A/N: All recognisable dialog from DotD isn’t mine, though most of it has been tweaked, and “The Fray” is a poem by Jon Treloar. Kills me with four simple lines, then skates all over my insides. The Alpha found it in a library once and ripped the page out to carry in her pocket with her father’s watch. She’s morbid like that. Also, terribly disrespectful of books, apparently.
Preparing soapbox; bear with me a moment:
I dislike the concept of a ‘War Doctor.’ Nothing against John Hurt, he gave a superb performance, I just completely hate the whole concept.
Why would the Doctor do that? Why the hell wouldn’t he do what the Doctor does and try to fight as a man who is never cowardly or cruel?
So I’ve nixed it… because, dammit, I am the Ultimate Authority of this story, and I can. So, this is the Eight. As it should be, IMHO. I mean, Paul McGann!! The transformation from “poet” (I put in “poet” because Eight is full of deep-feels and passion, not necessarily because he writes it. Generally, we associate the poet-type persona with Eight-ish qualities) to soldier is such a heartbreaking and poignant dichotomy which they totally dismissed by turning him into a different man. Sure, the choice to regenerate into “the War Doctor” was a bit of that, albeit a total bone-thrown cop-out, but keeping the eighth Doctor would’ve spoken to real life parallels in which real people face the evils of war (à la All Quiet on the Western Front,) leaving not only mountains of death in their wake, but generations of ruined hearts and minds.
Why? Why make it easier on our hero by regenerating him into someone pre-programmed by The Sisterhood to withstand the horror? Why not allow us to see how badly it affected such a genial, loving man? Give us truth in our craving for art! Do you think we will not love him? I promise you, we will. And it will break our hearts and open some eyes.
They missed out on something profound.
A casual, detached observer of the condition we call existence might surprise us with the stories they would tell. To such a spectator, the most important and influential thing in existence, that upon which survival is perched like a baby bird on an overburdened twig, would be as mundane to us as the blink of an eye, or the intake of breath, and it is this: a corner.
Corners are wildly unpredictable and dangerous things. We, as omniscient as we would like to believe we are, are actually rather dense creatures, unable to fathom what awaits around every bend. We can guess, of course, predict what is likeliest from prior experience, but none of us can ever truly know, and therein lies the peril. A speeding bus bowling down the footpath, or a hotdog vendor we’ve seen a thousand times? Will the other side hold fortune, calamity, or mundanity? We cannot say with any assurance that each time we turn, we are not risking our futures, or of those around us. We turn these precarious corners, a left instead of a right, perhaps, never fully grasping what the other direction might have meant. Possibilities and potential evaporate into the ether as time marches forward, each choice, each movement steering the careening vessel we pilot into the unknown. Ends, beginnings, successes, and failures all hinged as much upon the seemingly insignificant as our grand manoeuvrings.
Of course, corners are no more than a physical manifestation of the choices we make. We can no more say that the lemon tart was a better choice than the chocolate, than we can assume that turning down the chance to date one Henry Havelpenny did not actually save an entire town from an outbreak of goozlepox when he decided to stay home in his embarrassment, rather than show himself before the rest of his schoolmates at the winter ball.
For better or worse, these corners rule us, and sometimes, the corner manifests itself as a person.
For Selene Noble-Smith, Jack Harkness was just such a person.
She watched, with hearts aching, as the brilliant flash of blue from the supercharged vortex manipulator transported Captain Jack Harkness from her life, and into what she knew would be an agonising death.
He’d come back to life, and that very unnatural act would serve to create the pinhole in the Timelock. The delayed programming would take him back to safety while she threw herself into danger and uncertainty.
None of it felt real, and yet, time seemed to be coursing forward like a steam engine, which belied the surreal quality of her experience.
She expelled a great gust of air from her stuttering lungs, and ignored the tears burning in the backs of her eyes as she prepared her ship to navigate through the rift.
Running around the console, flipping switches, and pushing buttons, she frantically chased the moment threatening to leave her behind in her grief and guilt.
Finally, only the dematerialisation lever was left, and she hesitated before it, hands shaking, hearts pounding. One more practised movement meant no going back.
