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The Shadow Men (1/?): Doctor Who

TITLE: The Shadow Men
AUTHOR: Amet (amet)
FANDOM: Doctor Who
SUMMARY: The Time War sucketh. An Eight vignette.
PAIRINGS: Lil bit of Doctor/Romana, if you squint.
WARNINGS: Violence and emo Time Lords, as they say.
SPOILERS: Have seen at least a bit of new series 1 to be safe.
ARCHIVED: Onion Girls
FEEDBACK: Yes please! ^.^
THANKS: To sephyelysian, for checking my DW canon and just generally being a doll. ♥

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is the prologue to a larger fic I keep telling myself I'll put out when there's more, but since it can stand on its own and God only knows when I'll get back to it... have some Time War angst. XD

The Shadow Men; 1
A Doctor Who fanfiction
By Amet

"No single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us.
To live is to be slowly born.
             ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The bowship rocks with another explosion that throws him clear across the room into the far wall. They say you can get used to anything, but the Doctor thinks it's ridiculous that he's actually prepared for the dull crack of his head hitting a particularly nasty corner of the grating on the floor, familiar pain blossoming and he'll be grateful if he can just get through the inevitable splitting pain without triggering a regeneration cycle. He's exhausted enough that anything more than a concussion would probably knock him down for a week, and he can't afford to rest. There is evil afoot, as some of his more ridiculous selves would have said.

The Madame President has landed less than gracefully on her arse, coming down hard on her tailbone with a stifled cry that echoes across the chamber. She's regenerated twice since this whole mess began, responsibility aging her in spectacular, frightening ways, pushing her forward towards that more permanent abyss and he has to admit that terrifies him a little. She shouldn't have been on her feet at all this soon after the last one, the brilliant ginger-haired waif giving way to a statuesque woman with dark eyes and sickly, translucent skin, sharp features made all the more apparent by the close clipped hair she'd shorn out of frustration and possibly spite. She's still mad at him for cutting his own curls off.

He can't really blame her. They're all desperate for a bit of familiarity and given the way things are going, their average rate of regeneration is nearly tripling. It's difficult to remember who exactly is on his crew anymore, waking up to a whole host of new faces each morning and he's far too tired to distinguish between new staff and old staff renewed, who he knows well enough to worry over and who presents their own cache of problems by merit of not knowing a damn thing about piloting these horrid old machines. That means half of them aren't getting the training they require but he's too exhausted to bother about it if no one else will. They aren't dying yet, at any rate, but they all know that's coming. Even a species that can survive in stasis within the vacuum of space runs out of chances if pushed too far, too many young Lords and Ladies advancing inexorably towards double digit regenerations as another wave of Daleks crushes forward.

It's funny, but that makes it easier to keep moving when a comrade goes down. At this rate his best friend could die in his arms and he'd be none the wiser until the casualty list came in the next morning.

Romana however, he's made a point to keep track of.

He wrenches himself to his feet with an aching little huff, hobbling over to where she's lying to give her a hand up. "Are you alright, Madame President?"

He says the words with a measure of asperity born of years of political derision, amused as dark eyes flicker upward for a moment before they roll, a too-thin hand clamping down over his own as she pulls herself upward almost entirely on her own strength. "I'm so glad your lackluster sense of humor hasn't been damaged, Commander."

The last Romana had been loud, fiery anger bursting forth, barking orders with the best of the pompous Cardinals and that had been almost funny, watching them scramble for equilibrium under the weight of her expectations after the doors of the Slaughterhouse were opened and thoroughly plundered, every last ancient, esoteric weapon extracted and left to the Patrexes to decipher as though any of them could remember their development in the first place. This Romana seemed colder, less desperate to be obeyed now that she was more certain that she would be unquestioningly, humor wry and mordant beneath a layer of untouchable calm. She reacted more slowly, with more deliberation, and only time would tell if that would be to her credit or her downfall.

He certainly hoped she lasted longer. Much as he despised himself for the impulse, he needed the touchstone and it was difficult to reconcile himself to a whole new old friend every few months.

He'd lost track of Leela and Andred with the first volleys, all those months ago. Central intelligence claims their children are still planetside, but his old companion and her husband are somewhere in the chaos of the front lines, far beyond his reach. Rumor has it that Susan has returned with the rest, the beacons calling all Gallifreyans home to defend their planet from the encroaching horde, but he has yet to see her, a ghost among the passing crowd of unnerved Time Lords and he wonders occasionally when he has a moment if he would know her at all if they crossed paths.

If she would know him, he should say. It has been seven regenerations since they last saw each other.

So it is up to the Madame President to keep him sane, and he is certain that it is a job she would mind if she wasn't as desperate for a steady presence and the indulgent ear of an old man who can still remember the idealistic git beneath the mantle of the presidency. The Doctor is just grateful he can find her if he needs to, as symbolic to his people in their time of trial as that queen The Brigadier was always going on about and all eyes are on her, their last great hope despite the fact that those who actually know Romana have all ideas that she has not a clue what she's doing.

She hides it well however, the white knuckled grip she has on the console in front of her hidden in the sleeve of her robes, posture rigid and imposing if one doesn't look closely enough to notice the tremors in her arms. It doesn't escape the Doctor's notice, and as always he can't quite decide whether that says Romana trusts him enough to let him see her weaknesses, or that fate doesn't want him to have the reassurance that his fearless leader is in fact, fearless.

He supposes it's the former. Only an idiot would be fearless in the face of the Dalek empire.

They're approaching a planet, an ensign informs him, a mousy little thing who can't possibly be past her second regeneration for all the fidgeting she does at the controls, like she can't quite resign herself to the figures scrolling across it when they destroy her naïve sense of Time Lord superiority with every new message. He manages to refrain from informing her that he can see that, thank you, and rubs absently at the lump forming on the back of his head, grounding himself in the dull thrum of pain beneath his fingers. This one's bad off, the invasion force already halfway into the atmosphere and it won't be long now before the entire population is dead, exterminated. He can almost hear that monotonous battle cry as the Daleks appear in his mind's eye, the horror that awaits the faceless people of this unknown planet—he won't let the communications officers read off planetary statistics anymore. He's found he doesn't really want to know.

"Release the N-forms," someone says, and it takes a moment and a long, considering stare from Romana for him to realize that the reedy, tired voice is his.

"But sir!" one of his subordinates shouts, and that one must be new to bother arguing with him—his temper is becoming legendary. "There are twenty thousand people still on the surface of that planet!"

"They'll be twenty thousand dead people in a minute, no matter what we do," he says, and he's not even surprised at the calm with which he can make this argument anymore. "So you have two choices: you can either let the Daleks pick them off one by one, or you can do as I say and release the damn N-forms."

The ensign quails, shoots a desperate glance at Romana and turns back to his console when he receives nothing but a blank stare in return. One of them is crying, the Doctor notes, soft, hitching breaths echoing strangely in the suddenly quiet bridge as he sighs and leans over to set the coordinates himself. He's killed enough innocents since this whole mess began that twenty thousand more isn’t much of a weight on his conscience, euthanized a thousand-thousand worlds to spare them the horror of the Daleks, as though the horror of an unrestrained N-form is any better. He should be disgusted with himself, he thinks, but he's too tired to find the energy.

He flips the final switch. The world explodes in fire and sound and pain.
Tags: amet, doctor who, fanfiction
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