Disclaimer: The Seventh Doctor, Ace, Fenric et al and all characters, concepts and situations of the television serial Doctor Who belong to Ian Briggs and the BBC. No profit is being made from this, and no copyright infringement is intended - so don't bother sueing, you won't get much. It's meant to be purely affectionate, so please take it as such.
Notes: 'The Curse of Fenric' is my all time number one favourite Doctor Who story, and there isn't a bit of it I don't like - including the ending. However, I've always wondered how else the Doctor could have doing what he does in this story, and so this is rather the cumulative result of these efforts. It's an alternative world story and so doesn't fit into canon - but then, what in the Doctor Who universe really does? Feedback much appreciated. Enjoy!
It was cold, that winter, in the unnamed military encampment in Northumbria not far from the place they called Maiden's Point. The sky was a thick, cloudy, turbulent black and the rain fell. But it wasn't normal rain - it seemed black, ice cold, thick and somehow slimy to the touch, churning the earth into mud and making travel almost impossible.
It was cold, that winter. But it wasn't cold because of the clime.
It was cold because evil incarnate walked that day, and on that day history would end.
For capsules capable of releasing a thick, noxious poison into the atmosphere, with quantity enough to fill the Earth's oceans several times over and eventually kill every living thing over a matter of months, they sure did look bland.
Incredible as it was, that was the sole thing that ran through Ace's mind as she stared at the dead, waxy complexion of a once handsome Soviet officer, eyes glowing an evil, sickly green, standing by the card table that, in apparent defiance to it's purpose, held a chessboard. A chessboard that contained on it a chess puzzle, unsolved for centuries. Until she'd came blundering in, all youthful confidence and arrogance, blurting out the answer for any old Evil from the Dawn of Time to hear.
A sudden burst of energy into the testing room, an indefinable sense of his presence, a cry of "Ace!!!" in a plaintive, desperate Scottish voice…the Doctor burst into to the room, dark suit shabby and yet somehow, amidst the downpour, dry as a bone, garish question mark pullover almost obscenely bright in the dull, muted colours. She looked at him, hopelessly, a beaten look on her face. She didn't say anything. What could she say? She'd failed, screwed up as always. A screw up from birth to her (very probable) death. So much for not being a little girl anymore.
Fenric, for his part, merely strolled casually to the chessboard, picking up the black knight and wielding it like a sacred and lucky talisman, with deliberate slowness reaching out and knocking the white king to the board. And as it fell, it seemed to ring, to echo in the tiny room. The sound of defeat.
"Black…wins, Time Lord." Fenric announced, with deliberate slowness - although, that might have just been his being unused to Captain Vladmir Sorin's vocal chords.
They'd lost. The Doctor had finally lost.
A snake of intensely powerful lightning crackled through the ceiling from the clouds above, striking the table with a surprisingly loud bang. The flimsy card chess board was set alight with a whoosh, a tongue of fire flashing into existence and burning merrily in the room. The only thing that was.
How did this happen? How could I be so stupid? How…what… "What's happening?" Ace cried, a plea addressed to no one in general. Spinning around (to flee? To hide?), she found herself facing the blue, scaly chest of a horrific, deformed, bloated creature, with fins and what looked like the suckers of a leech, a creature that could have conceivably once been a man. The Ancient One, I presume.
The Doctor didn't reply. Fenric, on the other hand, seemed more than delighted to inform her. "The wolves of Fenric…descendents of the original Viking who buried the flask, all playing their part in setting me free. Doctor Judson…Commander Millington…Captain Sorin…the Ancient One…" he said with deliberate lightness, enjoying the flash of pain crossing the girl's face as she took in once again what had happened to a man she could have loved. "…and now you." He finished slowly, as if explaining a basic mathematical concept to a retarded child.
