whistle and I'll come to you

by lurking_latinist [Reviews - 0]

  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, General, Hurt/Comfort

Author's Notes:
A gift for CeruleanTactician in the Gen Freeform Exchange 2022, originally posted to AO3.

Title from the Robert Burns poem "Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad" (and not the M.R. James ghost story, with which this fic has nothing particular to do).


Charley had almost gotten over the fact that their new friends looked uncannily like giant ants. She knew that, to them, she was as soft and squishy as a larva, with too few limbs. But even now that she and the Doctor had helped them to avert a natural disaster—even now that they were guests of honor at a celebratory feast in the underground nest—she was unnerved by the subtle clicking, chittering noises of their movement, echoing eerily in the otherwise silent tunnels. The aliens were telepathic, communicating with each other mind-to-mind, and although she could understand them via the TARDIS's translation circuit, she and the Doctor were the only beings here who spoke to each other verbally.

Still, she was enjoying herself—sitting next to the Doctor, making friends with a young member of the worker caste who seemed to be fascinated by her hair—when their hosts presented her and the Doctor with a special dish just for them. Something like a fruit, something like a jelly, it smelled sweet and delicious and they happily split it between them. He flicked a spot of juice delicately off his green velvet cuffs and returned to his animated discussion with the engineer seated next to him.

She thought, at first, that she must have had more than she realized of the local spiced wine when she heard what seemed to be the Doctor's soft, lilting voice, only to look at him and see his mouth definitely not moving. On second thought, it didn't seem like he was talking to her, either, exactly. It was more like a running commentary: "—engineering with the structural properties of soil—very nice eggs—at least I think this is an egg—restock the TARDIS kitchen—ask Charley to remind me—"

At the sound (as it seemed) of her own name she caught the Doctor's eye. She meant to say, "What's going on, Doctor?" But she had only thought it when she heard the Doctor reply, They seem to be sharing their gift with us, Charley. The gift of telepathy—what they call mindspeech. Probably in that fruit. Can you hear this? He thought a tune at her—a wordless flourish on an imaginary piano.

She smiled at him and nodded. In that moment, in the beautiful glow of a myriad underground lamps, it seemed perfectly delightful. She laughed and teased him back with one of her own favorite songs.

In the morning, when it hadn't gone away, she found she was getting slightly tired of the monologue of chaos that was the Doctor's mind. The amount of it that he ordinarily chose to vocalize was plenty. So they shut the link off together, the Doctor laying his long, thin, cold hands on her temples, helping her concentrate on the process he was guiding her through. It wasn't gone, he said—just dormant. But it should remain that way unless one of them turned it back on, he said.

To fill the sudden silence in her mind, Charley put on a record. They sung along together, then moved on to the next adventure, and the evening of mindspeech became a strange, happy memory.


It had all gone terribly wrong. The distress signal, supposedly from a party of freedom fighters trying to free their leader from an Erisian prison, had turned out to be a trap that she and the Doctor had fallen right into. The Erisians, apparently a gang of mercenaries who all had glassy blue eyes and unnervingly pointed teeth, had recognized the Doctor right off (and this version of him certainly was all too recognizable, in his ludicrous patchwork coat) and stuck him in a cell. One of them—a lieutenant, she thought—gripped her by the arm as his superior wondered aloud what to do with her. She held her tongue, observing.

"Let's deal with her quickly, captain," said the lieutenant. "Me and the boys want to watch the big fella get squashed."

Squashed? Charley didn't know what he meant at first. But then, looking at the cell, she saw its roof slowly ratchet down by about an inch. The Doctor, all tension, was looking nervously at the ceiling. She remembered that he'd said the Erisians were famous for their inventive methods of torture, and cold fear gripped her stomach as she realized the cell wasn't just a place of confinment—it was a slow execution by crushing.

She had to get the Doctor out, and she had to do it quickly. So she had to retain her own freedom. So she had to have a clever plan.

Well, maybe a daring one would do.

"Right then," said the captain, tipping up her chin so she looked him in the eye. "How does a pretty spirited young thing like you come to be going about with a priggish old fogey like that? Idealist, are you?"

