Appetites by EllyF
Summary: The Doctor has acquired some strange appetites, and Donna has to figure out what's wrong with him.
Categories: Tenth Doctor
Characters: Donna Noble, The Doctor (10th), The TARDIS
Genres: Angst, Drama, General, Hurt/Comfort, Standalone
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Author's Notes: I think this will be a two-parter. Warning: Some drug and alcohol use described.
Ahhhh. Physical appetites… the hunger of the body…
Hunger… need… lust… I had almost forgotten…
“Out! Go away!”
Don’t be absurd. The voice rumbled through him like thunder. You are mine now, and I shall consume you. And then… I shall consume everything else in my path.
“Stop it.” He spoke through his teeth, clutching his head, fighting against It. “Stop it right now.”
Mine… mine… all these dark desires, all this hunger… after so many centuries, so many aeons…
He threw everything he had against It, but It only laughed.
There is no need to fight, little man. Give yourself to me. We will enjoy the pleasures of your body together.
He fought, clawed at It with his mind, struck at It, but to no avail. No matter how he fought, he couldn’t even seem to touch It. Nothing he did had any impact on It. He was outmatched, and he knew it.
But he went on fighting for a long time.
And all the while… It laughed at him.
Donna discovered the Doctor in the TARDIS’ galley. That, in and of itself, was not surprising. Half the time he’d get so busy tinkering in the control room that he forgot to eat–and as skinny as he was, that couldn’t be a good thing– and then suddenly he’d notice he was starving, and would head for the galley to get some toast and jam, or biscuits and tea, or something equally nutritious.
Sure enough, he was digging his fingers into a jam jar again. Marmalade, it looked like. Almost empty. She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth, intending to yell at him. The man was always sticking his fingers into their communal food, usually without bothering to wash off the grease from the TARDIS engines first. It was disgusting.
But something about the desperate way he was scooping out orange globs of marmalade and shoving it into his mouth made her halt with her mouth still open. He wasn’t just eating, she realised.
He was devouring.
It wasn’t as if the Doctor had wonderful table manners–he’d lived alone too long, she suspected, or maybe most of his companions had had too much respect for the great Time Lord to complain when he chewed with his mouth open–but he didn’t usually gobble food as if he were afraid it was about to run away from him, never to be seen again. She stepped to the side to get a better look at him, and saw a peculiar expression on his face, a look of sheer bliss, as if the Dundee marmalade he was consuming was ambrosia.
“Doctor?” she said, hesitantly.
His eyes flickered open. His eyelids were heavy, and he still had that odd look on his face. He looked for all the world as if eating marmalade was better than sex.
Ugh. Sex, the Doctor, and marmalade. There was an image she needed to bleach out of her brain, right now.
“This is delicious,” he moaned, and the low, sensual tone of his voice once again made her think of sex. God. All of a sudden she had sex on the brain. Was there something wrong with her?
Or was there something wrong with him?
“You all right?” she said, stepping into the galley and looking him over. The refrigerator door stood open, as if he hadn’t wanted to take the time to close it, and behind him, on the counter, she could see an array of emptied jars and containers. Jam, pickles, mayonnaise, Nutella, boxes that had held leftovers which should have been thrown out long ago. How long had he been standing here, digging food out of the refrigerator and stuffing it into his mouth?
“Course I’m all right.” He reached his long fingers into the jar, scooped out the last glob of marmalade, and stuck it into his mouth, licking off his fingers with slow, thorough strokes of his tongue. His eyes fluttered shut, and that strange, unsettling expression of bliss crossed his face again. “Why wouldn’t I be all right?”
“Dunno,” she said, watching him worriedly. “You’re eating right out of jars, Doctor. Didn’t even bother yourself to find a spoon.”
“So,” she said, “it isn’t like you to be this hungry. And besides, ever since you came out of that temple on Vena IV this morning, you’ve been acting kind of…”
His eyes flickered open, and he looked at her alertly. “Kind of what?”
She sighed. “Kind of barmy, actually.”
He uttered a short laugh, tossed the marmalade jar onto the counter with a clink, and turned back to rummage in the refrigerator.
“Doctor,” she said, frowning in concern. “Haven’t you had enough to eat?”
“Never,” he answered, his voice dark and low. He straightened up, an uncooked egg in his hand, and took a big bite, shell and all. Raw egg dribbled down his chin, and his face went slack and happy again. Her stomach turned.
She backed out of the galley, and he didn’t seem to notice that she’d left.
“There’s something wrong with him. Really, really wrong.”
She sat in her bedroom, talking to the walls. Before she’d come on board the TARDIS, she would have thought talking to a machine was a mark of insanity.
But that had been before she’d met the blue box.
The day she’d moved in, the Doctor had explained in an offhand way that the TARDIS was sentient, and she’d rolled her eyes, thinking he’d lived alone too long, the poor bloke. But within a day or two, she’d begun to feel the TARDIS in her mind, in a way she couldn’t explain. Before long, she’d found herself accepting that the time machine was indeed another person, albeit a rather strange one.
And since there was no other humanoid besides the Doctor on board, she had no one to turn to now except the TARDIS.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” she said with a sigh. “He’s been really… odd. Even for him. And that’s saying something.”
She felt agreement in her head, and concern. The TARDIS was worried too.
“I found him just now, eating everything he could find in the fridge. I mean, everything. Didn’t even matter if it had mould on it. He was just… eating.” She remembered the expression on his face, and shivered. “And this morning, right after we came back on board, I found him in the med bay, with a hypospray, and I swear he was…”
The TARDIS hummed unhappily.
Donna thought about the sight of the Doctor, lifting the hypospray away from his own arm. God only knew what it had been filled with, but she knew perfectly well that the Doctor was almost always healthy. He’d bragged about his superior Time Lord physiology often enough. He didn’t need vitamins or supplements, and there was no good reason for him to be injecting himself with any sort of medicine.
Unless… unless he’d gotten sick down on Vena IV, and was just too proud and Time Lordly to let her know about it. She supposed that could be the case. God knew he’d been acting odd ever since he'd visited that silly temple, and an illness could explain that, couldn’t it? In any event, she liked that idea a lot better than the first one she’d had, which was that he’d been doing drugs just for the hell of it.
She closed her eyes, remembering that moment in the med bay, the look of near-ecstasy on his face. He’d looked a lot like he had while he was eating, actually. Blissed out in a way that was very unDoctorlike. And she knew, with a dreadful sinking of her stomach, that he hadn’t been injecting himself with anything that he truly needed.
He’d been getting high on something. And that was just not the Doctor she knew.
She sighed, and dropped her head into her hands.
“We have to help him,” she said. “What can we do?”
The TARDIS’ response was as worried and stressed and as impotent as she herself felt. The blue box clearly didn’t know what to do, either.
Donna sat up, lifting her chin and stiffening her spine. “Well,” she said to the walls, “the one thing I’m not doing is sitting in here, hiding. I’m going to go have it out with him.”
The TARDIS seemed uncertain if confronting the Doctor was a good idea, but Donna didn’t care. She wasn’t going to hide away if there was something wrong with her best friend–and the Doctor, despite all his annoying ways, was undeniably her best friend. There was clearly something wrong with him, and she was bloody well going to figure out what it was, and help him.
Let me go.
“Don’t be absurd, little man.” It spoke out loud, because there was no one else around to hear It–well, besides the blue box, and that technology could do nothing to hinder It. The blue box had entered Its mind, trying to join the fight against It, but like the Time Lord, it was helpless against Its superior power. “Your body is mine now.”
Let me go!
