He was in the control room of the Tardis when the phone rang. He’d set it on the console next to the monitor knowing that it would ring soon and he watched it while it rang, brows lowered and shoulders tense, until it stopped. When the voicemail signal beeped, he was staring down between his shoes past the grating, eyes focused on nothing. He blinked, rubbed a hand over his face and reached out, picking up the phone without looking at it and flicking it open. His thumb pressed the button and he put the phone to his ear.
Doctor, this is Martha. Please call me right away. There’s something very strange going on here, something with the children. All the children. Please, I … I’ve seen a lot of strange things, traveling around with you, but I’ve never seen anything like this.
He closed the phone before the message ended and slipped it into his pocket. With deft hands, he set the controls and, face blank, slammed the dematerializing switch down so hard that the handle bent.
He was it a quiet bar on Charkaloo IV, Tarlaak Dynasty when the phone rang again. He tipped his glass up, much steadier than he’d hoped, and drank the very expensive cognac down in four big swallows, neck muscles working and eyes tearing.
The bartender tsked at the waste and poured him another. “What’s the matter, buddy?” She assessed him, head tipped to the side, and then nodded. “It’s a woman, aint it? Well, you hold tight and listen to your gut. Anyone that would cause ya this much grief ain't worth it.”
The Doctor downed the next drink all at one go and held his glass out for another. “Some moments in time are fixed. I can’t …” His glass was full, so he tipped it up to his lips again, letting the sweet, hot liquid pour down his throat, burning as it went.
“Fixed,” he wiped his lips with his cuff. “I can’t…”
She waited for him to continue but he only stared into her eyes. Without another word, he handed her a credit chip that more than covered the bottle. She took it and, with another considering look, set the bottle down next to his empty glass.
He chose to let the alcohol work on his system, helped it even, and when he flipped the phone open some hours later and dialed his voicemail, he was very drunk. It didn’t help.
Doctor, please call me back. This is Martha. Something is happening here and we need you. Please, Doctor. It’s the children, every single child. But it’s not only that. It’s Jack and his team. There’s been an attack on the hub and, well, I’m still trying to get information… It looks bad. Oh, god, it looks really bad. Please, Doctor. Please come.
When he woke, he was laying on the grating in the control room, the phone still in his hand. He closed his eyes and slipped it into his pocket.
He was running for his life when the phone rang again. He’d gone haring off and got himself embroiled in the Sassessa Conspiracy on Phillipa’s World, and needing to blow off some steam, decided to jump into it with both feet. Fortunately, he also had both hands and his sonic screwdriver so his head didn’t end up on a pike after all.
Deep in the foothills of Has, in a chilly cavern with a grimy and battered corps of revolutionaries lying in exhausted sleep all around him, he pulled the phone from his pocket and stared at it. He didn’t open it but held it for most of the night, watching the ships in the sky send search beacons stabbing out into the hills. Toward morning, when the small white sun turned the eastern sky a brilliant turquoise blue, he opened it and dialed his voicemail.
Doctor. I have to think that there’s some reason you haven’t come. Some reason that you’ve abandoned us. I’m … god, I’m on my honeymoon… Sarah Jane sends you a message. She says please, for her, if you have any love for her, please come. Oh, Doctor…
He played the message over three times, making himself listen. But he had every word, every catch of the breath and every sob memorized, so he closed it with a snap and slipped it softly into his pocket.
He was just lifting his left hand to move his kings’s bishop when the phone rang again. Without pausing, he squeezed the phone with his right hand, silencing it. The young man sitting across the chess board from the Doctor raised a brow in inquiry.
The Doctor set the piece down and leaned back. “Check.” His hand went to his pocket and slicked across the phone’s surface. “Really, Emanuel, do pay attention.”
“Herr Doktor,” the young man’s eyes went back to the board and widened with surprise. “Ah, I see! But that’s brilliant!”
“Yeah.” The Doctor waved his hand negligibly.
With studied poise the young man pushed his spectacles up along his nose. The patrons of the Café Kaiserhof stilled, cups raised or forks in the air, waiting on the young man’s move. Money was exchanged in a muffled scurry and held breaths hissed out when the young man nodded at the board and smiled. “Would you like to raise the stakes, Doktor? Five Kreuzer says I will checkmate in four moves.”
The Doctor looked at the young man and then paused and looked again. There was a neatly mended tear near the elbow of his coat, the edges of his cuff were slightly frayed, and his skin had the pasty look of late winter and a diet of roots and brined meat. The Doctor leaned back and his fingers went to the pocket again, tapping lightly on the phone. “Alright. Four moves, eh?” With a steady hand, he reached out and lifted the wrong piece from the board. “You’re on.”
Later, and five Kreuzer lighter, the Doctor leaned back against the cold bricks of the Spree River Bridge and looked down into the swirling water.
His feet were numb as he walked the cobbled streets back to the Tardis. He did not listen to the message.
He was in the Tardis’ library, coasting the Void, when the phone rang again. He fumbled, almost dropped it, and flipped it open.
A man cleared his throat. “Doctor.”
They listened to each other breathe. “Jack,” the Doctor said. “Jack.”
A sigh came through the connection, the sound of sorrow and dust, heavy with time. “Will you come? I … I need to get out of here. This place, this … this.”
“Yes.” The word slid between them and settled. Finally, the Doctor said, “You understand, don’t you?”
Jack swallowed. “A fixed moment in time, right? But it’s… it’s over now. It’s over and I’m …done.” There were no tears in the voice on the line.
The Doctor closed his eyes and concentrated on the blackness behind his lids. Nothingness, no tears, no hatred, no blame. Just blackness. Empty.
Far away, Jack sighed out. “Will you come?”
“Yes.” The Doctor’s eyes opened and he stood unsteadily. With slow steps, he stumbled toward the control room. “Yes. I’m on my way.”