"Who, me? As if. I've been trying to get shot of him for ages, if only he'd take me somewhere worth staying." Charley threw her head back, trying to sound as brassy and reckless as she could manage. "Really, never mind about him," she said. "He’s not likely to do much for me now, is he? Your lot seem to have the right idea—why not let me join up with you?" She giggled, hating the role she was playing. "Maybe I can get one of those nice shiny uniforms!"

She couldn’t look at the Doctor in his cell.

"Charlotte, how could you?" he cried. "Have you been working with these gentry all along or did you just get an offer you couldn’t resist? Just when I was beginning to trust you!"

Please see through it, Doctor, she thought. Please don’t believe me. I’ll be back for you, I promise.

She felt a peculiar frisson, not just adrenaline—something like a draught blowing on the inside of her mind.

And then she heard the Doctor’s reply, not spoken but mental—Charlotte!—and she realized what had happened.

Yes, psychic link, don’t worry about it, she thought hastily.

You never cease to surprise, do you? he replied drily. Let me get this straight—you are lying about betraying me for these Erisians, but you were also not telling me that you're telepathic?

Stupid man. Why couldn’t he trust her? She quenched the memory of all the things she genuinely wasn’t telling him, and thought, I’m just going with them till I can lift the keys. I’ll keep up the link if I can but I’m not sure I can. Stay where you are and I’ll come back!

She could feel the doubt in his mind. I don’t have much choice about that. And if you take longer than an hour there won’t be much left of me to rescue.

And then she had to follow the Erisians away, not looking back.

The Doctor was growing more and more uncomfortable. He couldn't stand up in his cell anymore. He sat on the floor instead, and he didn't think he was claustrophobic in this body, but he kept thinking about the moment when he would have to lie down. But that wasn't what was tormenting him the most: it was Charley's bizarre behavior.

He knew he didn't know who she really was or where she had come from, and he didn't believe a word of her claims of amnesia. He could tell she must have been through a lot, and he'd hoped that she would be comfortable enough with him eventually to tell the truth. And now—well, he'd certainly found out more about her, but what? Was she a telepath who'd been keeping it under wraps? In which case she almost certainly wasn't the stranded 1930s girl she'd been claiming to be. Unless... No, it was impossible to work it out just sitting here. (The ceiling creaked down another inch, and he repressed the senseless urge to shake the door.) He'd have to ask her very firmly indeed.

If she came back for him, of course. If she didn't... well, he wouldn't get the chance to die of curiosity, that was one thing.

Charley had a talk with the captain that transitioned gradually from interrogation to interview, thanks to her carefully painting herself as a cynical mercenary type who jumped at the opportunity to join up. She'd certainly met plenty of the type to imitate.

“Well, we need as many as we can get. I’ll get you a copy of the pay schedule, but bear in mind it doesn’t take into account unofficial perks,” said the captain. Charley returned what she hoped was a greedy smile. If only he would just let her go, turn her loose in the mess hall or something! Any minute now....

“Just one thing,” he said. “Before we sign you on, I’d like you to take over the interrogation of that troublemaker we found you with. Not that I’m questioning your loyalty, you understand, only—who am I kidding, we’re a mercenary outfit, of course I’m questioning your loyalty.” He laughed unpleasantly. “I’ll show you the way down to the cells.”

Charley wasn’t sure how she managed to keep her facade up. Her heart thudded and for a moment she was horribly afraid she was going to faint, or else be sick. The Doctor had always been worryingly blasé about “interrogations,” but she thought they’d seen far, far too many already. She hated seeing him helpless, hated hearing him use his favorite technique of babbling out everything but what they wanted to know. She always feared that he’d break if she was the one in danger—and that he wouldn’t. And with all those horrible memories tracing cold lines down her back, she wasn’t sure she could keep up the act.

Doctor? she thought.

Charlotte, came the return. Do hurry, if you don’t mind.

I’m coming to let you out, she thought. Only... well, just hold on.

I’m not going anywhere. She could almost hear the Doctor’s dry chuckle.

The captain walked her down to the cell. Oh, the roof was getting terribly low, and the Doctor looked both uncomfortable and almost frightened. Well, whatever else, she had to insist they get him out of there.