“Once more into the fray,” she whispered, and swallowed at the lump in her throat caused by the fear temporarily paralysing her.
“Into the last good fight I’ll ever know…”
She threw the lever with determined force, and the sequence began.
“Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.”
The second she entered the rift, the TARDIS began blaring warnings.
The rift energy was flooding in, and the young ship had little in the way of defence systems to stem the tide that could potentially overload the Little Girl, and ultimately cause her to explode.
They tumbled and pitched.
The ship was shaking apart!
She held tight to the controls as the gravity shorted in and out, momentarily frozen by the realisation that she may have made a critical mistake.
They were dragging through the rift, not slipping through smoothly, and it was bad. Very, so very, very bad. At this rate, the vibrations would tear them apart in three minutes and fifty-two seconds.
What had she missed?
Exploding was very much to be avoided at all costs as it would not only kill her, her beloved ship, and her mum, but the force would rip the entire rift apart like water and dry ice in a sealed plastic bottle. Who knew how many planets would be ripped apart with it, or if it would be enough to do worse? Damage the fabric of reality? End everything full stop? Certainly, if an explosion happened in the Doctor’s TARDIS that would be the case, but she feverishly hoped her own was too young to be so powerful.
She furiously ran around the controls, losing footing as the gravity cut out, and slamming her face on the console when it came back again, venting the mounting pressure in every way she could manage. She succeeded in getting it moving back out again by reversing the polarity of the radiation stabilisers, but the Little Girl was still two ticks from vibrating into oblivion.
It was going to be a very long—er—short, actually, short, and potentially roasty trip if she didn’t solve the shaking issues quickly.
Part of her desperately mourned the loss of Torin, who would have had this sorted in a trice with a laugh at her stupid panic, and another, still larger, was incredibly relieved he and Lios weren’t there in the danger she faced.
Adrenaline coursing like bitter wine through her veins, she willed her hysteria into submission, and in a stroke of inspiration, jettisoned all rooms but the console to streamline her ship and boost her speed. They needed to be riding the peak of the energy wave, not getting tubed any moment in its barrel. They just needed less friction.
The effect was instantaneous.
Selene was thrown violently to the grating as the ship doubled in speed, and quickly settled into fluid flight.
She lifted her head up off the floor, glowering at the Rotor Column before dropping her head back with a sigh of relief. She winced as she put pressure on the lump forming on the back of her head, but at least she wasn’t in a billion cosmic pieces.
Good Lord, that had been terrifying!
Another alarm blared, and she was on her feet quicker than a cat, and at the monitor. They were seconds from the Timelock.
No sooner had she thought about trying to brace herself than she was hurled to the floor once again, and more deafening alarms added to the cacophony of groans and bangs surrounding her.
Tossed like a rag doll as they plummeted, she hit the ceiling and walls in three separate places, before the whole ship impacted solid ground with a bang, and she was laid flat out on the grating once more.
The silence was nearly as frightening as the commotion had been.
She felt a trickle of blood running down her forehead and the bridge of her nose.
Both wrists were badly sprained and scraped, and the knees of her trousers had seen better days. Pale, bleeding skin peeked out of the splits in the black twill, and one kneecap had a sandy feeling inside like she’d shattered a bit of bone.
She had definitely bitten all the way through her bottom lip, and she was certain one of the hits to the wall had dislocated her left shoulder. Fortunately, the subsequent hit had popped it back into place, but it would hurt for a while, and she’d jettisoned the new infirmary.
Not that she had had any supplies in it with which to tend herself, but…
“Still kickin’, ain’t I?” she murmured to herself as she wiped at the blood on her face with her sleeve, then gingerly peeled off her coat to further examine her throbbing shoulder.
That you are. But you’re tough as nails. Make your brothers cry, you do.
Her head snapped in the direction of the time rotor, ignoring the throbbing pain and wooziness it caused. “Mum?”
“Mum! Oh, Mum!” she cried as she felt her mother’s essence in her mind. “I was properly scared somethin’ had gone wrong! Not with the flight—well, with tha’ too, but I couldn’t feel you an’, oh, I was really scared, Mum. So scared.”
