Title: This is the Price the Angels Pay
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 2600
Summary: Sometimes Martha gets a phone call.
Future-fic, which I realize is a bit of a nonsensical term with regards to Doctor Who, but, well, that's what it is! Takes place after the Season 3 finale, and, I am sure, will shortly be very, very AU. Gen, at least according to me. Perhaps I should say, no less gen than the show itself.
She used to have the urge to drop everything when those six letters come up on her caller ID, the urge to run out of the house right then. In fact, the very first time it happened, six months after her engagement to Aaron, that's exactly what she did. Called in sick to work for the first time in her life, told Aaron she was having lunch with her sister and drove across town before she could change her mind.
It surprises her, a little, to find that she doesn't feel that way anymore. She's not sure when it happened, and she certainly isn't unhappy about the change ... just surprised.
"Can we reschedule for tomorrow?" she asks, holding the phone in the crook of her shoulder as she sorts paperwork on the kitchen table. "I have to be at the hospital at two, and the babysitter's sick today. The older kids are in school, but I'm watching Kady until Aaron finishes his shift and takes over. Call you tomorrow?"
There is a slight hesitation on the other end of the line, and as always, she's very much aware of how tenuous the connection between them really is. One of these days, she knows, the calls will stop coming. She came to terms with that long ago. His life takes him to places she can't go, not anymore, and it sometimes gives her pause to wonder that a man who's seen civilizations rise and fall can still enjoy lunch with a married mother of three.
"Well, bring him," he says, and Martha lets out a breath she hadn't realized she was holding.
"Kady is a girl, for your information," she informs him, as she finally finishes sorting the personnel files on the table into neat separate piles. Requests for letters of recommendation go off to one side, and maybe she'll actually make it to the residents' review paperwork before the end of the year.
"Bring her, then," he says impatiently, and there is a sudden crackle of static and a crash in the background. "Woops, little situation here, got to go! No, no, not the green one..."
"See you at noon!" she calls over the suddenly escalating static, and hangs up with a sigh. For a minute, she looks into the wide eyes of the curious two-year-old regarding her across the cluttered tabletop. Finally she grins.
"Want to go meet an old friend of Mummy's, Kady?"
They used to meet at an old teahouse by the waterside, but it burned down when the volcano erupted in the middle of London -- how long ago was that now, ten years or so? -- and then, immediately upon being rebuilt, was destroyed by a stray laser blast during the invasion of Roswell grays the following year. So now they meet at a much more upscale place, on the twelfth floor of one of the new buildings that went up during the peace and prosperity following the invasion. Martha has given up on wondering when the next calamity is going to occur; Britain is clearly the most unlucky country in the world, if not the entire universe, and she's just happy that everyone she loves is still alive. Many people haven't been so fortunate. The one thing life has taught her is that nowhere in the universe is truly safe, though, so she may as well stay here.
He doesn't look the same, but that's hardly new. She always thought she'd recognize him anywhere, no matter what he looked like, but this time, it isn't until he throws her one of those brilliant grins from across the room that she knows him.
My God, he's not white this time. For some reason, that really throws her off. Intellectually, she'd thought that she could deal just fine with the idea of a man who can change his physical form like a chameleon; she now understands that she hadn't realized how deeply, how unconsciously, her concept of him was woven into the identity he'd had when she'd first met him. She can understand someone changing their hair and eyes and features, even superficial aspects of their personality, but on some deep level she somehow managed to get stuck on the idea that you can't change who your parents are. But, of course, his parents weren't any earthly race, and there's no reason why he'd need to be bound by that. She tries to figure out what racial identity he's picked up this time; it's a little ambiguous. Southeast Asian, perhaps -- eastern India, Malaysia, something like that.
"Blimey, Martha, how many of them have you got?" he asks with a cheeky smirk as he slides into the booth across from her, with a pointed look at Kady. The two-year-old stares back at him solemnly.
She reaches across the table to smack him with her rolled-up napkin. "Kady's the third, and don't get smart with me." She's already ordered for him, white tea with lemon, but remembers somewhat belatedly: that's what he used to take during his last regeneration; this time might be different. She watches with interest as he begins adding sugar, because the previous Doctor (and what must he be up to by now? sixteen or seventeen?) didn't have a sweet tooth at all.
