There's pain and it's blinding and he collapses backwards. Martha screams. Her hand goes to his chest, and he feels weak and burning and weak and---
"You don't have to do this," Martha's voice is significantly calmer, but she's so much calmer in these sorts of situations. All that medical training has paid off.
"Oh, but I do." His hand rises up, and a button on a red cylinder is pushed.
"We'll get it right next time."
Something is wrong with the world.
He can feel it.
Something's wrong with the way the trees are blowing, with the way the air feels. It's wrong. It's familiar, but since he's never been on this street before it can't be, but it is. The briskness of the November air bites his face with an extra sting of wrong.
He knows wrong well. He's fought wrong, and abandoned loved ones to terrible fates, all because of wrong.
"You all right, Doctor?" Martha's voice cuts through the haze. It's a machete to the proverbial jungle of wrong.
A bike rider zips through traffic, and the Doctor already knows that a newspaper will fall out of his bag. It does, landing five feet away on the pavement. It flops and lies there like a stick of butter on a skillet, fat and sizzling in the wrong of the world.
He steps forward and picks it up. It feels like it should burn, but it doesn't, and he doesn't know why he thinks it should.
"Cardiff again? November 1995? Didn't go that far back in time, did we?" Martha asks, and he seems to remember sarcasm but he can't think why. He can't think why things feel so wrong.
"Well, not a bad year, was it? X-Files Movie, No Doubt in their prime and…." He gives his chin a scratch.
"That's about it, isn't it? Still, new time, new place! No reason not to explore!" She laughs, and all but skips down the road. She's fully comfortable in walking in a different era, now. She's moved past disbelief into excited traveling. Eventually, she'll move into willful troublemaker, and then she'll leave. That's usually how it works.
The self-pity washes over him, and that feels familiar, too. And despite how right feeling sorry for himself usually feels, this feels so. Very. Wrong.
"Never had a day where I'm telling you to keep up!" Martha calls, spinning around with another laugh. She twists on her high heel, and while he worries she's going to break her ankle doing that, he knows she won't fall.
He also knows he's about to lose her. He can feel the air change and the wind turns into a person grabbing her from behind. Two men, black clad. She screams and chokes, and he's so caught up in the familiarity of it, he almost doesn't think to chase after her.
"Martha!" His feet pad against the pavement, and he runs. Runs after her. He has to protect her, that's how these things work. He chases and chases and eventually his long legs catch up to her captors. They spin, and a gun is pointed at his chest.
"The van's missing," one of the men tells the other, twisting Martha in his grasp. She cries out and chokes, and the Doctor's hands go up in surrender. Surrender, surrender, let Martha go and he'll surrender because it can't possibly be about her she's never done anything wrong it has to be him.
It's traffic off of West Avenue. He knows this. He doesn’t know how he knows, but the Doctor knows this. Even the traffic is wrong.
"Sent a message sayin' traffic on West's blocking them. We're going to have to start again."
"Traffic'll be bad then, too."
"Yeah, but we'll tell 'em to take a different path."
Something's wrong. Very very very wrong.
The Doctor opens his mouth to say something, but the man with the phone pulls out a small red cylinder. He presses a button on the top, and a wave of red energy shoots out.
It hits him like a tidal wave of sewage. It's full of so much wrong, the Doctor thinks he's going to retch. The thinking part doesn't last too long, and next thing he knows he is leaning forward and heaving, and the two men look positively confused, but it's not the right expression, and if the Doctor could look up further without his stomach recoiling, he'd be able to figure out why.
"He always does that."
"Doesn't make any sense."
"Doctor!" Martha pulls out of the baffled man's grasp and runs to him. "Doctor? Doctor!"
"Shut up!" The gun is leveled at Martha.
"Wait!" The Doctor straightens, and puts a hand out, "Wait, wait! This is wrong!"
"It's not wrong, it's what's gonna happen until we get it right!" The man with the gun all but spits in the Doctor's face, and the Doctor feels like he should have spit in his face, but thinking about it makes him want to heave again.
"It doesn't have to end this way, you don't have to do this!" He says. He tries to move forward, but the gun is leveled at his chest, and blam---
He collapses backwards, and Martha screams. She drops down to his side and puts a hand on his chest. Blood oozes out between her fingertips.
"It'll be all right, Doctor," she says, "Just hang on."
That feels wrong, too, but only because he can't remember her ever having said that before. Everything starts to dim, and he starts to think how he needs to tell her about regeneration but it's getting dark dark dimmer dark…
"We'll get it right next time."
It's November. He's positively certain from the moment he steps outside the door that it's November air that's biting his face. It should feel nice, especially after the TARDIS coils overheated, but for some reason it just sits…what word would be best? Not right. It's so very not right that he doesn't know what to make of it.
It makes his stomach ache. Not the earlier rumbling he was experiencing earlier that made them want to land for lunch, but a pit-burning gut sense of not right that he just simply can't pinpoint.