“You just don’t shut up, do you?” It had finally grown sated with food, and had decided to explore another appetite. There were so many delightful ways to enjoy this body, and It had barely got started. It sloshed whisky into a glass and drank it hungrily.
Only Its fourth glass, and already the room was beginning to spin. Lovely, lovely body. So much fun.
I’m going to get free, sooner or later. I swear it.
“Why can’t you just be quiet and enjoy the ride?” It groused. At first It had found the little man amusing, but he was rapidly becoming a nuisance. Not that his feeble struggles could accomplish anything, not that his efforts to free himself had the slightest chance of success, but he was just so annoying. It was trying to delight in the appetites of this body, to lose Itself in the half-forgotten pleasures of flesh, but It couldn’t fully enjoy Itself with the little man yammering constantly.
Right, then. It’d just drink the little man into oblivion.
When Donna walked into the Doctor’s dark-panelled study, he was seated–sprawled, really–in his leather desk chair, his tie and jacket and vest off, his shirt half unbuttoned, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his feet propped up on the desk. Near his feet she saw a bottle of whisky, two-thirds empty. He looked bleary but blissful, and he was belting out a song in some language she’d never heard before.
Gallifreyan, she’d heard. It was a beautiful language, even when he employed it to cuss out the TARDIS and her systems. But this wasn’t Gallifreyan. She was sure of it. Gallifreyan was a tonal language that sounded like the ringing of a bell or the gentle chiming of a celeste. This language sounded guttural and coarse by comparison.
Of course, the Doctor probably knew hundreds of different languages. But if he was really drunk, she’d expect him to be singing in his own language.
In any event, whatever he was singing must have been vulgar, or the TARDIS would have translated it. Clearly it didn’t meet her ladylike standards.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded, walking into the study.
The guttural words cut off, and the Doctor opened his eyes and looked up at her. It appeared to be quite an effort. “Ahhhh,” he said, his voice so thick that she could barely understand him. “The companion.”
She glared down at him, annoyed that he was so drunk he couldn’t even remember her name. She didn't appreciate just being another in a long line of companions.“Why are you getting drunk?”
He lifted the whisky bottle, saluted her with it, and took a huge mouthful straight from the bottle, spilling it over his cheeks and chin. Then he put the bottle down, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Because I can,” he said.
She frowned. She’d never seen the Doctor drink seriously before, but he’d mentioned once or twice that his body could counteract the effects of most drugs. She'd even seen him recover from cyanide poisoning, so she guessed it wasn’t easy for him to become inebriated.
And yet here he was, drunk as a bloody lord.
Drugs, marmalade, and whisky. She tried to make the pieces of the puzzle fit into a whole that could explain his behaviour, and couldn’t. Something was clearly wrong here, but she couldn’t guess what.
She wanted to yell, because shouting was her preferred method of dealing with situations she didn’t understand, but she thought sympathy might get through to him in a way than anger wouldn't. She crossed the room, shoved aside some of his clutter of papers, and sat down on the polished surface of the desk.
“Doctor,” she said, very gently. “Talk to me.”
He looked up at her fuzzily. His dark eyes had always been so expressive that they showed every thought, and even though he was drunk, they still reflected what he was thinking. Right now they were filled with a kind of hunger.
Shocked to see that expression in his eyes, aimed in her direction, she started to stand, but his hand struck out like a snake, capturing her by the wrist and holding her there. Startled by his sudden move, she tried to wrench her wrist away, but couldn’t. For a long, skinny streak of nothing, he was a surprisingly powerful man.
“Ahhhh,” he said, his voice soft but very dangerous. “There’s an appetite I haven’t explored yet.”
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Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Author's Notes: I guess this one will be a bit longer than two chapters. I always tend to underestimate these things:-).
Leave her alone!
It ignored the voice raging impotently in Its head. Silly little man, getting so worked up about one of these pitiful mortals. This one was small and fragile, hardly any different than the idiot children who had worshipped It for so long on that miserable little planet. Different species, but the same sort of pathetically limited mind.
Nothing at all like the Time Lord. Now, this was a mind and a body It could appreciate.
The creature which had taken over the Time Lord's body had once been a member of a powerful race, a species who had ruled half the galaxy. Its people had torn themselves apart in a bloody war, and in the end only one shipful of them had remained. While they searched desperately for a new home, the badly damaged ship had crashed on a tiny, out-of-the-way planet, and It had been the only survivor.
Burned and broken, in excruciating pain, It had struggled Its way to the nearest settlement, where the primitive natives had done their best to save It. But the medicine they had given It, with the best of intentions, hadn’t been compatible with its alien chemistry, and they’d destroyed its body while preserving Its life essence. Unable to die, unable to truly live, It had taken up residence amongst the primitives, who built It a temple and worshipped It as a god.
Through all those long, lonely years, It had dreamed of a new body, a body that wouldn’t burn up instantly at the first brush of Its power. Finding Its essence tethered to the planet, unable to ascend into the heavens and search elsewhere, It had tried to take possession of many of the simple people of Vena IV. But every one It possessed had died nearly instantly, so It had finally resigned itself to waiting. And waiting.
And at last, after all those centuries, the body It needed had sauntered into the temple this morning.
The unsuspecting Time Lord had foolishly assumed the local god to be a superstition, rather than a very real and powerful creature, and he had been entirely unprepared for the mental battle that ensued. Thus It had easily taken the body which It so richly deserved, Its rightful reward for all those centuries of waiting. After all those terrible, empty years, It had finally regained the physical existence It had so long dreamed of.
In this body, It knew It could live practically forever. And now that It was no longer damned to an endless, noncorporeal half-life, It bloody well intended to live.
An angry little man and his pet blue box weren’t going to prevent It from enjoying Itself to the utmost.
Despite the drunken whirling in Its head–which It found oddly pleasurable–It stood up. This body was tall enough that It loomed over the woman, and It revelled in the sensation of being taller, stronger, more powerful. This small, pitiful being would learn to respect It. She would bow down before It in fear and pain. She would howl in agony and terror, would cringe and beg for mercy–
But somewhat to Its surprise, she failed to cower before Its might, as the primitives who had worshipped It always had. Instead of cringing as It expected, she struck Its cheek with the open palm of her free hand, so hard that Its head snapped to the side. It staggered, and nearly fell.
She smacked It again, even harder, and this time It let go of her arm, quite involuntarily, and turned away in an instinctive effort to protect Its new face. She took a step backward, but didn’t run. Instead she crossed her arms over her chest and glared at It, her eyes blazing.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” she raged.
Run! Donna, run! Get out of here!
The little man was shouting, desperate, frantic, terrified for his companion, but of course she couldn’t hear him. Slightly amused by the man’s concern for this pitiful little female, It straightened up, rubbed Its cheek, and smiled, very coldly.
“That,” It said softly, “was a mistake.”
This wasn’t the Doctor.
She realised it in a terrible instant of clarity, the moment he smiled. She couldn’t say exactly how she knew, but she knew. There was something dreadful in the dark eyes, something so clearly evil that she instantly recognised it as an entity other than the Doctor.
The Doctor most frequently wore an amiable, cheerful expression, but his eyes were, to borrow one of her Gramps' old expressions, the windows to his soul, and they could reflect so many emotions. She’d seen his eyes dark and terrible. She’d seen them sorrowful and ancient. She’d seen them frightened and anguished.
But she’d never, ever seen evil there.
He’d gone into the temple on Vena IV wearing his normal bright smile, while she went off to do some shopping. And when they’d met up again, he’d been... strange. And since then he’d only grown stranger.
