Title: Love Feels No Burden
Series: As The World Falls Down
Genre: Romance, Adventure, Mystery, Drama, AU
Characters: The Doctor (9), other characters *To say who it is would be a spoiler to ATWFD*
Summary: The Doctor's companion is there when John Gatesmith is born, and she's going to do everything she can to execute him.
WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS if you haven't read "As The World Falls Down" and plan to do so - that means YOU, kelkat9
Author's notes: This is a prequel to "As The World Falls Down," featuring that certain person we ran into in the last chapter of As The World Falls Down. Love and thanks to onabearskinrug and who_in_whoville for the beta. I don't know that I'll get any more of this posted before Christmas, but at least I got one done, eh? Gives you something to look forward to for Boxing Day. ;)
“Find Jack!” the Doctor shouted to no one as he was dragged backwards down the hallway. He dug his boot heels into the tile floor so that the hallway was filled with the most horrible screeching sound. Despite being overpowered by six guards, he still was trying to wrestle his way free. “Find Jack and get out of here!”
Martha Jones stood silently at the end of the hallway, watching, tears spilling over her cheeks. If she screamed, she’d be seen. The Doctor knew she was there, knew she would have helped him if she could. Now she had to help herself. Her family were hiding in the ruin of a hardware store several blocks away, panicked and horrified by the devastation of the future Earth. The Doctor had broken the laws of time to go back and rescue them moments before the old world was consumed in the cataclysm. He would want her to go to them. She turned and walked as slowly out of the building as she could force herself to do, cringing as the sounds of the Doctor’s suffering followed her out the doors.
She had to go to her family, to be certain they were safe. She stood outside the doors, staring at the dull gray sky and the bizarre structures the new Londoners had fashioned into homes out of the wreckage of the old world. Her heart broke for the city, the poignancy of her loss magnified whenever her eye caught the remains of Big Ben lost in the middle of a cluster of trees. How long had it been since the pavement had shattered and the trees had taken over, and what sort of crumbled vestiges remained of the Houses of Parliament in the woods?
It was all overwhelming for her, and she had seen so much in her time with the Doctor. Her parents, still so new to life on the TARDIS, could barely comprehend all that was happening to them, though Tish and Leo seemed to be recovering from the initial shock well enough to help her get her parents from safe point to safe point in this new world. They needed her, she knew, far more than the Doctor did. But her family were together, and the Doctor was alone.
Against everything that made sense, Martha ran back inside. She had the perception filter around her neck, fashioned from bits of the dying TARDIS. If she could do nothing else, she could be with him until it was over. At least he would not have to die surrounded only by enemies. Even if he didn’t know she was there, she would know. It was agony forcing herself to walk calmly down the hallway, but if she ran she’d be seen, and if she were seen she would never get out again to help her family. She could hear the grunts of struggle getting louder as she approached, and could just imagine his leather-clad arms jerking free of the men who held him, his boots stomping at clutching hands. Any second now he would come barreling towards her, grinning like a crazy man. A gunshot rang out. Martha jumped, swallowing a scream before it could betray her.
She turned to stone, her mouth dropping open as tears began to fall anew. The sounds of struggle had ceased. She had to know; had to see him firsthand, or she’d never believe he was actually dead. She stood there for what felt like an hour before her legs felt strong enough to carry her without giving way. Once she thought her knees could support her, she walked slowly onward.
“Get him in the chair,” Martha shrank backwards at the sound of the Master’s voice, husky with pain. Why would they bother with the Doctor if he were already dead? She forced herself to keep walking.
She came around a corner and froze once more. The hallway opened to what must have once been a wide-windowed atrium but was now mostly aging plywood and what was left of a white stone floor littered with broken glass. She saw the Doctor at the other end of the room, still alive, strapped into a chair with thick leather belts, his head hanging limply forward. He had been divested of his jacket. From what she could see (bugger his penchant for dark jumpers), the only injury he had was on his left hand. It was sliced wide open and dripping blood all over the floor. She spotted blood-streaked chunks of thick glass not far from where he was, along with the gun she’d heard go off.
