Out the door! Out the door we go! the Doctor thought wildly but he just stood there as mostly-and-all naked bathing attendants ran in and out of the clouds of steam rising from the thermal pools of clear, clean water. They were fetching buckets and soaps and brushes and perfumes and towels and...
He looked down at his three companions. Tegan stared straight ahead and picked at the mud-encrusted buttons on her ruined clothes, resigned already. Nyssa and Adric, however, were staring up at him. The NO NO NO PLEASE STOP THEM was clear on their young, filthy faces. Something crawled across the Doctor's scorched and slimy sleeve. He jerked and whatever it was plopped to the ground and escaped. He glanced around, embarrassed, then he made a command decision disguised as polite resignation. "The TARDIS is too far away. We'd never make it." He shrugged and smiled.
"I don't need help!" Adric hissed.
An old man dressed in a loin cloth and carrying an armful of sponges overheard the boy and paused. He smiled indulgently at the group. "We use raw Mring sap," he pointed at the black goo that covered them, "To glue metal together. There's no getting that off by yourself." Adric and Nyssa stared at him in horror. He then indicated several bottles full of a clear liquid that were being carefully arranged on a low table. "That's not soap there. That's solvent." He ducked his head at them, as much to hide the smile creeping over his face as it was to show respect, and continued on his way.
Oh, certainly, enjoy yourself at our expense. You only owe us your lives. The Doctor thought bitterly and sighed. Nyssa sighed. Adric scratched. Gloom descended in a smothering wave. After everything they'd all been through that day did they have to face this, too? This humiliation?
Tegan leaned towards them all and whispered, "Snap out of it. Think of it as a spa treatment!"
"What's that?" Nyssa asked. "A medical procedure?"
"It's...it's a sort of fancy bath," Tegan explained. "And it's just a bath, Nyssa. Er. I think. Hang on." She left them and accosted an attendant. There was a low consultation then Tegan came back. "No worries! Just, ah, recreational bathing. A massage if we want." She rubbed her hands together. "A massage!" She looked close to tears.
"Bathing? In front of everyone?" Nyssa whispered.
"What's bathing?" Adric (devotee of the neutron-shower) asked.
"That explains a lot," Tegan answered and the Doctor hid a reluctant smile as the sniping began.
He then saw that Nyssa's eyes were wide as she watched a nude and particularly fine specimen of a dark-haired man hoist a large, heavy jar up with ease, his biceps bulging. He measured out four equal portions of oil into small cauldrons and set each over elaborate burners to warm. "Ah," Nyssa began, her fingers beginning to twine together. "Adric is very young. This 'recreational' washing might disturb him."
"I'm not an infant..."
"Oh, he's already disturbed," Tegan interrupted, waving a hand. This began another round of conjecture between her and the boy regarding hygiene, foul habits and flea-picking.
The Doctor beckoned to Nyssa and she came closer. "Adric has absolutely nothing to worry about. We're honored guests and no one will dare hurt him. And he has Tegan and I to look after him, right?"
She drew a deep breath. "Right. I, too, will protect him."
"Of course, Nyssa of Traken."
Her spine became impossibly straight. "Of course."
The Doctor caught the rich smell of incense. Nyssa swallowed. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. Then had a sinking feeling himself when he couldn't get it back. "Oh, dear."
As he pulled and Nyssa pushed, he noticed some of the more mature attendants, plus the old man, were having an intense council-of-war. They were studying bottles and jeweled boxes and piles of glistening powders while eyeballing their guests critically. He could hear the whisperings. "The readings say both women will be burnt by Tirsir leaves. Keep them well away from them. The man and the boy can withstand anything we have here but that's NOT a challenge. Make sure you ask first." Their colleagues nodded as they listened keenly. The Doctor appreciated their consideration but was a little surprised at how large a crowd it was. His small clan was outnumbered seven to one. He really didn't like those odds.
The old man clapped his hands once and the lecture ended. Extra logs were added to the fires. Small ladders were lowered into the steaming pools. The warm oil was given a final stir. The lights dimmed.
Adric and Tegan stopped bickering. The Doctor and Nyssa stopped struggling. The two factions faced each other. The attendants spaced themselves into four large groups and smiled. Their guests smiled back.
There was gonna be a scrubbin.'