Me? "What…?" Ace gasped, staring once again at the Ancient One, then Fenric…then finally the Doctor. The Doctor didn’t look at her, didn't even acknowledge her presence. He merely stood tall, proud and somehow noble in his shabby suit, hat perched on his untidy brown curls like a crown, hands resting on the red question mark that formed his umbrella handle. But did he lean on it slightly, as if old and weary? Was that a hint of defeat, of hopelessness in his otherwise impenetrable grey eyes? Ace didn't know, didn't want to know…"You - You can’t…"
Fenric, almost gently, pulled the photograph of little Audrey from her unresisting grasp. Little baby Audrey, so innocent and unaware and pure, but who would no longer be allowed to live in the world Fenric would create. "The baby…" he hissed. "In thirty years, the baby will have a child of her own. You. You've just created your own future. The baby is your mother! The mother you hate!" He began to giggle again, throwing the picture at her, and she stared dumbly at the little innocent that grinned back. Mum…?
"Doctor…" she whimpered in a small, childish voice - the voice of a frightened girl wanting her father to check for monsters under the bed.
"The Doctor has lost." Fenric replied dismissively. The Doctor merely glared at him, a futile defiance in those grey eyes.
Ace glared up at him, then at the Ancient One. "The Doctor never loses." She hissed at him. "He always beats people like you. I have faith in him." She raised her voice, and instantly felt the sweet, choral music ring through her being as her faith began to beat the Ancient One back. "Complete and utter faith."
The Ancient One began to squirm and clutch at his skull in agony. The Doctor stared at it, fascinated despite himself. "It can't break Ace's psychic defenses…" he murmured, finally showing some signs of realizing there were others in the room besides him and his enemy. But if it couldn't get past, then it couldn't reach Fenric…oh, damn…
Fenric barely noticed "A final decision, Time Lord." he continued, picking up a pawn and idly toying with it. "I will destroy you, of course. But if you wish the girl to live…" He sneered, and gestured at the grimy, dusty ground. "Kneel before me."
In that instant, the Doctor's mind flew. He'd convinced the Ancient One of the truth - that as soon as Fenric released the poison into Earth's oceans, all life was finished, and his ancient existence was null and void. The Ancient One would make the ultimate sacrifice - ending his life to see his master finally destroyed…but dammit, the Doctor hadn't counted on Ace being here, Ace's faith blocking the creature in a misguided effort to allow the Doctor to play the trick in his sleeve she was so convinced he must have. He hadn't paid attention to the details, had allowed his mind to slip.
And the only way to allow the Ancient One to complete his mission was to destroy Ace's faith.
No, Ace… the Doctor mentally pleaded. Please, please don't make me do that…please don't make me do that to you…
Two ways he could do it. One way more effective, but only one way he could live with himself to enact.
"Kneel if you want the girl to live." Fenric thundered, his voice echoing in the room.
The Doctor met Fenric's eyes, steeled himself, readied himself, prepared himself to destroy a young woman's faith in him…
And then found he couldn't do it. And that there was only one option left.
"I'm sorry, Ace." he murmured, loud enough to hear.
And then he dropped to his knees.
Ace stared, disbelieving, as the Doctor fell to his knees and bowed his head before Fenric. What…? No…it's a trick, it has to be a trick…
But the choral music faltered, distorted, quietened…the Ancient One's struggles began to cease…
Fenric stared at the humbled Time Lord. And then he laughed, a deep, joyous sound. "The Time Lord still does not understand! And I thought him so wise…you would sacrifice a king for a pawn!"
"Yes." The Doctor replied clearly, all hope gone from his voice, all emotion barring a thin defiance in his voice. "There's nothing left, nothing I can do. Nothing. You've won, Fenric. The king always was the weakest piece in a chess puzzle. I surrender. Totally, unconditionally, and unequivocally."
There was nothing in that voice. No hidden message. No certain tone. No codeword. Just complete defeat. It's a trick, it's a trick, PLEASE LET IT BE A TRICK…the music began to distort further…
"You do not see…" Fenric sneered. "The girl is mine. The girl always has been mine. Since Peinforte. Since Iceworld. Since you first met. Since she was born."
