The Hidden Well

by Kalleah [Reviews - 208]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure

Author's Notes:
The Doctor reaches out to Jonah.

Emelia recovered first, having had more time to absorb the news about Jonah. "Do you want to leave it here?" she asked with a glance over at the faintly humming device on the next table. The Doctor looked more than a little perplexed at the question.

Rose interceded. "We need to go and see Jonah," she told him quietly.

"Ah. No, I'll take it with us." He stood and crossed to the other table, where he began tucking several loose components into various pockets and making some adjustments to the device. Connor, with his arm still around his wife, watched the Doctor but made no move to join him and still did not speak. The three of them stood in unison when he hoisted the device under one arm and walked toward the door.

Rose caught up with him just outside, leaving Connor and Emelia to follow behind them. She glanced back, and saw that they were walking side by side, hands lightly clasped and heads bent together, in stark contrast to the way they had arrived. She swallowed against the lump in her throat and took the Doctor's free hand.

"Do you think you can help them?" she asked in a low tone. She meant with Jonah, not with identifying the saboteurs.

His response was pitched equally low. "I don't know." His doubt told her that he meant the same.

They arrived at the nursery and quickly agreed that Emelia should be the one to go inside and fetch Jonah. Rose was certain her return to the nursery would cause a bit of an uproar with the children after her rather dramatic departure of the day before, and while she did want to see them again, she didn't feel that this was the best time to do so.

At last, Connor spoke. "How long have you known?"

"For certain?" asked the Doctor. "Yesterday, when Rose fainted."

"There are too many secrets here," said Connor dully. Rose put a sympathetic hand on his arm and he looked up at her. She remembered her first impression of him — one of posturing and nervousness, possibly guilt — and knew how very wrong first impressions could be.

"We'll do everything we can," she assured him.

Emelia opened the door and led Jonah out into the bright day. The silent little boy let his mother clutch his hand and draw him along, but as usual took no notice of her or the three other people so acutely focused on him. Connor took the other hand and they set off for the Trabanes' flat.

Jonah sat in the floor in the Trabanes' front room with his blocks while the Doctor set up the device on the coffee table. It took him just a moment, and then he sank down onto the floor next to the little boy and produced a small medical scanner from one pocket.

"Genetic analysis," he said by way of explanation, waving the tool in Emelia's direction. "Completely harmless." He waved the scanner up and down and studied the small display. His face remained impassive for a few seconds and then his eyes widened in surprise.

"What?" demanded the other three in unison from their position on the couch.

"He's part Ilhanti," said the Doctor with astonishment, and looked up at them. "Did you know that?"

"Part what?" asked Connor.

"Ilhanti," repeated the Doctor. "An Ilhanti and a human. No wonder —" He shook his head in amazement. "How could that be?"

"Doctor, we have no idea what you're talking about," Rose prompted. "Mind filling us in? Maybe not here?" She cut her eyes toward Jonah and gestured with her chin in his direction.

"Right," he agreed readily. He stood up, cocking his head toward the kitchen. The three of them followed and they huddled in the kitchen, near enough for Emelia to keep a watchful eye on Jonah but far enough away from him not to be overheard.

"The Ilhanti," began the Doctor, "are a very reclusive species. Highly empathic, highly telepathic, and highly xenophobic to boot. To say that they distrust outsiders is like saying that — well, it's like saying that the universe is a very big place. It's technically accurate, but a mild understatement." He sighed. "An Ilhanti who consorted with a human would be beyond an outcast, beyond reprehensible. Excommunicated, literally, cut off from their own kind. I can't imagine how one would come to procreate with a human."

"We knew his parents," Emelia put in. "They were both from Orinous Four, same as Brandon."

"Not one of his parents," he said, waving a hand in the air. "Great-grandparent. I can't say from this whether it was his mother's side or his father's side, though. Not that it matters." He was desperately curious about it, Rose knew. For a moment, at least for him, the problem of Jonah's mind was momentarily secondary to the question of how Jonah had come to be in the first place.

"But," Emelia continued, "his parents were perfectly normal. Not — telepathic or anything like that." She paused, and considered that for a moment. "At least, I don't think so."

Connor shrugged in agreement. "As far as I knew, they weren't."

"I'm not saying they were," said the Doctor. "I'm saying one of them was a descendant of someone who was."