"You all right?" He waits a moment, as if she has something more to say, but she doesn't, and that feels not right as well.
It's something…in the way Martha's styled her hair. When she went to visit Tish earlier in the week, she went out and got some sort of long…weave-hair-thing that the Doctor would never even pretend to understand put in. It's shiny and falls to about the middle of her back, and looks pretty, probably. The length of hair is caught up in the November wind and it frames her head a bit like a sun-crown. The way it falls across her face and shoulders is not right.
He's staring at her. She looks embarrassed, and that doesn't feel wron---not right, but he can't see why.
A bicyclist zips past them, and the Doctor doesn't pay him any mind, he's still focusing on the wrongs of Martha's hair. There's a thwack, and a newspaper falls to the ground.
A bit flushed with embarrassment, Martha leans down and picks up the paper.
"Cardiff?" She snorts. "November 23, 1995. Gone rather far back in time, haven't we?" The sarcasm bites and feels not right, just like everything else. The air feels thick and rippled, and everything seems tainted, like limescale left on a bathroom faucet. He feels as if he can take his finger and wipe a building and something nasty will come off.
"Not a bad year, was it?" he says, "Toy Story, Concorde set a world record for round-the-world flight…"
"That exciting a year, was it?" Martha laughs, and skips ahead. She takes a few steps forward, and stops. He wonders if she can feel it, too. It's all in the way her head tilts, and her shoulders stiffen. Something's just not right.
She turns her head, and tries a laugh which doesn't sound right at all. "Oh, come on, Doctor! When was the last time I had to tell you to catch up?"
Not long ago at all, he wants to reply, but he can't possibly think when.
Her body seems to move on its own at first, but it's then that he realizes that she's been grabbed by two men. He should've seen this coming, he knew something was not right!
He runs behind them, and it takes longer than he thinks it should to catch up. One man has a gun, and he twists Martha in his grasp to point it at the Doctor's head.
"Where the bloody hell is the van?!" The heavy-set man with the gun barks to his short, weasely-looking comrade.
"I told Roger to take a different route this time!"
"Let her go!" the Doctor shouts, "Let her go!"
"Getting a bit testy this time 'round, isn't he?" The man with the gun says, "Bloody free will ruinin' everything. Can't just be predictable, can they?"
"Fine, let's just do this." He pulls out a red cylinder. Right before he presses the button on the top, the Doctor already knows what's about to happen. It's about to hurt, it's about to feel like he's drowning. He's going to get sick and retch, and he doesn't want that.
A Frostonian Repeat Capsule. He recognizes it. He thinks it's the first time he's recognized it. Banned on every planet since long before the Time Wars.
He reaches for the man but the button is pressed and the red light swarms out. The Doctor cries out, Martha screams, and the man with the gun at the Doctor's head pulls the trigger.
He expects to hear something about getting it right next time, but he doesn't.
He doesn't notice she's been taken at first. He's focusing entirely on the red traffic light. It keeps blinking like it's broken. Why would it be broken? It's what traffic lights do. They blink, they change, and they're impermanent. All the same, it just seems broken. The red is glaringly strange. It seems like it isn't working, even as he watches it turn to green and his attention is diverted.
He looks over to the alleyway just in time to see Martha's boots kicking up a storm as she's dragged off. She kicks, and he can swear the air is moving like she's kicked it, that's how thick with incorrect everything is.
He follows, running as quickly as he can after her. He slips on a newspaper some bike rider dropped and lands squarely on his face, shattering his nose against the pavement. He feels like it wasn't supposed to be there for some reason, that he missed something vital by not seeing it.
He scrambles back to his feet and races after the men who've taken Martha. He catches up just as they start swearing about the missing van. The man with the gun---how did the Doctor know he had a gun?---tosses Martha aside and shoves his companion.
"Why don't you call Roger?" the Doctor demands, "Ask him to take a different route?"
He doesn't understand where the names and the images of the traffic and the phone and Roger and why does he know these things they're wrong and not right and incorrect and---
"Bloody hell, we've been over this too many times, he's started noticing." One man pulls out a red cylinder, and the Doctor doesn't know what that's supposed to mean.
"Oh, shoot him first, I hate seeing him get all sick. 'Specially now that it'll be all bloody with his nose. Nasty."
"Right." The man with the gun levels it at the Doctor's chest, and pulls the trigger.
There is no pain, but a splattering of red across his chest, and a sudden deadweight as Martha falls forward into his arms. Her eyes are wide, and she looks so completely confused.
"You shot the girl."
"Doesn't matter, I'll get it right next time."
There's so much nonchalance in their voices, even as the Doctor's arms hold Martha up.
His face twists in terror and rage. "No!" His knees buckle and he collapses beneath the weight of his dying companion. They crumple onto the ground, lying in a pool of all that wrong that's everywhere in this town.
Her hand grasps his, and he feels some light from the cylinder shoot through them, but the nausea and the upset is forced back behind a mountain of terror and grief.
