“What,” Donna gasped as they took shelter behind a boulder, “the hell was that?!”
“You mean, 'what is that',” the Doctor corrected, his right hand gripping her left wrist where he had pulled her into their temporary shelter. “It’s still there.”
“Oh, great!” Donna glared at him. “Thanks!” She jumped several inches in the air as a huge roar sounded behind them and then turned to the man crouching beside her. “So now what?”
The Doctor peered rather nervously over the boulder and then looked at her. “Run?” he suggested in a tone that implied he wasn’t sure if she could manage it.
Donna swore viciously under her breath and peered at her ankle, which was strapped firmly with some sort of bandage that the Doctor had found in his coat pocket. She gritted her teeth and then looked up and nodded.
“Right then!” The Doctor grabbed her hand, shot one more glance over his shoulder and pulled her to her feet. “Ready? Then let’s go!”
He pushed her out from behind the boulder and in the direction of the TARDIS, which was standing in lonely grandeur in the middle of a rock-strewn plain. Suppressing a yell as a bolt of pain shot up her leg, Donna forced herself to stumble in the Doctor’s wake. He was fishing in his pocket for the key of the TARDIS — they found that the clicking of fingers thing to make the door open never worked in stressful situations — and her hand slipped from his grasp.
Without the Doctor’s strength, Donna crumpled to the ground, the pain from her foot too great to be withstood. She had also felt strangely faint and weak ever since arriving on the planet from which they were now trying to escape and this feeling washed over her again as she tried to get up, collapsing again with a small cry as she fell back on the ground.
“Donna, come on!” the Doctor’s voice yelled from the TARDIS.
“Yeah, thanks for that useful tip,” Donna muttered angrily, finally struggling to her feet.
Her foot felt like it was on fire and putting weight on it was, in spite of her stoicism, almost more than she could bear. Then the Doctor was beside her, supporting her weight and half-carrying her the few hundred yards to the TARDIS.
“Come on, Donna,” he bellowed in her ear, trying to be heard over the roaring and pounding feet of the massive creature that was closing fast. “I’m not leaving you here!”
I should hope not, Donna thought, trying desperately to think of anything other than her torturously sore foot.
She didn’t notice them approaching the TARDIS and couldn’t save herself as the Doctor pushed her in ahead of him through the doors. Donna’s fingers clutched at the metal grating of the floor as she fell, her cheek cold against the hard surface.
The doors slammed shut with a loud crash that made her start and the action moved her foot, making her groan as pain shot up her leg. She waited for the Doctor to say something, to help her to her feet, but he had already stepped over her to the TARDIS controls and was pressing buttons.
“…good thing we got away,” she heard him saying, although his words sounded fuzzy.
“Yeah,” she agreed weakly, pulling herself into a sitting position and running a gentle hand over her injured foot.
The Doctor continued to speak, but Donna had heard enough to know that he wasn’t about to come to her aid, and really, who could blame him? If it wasn’t for her stupid attempt at taking a shortcut, she wouldn’t have fallen into the hole, which would never have released whatever it was that chased them or hurt her foot.
And all the Doctor had wanted was to give her a nice time.
It was all her fault that they had barely escaped with their lives and she wasn’t about to remind him of the fact.
As silently as she could under the circumstances — and here Donna was grateful for the fact that the TARDIS was so noisy— she struggled to her feet and used various protruding pieces of the TARDIS to get across the console room to the doorway that led to the rest of the ship.
“Oh, thank you,” she muttered, realising that the ship had moved the infirmary so that it was close to the console room. No longer able to remain standing, she dropped to her hands and knees. Keeping her injured foot in the air, she crawled into the infirmary, glancing over her shoulder as the door hissed closed behind her.
The air in the room was cool and Donna felt a shiver go down her spine, although she was also uncomfortably hot, presumably from the struggle it had taken to get to the TARDIS. The bed in the infirmary dropped down so that she could roll onto it, and she closed her eyes in relief as she heard various machines around her turn on and begin beeping. The Doctor had told her that, if she was ever injured, the room would know what to do, and that was clearly the case now.
