Title: And What Art
Genre: Darkfic, psychefuck.
Beta: HAHAHA No.
Continuity: Post-The Last Of The Time Lords for Doctor Who, and weirdly AU for Life On Mars.
Prerequisites: Know about Sam Tyler, know about the events of Utopia, The Sound Of Drums and The Last Of The Time Lords.
Summary: It's gotten to the point where Sam no longer knows whether he's losing or finding himself.
Disclaimer: Doctor Who and Life On Mars belong to the BBC. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and only occasionally of William Blake. Fic contains small parts not suitable for children and unpleasant parts not suitable for anyone. Do not look directly into face of watch. Questions, comments and tissue-compression eliminators can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!
Sam drags himself into CID and sits at his desk, staring at the paperwork no one would care if he didn't do, and tries to clear his head. For the past few days there's been a low interference humming along underneath his thoughts, and whether it's stress or the future he hasn't been able to tell.
In CID he goes through his duties with the measured pace of one who's given up escape as a fool's dream. He asks himself why--what difference he can make here, when he's dreaming it all up from a bed somewhere thirty years away, and every day he comes up with another answer. All of them are desperate, and none of them ring true.
He's been working here a year now. And despite, or because of, the fact that he's spent so long trying to pull things together, he desperately wants to see it fall apart.
Sam wakes up in the dust and must of his flat on a hot summer morning. Sweat slicks every inch of his body, pooling in the small of his back and rolling between his shoulders like a cool tongue. His hands have twisted so tightly in his pillow that they hurt when the blood rushes back in.
He goes into CID and sits at his desk and makes lead tables and reorganizes case notes and does whatever else he can do to burn away the time. He's still waiting to wake up, and he's beginning to think he never will.
This is not real, he thinks, and before he knows it, it's become a mantra in his head. This is not real. This is not real. ThisIsNotReal! ThisIsNotReal! ThisIsNotReal! ThisIsNotReal! And before he knows it he's tapping out the mantra on his desk, and he's smiling with his eyes closed, and he's the farthest thing from peace.
He's shot the next day.
He doesn't really register circumstances or the bullet at first--he just hears the shot and feels himself staggering back, and there's a line of ripping red agony from just above his hip to close to his spine and something wet and warm spreading over his stomach and down his groin. He registers indignity before alarm and then his eyes are full of sky and his palm is wet and red, and Annie is crouched over him with frantic reassurances streaming from her mouth. He's hit three of the symptoms for shock and the rest are replaced by a depthless sense of déjà vu.
This is not a traumatic experience, his brain tells him, and then This is a throwback to a traumatic experience, because he's in a delusion, dammit!--the only possible trauma is the one that's placed him here!
He should be keeping pressure on the wound but his hand wanders of its own accord to Annie's sleeve, clutching her wrist. His breath is coming fast between his teeth, and his mind is impossibly detached. He's thinking of insects and sparking cables and an antiquated police box for no clear reason at all.
Annie is trying to staunch the wound and her face flickers, and for a few milliseconds there's a man there, holding him, telling him quietly and insistently how to survive. Sam's face splits into a ferocious snarl.
When he finally goes unconscious his delusion fractures, and nonsense festers in the cracks. Images rip across his eyes--a ring, a fire, a woman in a red dress. London, though why he should dream of London is anyone's guess. Beneath it all is a low rumble like approaching thunder, like armies on the march, like the racing of his heart doubled back across eternity. He falls until he hits it and it carries him away.
He wakes up in hospital and Annie is at his bedside, watching over him. When she sees his eyes open she smiles and rests the back of her hand against his forehead. "Good morning," she says. "Gave us all quite a scare, DI Tyler."
He runs his tongue across the roof of his mouth. Both are dry. "I didn't intend to."
His mind fills in This time.
Annie looks away, and before he knows it she's rummaging through a bag of something. She pulls out a few things--a book, a notepad, a pen, a fob watch--and hands them to him. "I stopped by your flat. Let myself in--hope you don't mind. Picked up some of your things, thought they might make you more comfortable."