Selene, we don’t have much time, so listen. I’m being pulled away. There’s something here. It’s singing to me, and I’m going to find it. Don’t leave the ship if you can help it. If you don’t hear from me again soon, get out.
“No! I can’t! I can’t jus’ leave you! An’ wha’ d’you mean somethin’s singin’ to you? An’ how’re you supposed to leave? You don’t exactly have legs, or anythin’! None of this makes sense! Mum!”
Silence reigned like a cruel tyrant.
“Mum!” she screamed again, then cursed in as many languages as she could remember after hitting her head so hard.
The man in the battered coat, with the battered boots matching his battered soul, strode purposefully through the desolate Barren Lands.
The twin suns, high in the orange sky, blazed mercilessly overhead as he trudged through the loose sands of his ruined home world. No cool breezes brought him relief from the sweltering heat, though the man knew he deserved none in any case.
He would not even wish the planet itself to have mercy upon him any longer.
In a sack thrown over his shoulder so he didn’t quite have to look at it, or really face it yet, was the deadliest thing in creation.
Or, did he have the right to that title now?
It fit well among the others, he supposed in his despondence. Those other names he had gathered as one gathers dust from the road upon his moving vehicles; they had stuck to him, but he had hardly been ashamed of them, or paid them much attention over the long years, and during the many travels in his life. Some were meant as insults, some warnings, but he had always been quite sure that almost none of them were fair. He had always been confident that, while the Cybermen, and Daleks, and Zygons, and Sontarans, and who knew how many others were right to fear him, and the titles they bequeathed were born of such fears, he had earned them by standing for what was right. They were pale in the light of the only title which mattered, the title he himself had chosen. The one he had not truly worn for many years now.
But this… this would be the title which bathed all the others in a sea of blood and shame.
This would be the title he would wear into death, and the one which, mercifully, no one would ever remember.
He’d long ago lost the right to carry the mantle of his own choosing, so why not?
Genocidal Maniac had a certain flare.
He shook his head bitterly, cursing the universe and all her cruelty. He had long since forgotten the feel of the jaunty curls which once bounced and bobbed when he shook his head or laughed.
Granted, it had been a very long time since he’d had such carefree, long hair, and even longer since he’d had the urge to genuinely laugh.
It had been, after all, a very long and brutal war, and he was a bitter, bitter man.
Once, he might have been called jaunty himself; laughter and exuberance were effortless, integral, one might even say connate. However, like the sands blowing through the Barrens, stealing over its borders and throttling all that once grew rich and red, bloodshed, famine, and death stripped away gentility, supplanted joy, and murdered passion.
With any luck, he’d be very dead soon, and not care a jot about how many years it had been since he’d found anything truly humorous, or that nothing would ever be more than ash in his mouth after this day.
Romana had come to him in the utmost secret – could it really be a mere five hours and fifty-two minutes ago? – with the President’s key into the Omega Arsenal, and a plea upon her lips for him to make an impossible choice.
She left him to struggle over the decision, and fled Arcadia.
His struggle was not long.
Once, he might have vehemently refused. Once, he may have believed nothing in the universe could warrant such drastic measures. Once, he would have moved the heavens and all the planets to avoid what she was asking of him. Once he would have found a way.
But then, once, he was another sort of man.
He felt the eerie cold of prying eyes upon him, and spun on his heel in the loose sand to try to spot the voyeur of his death march.
It would never do to be stopped now. As horrible as the prospect before him truly was, the alternative…
Seeing no one, and feeling unreasonably paranoid, he resumed his trek, but sped his pace, nonetheless.
Anyone come to stop him wouldn’t be able to hide long in this place of burning dunes and nothingness. He’d chosen it for its very bleakness.
Perhaps some part of him, which still held onto feeble romantic notions, thought it poetic. It mirrored his very soul. To flee, with so many lives in his hands, into such an infertile realm held a dramatic sense of irony. The procession, so very long and tedious, would afford him time to think—or, well, abuse himself relentlessly, but all his dismal recriminations were well deserved.
Yet, a still larger portion of his reasoning said it was pragmatic. No one would venture there.
