drone of the camera switching into recording mode, counts seven lines, jumps in and screams about working in a shop as though she really hates it that much. She did once, but Martha Jones has always been about independence, and she’s really loving that.

They’re always acting, feigning distance, feigning intimacy. Sometimes when they’re alone, sprawled out on the couch watching telly or standing side by side in the kitchen making beans on toast, they smile. Secret little smiles that should look loving and just look forced, as though the Doctor’s face is going to split open if he tries any harder to pretend. They’ve been here seven weeks now, she only knows because she has six paychecks, tucked away behind her clothes. Time seems less relative with the Doctor, it’s measured in moments more than seconds, but this whole stuck in 1969 thing is passing so slowly she can bet they’ve had a lot of those.

Seven weeks, it’s been, and they’re finally starting to open up. The problem is, very time he mentions Rose’s name, Martha almost wishes they could go back to pretending they’re just flat mates again.

“Once we went to London for 2012, and I carried the torch up and lit the cauldron. Imagine that, Martha! Me, running down that track with all those people cheering for me.”

He doesn’t say anything about Rose’s role in the adventure. She doesn’t ask why.

“Tell me,” she says excitedly. “Who wins the hundred metres? I’d love to place a bet.”

“Martha, time doesn’t work like that.”

“Why? It’s just one bet — I know, I’ve seen Back to the Future and there’s parallel universes and one little choice can destroy the space-time continuum. But it can’t hurt, I won’t bet a lot, just enough to buy a cup of coffee or something.”

“It’s not called a space-time continuum Martha, and parallel universes don’t work quite like that.” The Doctor spits her name out with an almost venomous sigh, and she can smell the sorrow like liquor on his breath. He sounds like he hates her and caresses her arm like he loves her, and maybe the equilibrium is balanced, leaving him somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes, she thinks he picked her because she’s different, because when they sit beside each other at night she looks nothing like Rose and sounds nothing like Rose and acts nothing like Rose. The Doctor didn’t pick her because she was Martha Jones, doctor in training, but because she was not Rose Tyler, shop girl from the suburbs (and maybe that’s why he looks so sad when she picks up her bag every morning and walks out the door). The whole being trapped on the moon by Judoon thing, that was just a coincidence.

“I guess that’s just another example of movies, getting it wrong,” Martha says finally, just to break the silence. At least we know ours will change the future… and hopefully for the better.” She pauses. “I’m sorry.” For your loss. For Rose. For the fact that you can never love me because you loved her first.

“Don’t be,” he replies. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Their words are all twisted and mangled after that, and in the end, neither of them knows what they were originally apologising for. Martha falls asleep deciding she likes it better that way.

--

That night she dreams of her family burning in fire and ice, and as she wakes up sweating she makes her final decision: if — no when,Martha, when — the TARDIS comes to rescue them, she’s going home.

--

Operation Sally works, and four days later the TARDIS materialises in their bathroom with that deep hum she’d come to associate with the Doctor. Martha wedges herself between the door and the bathtub, barges inside, throws herself across the console. She dances around and waves her arms until the Doctor catches her.

“Do you really want to go home?”

“Ye -” She gazes up. Both of his hearts thud in time as she listens, and they remind her of purple sunsets and champagne on Sydney Harbour and all the wonderful, terrifying, exhilarating things she’s seen. “Just one more adventure.”

Remember what happened last time, Martha, she thinks. One adventure turned into twenty and your own personal timeline becoming filled with guilt and regret.

“Where to, Martha Jones?”

“You got us out of here,” she says. “The way you always do. It’s only fair that you decide. Somewhere exotic, maybe? I mean, there’s so many planets out there, just waiting for exploration instead of being stuck in London again like 1969.”

The engines hiss and splutter as the Doctor pulls a lever down, and they hurry away from the place that ruined her (but made her stronger) without a single wave goodbye.

Martha used to look back once, see everything as a positive experience, making her harder, faster, stronger, smarter. Now she’s just seeing the universe and every gaping hole it contains, and she doesn’t want 1969 to be the one that lodges itself in her heart.

As the TARDIS jolts to a stop and the Doctor opens the door to a new civilisation, she looks down at her hands again, so worn and wrinkled and different, baring the scars of several weeks hard labour, and realises that it already has.