"Brave heart, everyone," the Doctor murmured. The opposition advanced in a wave of bare skin and genuine bonhomie. Tegan met them eagerly, almost pathetically hopeful of some pampering. The Doctor and Nyssa stepped forward also, the Doctor out of resignation and Nyssa because, well, that Mring sap was strong stuff and she had to go where the Doctor went.
Adric turned and ran for it.
Letting out their world's equivalent of VIEW HALLOO! his attendants set off in hot pursuit. Laughter, Tegan's included, bounced off the vaulted ceiling of the bathing chamber to mingle with the gentle bubbling of the hot springs and the almost subliminal music of a stringed instrument being played somewhere.
The first station the three remaining guests were led to was a clear, recessed area with a drain in the floor. There was some experimental tugging on their clothes but the sap was everywhere, twisting the cloth uncomfortably around their bodies. So tall attendants held large bottles of the clear solvent up and gently poured it over their guests's heads, shoulders, and arms. The Doctor felt a strange fizzing sensation all over his skin. His hand released from Nyssa's shoulder with a pop. More goo was poured and his clothes relaxed their stranglehold. He dropped his coat to the floor with some relief but his dominant emotion was dread at what was going to come next. Dread slithering down his spine like some nasty creature...
"GAH!" The Doctor tore out of his shirt in disgust. The multi-legged thing went scuttling across the floor and Tegan stomped it dead. The Doctor counted to ten. Must set a good example, must set a good example, must set... "Are you sure you want to do this?" he muttered.
Someone actually patted him on the head. "Please take off your shoes."
Defeated, he took off his shoes and kicked them away. The attendants began to work the Mring-cutting gunk into his hair and he felt the mats and tangles loosen. More relief. He opened one eye to see how Nyssa was taking it.
She was docile. Still unsure but calm as the maddening stickiness was removed.
"These are buttons," he heard Tegan explain to a man who was pulling on her blouse dubiously. "They come out this way, see?" She unbuttoned her collar.
"How cute!" One of the women exclaimed and Tegan smiled as she took control of her own disrobing. The Doctor found himself unsurprised. Nyssa allowed the people to do their job, though, and so did he. Soon the floor was fouled with bog slime and the dregs of Mring sap swirling away down the drain. The old man and an assistant carefully gathered up their dissolving clothes and took them away.
He noticed Tegan and Nyssa, both under cover of pushing their hair back, giving his bare body a quick glance. He didn't mind. They were lucky he was a bog-standard humanoid. If he had been a Driblixix male who kept what looked like a diseased star-nosed mole between his legs...the very thought made him shudder.
There was a crash and Adric's gang went charging past led by a laughing young woman with unnaturally yellow hair. They were having fun meeting rudeness with rudeness and squirting their quarry with solvent shot out from tubal contraptions. They were also trying very hard not to actually catch him. The sap had to come off but no sense in making him truly unhappy. The Doctor approved. Adric noticed the state his friends were in and was almost shocked enough to stop. He gave them a look of sheer disgust instead and put on an extra burst of speed. The Doctor considered reining him in for a moment then decided against it. "We'll caaaatch him!" the blonde crowed as she stopped to refill her tube with their solvent. Her delight was infectious and the Doctor found himself grinning stupidly at her. She didn't notice and went tearing off again.
Tall men approached with great copper kettles of warm water and the solvent was rinsed away. All three guests sputtered with relief.
"There! That's done," said a mature woman, clothed only in geometric bird tattoos. "Now what would be good?"
The Doctor glanced at Nyssa. She still had a stoic mask on and her shoulders were tense. Enough. "We just want some fresh clothes, please," he said.
"We do?!" Tegan interrupted.
"We don't?" he asked.
"No, we don't!"
He faced her and crossed his arms.
Tegan squared off and crossed hers. Unable to help themselves the attendant and Nyssa crossed their own. The others tactfully stood and waited. The Doctor glared down at Tegan. She glared up at him. Why was she always so damn contrary?! He leaned towards her and flicked his eyes at Nyssa. Unfortunately Nyssa caught the expression and her face flamed red. Immediately she was shoulder to shoulder with Tegan. The Doctor held his pose for a count of ten and then to twenty but their wall didn't crack.
"The springs really are very lovely," the tattooed woman whispered.