The Doctor looked up once the TARDIS was in the Vortex and noticed immediately that Donna did not appear to be in the room. He huffed with annoyance and checked the dials on the console before taking off his duster and flinging it over the jumpseat.
He didn’t mean to be angry with Donna, but really, was it too much to ask that, just once, when he told one of his companions not to do something, they actually did what he told them?
“Maybe I’d be better on my own,” he said, not really realising he’d spoken out loud. “Right then,” he went on, the anger ebbing as the adrenalin left his system and he realised that they were safe, “where is she? Donna?”
Leaving the console room, he stepped into the lower hallway and called again.
“Donna? Where are you?” He frowned. “I’m not angry with you. Well, not much. It wasn’t your fault. Not more than usual anyway. No, sorry, I didn’t mean that. Oh, come on!” He stopped and glared around impatiently. “How can I talk to you if you won’t — ”
He stopped short at the sound of a mechanical voice coming from a nearby room and turned to the door, breath hissing nervously from between clenched teeth as he realised that he was in front of the infirmary, which had moved itself next to Donna’s own room.
“Donna?” He tapped on the door. “Are you all right in there? Can I come in?”
There was a sound that he took for assent and he tugged on the handle, expecting the door to slide open. When it didn’t, he tugged with more force and a frown drew his eyebrows closer together.
“Donna?” he called in concern. “Come on,” he pleaded, pulling on the recalcitrant handle. When it refused to move, with misgivings, he pulled out the sonic screwdriver and pointed it at the door.
He hated to use the screwdriver on the TARDIS because he knew that it hurt the ship, but in this instance he felt he had no choice. As he expected, the mind in the back of his shuddered as he pressed the button, but the door swung open and he stepped inside the cool medical chamber.
His eyes flew at once to the bed and he was relieved to see Donna lying there with her eyes closed, as he knew that it meant the TARDIS would be taking care of her. He stepped closer to the bed, but even as he reached out to take her hand, which was hanging limply over the side of the bed, the mechanical voice of the TARDIS sick bay spoke.
“Scan complete. Result: fractures of first, second and third metatarsal bones in left foot. Estimated recovery time: three hours. Mild contusion to right temple. Estimated recovery time: nine point six seconds. Progress report: healed.” There was a brief pause. “Further unidentified virus. Estimated recovery time: impossible to calculate.”
“What?” The Doctor stared at the machines. “Unidentified? You don’t do unidentified! You know every virus in the universe! How can you not know this one?”
“Doctor…” Donna’s voice was a faint murmur, and he cut short his cross-examination of the machine, taking a step forward and picking up Donna’s hand.
“It’s okay, Donna,” he said softly, using his other hand to brush the damp hair off her forehead. “I’m here.”
She smiled faintly and opened her eyes, taking a few seconds to focus on his face. “So it would seem, Timeboy, unless you’re a figment of my imagination,” she murmured, her voice cracking as she spoke. “Am I okay?”
“You’ve hurt your foot,” he admitted. “I’m sorry; I didn’t realize how bad it was. I’d never have made you run back to the TARDIS if I had.”
The corners of Donna’s mouth twitched up, but she winced as she swallowed. “Not your fault, Spaceman,” she told him, her voice become fainter with every word. “You know me, I wouldn’t let you leave me behind, and you’d never have carried me all that way.” She suddenly looked confused and a bit frighted. “But,” she asked, her voice now a faint whisper, “why can’t I talk anymore? And why is it so warm in here?”
“It’s okay.” The Doctor glanced over his shoulder at the closest screen and his eyebrows lifted as he saw that her temperature was rising fast. “It’s how the TARDIS helps you get over injuries — accelerated healing. You’ve got a virus of some sort and that’s making your temperature rise.”
She nodded, but without any sign of enthusiasm, and the Doctor was appalled at the dead look in her eyes. He reached down and pulled up the blanket that was folded at the end of the bed, draping it over her with care for her foot. Then he slightly raised the head of the bed and sat on the edge of it, sliding his arm under Donna’s neck and drawing her against him. She reached up and curled her fingers around the lapel of his coat, resting her head against his shoulder so that her hair spread out over his chest.
