hughes: (is there life on mars?)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:17 am

Fanfiction: Starman | I: Iron Man | v

v.

now the time is here
for Iron Man to spread fear
vengeance from the grave
kills the people he once saved

---

"...too near him. Careful."

"Can you hear me, sir?"

Sam's jaw twitched against a hard surface. Hell. Must've dozed off during paperwork.

"I'm all right," he mumbled against his desk. It was good that Annie had found him before they went out to pub -- Guv might've left him for dead otherwise. He moved to sit upright--

And couldn't.

"Check the restraints," a voice said.

"I just did."

"Do it again."

Awareness slowly came to him. He inhaled and smelled disinfectant. His abdomen burst with dull pain. He squinted at a concrete ceiling, low and fluorescent. His back lay against a cold metal slab.

"Hello," said a voice.

His eyes wandered and refocused on a woman's face. Brown-eyed, freckled. Welsh lilt. Brow creased along the edge of a weary smile. "Hear me, do you?"

"I..." Sam tugged uselessly at something around his wrist. His throat went dry. "Where am I?"

"Somewhere safe. Sorry 'bout the precautions." The woman's smile waned, then grew again. "Could you tell me your name?"

The room was awfully quiet for a hospital. Sam swallowed. "My..."

"Your name," the woman repeated, with emphasis. "Please."

Sam closed his eyes. He saw images behind his lids -- locked doors and red grass. A strange hand. His mother's knife.

Drums.

"Sam," he gasped out, fists clenched against the restraints. "My name is Sam Tyler."

He felt a hand against his shoulder, heard relief in the woman's voice. "Hush -- you're all right, Sam. It's all right."

"Where am I?" Terror made Sam's voice stronger. "What the hell's going on?"

"Probably lying," said the voice behind her. Male. American.

The woman grit her teeth. "Does it look like he's lying?"

"Murdering psychopaths are pretty good actors, Gwen."

"Christ," Sam breathed, "can someone tell me--"

"You think being human makes you entitled to anything," the man said, cold and seething. "That's cute."

Sam shut his eyes and tried to control his breathing -- control, because he had so little of it left, a motherboard overloaded, metal rivets undone, a comet careening through the atmosphere, burning and fading, stripped of each layer until nothing remained but molten rock and ashes.

"Come off it," the woman hissed. Her hand smoothed down the fabric over Sam's shoulder. "God, he's shaking."

"He'd better be," said the man.

Sam heard footsteps on tile along with a low voice. "Jack, they found the... uh, the police box. They're coming down now."

"Thank god." The American stepped into Sam's view, garbed in slacks and suspenders, gait furious as he slammed through a reinforced glass door and into a concrete corridor. "Ianto, you stick to surveillance. Gwen, keep him talking. If he makes a single move, you take that gun--"

"I know." Sam felt the hand leave his shoulder, then craned his neck to watch the door click shut and lock with an ominous thud.

Sam heard two pairs of footsteps fade down the hallway. A distant door shut. After a moment, the woman sighed.

"I won't shoot you, just so you know."

Sam swallowed. "That's comforting."

"You must be frightened," she added. Sam laid his head sideways against the metal table and saw the woman sitting on the chair beside him. Despite her steady gaze, Sam couldn't help but notice her fidgeting hands. "I wish I could help, but I've only just learned all this too."

"Learned what?" Sam winced as another dull throb hit his insides. "Who are you?"

"Gwen Cooper," she said. "Torchwood."

"Torchwood? That's..." Sam tried to sit up on the slab and achieved only some frustrated chafing. "Is that why you lot kidnapped me? Because you work with the... the Doctor?"

"No." Gwen paused, cautious, and then continued. "Not as such, anyway. We handle alien activity the government isn't equipped to."

Sam blinked. For a moment, he forgot he was on a metal table, restrained, in a strange cold cell in a strange cold facility with nothing to ground him but the pain in his chest and the prickling hairs on his arms.

"Excuse me?" he squawked.

