Never a Wolf

by jedi_penguin [Reviews - 10]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Het

Author's Notes:
An alternate take on "Curse of Fenric."

Many thanks to Lilly Rose for the beta.

He’d won. He’d defeated an unbeatable enemy for a second time. As soon as he got himself and his companion to safety, he’d have to celebrate.

But first things first, and Ace wasn’t moving. She’d never frozen up before; perhaps she was in shock? Discovering that one had created one’s own future was always somewhat unnerving. Then again, watching the mortal remains of Captain Sorin perish along with Fenric may have caused her unusual reaction; she had been quite fond of the Soviet officer. Whatever the reason for Ace’s hesitation, the Doctor would have to deal with the underlying cause at a later date. “C’mon,” he urged. “It’s over.”

Ace remained on the floor, folded in on herself. “Leave me alone,” she whispered brokenly.

More anxious now, the Doctor grabbed her shoulders and forced her to stand up. “We’ve got to get out of here!”

To his surprise, she struggled away from him, screaming, “Leave me alone!”

In that moment, the Doctor realized that he’d lost. The universe was safe from an unspeakable evil, but his companion preferred to die with that evil than to live with him. Yes, on the whole, he’d lost far more today than he’d won.

He couldn’t think about that now. They had to leave and leave immediately. He tugged on her hand, forcing her to move. After a moment’s hesitation, she ran on her own, leaving him to catch up with her for a change.

They were barely clear of the door when the stockpiles of gas exploded. Although contained by the bunker, the explosion was still strong enough to knock Ace off her feet and to leave him staggering. The Doctor was interested to note that the sound was louder and somehow less friendly than Nitro Nine. He never thought he’d be in a position to evaluate the relative merits of explosions; Ace had clearly broadened his horizons on the subject.

His ears were still ringing from the explosion, but the Ace’s snarl cut through the roar with ease. “I couldn’t even pass the chemistry exams!”

Ah. It wasn’t the time loop, or grief, or even Ace’s conflicted feelings about her mother that had hurt her. It was him. “I’d have done anything not to hurt you,” he assured her. “But I had to save you from Fenric’s evil curse. Your faith in me was holding the Haemovore back.

She kept her head down, studying the mud rather than looking at him. “You said I was an emotional cripple. A social misfit.”

Had anything hurt this badly since he learned of supposed Peri’s death? He hadn’t been able to show emotion then–the Time Lords would have gone for his throat if they suspected any vulnerability–but he made up for it now. Not showing emotion would be the weakness now, so he forced them all into his eyes: his remorse, his regret, and his self-loathing. He opened himself up and willed Ace to look inside. “I had to make you lose your belief in me.”

She finally raised her head to look at him. “Full marks for teenage psychology.”

It was a joke. A bitter, angry joke, but a joke all the same. Heartened by the change in tone, the Doctor softened his voice. “It’s not true. Believe me.” Wedding gesture to word, the Doctor leaned forward to brush Ace’s nose as he’d done so many times before.

She flinched.

Ace--his loyal companion, trusted friend, and devoted protégée–Ace flinched from his touch.

His shock must have shown on his face, because the smile she gave him was bitter and condescending. “Believe you? Why should you want me to believe you? You said you wanted to make me lose my belief in you.” Her smile twisted unpleasantly. “Congratulations. You succeeded.”

His heart was breaking, but he needed to make this better. Better for her, not him. “Ace, nothing I said to Fenric was true. It was all part of a game. A sick, cruel game.”

“A game that you’re bloody good at,” she observed.

“Only because I play to win, for the good of the universe. Given the stakes, I had no compunction about cheating.” He sighed, willing her to understand. “Lying was likewise justified. I’m sorry those lies hurt you, but they were necessary.”

“What lies did you tell?”

The question left him gobsmacked. “What lies? The entire con–“

“No, really, Doctor. What lies did you tell? I didn’t pass my chemistry exams, did I?”

“That doesn’t–“

“And you weren’t wrong to call me an emotional cripple either. The only person I’ve ever cared about--really cared about, I mean–is eight hundred and fifty years older than me and is--”

“838 years older,” he muttered crossly.

“–AND is an alien who treats me like a sodding chess piece. Not exactly a healthy relationship, now is it?”

“You’re not a pawn to me, Ace. You never have been.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “You’re my friend. I thought you knew that.”

“A friend that you manipulate whenever it suits you,” she accused. “A friend that’s never worthy of knowing your plans beforehand. Or of knowing anything, really.”

“That’s not true,” he snapped. “I tell you everything that I can.” She smirked at him, as if he had just proved her point for her, and perhaps he had. He sighed in defeat. “You’d like to go back to Perivale then, I presume.”

“1987, you mean? Not likely!”

“You can’t stay in 1944,” he pointed out. “You’ve already altered your own timeline by saving your mother’s life. Any more interference from you at this juncture could be disastrous.”

“Why would I want to stay here?” she asked. “Or go home? Or maybe you want to bung me out anyway, and you figure this is your chance.”

“Of course I don’t want to ‘bung you out.’ I just thought…” The Doctor trailed away, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “I assumed that you wouldn’t want to travel with me any longer, now that you no longer trust me.”

Ace chuckled humorously. “I’m thinking that we’ll get along better now. If I know I can’t trust you, I won’t. That’s the way to keep yourself safe.” She gave him a skeleton’s grin. “Learned that from my mum, you know. That little lesson was the only thing she ever gave me.”

