Slight spoilers for Blink, Utopia, The Last of the Time Lords, and Journey's End. RoseMartha friendship, passing mentions of 10Rose and a little of JackRose. Sounds interesting, don't it?
When she was eleven, she caught pneumonia. This was the first substantial thing Martha Jones learned about Rose Tyler. All she'd ever heard from the Doctor was that she was perfect and everything Martha wasn't or could ever be.
And yet, here she was, pale and helpless and damn near death.
Like hell Martha would let that happen.
It was 1997, and the TARDIS was in some state of disrepair. It reminded her of the good ol' sixties, in fact, when they'd been stranded by the Weeping Angels. Back then, she'd had to find work at some shop or other; Henrick's, she thought its name was; in order support them, but this time the Doctor had given her enough credentials to have her doing the one thing she enjoyed most in the world: saving lives.
The last thing she expected when she went to work that day, two weeks after their getting stuck in the late twentieth century, was to meet the Doctor's former companion. Hell, she hadn't even known who she was, at first. All she was given was a name and a medical chart done up by the prognosis of other doctors and told to get to it.
"Hello, Miss Tyler," Martha smiled at the girl as she came to her ward and drew back the curtains. She had mousy shoulder-length brown hair with streaks of bleached-blonde and large doe eyes. Her jaw was strong, chin pointed at the end, skin creamy and flawless in youth and pallid with illness. "I'm Dr. Jones. How are you feeling?"
"Why do doctors always ask that?" Rose asked instead of answering with a clear voice that Martha didn't expect. She blinked a little in surprise.
"Just want to know how you're doin', sweetheart."
"Awful, or I wouldn't be here, would I?"
Damn. Tough kid. Martha felt sympathetic for her parents.
She smiled anyway, stepping forward with her stethoscope at the ready. Rose's eyes widened, if humanly possible, more than they already were.
"Something wrong with my heart?" she asked, somewhat timidly.
"No," Martha assured her, "I just need to see if there's any fluid in your lungs."
"Any what?" said Rose softly, looking frightened. Martha silently cursed herself.
"Nothing to worry about," she said hastily, breathing on the scope and putting the ear pieces where they belonged. As she lifted the blanket and the girl's gown, she was uncomfortably aware of the piercing gaze that watched her every move. Gooseflesh erupted along her skin. What was with this kid?
Rose started to cough harshly, jarring the stethoscope's position and causing Martha to wince. She let the stethoscope fall to the bed and helped the girl sit up as her body convulsed weakly. She struggled to breathe through her coughs, and Martha clenched her teeth as she guided her through the wave, refusing to let her drown. When Rose finally stopped and her hand came away from her mouth, Martha saw that it was covered with sticky red liquid. Rose tried to hide her hand, but it was too late.
- + - + - + -
Martha had Rose hooked up to an IV and given proper medication. She remained feverish throughout that afternoon and didn't wake up until the next day.
"'M tired," she murmured when Martha came in.
"Then sleep," Martha suggested.
"Don't wanna," Rose slurred hoarsely. Martha helped her take a sip from the glass of water on the bedside table. The little girl looked curiously at the needle in her arm, then the machine it was attached to, then glared at Martha accusingly. "That hurt." She pouted.
"You were barely awake," Martha defended, though she wasn't sure why. She was just a kid, for Christ's sake! "How are you feeling?"
Rose shot her a look. Martha chuckled and went about checking the machines to make sure they were all functioning the way they were supposed to and checking the records to make sure they were accurate. "Right, okay, I won't ask that again." She grinned, pleased at the progress the readings showed. "Looks like you're getting better, though. Does your chest hurt?"
"Like a rhino's on it," Rose replied tiredly, snuggling into her pillow and closing her eyes. She opened one of them just as Martha was preparing to turn and leave. "Where's Mum?"
"Sleeping," Martha answered. It had taken a lot to get Jackie Tyler out of the patient's room at all, and now she was fast asleep in the waiting room. Martha could definitely see where Rose got her obstinacy. She wondered, briefly, where her father was, but then decided not to dwell on it. It wasn't her business.
Rose opened her eyes fully, a concerned crease appearing between her brows. "Is she worried?"
Martha hesitated, but that was answer enough. Rose groaned.
"She's never gonna let me out of her sight again," she complained.
"Maybe you should take better care of yourself." Martha admonished in response. To her surprise, Rose didn't say anything to that, as Martha would have expected her to. Instead she had a wistful, far-off look in her beautiful brown eyes and small smile that gently tugged the corners of her lips skyward, as if a weight were dragging them down but something else pulled at it in a bizarre kind of tug-of-war.
"Worth it," Rose murmured, her eyes drooping closed once again. Within moments, she was fast asleep, leaving Martha to stare at the prone figure, utterly bewildered.