"Alien activity. After Big Ben, Canary Wharf..." Gwen paused and pursed her lips. "The last election."

Sam stared at her. "What the hell are you on about -- aliens?"

Gwen frowned with disturbingly legitimate concern. "You don't know about..."

Sam let out a laugh, high and hysterical. "My mum stabbed me. Stabbed me. Aliens -- god. I'm supposed to wrap my head around aliens?"

Laughter drained from his throat and left his abdomen searing. The room went quiet as his head hit the table and he bit down on his trembling lip.

"My mum stabbed me," he whispered.

His voice echoed back at him with stinging clarity. For a single moment, he wanted nothing more than to curl up on the table, bury his face in his arms, and sob out every injustice, every gaping, bleeding wound. But the chafing bands on his wrists and ankles denied him even that small luxury, and so he stared at the ceiling, a stone mask over a mess of broken shards, held together with nothing more than child's glue and peeling resolve.

All in your head. All in your head.

"I'm so sorry." Gwen's voice rang with sincerity. It shouldn't have frightened Sam as much as it did.

"You don't even know me," he responded in monotone.

"You're right." Gwen exhaled. "But it was me your friend came to, and I suppose that counts for something."

Sam's head snapped back to her. "What friend?"

Gwen shook her head. "Didn't say -- just told me where the Doctor could find his... time box. Couldn't see him properly -- perception filter, Jack said. Anyway, was a bit more worried about you bleeding to death on my doorstep, wasn't I? "

"Right." Sam grit his teeth. "Sounds perfectly reasonable."

"He ran off before I could ask any questions." Gwen crossed her arms. "Whoever he was, he knew we were looking for you and that we could heal you quickly -- faster than hospital. He did the right thing."

It occurred to Sam that he was in a hell of a lot less pain than he should have been for such a recent injury. He clenched his fists, frustrated and impatient, more than a little unsettled. "You were looking for me? Why?"

Gwen didn't answer immediately. "I don't think it's my place to say."

Some kind of profound gravity weighed down her words and Sam lay silent in their aftershock. He tried to work through his confusion and grasp for something he could understand.

"That man," he finally said. "Did you see if his hands looked... normal?"

Gwen rubbed her head, as if it was taking a great deal of effort to recall any details. "Why wouldn't they be?"

"Try to remember," Sam asked. "Please."

Gwen's eyes scrunched a bit tighter. After a moment, she brought up her hand and folded down all but her ring finger and pinky. "These two, on his left hand... were they metal?"

Sam nodded, though he didn't know if it was with relief or gnawing fear. "Yeah, that's it. Metal fingers."

Gwen smiled, hopeful. "Do you know who it was, then?"

Sam looked back to the ceiling. "Not a bloody clue."

"Sam!"

He went still.

Running footsteps pounded down the hall, followed by two others. Despite the mixed gaits and argumentative voices, only one caught Sam's attention, only one drew his complete focus as it shouted demands at the rest.

"Open the cell."

"You know I can't do that," said the American.

"If he were a Time Lord again, I'd sense it immediately. Do you think I'd lie about that?"

"Would you?"

Sam kept his gaze fixed on the ceiling. Time Lords, all dead. Time Lords, all lost.

One, two, three, four.

"He's right, Doctor," said a posh woman's voice, the same one from the mobile. "You can't know for certain, not when he was able to--"

"Open it, Jack."

"No."

"Wait--" Gwen's voice said over the growing din of drums. "I'll let you in."

"Gwen, don't--"

"I believe him," said Gwen, so young, so naive.

The door unlocked. Sam breathed, calm and even, as the Doctor's frantic hands grasped the restraints around his wrists, his ankles.

One, two, three, four.

"Sam," the Doctor said as he worked. "Sam, are you all right?"

Sam didn't answer. Instead, he glanced down at his hand, now free from the table. He flexed it, testing its movement and weight.

"Yes," Sam said. "I'm fine."

In Sam's peripheral vision, a frown crossed Gwen's face. Beyond her, Martha Jones stood with her arms tense at her sides. Jack's hand inched toward his holster.