“Wake up!” the Master shouted, slapping the Doctor hard across the face. Martha winced with sympathy and watched him shake his head and finally lift it to bore a stare at his white-haired adversary. It did not escape her notice that the Master seemed to be in worse shape than the Doctor was; his bright white shirt was sopping with blood on one side, and she could see tendrils of golden light traversing the surface of his skin. So the Doctor had fired the shot and hit the bastard. Only three of the six guards that had brought the Doctor into the room were still standing; the others lay unmoving on the floor, one of those in a thick puddle of dark blood. The Doctor must have slashed the guard’s throat with the glass and cut his hand open in the process. Martha shuddered; she knew he’d been in wars before, knew he’d taken lives, but it was the first time she’d ever seen it in person.
“I have to give you credit, Doctor, you haven’t forgotten any of your combat training,” the Master purred. “If I wasn’t suddenly so short on time I would set you loose so I could watch you dispatch my other three guards. You have always had such an elegant way of scrapping for your life. You’re like a deadly little ballet dancer without the tights.” The last half of the Master’s sentence was peppered by a series of spastic coughs. He put his hand up to his mouth and Martha saw spatters of blood on his hand, as well as an intensifying of the glow beneath the skin.
“Runnin’ out of time,” the Doctor said, smirking. “Better do whatever it is you’ve got planned now, in case your next regeneration hasn’t got the stomach for it.”
“Always so cocky,” the Master foamed. He gripped the front of the Doctor’s hair and pulled his head backwards, wrenching his neck. “You burned the planet – you murdered everyone!”
“I had my orders!” the Doctor shouted. “What was I supposed to do, let the Daleks overrun the universe? It was the only way to stop them. Everyone was already dead.”
“Don’t lie!” the Master balled up his fist and punched him in the jaw. The Doctor’s head flopped back and forth with the force of the blow and then hung still. The Master stood with his hand clamped over the wound in his side for a few moments before looking down at the little bit of his insides protruding out through the wound. He stalked off, trailed by his guards.
Leaving the Doctor alone.
Martha ran up to him the moment she was sure the Master and his guards were far enough away. “Doctor!” She cried, lifting his head as gently as she could. His eyes opened slowly and, after a moment, focused on her face. She had expected him to be furious that she’d stayed, or perhaps overjoyed so he could give her quick instructions to get him free. She didn’t expect the sad, hopeless smile he gave her.
“Martha Jones,” he said. “You’ve been worthless at followin’ instructions ever since I picked you up, you know that?”
She laughed through her tears. “Well, you know me. What is it you keep calling me?”
“Stubborn little bugger,” he said. His smile was breaking her heart.
She gave him a kiss on the forehead and stepped back to look at the way he was rigged into the chair. “Let’s get you out of here.” She started to pull on one of the thick leather belts.
“Isn’t time,” he said with a shake of his head. “You’ve got to go, now. Believe me when I tell you, I’m grateful you stayed. ‘S nice not to be alone. But you have got to leave. Find Jack – he’ll be able to fix the TARDIS and get you and your family out of here. Tell him he’s the only one in the universe I trust with the old girl, so he’d better never lose her in a card game or somethin’.”
“Oh, no you don’t,” Martha said. “That’s the sort of thing you say when you’re sayin’ goodbye.”
“I am,” he said, brave smile firmly in place. If he hadn’t already been punched enough times she would have smacked that look right off his gob. “You were absolutely fantastic, Martha. Much as I hate to admit it. Now you get out of here – they’re on their way back, and I don’t want you to see whatever it is they’re gonna do to me.”
“I’m not leaving you,” Martha said. She could hear footsteps approaching. The Master’s voice sounded weaker than it had before, but no less angry. She looked back to the Doctor with panicked eyes. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Stand perfectly still and don’t make a sound,” he said. “The perception filter’ll protect you, long as you don’t move. Once it’s over, you get out of here – you hear me?”
She looked in the direction of the approaching footsteps again. She couldn’t stop crying. “Doctor, I’m so sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, stubborn. You stayed; plenty wouldn’t have. Means the world to me. Hurry up and get out of the way, now. And don’t move.”
On an impulse she kissed him on the lips, gently as she could. “I love you,” she said. They both knew exactly how she’d meant it.
He winked at her. “Goodbye, Martha.” The footsteps were getting closer.
“Don’t say that,” Martha said.
“Don’t move,” he said, letting his head droop back down. Martha took a breath and held it as the Master and his guards came back into the room. One of the guards was helping the Master walk, while another carried a cumbersome device made of twisted cables and metal. There was an odd metal circle at one end of the tangle of cables. As soon as the guard had put the device down, the Master took the metal circle and put it on the Doctor’s head, tightening the clamps. He took a fob watch out of his pocket and locked it into place on the side of the metal circle.
