Ten Calls

by Jayne Leitch [Reviews - 11]

Printer
  • All Ages
  • None
  • General

Author's Notes:
Spoilers through the end of 'Last Of the Time Lords'. Bonus stealth crossover; can you find it? (Hint: it's not that stealthy.)

One

As it turns out, he calls her first.

Martha's wandering the market on a rare afternoon out of the hospital when her new mobile rings. The ID says "TARDIS"; she nearly drops her shopping basket in her hurry to answer. "Doctor!"

"So? How d'you like it?"

She looks at the people bustling around her, talking, laughing--shouting, a couple of them--as they browse the market stalls brimming with food. There are people everywhere, going about their lives. There's *life* everywhere. "It's all so normal. I love it."

"Normal? *Normal?*" She frowns at his deeply offended tone. "Martha Jones, have you forgotten what's normal for your own planet? Take a good sniff!"

She looks at the butcher counter before her, its fresh meat a rainbow of raw pinks and whites. "I'd rather not, actually. Unless--is that why you're calling?" Instantly wary, she watches the butcher for a hint of anything more sinister than hopeful salesmanship, and drops her voice to a whisper. "Is it alien meat? Does alien meat smell different than Earth meat?"

"Not very, actually. Protein's protein, all across the universe--well, until you get to the Zhaanicorius galaxy, but they're all vegetable-based anyway, so it's a whole other--" She knows the exact moment his brain catches up with his need to be the authority on everything in existence: she can practically hear his mental needle jump the groove. "Hang on. When are you?"

She's been living linearly just long enough to find his phrasing positively quaint. "Fourth of November, 2008, as if you didn't know. You called me, remember?" He says nothing for more than a second, which is how Martha knows she's surprised him. "Doctor?"

"But that doesn't make any--" His plaintive whine to the gods of the time vortex is drowned out by a series of sharp bangs; in her mind's eye, Martha watches him take his professional Time Lord mallet to one of the TARDIS's more obscure consoles. By the time she can make out individual words again, he's regained his confidence. "--explains it, then, doesn't it! One little misalignment in the temporal communication relay--we're just lucky I didn't call before the telephone was invented, that would've been...well, we're lucky. Sorry! I'll ring back when it's fixed."

He disconnects. Martha says, "'Bye, then, I guess," into her handset and smiles innocently at the butcher.

Just in case, she doesn't buy any meat.

*

Three

"That's you off, then, is it?" Martha leans her hip on Jack's desk and glares at the wall safe, pretending it's the Doctor. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Gwen and Ianto exchange a look before leaving quietly. "Catalyser found, Niskite vanquished, job done, why bother with goodbyes?"

"...what?"

"Don't pretend you don't understand why I'm mad. You know humans better than that--you *like* us better than that, or so I thought, since you keep coming back to Earth all the time. But apparently I was wrong, 'cause you just went swanning off--"

"But I--"

"We all nearly *died* helping you! Honestly, sometimes you are the most thoughtless, ungrateful--*alien*--"

"Oh, absolutely." It's the Doctor's voice, but it doesn't come from her phone. "Although 'sometimes' isn't as often as you might think."

Turning slowly, Martha finds him standing in the doorway, hands in his pockets, giving her a look of blithe amusement. "The alien bit, though, I'll give you that one. I do tend to be alien most of the time. Exceptions for greatly extenuating circumstances."

The voice from her mobile talks over himself. "That's you told, I suppose. Now, what did you say--a Niskite? I'd better see if I've got any Hobanar steel; I think I saw some in the gallery--that free-form sculpture in the far corner..." He disconnects mid-babble.

Martha stares at the Doctor before her, feeling foolish. "I thought--"

"That I'd swanned off without saying goodbye; I heard." He smiles suddenly, wide and self-satisfied and teasing. "Both times."

Martha shakes her head, bemused. "I'm sorry; I guess I just--" She breaks off as realisation hits. "But wait, if you called from the TARDIS, and you're *here*--didn't you just cross your own timeline?"

"Technically, yes." He shrugs. "Nothing to worry about. Falls under the category of 'cheap tricks'."

"Ah." Martha gives him a knowing nod, and maybe just a bit of a smirk. "Trying to impress someone?"

He looks at her as if she's growing another head, right in front of him. "No. What's impressive about a wrong number?" Off her expression, he explains, "The me who called just now, his telephone's broken. Do you remember when I called you, oh, almost three months ago? Asked how you liked something, babbled a bit, then hung up?"