“Better.” Donna smiled a little, her voice almost inaudible, not about to admit how dizzy she felt now that she was sitting up. Her foot wasn’t hurting nearly as much now, but her skin felt tight and her throat hurt badly every time she swallowed. She had a headache, too, and she felt terribly tired.
The Doctor’s hand was wonderfully cool as he stroked her forehead, his voice murmuring incomprehensibly in her ear. He ran his finger across her lips; something wet and cool slipped into her mouth that helped to ease the pain in her throat.
“Try to sleep, Donna,” the Doctor said softly. “With any luck, your foot will be better when you wake up and then we can work out some way to fix whatever else is wrong with you.”
She closed her eyes and nodded. His hearts were beating a slow, regular rhythm in her ear and the sound was very soothing. Despite being hot, she couldn’t repress a sudden shiver and she felt the Doctor’s arms wrap around her in response. His voice spoke in her ear, but she was beyond making sense of the words. All she could think was what a relief it was that the pain faded as she fell asleep.
The Doctor watched the monitors closely during the next few hours, his conscience smiting him as he saw Donna flinch in her sleep as a result of the pain caused by the accelerated healing. If only he hadn’t been so impatient and made her run. The small glowing orb that had caught his attention would still have been there if they’d moved more slowly. And now this was the result.
Donna moaned and pressed her head against his chest more firmly, drawing her legs up under her. The Doctor rubbed her arm with the palm of his hand and smoothed her hair until she was lying calmly again. The fact that she had been able to move her foot with no apparent pain suggested that the breaks had healed, but he was concerned that her temperature wasn’t falling. His mind went through what he knew about the planet where they had landed, but he could think of no viruses that might have caused Donna’s symptoms. The fact that the TARDIS medical bay had failed to identify the virus was even more concerning.
Frowning, the Doctor realised that his head was aching. He lifted the hand that was resting on Donna’s upper arm and rubbed at his temples with thumb and forefinger, his eyes closing to block out the bright light of the medical bay. His throat was a bit sore, too, now that he thought about it.
’Spose it’s because of Donna, he thought slowly, letting his head drop back against the raised bedhead. Sympathy and all. Yes, that must be it. I can’t get sick. Time Lord. Never sick. Not ever…
He nodded to himself and, as he did so, his chin came to rest on the head against his shoulder. Donna didn’t feel as warm as he thought she had done before, which meant that either she was getting better or he was warming up to match her temperature. The Doctor decided that it didn’t matter which was actually happening, as working out the answer would mean opening his eyes and moving. Right now, both of those things felt almost impossible.
The added bonus of having closed his eyes was that the bright lights of the sick bay weren’t making his head ache so badly. At some point over the past few hours, he had stretched himself out on the bed next to Donna and the bedhead had been lowered so that they were in a semi-recumbent position. With his head resting against hers, he could hear her heart pumping blood around her body. The sound was surprisingly restful and he began to drift off.
Donna yawned and stretched, feeling as her feet pointed and then returned to their usual position without pain.
“Recovery status,” a quiet, mechanical voice stated in her ear. “Fractures of first, second and third metatarsal bones in left foot healed. No further treatment needed. Unidentified virus has been cured. Patient Donna Noble at 100% health.”
Donna grinned, the events of the hour before the return to the TARDIS springing back into her mind so that she understood what the voice mean. She looked up and was only half-surprised to see the Doctor stretched out on the bed next to her, but even as she was about to poke him awake, she noticed the bright flush of his cheeks and stopped herself.
“Doctor?” she asked gently, extracting herself from his relaxed hold and moving so that she was on her knees beside him. “Doctor,” she repeated, holding the back of her hand against his forehead, which felt abnormally warm. “Doctor, wake up. Come on. Nap time’s over.”
The Doctor’s lashes fluttered briefly and then his eyelids lifted to reveal sleepy brown eyes. He swallowed and winced.
“My throat’s sore,” he complained, and his voice was already hoarse.
“Sounds like it,” Donna agreed. “Do you know what’s wrong with you?”
He shrugged, the frown on his face making him look like a petulant small boy. “No,” he said in sulky tones. “And neither does the TARDIS.”
