hughes: (sam & friend)
Erin (La Cidiana) ([personal profile] hughes) wrote2015-09-18 04:18 am

Fanfiction: Starman | I: Iron Man | vi

vi.

nobody wants him
they just turn their heads
nobody needs him
now he has his revenge

---

The Doctor stumbled through the front door with the force of Gene's shove.

"Oh, come now!" he complained.

Sam followed, mere footsteps behind, fists balled and gait furious, anxious. "Guv, he's right. You've no idea what you're dealing with--"

"Too right I don't." Gene clenched his fingers into the Doctor's collar. "I'm getting to the bottom of this unholy mess if it's the last thing I do."

He turned in the doorway to face Ray, standing near the building's front steps. Nearby, Chris was grabbing equipment from the Cortina at Gene's behest. "Lads, call back-up and get a move on -- we'll not be waiting for 'em."

"Aye, Guv!" Chris closed the car door and strode up from the pavement as he brought his radio to his mouth. "Base, this is 690, requestin' back-up, over..."

Annie followed behind them, purse pulled tight against her side. She avoided Sam's eyes when he tried to meet hers, and would have passed him altogether if not for Gene getting in her way.

"You'll be staying," he said.

Annie halted, aghast. "Guv--"

"With this excuse for one of her majesty's finest."

For a moment, Sam didn't register Gene's gesture in his direction, so firm was his resolution, so righteous was his need. Inside this heap of bricks was the only thing left that he knew to have any claim to. It hadn't occurred to him he might be robbed of it too.

"What?" he said, small. "No -- no, Guv--"

"You'll stay here," Gene said. He tossed the Doctor in Ray's general direction, then reached for the front of Sam's shirt. "You will not move from this spot or so help me god I will tear you a new hole from which to spew your shit."

Words rose up Sam's throat, pure and raw. You bastard, you idiot, you don't understand, I need to know, I need to--

"Get in the car, Sam," Gene said.

The words stopped. Replaced by them were images -- a pistol, a blue box, a plan gone wrong. A cold night like this one when he'd thrown everything away.

After a moment, Annie's hand grasped his shoulder. It guided him round and down the uneven steps, out of his own idiot grief. He didn't stop her.

"Yes, Sam," said the Doctor's voice behind him, strained but overcome with relief despite it all. "Stay right here -- that's what's safest for everyone."

"You say that now," Sam mumbled.

Annie's grip tightened and her pace hurried. The Doctor let out a grunt, no doubt from Ray twisting his arm, as he and the others stormed their way in through the building's dilapidated facade.

Sam didn't look back. He followed Annie's lead as she opened the Cortina's rear door. He sunk into the tobacco-stinking seat like something of the sea, descending back into the familiar deep from which it came.

Annie sat down next to him. She closed the door and locked them in silence, buffered from the cold. Everything seemed so empty without the drums.

"Sam." Her voice shook. "Please. Talk to me."

She rested her hand over his, on his knee. Please. Talk to me. He could feel the four-beat in her skin, in her veins, in the bones of her fingers.

"I went home," he said. "To the future."

When Annie didn't answer, Sam swallowed and went on. "The box, the one that disappeared... it took me there. And I found me mum, but it wasn't..."

He sucked in a breath as a hole grew in his middle, a deep, numb ache under his bandages. "But it wasn't really her. She hurt me, and... and someone saved me, but the way they all acted -- like I was a monster. Like I wasn't me."

His hand clenched under hers. The Doctor on the metal table, choking under his hand. Sam's smile. Like a dam had cracked and something had broken, gasping, through the surface.

Like he'd been set free.

"Annie," he whispered, "I don't think I'm me."

It hung in the air. The man named Sam Tyler shut his eyes and for a moment felt the world fall away.

Master, the Doctor had said.

Something warm pressed in under his jacket lapels, over his ribs and beating heart. He opened his eyes and Annie looked back, inches away, mouth set with firm decision.

"You're here now," she said. "You're you, and you're home."

Sam blinked back at her and then they came -- tears like Noah's flood, catastrophic, tearing down walls to mud and dust. He must have looked so ugly, crying on her shoulder like something newborn.

"I'm sorry," he sobbed. "I'm so sorry."

