hughes: (timey wimey)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:15 am

Fanfiction: Starman | I: Iron Man | iii

iii.

he was turned to steel
in the great magnetic field
when he traveled time
for the future of mankind

---

"You're in danger," said the Doctor.

It was strange how for a moment Sam believed him. How in the space of an eye-blink, one millisecond and another, he looked at this man and felt nothing but trust. It might have been the earnest expression, or the voice -- slow, deliberate, sincere. There was the breathing, too, deep and then shallow, like waves crashing on a rocky cove with all the force of an oncoming storm.

And then it evaporated, as if it'd never been.

Sam steeled his stance, crossed his arms. He raised his chin like the mean Manc copper he was.

"I'm not concerned for my own safety." He narrowed his eyes. "And I don't believe threats when they come from inside a cell."

"It's not a threat." Sam heard the Doctor shift his weight, press a fist to the other side of the door and lean on it. "I told you, I'm trying to help you."

Sam stepped up to the door and met the Doctor through the slot.

"Who are you?" he asked.

The man gazed back. "I told you. I'm the Doc--"

"I don't mean whatever name my mind's tossed out for a laugh," Sam growled, voice low, fists rigid at his sides. "What the hell are you and where do you get off rattling the bars of my sodding coma prison?"

The last of it echoed with a horrible din, like thunder after lightning.

Prison, prison.

The Doctor's expression softened. His mouth parted as his brow creased. He broke eye contact and looked to the floor, body sagging under an unseen burden.

"Oh, Sam..."

He sounded like Annie. He sounded like someone caught in the depths of concern, riddled with nerves and regret. He sounded, Sam realized, like he cared.

Sam slammed his hand against the door. "Don't talk like you fucking know me."

The Doctor swallowed. He wet his lips and babbled ardently, "But I do -- oh, I do know you, Sam. I know what it's like for you, and I'm sorry -- I am so, so sorry for all that's happened, and all you've suffered--"

"You don't know." Sam exhaled. "What this is like -- Doctor, you don't know..."

He heard his voice crack under its own weight. Shallow breaths heaved in and out of his chest as his eyes shut tight against something he couldn't -- shouldn't understand. He felt sick, like something was spinning in him, whirling lopsidedly, coming round and round again, beating, beating--

"I'm sorry," the Doctor whispered.

Sam opened his eyes, vision blurry, ears pounding. The Doctor took a breath and continued--

"I'm sorry, but we haven't much time." He took a step from the door and Sam heard him pace quickly, purposefully. Like a shark, Sam thought, that had to keep moving or else it would die. "Sam, I need you to do something for me."

Go to hell, Sam's mind jolted out. Outwardly, he breathed, "Why should I?"

The Doctor paused, then sighed. "Because I need you to trust me."

Sam barked out a laugh. "Right. Yeah."

"I need you to look through my coat," the Doctor persevered, as if he hadn't heard Sam at all. "Are you listening, Sam? My coat. The brown coat. Your DC left it on the chair outside my cell -- do you see it?"

Sam turned as he steadied his breathing and allowed his world to settle on these words, simple words, easy instructions despite their despicable origin. He saw what the Doctor described, just a few feet away on the empty cell guard's chair -- the damn brown coat, folded over the seatback instead of stuffed in a bloody evidence bag where it belonged.

Chris, you div, Sam thought distantly.

"Look in the pocket," the Doctor urged, gently. "The inside pocket. You'll find something."

Something like a booby trap or a magical door-unlocked or whatever else rule-breaking dream apparitions were allowed to have. Sam wasn't sure if he cared about the dangers at this point so much as the bloody answers.

He stepped toward the thing, then picked it up and shook it out like a particularly distasteful rag.

"Quickly," the Doctor said. Sam growled out some menacing sound as he opened one side of the coat to its inside pocket and stuck his hand in. It went deeper than he expected, and the Doctor tapped his foot as Sam's hand finally brushed against something. "Did you find it?" the Doctor demanded.

"I don't know," Sam huffed out, ready to give the bastard a proper smack as he yanked the thing out of the pocket's depths. "This had better be good, with all your--"

He stopped. Everything stopped. The world froze on its axis, went silent, his vision gone, blindsided, focused solely on the object in his hand.