"Why doesn't he speak?" asked Connor. "Can he? These — Ilhanti. Do they?"

The Doctor nodded. "Oh yes. They have a spoken language, and a shared mental one as well. As I said, highly empathic and highly telepathic. It's a very regimented society. For example, it's considered quite poor manners to project one's emotions or thoughts to someone else without first knowing that the other person is receptive to those emotions or thoughts." He glanced at Rose. "I can see why, now."

Emelia cut in. "I'm not interested in manners, Doctor. I'm interested in Jonah. Can we communicate with him? I want him to know —" she hesitated, then launched in again — "how we feel. That he is loved."

"He knows," said Rose, thinking of the delighted freedom she had felt from him before it had all become too much, of the portrait he had drawn.

The Doctor smiled at her, warmth shining in his eyes. Her heart lurched at his expression. "He does," he agreed softly. "But I can tell him, if that's all right with you." He looked first at Emelia, then at Connor, both of whom nodded quickly.

They returned to the front room, where Rose, Emelia, and Connor took up places on the couch. The Doctor sat on the floor so that he was sitting cross-legged directly across from Jonah, who throughout was still patiently arranging blocks of contrasting color together. "Jonah," he said quietly. He settled his hands at Jonah's temples with the lightest of touches. His eyes closed.

Jonah's hands released the blocks and drifted back to his own lap. The two of them sat unmoving for the space of several heartbeats, during which Rose, Emelia, and Connor sat utterly still, without breathing, without moving, without speaking.

Suddenly, Jonah's eyes flew wide open and his gasp of surprise, the first sound Rose had ever heard him make, shattered the silence of the room.

"That's me, Jonah," said the Doctor in a gentle, low tone, without opening his eyes or otherwise reacting. "You're all right. There."

Jonah's eyes were huge and fixed on the Doctor's face opposite him. His pupils constricted to tiny dots, then dilated again, and back, as if he were reacting to changes in light. His breath was ragged and uneven, and his small form shook slightly.

"Doctor?" said Emelia, and her voice was pleading rather than sharp.

"It's all right," said the Doctor in the same soothing tone he had used to speak to Jonah a moment before. "It's just a surprise for him. He's fine." He opened his eyes and met Jonah's stare. "Hello, Jonah," he said, with a serene smile. "It's very nice to meet you."

Rose felt the hairs on her arms prickle and stand up, and a tentative touch at the back of her mind. She shifted on the couch, disconcerted by the contact, however brief and gentle. This could not be dangerous for her, she reassured herself, or the Doctor never would have allowed it.

"Quietly, Jonah," said the Doctor kindly. "I can hear you just fine." The faint sensation dissipated. "That's better."

Emelia leaned forward eagerly. "What's happening?"

"He's showing me what he wants to build with the blocks," said the Doctor, whose eyes were still fixed on Jonah's. He wore an affectionate smile. "It's quite impressive, actually. He'd like a few dozen more of the red blocks, by the way."

Connor laughed. "He can have a hundred more if he wants them. Tell him."

"Yes," said the Doctor. Jonah's breathing had evened out and he looked intensely focused on the Doctor's face, but not at all upset.

"I've never seen him keep eye contact this long," said Emelia wonderingly. "It's amazing."

The nonverbal communication between the boy and the man continued for several moments while the others waited. Connor sat back on the couch with a silly smile on his face while Emelia fairly vibrated with nervous tension, but she didn't interrupt.

At last, the Doctor nodded and let his fingers drop from Jonah's temples. The boy's gaze drifted away, and Rose felt the simultaneous release of breath from his parents on either side of her. Jonah went back to arranging his blocks as if nothing unusual had happened and the Doctor, looking more than a little tired, let his head loll back and stared at the ceiling.

"What did he say?" demanded Emelia, a trace of her earlier dominance returning.

The Doctor took a breath and let it out. Rose got off the couch and came to sit on the floor behind him. He leaned back into her as she wound her arms around him.

"He didn't say, well, not really. It's not like that," he said finally. "His mind is overwhelmed. He's so sensitive to the emotions and thoughts of other people that it's a constant barrage. As a result, he's almost completely shut down. I've put up some barriers that should help, at least for a while. In addition to that, he's never learned how to communicate, how to control his own abilities, so linking with his mind is difficult, to say the least."

"What can we do?" asked Connor. The worry was evident in his voice.