“Are you awake? Are you listening?” He screamed the last question and the Doctor raised his head and nodded. The Master grinned, his breathing starting to come in hitches, slowing his speech. The glow under his skin was getting brighter. “Good, because I want you to remember every word of what I’m saying. I want it to come to you at night, when you’re sleeping. I could have burned through your regenerations and killed you a hundred times, but I didn’t. I let you live. You love these apes so much, you’re going to become one of them. And you’ll stand with them when they sing my praises and worship me, because you’ll be as stupid and tractable as the rest of them, Doctor.”
“Chameleon Arch,” the Doctor said, looking upwards at the circle. “You’re gonna put everything that makes me who I am into a fob watch.”
“Yes,” the Master sighed, looking around the room. His eyes passed right over Martha’s face and kept on going. “Is there someone here who needs that information that doesn’t have it? Oh, I know. You’ll probably wish you’d retained that bit of information in a few minutes. Before I erase you, Doctor, I want you to know that I’m going to hang on to this little bauble. I might even open it from time to time, just so I can hear the echo of your voice, begging to be released. I want you to know that, somewhere down in your diminished consciousness, and I hope it torments you as much as I’m tormented over what you did to Gallifrey.”
The Master flipped the switch on the device and the Doctor went rigid and began screaming through tightly clenched teeth. Martha did as she’d been told, standing perfectly still, her face awash in silent tears. She never looked away from the Doctor, the man who had saved so many and lost everything trying to save even more, until her attention was drawn to the Master. His coughing had intensified so that he was doubled over, hacking and gasping, until he suddenly threw his arms outward and exploded in a shower of sparking orange light. After a brilliant few seconds, the sparking subsided and Martha saw a new man standing in the Master’s bloody clothes. He was younger than he’d been moments before; the square face and dark, beady eyes of his white-haired form were replaced with a face that could be described in the worst possible terms as sweet. He had big, soulful eyes and short brown hair, cut in the same style as the Doctor’s. When he smiled, Martha’s blood turned to ice.
He took a breath and grinned at his guards, who were staring at him in shock. “That’s right, I can do that, too.”
He stripped out of his bloody shirt and waistcoat, throwing them straight at Martha. The shirt hit her in the face just as the Doctor began shouting and bucking in his chair with such violence that it drew the Master and the guards’ attention so Martha was able to move to the side, letting the shirt fall to the ground. She knew he’d screamed louder to protect her. Even when he was in the throes of whatever that horrible device was doing to him, he was still looking out for her.
An agonizing few minutes later, the Doctor finally went limp in his restraints. The Master stepped up to the chair and yanked the circle off the Doctor’s head, popping the fob watch free to tuck into his pocket. He pried open one of the Doctor’s eyelids and peered at him for a moment. He smiled, satisfied with whatever he’d seen, and walked away, waving his hand in the guards’ direction.
“Get ‘im out of there. I’m starving; let’s see if one of the faithful can scare me up a burrito.” He picked up the Doctor’s jacket and put it on, holding out his arms to admire himself. “I like it. Little long in the sleeves, but I can take it in.” He patted the Doctor’s cheek as the last restraint was unbuckled and he slumped to the ground, motionless.
As soon as the Master and his guards had gone, Martha ran to the Doctor’s side and rolled him onto his back, collapsing with relief against his chest when she saw that he was still breathing. Everything was going to be all right after all.
“I knew you’d survive,” she whispered, patting his chest.
He groaned and sat up with her help. “We don’t have much time,” he said, holding his forehead with his uninjured hand.
“Why not?” Martha asked. “They think you’re dead – it’s perfect. We can just-”
He held up his hand to stop her talking. “Residual awareness,” he managed. “I’m not going to be here much longer. Maybe a minute.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“I’m in the watch, Martha,” the Doctor answered. “In a few seconds, I’m not gonna know you. He’s gonna get to you, eventually, so I’ve got to do this while I still can.” He grabbed the sides of her head and closed his eyes and Martha felt something pushing into her mind. The room started to spin and her stomach lurched into her knees.
“What are you doing?” she mumbled, her eyes rolling back in her head.