"Thank you," he says, and pushes himself a few degrees up to take them. His eyes stop on the watch. "I'm sorry, where did you--"
"That'd fallen behind your telly," she said. "Never knew you had it until I heard it ticking away. Sounds a bit off, though; you should get it looked at." She picks it up and hands it to him. As soon as he touches it, he hears what she means--the ticks are coming in tight shuddering clusters, rattling like a broken thing. He drops it on the bed.
"It's been broken as long as I've had it," he says, unaware that he's making it up as he goes along. "Doesn't matter."
The watch lies on his bed, forgotten, until he's released from hospital and picks it up to go home.
He comes into CID before he's really ready, because sitting idle in his flat is driving him insane. It still hurts to walk, but he can't get the phantom sensation of cuffs on his wrists and arms around his shoulders out of his head. A few times he's thought I'm winning! and not known why, except that the words come with a giddy rush of unvoiced laughter and there's noise inside his mind.
The office applauds him when he makes his way tortuously in the door--even Ray, though only when eyes turn on him. Sam smiles dutifully, and but for the pain in his stomach would have given a sweeping bow.
When the applause dies down and he's received the congratulatory pats on the back that injured detectives earn, Ray corners him to have the last word. "Finally dragged yourself back in, huh?"
"I thought it best to wait until I wouldn't be bleeding on the floor," Sam says.
"While you've been on bloody vacation, we've been doing real work around here," Ray says. "And don't you think that--"
"Have you ever been shot, Ray?" Sam interrupts. The question rams through Ray's words like a blade, forcing them apart, and Sam is looking him over as if he'd try just to see how things turned out.
There's silence for about four seconds before Ray opens his mouth to respond.
"You should be shot," Sam says, like it's a friendly suggestion. His voice drops and his eyes widen in mock-exhilaration. "Opens your eyes!"
He gives Ray a huge smile and limps to his desk. Ray doesn't bother him again.
In the locker room before he leaves he develops a splitting headache, and the background noise fades out and is replaced. He clenches his hands on his locker and puts his head to the cool metal, again and again and again. He doesn't know how long he stays like that before Annie comes up behind him, voice floating to him over a vast black ocean. "Sam! Are you all right?"
He turns, and his face says eloquently what his words can't--he's bleeding out, coming apart. "I feel sick. I don't know."
"The doctor did it wrong," he says. "There's something wrong. This isn't how I'm supposed to be."
"If you need to go back to hospital--" Annie begins.
"What was his name?" Sam asks, because he honestly can't remember. "The doctor. The Doctor. I can't--" His face twists. "Annie, why can't I remember?"
"I know that sometimes, after a traumatic experience--"
"Drums, Annie." As soon as he says it they multiply and crescendo, as if rewarding him for correct assumptions. He puts one hand to his ear, and finds that he's slowly shaking his head. "But I was wrong, it's not the future. It's--everything, and every time, calling me--"
"There are no drums, Sam," Annie says and pulls his hand gently away. "Listen! They're in your head."
He stares without comprehending. "In my head?"
He reaches out, puts a hand on her cheek, slides it to her jaw. "...it's all right," he decides.
Annie's hand covers his, neither pressing it there or pulling it away. "What is?"
He smiles, does his best to be comforting. "It's all right. Soon you'll hear them too."
Sam begins tinkering with something in the corner of his flat by the telly. He starts with a radio, then two, then three and a telephone. He's not sure what he's making--he tells himself it will help him get in touch with the future again--but the more he works, the better it feels.
His dreams are filled with words he doesn't understand. They're talking about genetic cascade procedures and the effects of long-term psychological suppression and the possibility of radical personality shift following a traumatic event he can't understand or name. He wakes up thinking of the doctors watching over his coma in 2006 and his mind is filled with hatred at the word. He goes into CID in a savage mood and doesn't realize that he's carrying his watch with him.
