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.