The Lines of Fear and Blame by Katherine_b [Reviews - 1] |
I strongly suspect that this entire story will have become redundant by midnight GMT on January 1, 2009, so hopefully you can enjoy it for what it was – a possible, fannish solution to the monumental cliffhanger posed at the end of The End of Time Part I, albeit one that has nothing to do with Time Lords, the Time War, Gallifrey, or anything else except for the bond between Donna, Wilf and the Doctor.
MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH. You have been warned.
The Master’s terrible, mocking laughter echoes through the room, and beyond that, the world outside. What had been the faint but definite scent of the man suddenly becomes a massively overpowering stench that almost makes him gag.
Or is that just the almost paralyzing fear he can feel creeping over him?
Over the sound of laughter, however, is the dull thud of Wilf banging helplessly on the glass door holding him in — holding him safe. Rightfully, Wilf is far more worried about Donna than six billion Masters, and deep inside, the Doctor feels the same way. However he’s always known he can’t save everyone and he’s desperately trying to calculate a way out of this.
Then there’s a massive, electronic ‘whomp’ and blinding white light flashes out of the Immortality Gate again.
Blinded, he staggers back a little, feeling the echo of that wave passing almost instantly over the entire world.
And when he can finally see again, the faces of the Master are frozen into a sort of mocking, 3-dimensional panorama. Only Wilf’s agitated movements in the background are enough to prove that the Doctor himself hasn’t been affected by some sort of forcefield.
“Stasis magnification shield,” a voice from behind one of the Masters says, and the Doctor looks in that direction to find two green, spiky heads peering out of the same door both he and Wilf entered this room through.
“The Master locked the machine,” the Doctor protests, taking a step forward, half expecting all of the Masters to leap back into life again as he does so.
However they remain motionless, massive grins on their rigid faces, and he knows that the laughter he can still hear is just an echo in his mind.
“I… fixed it,” Rossiter tells him somewhat hesitantly.
The other man suddenly looks sheepish, and Addams rolls her eyes. “He doesn’t know,” she snaps, shoving aside the Master in Joshua’s suit, who falls forward onto his face on the floor. “He tripped over something — his own feet probably! — hit a whole range of buttons, and it all started working again.”
“Brilliant!” The Doctor is just starting to grin when he glimpses Wilf.
That man’s face is covered with tears and he is pounding helplessly on the glass door, trying to get the Doctor’s attention, saying Donna’s name over and over again into the phone, as if trying to get her to talk to him.
The Doctor crosses the few feet of floor in a second pulling out the sonic screwdriver and aiming it at the lock, but nothing happens and he grinds his teeth as he realises that the doors are deadbolted.
“Cover your eyes,” he orders, and then, almost before Wilf can obey, uses the sonic to shatter the heavy glass.
Even before the final pieces hit the floor, he has reached forward and grabbed Wilf’s arm, pulling him out of the cubicle.
Wilf stares as he almost falls against one of the Masters.
“Wh… what happened?”
“They’re frozen,” the Doctor says simply. “For now anyway.”
“But we’re not,” Wilf points out.
“We set it to the Master’s wavelength,” Addams says proudly. “Every single Master across the whole of this silly planet. Frozen in time.”
“Donna’s safe from them,” the Doctor promises Wilf, reassuring himself at the same moment.
“But she’s in pain, Doctor,” Wilf tells him. “Listen!”
He fumbles a little before setting the phone on speaker, and the Doctor can hear tiny, stifled sobs. He can almost feel the echoes of the pain she’s feeling in himself and the sound galvanises him into action.
“We have to go!” he orders, grabbing Wilf’s arm and glancing at the Vinvocci. “We’ll be back. Just keep them like this as long as you can.”
“On one condition.” Addams holds up a small box containing a button that he guesses will reverse the stasis beam and, much as he simply wants to shove her out of the way and rush to Donna, he has to stop and listen.
“What is it?”
“You let us take the Gate with us.”
“Yes!” The word is out of his mouth almost before the woman finishes speaking. He would promise her anything at this moment, but he certainly has no intention of leaving such a dangerous machine on Earth. There are other people, as bad as or worse than Joshua Naismith, who would given anything to get their hands on it. “Just let us find a way to reverse what the Master’s done and then it’s yours.”
She steps aside with a nod, and the Doctor pulls Wilf behind him out of the door. The man is speaking into the phone, trying to reassure Donna and get her to talk to him.
There’s a sob that makes the Doctor’s hearts ache as he hurries through the basement, past the machines that are now lit up like Christmas trees, and through the maze of half-lit tunnels that will take them back to the stable and the TARDIS.