The day is full of the usual mistreatments. Gene has three new synonyms for gay he's recently enamoured of, and while Ray isn't seeking him out he isn't avoiding him either. Sam endures it with the sense that blood is creeping up the back of his throat and lingering on his tongue.
This time it's not Annie who finds him in the locker room clinging to sanity, it's Ray. He realizes it when Ray starts laughing, pulls up behind him close enough for secrets and abuse, and says "Go home, boss." It's so clear in his voice that he means Hyde.
Sam turns and smiles and steps forward, bringing them chest to chest, and whispers into Ray's ear. "That's a good idea."
He hits him in the gut.
Ray doubles over and Sam hits him again, and keeps hitting until both his hands close on Ray's shoulders and he forces him to his knees. The position looks good on Ray, right somehow, and Sam twists his fingers in Ray's hair and pulls his head up. "Tell me," he says. "Tell me. How do I get home from here?"
Ray's hand fists and Sam kicks him hard. It feels good--the give of flesh beneath his foot, the way the impact runs up his shin and thigh, and he stamps a heel into Ray's stomach and twists. He doesn't realize he's laughing until he hears it echoing off the walls.
He circles around Ray, watching him unable to stand, weighing the rational urge to help him or leave the room against the dark whisper inside that tells him Go on, you can take your time, you can enjoy this--he's at your mercy and you can take him apart piece by precious piece. He crouches, and his hand is hovering over Ray's neck before he tears himself away. Hit him again! Rip out his throat! Bash in his head! Kill him and gloat!
He walks out of the room. He's shaking, but he's no longer limping.
At home he picks up the fob watch absently, thumb tracing circles and circles on its engraved surface. The drums and his laughter go round and round in his mind.
Sam gets up too, too early and turns to his apparatus. The diagrams are so clear behind his eyes, quick staccato notes and instructions he can't ignore. He's not tired.
He smashes the telly open and rummages through its entrails, half-expecting to see scraps of the red dress the girl on the test card wore. He picks out what he needs, sifting through shattered glass and splintered wood, and adds them into the machinery whose purpose he still doesn't know.
By sunrise, it's complete and functional--though he's still not sure what that means. He stands back and looks it over, and nearly smashes it into bits again.
It's complete, but it's not elegant. He'll have to work on that.
Sometimes he thinks he's going mad. Sometimes he thinks he's losing himself to a nightmare within a delusion. Sometimes he wonders if madness has any meaning here, and sometimes he wonders if it has any meaning anywhere.
Sometimes he's convinced that he's never existed at all; that all there is, is the cacophony of drums inside his head.
He goes into CID and Ray isn't there, and no one looks at him as if they know what's happened. Gene is still throwing his weight around, and if he throws it the wrong way it'll be the last thing he ever does. Sam knows this because he'll make sure of it.
It scares him. These things that he's doing are evil, and he doesn't think that he's evil. But he's slipping like a slow wound, and there's no one in the world who can catch him.
He's stopped sleeping entirely. He spends two nights in a row working on the apparatus, and on the morning he completes it he sits back and laughs uproariously for three full minutes. It's the size of a tape recorder and has a double pistol-grip, and it's as sleek as its scavenged parts will let it be and when he runs his fingers along the seams he can feel the power inside.
He calls ahead to make sure Ray is there and brings it in, hanging from his hands like a rifle. He walks into the office and every abuse and insult he's suffered is playing in the back of his mind and he's in a better mood then ever.
Gene and Ray and Annie and Chris are all in the main office when he walks in, and Gene catches sight of the device in his hands before he's even said hello. "What the hell is that thing?" he demands. "Another one of your Hyde toys?"
"Do you like it?" Sam asked. "I call it a Tissue Hypercompression Compeller." He shrugged. "Not the catchiest name, but it works. Oh, it works so well."
