After the battle, Martha and the Doctor go walking through the makeshift infirmary, set up on the edges of the factory grounds. An extra troop of UNIT doctors had been called in, and an older lady with a truly impressive series of medals on her dress uniform had personally checked out fellow Dr. Jones and pronounced her fit for duty. After that, they were free to wander – like children in a zoo, the Doctor had muttered, grinning at Martha’s, speak for yourself.
“There are fewer fatalities than I was expecting,” Martha observes, turning to watch a young soldier extend and rotate his arm under supervision. “Although plenty of injuries.”
“Yeah.” The Doctor drew out the word, his hands in his pockets, glancing about with a careful expression of nonchalance. “There’s a theory about that, actually – since the Sontarans are only vulnerable in the back of the neck, and since their weapons and armor are so good, they usually shoot to injure than to kill. Gives the enemy a chance to get back up and put up a fair fight.” The Doctor stretches his shoulders and rotates his neck. “Barking, all of them.”
“You’re one to talk,” Martha says, turning to shoot him an arch glance. “Strolling onto a Sontaran battle cruiser, armed with an atmosphere convertor—“
“Yeah, Donna seemed a bit put out about that.” The Doctor rubs his arm. “What was that about?”
“You scared her,” Martha says. “Me, too. Thought I might never see you again.”
“Naaaaah.” The Doctor caught her in a friendly, one-armed hug.
“It was very action hero of you, though.”
“Now you’re just making fun of me.” The Doctor kept his arm around her, guiding her through the rows of stretchers and medical supplies. She’d given him back his coat and traded her hospital gown for a set of old fatigues; he’d promised that she had a leftover change of clothes aboard the TARDIS, however, which was just as well. These smelled a bit like the bottom of someone’s duffel.
“She hit me, though,” the Doctor says, picking up the thread of their conversation as the reach the end of the medical staging area. “I’m not sure I want to encourage that sort of behavior.”
“It’s good for you.”
“Hitting? Or getting hit?”
“Getting hit,” Martha clarifies. “Keeps you humble.”
“I’m perfectly humble.”
Martha laughs out loud. “Oh, yeah, definitely.”
“No problems there.”
She’s still laughing at him. “No, none at all.”
They reach the end of the crowd, the hurried confusion and the heavy scent of disinfectant retreating, leaving them in nothing but the clean, cool air. Martha takes a deep breath, tugging her borrowed jacket tighter around herself and shaking back her hair. The Doctor turns to face her and grins, preparing to speak, when an unfamiliar voice calls, “Doctor!”
Martha, facing him, witnesses the complex surge of emotions that flash across his face. Shock, incredulity even, followed by a hint of devastation and then wide open glee. The Doctor bounds past her, back into the medical tent, and grabs a dark-haired stranger in a hug. “You’re alive!”
The stranger – a UNIT soldier by the look of him, with one arm in a sling and the other thrown automatically around the Doctor’s back – looks surprised, but pleased. “Sure enough.” The Doctor releases him and the two men exchange grins. “Close call, though.”
“I’ll say.” The Doctor inspects his arm and shoulder with familiar nosiness. “Just barely missed your heart. You’re a lucky man, Ross Jenkins.”
Ross dips his chin in a military nod. Martha steps around the Doctor, resting her hands on the metal foot of Ross’s bed. “Who’s this, then?” she asks the Doctor.
“Ah, my bad!” The Doctor runs a hand through his hair, bouncing on his heels. “Martha, this is Ross, he’s my – well, he was my – he’s my friend.” The Doctor’s hand goes from his head to clap on Ross’s shoulder. “And Ross, this is Dr. Martha Jones.”
Martha and Ross exchange a handshake and polite greetings. “Let’s see how you are, then – you don’t mind if I have a peek at your chart, do you?”
She’s already flipped it open and is paging through it. “Not at all,” Ross says, amused.
“Not failing basic examination procedures anymore, are you?” the Doctor says happily. “Checking the charts now?”
“Yes, well, I’m less likely to be surprised by someone’s second heart that way,” Martha retorts. “It says they’ve got you on some painkillers, are they working all right, Ross? You’re not in any pain?”
“No, ma’am,” Ross says. “I feel fine, really. I shouldn’t be sitting around, I should be helping.” He casts a guilty glance over his shoulder and his left foot, dangling over the side of his makeshift bed, swings back and forth anxiously.
“Don’t overdo it,” the Doctor says quickly. “You’re lucky to be alive. How’d you get out of there, anyway? I was sure you were dead.”
Ross shrugs, a little uncomfortably. “I guess they were sure, too. When I came to the hall was deserted – I went back the way we came and found a place to hide till the Valiant started shooting up the place.” His voice turned thoughtful. “That was fun.”
Martha’s eyes had widened. “Yeah, I’ll just bet,” the Doctor said. He hesitated, the last of the smile leaving his face. “The rest of your team?”