Recognition dawns. "Course I remember! I didn't eat meat for weeks."

"I sent you something. Wanted to make sure you got it, but when I called to check, found out the TARDIS phone wasn't working properly." He smiles again. "I sorted that out ages back."

"You sorted it?" Martha furrows her brow. "But I haven't got anything from you."

He slides her an arch glance. "Well, you'll just have to be patient, won't you."

*

Six

With a flash of light, a nun appears next to the taxi stand; cradling her left arm, she looks around in bewilderment and babbles in some archaic form of German. A knight in full armour materialises a moment later and lies motionless on the sidewalk, his breastplate subtly but horribly concave.

Martha catalogues the two new arrivals with a quick glance, then turns her full attention back to the young boy on the table before her. "Looks like he was trampled," she states, prodding carefully at his bones to find the more obvious fractures, "but the wounds seem mostly superficial; it could be worse. Doesn't help that he's unconscious, but we can't do much about that. For now, wash those cuts and gouges as clean as you can--doesn't help that he's filthy, either--then come help me with the soldier in the--Edward? *Edward!*"

Across the table, Edward starts; he looks up from his wide-eyed stare at the boy, and blanches even more at the sight of Martha's face. "Sorry. Sorry! What did you want me to--uh. Do?"

"You could start by paying attention!"

"Sorry!" Stepping clumsily around injured people and scattered tables and chairs, he follows her into the bistro--more afraid of being left alone with the anachronistic hoi polloi than of her annoyance, Martha thinks. "But you must admit," he says, hovering at her elbow while she gives her hands a quick scrub in the bar sink, "really you must, that this--these...people, appearing out of nowhere, with all this--this *dirt* and *blood* and *mess*--it's a little bit out of the ordinary!"

"Out of the ordinary? Time going wonky, dropping a great bloody horde of history out of thin air into downtown London on my night off? While I'm on a *blind date*?" She doesn't even bother glaring as she pushes past him, heading for the waitstaff she'd left prepping a man in a uniform right out of World War One for impromptu surgery. "Of course it's out of the ordinary! And?"

"Well," he blusters, and she can *hear* the wounded pride in his voice. "I just didn't expect I'd be doing triage duty this evening. Or ever!" They reach the soldier; as Martha smiles reassuringly at one particularly pale waiter and leans over to take stock of the patient, Edward positions himself on the other side of the table, his arms folded tightly across his chest. "I mean, Martha, these..." Again, hesitation; glancing up, she notices the delicate flare of his nostrils as he looks around the room crowded with suffering and completely fails to *see* anyone. "...people..."

"Are *people*, Edward. They're people! It's not as if they're--" Aliens, she almost says, but bites her tongue. He's unhelpful enough as it is; she doesn't want to know how he might react to things getting stranger, even hypothetically. "Anyway, it wouldn't even matter, because they need help. And I'm going to help them, so you can either keep up, or leave." With that, she turns to the young woman beside her and says, "Right, then. Everybody ready? Here we go."

She hears him huff--literally huff, and if she weren't faced with the prospect of digging shrapnel out of a young man's stomach, she'd laugh. "I'll tell Morgenstern hello from you, then, shall I?" he says stiffly, and turns away; Martha lets out a long, tense breath, and focuses on the tricky job before her.

A jangling burst of music nearly makes her miss her first cut. "Edward, you've still got my mobile!" she calls after him, exasperated.

"Right. Sorry." He comes back, pulling the phone from his jacket pocket and peering at the display. "Says...'TARDIS'? Who's TAR--"

"Answer it!" Martha snaps, her hands busy. Trying to keep her mind from reeling with relief, she mutters, "Took him long enough."

With bad grace, Edward flips the mobile open. "Martha’s phone. I'm Edward; who is this? Doctor...?"

Martha spares a moment to give Edward her most withering look. "Just ask him what's going on!"

With what she considers unmitigated gall, Edward waves his free hand at her to be quiet. "No no, I was waiting for your name. *Edward.* I asked *your* name. 'Doctor' is *not*--!"

"Oh, for--" But before she can snatch the mobile away from Edward--gory-handed or not--the soldier groans, the shrapnel shifts, and suddenly all Martha can do is try to keep the man's innards where they belong.

She can just see, out of the corner of her eye, Edward looking on, his face gone stone white. When he speaks again, his voice seems to come from very far away. "She is, yes, but...but she, ah, has her...hands...full just...now..."

