Title: Looking Up At The Sky To Scream
Characters: Ten, Donna
Summary: She just doesn’t stop. That’s why he likes her.
Author’s Note: The Doctor’s thoughts during ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, written for the dw_challenge prompt ‘Defiant’.
“But that’s what you do. You’re the Doctor. You save people.”
His hearts fell as soon as he realised that whilst he’d been rushing around trying to find the TARDIS, Donna had been off concocting a plan to warn everyone. A plan to save the people of Pompeii. A plan that he couldn’t allow her to put into effect.
She rattled off the possibilities, going on about bells and amphitheatres and all the while he was silently pleading with her not to do this. To just let it go. Pompeii had happened, it had to happen no matter what the cost. He’d concentrated so hard on not even thinking about that and he could have cursed her for forcing him to address it. Things would have been so much easier had they just been able to hurriedly leave and pretend they’d never been here. They could actually go to Rome as he’d planned all along and forget about the disaster they weren’t meant to prevent.
Deep down he’d expected it of her and so he wasn’t really surprised. She was older than Rose and Martha, perhaps more world weary and less idealistic. But she still cared and she was a fighter, like a dog with a bone when she got an idea into her head, and he knew that it wouldn’t be easy now to persuade her to just leave without doing anything to help.
Of course, he probably could and should explain to her the ins and outs of the problem, make her see that some things just had to be and hope that she’d understand. It really was unfair of him to expect her just to accept what he said when he gave no true reason for it. But to explain would be to bring up some personal truths that were too painful to discuss so openly and so he went for what he knew would likely be the ineffectual method of just brushing the matter aside quickly, dismissing her plan and hoping she wouldn’t argue.
He tried to drag her away but she held her ground.
He was the Doctor, he saved people. That’s what she’d said, but it wasn’t as simple as that and he felt his anger rising, unfairly directed at her yet unable to stop it.
‘Tenacious’ would be a good word to describe her. ‘Defiant’ was another.
He could think of a few more in that moment too but they were all uncharitable and so he held his tongue in check.
“Now come on. TARDIS. We are getting out of here.”
He ordered her, a small part of him not feeling that he had the right to do so, but not knowing what else to do.
“Well, I might just have something to say about that, spaceman!”
“Oh I bet you will!”
One of the things he’d always liked about Donna was her sheer stubbornness.
In that moment, he found himself hating the trait.
“Oh great, they can learn a new word as they die.”
“Donna, stop it.”
His words were angry and forced out through gritted teeth, masking the pain buried deep behind them.
Perhaps he should have added ‘please’ to that.
‘Please stop. Please just let it go’.
It was what he meant after all. It wasn’t a matter of not seeing her point of view. He was, in fact, acutely aware of what she was trying to get across. But he didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t need to hear it. There was no point. Nothing could be done. And he’d learnt long ago that in order to live with the hard decisions it was best not to dwell on them.
“That boy, how old is he? Sixteen? And tomorrow he burns to death...”
Emotional blackmail. He wasn’t really surprised she resorted to that when anger and demands failed to elicit the response she wanted. She didn’t understand him. To her, he was the Doctor and he was supposed to save people and his behaviour right now was flying in the face of that.
He wondered what she thought of him, how he appeared then in her eyes.
High and mighty?
He knew she wasn’t the type to hide her feelings and he couldn’t help but ask.
“And that’s my fault?”
He so wanted her to say ‘no’. For her to validate his decision and give him the reassurance that he needed yet would never ask for. But, it seemed, she was too busy caring about others to even get an inkling of how he felt. Or maybe he just hid everything far too well.
“Right now, yes.”
That hurt, much more than he would have expected. He knew he shouldn’t need her approval nor her understanding but somehow it seemed he did. Or at least he wanted it.
She glared at him and he hurriedly looked away, burned by the defiance in her gaze, but knowing he couldn’t hide from it forever.
“I’ll surrender you in a minute! Don’t you dare!”
He smiled to himself as he crept inside the temple, hearing her ranting at the priestesses who threatened her life. He should have known she wouldn’t be the type to go peacefully into the night. Goodness knows, she didn’t do anything else quietly so why should death be an exception?
She was no girly screamer either. No pleader. She raged. He liked that. Took strength from it.
He mused momentarily on the fact that the defiance he’d earlier despised now somehow made him feel better.