"It's all right," she said, arms tight around his back. "Shh. It's all right."

He lost time like that, face pressed against her. Her cardigan soaked through, but she didn't move an inch, and that's what made her so beautiful, Sam thought -- because she never moved, never faltered. Always there for him, every time he pushed away. She might not believe his words, but she believed in him, in who he was.

She made him real.

He felt her shift beneath him. "Sam."

A tone of concern laced her voice, but not the kind he expected -- this was immediate, practical. It hit the part of Sam's mind that still called itself "copper," and he sat up, sharply.

"What is it?" He sniffed and rubbed under his nose, over his mouth.

"The back-up," Annie said, facing the nearest window. "Should they have arrived by now?"

Sam gazed out at the empty street. In truth, he didn't know if it had been five minutes or thirty.

"Perhaps they're delayed," he said, mind still clouded.

Annie shook her head as mild annoyance crossed her face. "He probably forgot to press the 'receive' switch when he called. Didn't remember to bring extra radios for us, either."

Sam frowned. "Who?"

Annie's hand went flat against her lap. "Chris. He's been... off, lately."

Sam grimaced out a smile. "Chris? Off? You don't--"

"I mean it, Sam." She crossed her arms. "I know you haven't noticed -- because you don't bother to notice things about us sometimes, but--"

Sam pulled back, cosmic grief overshadowed by mild offense. "What are you on about?"

"His girlfriend." Annie gazed back at him, troubled. "Everyone knows his girlfriend up and left him -- just this week. Ray hadn't even met her, Chris was so nervous. He was going to finally bring her down the Arms a few days ago, but..."

Sam vaguely remembered Chris mentioning personal problems, that day at the crime scene. He dug the heel of his palm into one of his red, sore eyes. Fucking Christ, like he'd had a minute to pay attention to any of it.

"I've been time-traveling," he muttered. "Doesn't mean I've been relying on your notes to do my job."

"Oh -- no, no." Annie ran her fingers through her hair. "If anything, he's been... rather too proactive, I think.."

Sam paused. Something was beginning to sit rather funny in the pit of his stomach.

"How do you mean?" he asked.

For a moment, Annie pursed her lips. "That brochure," she finally said, "the one that led us to Lupei's flat in the first place. You didn't think it odd, how Chris just... found it?"

"Of course I did," Sam snorted. Familiar irritation tempered his growing unease. "It was the Guv who--"

"And then, when we tracked down Lupei outright -- it was just me and him, and..." Annie frowned with the memory. "All he said was he had a lead. Never explained, never followed up. I was about to check on that with you, you know -- in the canteen. Before the Guv came in."

"I thought..." Sam's hand tightened against his thigh. "He said you dug up her nephew's address, some old paperwork..."

"What?" Annie asked, confused. "What nephew?"

Sam looked back at her, mind and vision clear, attention locked completely.

Something was wrong.

Something was very wrong.

He sat up, reached forward, pulled himself over the driver's seat and scrabbled frantically for the Cortina's radio.

"Sam," Annie said, severe, "what's going on?"

"God." Sam clutched the radio receiver in one hand, cord hanging out in a tangle of exposed wires. "He cut it."

Annie's fingers dug into the seatback. "Why?"

Sam's hand began to shake.

"No," he whispered.

"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."

Sam pressed a hand to his mouth.

"Most we can tell, Brittany Kenton weren't expecting to kick it none soon," Ray drawled. "Bought garden vegetables from a neighbor yesterday mornin' -- apparently was a bit broke up over leavin' her boyfriend, nothin' else."

The evidence bag at Sarah Wellington's crime scene. A pack of gum, a compact mirror, and...

"They probably moved the Time Lord essence to a different object."

"Chris' lighter," Sam said.

Annie's knuckles had gone white. "What about it?"

Sam turned toward her, slow as ash.

"It's broken."

---

They found their path through the derelict building already paved with open doors hanging lopsided off their hinges. Sam shoved through them with Annie close behind, dodging broken floorboards and rusted nails.

"Guv!" He shouted. It should have been loud enough to wake any neighbors, but there was something strange about this place, about the walls -- like they'd been built to keep the sound in.

"But why?" Annie called behind him. "Why would Chris do such a thing?"