- + - + - + -
"She was playin' in the mud of all things, I tell you," Jackie Tyler explained loudly, attracting a few stares. Martha tried not to roll her eyes in exasperation. "Middle of winter, nuffin' but her jim-jams an' slippers, and she goes off to make a mess of herself in the rain! A day later, she gets a cold, passes it off as nothing – like I can't tell when my girl's seriously hurt! Then she starts gettin' that rattly thing in her chest, y'know? So I bring 'er here, and what has she got? Bloody pneumonia! Silly girl, I've told 'er time and time again, quit playin' in the rain! But she never stops, no, jus' keeps goin' like I don't even exist, she does, and when I say she doesn't even notice, I mean…"
Martha bit off a sigh as the babbling went on and on in the same vein it had when Rose had first been brought in. The woman was entitled to it, she supposed; Rose's heart had stopped twice last night, once for nearly twenty seconds. That the rant was reasonable and expected, however, didn't make it any easier to bear. It was lucky there were only a few people in the waiting room, really.
"…an' it's almost Christmas, for God's sake! My daughter doesn't need to be spending her Christmas in a hospital!"
She did have a point, there.
- + - + - + -
There was only one other bed in her ward, and it was occupied by a baby. Martha cared for both of them for the same reasons, but she knew only one of them would make it. She seriously considered pulling the Doctor from his relentless repairs to work his magic on the child, particularly when the mother of the baby sat at the side of the hastily erected crib and cried on and on into the night until she collapsed against the wooden bars in exhaustion. Rose, Martha suspected, had been woken more than once by these wretched sobs, but she never complained. Martha admired her for that and wondered if she knew that the baby was dying or simply understood the terror and helpless horror of the weeping mother.
On Christmas Eve, an American man dressed up in a big red suit and a fake white beard came to each of the childrens' wards and handed out charity gifts.
"Ho, ho, ho!" He boomed, winking at Martha and Jackie and grinning at Rose. The baby was asleep, but his mother blinked bloodshot eyes and held tightly onto the hand of the equally drained and haggard man beside her, her husband. "I've got some presents for ya'll!" 'Santa' announced, exaggerating his drawl because he knew it was different from everyone else's in the room.
He picked up a stuffed animal from his cart and gave it to Rose, who giggled cheerfully and took the little reindeer, coughing only a little when she sat back against her pillows. More soberly, he gave a plushy canary to the parents by the crib, his silvery-blue eyes twinkling sadly. Jackie thanked him; Mr. and Mrs. Williams, the baby's parents, could only manage to nod. He left the ward then, pushing his metal cart in front of him and roaring Christmas carols at the top of his lungs.
Rose looked up from her new toy to watch as Mr. Williams carefully tucked the yellow bird under his dying child's blanket. When he finished, he fell into the embrace of his wife and released a dry, broken sob. Tears came to Rose's eyes, unshed.
"Mum," she whimpered softly, knuckles white for how tightly she clutched the reindeer. Jackie was at her side in less than an instant. Martha watched them curiously as they exchanged words, Rose holding up the reindeer at times to emphasize her point, whispering into her mother's ear and looking indignant when Jackie looked reluctant.
Finally, Jackie seemed to give in, accepting the stuffed toy when it was shoved into her hands and walking awkwardly to the couple by the crib. Martha watched as she offered the reindeer to them, flushing a little with embarassment when she explained that it was Rose's idea.
Martha looked at Rose to find her staring at the baby with a soft, sad smile. She knew.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams wept confused, silent tears of gratitude, and the reindeer joined the canary, so that the baby was surrounded by familial love and the love of a complete stranger.
"Worth it." Martha heard Rose murmur before she slipped off into dreamland once again.
Martha wondered if Rose understood the profundity of what she'd just done. Then she remembered the diamond-sparkle in her eyes when she'd argued with her mother and decided firmly, right then and there, that she did.
- + - + - + -
The baby died early the next morning, barely thirteen months old. There was some kind of tragic, moral irony to a baby's death on Christmas Day, but Martha was reluctant to acknowledge it.
"No more playing in the mud, then, you hear?" Martha warned Rose lightly as she took away the IV. Where the baby had died this day, Rose was being released. While not perfectly healthy, there was barely any trace of fluid remaining in her lungs, and as long as she took it easy, she should recover just fine.
Rose, to her surprise, looked at her seriously. "Dancing in the rain," she said, no-nonsense-like, confusing Martha.
"Not playin'," Rose clarified. "That's what my mum said, huh? That's what she always says." She looked away sadly, not moving even when Martha finished her job and began prodding her for a last-minute checkup.
"What d'you mean?" Martha asked, intrigued, after she'd stuck a stick on Rose's tongue and examined the back of her throat (which probably felt a little raw, but showed no sign of permanent damage).
Rose clicked her tongue a little against the roof of her mouth to rid herself of the wooden taste of the stick before she replied.
"S'not playing," she repeated matter-of-factly. "And it wasn't mud. It was rain, and I was dancing."
Martha pulled away from her position examining Rose's ears for infection, frowning. "Dancing?"