"I would've regenerated!" he feels himself crying, even if he hasn't permitted that emotion to come out, not bloody yet, "Martha, I would've…"
"I would never let you die, Doctor," she says, and her eyes start to close, "I love…"
Like a paper that's been crumpled and tossed, everything folds within itself and vanishes.
"You really notice all that?" Martha asks, "Random pop culture from the year we visit?"
"I notice everything," he announces, tossing the newspaper into a bin, "Especially the year System of a Down was created. They're a vital part of the next near-apocalypse that happens in two dozen years."
He likes chatting about music, showing off what he knows about her planet. Granted, if they landed in 2001, he wouldn't know a single thing that happened, but this year was a good one for them to pick.
Martha skips ahead, and he looks around the street before him. Like a groove in a vinyl record, he thinks. Vinyl records are still around this year. 'Course, they are in Cardiff. Might be harder to find anything modern. A little groove in the world. And him and Martha, they're like needles. Riding along them. They're like needles, stuck in grooves.
Which makes them skip. Repeat.
Click click of Martha's high heels on the pavement.
"Never had a day where I'm telling you to keep up!"
He looks up as Martha nears the alleyway. Everything falls into place. Red cylinder. Repeating timelines. Martha. A Frostonian Repeat Capsule. Dying. Martha.
She cries out, and the two men from before grab her, pull her back. He darts after them, then stops, turns around, and runs the other way, down a different alley. He cuts them off at the far exit.
They're gasping for air. The Doctor takes in a breath, and all the wrong in the air makes a whole helluva lot of sense now. It all makes sense, all of it.
"Repeated timelines," he says, "Everything lying over the air is junk time radiation. It sticks to everything! You've been toying with history, and it's time you stopped."
"The bloody hell," the man with the gun says, "'e said that as long as we didn't stray too far from the first time, excepting we catch the girl, he'd never catch on."
"To get the level this high, you must've re-done this timeline two or three dozen times," the Doctor replies, "Are you really that incompetent at kidnapping?"
"We're not incompetent, the traffic's just bad!" the man with the cylinder says, defensively.
"Are you trying to make them shoot you?" Martha sounds exasperated, which is probably the wrong emotion for this situation.
The Doctor narrows his eyes. "They already have."
There's the sound of a vehicle, and with a puff of black exhaust smoke, a black van pulls around the corner, meeting them at the end of the alley.
"Not like it's a question, now," the man with the gun says, grinning like a kid who's won the relay race after many, many tries. "Stay put. We're takin' her, and you're gonna stay there, or else we're gonna kill you."
"Again." The man with the cylinder says.
The van pulls up, and the door swings open.
"Roger, you in there?" the man with the cylinder says. He sticks his head into the darkness of the van. He screams, and is jerked violently inside.
The man with the gun shouts, "McClarle! McClarle!"
The gun goes in the direction of the van, just in time for Martha's heel to find her abductor's crotch. The gun goes off, and the Doctor gets a sudden, terrifying vision of Martha lying dead in his arms. Losing another companion. Losing her. She falls to the ground, and he forgets the van, forgets everything, and runs to her.
She turns over. No blood. No wound. Just a very frightened look.
"It's not over yet, Doctor!"
The man with the gun is jerked back into the van, and the door slams shut. There's screaming, and growing and it's terrifying but it's all in the van, and the Doctor and Martha are just far enough away that whatever it is shouldn't be able to reach them. Yet. The van shakes for a few minutes, then quiets.
The door reopens, and a tall, well-dressed man steps from it. He's not covered in blood or gore like the Doctor expected from whoever or whatever might come from that van. A twisted smile that sits wrong with the Doctor is painted on his face.
"Roger?" the Doctor asks, trying to get to his feet.
"What? No, that fellow is somewhere off West Avenue, I think," the man says. He extends a hand. "Bilis Manger."
The hand goes unshaken by either the Doctor or Martha. After a moment, Bilis Manger's hand lowers, but the smile remains unshaken.
"Who?" Martha asks.
"Bilis Manger. Martha Jones." His smile turns to Martha, then to the Doctor. "And the rather infamous Doctor. I have been so looking forward to meeting you."
"Who are you?" the Doctor says, firmly.
Bilis Manger looks to the van, then back to the two travelers. "I don't imagine they will be bothering you again. People should understand the idea of…home territory. Especially this Saxon fellow that hired these two. And Cardiff is mine."
He clicks his fingers, and the feeling of wrong from the air evaporates. Even Martha notices it, as she looks around curiously.
"You did quite well," Bilis says, and he turns back towards the van. The Doctor wants to follow him, wants to demand an explanation. Cardiff? Saxon? Who was this man?
His feet are grounded to the spot until the van pulls away, out of sight. The moment it becomes just far enough away that the Doctor is sure he can't catch up, the pavement releases its hold of his feet.
"What just happened, Doctor?" Martha asks, her voice shaky.
"I don't know."
He takes a breath, and the air tastes clean, but he's still sure it's wrong.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 3,128