"You knew my weakness." The Doctor replied simply. "I couldn't do it, no matter what. I couldn't destroy her, despite what I knew she was. . You've beaten me. Completely. I can't defeat you - I don't know how."
"Doctor…" Ace whispered, trembling, the music in her ears almost completely warped. In one, two, three tottering, staggered steps she was next to him, crouching beside him, desperately trying to shake him out of this…this funk. "Professor…no…there must be something you can do…there must be!"
He finally looked at her, and Ace saw the hopelessness in his eyes. "No, Ace. I'm sorry. There's nothing. No last minute telegram this time, no rabbit out of the hat." He smiled, bitterly. "I don't even have an Ace up my sleeve. Not any more."
Oh God, he's lost…he's really lost, this time…and it's my fault…all my fault…
And with that, any confidence, any hope that Ace might have left in the Doctor shattered and crashed like sugar glass, taking any trace of the music with it. And any hope, any confidence she might have had in herself. "Nooo!" she wailed, like a wounded animal, before crumpling into a heap on the floor, curling up into a foetal position, sobs racking through her and shaking her suddenly thin, delicate seeming, fragile frame.
The Doctor looked down at her with the same expression of loss. Then, he looked back up at Fenric. "Let her live, Fenric. Be merciful. I'm yours, this world is yours…but let her live. You have more than enough to satisfy you. Please, let her live."
Fenric appeared to consider. Then, a cruel, evil smile dawned on Sorin's face. "Begging doesn't suit you, Doctor." He chuckled darkly. Then, almost disinterestedly, he gestured to the Ancient One and began to turn to the almost incinerated remains of Kathleen Dudman's travel chessboard. "Kill them. Kill them both."
The Ancient One lurched forward, weakened, ancient joints that had long ago began to rot lurching into action. The Doctor didn't notice - he was staring at his companion with an expression of pure agony on his face. Ace, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, please, forgive me…
The Ancient One moved closer…closer…
But not closer to the Doctor or Ace.
Fenric turned - to see his servant staggering toward him, an expression of hate in it's sunken dark eyes. For the first time, doubt appeared in Fenric's eyes - the creature was taller and stronger than this weak frame. "What…what are you doing?!" Fenric demanded, finding himself staggering back as the Ancient One continued to press him back. Towards the test chamber. "Kill them, do you hear me?!"
The Ancient One's response was merely to push him into the test chamber. And scoop up a canister of gas. "No…" Fenric bellowed, realizing it's intention. "No…I command you! I command you to kill them!" He screamed, his voice achieving a surprisingly hysterical edge for an Evil from the Dawn of Time.
The Ancient One didn't say anything. It just slammed the airtight door shut - the airtight door that could only be opened from the otherside. Raised the canister, high in the air.
And viciously hurled it to the ground. As it smashed, sickly green gas floated up into what little air was trapped in here. The Ancient One began to choke.
So did Sorin's body.
Fenric continued screaming furiously, although his host's rapidly disintegrating lungs and oesophagus made it completely impossible to force the words through. None but the ancient vampire would have heard them, anyway. The room was entirely sealed off. No! This cannot happen! Not now! Not to me! I am Fenric! I am the Pure Evil upon which this universe was built! It is my right to destroy all! I will not die! I WILL NOT DIE!!!
Then, as the smoke began to cloud everything and Fenric's host began to shut down (the consciousness that had activated it before Fenric had seized it already being dead), and as Fenric realized to his horror that it was shutting him down as well, he happened to see out of the viewing window, and happened to meet the Doctor's cold grey eyes. There was no defeat, no hopelessness, no loss. He'd known. The Doctor had known what would happen, and had played it all along. He'd beaten Fenric at his own game.
You underestimated me, Fenric those eyes seemed to say. A mistake. Farewell. We won't meet again.
And then, the green cloud completely obscured the viewing window, and Fenric never saw out of it again.