Stranger, she thought, was exactly the right word. This wasn’t the Doctor. This was a stranger. And whoever or whatever this was, it must have acquired the Doctor’s body in the temple.
“Who are you?” she demanded, rubbing her wrist.
He chuckled, softly and without mirth. “I am the Doctor.”
“No. You’re not.” She glared at him. “What have you done with him?”
“Oh, he’s in here somewhere. But you won't be seeing him again.” He gave that humorless chuckle again. "You'll just have to make do with me."
The thing that wore the Doctor’s body was clearly still inebriated, because his words were still slurred. But drunk or not, he was dangerous. She was absolutely certain of that.
And not just dangerous, but hungry– hungry for food, and drink, and experiences. She remembered him gobbling down food in the galley, remembered him guzzling the whisky greedily, remembered the expression on his face as he injected himself with the hypospray. She recalled his ominous words: There’s an appetite I haven’t explored yet.
She had no intention of being his next… experience.
“Keep away from me,” she snarled.
“Or what?” He laughed again, a very unpleasant sound that bore no resemblance to the Doctor’s good-humoured laughter. “You’re trapped in the Vortex with me, little fool. Do you honestly think you can escape me?”
She swallowed, recognising the truth of what he said. She had no way of escaping him. She couldn't land the ship on her own, and everything on the TARDIS was keyed to the Doctor’s genetic signature. There was no door she could lock against him, nowhere she could hide. Wherever she went–he would find her.
He took a single step toward her, the movement filled with menace. Every instinct told her to turn and run, but she stood her ground.
There was really nothing else she could do.
Run Donna run Donna run run run–
The little man was becoming truly irritating now. He was going half mad with fear and concern for his companion, the woman whom he could see clearly but was utterly unable to help. His frantic thoughts were growing ever more annoying in their repetitiveness.
It considered the situation, imagined forcing the little man to watch helplessly as his companion was forced to submit to It, and a pleasant twinge of lust and hunger racked Its new body. After the long centuries of being worshipped as a god, It had grown to like power. It enjoyed seeing humanoids grovel and weep for mercy. It enjoyed hurting them, and watching them sob in pain.
And this would be doubly enjoyable, because not only would It have the pleasure of seeing the woman cry and scream, but It would also have the delightful fun of hearing the man plead for her as well. Two helpless victims, begging for the mercy It would never bestow upon them.
It thought that this promised to be extremely entertaining.
Why wouldn’t she run?
The Doctor wanted to scream in frustration as Donna just stood there, crossing her arms and wearing her don’t-mess-with-me-Alien-Boy face. She knew he wasn’t in control of his body. She’d obviously figured it out. And she had to realise that It was dangerous. So why wasn’t she running for her life?
Nowhere to run to, a more logical part of his mind answered.
Despite the panic beating at him, he recognised that as truth. She was all alone on the TARDIS, trapped in the Vortex, unable to fly the ship or to save herself. The entity that had possessed his body knew everything he did, so there was nowhere for her to hide.
It could hurt her. Rape her. Torture her. And there would be nothing he could do to stop any of it. He would simply have to watch.
The thought made him want to scream again. But he couldn’t scream, at least not out loud. He couldn’t do anything but rage helplessly.
He’d gotten her into this situation.
And there was absolutely nothing he could do to get her out of it.
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Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Author's Notes: I meant for this to be a fairly lightweight adventure-type story, but it unexpectedly turned really dark on me. Sometimes stories get away from me, and this is one of those times. Please pardon my angst. Warnings for torture, violence, some coarse language, and a most unhappy Doctor.
She couldn’t run. All she could do was stand and fight. Fortunately, fighting was something she’d always been good at.
She wasn’t anywhere near as strong as he was, and she wasn’t sure that the Time Lord body shared the same weak points as the human body. But she did know one way to stop him.
As the Stranger moved toward her, she groped behind her on the desk, picked up the nearly empty whisky bottle, and slammed it against his head, so hard that it shattered.
He collapsed in a boneless heap–probably wouldn’t have fallen so hard if he wasn’t pissed as a newt, she thought–and she instantly dropped to her knees beside him, feeling for his heartbeats.
“Oh, Doctor,” she whispered, blinking at the tears–stupid, stupid tears–that burned in her eyes. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him, but she’d had no choice. “I’m sorry. So sorry.”
She blew out a relieved breath as she found that beneath her hand, his hearts beat strong and steady. He’d told her more than once that his head was harder than a human’s, and she’d seen him recover without problems from similar blows on three different planets, but she was nevertheless immensely relieved. She saw blood trickling from a cut on his temple, but it wasn’t a particularly bad wound. She was fairly certain he’d be all right, once he awakened.
In the meantime, she had a Stranger to tie up.
When his eyes flickered open, she was seated beside him on the carpet. He looked up into her eyes, blinking as if to clear his head, and then twitched his limbs, discovering that she’d tied his hands and legs tightly, with the thickest rope she could find. He offered her a hesitant smile.
“Donna? You all right?”
“Doctor,” she whispered, and more tears threatened. Stupid, she chided herself, stop crying. She patted his cheek with awkward affection, grateful that he sounded entirely like himself, and perfectly sober besides. Clearly his superior metabolism had taken care of the alcohol. “I’m fine,” she said gently. “You?”
He considered that for a moment. “Okay. Got a headache, though.”
She wondered if it was a hangover, or a concussion. Might be both. “Where’s the other bloke?”
“Hasn’t waked up yet. All that whisky. He hasn’t the head for it.” He smiled wryly, and then shifted a bit on the carpet, as if trying to free himself. “Donna, untie me. I need to get to the med bay.”
She moved her hands toward the ropes, but then hesitated. “I can’t, Doctor. If he wakes up while you’re untied–"
“Donna,” he said, impatience threading through his voice, “I have to get to the med bay. I’m sorry, but this isn’t something you can do for me. I have to synthesize something to get rid of him permanently, and I need to do it right now, before he wakes up. Let me go.”
She hesitated a moment longer, then reached toward him, and a glint of satisfaction flashed through his eyes, almost too quickly to be seen. But she spotted it, because she’d been watching for it.
Those eyes. The Doctor hadn’t ever been able to hide anything from her. And the other bloke couldn’t, either.
“I’m not stupid, y’know,” she said, very softly, moving back from him.
He gave her a wide-eyed look of innocence. “Never thought you were, Donna. Always said you were brilliant. Now let’s not waste any more time, yeah? Let me go.”
“I would,” she said, carefully not raising her voice, “if you were the Doctor. But you’re not.”
“Of course I am.” Anger flashed into his eyes. “Let me go, damn it.”
“The Doctor wouldn’t be angry that I was being cautious,” she pointed out. “He’d want me to be careful.”
“You stupid cow.” His lips drew back in a snarl, all pretense gone. “If you don’t let me go right now, you’ll regret it.”
“Don’t think so,” she said, settling back onto the carpet beside him. “I think I’d regret it a lot more if I were to let you go. Right now I’ve got you where you can’t harm anyone. That’s a step in the right direction, I figure. Now I just have to figure out how to get you out of the Doctor’s body.”
“You can’t. It’s my body now.” He uttered an ugly sound, a noise as feral and dangerous as a wolf’s growl. “And you’re wrong. I can harm someone. I can harm your precious Doctor, so much more than you can possibly imagine.”
She scowled down at him. “You can’t. You’re bluffing, Psycho-Boy.”
“You have no idea what I put the little fools on that wretched planet through,” he said, his voice dripping with contempt. “They worshipped me. They tried so, so hard to placate me. But every so often, I got bored, and then I would take one of them and rip its mind apart, piece by piece. You can’t imagine how they screamed.”