Tegan's face softened into a half smile. "C'mon, Doc," she murmured. "Let's enjoy ourselves."
There is no enjoying this! Still, Nyssa had become determined and staying longer wouldn't destroy her. Or him. Much. He dropped his arms. "What do we want then?"
She beamed up at him. "We want everything!"
The attendants cheered her as if she were Churchill, the sycophants, and led them off into three different directions. The Doctor hesitated a moment but was reassured as the bathing chamber was open and all he had to do was turn his head to check on everyone.
And so it began.
First he sweltered in steam hot enough to kill anyone else in the room. His attendants (who DID ask first) were impressed but they promised they'd refrain from experimenting with his endurance any more. He appreciated their consideration, still, the heat seeped into his very bones and he left it reluctantly as they guided him over to the next station.
He was sat on a stool to be scoured to within an inch of his life with stiff-bristled brushes caked with a thick green syrup. Then a cool rinse that was followed up with a gentle scrub of delicate white foam on soft sponges. Another rinse and the smell of slime, sap, and solvent disappeared for good. He became used to the feel of several people laying their hands on him at once without the intent to hurt him. The men and women were calm, sedate and thorough. They chit-chatted about this and that over his head and made little jokes. It was...pleasant. "I do love your golden hair," the bird woman exclaimed and she ran her fingers through it. "It's very fine, very soft."
The Doctor's face cracked into a smile. "Yes, er, blond. For the first time, too. It's been black, white and brown but never this," he replied. He realized he had swallowed her flattery and was ashamed of himself.
Golden hair. He glanced around. The fake-blonde was trying to tempt Adric into cooperation with a piece of sugared fruit. She had a large, sweet smile and radiated reassurance but Adric wasn't having any of it. Or her. Or the fruit. Surprising given his adolescent appetite. The solvent was doing its work on his clothes and his pants fell down with a liquid plop. His face went scarlet. She very kindly didn't laugh and traded her sweet for a towel. Adric accepted that. With haste.
The Doctor heard Nyssa give out a "YEEK!" as a scrubber went where she was not accustomed for other people to go but she recovered quickly. The dark-haired attendant had obviously claimed her as his and was telling her outrageous jokes to calm and distract her. She was smiling genuinely instead of politely so it was working. Neither she nor Tegan (luxuriating under a hot waterfall) showed any sign of wanting to leave. The musician of the stringed instrument appeared and sat herself nearby. She picked up the tempo and Tegan grinned at her and clapped her hands. Water flew. She apologized. Nyssa scoffed at her.
"Everyone is well!" whispered Bird Woman and there was a chuckle lurking around the corner there. "Would you care to rejoin them?"
The women were now the center of a whirl of cheer and excited talk and music and splashing and the Doctor became tired just watching it. "That spring looks comfortable," he answered, pointedly looking in the other direction. "I think I'd like a soak. And a rest. By myself."
"Certainly," was all she said but she smiled. After scattering a handful of white flower petals on the surface of the hot spring he indicated, and lighting incense and candles all around the perimeter, his bathers left him to it. He stepped carefully down into the steaming water and sat on a ledge. He checked his people yet again. Adric was sullen but fine. Nyssa was grinning and fine. Tegan was more relaxed than he'd ever seen her. And fine. What a terrible, disgusting, tiring day. At least no one had been killed. So everything was fine?
These people were friendly.
This cavern was safe.
He closed his eyes and stretched out his perception. Every probability the Time Lord could sense ensured him that, yes, he wasn't mistaken. All was well.
As suddenly as if he'd been struck by lightning the Doctor surrendered. He lifted his legs and sank under the petaled waves with an exhausted BLURP. Let someone else deal with the Universe, he was going to just float for a while under here, thank you.
Float he did, and sleep, restful, blessed sleep, for twenty minutes and then awoke when he felt a small hand gently pulling on his arm. The contact enabled him to sense concern (he may be alien but I didn't see any gills) from the owner. Amused, he seized whoever-it-was's hand. (ALARM!) Oops. He let go, surfaced, shook his wet hair out of his eyes and smiled at his favorite blonde who was kneeling at the pool's edge and staring back at him with wide, brown eyes. "Sorry," he said.
"I'm sorry!" she gasped, "I was just checking!"
"No, I'm sorry!"