"Saw a galaxy explode this morning," he says conversationally as he stirs truly mind-boggling amounts of sugar into the steaming cup. From what she can see, he's on track to become the first Time Lord to have to regenerate because of terminal tooth decay.
Martha smiles, unable to help herself. "What did that look like?"
"Oh," he shrugs, "kind of dull, actually. Seen one, seen 'em all. Nionda nearly shed her pinfeathers, though."
He pauses. "Sorry. She's traveling with me. Comes from a little planet out near the Orion Nebula -- Besfa, it's called. Doesn't exist in your time."
"And she ... has feathers, does she?"
"Ah." Martha clears her throat and adds a dab of milk to her tea. "I'm the head of the burn trauma unit at the hospital now. We've incorporated a lot of the medical technology from the last couple of crashed spaceships. Highest recovery rate in the nation, if not the world," she adds proudly, and then frowns at him. "Are you listening to me?"
The Doctor looks up from offering sugar cubes in his palm to Kady. "Hmm?"
"What do you think she is, a horse?" Martha sweeps the sugar out from under Kady's chubby fingers. "You can't give pure sugar to a two-year-old!"
He blinks at her, and lets his head sink down so that his chin rests on the table, regarding her innocently over the rim of his cup. "She's still human; it's not as if her physiology is fundamentally different from yours. And I remember that time with the chocolate in New New York."
"With the ... oh. That." Martha prefers to believe that there is something addictive about future chocolate that her 21st-century physiology can't handle. And she still can't look at a buttercreme without wincing. "And that's an argument for giving her sugar?"
After a moment's thought, he hooks his arm around the sugar bowl and tows it safely closer to his side of the table.
Martha snorts. "Good answer."
There is a moment of silence.
"Husband's still alive, then, is he?"
She rolls her eyes at him. "Yes, he is."
"And you're still human, and all of that."
Martha stops in the act of prying small sticky fingers off her sleeve. "Excuse me? Should I not be?"
"One never knows," he retorts defensively. "People sometimes mutate, for various reasons. Just checking."
The Doctor is so terrible at making small talk that it's really quite funny. There have been times when she'll wake up at night thinking about something that he said, and roll over trying to muffle her giggles in her pillow so that she doesn't wake Aaron. It's just -- he's not like anyone else.
Only recently, however, has she begun to consider that maybe the main reason why he's so lousy at it is because he has very little practice. Most of the conversations that she remembers having had during her travels with him basically fell into one of two camps: "Duck! Run!" or "Here's how you use this incomprehensible object without blowing up yourself or the universe, if possible." It's not unreasonable to assume that it would have been the same with others. There never was much time for "Hi, how's the weather?"
And maybe one reason why he comes to see her is because he is trying to teach himself to be a little better at it. Maybe he is trying to learn how to be something other than what he has always been -- not a clown or a savior or a god or a devil, not an island and not the pillar on which the world revolves ... but a friend.
"Oh, damn it, look at the time!"
The Doctor stops in the middle of telling a joke that she doesn't quite understand but still finds absurdly funny, about two Judoon and a Krillitane in a time vortex. "What?"
She's already scrambling up, getting an arm around Kady and tossing down some coins on the table. The Doctor never pays; he doesn't carry Earth money, and the one time he tried to use the psychic paper as a credit card, she stopped him because it didn't feel right. "I'm sorry -- it's almost two, and I still have to catch a train back across town, and get ready for work. I'm really sorry. It's been --" She stops, and stands looking down at him. In this incarnation he looks about forty-five or so -- older than the Doctor she first met, enough older that she isn't quite so acutely aware of the years slipping slowly through her while he glides around them. "It's really nice to see you again," she says, and hopes he knows how much she means it.
He smiles up at her -- that oddly wistful smile she remembers so well. "Martha, you don't have to be late when I have a time machine."
And that's how she finds herself outside with a light mist of autumn rain settling on her shoulders, dusting Kady's hair with tiny jewels. Her eyes scan for -- yes -- a blue police box, sitting on the streetcorner, looking absurdly out of place as pedestrians pass by without even noticing it. The pavement glistens wetly underfoot, and she runs, laughing, through the rain, the Doctor by her side and Kady heavy in her arms.