The dark, disturbing edge of lust in his voice creeped her out, making the little hairs on her neck stand on end. “You can’t do that to the Doctor,” she pointed out, trying to keep her voice from shaking. “His mind is your mind.”
“Well, not exactly. I’m in his brain, yes, but his mind–that’s been placed into its own compartment. Binned, you might say. I’m keeping it in a nice little wastebin at the back of my brain, so to speak, and I can take him apart if I want to. He's only so much rubbish, and I can do whatever I want with him. I simply haven’t bothered. Yet.”
Her heart started to pound heavily, but she forced herself not to show a reaction. “You can’t hurt him without hurting yourself,” she said, hoping against hope it was true.
He laughed, a short, cold sound that iced her blood.
“Want to bet?”
Stop it stop it stop it stop it oh please stop–
The little man was already howling in agony, and It had barely got started. Delightful, It thought as the man writhed and struggled and tried to get away from It. It had taken such joy in feeding the appetites of Its new body that It had almost forgotten that there were joys to be had in the noncorporeal state, too.
This had long been one of Its greatest pleasures, the only appetite It could satisfy in Its disembodied state. In Its new physical form, unfortunately, It could no longer reach out with Its mind and torment other living beings freely.
But the little man was trapped, caught like a fly in amber, and It could torment him for all eternity, if It wanted.
The Time Lord was trying desperately to run, to hide, but there was nowhere he could take refuge. All his pride, all his stubbornness, all his avowed determination to keep on fighting, had faded away in the face of Its vicious attack, and now he only wanted to escape. He fluttered like a pinned butterfly, frantic but helpless, as It ripped into his mind, unwinding his thoughts and twisting them into new configurations.
Oh please please please don’t please please stop–
It had hardly begun, and already he was begging for mercy. Wonderful. There was such a glorious complexity in the Time Lord’s mind, so many ways It could twist and turn and yank his thoughts, unravelling him thread by thread, causing the little man untold agony. It had practised for centuries on simpler minds, destroying them in countless ways, but this–this was so much more fun.
It twisted a strand of thought, and the Time Lord wailed in pain.
It laughed joyously, and did it again.
Donna could feel the TARDIS’ growing distress in the back of her mind. It couldn’t tell her the problem in words, but she was able to grasp that the ship was very, very upset. She had the awful, sinking feeling that the Stranger was telling the truth, and that the Doctor was in very real danger.
“I am not letting you go,” she told him, trying to sound as if she really meant it. She couldn’t let him go. She simply couldn’t. It wasn’t just her own fate to think of, but the fate of the whole universe. One temp from Chiswick didn’t matter, in the grand scheme of things, but what damage could this angry, evil creature do if he had control of a Time Lord's body and a time machine?
The Doctor wouldn’t want her to let him go. No matter what, he wouldn’t want that. She was certain of it.
“You don’t believe me,” he said, looking disappointed, as if she’d hurt his feelings. "You don't believe I can hurt him."
“I have no reason to believe you,” she lied. There was no need for him to know that the TARDIS was trying to communicate with her. The less he knew, the better.
He smiled a rather nasty smile.
“Maybe if you heard it from the Doctor himself…”
She swallowed, hardly daring to hope he was serious. If he put the Doctor back in control of his body, even for a moment–
Well, the Doctor was a fighter. All he needed was a chance.
“Fine,” she said, trying not to sound too hopeful. “Let me talk to him, then.”
He laughed softly, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. “Don’t imagine he’ll be able to find a way out,” he warned her. “He’s already crushed. He has no willpower left.”
You don’t know the Doctor, she thought, except he probably did, considering that he was in the Doctor’s brain. But she hoped like hell he was wrong.
“Let me talk to him,” she repeated.
“Very well.” He looked away from her, and his eyes went unfocused.
And then he began to sob.
Horror slashed through her at the sound. She’d never heard the Doctor make a noise like that. She'd never imagined that he could make a noise like that. It sounded like the whimpering of a lost, frightened, and mortally wounded animal. She’d only heard a sound like that once in her life, from a dog hit by a car and crying its life out in a ditch.
The sobs rose in pitch and volume, to a wail of unbearable agony, and the tears she’d been fighting burned her eyes.
“Doctor,” she whispered, reaching out to stroke his forehead. She felt the tears run down her cheeks, and didn’t bother to brush them away.
At her touch, the wail cut off. His face twisted in pain, and his breath came in ragged bursts, as if he were forcing himself to speak despite the agony. “Don’t–“ he gasped. “Don’t–don’t–you can’t–”
“I won’t let him go,” she promised, resting her hand on his cheek. “I won’t. I swear.”
“Hurts.” He spoke through his teeth, as if the words were being dragged out of him against his will. “Hurts, Donna, hurts so much, so much, I can’t make it stop, oh please make it stop–”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, hating her inability to protect him, and despising the Stranger more with every passing moment.
“I can’t stand it, I can’t, I just can’t–“
The words faded into a long keening sound that made more tears run down her cheeks, barely noticed. “Shhh,” she soothed, stroking his cheekbone. “Shhh, Doctor.”
“Help me, Donna,” he whispered, and then the terrible rasping of his breath faded, and there was someone different looking through the dark eyes at her. She yanked her hand away in a sudden surge of angry disgust.
“So,” the Stranger said, smiling a little. The smile made her stomach twist. He was hurting another man, hurting him so horribly, and he was smiling about it. She couldn’t imagine anything more evil. “Will you let me go?”
“I can’t.” She meant it to sound firm, but it came out as a shaky whisper. He smiled more broadly, as if the battle was already won.
“I can keep him in pain like that forever,” he said. “Neverending, terrible pain. The little savages on my planet died after a few hours of that, but he’s already disembodied. He can’t get away from me unless I unravel him entirely, and I don’t have to do that. I don’t ever have to let him go. Think of that, Donna. Years and years of pain, unremitting, unending...”
She’d never been much of a churchgoer, but it sounded like Hell to her. An awful image crossed her mind-- the Doctor, screaming in pain, burning in Hellfire for all eternity–
She remembered the Doctor's voice, begging her to help him, begging her to make the pain stop. Her throat closed up, and she barely held back a sob.
“You don’t want him to suffer like that,” he said. “You can’t let him suffer like that. I know you, Donna, just like he knows you. And I know you won’t let him be hurt so terribly.”
He offered her a dreadful parody of the Doctor’s bright, cheerful smile.
“Now let me go.”
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Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Author's Notes: Busy day, so a short chapter. Still lots of angst. Warnings for torture, despair, and a Doctor who continues to be extremely unhappy. Also, my estimate of two chapters grows less accurate all the time.
Sparks flared in his mind, burning brightly. The pain was excruciating, like fire searing the flesh away from his bones. He struggled to focus on a single thought, the standard method for repelling telepathic invasion he’d been taught long ago on Gallifrey. But he couldn’t seem to focus. Every time he succeeded in focussing on something, even for a microsecond, the thought twisted and turned in a terrible way, and began to burn him somehow. Even his most precious memories turned to flame, scorching him until he shrieked with the pain.
He wanted to run, but he’d long since given up trying to run. Nowhere to run to. The phrase echoed in his mind, and he had the vague impression that someone else, somewhere else, was in danger too, but he couldn’t remember who. He couldn’t remember anything. His thoughts were all turning to liquid, like molten gold, glowing brightly, blistering anything they touched.
