“You..will take me…to the Dalek fleet. Resist…and this body will be destroyed.”
“Doctor, do something!”
Oh, Ryan. She didn’t want to do this. Any other choice in the world, any other moral conflict—but not this.
“My decision.” She was glaring at him, the Dalek-who-was-Aaron, but he was staring off, his head lolling, eyes unfocused. Not an ounce of fight left in him. She wanted to kick something, she wanted to scream at him, fight! Fight it, you bloody coward! Fight! But she had a terrible feeling it already didn’t matter.
“Whatever you want. Just promise me you’ll let him go.”
The Dalek-who-was-Aaron shuddered, head rolling as he considered this. A pause, and then his gaze rose to meet the Doctor’s. They locked eyes, and she knew she was right.
Whatever was looking out of those eyes wasn’t Aaron. Not even a trace.
“You…are…my…prisoners…now.” Every word came forced, spat between gritted teeth of a man too far gone to even know he was in pain.
It wasn’t an answer. In some small way, she was glad he hadn’t even tried to lie.
“No.” She stepped forward, up into his personal space. The Dalek didn’t back away, but studied her coldly. “Only me. Not the others. I’ll take you in my ship, I will, but the others will stay.”
Aaron’s—the Dalek’s—eyes bored into her. Scrutinizing. Trying to see the angle she was playing, whether it would make a difference. She could’ve laughed, if it wouldn’t have immediately given herself away.
Oh, you wretched creature, you’ll never understand, because it’s not in your DNA. It doesn’t make a difference to what’s going to happen with you, whether my friends are there or not. I just don’t want them to see it.
His eyes flicked up to her companions, and even with her back turned she could almost see their expressions; Ryan, desperate and confused; Yaz, uncertain but trusting; Graham, probably shaking his head, but not stopping her. They didn’t know to stop her, yet.
“They…are…worthless.” His voice was like grating metal, and a thousand quips sprung to her mind. She said none of them, just nodded.
“What—Doctor, no!” Of course, Yaz—kind, brave, wonderful Yaz. Always the first to stay, and the last to run. The others chimed in just as quickly, a cacophony of misguided bravery. She could have kissed them all.
“You can’t just go off—”
“We’re not leaving you—”
“I won’t leave my dad!”
The Doctor couldn’t prevent a tiny, imperceptible flinch at the last one. She spun around. “No—it’s too dangerous. You lot are staying here, and I’ll be back for you.”
Of course, this did nothing to shut them up.
“We won’t abandon you!” Yaz stepped forward the way she always did, and Graham followed close behind. Ryan came too, but his focus was nowhere near the Doctor; his eyes were fixed on Aaron, and once again the Doctor had that fleeting, frustrating urge to scream. It’s not him, Ryan. It’s not him, I’m sorry—
“Doctor, we won’t let you—”
“No!” This time it rung out harsh, harsher than she’d ever spoken to them, and only too late did she realize she’d let her facade slip. Just a tad, but they saw it—the alien coldness in her eyes, the years layering her voice. It stunned them into silence. Quickly, she backtracked. “Like I said, it’s too dangerous. You all stay here, with Mitch and Lin,”—she nodded toward them, wisely standing silent at the back— “and I’ll be back soon.”
“With my dad?” Ryan’s voice, a mixture of hope and desperation and, most agonizingly of all, trust.
She looked him square in the eyes, and in her mind heard the laugh of the Dalek as her own, an ugly, contemptuous howl of deceit. “With your dad.”
And because she couldn't bear to see his reaction she spun back around to face the Dalek wearing Aaron’s face, and clapped her hands. “Alright, Dalek. Let’s take you home.”
She strode past the Dalek and into the TARDIS, barging through the doors without a single glance back. Part of that was strategy—don’t give the Dalek time to reconsider, don’t give her friends time to do something stupid like come after her—but most of it was for her own sake as well. If she saw her friends faces—worse, if they saw hers—she wasn’t sure she wouldn’t give away what she was about to do. It had to be written on her face somewhere, she was sure. She wasn’t that good of a liar, and they weren’t daft.
They were just too horribly trusting.
The Dalek followed her inside, Aaron’s body lurching and swaying over the threshold. As soon as he was inside the Doctor turned to slam the doors shut, and that was when, despite her best attempts to the contrary, she caught the beseeching eyes of her friends.
Oh, that was worse. They weren’t scared, not at all. They just looked confused, and hurt.
And they had no idea.
It took no more than a few minutes to pilot the TARDIS to the proper coordinates. The Dalek followed her to the console as she worked, but didn’t touch the controls. Instead he gazed around, taking in the entirety of the console room with wide eyes. In any other species, she might have thought it wonder; in his, it was nothing but greed.
“The glory…of the TARDIS…shall…be ours.”
“Keep dreaming, mate,” the Doctor muttered as she flipped the landing gear. “We’ve landed.”