It was small, and plastic, and covered in numbered buttons. The top of it sported the words "Virgin Mobile" and the screen asked him if he'd like to make a call.

---

He stood for minutes like that. Hours. Time folded in on itself like paper, tore and shred and crumpled to nothing. The screen shimmered with the motion of his shaking hand, and he heaved out, fumbled, tried to catch his breath as the thing threatened to slip out from between his fingers, out of his grasp, out of existence.

"I can help you, Sam."

His eyes wandered up, slow with fear that this thing would disappear the moment he looked away from it. But instead, all he saw was a slice of the Doctor's face through the door slot, wide-eyed, pleading.

Sam opened his mouth. A hundred questions rattled through his head but only one slipped past his lips.

"Can you get me home?"

The Doctor looked back at him. Some hesitance wrote itself on his face, some remorse, some biting grief. After a long second, he breathed out like it pained him to his core.

"Yes, Sam. I think I might."

---

It should have been harder to tug a door open while a potential murderer waited behind it. But the key turned smoothly, the hinges creaked quietly, and the Doctor stepped out of the cell. He glanced up the corridor and then snatched his coat from the chair.

"We need to get to your car," he said as he threw it over his shoulders.

Despite everything -- because of everything -- Sam let out a laugh, dry and mirthless. "We'll drive to the future, then. Do I look like I own a Delorean?"

"No, no." The Doctor waved him off as he strode on by, and that -- someone reacting to an eighties pop culture reference with casual dismissal instead of outright confusion -- must have been what truly sent Sam over the edge, because he suddenly found his hand on the Doctor's arm and his fingers in his sleeve, heaving and shaking and sharply aware of the mobile phone in his other hand.

"Tell me you're real." Words boiled up his throat. "Tell me you're real -- that you aren't going to disappear, please, you can't.... don't leave me here. Don't leave me."

The Doctor reached for him. He pressed his hand over Sam's and squeezed.

"I'd never leave you. Never."

Sam swallowed and nodded, trying to ignore the blur of his vision, the tightness in his throat. He tore his eyes away and tugged his hand out from under the Doctor's, then focused on one step after the next.

"We'll have to make sure we... make sure we avoid anyone. Going out." Sam let out a shaky breath and wondered whether or not Phyllis or any of the other WPCs were at their posts this time of night. "It's late. We should..."

"Shouldn't go," said a voice from the end of the hall. "That's his plan -- for you to go."

In his fixation over one suspect, Sam had almost forgotten about the other.

Sam and the Doctor slowly turned toward Lupei's cell. The Doctor strode down the hall toward it.

"'What plan?" the Doctor asked.

Sam followed at a distance, struck by the Doctor's expression -- calm and sharp, fiercely in control. Rustling came from inside the cell.

"Don't know," Lupei's voice drifted into the corridor, her breaths short, words stilted. "But I felt it. He wants us to play our parts. For you. For him."

Sam looked between the Doctor and the door slot. "What's she on about?"

The Doctor didn't answer. He took another step toward the cell door, face drawn and dark. "Is that why you left clues for me when you murdered those people?"

"Doctor--" Sam tried.

The Doctor's hand shot up to silence him. "Walking stick with the first victim, flute with the second, cape with the third. Scarf with the fourth victim -- that's what tipped me off -- and let's not forget the celery in the fifth's icebox. Mundane things, my things -- hidden in the evidence lists, where only I would notice them. Is that the 'plan' you're talking about?"

"I only put the scarf," Lupei whispered. "I only did the fourth."

The Doctor froze. "What?"

Sam was missing something. Sam was missing something horribly important, horribly scary, if the look on the Doctor's face was any indication, the way he took a single step backward. Lupei's face appeared in the door slot, eyes bloodshot.

"I told you, Doctor. He wants us to play our parts. For you." Her gaze moved to Sam. "For our master."

Sam felt a hand grip his arm, tight and shaking.

"We need to go," the Doctor said.

"But--"

"Now."

The Doctor yanked him down the hall, gait strong and steady, on the near side of running.