He knew he could be defiant enough himself in the face of his own death. It was something he supposed they had in common.
“But if it’s an alien setting off the volcano, doesn’t that make it all right?”
She really didn’t stop, didn’t ever give in, and he found himself back to thoroughly disliking that quality in her again.
He shouldn’t blame her. She couldn’t really be despised for trying every method of reasoning she could to save those people, and he would have been disappointed if she’d surrendered so easily, especially when he gave her no explanation other than ‘it’s meant to happen’. How was one good human ever supposed to accept that just because he said so? They didn’t see what he did.
As she continued to push, demanding answers of him, he flitted between anger and despair, momentarily wishing he’d chosen a meeker and more compliant companion. But he knew that wouldn’t have been good for him.
It was he who broke first.
“That’s how I see the universe. Every waking second I can see what is, what was, what could be, what must not. That’s the burden of the Time Lord, Donna. And I’m the only one left.”
And, as the only one left, it was down to him to uphold sense and order. He owed them that at least, having taken everything else from them.
Silence reigned for a blissful moment as she took that all in, attempted to understand. But still, even in the face of his determined resolve, she wouldn’t give in. She still had hope that it wasn’t a lost cause.
“How many people died?”
“Doctor! How many people died?”
Never surrendering, not accepting that it had to be so. Defying everything he’s told her.
No point in sugar coating it. She deserved the truth.
“Is that what you can see, Doctor? All twenty thousand? And you think that’s all right, do you?”
No, he didn’t. It would never be ‘all right’. It was horrific and tragic, a true disaster. But it would happen all the same.
Her anger rose again. She didn’t care what mumbo jumbo about things that must not, will, might, possibly, should and may be he spouted. All she saw was the inconceivable idea of so many innocent people dying and them doing nothing to prevent it.
Oh, to see the universe so simply.
She was trying to press him into showing some compassion, trying to make him think about the price of his desire to preserve what he said had to be.
But he was all too aware of that.
And inside he burned with a desire that demanded he do something about it, a feeling that he was finding increasingly hard to quell and which was only being fuelled by the temptation of her plans.
That was why he had to be so firm with her. Blunt to point of callousness. His resolve had to hold.
“That’s the choice Donna. It’s Pompeii or the world.”
“Oh my god...”
The realisation hit him long before he verbalised it. Her words and questions led him there, dragged him through the facts until only one conclusion remained. Yes, he could stop the Pyroviles but the only way to do so was to set history in motion. To cause the volcano to erupt. To kill the people of Pompeii.
The dawn of understanding spread across her features, finally perhaps having a sense of what he’d said all along about the inevitability of some matters.
But he barely heard her words, his mind racing to the worst conclusion of all.
“If Pompeii is destroyed then it’s not just history; it’s me. I make it happen.”
Twenty thousand people or the whole world. Generation upon generation that would never be should things change here. The sense behind it should make it easier but it really didn’t. Being a spectator and allowing events to unfold as they should was very different from being the catalyst.
Allowing people to die was a far cry from being the hand of death.
Although, he realised bluntly, it wasn’t as if he would have to live with the guilt for very long. Maybe that was only right.
“Nothing can survive it, certainly not us.”
He didn’t know why he told her. It wouldn’t exactly help matters. He should be giving her hope, telling her that there was a chance, no matter how small. But it just seemed wrong to lie now. She should know what he was about to do.
That it wasn’t only the lives of Pompeii he was sacrificing for the sake of the future but his and hers as well.
“Never mind us.”
There were hints of tears in her eyes and he could see under the front she was scared, but they were held back by a fierce determination. He’d never admired her more.
His hands were on the lever and he knew he should have just pushed it straight away, not given himself time to dwell or doubt. But the hesitation came, stilling his hand.
He saw them, just like she’d said. All twenty thousand people, lives he was about to extinguish. Men and women. Husbands and wives. Brothers and sisters. Children. Families.
All condemned to a terrifying death in order to secure the rest of humanity.
The reasoning was no comfort at all.
It was too much. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, lost in the enormity of what he was about to do.
And then her hands were on his, dragging him back to the moment. Giving him her blessing. Giving him strength. Taking some of the blame.
It helped and he wished he could find the words to thank her.
Instead, together, they pushed the lever. Defiant in the face of death one last time.
“No. Don’t go to the beach!”
