It began with such little things at first that Donna thought she was imagining them. She made excuses for the fact that the kettle was always just about to boil when she went to make a cup of tea. She assumed her bed was always perfectly warm when she was about to get into it, and the one day she decides she wants to read for a while, she supposes that there must have been something wrong with the heating.
And surely the pool is always that temperature, isn’t it?
But it starts to occur to her, as she’s sitting in the library with music pouring from the small, black box on the sideboard, that something’s not quite right.
“Okay, how is it doing that?” she demands at last, and the Doctor looks up from his book in surprise.
“How is what doing what?”
“That radio.” She waves her hand at the box on the table. “It’s like I think of a song and it’s the next one it plays.”
“That’s exactly what it does.” He grins at her. “And it’s not a radio. It’s — oh, I’m not going to bother making up a name for it when you always know when I’m doing that anyway. No, it picks up on your thoughts or emotions and feed them back to you in the form of songs and things.”
“But I was hearing news broadcasts and everything!” she complains. “How can it not be a radio?”
“Do you think it’s picking up broadcasts from Earth?” The Doctor tilts his head slightly to one side. “Donna, we’re in the vortex. There’s absolutely no way for you to communicate between the Earth and the TARDIS at this moment. Nothing works here. We have to get into normal space for that to happen.”
“So what was I hearing then?” she demands. “I thought I was getting news and weather and everything!”
“Probably a lot more of your favourite gossip than you were used to, too,” he suggests lightly, and she can’t help giving a slight nod of agreement. “The TARDIS is feeding you what it thinks you want to hear. It picks up on songs you’ve got in your head for one reason or another and plays them for you. It knows you want to know what’s happening with your Mum and Gramps at home, so it’s trying to fill that gap.”
“Ah.” She nods slowly, absorbing all this, before a thought strikes. “How accurate is it then? I mean, is that what the weather and things are really like at home?”
“No.” He shakes his head. “That is, probably not. They might be, but if they are, it’s just luck. So is all the other news you hear.”
“Really?” She feels disappointment fill her. “Bugger — so I probably haven’t won that bet with Nerys about the sex of Brangelina’s latest baby at all then?”
“We-ell,” he arches an eyebrow, his lips twitching with amusement, “considering it’s human and not from one of the species with multiple genders, you’ve got a fifty-fifty shot. Remind me to check when we’re back in normal space and I’ll find out for you.”
Donna ignores this and stares at the box, which, she notices, has gone silent during the conversation. For a moment she considers the implications of what he’s told her before looking back at him.
“So you’re having to put up with listening to all my rubbish from Earth then?”
“Nope.” He shakes his head, popping the ‘p.’ “When I said it picks up on your thoughts and emotions, that’s exactly what I meant. Yours. There’s a perception filter on it, like with the TARDIS, so that you hear what you want to hear, but I hear what I want.”
“Oh.” She can’t help being relieved that he won’t have heard the numerous soppy ballads she’s been secretly enjoying for the past few days. Still, she has to wonder. “What do you hear then?”
“Depends on my mood.” He shrugs, although she can’t help thinking that he doesn’t look completely comfortable. “Music sometimes. A lot of the time nothing.”
“What sort of music?” She frowns a little. “What, like Earth stuff?”
“Not always.” A small, somewhat mocking smile curls the Doctor’s lips. “Humans aren’t the only ones who make music. Far from it. Most races do.”
“Did yours?” she can’t help asking, although she guesses that this is what is making him look somewhat miserable.
The despondent look on his face deepens, but he nods. “Beautiful music,” he replies, his voice a little hoarse.
For a moment she watches as he stares at the floor between them, able to glimpse the misery and pain in his eyes. It’s only at moments like these that she can really believe his claims about his age and all of the things he’s experienced — and those are the times when her heart aches for him.
“Well,” she says lightly, seeing his gaze snap to her face, his mood lightening at once, “I suppose I should be thankful that you can’t hear my rubbish.”
“Now, I never said that,” he says with a faint smile. “Sometimes I choose to listen to whatever you’re hearing.”
Donna feels warmth rush to her cheeks. “Why?” she demands almost resentfully.
“It gives me a chance to learn more about you, to discover what you like and what you don’t,” he replies easily.
“All you have to do is ask,” she snaps, embarrassed.
“I don’t think you’d tell me,” he suggests softly. “I think,” he begins in a thoughtful tone, “you’d worry that I’d judge you for it, just like Lance did.”
“Well, you might,” she mutters, giving an awkward shrug.
“Never,” he says at once. “After all,” he adds, “if I did that, you’d have the right to judge me for some of the things I listen to — and that’s just as bad, if not worse!”
She smiles, grateful at him for saying it, even if she can’t quite believe him.