“That’s no way to live,” he told her softly. “You can stay, Ace–as long as you like–but I’m not sure that’s the best thing for you right now.”

“It is, you know. Look, I’m still a ‘social misfit,’ ain’t I?” The Doctor winced at her use of the term but said nothing. “I still need to blow things up just to stay sane, and you still need to have things blown up for you, preferably while you’re spoutin’ off about the evils of violence. We’re symbiotic, aren’t we?”

“I don’t…” The Doctor trailed off uncertainly. He didn’t… what? He didn’t value her expertise with explosives, didn’t want her to think he was playing games with her, didn’t have better reasons for traveling with her than simple need? All of those questions were complicated, and he instinctively knew that wasn’t what Ace wanted right now. She wanted something simple but true, an uncomplicated declaration of some kind, even if it was something trivial. “Don’t leave, Ace. I want you to stay on the TARDIS.”

“Still throwing your weight around, Doctor? Still telling me what to do?” She abruptly lost her false smile and looked utterly lost. “I don’t know why I ever expected anything different.”

“I’m not ordering you to do anything,” he objected sharply. “I’m asking you: please stay with me.”

She stared off in the distance and he wondered she’d even heard him. “And I always do exactly what you tell me to do, don’t I? Oh, not the little things, but the overall master plan? I’m always right there for you, playing my part.” She focused on him suddenly, skewering him with a hard gaze. “Fenric was wrong, you know. I was never one of his wolves. I didn’t need saving from that toe-rag.”

“I know that it’s important for you to believe that you had free will, Ace, but you’re wrong. You were genetically wired to become one of Fenric’s Wolves over a millennium before you were ever born. It was an unavoidable destiny; all I could do was help you break free of it.”

“Genetically wired, yeah, but someone had already been at me with wire cutters.” Ace laughed harshly. “You still don’t get it, do you? Wolves can be domesticated, and that’s just what you’ve been doing for the last year or so. I mean, look at me! I’m wearing a dress!”

“Domesticated? Hardly!”

“Aren’t I?” she asked with detached curiosity. “See, I think I am. A Wolf of Fenric transformed into the Doctor’s Dog. Same ole me, of course, just with a different master.”

The Doctor gritted his teeth and reminded himself that this was not the time to snap or lose control of his temper. “That’s not how I see you,” he told her mildly.

“Maybe not, but it’s true.” Her smile became a little less forced, though there was still more cynicism there than he liked to see. “I guess it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to see it, just so long as I know the score.”

“The score? I can understand why you might think I have some secret plans with regards to you, but it just isn’t true.” The Doctor took a deep breath, knowing that he could no longer avoid the heart of the matter. “Ace, how do you view our relationship?”

“Right now, you mean?” The Doctor nodded, so she continued. “We’re sorta like a weird mixture of flatmates and co-workers who always watch each other’s backs; congenial, yeah, but not friends.”

The Doctor sighed in defeat. “If that’s what you believe--”

Ace smiled grimly. “That’s what I’ve finally figured out.”

“If that is what you believe,” the Doctor repeated, “then it is up to me to convince you otherwise. Starting here, at this very moment.” Deciding that it was now or never, the Doctor tried once more to tweak her nose. Ace not only allowed it, but also gave him a more genuine smile than he’d seen from her all day long. “To show my good faith, I will allow you to pick our next destination. No hidden motives or agendas, just a willingness to follow the dictates of your whim.”

“Really?” The Doctor nodded. “In that case, I think I’d like to go home. To Perivale. 1987 or so.”

He felt his hearts plummet. “But I thought…”

“Oh, not to stay!” she assured him. “Just for a visit. Me and my mates used to have some wild times when we weren’t in school. I’d quite like to see them again. Just for a short visit, you know? I could stand a bit of mindless fun after this little excursion.”

“I agree. We could both benefit from a little rrrrrest and recuperrrration.”

Ace smiled at the extra flourish he put on his R’s and the Doctor began to suspect that they would be all right. Their relationship would never be the same as it had been before Fenric, but that might not be a bad thing in the end. Perhaps he had been treating her as a protégée and not an equal. She was growing up now, and he was growing old. A friend would be a nice thing to have.

Daring more than he had before, he crooked his arm at the elbow. As he’d hoped she would, Ace entwined hers with his. They set off for the TARDIS arm in arm, and the Doctor decided that he definitely preferred this new relationship, whatever it might turn out to be. Feeling expansive, he smiled down at his friend. “Exciting place, is it? Perivale?”

Ace snorted in amusement. “Perivale? Exciting? Hardly! That’s why the gang was so crazy; there’s bloody nothing to do there. You gotta make your own fun in a dump like Perivale, and boy, did we!”

“So I’m to look forward to a week of mindless teenage debauchery, am I?” The Doctor gave an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes. “Oh, goody.”

“Isn’t all debauchery mindless?” she asked cheekily.

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that question until you’re older. Much older.”

She playfully nudged his shoulder. “I guess I’d better stick around then, shouldn’t I? Just until you figure I’m old enough to learn everything you know about throwing a really good party.”

“Oh, I hope you’ll stay longer than that,” he told her earnestly.

“I might at that,” Ace said thoughtfully. “I just might do that.”

The Doctor smiled happily. “Ace!”