"Good," the Doctor replied with a smile. He finished undoing the last strap on Sam's ankles. "Just need to get you back to the TARDIS, is all. The Time Vortex proximity should stave off the Chameleon's temporal dissonance for another hour or so, but if you stay here too long, you'll--"

Sam's hand shot up and grabbed the Doctor by the collar. He yanked him close, whipped him around, and slammed him down on the metal table.

"Got you," Sam whispered.

Jack's gun snapped up. Beside him, Martha clenched her fists.

"Get the hell off him!" she snarled.

Gwen stepped back, horrified. "Sam!" she exclaimed. It was strange how she kept using that name, how she kept staring at him like he shouldn't be so ugly.

"It's all right!" the Doctor shouted over the rest as he raised his hands in surrender. His Adam's apple bobbed as Sam's fingers pressed closer to his throat. "Sam, please listen--"

"I'm done listening," Sam spat in his face. He tapped out his rage on the Doctor's neck -- one, two, three, four. "I want answers."

"Sam--"

"It's all you, isn't it?" Sam laughed and he didn't know why. "All of it -- from the very beginning. My mum told me, you know. About the accident. She knew you."

The Doctor's face paled. Sam's smile stretched, Cheshire-wide. "Weren't expecting that, were you? I'm clever, Doctor. You forgot that I'm clever."

The Doctor swallowed. "It's not what you think--"

"My mum -- she tried..." Sam drew in a breath and felt his teeth chatter. "She said I wasn't her son, that I'm something horrible, but that's not true -- that can't be true. What did you do to her?"

The Doctor exhaled slowly. One, two, three, four. He didn't say a bloody word, and that was the worst part, the worst thing he'd done. Chattering, babbling, always talking, always doing, except when Sam needed an answer -- when he needed him most.

One, two, three, four.

Sam's nails dug into the Doctor's neck, flush against the trembling muscle underneath. "What did you do?"

"Please--" the Doctor choked.

"You don't have a mother!" Martha yelled, hands wide and furious. "You don't have a mother, you monster, so stop and get the hell off him!"

"Stay out of this," Sam growled.

Stay out of this. Stay out of this.

"No." Martha stepped forward. "Never. We might've let you live, but you'll not take another life, never again."

"I haven't!" Sam yelled back. His eyes snapped up, wild, hands tight on shuddering skin. "I'm not a killer!"

Not a killer. Not a killer.

"Then stop," the Doctor said.

Sam lowered his gaze and saw his hands, shaking where they'd loosened their grip on the Doctor's throat. The Doctor swallowed, his eyes fixed on Sam's with irrevocable focus, impossible pain. Like it hurt just to look at him. His hand pressed against the side of Sam's face, fingertips solid and real against his cheek, slick on faint tear trails.

"Master," he whispered. "It's all right."

"It's not," Sam choked back. "Nothing's right -- the drums, Doctor, I can't tell anymore--"

The Doctor's nails dug into his temple. "I know. Here, let me--"

Something exploded inside him. Red skies, silver mountains. The tree--

Sam shouted and staggered back, blinded. His hands scrabbled at a smooth, cold wall. His ears pounded -- one, two, three, four.

A hand gripped the front of his shirt and slammed him into the wall. Jack's blurry visage came into view.

"Stay," Jack growled.

The Doctor sat on the table, wide-eyed. His hand hung in the air where it'd touched Sam's face, held in place as if by marionette strings.

"Who's been in your head?" the Doctor whispered.

Sam looked back at him, weak and weary.

"I don't know." He swallowed and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I don't know anymore."

---

Sam stared at the floor. Dull light fixture reflections bounced off the polished concrete.

It was a strange part of his surroundings to focus on, given the glowing column at the center of the room and the TARDIS, bright and blue next to it. More than that, better than that, were the tactile keyboards and paper-strewn desks that peppered the interior of Torchwood's HQ. These things should have been beautiful to Sam Tyler. They should have reminded him of where he ought to be.