"He's done worse," Sam breathed, not thinking of it, of what he meant, willing himself not to picture anything more than the Cortina's broken radio as he made his way past remains of an old stove. Instead, he focused on the interior of the building, the layout of it. It looked as if this level had originally been meant to house a small family, much like the other buildings in the neighborhood, but it seemed oddly barren -- not one piece of abandoned furniture aside from the basic appliances. As if it had never at any point been used for its intended purpose.

"Sam, look."

He turned from the kitchen to see Annie maneuver around a pile of broken drywall and toward a door unlike the others. It was metal, more like the entrance to a safe than a common cellar, and slightly ajar. Sam made his way toward it as Annie fumbled with her purse.

She extracted a small torch from her bag and then pointed it down a long, dark flight of stairs, beam swallowed up in the depth.

"What do you suppose is down there?" she asked.

"Nothing good." Sam grabbed the railing and outstretched his hand toward her. "Give me the torch. You watch the door."

Sam's hand stung as Annie slapped it away.

"Leave you? In this state?" She shouldered past him and made headway down the stairs. "Right chance!"

"Annie--" Sam started.

"No." She whirled on him, lower on the stairs than him and yet larger, angrier. "I've had enough of staying behind tonight, and with all this talk of futures and murder and betrayal, I..." She bit her lip, shook her head. "I won't have it!"

Sam opened his mouth and closed it again as he remembered which one of them had a tear-soaked blouse.

"Yeah," he said, "okay."

Annie nodded and turned back toward the stairwell.

It took them roughly five minutes to reach the bottom flight, at which point Sam could already feel the hairs at the back of his neck stand on-end. The unmistakable dank chill of the far underground might have been the cause, though he suspected it had more to do with the ghostly blue glow from the large space beyond the stairs, past another vault-like door.

Annie stood a moment in the high-ceilinged room, in front of the half-dozen screens shining out of a half-moon console.

"Are these... televisions?" Her voice echoed off the walls.

"Computers." Sam marched past them and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Guv! Ray!"

"But they're so small..." Annie trailed off. She might have been thinking back, suddenly, to the scribbles in Sam's notebook, to the talk of "PCs" and "internet." Once, Sam might have killed to show her this, prove her this, but that was a lifetime ago. He had more important things now.

"Where the bloody hell did they go." Sam balled his fists and turned on his heel in search of any point of exit from the room. One hallway stretched to the right, labeled "Kitchen/Quarters," while the other, to his left, sported a hazard sign and secure sliding door -- wrenched ajar and red light blinking.

"That'd be it," he said, throat dry.

"It says something here," Annie said, squinting at one of the monitors. She shook her head and headed back toward Sam. "Something about a 'quarantine' -- 'psychic breach'...?"

"They must have tried to seal off the facility after their tests went wrong." Sam strode toward the door and shoved it aside, revealing another hallway. "Perhaps they evacuated?"

Annie pointed her torch down the hall. A line of smeared, dried blood led into a door at the far end of the corridor.

"Not certain they made it that far," she murmured.

Sam reached for his holster before he realized he wasn't equipped with any. He stifled the urge to yell "Guv" again, tried to tell himself the blood looked old -- days old. He swallowed and stepped forward before Annie could take the lead.

They crept down the hallway. Industrial light bulbs flickered overhead, adding noise to the otherwise dead silence.

Sam placed his hand against the handle of the door as they approached it. There was a porthole window through the center of it, but it looked fogged -- hazy. All he could make out was a faint red glow from the other side.

Sam gripped the cold metal tight. He sucked in a breath, then thrust the door open.

The smell of blood accosted him, the pure copper sting of it. Like the roadway collision that had never happened, the carpet of his mum's crisp apartment.

"Oh, god..." Annie whispered.

For a moment, all Sam registered was breathing tubes and sonar beeps, one of his hospital nightmares in full surround sound. Then more came into focus -- wires and mechanical rigs centered around another half-circle console filled with grainy screens.

Each one showed a stand-by test card, with a little girl and her doll.

Sam stumbled backward.

More of the room flooded into his eyes. Figures, people suspended in air. Mostly alive and mostly not, bits cut out of them here and there. A hand, an eye, stomach stitched half to shreds. Kept in limbo like convicts on the rack.