Ross shook his head, mouth tightened. “All dead.” He added, after a pensive moment, “They’ve recovered the bodies.”
The Doctor clearly didn’t know what to say to that one. “That’s good,” Martha said, filling up the silence. “For the families. What’s the latest bodycount, d’you know?”
Ross shrugged again. “Two hundred, two hundred fifty.”
Martha took a careful breath. “Not as bad as it could have been.” Although, of course, the number would go up as they continued digging through the wreckage. “Not by far.”
The Doctor nodded and released Ross’s shoulder at last. Martha gave his wound a cursory inspection, more to fill up the silence than anything else. The burn was long but shallow, starting an inch above his heart and moving up towards his shoulder. The wound was angry and red; Martha covered it again quickly, trying to shield the Doctor from the sight of it with her body.
“Your first combat?” the Doctor said suddenly, breaking the silence. Ross started a little and blinked at him in confusion. “This was your first time in combat?”
The Doctor nodded, eyes soft. Martha cast a last glance at Ross before turning her attention back to the clipboard – Ross’s face was grey underneath a natural pallor, his eyes dilated and strained, his breath shallow. She was impressed he was sitting upright under his own power, but the muscles in his back and shoulder had been rigid under her hands. Maybe he just couldn’t relax. That happened sometimes.
“What’d you think of ‘em?” the Doctor asked, jerking his head skywards. “The aliens.”
Ross frowned thoughtfully, then uttered a short laugh and shook his head. “They outclassed us in every way,” he said. “We didn’t stand a chance. I understand there was some kind of rallying of the troops, but – it’s a good thing you blew up their ship, sir.” His eyes moved restlessly over the infirmary, seeing it blackened, destroyed no doubt.
“I had help with that,” the Doctor reminded them.
A light flickered, dimly, in Ross’s eyes. “Luke Rattigan.”
The Doctor nodded once, solemnly.
Martha turned a page in the charts, frowning, and went to rummage through a nearby crate. She came back with a fresh IV drip, which she set about to hooking up.
“So, Ross,” the Doctor said, crossing his arms and leaning against a nearby pole. “Now that you’ve seen aliens, and fought them, and lived to tell the tale – what d’you think about it? All that up there?” He jerked his chin upwards again, but this time he was smiling. “The Great Beyond?”
Martha glanced at him – I know what you’re up to, that look said – and went back to her task.
The hint of a smile came and went over Ross’s face. He didn’t say anything for a while, lost in thought.
“There must be a lot,” he finally said. “For a race like the Sontarans,” he stumbled a bit over the name, “to exist.”
“There is a lot.”
“And there’s not much keeping it from Earth,” he continued, turning his tired eyes on the Doctor. “Except you, maybe. And all of us.”
The Doctor smiled enigmatically. “Maybe.”
“Too much to learn, maybe,” Ross said. “But – we should’ve been prepared. That shouldn’t have happened, in the corridor today. It’s not going to happen again, if I have any say in it. We have to be prepared.” He took a deep breath, or tried to, but it ended in a wince. He leaned, very carefully, back against a pole behind his bed. “We have to be ready.”
The Doctor was disappointed, but he hid it well. Martha hid a quiet sigh, still pretending to read the clipboard; the Doctor glanced at her – I know what you’re up to, that look said – but spoke to Ross. “That’s why you joined up?”
Ross smiled ruefully. “Sort of, sir.”
“Ah, well then.” The Doctor straightened brightly and Martha promptly finished with the clipboard. “Duty calls and all. All finished with the clipboard, Martha?”
She shoot him a glare disguised as a smile. Ross hid a smirk of his own. “All finished,” she said, with dignity. “You’ll be all right, Ross.”
He gave her another of those nods that resembled nothing so much as a salute. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And if you ever change your mind about all that up there,” the Doctor said, starting to walk backwards, towards the TARDIS and the waiting Donna, “if you ever decide you want to see it just to see it – I’m sure you’ll be able to find me.” His circular gesture could have been indicating the sky or even Martha herself, it was impossible to tell.
Ross’s brow furrowed in concentration and sudden thought. “Yes, I’ll . . . remember that. Sir.”
The Doctor tossed him a jovial wink and swung around a pole and into the crowd. Martha, a step behind him, called back to Ross, “And take it easy with that arm! No heavy lifting, nothing stressful or strenuous, just – go home, take some time off, visit with your family. You know.”
Ross’s smile was a little more genuine than it had been before. “I will,” he promised. “Thanks, doctor.”
Martha flicked him one last glance, side-stepping a pile of boxes. Wide-eyed and dark, it seemed almost sad, or perhaps just startled – but then she was turning, finding and following the upright brown-suited figure through the bustle and clamor of the spiraling crowd. And then they were both gone.