Instead, the only comfort he found was in the worn leather jacket hanging from his shoulders, the corduroy around his legs. The Doctor had brought Sam's 1973 clothes to him after they'd changed him out of his blood-soaked suit, and Sam had put them on silently, stoically, pausing only to clench his St. Christopher's in his fist when he found it buried in the folds of his shirt.

The Doctor had insisted he stay near Sam even while investigating CCTV records with Jack. This was how Sam had ended up handcuffed to a chair in the corner of this area, bandaged gut aching with every breath he took in, just out of earshot and across the room from the man he'd tried to kill and the man who'd only just stopped him.

Sam caught a glimpse of the Doctor's face, midway through an angry rebuke. He heard the cuff around his wrist rattle against the chair and schooled his shaking hand to a steady tap on the chair's armrest, tried to calm his racing thoughts. It seemed to be getting harder, since two nights ago. Since leaving 1973. Since the Doctor.

"More surveillance in this country than you can shake a stick at and they still can't find a thing."

Sam turned his head to see Martha standing near him, arms crossed over her red jacket. For a moment, all he could think of was the sound of her voice calling him "monster," but he realized he felt strangely numb to the suspicion. Gone was the rage and frustration of 1973, the constant sting of persecution. Sam Tyler had nearly murdered a man and he'd felt good doing it.

Sam looked back to where Jack and the Doctor were reviewing swaths of security footage, interspersed with unnatural lengths of static and distortion. "It can land convictions," he said dully.

Martha let out a tight laugh. "That's right. 'Sam Tyler.' A policeman."

Sam tensed in his chair, defensive, defenseless. "So I'm told."

When Martha didn't answer, Sam directed his attention once again to the screens. Jack and the Doctor seemed to have settled on a scant sliver of footage and were playing the frames one-by-one, back and forth. Two shadows appeared and then disappeared around a corner, visible for less than a second. One seemed to be supporting the other.

"That's me, isn't it?" Sam shifted in his seat. "Me and--"

The stranger. The Other.

I've got you.

"--that... man. With the metal fingers." Sam squinted at the screen despite his distance from it. "Who the hell was he?"

The woman's line of sight stayed on the Doctor where he bent over the keyboard, hand pressed flat and tight against the desktop. Intense worry creased his brow.

"I might have an idea," she muttered.

The Doctor glanced up from the desk and for a brief, terrible moment, his eyes met Sam's from across the room. He blinked and then smiled, tired and sincere.

A lump swelled in Sam's throat. He bowed his head.

"I don't understand. The Doctor -- why does he bother? Why does he care, after I..."

Silence hung in the room, interspersed with the click-clack of a keyboard.

Martha sighed. "Because he thinks you're all he has."

Sam tapped on the armrest, feeling sick from it, exhausted, like a man kept awake by a faucet leak.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three--

"Martha."

The Doctor stood a few feet away, hands in his pockets. It was only a moment before Martha let out a sigh and walked past him, out of the corner and away from Sam.

"Be careful," she said to the Doctor as she passed him. "Please."

Sam watched her go and then returned his attention to the Doctor. Amongst the room's cubicle knick-knacks and looseleaf paper, he seemed at once both more and less than a man, another ancient weapon on another cluttered shelf, waiting to be called to action.

Sam clenched his hand into a fist. "What's happening to me?"

When the Doctor's mouth opened all too readily, all too easily, fire shot up Sam's lungs and into his throat.

"The truth, Doctor," he hissed. "I don't know what I'll do otherwise."

Sam tapped harder on the armrest. He swallowed, dizzy with every wave of fury, weak with every digression from sense. He couldn't control it.

The Doctor scuffed his foot against the ground, then fidgeted his hands in his pockets. "Dodona Tree," he finally said. "Someone's planted a Dodona Tree in you."

Sam shook his head. "That's supposed to mean something to me?"