"You won't find what you're looking for," Lupei cried out behind them. "He's long gone -- gone, gone, in another form, in another's hand, exactly as he wants--"

The Doctor slammed out of the cell block. Sam barely kept pace, too baffled by the Doctor's urgency to say anything. He felt like a shadow, a faint stain on the world, a wisp on the wind as he flew past scenery that had become familiar over the past few months and now looked alien all over again. The grimy front doors, the chipped front steps, the undersized car park. Sam still didn't feel grounded as he and the Doctor slowed to walking speed and came upon Sam's seventies-era Grenada.

The Doctor finally let go and circled toward the passenger's side.

Sam stood near the driver's door, breathing hard. "What the hell was that?"

The Doctor pressed a palm to the top of the car's roof. His fingers clenched against the metal. "There's more than one killer."

Sam stared at him. "What?"

"The Mangler isn't one single psychopath." The Doctor turned toward Sam, bandaged face grave and ashen. "It's a series of people."

"What are you suggesting?" Sam sputtered out. "Some kind of Murderers Anonymous club?"

"They're under the influence of a Chameleon object." The Doctor shook his head. "It's controlling them through a psychic link. Same modus operandi, same motive -- but a different perpetrator each time."

Right, Sam thought. He'd found his ticket out of Hell, and it happened to be a raving madman.

Sam grit his teeth and looked past the Doctor's shoulder at the Guv's Cortina, sitting empty and ominous a few spaces away. "We don't have time for this," he muttered.

He felt the mobile still clutched in his palm, skin red and pink round the edges of it. He shoved it in his jacket pocket like he would normally, like it was bloody 2006 again, then yanked out his car keys, shoved them in the door, and got himself inside.

He reached over to unlock the passenger's side and turned the ignition. The Doctor skittered in and immediately began searching the dash.

"When did it go missing?" he asked.

Sam pulled out of the space and onto the road. He jammed down the pedal and sped off in a random direction, eager to put lightyears between them and the station. "When did what go missing?"

The Doctor's fingers danced over the empty 8-track player. "The tape. The tape right here."

Sam's eyes narrowed at the tarmac as two lines of thoughts converged, as his fool-following of the past few minutes came back to slap him in the face. "Is that all you needed my car for? To find a tape?"

"Sam," the Doctor said, deadly. "This is important."

Sam scowled, because David Bowie's Hunky Dory seemed decidedly un-important at a moment like this, just like it had ever since Sam had first arrived in this horrible wreck of a decade. Despite the initial iPod parallelism, the thing had ended up broken most of the time anyway, skipping tracks, pausing randomly, sometimes repeating nothing but the cli-cli-cli-click of the tape's metal foil jamming in between one song and another. Sam had wrestled with it a couple months back while on assignment with Annie, and when she'd gently told him that she'd never heard it play anything at all, it'd been the last straw.

"I tossed it," Sam said.

"You--" The Doctor's head whipped toward him. He gaped. "What! You what -- what?"

"It was broken. I tossed it in a dustbin." Sam's hands tightened on the steering wheel. He felt increasingly agitated by his lack of direction as he sped away from the station, and by something else, too -- how Camille Lupei had stared at him in the cell block, and how the Doctor now wrung his hands in his lap, fast and frightened.

The Doctor stared out the windscreen. "What dustbin?"

---

The assignment with Annie had been staking out an old factory for an illegal poker game, and the job itself had been about as exciting as it sounded -- meaning not. The two of them had ended up parked in a dank alley, mostly staring at an unmarked doorway while hidden behind a pile of dustbins and assorted garbage, hence Sam's sudden impulse to throw away the thing at the time.

And hence why Sam stood there now, as the Doctor slammed the car door open and dashed toward the mess.

"It'll be long gone by now," Sam offered in monotone, but the lanky bastard completely ignored him and instead knelt down in the midst of the garbage.

"If I can pinpoint the direction of the lingering psychic signature... if there are enough tachyon particles in this area -- yes, maybe," he muttered as he dug a hand into one of his inside pockets, apparently unaware that there was anyone in close vicinity worth speaking to except himself.

Sam shuddered, though whether it was because of the cold night air or the Doctor's continued use of the word "psychic" was anyone's best guess. A mental apparition was allowed its quirks, Sam supposed, if an escape back to the waking world was one of its functions -- and that's exactly what Sam had decided the Doctor was. An apparition. Time-travel was impossible; therefore, a time-traveler was impossible; therefore, this world was impossible.