"Dancing," Rose confirmed happily. That wistful look was back in her eyes again. "Sometimes, when it's real stormy out, when there's lightning and the thunder's real loud and the rain looks like it's gonna flood the street, I go out and I dance in it."
"Just like that? Doesn't matter what you're doing, you just go and dance?" Rose nodded. "No wonder you got pneumonia," Martha muttered, pulling out her stethoscope to check the girl's lungs one last time. "So what did you do that for? Breathe deeply," she instructively added, nodding in satisfaction when both sides turned up clear.
"Why not?" Rose retorted when Martha pocketed the stethoscope. "Haven't you ever danced in the rain?"
Martha was just about to say "no, of course I haven't" when a thought came to mind.
Didn't she dance, too?
The stars, the worlds, the universe; the burning, the glory and the thrill and the danger; the shining sun that was the Doctor and yet wasn't, the storm that was him too, pouring all that rain down on her, drowning yet instilling a passion within her that caused her to dance to the music of his thunder and welcome with open arms the danger of his terrible, wondrous attacks of golden lightning; all of eternity glowing in his eyes and the wisdom of the universe and the pain of every world weighing him down, torturous and beautiful and him.
And yeah, there was always that looming threat of pneumonia that told her to run back inside, those friends and family who yelled at her from the shelter of their homes as she danced, alone, never forgotten but hardly understood by anyone, even the storm itself. She could run, but she wouldn't. She could be smart and avoid the consequences she knew could kill her while icy shards soaked her skin through to the bone, to her core and her very soul, freezing her, making her grow cold even as the thunder ignited a spark of flaming defiance and sense of self-worth and stubborn, burning, honest-to-God life in her guts. Well, her family could yell and her friends could scream; that wouldn't change anything. That life made her fly, and she didn't give a damn if the rain dragged her down; she would dance in it anyway.
Looking at young, innocent Rose, Martha finally understood something.
"Don't stop dancing," she found herself telling Rose. "Don't ever stop."
Rose smiled knowingly. "I won't."
- + - + - + -
When she finally worked up the courage to tell the Doctor, it was months later and they sat with an old friend in a warehouse where it wasn't the end of the universe but they'd just seen it and it seemed they were going to see it again.
"I told her to keep dancing," concluded Martha, "and never stop. Do you think she did?"
Jack and the Doctor exchanged indecipherable looks.
"Yes," they said together, and Martha understood. That Rose. It must've been. No one else could have understood the way she had; it didn't matter how old she'd been at the time.
They'd loved her, she knew. Probably still did, probably still harbored some hope that she would one day return to them. She didn't blame them. In some way, she thought, she loved Rose too.
Made it easier to move on, when it was all said and done. Made it easier to stop dancing, because she wasn't stopping, really, just sitting out a song or two.
Still, she hoped that wherever Rose was, she wasn't like Martha and that she never stopped dancing, because she was right, back in ninety-seven. It was worth it.
- + - + - + -
When she saw her on the Crucible, it was like being washed over by a freezing tidal wave and then getting burnt by the fire of the fireplace she dried in front of.
"Oh my God," she said, because it was the only thing she could think of and she was so happy and relieved and awed she thought she might drop the Key and collapse in her seat in some station in Germany because she'd stopped dancing and it seemed like Rose would never have to. "He found you."
Martha learned, later, that he hadn't really found her, but she had found him, and that was so much better, because it meant that Rose had remembered, had listened to her, and it was they who did the dancing, after all, not him, because he was the storm and around them fell the raging rain.
After they'd flown the Earth home, she went up to her and folded her arms.
"Did you ever stop?" she asked, and then wondered if Rose really remembered after all.
The smile Rose gave her dispelled Martha's doubts: it was a smile that wasn't wistful, as it had been in ninety-seven, but rather echoed the pain and the joys and the tears and wonderful horrors of a companion's life.
"No," she replied, still smiling. She drummed her fingers unconsciously on her forearm; the same forearm Martha'd put the IV in.
When Martha told her she was going to be leaving with Jack to help him at Torchwood, Rose grinned.
"Have you ever stopped?" she asked.
Martha nodded. There was no point in lying. But Rose understood, somehow.
"How is it?"
Martha paused. How was the not-dancing life?
"Worse than the stars going out," she answered truthfully.
"I'm sure it is." Rose agreed. Right. She wouldn't know; she hadn't stopped. "Can you do something for me, though? Before you go?"
"Of course. What is it?"
"Don't stop. Never again."
"I won't. You?"
Well…why not? And it's worth it. It's worth it all; the monsters and the heartbreak.
You know, it wasn't until I was halfway through writing this that I remembered something: during the Christmas of 1997, I was hospitalized for pneumonia, and released Christmas morning. Weird, that. The story of the baby and the Santa is mostly true, 'cos I remember that, though I don't think I got a stuffed toy to give away; I think it was pajamas I got. Fascinating, eh?