“Finally…my mission…is complete. The earth…and the Doctor…will submit before…the Dalek fleet.” He began to turn, to face the door.
“Oh, not so fast, you!” The Doctor rounded on the Dalek, who turned back, tentacles waving suspiciously. “You—I’m talking to Aaron!”
She advanced on him, any trace of her cheeky, swaggering demeanor gone. In its place was cold fury, emanating with every step she closed on him.
There was apparently enough human instinct left in him to edge away, but she backed him up the stairs and pushed him against a jagged white pillar. The Dalek stared through Aaron’s eyes, his gaze flicking over her form, trying to gauge the danger.
“Oh, stuff it!” With both arms she gripped his shoulders, driving him—maybe a little too roughly—against the pillar. “I’m not talking to you, Dalek! I’m talking to Aaron!”
Now the tentacles flicked weakly at her, but she brushed them away with one hand and focused on Aaron’s face, peering into his eyes. Searching.
“Aaron.” Her voice softened, turned encouraging. “Listen to me. I need to know if you’re in there. You have to—you have to give me some sign, so I can save you, alright? Please—do it for your son. For Ryan. You have to fight, Aaron.”
Another tentacle creeped out, and she pushed it irritatedly away. Her eyes never left Aaron’s face. “Aaron? Aaron, listen to me. You have to be strong. Show me—show me you’re still in there.”
The Dalek’s tentacles were waving frantically now, snapping at the hands that gripped Aaron’s shoulders. She ignored them, waiting for something, anything, that would prove Aaron was still in there.
Please, Aaron, you have to be in there. You can’t make me do this. I don’t want to do this.
One of the Dalek’s tentacles landed again on her hand, but this time it didn’t just brush her skin—it wrapped around her wrist, and pulled, dragging her unexpectedly towards the ground.
“Ow!” she jerked back, and nearly took Aaron with her, but at the last second the Dalek released her hand, sending only her flying backwards.
“You…will…not…attack…us! You will…take…us…to the…Dalek Fleet!”
“I said I was talking to Aaron, not you!” she roared, and launched to her feet, wringing out her hand. It felt as if the Dalek had wrenched her shoulder out of her socket. Oh well, she thought bitterly. Small price.
“Aaron…is…as good as dead. He…does not…fight.” The Dalek eyed her through Aaron’s eyes, and as she looked back, fury and indecision raging through her mind, she saw that dull hatred glinting in his gaze. Not the hatred that came from fear, or that which came from anger, or any other overwhelming emotion.
No, it was a hatred she recognized too well. The kind that emanated from every Dalek. A dim, implacable hatred that could only be embedded in someone’s DNA.
The Dalek was right. The Doctor nursed her arm and surveyed Aaron, hunched over and grimacing from a pain that wasn’t his own, and her heart sunk in realization. Aaron was no longer there—and even if he was, he was no longer fighting, if he ever had been. And the Doctor couldn’t get him out. She had no time.
“Oh, Aaron, you blundering idiot of a dad,” she said, more to herself than to him. “You really couldn’t have helped me out, could you?”
The Dalek was not listening. Or if he was, he didn’t care. “You…will take me…to…the…Dalek…fleet.”
“Alright, alright,” she said crossly and swung her arm back down to her side, wincing at the pain that shot through it. “C’mon. I’ll walk you out.”
She brushed past him towards the door, and the Dalek followed, malicious eagerness upon his face. She could only imagine the excitement of the Dalek, returning after hundreds of years to bring his fleet the victory they craved. She hated that she could imagine it.
When she reached the door she turned to the Dalek, who had come up right beside her. He gazed at the doors, his tentacles flicking excitedly and an ugly smile upon Aaron’s face, and she watched him, stomach turning, before saying, “Last chance to say no. I’ll be nice.”
The Dalek’s—Aaron’s—eyes fell to her. He was still listing to one side, as if he were in pain, though the smile on his face betrayed no such feeling. “You will…open the doors…and surrender to the Daleks.”
She rocked back on her heels, clasped her hands together. “Alrighty then. Remember, your choice.”
And then with one hand she reached to pull the doors open. They swung inside easily, and immediately the Dalek stumbled, and then braced himself against the walls as the gravitational pull of an entire supernova dragged him down.
“You have tricked us!”
“Oh, you bet I did,” the Doctor growled. With her left hand she held onto the wall, and with the other she reached out and, before the Dalek could react, grabbed Aaron by the collar and pulled him down to her level. “Alright, Dalek, like I said: last chance. Actually, you can forget that, because you’re going to die either way. I’m talking to Aaron now.”
“You have tricked the Daleks! You have tricked the Daleks! You have tricked—”
She pulled him even closer, ignoring the tentacles, which were in any case too busy flailing for any sort of purchase to be a threat.
“Aaron, last chance.” Her voice turned low, pleading. “Tell me, before I make the wrong choice—are you in there?”