“How does it work then?” she asks curiously. “How does it pick up on what I want — or what you do?”
“We-ell,” he rubs his chin thoughtfully, the book lying idle in his lap, “that’s a bit complicated.”
“You mean you don’t know,” she retorts. “I know what that look on your face means, mate!”
She expects him to contradict her, but instead he simply looks sheepish and then grins at her. “Maybe,” he admits.
“So…” Donna goes quiet for a moment before looking up at him, “everything on this ship is mildly psychic.”
“Sentient,” he corrects. “Only living things can be psychic.”
“What about you then?” she shoots back, not paying attention to his response.
“What about me?” he asks, shrugging his shoulders a little as his eyes slip away from hers in the direction of the floor so that she already knows the answer without him having to say anything. The fact that he hasn’t given her a straight reply, however, makes her suspect that he’s nervous about her reaction to his response.
She can’t understand why he would be. After all, she’s always known — almost since the first moment — that he was an alien. She’s been waiting to find out exactly what sets him apart from human males. The only thing she's worked out so far is his unique ability to give the best neck massages she’s ever… Oh, God! No wonder they’re so exactly the way she likes them! She really can be thick sometimes!
Still, she can’t help wondering just who it is that seems to have made him almost ashamed to admit to his non-human features. One day, she decides, she’ll sit him down and talk to him about it — but she doesn’t feel like she knows him well enough just yet to confront him on something quite this personal.
Not that she’s going to let him get away with it forever.
“Well then,” she says lightly, and sees as his eyes swing back to hers, a relieved expression appearing on his face, “let’s hear the worst. I already know you’re bloody freezing to touch. Got a spare head tucked away inside that jacket of yours that I should know about? Still, that might explain why you never take it off. Oh, and why you can’t seem to shut up — an extra gob is probably the only way you could manage it!”
He chuckles, his hands deep in the pockets, his long legs stretched out in front of him, the worst of the tension gone from his face.
“Nope, just very toned jaw muscles,” he jokes. “Two hearts though,” he adds after a pause, as if uncertain of her reaction. “Better senses than you — sight, hearing, all of them. Time sense, too.”
“Anything else?” she demands, and when he hesitates, “Oh, come on, you might as well tell me. I’m going to keep pushing until you spill the beans anyway. I know when you’re hiding things!”
An expression that she suspects might be gratitude flickers over his face and he smiles again, more comfortably this time.
“Respiratory bypass,” he admits.
“I can go without breathing for short periods — up to an hour or two if I have to.”
“That doesn’t sound short to me!” she retorts. “I’d be dead in pretty bloody quick order if I tried it!”
“Well, yes,” he agrees readily, “but then you humans aren’t exactly that suited to life on other planets — at least, not ones with atmospheres similar to Earth. The TARDIS has to work a lot harder to keep you safe than it does for some of the other people I’ve travelled with.”
“Oi, this isn’t an excuse for you to have a go!” she exclaims, offended at the criticism the human race is receiving. “Just stick to talking about you and leave us lot alone.”
“Well, it’s difficult to explain the differences without using comparisons,” he points out. “Um, what else?” he hurries on, perhaps because she’s glaring at him. “Less susceptible to extremes of temperature and not as easily injured. I can survive severe electric shocks and higher levels of certain types of radiation than humans. You already know I don’t sleep as much as you do…”
“And I suppose that and your psychic powers are how you always know to be next to my bed with a cup of tea when I wake up,” she interrupts. “So you can’t get injured then?”
“Oh, I can,” he replies. “But if it isn’t going to kill me, I’ve got the ability to put myself into a healing coma to get over it. I might look like I’m dead, but give me long enough and I should be able to recover eventually.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she says rather uncomfortably, reminded of the time when she stepped between him and the guns pointed at him by the robots under the control of the Empress of the Racnoss. She can’t help wondering what would have happened if they’d shot him.
“That’s enough of that,” he says firmly, and she guesses he’s realised what she’s thinking and is trying to distract her from those thoughts. “Change of subject. Is it time for the daily shoulder massage?”
“God, yes, please,” she agrees quickly, deciding not to push the conversation, although she suspects there’s things he hasn’t told her. Still, there’s plenty of time for that.
Sliding down onto the floor, she wriggles around so that her back is to him as she sits on the carpet at his feet.
“How do you want it?” he asks, and as she glances at him out of the corner of her eye, there’s a look on his face that suggests he’s wondering if she’s really understood the full impact of what he’s just told her.
She tilts her head up to smile at him. “You tell me,” she says teasingly, wondering in her turn if he’ll realize that she’s too stiff after their adventures on the Oodsphere for one of his strong neck rubs.
“Gentle it is then,” he agrees and she lets out a soft, satisfied moan as his long fingers begin to work their magic.
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