He was drowning in his own thoughts, being burned alive, and there was nowhere to go, no way to escape the pain. All he could do was scream for mercy. He couldn’t even remember any words he could plead with, so he just screamed, in long, wordless howls of anguish.
And somewhere in the molten lake of thought, Something laughed.
“Let me go,” the Stranger said again.
His lanky form was still sprawled on the carpet, tied at ankles and wrists. So helpless, and yet so dangerous. He looked just like the Doctor, Donna thought, unless you looked into his eyes and saw the madness and the fierce hatred swirling there.
She swallowed, remembering her promise to the Doctor: I won’t let him go. I won’t. I swear. But she also remembered the words that had been dragged out of him, apparently against his will: Hurts so much… oh please make it stop… help me, Donna…
She knew that those words would never have left his mouth unless he was in the most excruciating agony imaginable. The Doctor could cope with a lot of pain. For him to plead for help that way… well, what he was going through must be dreadful beyond comprehension.
She couldn’t let him suffer that way. No matter what she’d promised, she just couldn’t.
She knew that by letting the Stranger go, she would very probably be letting herself in for something equally dreadful, but remembering the way the Doctor had sobbed, she couldn't bring herself to care that much about her own fate.
Even if it meant the end of the universe, she couldn’t abandon the Doctor to such horrible pain.
She felt something hum in agreement in her mind, and knew that the TARDIS approved of her decision. That reassured her slightly. Maybe, just maybe, if the TARDIS would help her…
“Fine, I'll let you go,” she said through her teeth, glaring at the Stranger. She began to rise to her feet. “But I can’t untie the knots, so let me go get–"
His voice was very cold and very deadly. She sat.
“You’re not leaving this room,” he said, his voice more menacing than the Doctor’s had ever been.
“I only wanted to get some scissors from the galley to–"
“No,” he said, very softly. “You’re coming up with some clever plan right now, aren’t you? Probably thinking of going to the med bay to get a sedative to knock me out again, at a guess.”
That was exactly the clever plan she’d had in mind, but she tried not to let her surprise show on her face. He was in the Doctor’s brain, after all. Of course he knew her as well as the Doctor did.
“No, Donna Noble,” he went on. “I don’t care to be sedated. In fact, I don’t believe I can trust you out of my sight, not even for an instant. So let me make one thing perfectly clear. If you leave this study, even for a second, before you’ve managed to untie me, I will hurt your Time Lord so terribly that everything I've done to him till now will seem like nothing. Believe me, I can.”
She believed him. She swallowed, and nodded. Her eyes flickered around the study, looking for something else to hit him with– but no, she didn't dare do that again. She couldn't take the risk of seriously injuring the Doctor's body. Two blows to the head might be more than even his superior physiology could cope with.
“Untie the ropes,” he said.
She crossed her arms. “As soon as you stop hurting the Doctor.”
He chuckled softly, an unpleasant sound that made gooseflesh rise on her arms. “Such charming devotion. Very well, Donna Noble. I’m done with him… for now.”
“Let me talk to him.”
“So many demands. Has it occurred to you that you're not in a position to make demands, Ms. Noble? At any rate, your precious Time Lord is in no condition to talk right now, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.” He flashed a bright, horrible smile and mimicked the Doctor's phrasing. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
She wanted to slap that awful smile off his face, but reminded herself that it was actually the Doctor's face. Anyway, she couldn't afford to anger the Stranger any more than she already had. If she slapped him, the Doctor might suffer for it.
“Why should I take your word for it?” she asked instead.
“Because if you don’t,” he said, with the air of explaining something absurdly simple to a six-year-old, “I’ll just have to start hurting him again.”
She stared down at him, uncertain what to do, then focussed, listening to the humming in the back of her mind. The TARDIS still sounded worried, but not quite as anxious as before.
The Stranger was telling the truth. The Doctor was no longer being tortured.
“If you don’t hurry,” he said, “I may just change my mind.”
She reached over, and began untying him.
The pain slowly ebbed away, and he sobbed in desperate relief and sank down into a dark, shadowy place in his mind, still trying to hide from It, like a small child hiding from the inexplicable fury of an abusive parent. He understood now that there was no way to fight It, no way to defend himself, and no way to hide from Its wrath. But he was so terrified that cowering in the shadows seemed his only option.
He’d been so determined to fight when It first took over his mind. He’d been so proud, so arrogant, so confident of his own Time Lord abilities. But now he realised he’d been foolish to think he could ever defeat It. It was so much more powerful than he was. He was nothing at all by comparison.
Now his only hope was that It would leave him alone.
He curled up, making himself as small as possible, and sobbed quietly in the darkness.
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Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Author's Notes: This chapter isn't quite as angsty, but it's not exactly a barrel of laughs, either. Warnings for attempted sexual assault and some violence.
Outside, there were voices.
He was too afraid to listen. He had the terrible conviction that if he moved, if he did anything at all, It might find him. And then the pain would start again.
Don’t hurt me don’t hurt me please don’t hurt me--
The pain. He couldn’t face it again. He just couldn’t.
If he had to hide in the shadows forever, he would.
If only It would leave him alone.
“So,” the Stranger said. Donna had finished untying the ropes, and he was on his feet, reaching for her. He dug one of his hands into the depths of her hair, yanking hard. “You humans call this orange colour ginger, don’t you?”
She struggled not to flinch, because she thought flinching was what he wanted. His avid, hungry dark eyes were scanning her face, watching for her reaction–fear, anger, pain–and she was damned if she’d give him one. “Yes,” she answered calmly.
It wasn’t easy to keep her voice so steady. Passive and quiet weren't her style, and never had been. Ordinarily if a bloke manhandled her, she’d smack him from here to Sunday and yell, Oi, don’t squeeze the bloody Charmin, mate!
But there was no point in fighting him. He was stronger than she was, and they both knew it. He had the Doctor’s inhuman strength, and there was no way in hell she was going to be able to fight him off.
Even so, she would have tried, except for the most important thing.
He had a hostage.
What mattered-- all that mattered-- was that he didn’t hurt the Doctor any more. As long as he left the Doctor alone, she’d do whatever he wanted. She would submit.
A comforting hum filled her head. The TARDIS, trying to calm her. She breathed deeply, letting it help steady her, letting it help her through this ordeal.
His hands–the Doctor’s gentle hands, made rough and brutal by the Stranger–slid down her arms, and he uttered a soft laugh, a sound of unholy delight at what he was about to do.
She shut her eyes, fighting back her fear and revulsion, and held perfectly still.
“Come, little man. Open your eyes.”
He curled up more tightly, trying to filter out all sensory perception, hoping against hope that It would go away and leave him alone. The Voice filled him with an unreasoning, animalistic terror. He didn’t want to see, or hear, or feel. He didn’t want anything but the quiet darkness.
“Open your eyes,” the Voice repeated, more insistently. “I want you to watch this.”
He was afraid to disobey, so he opened the part of his mind that dealt with visual input, just a bit, and saw his own hands, squeezing a woman’s arms so hard his fingers were going to leave bruises on the soft white skin.
She'd let It go. For whatever reason-- probably to save him-- she'd untied It. And now... now...
“Yes,” It mocked. “Donna. Forgot about her for a bit, did you?”
He’d forgotten everything for a while, and It knew it. He hadn’t been capable of holding onto a thought for more than a microsecond while it was ripping into him. Some sort of parasitic neural energy conversion, said the part of his mind that just wouldn’t shut the hell up, no matter how bad things got. Feeds off your thoughts, your resistance, your fear, your anger. Brilliant, really, in a rather nasty sort of way…
He slammed a door down on the thinking part of his mind, and cringed in the shadows. But a faint whisper escaped him.