She looked to the captain, wondering what he expected her to do.

“You take the lead,” he said. “What’s your technique?”

“Can we tie him to a chair?” she said. The captain unlocked the next cell, which did indeed have a chair and not much else. But it was a normal height. That was a first step.

He unlocked the Doctor’s cell and Charley helped him out. She tried to look like she was manhandling him into the next cell while she gave him a moment to stretch the cramp out of his legs and back. Then she tried to throw him into the chair, but he was stronger than her and resisted.

Please, Doctor, she thought. Just play along for a moment and be ready when he’s distracted.

He looked directly at her. “I wouldn’t have thought it of you,” he said miserably. But he fell into the chair and didn’t resist while Charley tied his wrists together with a rope the captain also provided.

I’m using fake knots, she thought at him. “Shows what you know,” she said out loud.

That’s genuinely uncomfortable, he thought back. Oh, thank goodness, he was listening.

I’ve got a plan. Be ready, she thought. She couldn’t focus on his mind anymore, not while she was playing the interrogator.

“Now what really brought you here?” she said at a venture. She walked around his chair in a circle, put her face close to his and then backed off. He remained silent.

“You’re not a full-time interrogator, are you,” said the captain from where he stood just inside the cell door.

“Just a hobby,” she snapped back.

“You’ll need to hurt him a bit,” said the captain.

“I could hurt him just by telling him who I really am,” Charley wanted to say. But she didn’t. She nodded and smirked and took a hold of one of the Doctor’s arms. She made a twisting motion and thought, Act like it hurts.

The Doctor gasped and let out a hiss. It certainly sounded like pain. Are you all right? she couldn’t help thinking.

Get on with it, he thought back at her.

She tried the same thing on the other arm and repeated, “Tell us why you came. You were in touch with rebels. Who were they?”

“You should know, you were with me,” he groaned. He was throwing his head back and punctuating his speech with little yelps, and she was sure he was over-acting. She shot a glance at the captain, who was watching with both eyebrows raised.

No, you idiot, she thought. He needs to trust me. “You know you never told me anything,” she said aloud.

“And I still won’t,” he said. I think I’ve got this knot of yours loose. There’s a big heavy knot left on one end, though, he thought.

Could you cosh him? she thought.

That’s my unexpectedly violent Charley, he replied. She suppressed the warm glow of friendship she always felt when he used her nickname and snuck another look at the captain. He had his arms folded and had holstered his gun.

You scream, I’ll point outside the cell, then he’ll be distracted and you can knock him out, she thought. “Come on, you can’t hold out forever,” she said aloud, to fill time.

Three, two, one, she thought, and on the countdown they went into action. The messy lump of rope she’d hurriedly tied around the Doctor’s wrists thunked into the back of his head, and he fell to the ground.

He’ll wake up in moments, the Doctor told her. She nodded, took the rope from him, and tied him up with it in the Doctor’s place. She took his keys and, for good measure, his gun. Don’t worry, I won’t keep it, you can chuck it in a river or take it to bits if you prefer. She thought his mood seemed to brighten fractionally at the promise of tinkering. Or perhaps—more likely—it was the fact that they were leaving the cell and would soon be back at the TARDIS able to leave this whole horrible planet.

Thank you, he thought. I don’t know if one can lie, speaking like this, but I hope you know I’m sincere when I thank you for saving my life.

She pressed a finger to her lips and led him away.

They made their way away from the cells, darting from one little-used corridor to another. She wasn't talking to him psychically anymore, but before he could ask her what it was she thought she was playing at, she stopped at a corner, took hold of his lapels, and looked him very seriously in the eye.

"Look," she said, "I'm sure you want to know what that was about, and I really can't tell you. It just—it just happened. I don't know if it will happen any more."

He shook his head. "Forgotten, have you?"

She colored, and he knew she was lying when she said, "That's right." But then she added, "I know you don't feel you can trust me. But if I can't tell you, haven't I shown you? Haven't I proven that you can trust me?"

"I just wish you felt you could trust me," he said. "But never mind all that. Are you up to stick around for a bit? Let's see if we can't put a spoke in these Erisians' wheel."

So they did.