He falls against the bar as he faints, bringing a tray of glasses down with him. The waitstaff all wince at the crash; Martha, with the bizarre calmness that comes with forced responsibility in desperate situations, simply packs another table linen into her patient's stomach and says, "Don't worry; he can pay for the damages. Did anyone see what happened to my mobile?"

The now extremely pale waiter says, "It--I think it fell behind the bar. D'you want it?"

"No," she sighs, swallowing her disappointment and a fresh wave of frustration. "I'll talk to him later. If there is a later."

On the floor, Edward gives a halfhearted moan. "And when this is all over," Martha vows under her breath, "I am *definitely* ringing Tom back."

*

Ten

"So how d'you like it?"

Martha holds the box on her lap, unopened and full of promise. "Fixed the telephone, then?"

"I have," he says, sounding entirely too pleased with himself. "Took a whole afternoon, too. Well, the equivalent of an afternoon. On a planet with really short afternoons. Turns out the j-axis wasn't it at all; there was a calcinate polyp on the back of the relay board, shorting the transmitter, and I hope you were paying attention just now, Martha Jones," he adds, his tone turning suddenly arch, "because you never know when that information might come in handy."

"Calcinate polyp. Got it."

"Good." That matter apparently settled, he waits an entire, expectant millisecond before demanding, "Well, are you going to open it, or should I hang up?"

"All right, I'm opening it!" Tilting her head to brace the phone between her ear and shoulder, she begins pulling at the tape with both hands. "Why am I getting a present, anyway?"

"Oh, you know. Went somewhere, saw something. Thought of you."

He tosses it off--thoroughly casual--and even though Martha knows he's lying, the smile in his voice is too warm, too genuine: she doesn't press for the truth.

Instead, she opens the box.

*

Four

She answers the phone while searching the kitchen cupboards for tonic water. "There'd better not be an alien invasion within the next hour," she begins, "'cause it takes at least that long to get chocolate icing out of the carpet."

"Jack visiting, is he?"

She gives the pantry a saucy grin. "It's Keisha's birthday; she's very enthusiastic about cake."

"As well she should be. Anyway, I won't keep you; this is just a test. When I hang up, pretend I never called."

It's been so long, it takes her a moment to realise. "You're calling from when the TARDIS phone was broken, aren't you?" She feels the rush of wonder that comes from directly experiencing the true, boundless, inconceivable nature of time; then, she feels a bit smug. "I can help with that. Listen, I know you think it's the j-axis, but--"

"Is that the Doctor?"

Martha spins; her mother's in the doorway, her hands full of chocolatey plates, her mouth a thin line.

More than a year later, certain subjects still make her go quiet and melancholy. She moved on long ago, doesn't let the memories have any more power than they should--in ten minutes she'll be mothering one of them straight up a wall as usual--but Martha hates to see those small shadows, nonetheless. "It's okay, Mum, he's just checking in--"

"Are you with Francine?" She doesn't get a chance to respond before he's off and muttering to himself the way he always does in the middle of a project, technical and thoughtless and wholly self-absorbed. "I'm on the right side of 2028, then. What did you--the j-axis? Maybe just a slight nudge--"

The line goes dead. Martha holds the phone to her ear, listening to the silence while she makes sense of what he meant. All the wonder she'd felt turns inside-out and horrible as the fact sinks into her brain: 2028.

In the doorway, her mother's tense. Holding her breath.

Martha wants to smash the mobile to pieces.

*

Seven

In the thick, clammy silence of the cellar, the ringtone is shocking. Martha tracks it to the Doctor's still body; digging frantically through his pockets, she wills it to keep ringing until she can answer.

When she reads the name on the display, she sags against the damp wall. "Oh my God, Doctor, it's you."

"Martha?" He's instantly wary, urgency edging his voice. "What is it? What's wrong?"

She tells him about the Mercenaries of Chaos–the kidnappings, the thefts, the deaths Torchwood had been tracking for months. She tells him about the return of John Hart and the lockdown of Cardiff. She tells him about the rift abruption, and the relief that came when he--the Doctor--arrived to investigate the anomalous readings the TARDIS had picked up three billion years away.

She tells him she thinks he might be dying. "The Mercenaries called it a quantum destasis pulse. I think they think it killed you right off, but once we were locked up, you regenerated--but, Doctor, you won't wake up. And your pulse is--it's so weak." She swallows thickly, takes a deep breath--then, trying with bleak desperation to believe she doesn't already know the answer, asks, "Will you come help us?"

"Martha..." He says it so quietly, with such sorrowful care; Martha closes her eyes against hot tears. "I can't. I'm there already; I'd cause a paradox, and that would only make the abruption worse. I can't."