Donna. Don’t hurt her.
“After everything I’ve done to you, you dare to tell me what I may do?” The Voice rose in rage, and he quivered in terror and fell silent.
It was far stronger than he was. Much more powerful. He had to remember that. He couldn’t forget it, not for an instant. He didn’t dare anger It again.
“You’re going to want to watch this,” It said, seeming pleased by his frightened reaction. “I’m going to use your companion to explore physical lust. It’s been a long, long time since I fed that particular appetite.”
Oh Donna oh no Donna oh no–
He could feel Its lust, but didn’t share it. Donna was his best friend, a lovely woman, and one of the humans he admired most, and he couldn’t say he’d never felt attraction for her. He definitely had. But he would never hurt her like this. Just the thought sickened him.
At any rate, Its lust was a twisted, gut-wrenching approximation of the emotion, warped by Its dark appetite for causing pain, touched with hatred and violence and rage. Its lust was a horrifying emotion that made the Doctor want to weep for his companion.
But there was nothing he could do to save her. He was as helpless as she was. And even if he hadn’t been, he wasn’t sure he would have dared to risk Its wrath by trying to help her. In fact, he was miserably certain he wouldn't have dared. He was broken, shattered, far too afraid of the pain to move from his hiding place.
I’m sorry, Donna… It’s stronger than I am, so much stronger…
In the midst of his anguish, something familiar and comforting whispered almost-words in the back of his mind. Quiet. Be quiet. Be calm.
But he couldn’t be calm, not about this. In a different sort of agony, he watched his own hands–the hands he couldn’t control–grasp her by the shoulders and shove her roughly to a seated position atop the desk. She didn’t fight back, didn’t do anything except stare blankly ahead, and he wondered what on earth It had done to her. This wasn’t the Donna he knew. The Donna he knew would be fighting, struggling, swearing.
It didn’t seem pleased by her lack of response. “Fight, damn you,” It growled, shaking her. “This isn’t any fun if you don’t fight me.”
It used his body's strength to rip her shirt apart, exposing her bra, and still she didn’t struggle. She just stared straight ahead, expressionless. The Doctor could feel Its lust fading as It failed to get the reaction It had wanted. Angry, It smacked her across the face, hard enough to snap her head to the side, and still she didn’t react.
“What is wrong with you?” It snarled. “I thought you were feisty, but you’re no fun at all.”
No fun at all... this isn’t any fun if you don’t fight me.
The words set off a chain reaction in his mind. Still hiding in the shadows, he remembered his earlier thoughts.
It’s stronger than I am, so much stronger…
Some sort of parasitic neural energy conversion. Feeds off your thoughts, your resistance, your fear, your anger…
A light dawned in the darkness.
Oh. Oh, yes.
Oh, Donna, he thought. You really are brilliant.
And his TARDIS was brilliant as well. He recalled the almost-voice he’d heard, telling him to be calm and quiet, and realized it had been his ship, his lovely, clever ship, trying to help him understand.
His girls were both brilliant.
And if they could be brilliant in the face of such a terrible enemy, then he’d have to be brilliant, too. He couldn’t cower in the dark corners of his mind for the rest of his life, no matter how much he wanted to. He couldn’t curl up and hide like a frightened child. He had to help them.
Fear at what he was about to do rushed through him, almost overwhelming him, but he shoved it away. Uncurling himself, he emerged from the shadows, and somehow dared to utter three words.
Leave her alone.
Something was happening.
Donna watched as the Stranger's eyes went unfocussed, as if he had suddenly forgotten all about her. As if someone else had distracted him. Doctor, she thought, oh, Doctor, if that's you, be careful, be careful--
She remembered his awful sobbing, and her heart clenched in her chest. She didn't want him to have to go through that pain again. She would have given anything to prevent it. Anything at all.
But there was nothing she could do to help, because whatever was going on was happening inside the Doctor's mind.
All she could do was watch and wait.
At the Doctor's defiant words, It instantly turned inward, forgetting about the passive, uninteresting woman on the desk. He could feel Its rage, sweeping toward him in a tidal wave, threatening to drown him in molten agony. “Ready to fight again so soon, little man?”
Fighting It, throwing everything he had against It, had been his first impulse, from the moment It had entered his mind. It had probably been the impulse of every humanoid whose mind It had ever taken apart. It was a basic natural response of any living creature, to battle against an invader, to fight until the battle was lost, until one could fight no more.
But in this case, it was the wrong impulse.
No, he told It. I’m not fighting you. Never again.
He let his mind go blank, pushing away everything he’d learned at the Academy on Gallifrey. Holding tightly to one thought didn’t work with this particular sort of invasion. He realized that now. It wasn’t a telepath so much as it was a parasite, and a thought, any thought, just gave the creature something to work with. As did the anger and the pride and the defiance and the stubbornness. By fighting It, he'd only made It stronger. Even his pain and anguish and fear had fed Its appetites.
It was stronger than he was. There was absolutely no way he could best It by pitting the power of his mind against It. It would win the battle, every time.
The only way to fight It was the way Donna had discovered.
One fought It by not fighting at all.
It struck at him viciously. After everything he’d suffered at Its hands, his instinct was to cringe, to cry out, to run. But with an enormous mental effort, he held himself perfectly still and didn’t react.
And the bolt of fury and rage It hurled at him had no effect whatsoever.
It roared, trying to startle him into flinching, but he held still, keeping his mind blank. A human wouldn’t have been able to empty his mind so thoroughly, but the Time Lord possessed the training and the experience to quiet his thoughts completely. Holding his roiling emotions in check after all he’d been through was harder–so much harder–but he exerted every atom of willpower he had, and managed it.
It tore at him, struggling to find a thought, an emotion, a reaction to feed on and turn into energy, but the Doctor gave It absolutely nothing to work with.
He simply waited–quietly, patiently, passively. Just as Donna had done.
It smashed at him brutally, over and over again, but none of Its blows connected. It couldn't find a way into his mind, because there was nothing for It to work with, no conscious neural energy for It to absorb. It blasted at him, raging, but he could sense It growing rapidly weaker. Burning Itself out more and more, with each bolt of hatred It flung at him.
It had been tethered to the planet on which It had been worshipped as a god, because on that planet It had had plenty of power, supplied by the planet’s abundant geothermal energy. The native minds It had devoured on a regular basis had only been a sort of dessert, a delicacy It indulged in, but not necessary for Its continued existence. But here in the Vortex, where It was cut off from the power It had always depended on, It needed a constant influx of neural energy to survive. Without the Doctor’s thoughts and emotions to feed Its appetites, without any neural energy to fuel Its tremendous anger, It was withering into nothingness.
He almost let himself feel triumph, but managed to suppress it, because ironically, to feel triumph meant that he would lose the battle. He could allow himself to feel nothing at all. He held himself perfectly steady, and the terrible roaring in his head gradually faded to silence.
It was gone.
Experimentally, he tried to move his hands, and discovered that he could. His body was his again.
A violent shudder ran through him as all the emotions he’d held back so hard washed over him in an overwhelming wave. He took a wavering step toward Donna, and collapsed at her feet.
He buried his face in her lap, and cried.
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Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Author's Notes: This is the end... for now. I do think a hurt/comfort sort of sequel will be necessary, though. Probably with sex, because that's the best kind of h/c, I think:-) Thanks to all who've so kindly commented!