“Help me,” Donna chokes out through clenched teeth. “Please!”
With the phone still on speaker, the Doctor can hear her voice, which cuts through him almost more agonisingly than when he had watched her outside that café.
And then her next words make him start and stop dead so that Wilf actually runs into him.
“I need to talk to him.”
Wilf holds out the phone almost hesitantly, and the Doctor stares at it for a moment as if it’s going to bite him before gingerly taking it and holding it up to his ear.
Her voice is almost a sob in reply. “Doctor.”
His hearts leap in his chest, although he can’t tell if it’s pure joy at hearing her voice say his name, or terror at the weakness of her tones.
“Hold on, Donna,” he vows, starting to run again. “We’ll be there soon. Are you safe from the Master?”
“Until the stasis magnification shield wears off, yes.”
A bitter smile curls his lips as he and Wilf scramble out of the low door towards the stable where the TARDIS is concealed.
“The DoctorDonna,” he says lovingly. “As brilliant as ever.”
“Please, Doctor,” her voice is low, every word an effort, pain audible in each syllable, which makes even the faint smile on his face vanish, “I can’t keep inhibiting my neurotransmitters from multi-amplification for long. The synaptic vesicles are…”
“…being overloaded, I know,” the Doctor finishes for her as he skids to a halt amid the hay and summons the TARDIS back into real time. “I’m coming as fast as I can.”
“Complete protoplasmal incapacitation.”
“That’s only as a last resort,” he assures her, flinging open the TARDIS doors and almost running up to the console. “If nothing else works.”
“What does that mean?” Wilf demands as he breathlessly follows the Doctor into the TARDIS and closes the door.
“Completely shut her body and mind down,” the Doctor replies hurriedly, hearing Donna groan softly on the other end of the phone as another wave of agony clearly strikes. “But it’s too dangerous for her to be subjected to it for more than a couple of hours.”
“If it saves her life…”
“It won’t,” the Doctor snaps as he enters numbers into the scanner and sends his ship on its way into the vortex. “Not forever. That’s the problem. It was designed to work on Time Lords, but without a binary vascular system like I have, it’s too dangerous for her to be exposed to it for long. And Donna knows it.”
“Please…” her voice begs into the phone, and the Doctor shudders as he remembers the last time he heard her pleading with him, throwing on the handbrake and tearing down the ramp in a few strides, hurling open the door and skidding to a stop.
He’s in the street outside Donna’s house and he can feel — and smell — the Master’s almost overpowering presence. Out of the corners of his eyes, he can see the Master in a myriad of different costumes, that manic, insane, frozen grin on every one of his faces.
But his attention is focused on the woman standing only a few feet away, who turns as he appears, all of the colour gone from her face and her eyes dark with agony. Her hands are pressed to her head and the phone is lying on the ground beside her, the sounds of the TARDIS echoing faintly from it from Wilf’s phone that is still lying on the console.
He almost runs into her, pulling himself up just short, reaching for her head and prising away her hands so that he can press his fingers against her too-warm skin.
The pressure inside her head is so massive that it almost terrifies him. As quickly as he can, he sets up mental blocks that will constrain it, but which, unlike last time, won’t leave her with no memory of him.
It’s too late for that.
She all but collapses against him as he finally lifts his hands away from her temples, the release from pain too much for her to absorb immediately. He supports her and turns to find Wilf beside him, Donna’s phone in her hand.
“TARDIS,” he orders, nodding at the blue box.
“But,” Wilf stares at his granddaughter, “what did you do?”
“Something temporary,” the Doctor admits as he helps Donna in through the doors, seating her gently on the jumpseat. He bends down to look into her face, relieved to see, as she manages a faint smile, that the lines of pain have mostly vanished.
“But why couldn’t you do that before?” Wilf demands as he takes Donna’s hand and starts to stroke her hair.
“This isn’t going to last forever, Gramps,” Donna tells him as the Doctor turns to the controls and sends the TARDIS into the vortex, heading for the Naismith manor.
“So he’ll find some other way to fix it.” Wilf says lightly, and the confidence in the man’s voice is like a kick in the guts. “Won’t he?”
He glances over in time to see a tear form in Donna’s eyes. “I’m sure he would if he could,” she replies softly, and takes a firmer hold on his hand.
The TARDIS materialises right next to the gate, and the Doctor is relieved when Donna gets to her feet and leads the way out of the white doors. The Vinvocci are still staring in the direction of the door he and Wilf left only seconds earlier. The Doctor is keeping on the right side of the laws of time — his experiences on Mars are still a very bitter lesson — but he’s cutting it awfully fine. The click of the door closing behind himself and Wilf is still sounding in the massive space as he steps out to face the sea of Masters.