So why did he still feel like someone was following?
He quickly stopped, and took in his surroundings again.
Desert as far as the eye could see.
Perhaps he was finally cracking. Perhaps, this was the final straw, and wasn’t that just marvellous?
He’d seen countless scores of Gallifrey’s children slaughtered in the fall of Arcadia – mere hours before – when the final barriers protecting his people crumbled beneath the overwhelming fleets of Daleks; their small bodies crumpling in agony, like so much useless fodder, while the evil embodied screamed their foul battle cries of EX-TER-MINATE. He watched, in helpless horror, as the citadel of the Shining World of Seven Systems burned, and exploded into smoking ruins, never again to glow like the crowning jewel of the majestic red and orange planet of his birth.
He had believed then that that had done it, had utterly broken him – how could it not? – as his mind repeated the words still haunting him with every one of his pleading heartsbeats…
No more, no more, no more, no more.
But now, he was plodding toward his unfathomable task to kill everyone and everything, only breaking further, and positive he was being watched, though he honestly couldn’t be more alone, both literally and figuratively.
Apparently, the madness before was just the first course, and this was the main.
He was losing it. Had lost it. Would lose it entirely.
“Hello? Is somebody there?” he called out to the lonely dunes, almost noncommittal in the wake of the stealing numbness.
If someone was going to try to kill him, he wished they’d just get on with it.
“It’s nothing,” came the cheeky reply from behind in a youthful, sing-song voice. “It’s just a wolf.”
…So close it was practically in his ear.
He spun around again, kicking up a spray of burning sand, the bag he carried nearly slipping from his shaking hands, and came face to face with a ragged-looking, blonde woman with golden eyes, and a smile upon her full lips.
He let the cloth bag fall to his side as he studied her.
Her once-white clothing was spattered with dirt and soot, and torn in countless places. He couldn’t decide whether she looked like a refugee, or just a madwoman. Her hair seemed to move restlessly in the non-existent breeze, a wild mess of golden curls around her face, and her eyes… Somehow, he was certain he’d gazed upon them years before, though perhaps in another face.
She was beautiful. Oh, yes, beautiful, and terrible, and he was sure he’d seen her somewhere in his dreams.
Perhaps, she was a harbinger of madness. His madness.
Yes, he was most definitely going utterly mad now, he was sure. And wasn’t it all very convenient? Her being there to bring it on and confirm its legitimacy, all in one fell swoop.
There were worse things to hallucinate, he supposed. Daleks, and nightmares which took the shape of children, and power-hungry Time Lords—all fine examples of worse. A pretty woman was more than generous of his brain, considering the hell he knew; the hell he was about to unleash.
“You don’t exist,” he said to the blonde woman, as if that settled the matter entirely.
“Rude!” she barked with arched eyebrows furrowed. “I very much exist! Will exist. Have always existed—I’ve never been good with tenses.”
“Can you do me a great favour, and exist elsewhere then?” He took up the sack once more and turned his back to her to continue his walk. “I’m a little preoccupied, if you don’t mind.”
“Part of me would very much like to slap you,” she said through narrowed golden eyes, dogging his steps. “The part I borrowed, I think. Shall I?”
He stopped again to look down at the ragged woman. “I’d rather you didn’t—unless somehow it made you disappear.”
The spectre grinned playfully, shook her mane of wild curls, and resumed walking.
He caught up to her in two short strides, and they fell into silent step while his thoughts strayed back to the brutality of war, and the grim task at hand. At least, if he was insane, and she all just a conjuring of his deranged mind, he wouldn’t be alone.
Did imaginary people count as company?
Didn’t matter. She was there, and he apparently wasn’t getting rid of her.
After a time – of which he hardly cared to calculate the exact length, though it had been long – the weary madman and his apparition came to a burned out shed, near a large sandstone boulder in the middle of the Barrens. Judging by the shed’s contents, he guessed it had once belonged to a Shobogan who could not, or would not live in Lowtown. They were all dead now, of course. They had survived while the shields surrounding Gallifrey held, but they were almost certainly dead in the first wave after the shields had fallen. No one had even spared a thought to the evacuation of a defective set of peoples. The Shobogans, as a rule, were not valuable to the Council. It was in this place of failure, and a life forgotten that he halted their journey.