The Doctor didn't know what to think. Had he won? Had he lost? Fenric was trapped, at least, so that was something. But there was a girl who's faith in him he'd shattered, and that thought twinged. Painfully.
Still, first things first. There'd probably be a great deal of frustrated energy rocketing through here, so probably be best to be out of the way…
He scooped up his umbrella, then tugged on his companion's arm. "It's over." He said simply. "Time for us to leave."
"Why bother?" Came the flat, emotionless reply.
"Ace! We have to get out of here!" The Doctor yelled. This was no good, no good at all…He pulled her to her feet, then began to practically drag her, unprotesting, out of the doors, through the corridors, up the steps to the dugout entrance, to safety…
He flung her and himself out of the door, into the sticky black mud, just as a bolt of lightning struck the dugout entrance. There was a flash - the smell of burning concrete, rubber and wood - as the entrance collapsed upon itself, filling itself in…and when the air cleared, the Doctor noted to his amazed approval, that the blast appeared to have both wedged and welded the rubble into the hole, in a manner as to make it impossible to traverse and to remove. The gas was trapped underneath - of course, he'd have to seal off the secret entrance through the church was well, make sure no one could get in, prevent anyone trying to recover that horrid stuff. Gas hadn't been used in the Second World War, but then someone might try to revive Millington's insane plot to sabotage the Kremlin, or bomb Berlin…
The Doctor's thoughts - primarily to keep him from thinking of other, more pertinent issues - were brought quite rudely back to those very issues when a dainty fist, powered by rage and betrayal, came out of nowhere and hit him across the jaw. Surprised more than hurt - his companion may have entered more than few little fights in her time, but was not strong enough to truly cause him pain - he staggered back, dropping his umbrella and frowning at the direction the fist had came from. And the young woman, her face twisted by betrayal, hurt and confusion, to whom it belonged. "Ouch." He said blandly.
"You bastard!" She hissed, trying not to sob. "You used me! You fucking used me!"
"I…I had no choice." He replied, not meeting his friend's eyes. "Ace, I -"
She spat at him. "Fuck you!" She yelled. "Just leave me alone!"
And then she ran off, into the mist.
"Ace!" the Doctor yelled. "Ace! Wait! Please!"
But there was no reply.
"Damn you." He snapped to himself. "Damn you, you stupid old man!"
And then, of course, he began to follow her. Not easy, even in the rapidly fading mists.
But then, he also had a fairly shrewd idea of where she was going.
The Doctor stood above Maidens Point for what had to have been two hours, just watching his companion, slumped on some rocks near the pitiful, pebbly beach, sob her heart out. He just watched, waiting for the right time to go down, to explain himself, to explain why he had done what he had done. Why it had been necessary. Of course, he told himself that it was to let Ace calm down, to let the wind and the sea air sooth her fragile nerves. The truth was, he was nervous and worried, frightened that he wouldn't be able to justify himself, frightened that she'd hate him and never trust him again - which, he'd be the first to admit, she had a perfect right to. Almost an obligation.
And the fact that he had no clue when the right time was wasn't helping matters any.
He'd never failed to see the irony in the fact that a man who was capable of completely shifting and reforming his entire being, who had had no more than seven almost entirely different characters over the course of his long life, creating a new persona from the metaphorical ashes of the one before, had never actually learnt or developed any skills in reading character in others. Especially not human character. They were so…so…so damned fickle, so quickly shifting from mood to mood, so difficult it was hard to keep up. The entire blasted species seemed to suffer from one massive, collective psychosis; they were a race of manic-depressives, basically. From the Doctor's less than reliable point of view, of course. And of them, Ace was one of the particularly fragile, the particularly delicate; behind her tough veneer, she'd shatter like china. And he'd pushed her too far this time.
The Doctor didn't like being alien to her, to all of them - all of his human friends. He wanted nothing more than to understand why they did what they did, why they were happy, sad, depressed, thoughtful, how they fell in love. But then, it was the curse of his lineage. He didn't fit in amongst the Time Lords, not even his fellow renegades, and he would never truly fit in with his beloved humans either. A hard life, being a hybrid. A satisfying life, but a hard one.