The police radio in Sam's hand crackled briefly and his eyes darted down toward it. He'd kept his ear fixed on the thing ever since they'd left the station, waiting for Gene to raise the inevitable alarm once he and the others realized that their DI had absconded with a mass-murder suspect. But so far, nothing. A pang of bitter humor hit Sam as he mused that the Guv's trust in him must have moved far past the old Vic Tyler incident if he still hadn't checked in on the cell block -- or perhaps Sam's mind was giving him some unrealistic leeway while on the cusp of waking him up. And wouldn't that be nice, Sam thought with a sudden weight in his stomach, if Gene Hunt's trust had never been real enough to betray in the first place.

"No! Oh, no, no, no!"

The Doctor dug frantically through his coat. Sam shoved the radio back in his jacket and jogged over.

"What's wrong?"

"Five trans-dimensional pockets and your people manage to frisk me of my screwdriver! Now, that's..." The Doctor glanced at Sam with a mixed glare-pout reminiscent of a precocious four year-old. "Well, that's... it's unfair. And moreover..."

The Doctor's expression hardened. The four year-old vanished, replaced by something much older. "We need to go back for it."

Sam tried to parse out one form of the Doctor's lunacy from the other. "Go back to the station? Risk our lives for some... tool?"

"Without it, we'll lose--" The Doctor ran a hand down his face and then through his hair, or at least the parts poking out through the bandages. "We'll never find him."

"Who?"

"The killer," the Doctor hissed. "Not that you'd know that, tossing out Chameleon objects willy-nilly!"

"The hell are you on about?" Sam clenched a fist. "You said you'd take me home. What in god's name does the Manchester Mangler have to do with that?"

"Everything!" The Doctor whirled on Sam, eyes wide and nearly wet, hands outstretched like a man imploring reason from something mad and broken. "It's everything to do with you, you stupid idiot!"

Sam found himself still and mute, at a loss for words in the face of righteous anger and inexplicable sincerity. His heart thudded in his chest, caged by ribs and muscle. His tongue weighed like lead in his mouth.

The Doctor's expression slid from fury into grief. He turned away.

"I'm sorry." He exhaled, sharp as glass. "This is all my fault. I'm so sorry."

The Doctor stood there, shoulders rigid, face raised to the faint stars above them. The nearby streetlamp cast harsh light on his features, etching every slight swell in his face, every bruise and cut, and Sam wanted -- he wanted to fix that. He wanted to step toward the Doctor, wanted to touch him, to heal him, to throw paint over the canvas of skin and reclaim it as his own.

He wanted to carve out his work on him and hurt anyone who tried the same.

"Oi! You lot stay out of that rubbish!"

Sam's eyes snapped up. A plump old woman stood in the back door of a nearby shop, stained apron over her front and grey hair done up in a bun. Sam felt dizzy, grounded by normalcy from something that -- from something. He shook slightly, anchoring himself to the badge in his hand as he pulled it out and approached her.

"Sam Tyler, DI. Could you--"

"Oh, no, I'm not falling for that nonsense, not this time!" The woman dried her hands on an old rag, red cheeks puffed out with indignation. "Not after you lot dug through my bins, left them scattered about--"

"Hold on." The Doctor scurried toward them. "Someone was searching the bins? These bins--" he gestured furiously, "right here?"

The woman leveled a glare at him "Few weeks back. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

Sam looked from the Doctor to the woman. "Wait, if you could answer--"

"Oh, no." The woman shook out her rag and scattered droplets on both of their fronts as she turned back toward her shop door. "You'll not be getting any more out of me, copper--"

"Why do you assume the police were involved in the search?" Sam frowned as he put his badge away.

The woman paused and scowled back at him. "Came out in a black coach, the whole lot. Gave some rubbish 'official' name when I asked it -- something 'bout a... a torchlight--"

"Torchwood."

The Doctor's eyes lit up. He grinned and bounced up and down on his feet. "Torchwood!"

The woman grit her teeth and stormed inside. "Knew not to blather on!"

She slammed the door behind her, but the Doctor was hardly concerned, manically cheerful when he'd just seconds ago been somber as death. He whirled around and grabbed Sam by the arm, then led him back to the car. "Come on! No time to lose -- not relatively, of course, but--"

Sam tugged out of the Doctor's grip, not at all filled with the same level of cheer as he settled into the driver's side. "What now?"