"It's a telepathic technique. Forbidden. Taboo." The Doctor let out a breath. "Only a psychic with extensive experience can achieve it, and only If the subject's defenses are in disarray. Like yours."

Sam sat upright in his chair, a strange sense of hope in his chest to match the growing dread. "Is that... is that what I've been hearing, then? The drums. Did that man put them there? Can you take them out?"

The Doctor looked away, brow creased. "No. I'm afraid that's something else."

Sam bared his teeth, feeling feral. Caged. "So what the hell is this 'tree' thing, then?"

"It's a psychic pylon. A beacon planted deep in a mind's subconscious."

The mountains, the grass, the tree. "Why?"

The Doctor turned toward him. ""Because it allows the user direct access. The psychic can, with touch alone, impose their will on the subject -- enter their mindscape and shape it to their whim."

Sam remembered the fingers at the back of his neck, warm and cold. His hair prickled where he'd been touched.

"Except it comes at a price," the Doctor continued, still fidgeting. "The Dodona Tree -- it's not just an implant. It's a transplant. It's a living piece of the psychic's own consciousness, ripped out of themselves and sewn into someone else."

Sam's hand went still on the armrest, tapping gone, four-beat momentarily replaced by sharp, jagged fear.

"Someone else is inside my head?"

The Doctor looked off, troubled. "Not exactly. A Dodona Tree stays dormant unless activated by the user, but..." He dragged his hand through his hair. "Why leave you here, then? It'd be insane for a telepath to implant their Dodona Tree and then leave you -- psychic suicide. Spend too long without a piece of your own mind, and..."

"Doctor?"

Sam and the Doctor turned to see Jack standing by the nearby desk, arms crossed over his chest.

"We found something. Clues in our archives -- Torchwood-4's. Manchester division."

"And that means...?" Sam called from his chair, head swimming. Dodona Tree. Dodona Tree.

"Torchwood monitors alien technology -- mine in particular," the Doctor said as he walked over, an edge of ire to his voice. "The more dangerous, the better. That's why they homed in on your Chameleon object -- the Bowie tape -- in the seventies."

Sam's head snapped up, momentarily distracted from the fear lancing through him. "We're back to my bloody Bowie tape?"

"You haven't told him that either?" Jack winced and shook his head. "Doctor..."

The Doctor shot a glare back at him. "If it hadn't been for Torchwood's meddling, Sam would be safe and none of this would've happened."

"It's not his safety I'm worried about," Jack muttered. He scratched his cheek. "Anyway, I was a grunt back then. I never had direct contact with Torchwood-4, and last I heard, they'd disbanded."

"Disbanded?" the Doctor asked.

"Nothing but rumors these days." Jack shrugged. "I've heard of a splinter cell active in the North, but I doubt they could operate independently without a hell of an expert in alien tech."

Sam brought a hand to his eyes and pressed so hard it hurt, because an expert in 'alien tech' was the least of his problems right now -- world broken, mind swimming, ears pounding with the incessant four-beat he could hardly fathom he'd lived without.

All in your head. All in your head.

"Here." Gwen gestured at her computer terminal. "I think I've got something."

Jack and the Doctor both turned as windows popped up on her screen, all tagged with ascending dates: 1942, 1943, 1944...

"I've got basic information on the founding of Torchwood-4 and its members throughout the years," Gwen said as each graphic sprawled out in a web of lines to display several black and white photos. "Nothing in-depth, not like... not like Tosh could have dug up, but at least we've found their daily logs. It looks like the records start in early 1942."

"During the Blitz." Jack leaned over her shoulder and rapped his knuckles on the desktop. "Makes sense. Everyone was gearing up for an alien weapons race against the Nazis back then."

"Rewriting history into science fiction, are we?" Sam retorted with a scowl. "Was my life not enough for you?"

Though the Doctor shot Sam a troubled glance, Jack completely ignored him. "They got any logs for advanced hardware they might've picked up? Maybe an 8-track tape with a Time Lord energy signature?"

"Aside from the fact that they were already computerized in the 40's, I don't..." Gwen trailed off as the computer beeped out an error message and a large white box took over the screen.