He removed the bag from his shoulder, carefully setting it on the ground.
The cloth fell away, and he averted his tortured blue eyes from it.
He couldn’t look at it just yet. Couldn’t yet reconcile himself to his grisly task.
He needed a moment…
Movement in the corner of his vision caught his attention, and, before he knew it, he was shouting once more at the strange, golden-haired being who had followed him for miles on end through a doomed wasteland.
“Don’t sit on that!” he cried as he advanced on her. He would remove her himself if he had to.
What was she thinking? Did she think? Did her form have any substance? Why did he care? Wouldn’t her error save him the effort of pushing the button himself?
“Why not?” she asked mildly, crossing her tattered-stocking-covered legs, and tilting her head like an inquisitive canine pup.
“Because, ingenious child, it’s not a chair!” he exclaimed, though part of him reasoned she wasn’t actually real, so his point was of little import. “It’s the most dangerous weapon in the universe!”
“Why can’t it be both?” she grinned.
He huffed and rolled his eyes. Somewhere, sometime during the last centuries of war, he’d lost the ability to appreciate such frivolity. “Is that supposed to be a metaphor for something?” His mind would behave like a mischievous mistress, wouldn’t it?
“Don’t know.” She shrugged, but stood and moved away from the box covered in the intricate writings of his people. “Maybe. Do you want it to be? That’s how metaphors work, right?”
Crisis averted, he scowled at her vague response, and redoubled his efforts to ignore her, and mentally prepare himself. He began to pace, letting his thoughts stray into his darkness.
“Why’d you park so far away?” the blonde apparition asked innocently, strange eyes scanning the shed for Omega knew what. “Didn’t you want her to see it?”
“Want whom to see what?” he bit out, angry that she couldn’t just give him some peace.
She rolled her eyes and regarded him like he was utterly dense. “The TARDIS. You walked for miles and miles. And miles and miles and miles—”
“I was thinking!” he snapped, their gazes meeting and locking with nearly tangible gravity.
“And I heard you.”
“You heard me?” Yes. He was insane. Officially. Unequivocally. Irrevocab—
“Ye-p,” the apparition replied with a feral grin. Her voice became spectral, haunting, even as her eyes mocked him. “No more.”
Suddenly, the weapon at her feet came to life with a burning, intense light.
Without thinking, he dived toward her to protect her, shielding her body with his own. She nimbly side-stepped him before he could touch her, then hopped up with graceful ease on a broken moisture collection machine in the midst of piles of other broken machines, and watched him with playful, if inappropriate, amusement.
“It’s activated! Get out of here!” he commanded, not really knowing why—only that, no matter how battle-hardened he had become, he could not abandon his value for life.
Still, it would kill everything, including her, no matter where she ran.
He reached out to examine the weapon, trying in all desperate haste to find a way to stop it or slow it, but pulled his hands back as it burned his fingers.
“What’s wrong?” she asked sweetly, the echoing quality of not a minute before gone without a trace.
Had he imagined it? Surely, he had. The word she spoke haunted him. It had been in his head. It was only another trick of his mind.
“The interface is hot!” he replied angrily with his fingers in his mouth, still trying to work out a way to turn it off.
“Well, I do my best for my Doctor,” she giggled – really, apparitions should not be allowed to giggle, even if one was going a bit around the bend – stood, and affected a mock bow from atop her perch.
His eyes fixed themselves on hers, and he held his breath.
“You’re the interface?”
She jumped down from her seat on the debris, and started pacing a slow, almost hypnotic circle around him.
“They must have told you the Moment had a conscience.”
She waggled her fingers at him.
“Hello!” she grinned, her chin tucked and lashes batting coyly. “Oh, you poor, silly Time Lord, look at you. Stuck between a girl and a box. Story of your life, eh, my Doctor?”
“Y-you know me?”
“I hear you,” she corrected. She touched her temple with a slender finger. “All of you. Jangling around in that dusty, old head of yours.”