Donna grinned. “Well, maybe neither of you do, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. Come on, let’s get you into bed.”
“Don’t want to,” the Doctor complained, crossing his arms over his chest with visible effort. “Want to stay here.”
Donna eased herself around him so that she was on the other side and could step off the bed onto the floor. The lack of pain in her foot suggested that the TARDIS had managed to fix that problem, even if it seemed to have difficulty with what Donna knew was a relatively simple human illness, having had it several times in the past.
As soon as Donna moved, the Doctor began to shiver. “’S cold,” he whined. “I’m all cold when you go away.”
“Well, I’m not spending days on end here with you in the sick bay,” she said briskly, but leaned forward so that he could rest against her, which he did with a sigh that she thought sounded like relief. “Tell you what, Doctor, I think you’d like it more being in bed.”
“Won’t,” he contradicted at once, his voice a rough rasp.
“Oh, you know what, I think you will.” She stroked his hair, which was lying limp rather than standing up as it usually did. “We’ll make it all warm and soft and comfy for you,” she went on. “Lots of blankets and pillows that you can snuggle up against. And it won’t be nasty and bright there, like it is here.”
“No,” he complained. “Haven’t got a bedroom.”
Donna suppressed the urge to laugh. Really, it was like looking after a very small and sulky child! Still, if he was being child-like, it would be better to agree with him than upset him by arguing. “Okay, then,” she suggested. “We can use my room. My bed’s nice and warm for you, and I know you’re cold,” she added, pulling back and watching as he immediately began to shiver again.
“I don’t want you to go,” he whined, although it was more of a whisper now.
“I won’t go if you’ll do as I say and get into bed,” she agreed at once, and watched as he nodded, although without enthusiasm.
“Good.” She helped him into a sitting position and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders before sliding her arm around his back. “Come on then. Hopefully it’s not far.”
The Doctor swayed against Donna as she got him to his feet. She tightened her grasp and he finally seemed to stand firmly.
“Okay, let’s go,” she said, and then, when he didn’t move, “Come on, Doctor, I’m not carrying you. Left foot forward. Now right. Oh, for goodness’ sake! Do I have to tell you how to walk?! Oncoming Storm — hah! More like the Oncoming Crybaby!”
With a combination of encouragement and bullying, she got him the short distance to the door that led to her room, and which the TARDIS had obligingly moved close to the sick bay.
“Finally!” she sighed, sitting him on the edge of the bed. “For a skinny weed, you’re bloody heavy! Now, let’s get you into more comfortable clothes.”
“Don’t want to,” he complained.
“Not this again!”
Donna rolled her eyes, and ignoring his protests, knelt down in front of him and tugged off first one and then the other shoe, slipping off his socks at the same time.
“Right,” she said with relief, standing up, “Tie next,” she slid it off, ignoring his protests and pulling it out of the hands that tried to keep hold of it, “suit,” she added, deftly removing both jacket and pants, “and shirt,” she finished, stripping that off before he had the chance to argue.
“I’m cold,” he whined, before breaking into a hacking cough.
“Well, that’s one way to shut you up,” said Donna wryly as she rummaged in one of her drawers. “Should have tried it before. Now, here’s one of my t-shirts. It’ll do for now. You’ll get too hot if you wear much else in bed, particularly once your fever goes down.”
“Don’t like it,” complained the Doctor, his voice almost inaudible now. “It’s black, and I don’t wear black anymore.”
“You’ll wear it,” said Donna threateningly, “or there’ll be no ice cream when you’re feeling better.”
The Doctor sat in silence for a moment. “Banana ice cream?” he asked at least, his tone hopeful.
“If the TARDIS provides it,” she agreed. “Now, pull that on and hurry up, Martian-man. Then you can get into bed.”
“This is your fault, Donna Noble,” the Doctor whined, his voice fading more with every word. “I never got sick before you were here.”
“Yeah, then you should have left me on that planet to get eaten by — whatever it was,” she told him, unmoved by the unhappy tone of his voice. “But you just keep talking, Sunshine. I won’t be able to hear you soon and won’t that be heaven…”
Despite her harsh words, her touch was gentle as she tucked him into bed and she got a glass of cool water for him to sip.