And he didn't like using people. It was a means to an end, true - but then, the end never justified the means. It always came down to that, in the end. It was as simple and as cliched as that.
But knowing that and following it were two very different things. He'd really have to get himself a body that was capable of understanding things like that one of these days.
After a last consultation of his watch, the Doctor decided to go down. He could only explain himself, justify his actions, the rest would be up to her. He could talk till he was a million years old, his silver tongue working all the way - but in the end, she was the one who had to forgive him.
And frankly, the Doctor was terrified that she wouldn't.
Ace had known he was there, watching her, for at least an hour. He had a presence - a charisma, someone had once said, that could shine brighter than the sun…or blot it out. She hadn't acknowledged him - hadn't seen the point. She wasn't done hating him.
And Ace doubted she ever would be.
Then, suddenly, she heard footsteps. Finally had the nerve to come and face me, then? She thought to herself.
It wasn't the fact that he'd tricked her - he'd done the same with Nemesis, done the same countless times. It was the fact that he'd gone so far, hadn't even given a sign that he might have a clue up his sleeve. He'd manipulated her, deliberately destroyed whatever faith she might have in him, just so he could add Fenric up onto that 'galactic beasties defeated' list he kept in his head. And without him to believe in, how the hell could she believe in herself.
He'd known this. And still he'd done it.
Well fuck him. She wasn't taking it any more.
"You took your time." She stated coldly, matter-of-factly, not turning around to face him, not even giving him that comfort. Give him some of his own medicine. "Get lost, did you?"
"Ace," he said simply, contritely. "I'm sorry. So very sorry. Please forgive me."
"Oh yeah?" she snorted cynically. "Very bloody blunt, aren't you? Very direct."
"When I can be." He replied. "I hope. That's how I perceive myself at any rate, but self perception has never been an accurate form of character assessment, I've always found."
Bloody little armchair psychologist, aren't you? "Yeah, well, there's a lot about yourself that you've edited out, Doctor." Call him Doctor, that's it. Let him know where he stands.
"I'm beginning to realize that. Can I sit?"
She shrugged. "Free universe."
"Oh…yes, yes I suppose it is." He didn't know how to handle that one, Ace thought with malicious relish. There was a shuffling as he took a seat, gingerly, beside her, not too close. Close enough to speak, but no more.
For a moment, there was a pause as cold as the air that separated them.
"I knew from the start what you were." The Doctor said simply. No preamble. No excuses. They'd come too far for that. "Who you were. Well, not from the very start, I suppose. But I had my suspicions, and they hardened over time. How it was so very convenient that on Iceworld there was a companion who just happened to suit my needs, my preferences, who'd been brought there by a time storm of all things."
"I'm glad I was so right for you." She said flatly. "If that's the best you can do, you can bog off right now."
"It isn't, rest assured. May I?" Without waiting for confirmation, he continued "As I was saying, I gradually became aware of who you were. A Wolf of Fenric. One of his more cunning manipulations, sending his heritage into the future as he saw it, to plant someone in my home, in my hearts, to deal the fatal blow when he needed it dealt. Someone whom I couldn't see through, someone I couldn't destroy. He thought that if he gave me a Wolf for a companion, that by the time I realized who she was it would be too late for me to destroy. He was right." The Doctor looked at her. "I couldn't kill you. No matter what. So I thought that if you travelled with me, if I helped you battle your demons, if I put off my battle with Fenric for long enough, that his influence over you would fade and then you'd be rid of it. So I took you to battle Daleks and Cybermen and Nazis, showed you what evil was, and I showed you how quickly it could be defeated on Terra Alpha. Then I helped you face your fears. Clowns on Segonax, Gabriel Chase…then…then I couldn't put it off any longer. I had to bring you to face Fenric."
"Thanks." She said flatly. "But I face things on my own terms."