Addams and Rossiter turn to stare at him as he closes the door and Donna moves over to the large computer.
“Time machine,” Rossiter tells his colleague triumphantly. “Told you he’d have one!”
But the Doctor has no time for this byplay. With an eye to the Master, he sends the TARDIS back into its concealed location a second out of sync with real time.
“I bet you never thought you’d take a lesson from the Daleks,” Donna puts in, and he looks up in time to see her grin.
However he can’t return the smile, because he can hear the pain in her voice and knows it will only be a matter of time before she begins to fail again.
“The stasis field will only last for a short time,” Addams says suddenly, having crossed the room to take a seat in front of the computer.
“There has to be a way of reversing the beam,” the Doctor tells them, leaving Wilf to join Donna at one of the computer consoles. Her fingers are flying over the keys and symbols dance across the screen, but nothing clicks into place “To send out a corrective notation.”
“It doesn’t look like it.” Donna glances at the male Vinvocci. “Keep an eye on the stasis field and report when it starts to fail.”
Rossiter nods and switches on the intercom before heading back down into the basement.
“Power reduced to normal levels,” Addams reports as the screen in front of Donna changes from red to green.
“That’s a start,” Donna puts in. “Now we need to finish the job.”
“What’s it all mean though?” Wilf demands as he finally comes over to join them, weaving around the Masters as if touching one will cause it to spring to life.
“It means that the next wave won’t convert everyone into identical forms. It will just make them human again,” the Doctor tells him. “The only problem is who to use as a subject for that wavelength.”
“Well, surely I’m the most likely choice,” Wilf announces, and the Doctor glances at him before returning his gaze to the computer, his hands resting on Donna’s shoulders.
“No,” he says simply.
“What?” Addams stares at the Doctor. “But — he’s the only ordinary human here!”
“He’s not even close to ordinary.” The Doctor steps away and looks Wilf up and down, his tone one of warning and determination. “He has some form of heightened sensory perception. He’s clearly had it all his life, because he doesn’t even realize it’s unusual. But I won’t have that sort of thing as part of the human race. It isn’t in their future and I won’t risk changing something that massive.”
“But this has to happen,” Wilf argues, moving closer to the Doctor but gesturing at the Master. “You can’t leave everyone like this — like him! That’d be the end of the human race, that would.”
“He’s a genius,” the Doctor points out. “Perhaps one of the most brilliant minds that ever existed. Planet Earth would become one of the most powerful locations in the Universe.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous!”
The voice from the far side of the room makes everyone start and they turn to find Donna giving the Doctor a mocking look.
“As if you’d ever leave the Master as the sole representative of the human race!” she scolds, pushing a final button and he sees the symbols on the screen come to a stop in a pattern of fifteen symbols.
She pushes the chair away from the desk and stands up.
“It has to be me.”
Wilf’s outburst seems to reverberate around the room, but Donna only smiles.
“There’s two of us left, Gramps. Two humans. You and me. And he,” she nods in the direction of the Doctor, “won’t let it be you. That doesn’t leave us with a lot of options.”
“You have the consciousness of a Time Lord in your mind, Donna,” the Doctor reminds her quietly. “That isn’t something that the human race can bear. You’re no more useful than your granddad.”
“No.” She smiles a little, shaking her head. “No, Doctor, because, as you say, I’ve got your mind in mine, which means I’ve always known the truth, too. You can take that part of my mind away.”
The Doctor feels something drop within him, even as, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Wilf staring at him in confusion and betrayal.
“You’ve always been able to fix her…” he’s beginning weakly when the Doctor turns on him, filled with sudden anger.
“Yes, I can take it away,” he explodes, turning on the other man. “Of course I can! But it’s going to kill her if I do it! She’ll die and there won’t be a single person in this whole damned Universe — not me or anyone! — who could save her! Is that what you want?!”
Wilf stares at him, the hurt becoming fear, and he can manage only a miniscule shake of his head.
He turns back to Donna to find her watching him, a sort of patient expectation on her face, and he feels a shudder pass through him. Not for the first time, he curses the many tiny events that led up to the meta-crisis.
“I’m going to die anyway,” she reminds him softly, and he feels the words like a physical blow.
What hurts most, though, is the calm acceptance in her eyes. He knows that while Donna Noble could never have been able to accept her fate in this way, the DoctorDonna can see the whole of time itself spread out before her, just as he can, and knows what she has to do.