She nods into the darkness. "I know." And then, clutching the mobile so tightly her hand aches: "Will you stay with me, then?"

"Of course." And then, with a gentle, reassuring hint of cockiness: "Well, until I wake up, anyway."

He does stay, and he does wake up, and when everything's over Martha watches him stride towards his worn blue box, a whole new man. He's just disappearing inside when she remembers. "Doctor, wait!" She hurries up to him, digging the mobile out of her back pocket. "Almost forgot to give this back."

He closes his hand around it, puts it in his pocket without looking away from her. A tiny smile plays across his mouth just before he leans forward and hugs her tight; she can feel both his hearts beating, strong and warm. "Wouldn't want to leave that behind," he says, his new voice rumbling in her ear, and when they part, he gives her a wink.

It wasn't until the crisis was over that she'd had time to actually look at the phone, give it some thought. Particularly regarding why the Doctor would carry such a trivial, obsolete bit of equipment--and more importantly, why he would call himself on it, seemingly without knowing when he would find himself on the other end.

Eventually, she'd recognized the aging cellphone, and figured it out.

She winks back.

*

Two

Tom knows why Martha never turns off her mobile, and he knows the significance of one particular ringtone. He strides across the room and digs the phone out of her things, then holds it up, wide-eyed and helpless. "Martha...?"

Around her, the nurses exchange looks: surprised, confused. Appalled. She'd laugh if she weren't so preoccupied; instead, she gives a quick shake of her head. "He can bloody well leave a message," she says through gritted teeth, then gets back to the business of giving birth.

*

Eight

"Martha Jones! Don't suppose you've had any interesting mail recently, have you?"

She hasn't heard that voice in years. Long since used to the deeper, broader tones of his current regeneration, she lets the sound of the way he used to be wash over her, a wave of recognition and nostalgia that brings tears to her eyes. "I haven't thought about that year in so long," she says quietly, and hears the Doctor's breath catch. "It's been years, *years* without a single reminder. And now here I am, getting two in one day."

When he speaks again, he matches her tone: careful layers of wry acceptance built up on an undercurrent of pain. She wonders when he's calling from, how long it's been for him since he lit the Master's funeral pyre. "You get those things in life, I'm afraid. Things that lurk." He pauses, then asks carefully, "What's happened?"

She had meant to talk to someone else about this--Tish, or Jack--but the Doctor's the one on the line, listening, his timing impeccable. Besides, she thinks, Tish and Jack would commiserate, but right now what she really wants is just to *explain*. She takes a deep breath.

"When I was in America, I met this man. I'd just got out of Canada--right before the border cleansing, *right* before--and I met up with a resistance cell, and...there was this man. No one knew anything about him, except that he'd lost someone in the initial decimation--but even knowing that, it was a complete mystery why he was in the resistance, because he was miserable. Not sad. *Miserable.* All the time, to absolutely everyone. He said horrible things, cruel things, didn't seem to care that he was hurting people. Didn't seem to care about anyone or anything; it was like he didn't have any hope, and didn't want anyone else to have it, either. None.

"But he was brilliant. He had an incredible mind, and he used it to strategise for the resistance, and in the resistance--with the ArchAngel Network still brainwashing 80 percent of whoever was left on the planet--it didn't matter where the help came from just so long as it *came*. I was with that cell for almost a month, and every mission he planned went off like clockwork. He saved...I don't know how many people, but if you ever tried to thank him for it, he'd cut you down like you were nothing. Like none of it meant anything at all, least of all to him.

"The thing is, though, I think it did mean something to him. I think he cared, very much--in his hopeless, miserable way--about how the Master was controlling everyone, *fooling* everyone. Because he spent a lot of time puzzling over what the spheres really were. And I think he managed, somehow, to figure them out. I don't know how--I wasn't even close to knowing what they were yet, I wouldn't even be back home for months--but now I think back, I think he must've known. Because right before they killed him, the spheres said they didn't know what it was like to feel anything, any human emotion at all, and Greg--he just smiled, and he said, 'Everybody lies.' Just like that; like he knew that, if he waited long enough, he'd catch them at it. Lying. And once he had..."

She clears her throat. "Anyway, turns out he was a doctor. A pretty famous one, too. I didn't connect the name to the person until today; they ran a picture with his obituary. He died this week--again. Back then, he was executed for helping humanity fight against an alien invasion; now, it's cirrhosis of the liver complicated by excessive consumption of alcohol and pain medication." Her hand closes around the printout, crumpling the picture of the man she'd never known. She chuckles dryly. "Not so much a hero's death this time around."