The Doctor swung in from his side and dropped into the passenger's seat. He might have been breathless if he didn't have the inhuman ability to speak nonstop for minutes at a time. "We've come upon something fan-- well, not 'fantastic,' exactly; quite the opposite, quite terrible, but--" he raised a finger, "--it's a starting point! A lead! You police officers like those, don't you? Like your leads. A lead, lead, lead... to lead us to..."

The Grenada's engine rumbled as it squealed away from the garbage. Sam focused on the road and shook his head. "Bloody hell, could you speak in a full sentence now and then?"

"Oh -- right, sorry." The Doctor cleared his throat and fidgeted in his seat, like a schoolboy too impatient to raise his hand. "What I mean is... we have a plan! And, ah, head east. Down this street."

Sam was thus far unaware of their "plan," or whether the Doctor ever functioned on anything other than pure impulse, but he followed the directions because what the hell else was he supposed to do? "So you know where to find these... 'Torchwood' people?"

"Nooo." The Doctor shook his head at least five times. "No, no, no, those Torchwood fellows -- they... ah, they don't like me much, I'm afraid. Insidious little bunch -- quite good at hiding, and I'm not sure where we'd look. But--"

The Doctor turned toward Sam, grinning wide.

"I know someone who might."

Sam's brow furrowed. He suspected that the Doctor was leading him in circles, but what Sam had said earlier was true. They couldn't go back to the station, and -- if Sam was perfectly honest with himself -- he doubted he could go back to his life here at all. And it wasn't a big loss, if the Doctor's proof of the future held true, except then Sam thought about Annie sitting alone in the canteen, eyes held low as she poked at something she couldn't quite stomach to eat.

But he'd committed. He needed to do this. The definitive step. This world had stopped him before, and he wouldn't let it again.

"All right," Sam breathed. "Where to?"

Something hovered around the Doctor -- charged static, untapped potential, anticipation of something crackling in the air. He looked at the road and smiled.

"Percy Lane."

---

The street was even more foreboding in the midnight hours. The buildings stood gloomy on their crumbling foundations and where the children had earlier been playing in the street, papers rustled against the curb. The moonless night abandoned the world to shadow, broken only by street lamps that flickered like dying sentries in the darkness.

As Sam turned off the ignition, he sensed a sort of finality to it, an intangible book-end. The Doctor, too, seemed to appreciate the gravity of the moment as he gazed through the windscreen at an old police box standing in front of them.

"There," the Doctor said. "That's where we're going."

Sam loosened his grip on the wheel and took a proper look at the thing. He only vaguely remembered passing it by earlier today and he still couldn't see much of it now.

At length, he let out a laugh, short and simple. "That phone box? So, this is... a Matrix-type escape?"

Rather than return the mirth, the Doctor creased his brow. He looked down at the footwell.

"Sam." He took in a breath. "This might be a bit... overwhelming."

"More than waking up in 1973? Than languishing in coma?" Sam regarded him with a weary smile.

The Doctor smiled back, but there was a strained quality to it. One of his eyes shut more than the other.

"I'm afraid so."

Here, in the car, surrounded by the quiet world around them, Sam could almost believe they were trapped in a microcosm of 1973 rather than the year itself, that perhaps outside his door was the world he knew, the world he loved, the world he longed to return to.

And maybe it was.

Sam let out a breath. He braced his arm against the car door, opened it to the street, and planted his heels on the cobblestone.

"I'm done with this place," he said. "I don't care what it takes."

He shut the door and let his eyes settle on the box, on its blue paint and hard edges, on the dull white sign hanging off it. He thought he remembered seeing one of these when he was younger, clear as a bell in his memory -- which was odd, he thought, since they'd been all but phased out even by this deplorable decade. But there it was, a thread of reminiscence, guiding his steps as the thing loomed closer and larger, beckoning, wanting, an old friend once forgotten.

Sam's hands shook. His footsteps quickened, like stardust on solar wind.

"I'm going home," he breathed.

"Would that be Kansas, then, Dorothy?"

Sam froze.