Ray picks his cigar from his mouth, wary of calling attention to himself but eager to display his scorn. Sam looks at him, and his heart is doing the work of two.
"Come on, Ray," he says. "You know you want to ask. It's written in those screwy little eyes of yours. You want to ask me what's the point of this machine. You want to know what it does."
Ray's eyes travel from the box to Sam's face. Sam watches as Ray swallows, pulling a sluggish tongue across dry lips. "What's it do?"
"This," Sam says, and raises the THC and fires.
Ray screams. He'd have screamed whether he wanted to or not, because his lungs are shrinking and his larynx is shrinking and his entire body is imploding in on itself, forcing breath out of him past his lips and into the air where the noise boils away with the drops of blood compressed to freezing that are falling and ringing against the floor. He flails because there's energy tearing through his muscles and nerves, going nowhere from nowhere, and his brain is shutting down and his bones are splintering then liquefying then powdering and crystallizing and still--it's a miracle of design--the intelligence (such as it is) doesn't fade from his eyes until he's the size of a dog, and by the time he's the size of a rat there's nothing left.
Sam feels a laugh pressing its way up his throat, and it escapes in a short, surprised giggle. He almost wishes he hadn't done it, just so he could do it again.
Chris is screaming.
Sam swings the box to point at Gene, who's only just thinking of moving to stop him. Gene pulls up short, a look on his face like he's facing half his DI and the Devil himself, and Sam looks at Annie. "Come here."
Annie shakes her head. "Sam--"
He looks into her eyes, and something in his lungs tenses and leaps out. "Come here!"
Her eyes don't leave his as she takes one shuddering step toward him, then another, as if she can't stop. He doesn't break eye contact. He reels her in.
"Who are you?" Gene asks.
Sam opens his mouth and doesn't respond. "...there's a watch on my desk," he says. "I want you to get it for me."
Annie draws up to him and he smiles, bares his teeth, and tucks an arm around her waist. He turns to Gene.
"The watch, DCI Hunt. Now, if you'd please."
Gene moves across the office as stiffly as Sam's ever seen anyone move, never taking his eyes off him, and the tension in the air is like a low roll on the snares that will never quite end. Sam's fingers tap out the rhythm on Annie's hip, pulling her warmth to him. He feels cold, but right.
Gene picks up the watch. "What do you want?"
"I want you to open it," Sam says.
"And what if I don't?"
Sam steps forward, pulling Annie with him, and swings the THC out so it's pointed at Gene's stomach. Gene's hand clenches just enough for the watch to ease open, and a white-wine light seeps out. Sam is drunk on it already.
"I'm not Sam Tyler," Sam says, spitting out the words like bile. "I was never your DI."
"Then who are you?" Gene asks.
He smiles. He wants to start laughing, he wants to beat apart the walls to the rhythm of the drums, he wants to throw Gene down and take him and hurt him and make him scream out his absolute mastery over him, over Annie, over everything. His heart is galloping, the familiar four-beat pattern calling him closer to home.
"I am the Master," he says, "and you will obey me."
He gives them free run of his TARDIS and hums a little tune when he thinks about it. When they come back to themselves, when they try to escape, he looks deep into their eyes--he finds the rational edge of their thought and perverts it, turns it through and inward and crushes it between the fingers of his will. Gene would walk through fire and ice for him, Annie would kill entire populations for him, and knowing that fills him with a satanic ecstasy.
At one point, when he's walking through his own little dominion he passes Gene's quarters and hears him crying. They're deep, shaming sobs, the kind of noise that can only be made by someone who's sunk so far that they can no longer care how they appear. The Master stops in the doorway and watches him for twelve minutes until he looks up.
"Have faith," he says, and walks in to kiss Gene's forehead. There's just enough of him left to produce a flicker of hate in his eyes, and the Master leans down to look. Gene is ruined, but he's not yet gone--and that, for the Master, is the best of all times. "All's not lost. We'll be together a long, long time."