"It's..." Annie's voice trembled behind him. "It's the Mangler's victims -- Harold Free, Sarah Wellington... god, they're... they're alive."

Sam tasted bile at the back of his throat. He swallowed it down and rasped, "The Torchwood team's over here." Although the uniformed men and women were in better condition than the 'murder' victims, they too had jerry-rigged wires in their heads.

"Everyone except Brittany Kenton," Annie murmured. "She wasn't--"

"Didn't let 'im take her."

Sam turned toward the voice at the door. He breathed shallow, brow creased, heart wrenching like a hangman's rope.

"I had to." Wet streams glinted off Chris' cheeks. The barrel of his pistol shook where he pointed it at Sam. "Couldn't let 'er end up like this. It was that or this, and I had to... I couldn't..."

Chris clenched his other hand into a fist around his lighter, glinting red under the room's dull glow. He sounded like a little boy. "Didn't want to. Honest, Boss, I didn't..."

Annie stepped forward. "Chris, listen to us--"

Chris' pistol snapped toward her.

"Chris!" Sam shouted.

"Won't hurt 'er." Chris swallowed. "He said I wouldn't have to hurt 'er, hurt anyone, not after today."

"'He'...?" Annie asked.

Chris pressed his fist to his temple and drew in a sobbing breath. "Ideas. 'Orrible ideas -- words an' pictures, won't go away, won't go away..."

He rapped his knuckles against his skull. Sam counted, with exhausted, horrified expectation.

One, two, three, four.

One, two, three, four.

"It's for me," Sam said.

Annie turned toward him. "Sam?"

"All of this," Sam breathed. "It's been for me."

For this spot, for this moment, for this single and significant intersection in time. A beacon on an ocean, calling out to his depths, to the thing with teeth and aching hunger.

Chris slowly released his grip on the pistol. It clattered to the ground.

Annie raced toward it. Her knees slid against the ground and her fingers grasped the barrel when a sound hit the air, a high-pitched, painful whine.

Sam slammed his hands to his ears. Annie crumpled to the ground.

"NO!" Sam yelled.

The sound stopped. Chris knelt down next to her, a rod-like instrument in his hand where the pistol had been.

"Chris--" Sam choked on his pounding heart. "Chris, no, god, please..."

"She's fine," Chris mumbled. "Jus' a little kip, s'all."

The rod -- Sam recognized it, from the Doctor's hand at Brittany Kenton's murder scene. It must have been the sonic screwdriver the Doctor had been on about and unable to find. Sam remembered... it had disappeared from the coat that Chris had left in the hall.

Chris stood up. Like an automaton, he walked to a panel by the door and punched in numbers. Sam skittered toward Annie's still form, turned her over, saw blood leaking out her ears and let out a sob of relief when her chest rose and fell. He cradled her with one arm and scrabbled with the other for the pistol still lying on the ground.

Chris hit a large green key. Clangs and thuds echoed through the facility, distant doors locking, bolts catching.

A woman's synthesized voice spoke slowly from the ceiling. "Quarantine complete. Torchwood-4 Purge Protocol commencing in eight minutes."

The pistol trembled in Sam's hand. "What's that?"

"Gas is gonna fill up the place," Chris said in monotone. "Kill everyone -- Ray and the Guv too. And DI Smith -- sort of."

Sam's arm tightened around Annie's shoulders. "For Christ's sake, why?"

"Only one person can stop it," Chris said. "Console up there -- ice-a-morphing lock -- isomorphic, somethin'. Can only be turned on by this one... this lord. Time Lord, think it's called."

"So get the fucking Doctor!" Sam shouted.

"Don't mean him, Boss," said Chris.

Chris' hand loosened at his side. The lighter clattered to the ground.

For a moment, nothing else existed.

"No," Sam said. Red fields. Silver mountains. "No, I won't do that."

"Think that's the point," Chris mumbled.

Twin suns. Sam raised the pistol. "Chris, stop the countdown."

"Dunno how," said Chris.

"Stop it, you idiot!" Hot wind on his face. Sam's finger tightened on the trigger. "Stop it or I'll--"

Chris turned around, pale. "Do it," he said.