He collapsed back onto his bum, dust puffing up around him, and raked his fingers through his sweaty hair. He was prepared for his own madness. He was not prepared to be held in judgement by the Moment.
“I chose this face and form especially for you,” she informed. “It’s from your past.” She cocked her head again, “Or… possibly your future. I always get those two mixed up.”
“I don’t have a future.”
She ignored him and resumed her predatory, cat-like patrol around him and the weapon. “I think I’m called… Rose Tyler.” She shook her mane once again. “No. Yes, no. Sorry, no. No, in this disembodied form, I’m called… Bad Wolf.”
Her eyes flared golden, her last once more taking on the eerie spectral echo he’d been sure he’d imagined, and he couldn’t help the tremor which ran down his spine.
“Are you afraid of the big Bad Wolf, my Doctor?”
“Stop calling me Doctor.”
“Oh?” she stopped, and bent before him, bringing their faces within inches of each other. “That’s the name in your head. The one you can’t fully let go. That’s the name the Bad Wolf recognises.”
“It shouldn’t be,” he choked, rolling away from her and getting to his feet. “I’ve been fighting this war for a long time. I’ve lost the right to be the Doctor.” He began to pace in his frustration. “And Bad Wolf, Bad Wolf! What is Bad Wolf exactly?”
“Salvation,” she purred, and the echoing word seemed to ring through the hovel, and indeed, into time itself.
“What possible salvation lies in total destruction?”
“You tell me.”
“I…” he stopped and looked at his grimy hands. “I no longer know… but I know what must be done.”
“Then you’re the one to save us all?” she purred from over his shoulder.
“Yes,” he whispered. He had steel in his gaze, the once-handsome and gentle features bearing the weight of the universe.
The interface made a rude noise and giggled again. “If I ever develop an ego, my Doctor, you’ve got the job.”
“If you have been inside my head, then you know what I’ve seen.”
He was practically begging her then, though she probably understood far more than he would ever begin to fathom. He craved absolution; wanted her to tell him he was making the right choice—that, indeed, no other option was left.
“The suffering,” he choked. “Every moment in time and space is burning! It must end. I intend to end it the only way I can.”
“And you’re going to use me to end it?” she posed with a seriousness she had not yet displayed. “By killing them all—Daleks and Time Lords alike? I could. Maybe I even will, but there will be consequences for you.” She seemed to grow more terrible and otherworldly as every syllable left her lips.
He swallowed but met her assessing stare with no hint of fear or self-preservation. “I have no desire to survive this.”
“Then that’s your punishment,” she spat. “If you do this – if you kill them all – that is your consequence. You live. Gallifrey burns. Your people burn. And all those Daleks and nightmares burn with them—but all those children too.”
He flinched, seeming to waver in his resolve.
“How many children are on Gallifrey right now?”
The thought made him want to be sick.
“I-I don’t know.”
“One day, you will count them,” she informed, as she moved in her slow, clockwise circles around him. “One terrible night, you will see all of their faces, and you will count them. Every. Last. One. Do you want to see what that will turn you into?”
She looked at him in doubtful appraisal, as if his very soul lay bared before her, and she could see every wanting facet – well, she probably could.
He did not care to look himself. He knew how blackened and broken he was inside. Why would he ever want to see the monster she was dooming him to become? How could any punishment be as cruel?
And yet, it was no more than he deserved.
“Come on,” she wheedled in a softer, disarming echo, like a cool wind, or a lullaby sung to his soul. It belied the unimaginable power within. “Aren’t you curious? I must say, I’m disappointed! Where is all your insatiable curiosity now, my Doctor? I’m opening windows on your future, just once, and allowing you this one peek. A tango in time through the days to come… to the man today will make of you. What do you say? Do you dare?”
She raised her hand and the Moment glowed brightly once again.
A shimmering ripple in the atmosphere next to them appeared at her beckoning.
Both turned to look through the strange rip the interface had opened.
A half a second later a jaunty, red fez hat came sailing through and landed at their feet.
The Bad Wolf girl tilted her head in amusement, her voice once more playful and sweet. “Okay, I wasn’t expecting that.”