Donna smoothed his hair, very gently. He wasn’t wailing in agony, as he had last time; instead he was making the strangled noises of a man trying very hard not to weep, but failing. She wasn’t sure if that meant he was still battling the Stranger, or even if the Stranger might be manipulating her somehow, pretending to be the Doctor just to undercut her defenses, to get a rise out of her. How could she possibly know what was happening here? She had no way of knowing what was really going on inside the Doctor’s mind...
No, wait. Someone did have access to the Doctor’s mind, at least to a certain degree. She listened to the TARDIS’ hum in her own mind, and felt nothing except a gentle affection and concern. The TARDIS was no longer terrified for her Doctor.
And that suggested that the Stranger was gone, or at least… neutralized.
“Doctor,” she whispered again. He had wrapped his arms around her legs and pressed his face into her lap. Gently, she disengaged him and dropped to her knees beside him on the carpet, putting her arms around his shoulders. His arms went around her again, and he buried his face in her shoulder, clinging tightly and still making those suffocated noises.
She whispered the usual words in his ear–shh, don’t worry, it’ll be all right, everything will be fine–and after a few moments, he seemed to get hold of himself. He sniffled, rubbed his eyes against her shoulder, and straightened up with a familiar I’m-perfectly-fine-don’t-worry-about-me-in-the-least expression, marred only by the fact that his eyes were red-rimmed and his cheeks were still damp.
“Donna,” he said, and his voice was a little hoarse, but otherwise steady. “You all right?”
Those were the exact words the Stranger had uttered when trying to convince her that he was the Doctor, and despite the TARDIS' reassurance, alarm bells went off in her mind. She studied his face carefully, trying to ascertain who he really was. “I’m okay,” she answered. “You?”
She’d noticed before that his Londoner accent tended to veer toward a Scottish lilt when he was under stress–a holdover from an earlier incarnation’s accent, he’d once explained solemnly, as if it was perfectly normal that his accent changed along with his body–and this was one of those times. “I’m fine, just fine,” he answered, only it came out foine, which meant he was definitely not fine.
“It’s gone.” He put an odd emphasis on the word it, she thought. She could almost hear the capital letter in his voice, as if It were a proper name. “I managed to get rid of It.”
She frowned with suspicion, narrowing her eyes and observing him carefully, because the Stranger had fooled her before, if only for a moment. He held out an imploring hand and gazed into her eyes. "Donna," he said, his voice low. "It's me. I promise, it's me."
She returned his stare steadily, looking into the dark and fathomless depths of his eyes. The madness and the mindless rage she'd seen so clearly in the Stranger's eyes were gone, and he looked gentle, concerned, and perfectly sane, if somewhat distraught. He also seemed more or less oblivious to all the flesh exposed by her ripped t-shirt, whereas the Stranger had stared with a horrible sort of lust on his face. Even so, she couldn't be absolutely certain...
"How did you get rid of him, then?"
“Welllll,” he said, “you showed me what needed doing, actually. You showed me the answer. The way you didn’t fight back–you just ignored everything It did to you-- that was the key. Brilliant, really.”
She rolled her eyes, because brilliant was the one thing she hadn’t been. She’d been way out of her depth, and she knew it.
But so apparently had been the Doctor.
“I didn’t have a lot of choice,” she said, shrugging. “If I’d fought back, he would have hurt you.”
“If you hadn’t let It go,” he countered, his eyes narrowing a bit, “It couldn’t have hurt you.”
She bristled. “Oh, right, like I was just supposed to let him go on hurting you like that?”
“Better me than you,” he retorted. “You could have been killed, Donna. I’m not worth it.”
Oh, you are so wrong, she thought, but didn’t say so, because her feelings for the Doctor were far more tangled than she wanted them to be, and admitting that she’d gladly die for him seemed a little more than the average mate would do, maybe. Her emotions were already confused enough where he was concerned, without her blurting out silly things that might muddy the waters even further.
Regardless, his words had gone a long way toward convincing her that he really was the Doctor. She didn’t think the Stranger could have faked that kind of concern for her.
“He was looking for new experiences, it seemed like,” she said, shifting the conversation back to its earlier path. “But they had to be big and exciting, or they didn’t interest him. And he obviously liked getting a reaction out of people. The way he–“ She almost said tortured, but bit the word back. “Hurt you. It was obvious he liked seeing people in pain. I reckoned he wanted me to fight him, to cry and scream and struggle. So I didn’t.”
“And that was brilliant.” He tried for his normal cheeky grin, but only managed a rather ghastly half-smile. “You were exactly right, Donna. It needed resistance to fuel it. It needed thoughts and emotions to keep going. My thoughts and emotions, specifically. Once I stopped fighting It… It just faded away.”
Her heart lifted. “Are you saying he’s gone for good? That he's... dead?”
“Didn’t have enough neural energy to keep It going,” he said, in a determinedly cheerful voice. “Starved It right to death.”
She was sure there must have been much more to it than that, but she didn’t press for details. He'd tell her when he was ready to talk about it-- if he was ever ready. "And you're all right? Really?"
After everything he'd been through, she was sure he couldn't really have recovered so quickly. But being the Doctor, she was also sure he'd never admit to weakness.
"I'm foine," he said, and corrected himself quickly. "Fine."
She smiled at him, suspecting her smile didn’t look any more sincere than his did. She didn't feel much like smiling right now, honestly. The memory of him screaming in pain, the memory of the Stranger striking her, the Stranger's hands on her, pushing her down-- it was all still too distressingly vivid in her mind.
“Any idea what he–it–was?”
He nodded. “It was a Vashadorian,” he answered. “A species with a long, grand history. They ruled half the galaxy, once upon a time. An empire based on good law and a commitment to human rights. A model for every race that came after. But there was a galactic war, and they ripped themselves to pieces. It was…” He broke off and looked unhappy, then went on, more slowly. “The very last of its kind. The last survivor of a gentle and decent people.”
“It wasn’t gentle or decent,” she retorted, somewhat indignantly. “It was psychotic.”
He sighed. “I don’t think It was, originally. Probably a perfectly ordinary bloke, once upon a time. But It lost everything–and It lived apart from Its own kind for so long– exiled and lonely and... well, I think It just went mad, in the end.” He lowered his eyes and looked down at the carpet. “I suppose I can understand that.”
Despite her lack of telepathic ability, she could almost hear him drawing uncomfortable parallels in his head, and she frowned, because that-- that thing had been absolutely nothing like the Doctor. Admittedly she’d known him to go too far, to temporarily misplace his own basic decency beneath rage and hurt and loneliness, but she knew, she knew, he could never draw pleasure from hurting anyone. He was as capable as anyone else of making mistakes, but psychotic he would never be.
“Well, thank God it’s gone now,” she said, as cheerily as she could manage. “All’s well that ends well, as Gramps always says.”
He looked at her, and there was no humour in his eyes, no answering smile, only a profound misery. Whether it was for himself or for her, she couldn’t tell. “Donna,” he said, very softly, and reached out for her, placing his hands on her arms. Her bruised arms.
The last time his hands had touched her that way, they’d been about to–
She couldn’t help herself. She flinched.
He yanked his hands away as if she’d screamed at the top of her lungs, and the miserable expression in his eyes deepened.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry.”
He leapt to his feet, and carefully did not offer her a hand to help her rise. She watched as he spun about, his shoulders slumped and his head low, and strode rapidly from the room.
She’d looked at him as if he were a monster, and he couldn’t blame her.
He sat on the floor of the darkened TARDIS control room, slouched with his back against the center console. The room was silent but for the quiet whirring of the time rotor. Donna had gone to bed an hour ago, and he should be tinkering with the engines, or working in the lab, or even just making himself a cuppa in the galley. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to do anything but sit here in the dim nighttime lighting, going over the day’s events in his mind.