"Honestly? I don't know," said the Doctor. "I'll need to keep working with him for a bit. I may be able to teach him to shield himself to some degree, and that will help."

"Will he ever talk?" Emelia asked the question hesitantly.

"If he can learn to block out the noise, I don't see why not," he said with a shrug. "Right now, it's a matter of too much sensory input. He feels everything."

Rose's eyes met Emelia's and she knew the other woman's worst fear was confirmed. Is it like that for him all the time? she had asked. The Doctor had just answered that question. She shivered. He turned his head slightly so he could look questioningly at her. "I'm fine," she said, and hugged him again. "I felt something before you told him to quiet down, just a bit, that's all."

He nodded and a brief smile flitted across his lips. "He responded with considerable enthusiasm."

She smiled back, studying the lines around his eyes. "You need some rest."

He didn't contradict her. "Connor, can you check on the analysis? Where are we now?"

Rose had almost forgotten about the device on the coffee table, which had stopped its low humming. Connor stood up and squinted at the display. "It's finished," he said.

"Start the pattern recognition program," instructed the Doctor. Connor made a few adjustments and pressed three or four buttons, and then the humming changed its pitch and began anew.

"Should be ready in a couple of hours," Connor said.

The Doctor's eyes drifted closed. She could feel how much the encounter with the little boy had drained him by how heavily he rested against her. She kissed the side of his head and felt a soft chuckle in return. "I'm fine, Rose, just a little tired."

He never admitted to being tired, even when he was, and that more than his weight against her told her how he truly felt. "You should get some rest, then," she told him firmly. "You've got a lot of work to do today."

He harrumphed but let her push him upright, and then stood without further protest. "Can you buzz us on the comm when it's finished?" he asked Connor. "I think I could do with a bit of a lie-down, after all."

Rose assumed they would go back to their bed in the TARDIS, but the Doctor shed his coat and jacket in the bland bedroom of Section 4, Habitation D. "Can't hear the comm all the way in the TARDIS," he explained, yawning, and pulled off his trainers. "I mean, I could set up something, but frankly —" he yawned again — "it doesn't seem worth all the bother."

Rose folded the covers back for him and he collapsed onto the bed with evident relief. "Thanks," he said, removing his tie and loosening the top button of his shirt. She tucked him in and sat on the side of the bed next to him, stroking his face. He watched her through half-lowered eyes and smiled.

"You did a good thing today," she told him.

"Oh, just the one?" He let his eyes close the rest of the way.

"One exceptionally good thing," she corrected, and kissed his forehead. "I think even Emelia has forgiven you for being such an arse this morning." He huffed in slight protest but didn't open his eyes. "Be right back," she said, and went to fetch her book from the front room.

When she returned, he was already asleep. She took a moment to study his face, tranquil and slack in unconsciousness. She smiled. "I love you," she told his sleeping form, and climbed into bed beside him to read until he woke.


Connor sat back down on the couch after the Doctor and Rose left, and Emelia put her head on his shoulder. He slipped an arm around her and began to gently stroke her upper arm. They remained like that for several moments, watching Jonah with his blocks.

"That was amazing," said Emelia, with a trace of awe in her voice.

"It was," he agreed. "I've never seen him react like that to anyone, not even Brandon." He rubbed his eye with his free hand. "Have we been going about this all wrong?"

She stiffened and sat up, giving him a remorseful look. "We've done the best we could," she said. "I've always worried — that we just weren't enough."

He pulled her in close against him, feeling her forehead press against his neck. For a moment, he wondered at the catch in her breathing, and then, with a shock, he realized she was crying. Emelia — his fierce, abrasive, beloved Emelia — wept soundlessly into his neck. When he tried to pull away, to push her back and see her face, she resisted and burrowed closer against him.

"It took a stranger to find out what was wrong with him." Her voice was shaking and muffled.

"He's not a stranger now," said Connor. He kissed the top of her head. "He'll help, if you'll let him." He leaned in a bit, her face going blurry and unfocused as he drew closer to her. He brushed the lightest of kisses across her lips and felt her soft sigh against his mouth.

"I'm trying," she murmured, pulling herself back together. She drew in an irregular, sucking breath and sat up. He traced the damp line of her cheekbone with one long finger and she wiped her eyes. "For Jonah."

"For Jonah," he agreed.