"What's going on?" the Doctor demanded.

"Nothing," Jack replied with a frown. "We ran out of records."

Gwen narrowed her eyes. "But that can't be right. There's no mention of them disbanding. The daily entries just... end."

Nausea sunk to the bottom of Sam's aching, healing gut. "When?"

Gwen frowned. "The last entry is dated... August 15th, 1973."

Sam's heart stopped.

"That's tomorrow," he breathed.

When Gwen frowned at him like he'd gone even madder, he shook his head. "Where I came from -- when I came from... that's tomorrow."

"Gwen," Jack asked, "we got a location on their HQ?"

"Tosh's program is still decrypting the information." Gwen typed out a few characters, then clicked a confirmation button. "Looks like one of the last entries does mention a Time Lord -- something about... a transfer? From one object to another?"

"The 8-track tape's protective measures must have degraded under their experimentation." The Doctor grit his teeth. "They probably moved the Time Lord essence to a different object -- perfect time for it to start psychically influencing one of their own."

Several sepia-toned profile pictures popped up on the screen, then a generic user icon. Gwen continued typing. "Whoever entered the last entry doesn't have an ID in the database, but I think we're about to..."

The computer crackled with sound. Scratchy audio crept out of the speakers, quiet and distorted, along with the sound of footsteps, clipped, like boots on tile. Audio wavelengths rose and fell on the computer screen as breathing became audible.

A woman spoke.

"Sam... please, god, Sam, if you're there--"

Sam nearly shot out of his chair, yanked back by the force of the handcuffs.

"Annie--!" he shouted

Something cracked through the audio. Annie cried out.

A slam. Another voice shouted, "You keep your fucking hands off her, you murdering bastard--"

The audio cut to static, then stopped.

Computers hummed. A stray vent rattled. Sam's eyes fixed on the blank screen, body unmoving.

"Those are my friends," he whispered.

Another silence hung in the room, this one less somber, more awkward. Finally, like a man feigning delicacy because he couldn't bring himself to try harder, Jack said, "You realize this recording's from thirty-five years ago. You realize that whatever happened, happ--"

"No. I was there. I was just there, and--" Sam swallowed and looked toward the Doctor, aching with hope and dread. "You can take me back, can't you?"

The Doctor scratched his head. "Sam, it's not so--"

"She spoke to me!" Sam cried, hand straining against the handcuff. "She must have known I would hear her, that I could stop this from--"

For a brief moment, he saw the web of possibilities, outcomes, history folding in on itself at a single point, creasing outward into fleeting pond ripples, craggy mountains. Something larger, something so much more beautiful than a straight line on a single planet, one speck of dust tied and knotted to a million, billion counterparts. The universe itself spiraled up and down, stretched out in front of him, waiting and wanting. Pulsing, drumming, needing direction and guidance from someone who understood it.

Someone like him.

Sam gasped. He felt hands on either side of his face, body low and sunken into the chair. He felt cold, sweaty, dry-mouthed.

"We need to get you out of here," the Doctor said, grip tight. "The connection to Torchwood's surrogate Chameleon object in 1973 is already unstable. If we don't get you back now, it might--"

Sam grabbed the Doctor by his tie. "I don't care about me," he gasped. "Annie. Gene. I need to--"

Drums slammed into him. Needles in his forehead, spikes through his temples. One, two, three, four. Sam screamed, doubled over, clenched his hands on the armrests and wheezed.

The Doctor's hand dug into Sam's shoulder. "It's all right," he said, faraway, "it's all right," as the handcuff around his wrist loosened and fell. Sam clung to the arm, like a drowning sailor to a buoy,.

Jack's voice cut in. "Doctor, you can't--"

"He'll die otherwise," the Doctor's voice shot back. "He'll die, Jack, so yes. I can."

Don't bother, Sam. You'll lose them, Sam.

Can't save them, Sam.