They laughed and he took her hand again, gently this time. "I'm all right. And I didn't mean to startle you."
She shrugged in a forgiving way and gave his fingers a little squeeze before she let go. "So!" she said cheerfully, the slightest flush of red creeping over her face. "Can that brat breathe underwater?" she asked, pointing behind her.
Brat? Unprofessional. He took a closer look at her. Bleached hair, breasts and hips modestly covered with strips of white fabric and tan lines on her skin (tan lines and modesty on this world?!) indicated that she was a non-native. Where did she...oh, who cared? Let it go for a change! He cleared his throat. "No. Like mine, Adric's is a highly adaptive species but he can't adapt that much."
"Cheers, mate!" she replied, practically rubbing her hands together. She ran back to her post as the Doctor stared after her. "He has to come up sometime!" she reassured her colleagues and they went back to prodding under the natural overhangs of the pool with long poles.
"Tie a sandwich to a string and fish for him," slurred Tegan who was being massaged by no less than six people. Six people, twelve hands, sixty-one fingers roaming, pressing, smoothing oil into every inch of her back, arms, legs, buttocks...a process that was almost as tranquilizing to see as it clearly was for Tegan to feel. She was almost unconscious. The Doctor pushed a few candles out of the way, leaned his elbows on the rim of his 'fancy bath' and watched.
Tegan gleamed copper-red and warm in the firelight. She was completely relaxed and her mouth turned up at the corners in a blissful smile. For exactly one minute the Doctor let his imagination go. It would be pleasant to touch her skin. Warm, soft skin with its pulse points there and nerve bundles there and there and there, everywhere really. She'd never notice an extra pair of hands.
The Doctor snorted at his unworthy and devious impulse. Then again, Tegan might surely notice. He remembered succumbing to temptation with a human friend before. Centuries ago he'd touched the back of Zoe's neck and she'd nearly jumped out of her skinsuit from the chilly shock. Mortally embarrassed he'd passed it off as a practical joke. Incompatible skin temperature, what a shame.
No, be kind. It was the folly of youth. The Doctor smiled at the memory. He focused again on Tegan and allowed himself another 60 seconds of dreaming. How far would she jump? How far would his bloody, severed hand fly through the air afterwards?
Then he grinned as Tegan's masseurs asked her to flip over so they could work on her front. She politely balked. Her people were a little puzzled but accepting of what they considered a job half done. Meanwhile, Nyssa's clique had gotten silly, especially her dark admirer who was rubbing her feet and making wild love to her. "You're a goddess. A vision. A delightful leetle love cockroach."
"What's a cockroach?!"
"Oh, darling, if only I could explain! I'm usually economical with the truth but I innuendo that mine's the euphemism you've been searching for."
"He lies, he lies!" Adric's blonde called over and the man shushed her with exaggerated throat-slashing gestures.
Her friend, eh? Another out-worlder? Interesting. But not nearly interesting enough. The Doctor submerged again.
He slept himself out (17 minutes, what a sloth) and when he came up it was time for refreshments. He heard Nyssa giving a drinks order for everyone. "Ginger for the Doctor and any sort of fermented fruit juice for Tegan and Adric." He would have retaliated but he had no idea what it was that got Trakenites tipsy. Shocking gap in his knowledge, just shocking. He drank and ate his fill (quietly brought over by a single attendant as if any contact would cause him to explode. Well, he had only himself to blame for that.) and relaxed further as he watched beautiful people flip grapes into Adric's pool.
Good lord, Tegan was being hand-fed and Nyssa was laughing outright at her. Hearing her rare joy the Doctor grinned and decided that the benefits of staying away no longer outweighed the disadvantages.
He got out of the water and approached, more than a little self-conscious at crossing the floor in the state he was in, but he was immediately descended upon by the Bird Woman and several others and he relaxed as they escorted him the rest of the way. Another drink was shoved into his hand as Nyssa and Tegan applauded him, too, as if he was finally home from a long journey. "Welcome, Doctor!" Tegan crowed and he bowed to her. Next step: massage! It was his turn to fight back unconsciousness as oil was caressed over every cool inch of his skin by warm hands. "Where are the sensitive spots on your species?" he was asked.
