“DAD!” Ryan screamed; he screamed until his throat rattled with pain.
A sound of a similar calibre emitted from Aaron, garbled by the Dalek mutant that was dragging the both of them into the vacuum of space. Ryan’s fingers grazed against his father’s for a mere second. Then, he was gone. The burning sky snapped shut to the sight of stark white police box doors.
Ryan collapsed to the ground, staring at the doorway. Aaron was gone again. He was gone, and this time he would never come back, not even if he wanted to. His mind wandered to the brief day he’d had with his absent father, picking apart every detail of their interactions. What if he had wanted to change, after all this time? Now he’d never get the chance and Ryan would never truly know.
“Oh my god. It killed him,” Yaz said softly, slicing through the tense silence. If it were a tangible object, one could imagine it would’ve been like string. Now it was frayed at the edges, cut in two.
“No, Yaz,” the Doctor whispered. “I did.” Her expression was empty as Ryan looked up at her from his position on the floor, before finally bringing himself to his feet. He couldn’t find a hint of doubt at her words.
“Don’t say that, Doctor,” Yaz hissed in response, seeming genuinely offended by the notion she could be complicit in the events that had just unfolded. “You couldn’t have known the vacuum would expand; that it could’ve taken his dad, too! None of us could’ve known.”
The Doctor looked up at her with the same expression she’d had back when they rescued Lin. With a Dalek, it’s personal. Ryan wanted to throw up.
“You knew it’d happen, didn’t you? You knew he might die.” The words were much quieter than he had hoped, subdued by the burning in his throat. The effort of holding back the barrage of tears threatening to flood him didn’t help matters.
“Ryan!” Yaz turned on him, regarding him the way she had regarded the Doctor after the Dalek’s escape. The entire moment was like being back in that warehouse.
“Come on Yaz, this whole time we’ve been following her around, how many times have we almost died? I barely even know anything about her, none of us do! We didn’t even know what a Dalek was until today, and now it turns out she’s got so much beef with them that she’s killed my dad over one!” His voice gradually got louder and louder, arms gesturing to the two of them wildly. He always hated how animated he got when he was having an outburst.
“I knew there was a chance Aaron might’ve lived,” the Doctor finally responded. Her voice was flat, though it matched the original timidity of Ryan’s.
He sometimes thought that she might not know how to deal with negative emotions at all; she always seemed so unsure of herself when she wasn’t bouncing around like a kid on too many e-numbers. Her insistence on how much older she was than the rest of them turned any concern over it into spite. Older people should know better, right?
“Oh yeah? An’ how slim were those chances compared to him dyin’?” Ryan spat. In the corner of his eye, Graham opened his mouth, ready to step in and defuse. The Doctor straightened up from her position hunched over the console, which was enough to make him shrink back, mouth promptly closing. Her hazel eyes burned into Ryan’s own.
“You want to talk about chance? I couldn’t give that Dalek the slightest chance of escape. It would’ve killed Aaron, then the rest of us, and if it had gotten access to the TARDIS controls it would’ve burned the universe alive. Daleks are merciless, Ryan. The love of a son is nowhere near enough to stop even one.”
“It wasn’t just a Dalek, it was my dad! My dad . After years of never really bein’ there, after not even showin’ up for his own mum’s funeral. For all I know, this year was the year he decided to start givin’ a shit! I weren’t exactly happy about him waiting ‘til now, but at least there was a chance for us.”
“It was his life or billions of others. I’m sorry Ryan, I truly am, but Aaron’s sacrifice means so many other sons out there don’t lose their dads, too.”
“ Sacrifice ?” Ryan visibly recoiled, hands balling up into fists at his sides. He paused for a moment — he needed to breathe, in through the nose and out through the mouth. “Is that what you thought about Charlie?”
“What?” The Doctor questioned, the word spoke in tandem with Yaz. Any other day, Ryan might’ve thought it was funny, how they were always so in sync and hopelessly fawning over each other. Now it was just getting annoying.
“Charlie. The kid from Kerblam. You set those robots to explode and left him there.”
“Yeah, but she warned him, remember?” Yaz stepped around Ryan to stand by the Doctor’s side, though she seemed to falter in her security around the Doctor. Her shoulders were tensed up and she barely spared a glance in her direction.
“He was just a dumb kid. He was scared and he was stressed, d’you really think he had enough time to realise what was goin’ on before he died? Same with my dad — he didn’t even have proper control over his body. It ain’t a sacrifice, it’s murder.”
“I did what I had to. I always do,” the Doctor’s face darkened.
At this point, Yaz had stepped away from her side, standing between the two of them and looking at them both with disbelief. Ryan noted that her gaze hovered over the Doctor the longest.
“How many times have you faced these Daleks before, Doc?” Graham piped up. His voice was soft and soothing, though it quivered slightly.
The Doctor’s gaze softened as it met Graham’s, and she murmured something resembling ‘too many’ before she suddenly swung into motion, circling around the controls and fiddling with switches. The productivity prompted the mask to slip back upon her face, though Ryan could easily see the cracks within it now. He couldn’t hold back a scoff.
“Where are we going?” Lin said, hesitant. The uniform she wore looked even bigger on her now than it ever had before. Everyone in the room seemed 3 times smaller in the looming presence of the Doctor.