Sam faltered. Tall domes above his head. "Chris--"

"Know you can't let me go. Don't want to go, anyhow." Chris hiccuped, eyes wet, head shaking. "Not things you can live with, what I've done."

Sam looked back at him. Spire towers, burnt skies. Stars that shone like diamonds.

"Please, Boss." Chris smiled through tears. "For the good of the public."

Sam's voice cracked. "Chris--"

A figure slammed through doorway. Chris turned and didn't move, didn't bat an eye as his head struck the wall and he collapsed like a ragdoll to the floor.

Sam heaved in breaths as Gene yanked the sonic screwdriver from Chris' hand and turned, dark-eyed, one hand pressed to the thin line of blood smeared under his ear.

"Tyler," he uttered, like he hadn't expected to say it again.

"Guv," Sam breathed in turn.

The Doctor burst through the door. He hesitated, then made a beeline for Sam and grabbed him by the shoulders, twitchy, nervous.

"Still Sam." He swallowed, patted his cheek roughly. "Still Sam. Very good, Still-Sam."

They all must have already stood here before, in this terrible room, Sam thought. There could be no other reason why they weren't reacting to the horror suspended above their heads, the testament to wrong turns taken, evils under lock and key.

"Chris--" he breathed.

"Wasn't Chris," Gene answered, almost in monotone. "He wasn't our Chris."

"He set a timer for poison gas -- we'll be dead in minutes." Sam held Annie to his chest and began to stand up, supporting her. "The main doors are sealed -- we need to find a way out."

"Right, yes, but--" The Doctor's eyes moved back to Chris. "There's a lighter -- the lighter, Torchwood's Chameleon object. DC Skelton had it -- that's why he turned on you lot, you know -- knocked us out, cut that poor girl to pieces--"

"Doctor," Gene growled.

Sam and the Doctor looked up to see Ray at the door, Chris clutched in his arms like a child. He turned, white as a sheet, from the door and out into the hallway.

"Right." The Doctor glanced down, shook his head. "Right, then."

The automated voice echoed sweetly through the facility. "Five minutes to Purge Protocol."

Five minutes, Sam thought. I have five minutes.

His grip tightened on Annie, around her shoulders and the backs of her knees. He held her in his arms, the warmth of her, the precious weight of her. He tried to take in every detail, etch it somewhere deep inside him with bare tools and frantic hands.

He let out an angry breath and shoved her toward the Doctor.

"I'm still wounded -- might drop her," he said. "We'll get to the exit, then work out the rest."

"Right." The Doctor took her, gingerly. "But the lighter--"

"It's in Chris' pocket," Sam said. "You can grab it in a moment, just -- take her, for godssakes!"

The Doctor stood up, unbalanced with the weight. He hesitated, but the look on Sam's face must have stopped him from protesting. He nodded and, with his charge, ran out the door.

Sam stood up and headed toward the door as Gene barreled into the hall ahead of him.

"You'll explain this," he hissed over his shoulder. "You'll explain this and then I'll beat your face in anyhow, bringing this down on all of us, on Chris--"

"Guv," Sam tried. The Doctor had rounded the corner, out of eyeshot, earshot.

"Did I say I was finished?!" Gene bellowed, rounding on him. "You're in a sea of shit, you are, so deep it's gone up your..."

He trailed off as he saw Sam standing just beyond the threshold to the terrible room.

In one hand, Sam clutched the door handle.

Sam shut the door a split second before Gene slammed into it. Sam wrenched the locking mechanism, then stepped back as Gene pounded a fist on the door's porthole window.

"Tyler!" he shouted.

Sam swallowed. He hit button labeled "COMM" beside the door and heard Gene's grainy breaths from the other side. "Gene, you need to--"

"How dare you," Gene snarled back, voice scratched with distortion. "How dare you, you utter selfish shit, ask something of me--"

"This will be the last time," Sam said, certain and clear. "The last. I promise."

Gene stopped. Maybe he could make out Sam's shoulders through the reinforced glass, trembling like leaves despite his stalwart eyes and mouth.

"What are you on about?" Gene asked.

Sam didn't answer. He bent down to pick up the lighter from where Chris had dropped it.