A sense of bitterness rises in his throat and he has to fight back tears from his eyes.
“You’ve always known,” she goes on, “that I would die as soon as I remembered you. And you’ve never been able to forgive yourself for what you did.”
“You don’t know that,” he manages to get out. “You don’t know my thoughts. Not the new ones after the meta-crisis. You can’t!”
She smiles a little and crosses the floor to stop in front of him, reaching out to cup his cheek with her hand.
“I don’t need to read your thoughts to know that, Doctor,” she says gently. “I know you. I know what you’re like, how you can never forgive yourself for those moments in time when you couldn’t fix things. When the Doctor couldn’t make people better.”
For a moment she gazes into his eyes, and he tries to come up with arguments that will stop her, but deep down, he knows the truth, just as she does.
She’s the only hope to save the human race.
Understanding his wordless concession, she gives a smile and a little nod before turning away and returning to the computer.
“You can’t let her do it, Doctor!” Wilf has moved to his side, but the Doctor can’t tear his eyes away from the flame-haired woman typing at top speed as she checks various systems on the Gate.
He manages a faint, bitter smile at Wilf’s words. “I’ve never managed to talk her out of doing anything she really wanted.”
Wilf manages a chuckle, although it comes out more like a muffled sob. “Nor I,” he agrees. “Nor her Dad or my daughter.”
They watch her for a moment, and the Doctor is unavoidably reminded of those moments in the Crucible when she worked the controls to defeat the Daleks.
Macrotransmission of a K-filter wavelength blocking Dalek weaponry in a self-replicating energy blindfold matrix... Oh, bio-electric dampening field with a retrogressive arc inversion?... A two-way biological metacrisis... Don't just stand there, you skinny boys in suits! Get to work!... Trip-stitch circuit-breaker in the psycho-kinetic threshold manipulator... Ah, the universe has been waiting for me!
The tears come properly now and he feels them spill out of his eyes and down his cheeks.
“Please stop her,” Wilf whispers desperately, and he turns to see that Donna’s grandfather is also crying.
“She’s right,” he admits hoarsely. “It has to happen. If it stops now, humanity will never be able to return to its former state. And this isn’t the way things are meant to be. This is the only way to make it right.”
It might be the only way, but that doesn’t mean he’s not furious at fate for what it’s done to him now. He can’t help wondering if there was a way to change this — if he hadn’t fled from Ood Sigma’s summons, so that he arrived here sooner, could he have stopped this before it even began? Was this another mistake, as monumental as saving Adelaide and the others from Bowie Base One? And what would be the price he would have to pay this time? Something even greater than the loss of his best friend?
As the various systems move into alignment, the room becomes so silent that the Doctor can hear his own hearts beating unevenly in his chest. He curses his alien features and the fact that he can do nothing to save this race of beings that he has come to love.
And suddenly, for the first time in ages, he finds himself thinking of the version of himself with only one heart. That man, he knows, would have been human enough to take Donna’s place and resurrect the human race.
He suddenly realises that Donna is looking at him and she manages a half-smile as she meets his gaze.
“I miss him,” she admits. “I miss everything about that day — those moments. I wish it could have ended some other way.”
“So much,” he agrees softly. “So very much!”
The machine beeps again and the screen flashes green as the various symbols once more align themselves. The Doctor knows that the checks Donna has run on her processes have been completed. It’s ready.
And as she steps away from the computer towards her grandfather, who is still wiping away tears, he knows that the moment has come.
Donna stops in front of Wilf and hugs him almost fiercely. The Doctor can’t hear the words she whispers into his ear, but Wilf chokes and little and hangs on to her as if he can’t bear to let her go.
Finally, however, she frees herself of his hold and turns to face the Doctor, reading the emotions in his eyes.
“There’s no choice,” she tells him softly. “We both know that.”
He nods a little. “We were so good together.”
“We were,” she agrees with a smile. “Brilliant.”
“Beyond brilliant.” He pulls her into his arms, resting his chin on his head, wishing there was a way to change this, even now. “Beyond everything.”
She nods, resting against him for a moment, as if preparing for what is to come. Then he feels her pull back and looks down into her face, seeing the track of a single tear that has slid unnoticed down her cheek.
“Take it away,” she murmurs. “End it now.”
She steps a tiny distance away, her head going up, but her eyes closing, waiting for this, knowing what he has to do. It’s so agonisingly different from last time, when he went ahead even as she was begging him not to, that it almost takes his breath away.
But he knows there isn’t time to waste on thoughts like this.
His fingers lift to her temples almost as if she placed them there, and he finds her mind open, letting him in, waiting for him.