“Sheffield!” She responded cheerily, as if on instinct. “Gotta get everybody home, now that everything’s been dealt with. Shouldn’t be too long after we left, though I can’t promise you’ll be quite near your actual house. How big’s Sheffield, anyway?” Had she always rambled this much?
“Everybody?” Yaz groaned as the TARDIS shook her about and she lurched backwards into the railing. The Doctor gave her a passing glance, but remained quiet.
The Doctor remained quiet for a long time after. She scarcely responded to Lin and Mitch’s questions and comments, barely remembering to cough up a ‘goodbye’ as the two exited the TARDIS. Her reactions were almost comically late — Ryan was pretty sure he saw her give a half-hearted parting salute directly after they had turned their backs to the group.
“Back to Graham’s, then? Or Yaz’s? S’pose two trips couldn’t hurt, though a walk might do some good. Fresh air, an’ all that.” Her words were clearly directed towards the team — her fam — but Ryan got the sense she was talking to nobody in particular, just cramming her voice in the uncomfortable gap the silence was leaving.
“I’m not going anywhere until you answer me, Doctor. Until you answer us .” Yaz crossed her arms, leaning on one leg slightly and looking at her with a steely gaze. It was like she was on the job.
The Doctor assumed a white-knuckle grip on the console, hunching slightly to look at Yaz, partially obscured by the crystal at the centre.
“What would be the point? It won’t change what I did.”
“Nothing will change what you did,” Ryan glowered. “But it might help me — us — understand, at least. I’m tellin’ you, though, it better be good.”
She looked at him. And smiled. A soft, sad smile. Pity , he realised. In a flash, it was gone, and she walked over to the steps and sat down. The others remained stood by the console, shuffling about if only to face her out of respect. She simply stared out towards the doors.
“You wanna understand?” she started, fiddling with her hands. “Hatred. That’s what drives a Dalek. Hatred for anything that isn’t a Dalek; for anything that isn’t a mutated pile of flesh, locked away in a tank. That hatred obviously,” she gestured up and down her form quickly, “extended to my people.”
There was a brief silence, filled only by a deep sigh that shook her whole body.
“It started out as a simple conflict. The Time Lords predicted that the Daleks were going to conquer the universe, so they sent me back to try and prevent their creation, or at least disrupt their evolution in a significant enough way. I failed. From there, they tried to infiltrate the High Council, and it quickly escalated into all-out war. The Last Great Time War, they called it. Two of the most powerful races in the universe slaughtering each other to no end. Destroyed quite a bit of the universe itself in the process. I refused to fight for a long time, I just helped people where I could, like I always do, but—” she shuddered. Was she crying? Her face was too shrouded by a mess of blonde hair to tell.
“Millions had died. Battles were being won and lost all over again on both sides; a time lock had to be placed on the whole war just to stop travellers changing everything every day. The Time Lords were becoming more and more aggressive, fashioning weapons of mass destruction. Someone once told me she couldn’t tell the difference between Time Lord and Dalek anymore. It turned out that included me.
“I stole the High Council’s biggest doomsday weapon. The Moment. The Daleks had executed their biggest attack yet on Gallifrey. I had to end it. You wanna know what I did?”
“What?” Yaz whispered. The boys were both trapped in a stunned silence. Ryan felt the knot in his chest tightening. He couldn’t believe it. He’d always wanted to know what was hiding in the dark depths of the Doctor’s gaze, what was so close to the surface yet so far out of reach, but now it felt like he was drowning in it.
“I burned them all. Wiped out every last Dalek fleet, and reduced Gallifrey to smoldering dust. I killed every last one of my people, just to prevent the Daleks from doing the same. Yet, they escaped. They survived. And they always will. But I’ll always be the last of my kind. Gallifrey fell, yet the Daleks get to live on strong.”
The silence that followed was thick enough to choke the room. The Doctor showed no attempt to move at first. Then, slowly, she slunk to her feet, as though the tension that surrounded her was tangible enough to weigh down on her shoulders. A few button pushes and lever pulls and the TARDIS took flight again, shuddering and wheezing the whole journey. Landing came not long after the initial surge, and Ryan could take a good guess at where they were.
“I’d hurry. Your family’s waiting,” the Doctor said, staring at the floor. Ryan looked to Yaz; it wasn’t as though anyone else on-board had a family, at least one that was alive, so he supposed the words didn’t require a direction. It didn’t stop him from desperately wishing the Doctor would look at them, even for a second. He’d rather she stared him down the same way she did Tim Shaw or King James. He’d rather she suddenly burst into a flurry of rage like he was prone to do, yelling and screaming and doing something . But she remained quiet; solemn. He hated it.
Graham was the first to leave, quiet and stoic as the Doctor. Ryan supposed he knew better than him, that he knew when not to push these kinds of things.
“Wait up, grandad,” he called after him, following him to the doors. Graham might know about being old and angry, but Ryan knew enough about Yaz to know she needed her own time with the Doctor. She had always been the one asking the least questions until now. It’d take longer for her to come to terms with it all. But Yasmin Khan always recovered.
She was the first to stop counting the new years until the Doctor returned.