That same small, familiar key unlocks the door of the TARDIS, and warm dry air washes over her: a distinctive smell like ozone and old books, a smell she's never forgotten in all these years. Sometimes, when she's cleaning a bathroom at home or examining a patient at work, she'll pause for just a moment, thinking she catches a whiff of it. She would never in a million years -- or one hundred trillion years -- give up her kids and Aaron and all the lives she's saved at the hospital, but sometimes, in those moments, she thinks: This is the price that angels pay when they fall to Earth and leave behind their wings.
"You must be Nionda," she says to the small blue-feathered bipedal person who is reading a book with her feet propped up on the TARDIS's console.
The little alien just peeks at her around the book. Incongruously, she's wearing glasses and has three rings in her left ear -- or earlike appendage, anyway. "Yep. Who're you?"
"Yes, yes," the Doctor says impatiently, pushing Nionda's feet off the console, "introductions later, she's going to be late and we can't take her backwards in her own timeline, so let's get across town, shall we?"
Kady is getting very heavy, so Martha sits down on the floor with her daughter in her lap and folds her arms across Kady's warm, solid body. Kady watches everything in silence, her curious eyes drinking it all in. She's always been a solemn child, unlike her boisterous brothers, and Martha wonders if her little girl is old enough to remember this -- the day when she touched time and space.
The TARDIS sets down with a jolt, and the Doctor gestures at the door. "After you."
"Oh, you're more polite in this regeneration, I see." She smiles to take the edge off her words and nudges open the door with just a bit of trepidation that he's missed the exact date and put her down a couple of years in the future. But, no -- it's the same gray, rainy day that she left, with AJ's bike lying on the lawn and their little silver car in the driveway.
"Regeneration?" the bird girl says, curiously, behind her.
Martha tosses a smile over her shoulder. "Oh, you'll find out, if you stay with him long enough. Want to come in? I can't stay for long, but I could offer you some tea --"
She pauses, realizing that she just invited an alien into her home, but the bird girl is shaking her head.
"Naah, the light on your world's toxic to me. I'll just stay here." Nionda flutters a wave goodbye, and settles back with her book.
The Doctor trails after Martha, out into the rain. "You know that as I go on, if I cross your timeline in your future, I can't ever go back."
Martha smiles a little. "I know. You mention it every time." She looks both ways down the empty street before crossing. "You know, you should stop by and see Jack, since you're in the neighborhood. He's living in Edmonton, shacking up with an artist -- I've got his number around somewhere. The last we talked, he was thinking about putting Torchwood back together again, if he can."
The Doctor makes a noncommittal sound. Martha infers, then, that this is probably one of those timeline things he won't talk about. There are more and more of those, as her life goes on -- the little things he won't or can't mention.
"Well," he says.
"Well. Call me. You know, if you can without wrecking the spacetime continuum, or whatever they're calling it these days." She offers a smile, and tries to free up a hand from Kady to give him a shake goodbye. But he's already moving, and before she knows it, damp arms enclose both her and the little girl -- squeezing tight, so tight.
Her arms bound up with Kady, she can't hug back, so she just rests her head on his shoulder for a minute. Then he's stepping back, and so is she. He offers the wistful smile again, then turns and walks back to the TARDIS without looking back.
After a moment, she does likewise. She hears the sound of the time machine behind her, but doesn't need to look back to see the empty sidewalk before opening the door. A gust of wind blows past her, and then she's inside, setting Kady down on the carpet in the hall.
"Hey, hon," Aaron calls down the stairs. "Appointment?"
"Lunch date," she calls back, hurrying for the downstairs bathroom to pin up her hair for work. No time to change clothes, but she'll end up in scrubs at the hospital anyway. "That old friend I told you about? The one I used to travel with, back before I got out of medical school?"
"Ah, yes, that friend." There is amusement in his voice as it echoes around the corner. Martha's phantom friend has become a bit of a running joke between them; Aaron sometimes accuses her of concocting her mysterious college friend from figments of her imagination. "You need to invite him over one of these days, so I can meet him."
"I'll do that." She looks up at herself in the mirror -- at the deepening lines around her eyes and mouth, every one of them earned -- and she grins through a mouthful of hairpins, knowing that for all she's left behind, she doesn't regret a thing. "One of these days."