The memory of pain, sharp-edged and horrible, rose up to assault him, but he pushed it away. He wasn’t ready to think about that just yet. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to bear thinking about it, really. He’d been tortured many times in his long life, but what It had done to him was far beyond anything he’d ever experienced. He just wanted to forget the pain he’d suffered, to file it away in the dark, hidden corners of his mind and hope the memory never surfaced again.
Instead, he thought about the only slightly more bearable memory of Donna flinching. The way she’d looked at him, just for an instant. The brief flash of horror in her expression. The memory made him cringe, and yet he couldn’t seem to block it out. It played over and over in his head, haunting him.
Donna had come to mean a great deal to him. She wasn’t just his companion. She was his mate, his best friend in all the universe. But now… what if she could never look at him the same way again? What if every time she looked at him, she saw the monster that had worn his face, reaching for her?
What if she eventually decided she just couldn’t stand looking at him, and insisted on going back home to Chiswick?
Quiet, something almost-said in the back of his mind. Be quiet. Be calm.
He looked up at the ceiling, lost in the shadows high above, and snorted irritably. “That’s always your answer, isn’t it?”
He knew the TARDIS was doing her best to comfort him, and he appreciated her concern. Really, he did. Her love and support had helped save him today, and not for the first time. But even though it might be good advice, he couldn’t just calm his mind and let himself trust that everything would be all right. Donna was so very important to him, and he couldn’t bear the idea that their friendship might have been ruined by the day’s events. The thought of losing her tied his insides into knots.
He sighed, pulled his knees up, and buried his face against them, wrapping his arms over his head.
Curling up in the dark again, he mocked himself grimly. Yep, that was a great idea. Best bloody way to deal with everything, wasn’t it?
But despite the unpleasant awareness that he was hiding from his problems like a frightened child, he couldn’t seem to bring himself to get to his feet and slog through his normal nighttime routine. He just didn’t have the wherewithal to keep going, somehow. The memories of what he’d gone through today weighted him down too heavily.
He had no idea how long he sat there, curled up in the dimness, but eventually he heard the faint sound of bare feet against the metal grating of the floor.
His hearts pounded a little harder, but he didn’t dare lift his head to look at her, for fear he’d see revulsion or disgust in her eyes. He huddled there, curled in on himself, and waited.
She sat down next to him, and a hand brushed lightly against his hair.
“You couldn’t sleep either, huh?”
He considered straightening up, lifting his chin, and saying something typically and obnoxiously arrogant, along the lines of Sleep? We Time Lords don’t need sleep the way you lesser life forms do. But he just didn’t have it in him to be arrogant tonight.
“Yeah,” he admitted without lifting his head. “Couldn’t even think about sleeping.”
“Not surprising. You went through an awful lot today.” Her hand kept caressing his hair, for which he was absurdly grateful. Not only was it comforting, but it was an enormous relief to know that she could stand touching him. Maybe she’d quit flinching when he moved toward her, eventually. Maybe she’d stop looking at him with horror in her eyes, sooner or later. Maybe things could go back to normal between them. Maybe.
“You too,” he muttered hoarsely, remembering the sight of his own hands on her arms, hurting her. “Donna… I want you to know that if I could have done anything, anything at all, to stop It–”
“You did,” she pointed out.
“Not fast enough.” He thought of the bruises marring the side of her face where It had struck her viciously, the purple bruising on her arms where It had held her too hard. He’d taken her to the med bay and cleared up her injuries with the subdermal regenerator, of course, but that didn’t erase them from her mind, or his.
His hands had bruised her.
That wasn’t the kind of thing he could ever forget, or forgive himself for.
She must have sensed somehow that he was starting to drown in self-reproach, because she smacked him on the head, very lightly.
“You dunce,” she said, without any real heat. “It wasn’t your fault.”
He knew that was true, intellectually. But emotionally… emotionally, he couldn’t seem to separate himself from the monster that had been in his head. He pressed his face against his knees harder than before, and didn’t answer.
“Doctor,” she said, her voice gentle, as if talking to a child. “You were as much a victim as I was. More, really.”
He hadn’t thought of it in quite that way before, but he had to admit it was true. He’d been invaded, horrifically violated, both physically and mentally. But somehow that realisation didn’t make him feel any better. He was a Time Lord, with a highly advanced mind and a tremendous amount of training and experience. He was supposed to be able to fight off psychic intrusions, to control his own mind.
He wasn’t supposed to be the victim. He was supposed to be the victor.
She kept on stroking his hair. “I just wish I could have done something to help you.”
That compelled him to lift his head. He gazed at her in the dimness. She wore a dark blue nightgown, her long copper hair falling around her shoulders, and she looked so lovely it made his hearts twist in his chest. “You did, Donna. I told you. You gave me the idea I needed to fight It. If it weren’t for you, I might never have got free of It.”
“I mean…” She pulled her hand away, and clenched her fists. “I wish I could have fought it with you, Doctor. I hated just… just standing on the sidelines. You know?”
He did know. Donna hurled herself into dangerous situations with a vengeance, and had since the day he’d met her. She wasn’t the type to sit quietly and watch while someone else suffered. She had to be in the fight, throwing punches and calling names. To watch him struggle and not to be able to help him must have driven her half mad.
He let the memories in, just a bit, remembered howling in pain, begging her to–Well. He could imagine how he would have reacted, if she’d been in so much pain and he’d just had to stand by and watch her screaming.
And that could so easily have happened. Thank the gods things hadn’t gone quite that far. If he’d had to watch helplessly through his own eyes, unable to save her, while It had–
But It hadn’t. He could be thankful for that, at least.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” he said hoarsely. “So glad.”
“Yeah." She smiled. "Me too, Martian.”
Their eyes met and held. Slowly, he lifted his hands and reached out for her, because he had to know how she’d react.
He put a hand on her arm, very gently.
She didn’t flinch. She only looked at him, smiling a little, and he could see the unspoken apology in her eyes. Relief flooded him, and he wrapped his arms around her, hauling her against his chest. She hugged him back, not seeming at all distressed by the physical contact.
At least one of them was able to separate him from the monster, he thought gratefully.
“You need to sleep,” she said into his ear.
“I don’t sleep much. You know that,” he responded with dignity, and promptly yawned widely, which rather ruined the effect. She snickered.
“Maybe not most of the time. But you’ve had a rough day. Go to sleep, will you?”
He had to admit that right now, sleeping sounded like a highly desirable activity. No wonder he hadn’t been able to work up an interest in following his normal nighttime routine. He was just too tired.
He considered getting to his feet and walking to his bedroom, but the idea of wandering around the TARDIS corridors somehow seemed like far too much of an effort. Weariness was suddenly overtaking him with a vengeance. He could feel his head growing heavier on Donna’s shoulder, and she moved slightly, settling herself on the floor against the console, and gently shifting him so that he could put his head into her lap. It seemed like the polite thing to do, so he did.
The cold metal grating might not be the most comfortable surface in the ship to sleep on, but he was so exhausted that he didn’t much care. He drew up his long legs in order to stay warm and closed his eyes, enjoying the gentle touch of her hand against his hair, and the soothing hum of the TARDIS in his mind. His girls-- his brilliant, wonderful girls-- were quite obviously conspiring together to see that he got some sleep. And he was in no condition to argue.
As he drifted off to sleep with his head in Donna's lap, it occurred to him that he was curled up in the darkness again.
But this time… he wasn’t alone.
And that, he thought drowsily, made all the difference.
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