“Now,” she said, turning away from the bed, in which the Doctor was already drowsing, “throat lozenges. If I was the TARDIS, where would I put them?”
She went hunting and eventually found several packets as well as a good supply of honey and lemons in a small box in the corner of the pantry. In a few minutes she had whipped up a jug of a drink guaranteed to soothe a Time Lord’s sore throat.
And you were thinking he’d be better off without you, she thought with a grin as she carried the laden tray containing a jug of hot drink, the lozenges, some jelly babies and a few bananas back into her room. What would he do without you now?
The Doctor was lying curled up in the corner of the bed, pillows and his hair every which way. With a smile, Donna put the tray down on a convenient chair — which she didn’t remember having seen in the room before — and removed the pillows that were in danger of falling off the bed before straightening the covers.
A hand plucked at her sleeve and she looked up at the Doctor with a smile that widened into a grin as he moved his lips without sound.
“Ah, voice all gone, is it?” she teased. “Poor Doctor. I couldn’t imagine you not being able to speak before, but it seems like a reality now.” She stepped back from the bed and out of the way of his hands, a wicked grin on her face. “Gee,” she said with an exaggerated tone of concern in her voice, “I hope it won’t stay that way forever.”
Clearly the Doctor’s fever was abating, because instead of looking terrified, as she half-thought he might, he glared at her instead.
“Oh, all right,” she laughed. “We both know it’s going to come back. Here, sip this,” she handed him the steaming mug, “and then you need to suck on a few of these.”
He took the cup in one hand, placed the lozenges on the bedside table and then patted the bed next to him.
“Gee, I don’t know, Doctor,” she teased. “You might be contagious.”
Glaring at her, the Doctor pointed at his jacket, which Donna had draped over a chair, and she brought it over to him. He fished in his pocket and pulled out the psychic paper, handing it to her.
She opened the leather pocket and smiled at what she found written there.
Contagious? That's a laugh! You gave it to me first, Donna!
“Nice idea,” she said, waving the wallet at him. “Better than the old-fashioned paper and pencil I used last time I got laryngitis that badly.”
The Doctor’s jaw dropped perceptibly and then he pointed wildly at the psychic paper. The words had changed now.
Laryngitis? That’s all this is?
“’Fraid so,” said Donna, laughing at the Doctor’s indignation. “I had it so many times as a kid that it didn’t take me long to recognise it. Although,” she added thoughtfully, “I don’t think I’ve ever got over it this quickly before.”
She glanced at the paper in her hand and saw that the words had changed.
How can I have got laryngitis? That’s a human disease!
Donna chuckled. “Can’t help you with that one, Spaceman. Still, there’s no need to sound quite so upset about it. We can’t be all that bad as a species, us humans, if you’re willing to spend so much of your time saving us.”
She stood up, patted his arm and then went over to the tray, coming back with a small paper bag, which she tucked into his hand.
“I’m going to get something to eat, because I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. Take a nap and see if you want something for dinner when you wake up.”
The Doctor opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out and Donna had left the room before he could attract her attention again. Shrugging, he snuggled back into the pillows and then picked up the mug, gulping the sweet contents and pleased at how it quelled his desire to cough. When he had placed the empty mug on the bedside table, he was about to lie down when he remembered to look into the paper bag that Donna had given him. A huge grin spread across his face when he saw the brightly coloured lollies inside and he popped one into his mouth, placing the bag onto the table beside the empty mug.
As he settled down to have a nap, as Donna had ordered, he wondered how he could have thought, only a few hours ago, that he could possibly do without a companion.
The TARDIS hummed gently and then beeped to let Donna know that her dinner was ready. At the same time, it corrected the sick bay systems so that they recognised and could treat laryngitis, and extended them through the rest of the ship so that the Doctor would recover from his illness at his usual breakneck speed. For a moment, the TARDIS considered returning Donna to her usual human rate of recovery from illness or injury, but she decided to leave things as they were. Donna definitely deserved a reward for making the Doctor realize that he would never be better alone.
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