It was heavy, cold. Something unseen curled out of it and around his hand. Gentle and terrifying, a wolf's jaws around its young.

One, two, three, four.

Sam exhaled. "Chris said only I can stop it."

Gene grit his teeth. "So get on with it! Save us all, you insufferable martyr!"

Sam rubbed a thumb over the etched metal. One, two, three, four.

"Funny, innit?" he mumbled. "All this time, you lot were the real ones."

That's when Gene worked it out.

Sam could tell -- the sudden silence, the frozen gesture, the way he began to breathe. He wasn't an idiot. Sam had been a fool, once, to think him an idiot.

"Two minutes to Purge Protocol," said the voice from above.

"Sam!" Gene slammed his fist onto the door, harder this time, like he didn't care if he shattered bone. "Shut up and open this sodding door, we need to move!"

Sam's voice nearly broke, under the duress of time left, time wasted, time that could have been. "Whatever comes out of this room, it won't be me anymore."

Gene's eyes were wide. "Sam!"

"Promise you'll stop me," Sam said, hoarse, lighter clutched in his hand, future and past catching like flint and steel. "I think -- I think you'll need to stop me."

"You can stop your own sodding self, right now!"

"Please," Sam whispered. "Please, Gene. I can't do this alone."

Gene looked back at him through the dirty glass, something out of a dream once real, faded and far away.

"Okay," he said. "Bloody hell, okay."

Sam smiled, hurting. He stepped back from the door. "As soon as the front door's unlocked, get everyone out. Run."

Gene shook his head, slow. "I won't leave you--"

"Tell Annie I'm sorry," Sam choked. "Tell her -- tell her I should have listened."

"One minute, thirty seconds," the voice chimed in.

Sam shouted, "Gene, go!"

For a second, Gene didn't move. He looked back at him, face open as Sam had ever seen it.

Like he was trying to take in every detail. Like he was trying to etch it somewhere deep, with bare tools and frantic hands.

Gene stepped back. He turned, and he ran.

---

His name was Sam Tyler.

He'd had an accident and woke up in 1973.

He swallowed, throat swollen and thick. His palm sat, cold and clammy, against the metal railing leading up to the console. He breathed in the stink of death and rot, of lies and guilt, mistakes made real.

He wasn't mad. He wasn't in a coma.

Five steps felt like a thousand. Like he was climbing that Aztec pyramid from holiday all those years ago, a sacrifice to a god, a creature worth nothing more than the sum of its broken parts. Hollow offering from hollow means, shaking from the weight of it, the truth of it. He'd never been to Mexico.

"One minute," said the PA system.

The line of computers met him at the top of the small platform, wires torn out and wrapped in bunches over keyboards. Like the work of a child, a prodigy, something pure and selfish, brilliant and cruel, manipulating clumsy hands not its own. For a moment, Sam thought he could see a pattern in the circuitry, haphazard as it was, like he could understand the need, the desperation.

Like this thing had landed on a different planet.

Like it was trying to get home.

"Are you ready, Sam?"

She stood off to his left, a bright patch of red at the edge of his vision. Her stuffed clown hung from her hand like the bodies hung from the ceiling. "You'll finally be a real boy."

He turned toward her. A blonde woman in a red slip looked back, bruised around her eye. "That's it, darling. That's the way."

He blinked, and she was Annie, in her red dress from that day, face bloody and pale. "Sam, help us--"

He turned away. The lighter hummed inside his hand. He pressed his fist to his mouth.

"My name is Sam Tyler," he whispered.

One, two, three, four.

The lighter clicked into a slot in the console like it'd been made for it, and it had.

Light shot down wires from each hanging body, small bursts of stars, electric cracks. Like the device in the TARDIS and every other neon signpost that had pointed him this way, that had called him and cradled him and led him by the hand.

He shook. Lights glowed brighter and machines whirred harder. Breathing tubes and sonar beeps, like he'd always heard, like he'd always known. He would die the way he was born.

He let go of the lighter. He sucked in a breath as it opened, as white light poured into his lungs, his stomach, under nails and skin and through the walls of his heart.

Hearts.

He stopped. Straightened.

"Oh," he said.

---

heavy boots of lead
fill his victims full of dread
running as fast as they can
Iron Man lives again

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