"I'll never tell." Which stopped no one from trying to find them. Which was lovely, lovely, lovely. Ah, the follies of old age! Then his hands and feet were tackled with enthusiasm.
"Don't you dare let her paint your nails!" Tegan warned him.
He looked up from a case of sparkling colors the manicurist was offering. "And why not?" he asked, looking at her own nails which were glowing faintly green.
"It's not manly."
"Earth standards of masculinity don't exactly apply on this planet, hmmm?" He trailed long fingers across the little jars of paint.
"Don't do it, Doctor!"
"And human ideals certainly don't apply to me."
"NO! NO! NO!"
He chose the pink. "Now this is a masculine color on Earth. Or it was until the 1920s." Tegan went crazy and Nyssa laughed so hard the tears streamed down her face. The Doctor doubled over and laughed, too.
It was wonderful.
Soon (or was it hours later?) it was time to dry off and get dressed. Adric emerged to sulk in a corner, his people still ranged around him at a distance just in case he let his guard down at the Zero Hour. Nyssa's face was red as she politely shook her head at her dark man who was suddenly serious about arranging a meeting later. No. No, please, thank you. The man smiled, bent down and kissed her on the mouth. He was berated instantly by the Bird Woman as Nyssa blushed purple and retreated to the nearest bit of safety, which happened to be Tegan on her way to the wardrobe. The Doctor followed.
He was dressed in black pants, black boots and a black tunic embroidered with gold thread. He disliked wearing black and liked certain people that wore it even less but he enjoyed the way the silky fabric felt and the looks of admiration it was earning him. Nyssa was produced wearing scarlet and Tegan was draped in a deep green. Adric was allowed to keep his wet towel. The attendant that had squeaked over the cuteness of Tegan's buttons approached to arrange a trade with her. Her salvaged buttons for an enormous cobalt-blue bottle of perfume? Tegan accepted eagerly. The other woman ran off to claim her new treasures and Tegan nestled her payment in the crook of her arm. As they all emerged triumphantly back into the main chamber the Doctor's sharp ears heard "They're beautiful people," and he became proud. The compliment was clearly sincere as it wasn't meant to be overheard. And it was true, he decided as he looked over his companions. They were beautiful. Even Adric, bless him.
"And that, Nyssa, was a spa treatment," Tegan sighed happily, patting the curls in her gleaming hair. "You look beautiful! So do you, Doctor." He fluffed his fine, golden hair with his pink nails and laughed at the retching sounds she made.
Nyssa was still blushing. "My skin is squeaking!"
"Can we please go now?" Adric whined. The Doctor beamed down at them all.
The old man in the loin cloth reappeared. Behind him walked two strong men carrying a large tub between them filled with junk. Cricket balls, bags of sweets, odd coins, books, clothes, shoes, medical scanners, and, sitting on top in pride of place, a sparkling ruby the size of a human fist. "Your clothes are past repair," the old man said, "But we were able to empty your pockets." He stared at the Doctor in some wonder as the two men lowered the tub with relief. It hit the ground with a thud.
All the attendants gathered around; Adric's tormentors, Tegan's masseuses, Nyssa's flatterers, and the Doctor's favorite off-worlders and he realized he was expected to say a few words. He was impressed with all of them. It took craft, care and talent to restore four disgusting people to cheerful equilibrium. Well, three people anyway. Everyone stared at the light shining through the faceted brilliance of the ruby as the Doctor picked it up and turned it back and forth in his hand. He cleared his throat and decided to keep it short.
"We feel wonderful. We look wonderful!" There was laughter and nods all around. "This was a rare treat and we're deeply grateful. Yes?" Tegan and Nyssa agreed enthusiastically and their bathers preened. "So, we thank you," he said to them all. "'From the bottom of our hearts' as the humans say." He saw the blonde blink at him, startled. He slowly smiled back at her. "Until we meet again."
"Promise?" said the dark man.
The Doctor ignored him to swing the tub up and place it on his shoulder as easily as if he were giving a child a ride. The men who had carried it gaped at him. Then he turned and placed the ruby in the old man's hand. "Make sure everyone in the room gets an equal share of that. You all deserve it."
As his words sunk in there were gasps. Disbelief. The faint beginnings of joy. The Doctor balanced the tub with one hand and beckoned to his friends with the other.
"Out the door, everyone. Out the door we go."
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