A man stepped out of the black void beside the box and into the circle of lamplight in front of it. His arms hung at his sides with relaxed poise, his shoulders sturdy, his footsteps solid and firm. From this distance, his demeanor might have looked the same as ever save for the pistol in his hand, save for when he raised his eyes and Sam felt like his heart might stop, punctured through by the force of his stare.

Behind Sam, the Doctor skittered to a halt.

Gene stood, silent. He brought up a fist and knocked against the box's side.

"Never been a police box on this back-arse patch of rot. Never would be, unless someone had the mind to mask a drop-off point, weapons locker -- bomb." Gene narrowed his eyes. "I know my city, you piece of mongrel shit, and this street better than most."

"You couldn't... That's not..." The Doctor shook his head in shock. "How did you..."

Gene's glanced at Sam, almost mildly. "Got him talking then, did you."

Sam was frozen in time, no breath, no words, no energy to form either. He grit his teeth and didn't know if it was from anger or loss, clenched a fist and didn't know if it was to hurt another or himself.

"Gene, you don't--" He was close. God, so close. "You don't understand."

"You're right." Gunmetal glinted against the Guv's glove as he pointed his pistol at the Doctor. "I don't."

Sam's desperation rocketed up his throat. He stepped forward and waved an arm in the air.

"I don't belong here! Fucking hell, I've never belonged here -- never, from the first day, right from the bloody beginning. Can't you see that? Are you so blind to keep me here? Gene!"

Gene kept his eyes on the Doctor. He nodded down the street toward the hazy outline of the Cortina. "Get in the car, Sam."

Sam stood there, wide-eyed, panicked. "No!"

Gene shot a glance his way, small and deadly. "Did that sound like a question?"

"You can't do this." Sam pressed his hands to his head, dug his nails into his scalp. "God, no, you can't do this--"

"Sam--" the Doctor stuttered.

"Shut your bastard face!" Gene shouted back.

Sam shook his head, shut his eyes, a crescendo in his ears -- respirator, breathing. In-out, in-out. Voices, speaking in soothing rhythm. You've done well, Sam. It's right there, Sam. Don't lose him, Sam.

What you really need is a doctor, Sam.

Sam's head snapped up. He launched himself forward, slammed to a stop, braced himself between Gene and the Doctor. He spread his arms wide.

Gene's grip on his gun tightened so hard he nearly shuddered. "I swear to God, Tyler, I'll--"

"You won't." Sam grit his teeth and shook his head, every muscle tense, every inch of skin cold as ice. "You didn't with Vic Tyler, and you won't now."

Something shifted in Gene's face. His voice came out a low mutter.

"Do you ever hear yourself, you miserable bastard."

Sam stared back at him, shaking and breathing, more frightened than he'd ever been and more brave than he'd ever needed. He heard the Doctor move behind him, and Sam steeled himself, stepped sideways. He sidled slowly toward the blue box, eyes fixed on Gene all the while.

"You didn't tell anyone, did you? That I'd gone."

Gene kept the gun trained on him in stony silence.

Sam exhaled. "Didn't want a ruckus. Didn't want them knowing how cracked I really am, didn't want them to lock me up or start a shoot-out--"

"You're my DI," Gene breathed through gritted teeth. "Maybe you don't know what that means, but I bloody well do."

Sam felt the weight in his stomach again, leaden and broken. This isn't real, he told himself as a gust of wind grazed the back of his neck, as his shirtsleeve brushed the edge of his wrist and his heel hit a crack in the pavement. This isn't real.

His back had gotten so near the police box that he could almost feel it, tugging him closer, a warm hum pulsing and thrumming through his bones.

"I need to go home," he said.

Gene looked back at him, horribly still. "Where's this, then?"

Sam heard the Doctor fiddle with something. A latch turned and a door creaked open behind him. Gene's gaze moved somewhere past Sam's shoulder.

His shoulders went rigid. His eyes widened. His pistol slowly lowered.

"What the fuck are you," he whispered.

"Sam," the Doctor said.

Sam felt a hand on his shoulder, drawing him in like the tide, gentle, steady, unyielding. Sam stepped backward, over a threshold, unable to look away from Gene.

Sam swallowed. "I'm sorr--"

The door slammed shut in front of him.


---

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