She was close enough now to really look into his eyes, to try and see past the hatred and anger burning there, and she searched, hoping, praying—
“YOU HAVE TRICKED THE DALEKS! YOU HAVE TRICKED THE DALEKS!”
“Alright, then,” she whispered, and pushed him away, though her hand still gripped his jacket collar. “I see. You didn’t want to fight, did you Aaron? Not for Ryan either, I suppose.”
The Dalek was still screaming through Aaron’s mouth, his face contorted into a mask of hostility, and the tentacles were whipping wildly around his head as the body sagged into the gravitational pull. The Doctor’s arm was beginning to shake with the effort, her fingers sliding.
She began to count. Three…two…strange, she felt no anguish at all, in this moment. Only cold determination. It was always like that, when it came to things like these. Perhaps that was why it was so frighteningly easy. One…zero…
Her fingers, practically numb, still unclenched easily, slipping loose of his coat fabric. The Dalek—Aaron—the Dalek—screamed one last time, a wordless, eternal scream as the gravity of the supernova pulled his body out through the TARDIS doors, into space, into an eternity of falling.
The Doctor watched him spiral, just for a moment, before she reached out and slammed the doors shut, cutting off the fading screams of the last Dalek on earth.
It had been two hours since the Doctor had gone, and the little group of humans sat sprawled across the communications headquarters, in varying states of distress. For the past two hours, every noise even slightly similar to the TARDIS had brought heads jerking to attention, and ears perking up, only to fall as the noise passed with no appearance of the ship itself.
Lin, exhausted from her ordeal, had fallen asleep on Mitch’s lap, who was close to dozing off himself. Yaz was leaning against a desk, unable to sit down but tired of pacing, and determinedly not looking at the space the TARDIS had occupied, though every once in a while her gaze couldn’t help but fall to the empty spot.
Graham had given up on trying to comfort Ryan an hour after the Doctor had left, once he’d made it clear in his silence that he didn’t want to talk. Now Graham sat on the floor, leaning up against a desk, and alternated between staring at the ceiling and twiddling his thumbs. Ryan, for his part, had sunk down onto a fallen chunk of cement, and sat with his elbows propped up on his knees and his head between them, gaze fixed on the ground.
Two hours and twelve minutes after the Doctor had left, a faint wheezing began to echo throughout the room. They almost didn’t look up, fearful of another mistake, until it grew stronger, and stronger, impossible to misjudge.
Yaz straightened up excitedly. “It’s got to be—”
“I think you’re right,” Graham answered, and pulled himself to his feet. “Ryan, she’s back!”
He pointed towards the spot the TARDIS had vacated, which was now no longer; with every passing second, the outline of the returning ship grew stronger and more solid, until, with one final thump, she materialized completely.
Mitch looked up in amazement, but didn’t move, with Lin’s head still in his lap. Ryan looked up and instantly jumped to his feet, painful, tentative hope written all over his face.
The doors opened, and the Doctor stepped out. For a moment, it was impossible to tell. Her face was unreadable; she didn’t look at them immediately, but busied herself with pulling the door shut behind her.
And then she looked up, directly at Ryan, and he knew.
“No,” he whispered. Anguish flooded his tone. “No, but you said…”
He trailed off. Silence filled the room, so absolute you could hear a pin drop.
“I’m sorry, Ryan,” The Doctor was the one to break the silence. Her eyes were pained, her voice full of sympathy. “I tried, I really did.”
“But—but how?” He stared at her and shook his head, unbelieving. “I—you promised—”
“The Dalek had already killed him.” Something bitter flickered across her expression. Her next words, when they came, were cold. Flat. “I tried to trick him into separating himself from Aaron, but he figured out my trick, and when he realized what I was doing…”
Ryan knew what she was about to say even before she said it, and all he could think was how much he didn’t want to know this. “He took Aaron with him. I’m so, so sorry, Ryan. You deserve more.”
“No, it’s—” Ryan sniffed, and realized suddenly that his vision was blurring with tears, and his knees were growing weak. He sat down again, hard, and Graham rushed towards him, the Doctor and Yaz on his heels. “It’s just—I know he wasn’t a great dad, but I’d just got him back, you know? And he said he was going to try—”
He vaguely registered arms around him, Graham on one side, and then Yaz on the other, and he half expected the Doctor to rush in as well, but when he looked up through watery eyes he saw she was standing back, maintaining an uneasy distance even as her eyes shined with grief.
“I’m so, so sorry,” she said again. He just shook his head, and brought up a hand to roughly wipe his tears away.
“S’not your fault,” he said, his voice creaky. “S’okay, I know you did all you could.”
And then despite himself, Ryan’s vision once again filled with tears, and he began patting his pockets for a hanky. A question mark-spotted one appeared under his nose, and when he looked up to mumble his thanks, he though he saw something strange flash across the Doctor’s face. Almost like guilt, but not quite—and before he could really register what it was, it was gone, so fast it might have been imaginary.