"Do you?" he asked quietly. "Perhaps you do. But I gave you a little push, a little guidance here and there, showed you the problem and let you solve it." He shrugged hopelessly. "At least, I hope I did. As I said, self-assessment is rarely an accurate indication of these matters."
There was another pause, another silence that seemed to last a lifetime. Then, almost too quietly to be heard, Ace said quietly "I knew all along what was happening."
The Doctor looked at her sharply.
"Not knew knew, but deep down…I think I did. I think I knew what was in that flask when I found it, or that Sorin was…well, dead. But I had to anyway. I couldn't help myself. I guess, in the end, I was just as lost as everyone else."
The Doctor shook his head. "No one is lost unless they believe themselves so. You didn't go into the water, you weren't lured in by Fenric, seduced fully over to his side like no doubt he intended. To drive the wound in even further."
Ace grinned - a faint shadow of the grins that used to cover her face, but still an improvement. "You told me not to."
"I don't recall that stopping you before." The Doctor replied, a slight smile on his own features. Then he grew serious again. "But Wainwright, Millington, Judson, little Phyllis and Jean, even Sorin to an extent. When they finally confronted Fenric, he was able to persuade them that they were lost, and always had been. But he didn't persuade the Ancient One or you, which was why you were able to resist him. And that's what made it harder to do what I had to do."
"Destroy me, you mean?" Ace asked casually, turning to face the Time Lord.
"I…I…" For a moment, the Doctor hung his head, couldn't meet Ace's eyes. "I'd told the Ancient One the truth - that assisting Fenric would lead to his non-existence. He was ready to stop Fenric. But then you stopped him. Your faith held him back - your faith in me. And if Fenric was to be stopped and you were finally to be rid of him, then I had to break it so that he could pass." He coughed slightly. "I could only think of that way to go about it, persuading you that I'd lost, that I didn't have a chance."
"You could have told me. You should have told me."
"No." The Doctor said simply. "You're half right. I should have but couldn't. Had I told you that I was intending to break your faith in me, you'd have known it was a trick and wouldn't have lost faith in me. Catch twenty two."
"Very convenient." Ace grunted.
"It's a pain, isn't it?" the Doctor agreed. "And knowing that just made it worse."
Then, he looked at Ace. "But you're free, Ace. You're free of Fenric's influence, because he won't be getting out of this situation. I'll make sure of that. And in my mind, that makes the pain worthwhile. Because you're Ace. You're free to live and love and do what you will without him pulling the strings. You're an individual, and that's what Fenric couldn't see. That's what lead to his downfall, in the end. And even if part of that freedom was you rightfully hating me forever, it would still be worthwhile."
"Then why are you here?" Ace asked simply.
The Doctor looked directly at her. "Because I'd rather you didn't." he replied honestly. "Because I don't like being hated, no matter how much I've deserved it. Because I'm truly sorry and remorseful, and it would make me feel better if you were to forgive me. Selfish reasons, perhaps, but wrong things done for right reasons, which I'll willing except over right things done for wrong reasons. But it's your choice."
For a long moment, she was silent. Very silent. Then, the ghost of a smile crossed her face. "What the hell." she muttered. "When you put it like that…We're still not through this, mind." She continued. "It'll take a while."
The smile he smiled seemed to light up the world. "I'd be a fool to think otherwise, Ace." he replied softly. "But it's a start. And I owe you, really."
She smiled. And then pulled a photo out of her pocket. Audrey Dudman. She must have grabbed it somehow before they left, the Doctor realized.
"She's my mum." Ace continued, her voice sounding more and more trembly. "What's wrong with me? Why can't I stop hating her?"
The Doctor leaned back. "Love and hate. Conflicting emotions, particularly when kept under the surface." He said simply.
For a long while, none of them said anything. Ace just stared into the water - the choppy, rolling waves, not looking all that strong, but still fairly intimidating. For a while, she just stared and stared. Then, slowly, shakily, she stood up and moved closer.
"Don’t be afraid of the water." The Doctor urged.
So she wasn't.