The echoes of his own mind are at the forefront, as if she’s delivering them to him, and he crushes them to nothing in an instant, feeling the minute change in Donna that he knows has condemned her to die.
A tiny gasp is the only sound that lets him know she has felt it.
She pulls away and he opens his eyes to find that she has already moved into the middle of the Gate. Her eyes, however, are not fixed on the Doctor or on Wilf, but on Addams.
“Do it,” she orders. “Now!”
The Vinvocci woman nods and presses a button on the console.
Instantly the room is filled with silvery-blue light, just as it was when the Master was in the centre of the massive towers.
Wilf’s exclamation goes unanswered, but the Doctor grabs Wilf’s arm to keep him from running into the Gate and trying to snatch his granddaughter out of harm's way. The Time Lord can feel the flickering of power in the room, and out of the corner of his eye, he watches as the faces of those around him, except for the original Master of course, begin to change.
His attention, however, is focused solely on Donna, seeing as her body begins to wilt now that her mind is no longer able to function properly due to the destruction of the Time Lord consciousness, which had weakened her so much. He watches as she takes in an unsteady breath, reaching out for support that isn’t there, and he wishes there was a way he could change this.
It’s pure agony to know that he can’t.
The light finally fades and the Doctor dashes into the Gate, catching Donna as she falls. Her breath, ragged and hesitant, is hot against his face and he can feel her arms trying to lift around him, but clearly she no longer has the strength.
Wilf's laboured breathing announces his arrival, but the Doctor has no attention to spare on anything except the dying woman in his arms.
He gently lowers her to the ground, reminded unavoidably of when he did this to her unconscious body. He can't bear to let her go altogether though, knowing that the final moment of separation will come soon enough. Instead he supports her upper body with his, her head resting against his shoulder. Wilf, tears pouring down his cheeks, takes Donna's hand, stroking it and then holding it to his cheek.
He looks down, startled by the breathless statement.
"How can you possibly be glad?" he demands angrily, feeling as tears sting his eyes.
She smiles a little, her eyes fixed on his face. "I could... have died... without ever... remembering... you."
"You would have lived longer," he says ruefully, blinking to clear his vision as she manages to lift a hand and link their fingers, that familiar touch of his skin against hers. "Been happy. Had your life with Stuart Temple. Donna Temple-Noble. Maybe had a family. Done all those human things."
"Maybe," she agrees shortly, her breathing becoming more laboured. "Or maybe... I would never... have achieved… anything."
"No!" The exclamation bursts from the Doctor and Wilf simultaneously.
"You never believed your dad and mum and me when we told you how proud we were of you," Wilf says sternly, even as tears pour down his face and he glances up at the man beside him. "The Doctor, too."
"You'll never know," she assures him slowly, every syllable a massive and visible effort, "how much it meant… that you were."
Her eyes travel slowly between Wilf and the Doctor, her lips parting for what he knows is the last words. "Love... you..."
And then, even as she's trying to smile, the spark of life fades from Donna Noble's blue eyes and she goes limp in his arms.
Wilf drops her hand and sobs aloud, struggling to his feet and staggering a short distance away, out of the Immortality Gate, as if he can't bear to see her.
The Doctor waits for a moment in silence, simply holding her against him, feeling as the blood flowing through her body finally stills. His fingers are tangled in her hair behind her head and his palm is resting against the skin on the back of her neck, which hasn't yet begun to lose its human warmth.
He releases his hand from hers for the last time before lowering her body to the floor as gently as if she could break. With a loving touch, he closes her eyes and then bends over her to press his lips to her cooling forehead. As he pulls back, he gazes into her expressionless face.
It's as if she's sleeping.
He closes his eyes for a moment to will away the remaining tears.
He will grieve for her properly later, when he can pay her the respect she deserves for the sacrifice she has just made. Donna Noble, saving the Universe all over again. He swallows the last lump in his throat, smoothes her hair with a gentle hand, and finally pushes himself to his feet.
He stares down at her for a long moment, a tiny part of him unable to accept the truth, willing her to move, to wake up, to prove them both wrong and show that there was another way.
The greatest tragedy, though, is that he knows there wasn't. That, every time he confronts the Master, someone dies.
This time he had been certain it was going to be him.
He thought he was even ready for it.
Instead, he's lost her, another name, this one engraved so deeply on his hearts, added to the ever-growing list of those who have died in his stead.
He has to wonder when it will be his turn.
Yet he knows, despite Donna's sacrifice, that this isn't the end.
He knows, as he turns away from his best friend’s body to face his best enemy, that that is still to come.