"That's the thing about humans, though, isn't it. You're hardly ever what anybody expects." The Doctor speaks slowly, as if he's thinking far more than he's saying. She imagines him alone in the TARDIS--alone in all that vast, alien space, the telephone at his ear ridiculous, out of context. She wonders if he's standing still, or if he's been in restless motion the whole time. "You're exciting, you lot," he adds, a smile warming his tone. "Mad, thick, brilliant, amazing. Completely unpredictable. The things you do, the choices you make--they're what keep bringing me back. Where else in the whole of time and space am I going to find *humanity*?" She knows he's beaming now, grin splitting his face, lighting his eyes. "Humans; you have to love them."

Martha smiles into the phone, small and fierce and true. For weeks, she'd worn boots spattered with Greg's blood. "Yes," she says. "Yes you do."

*

Five

"You aliens, your timing is rubbish."

On the phone, the Doctor harrumphs, "Well, I'm not going to dignify that." A pause. "Except maybe to ask you to clarify how rubbish?"

Martha takes a deep breath. "One moment, please, ladies and gentlemen," she announces without bothering to cover the mouthpiece, "while I cater to the apparently insatiable whims of *Doctor Smith*."

She hears his teeth click together. "Oh. Medical students? You're right. My timing's rubbish. Back to the j-axis!" He hangs up.

Putting away her phone, she pretends not to notice her new interns' sideways glances. "All right then, you lot, there's your first lesson."

Parsons, a Stoker-to-be if ever there was one, clears her throat officiously. "Lesson, Doctor Jones?"

"Yes, Parsons." Martha looks right at her, effortlessly deadpan. "Alien timing is *rubbish*. Remember that."

As she turns her back on her students and leads the way to their first patient, she grins.

*

Nine

Martha holds the receiver with stiff, arthritic fingers and says, "Hello, Doctor."

His answer is a long, telling moment of dismayed silence. When he finally speaks, his voice is the sound of ancient history. "Oh, well, this isn't right at all."

She knows exactly why he's calling. "Still trying to fix the telephone?"

"Yeah, it's...proving slightly more difficult than a little misalignment. Sorry; I really ought to..." He trails off, then adds sheepishly, "...go, actually."

"It's not the j-axis. You've got a calcinate polyp on the back of the relay board; it's shorting your transmitter."

As the years had passed, she'd wondered if she would be too old to fully enjoy this moment when it came. She's pleased to find her worries were in vain. "A *calcinate polyp*?" he repeats, squeaking a little with incredulity. "But that's--how d'you--no, wait." All at once, he's back to being the authority on everything in existence. "Wait, I know this one. I told you, didn't I."

She laughs, delighted. "So which one are you, the chicken or the egg?"

"Oh, I'm the chicken. Every time." He pauses, then repeats apologetically, "I really should go--"

"Doctor."

"Yes, Martha."

She could have asked him anytime over the last sixty-odd years, but somehow she knows *this* time is the right one. "Why?"

She thinks he knows, too: there's a breath before he answers, a weight of quiet pride in his voice when he does. "Because I took you to New Earth," he says, "and still, you chose the old one."

"The choices I make." She knows enough about his life--the wonder of it, the adventure, the allure--to know how rarely that must happen. "And that earned me a gift from across time and space?"

"Well, if you weren't going to it, I had to bring it to you, didn't I?"

It's his old, airy bluster: she can practically see the look on his face, both teasing and irritated about having to state the obvious. But Martha's known him a long time--longer, she thinks, than most--and there's something underneath the tone, something she can't quite name. Something still.

She thinks about why, after that first whirlwind adventure, she never left Earth again. She thinks about why he keeps coming back.

She remembers opening the gift. It wasn't even close to the most wondrous thing she'd ever seen, or even the most interesting. It was grass: green blades of grass, soft and thick under her palm. She hadn't bothered trying to plant it in the garden--she could only guess at the trouble she might cause, introducing alien grass into the ecosystem--or even potting it; it just seemed right, somehow, in its worn cardboard box with her address and a sheet of stamps on the front. It was something that had travelled, and might do again.

It really had smelled of apples.

"Yes, you did," she answers quietly. "Thank you, Doctor."

"No, Martha Jones." The pride is back, full and warm and all of it--all of it--for her. There was a time, Martha thinks, when it would've made her blush. "Thank *you*."

End.