Doors enveloped Sam's sight, bright and blue. They slammed open to a gold-bright interior, though the TARDIS hadn't been like that before, had it -- the Doctor's --

A voice broke through the mechanical din.

"It was you who saved him, wasn't it?"

The Doctor's hand seized where it held Sam's arm. Martha stood at the center of the Torchwood hub, staring with hard conviction.

"The only man who'd give everything for him," she said, level. "Who'd cross his own timeline. Who'd give up a slice of his mind. You -- a future you."

The Doctor looked away.

He turned back to the TARDIS and stepped inside, pulling Sam with him. The doors slammed shut behind him.

Sam gasped. His back hit the locked doors and he curled his arms to his chest. Shivers crept up his body.

The Doctor sprinted to the console. He wrenched a dial left, slammed a lever up, and waved away steam as the machine shook and groaned.

"It's all right," he babbled, "we'll get you back. It'll be all right."

We'll get you back. We'll get you back.

The room whirled. Sam's shoulder dug into the wooden doors. Something ached deep in his bones, something clawing, fighting, dying. Something that hated the drums fading, fading, that hated the weight of clear thoughts, of duty and guilt. It clung to life because it had nothing else left.

One, two, three, four. Fainter now.

One, two, three...

The walls shuddered to a halt. The doors whipped open behind him.

Sam stumbled backward, out of the TARDIS. His hands scrabbled for purchase on the doorframe and he breathed hard, delirious, hardly aware of the cobblestone beneath his feet or the chill air against his cheek. He swallowed, wide-eyed. The drums. They were gone--

Something smashed into him.

Pain exploded in Sam's stomach. Searing heat shot straight through his wound as his vision went white. He reeled sideways, winded, as two hands caught his collar, solid as iron, real as bricks, hard and ruthless as they slammed him against the side of the TARDIS like it was nothing more than slat blinds and metal cabinets.

"You arse-buggered bastard."

"Christ, I missed you," Sam wheezed.

"Missed me?" Gene's fingers went rigid in his shirt and Sam's shoulders slammed into the wall. "Missed me? You disappeared into sodding air, you half-wit Houdini lunatic!"

Sam blinked up, blearily, at the same wide eyes, same rigid coat shoulders, same bone-shaken fury from that night two days ago, thirty years ago, distilled and frozen in a single moment like a photograph on a fluttering page.

"God," Sam breathed. "Has it only been minutes for you?"

"Fuck all are you on about, you daft..."

Gene stopped.

His hand went flat against one of Sam's jacket lapels. His fingers paused, then tightened as he pulled it back to reveal a large red stain on the front of Sam's shirt. The bandages underneath the tear had begun to bleed bright and fresh where Gene had hit him.

Gene raised his eyes to meet Sam's, something strange and quiet in his expression.

Sam stared back.

He'd nearly forgotten what it was like, for someone to give a damn.

"Sam..." the Doctor's voice broke in from the TARDIS doorway.

Gene's palm slammed Sam back into the wall. Sam's shoulder blades cracked against the wood and Gene looked toward the Doctor, fist balled, nearly shaking.

"One step closer and you won't make it to prison."

The Doctor blinked at Gene, like he'd forgotten his relevance to an equation. "Good -- I've no intention of visiting," he retorted, voice laced with minor irritation as he extended a hand toward Sam. "Come on, no time for this. We have to--"

Gene's hand shot out and grabbed the Doctor's wrist, then wrenched it around hard enough to send him careening shoulder-first into the TARDIS wall. Handcuffs hit the Doctor's wrist and and the TARDIS' door handle, clicking like a double deadbolt.

"Or," Gene snarled, "I could start by breaking off fingers."

Something hit Sam like another strike to his chest.

Metal fingers. Dodona tree.

The only man who'd give everything for him.

"Stop!" Sam cried. His hands caught Gene's arm and he yanked him back. "Guv--"

"Do you suggest we let him go?" Gene whirled on him. "Is that how we deal with freak-of-nature murderers, Tyler? Is that what you learned in Hyde?"