“Plantin’ a trigger, deep inside where the Master won’t think to look. If he ever gets to you, he could erase everything about who you are, who I am, about Jack and the TARDIS and the way things should be. If that happens, this trigger’ll be waiting, sort of like a memory backup on a computer. You see the right thing, hear the right thing, and you’ll be set right again. You’ve got to remember, because I won’t. I’m sorry if it hurts; no time for finesse.” He closed his eyes and bent his head towards hers. After a few seconds of terrible pressure and dizziness, he let go of her head and they fell away from each other. The Doctor was smiling.
“Made it. I’m even stronger than I thought. Now,” he dug into his pocket and pulled out the key to the TARDIS, “take this; don’t lose it – it’s the only key.”
Just as he was handing her the key, something changed behind the Doctor’s eyes. His movements slowed and his usually stern and commanding expression softened into an easy smile. Martha drew back, pocketing the key.
“Doctor?” she asked, the last of her hope dying in her heart.
“You all right, miss?” he asked.
“Yeah, thanks,” Martha managed, letting him help her to her feet. Even his grip was different; there was a softness in his touch that hadn’t been there before, a look in his eyes that made her almost sick to look at him. Somehow it was easier to see him tortured and fighting – even killing – than it was to see him like this.
“You cut yourself,” she said, indicating his dripping wound. He looked down at his palm in confusion. There had still been a few flickers of the man she knew when he looked down. By the time he looked up, he was a completely different person. All traces of the Doctor were gone. It would have been easier to watch him die.
“I wonder how that happened,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “Must’ve fallen.” He looked around himself, seeming not to notice the three dead men nearby.
“You should get that stitched up,” she said, her voice tight with tears. “I can take you to the TARDIS infirmary and steri-strip it.”
“The who, and do what?” he asked, chuckling. “You’re not making sense – are you sure you didn’t hit your head or somethin’?”
“No, I’m all right. Thank you,” Martha sniffed.
“Look at me, forgettin’ my manners. I’m John, by the way,” he offered her his hand. “John Gatesmith.”
“Martha Jones,” she answered. When she gave him her hand, he kissed it, which made one of the tears she’d been holding back slip past her guard. He tilted his head slightly to the side, his eyes soft and full of concern.
“What’s troubling you?” John asked her. This was not the snarky, smirking captain of the TARDIS who could fight his way out of a tight spot as easily as he could charm his way into one. The man who found something to quip and grin about in any situation, from the end of the world to an advancing horde of gas-masked zombies. The man who saved planets and whole solar systems with his wits and his sonic screwdriver and asked for nothing in return but the company of a good friend or two. That man was gone; erased, as the Master had said, and a stranger was squatting in his body.
“I lost my friend,” Martha said. Those four words, spoken aloud, brought down the last of her reserve and she surrendered to her sobs.
“Oh, now,” he soothed, pulling her into his arms in an unfamiliar hug. The Doctor’s hugs were definite and reassuring; whether he pulled her up onto her toes and ended with a sunny smile, or yanked her into the air for a quick, rib-crushing spin, they were solid and safe and wonderful. This new man was using the very same arms and she came to rest against the very same torso, but the hug was cold and perfunctory. It only made her cry harder.
“I’m sure they’ll turn up,” John said, patting her between her shoulder blades. “Just go back to the place you saw them last, and maybe they’ll come there to find you, yeah?” He ducked his head down to look into her eyes. It was as if the process had stripped everything away from his personality except the gentle sweetness he was always trying to hide under swagger and brooding sarcasm. What disturbed her most was the fact that she had never seen him quite so at peace; so relaxed and open.
“Would you like me to help you look for your friend?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Martha said, taking a breath to gather herself. She was going to have to take charge of things until they could get the Doctor back. “We need to take care of that cut first, though.”
He looked at the wound again. “Don’t know why I keep forgetting that’s there. If I’m bein’ honest I’m not even sure how I ended up here. Where is here, anyway?”
“Here is a very dangerous place to be,” Martha said, glancing over her shoulder. “Let’s get going. I’ll tell you all about my friend on the way.”
John offered her his arm, crooked at the elbow, and gave her a sideways smile that was so much like one of the Doctor’s smiles she almost thought it was him peeking through one last time. After a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed on tight. “Don’t you worry about danger, Martha Jones,” John said as they started on their way. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Despite everything, Martha smiled a little at this. “You always have.”