The city around them was the definition of chaos. Screams of terror. The sky burning. People fleeing. Choking ash falling from above. The sound of explosions from Vesuvius.
He just wanted to run, to get away and not witness the destruction he’d caused for the greater good.
Above it all he could hear Donna. Not, for once, because she was louder than anyone else but because he didn’t want to hear her. Because he was trying so hard to block out the helplessness in her voice, the pleading for people to listen to her as she struggled to help them save themselves.
“Go to the hills! Listen to me! Don’t go to the beach, it’s not safe!”
She was desperate and distraught and it almost broke him inside but he held fast. What was done was done and it was for the right reason. Now they should get to safety. Donna, he had to concentrate on her. The only one he could save.
He tried to ignore the wrench in his gut when he grabbed her hand and she so compliantly followed, surrendering.
He felt like screaming at her not to give in, to keep trying so at least one of them hadn’t accepted it.
“No! Doctor, you can’t!”
They asked him to save them as they cowered in their home, terrified and not understanding what was happening. For a moment his resolve almost waivered. But no, he reminded himself, it wasn’t easy but he had to be strong. He had to do what was right.
Right and good not always being the same things of course.
He hurried into the TARDIS, starting her running and praying that Donna had a honed enough sense of self preservation to follow him regardless of what else was happening. He could hear her screams, raw and frustrated, yelling that he couldn’t do this. Couldn’t just leave them behind.
He had to and she had to make her own way back into the TARDIS. He didn’t have the courage to go out there and see the family again.
When the door closed he hid his relief, fixing his eyes to the desk. Ashamed to face her.
He knew he shouldn’t be, that he’d had to act with reasoning beyond her understanding, but it made him feel no better.
He expected her to be angry with him and he could cope with that, he could turn his back on her and put up an angry front of defence. He could be as hard as she imagined him to be inside.
It was far worse when her anger broke to reveal something more heartfelt. Despair. Misery. Her tough front finally all vanished.
“But it’s not fair...Your own planet. It burned”
He didn’t really understand how she could possibly know so well what he was thinking and her astuteness threw him. Enough so that, for a moment, he truly broke, letting out everything he’d been holding back, the painful memories that this had brought up, only pulling himself up in time to prevent an outpouring of emotion that he wasn’t ready to show.
Gallifrey was gone. Like Pompeii, a casualty of the greater good. And no amount of wishful thinking would bring either back.
And so he had to keep moving on.
“Just someone. Please. Not the whole town. Just save someone.”
He shouldn’t look at her, he knew he shouldn’t, but he did. And the sight that met his eyes cut right through him; the Donna who he’d first met had been so self absorbed and now here she was in floods of ugly tears in front of him, begging him to save the life of just one stranger.
Pleading, for both their sakes and on the verge of giving up, having precious little fight left in her.
A mad idea filled his mind. A notion that would mean defying everything he knew and everything he should do, just to soothe them both.
He knew he shouldn’t. Knew he should be strong.
But he was the last of his kind and that strength seemed like it was fading more every day.
All he knew was that in that moment he would have done anything to get back that mouthy, defiant Donna that rallied against him, not the half broken and desperate woman in front of him now. He couldn’t let her go on like this. She had to believe that some good could come out of even the most tragic situations.
Honestly, so did he.
He knew he must be crazy for considering it, for risking so much just to save a few lives. But it was worth it.
The universe hollered at him from inside his mind. It demanded his obedience. It clawed and raged at him, a pain as real as any physical injury.
But he ignored it as he marched to the door and held out his hand, determined to defy it just this once.
What he’d done still felt wrong and right at the same time, making his gut twist and giving him a headache. Giving him more than enough ammunition to doubt himself.
One family, that was all he’d saved. It wasn’t a big deal, surely? And who was to say that they weren’t supposed to survive anyway? There was no evidence to suggest otherwise and time always was a tricky bugger like that. Maybe in the grand scheme of things he was meant to go back and rescue them.
Or maybe he’d just started a chain reaction that cause horrible changes to the earth or would rip down the walls of time.
Still, all seemed quiet so far.
“You were right. Sometimes I need someone.”
He did. Someone to give him another point of view. Someone to make him continue to fight. To force him to find a way.
When she smiled he knew, despite the aching in his head, that he’d done the right thing.
Because of her, he’d changed the rules. He’d defied everything that told him what he should do.
And he felt surprisingly good about it.