"He's not the murderer!" Sam shouted, hands tight on Gene's shoulder. "For God's sake, Gene, if you trust me on anything--"

"Like I did in the cells?" Gene slapped his arm away and advanced on him like a mad dog. "Like I did with the keys, with your job, with my bloody department?"

Sam stood, cold and shaking.

Gene jabbed a finger at him. "What did he do to you?"

"He made me," Sam uttered before he could think.

"Into what?" Gene shot back. "A suicidal idiot?"

"Mainly," the Doctor said, rattling his cuff.

Gene turned, fist clenched, before Sam grabbed him and yanked him back again.

"Listen to me," Sam breathed, inches away, "you're in danger."

"I've got eyes, don't I!" Gene shouted back.

"Tomorrow." Sam's voice caught in his throat. "The murderer -- the real murderer -- he's going to come after you and Annie. I need to stop him."

"Stop him?" Gene bellowed. "State you're in, you couldn't stop a crippled granny!"

"Guv, please--"

A car engine roared around the corner, swallowing Sam's words. Sam winced and shaded his eyes from the headlights as it screeched to a halt in front of him and the doors slammed open.

"Guv!" Ray's voice called out. "Came quick as y'called!"

"Armed an' ready, Guv!" Chris' voice echoed from the passenger's side.

And there, from the rear seat and into the misty air, like something of a dream--

"Sam...?" Annie said.

Sam stood still, a man exposed at trial, naked and tarred. He shivered as she neared him, first a walk, then a run.

"Oh!" She covered her mouth with one hand and reached the other toward his bloodstain. "Sam, you're hurt...!"

"I'm fine." Sam caught her shoulders and squeezed. "But you -- Annie -- it's not safe. You should go back to the station."

Annie's expression shifted. She grit her teeth and stepped backward. "Back to the station. While you're acting like... like this?"

"Only one going back there is you," Ray spat, gun trained on Sam. "Bastard traitor!"

"He's just sick." Annie shook her head and swallowed. "He's just sick, is all..."

"I'm not!" Sam shouted. "I'm not mad -- Annie, all this time, I've not been mad!"

Sam realized, then. He realized what he had, what he'd never had before.

He swung toward Gene. "Tell her, Guv!"

Gene shifted. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Tell her what?"

"Bloody -- you know exactly what!" Sam waved his hand at the blue box, furious, desperate, on the precipice of vindication. "What you saw! For God's sake, tell her what you saw!"

Gene's eyes traveled to where the Doctor was still rattling his cuff on the TARDIS' handle, then back to Sam.

"Police box vanished into thin air," he said. He turned toward his team, severe and resolute. "Me eyes know a trick when they see one. This wasn't."

Sam let out a long breath. Gene gave the team a moment to soak it in, which happened at varying degrees. Ray guffawed, nervous. Chris fiddled with his lighter.

Sam chanced a weary glance at Annie. She shook her head slowly. "I don't..."

Something rang through the air to interrupt her, obnoxiously tinny, frightfully loud. And Sam... Sam assumed he was hearing things, because he always heard things -- heart monitors and breathing tubes, voices and drums. A mobile ringtone wasn't so different.

Until Annie turned. Until everyone turned toward the Doctor -- here, on a street in 1973.

The Doctor straightened. "Oh! Oh, that'd be me!"

He dug in his pocket with his free hand. Sam watched, paralyzed with instinctual, anachronistic horror, as he retrieved his mobile and brought it to his cheek

"Yes -- Jack!" The Doctor grinned into the lit-up receiver. "We're all right, thank you -- quite fine, quite fine... Oh? A location? On the Torchwood-4 HQ?"

"Is that a radio?" Ray asked aside to Chris.

"Don't think so." Chris shook his head sagely. "Not talkin' code-like."

"Right -- yes," the Doctor chatted back, "Manchester, 1973. And you say the address is..."

His smile fell off his face. He turned to look up at the building in front of them.

"That's... oh," he said. "Yes. I'm there right now."


---

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