It was a fairly quiet night in the Mended Drum.

Hibiscus Dunelm sighed gently and dropped an ear and two fingers into the box marked 'LoST PROperT'; there was very little chance that they'd be reclaimed by their owners, although he could always dispose of them in the weekly raffle.

He brushed his hands and turned to the only figure currently propping up the bar.

"What'll it be, er...sir?" he said, ever so slightly unsure of himself for no immediately identifiable reason.

ANYTHING, said the figure. Hibiscus inserted a finger into his ear and wiggled it thoughtfully, but there was no mistake; the word hadn't entered his head by that route. Still, an order was an order. He filled a mug from a random barrel and plonked it down in front of the customer. It was withdrawn, drained and replaced in the exact same spot.

SAME AGAIN, said the voice.

"So," said Hibiscus brightly as he filled the mug with a second draught of foul beer, "what brings you in here...sir?"

I'M WAITING, said the figure.

"Waiting for what?" he asked. The mug was taken, drained and replaced.

EVERYTHING, said the figure. SAME AGAIN.

Hibiscus was refilling the mug from yet another random barrel when the door clattered back and a couple walked in. He eyed them warily; the man was a lanky streak in an oddly cut blue suit, and the woman a well-rounded redhead in roughly half the amount of dress required for decency's sake. Setting the brimming mug back down on the bar, he edged his way out and sidled closer, listening to their conversation on the pretext of collecting empties.

He heard little that made any sense to him; this was in and of itself not an unusual occurrence in the Drum, but the gibberish tended to have a certain aggressive/amicable/morose tendency. What he was hearing was just gibberish, plain and simple. Words like 'TARDIS', 'transdimensional' and 'timeline' flowed right over his head.

Nevertheless, Hibiscus hadn't survived fourteen years of victualling in a city like Ankh-Morpork without developing some keenly honed senses, all of which were telling him that these two were brewing up a large quantity of trouble. He returned to the back bar and - with a surprisingly nonchalant turn of speed - began taking down the more expensive bottles.

"So," said Donna, carefully, "you're telling me this world isn't real?"

"Of course it's real," said the Doctor, and prodded the table-top by way of illustration. "Look - solid as a rock. It's real, but it's fictional. Understand?"

"No," said Donna, who had been brought up to tell the unvarnished truth, "but I'll play along for a while. So what's this place?"

The Doctor grinned hugely and flung out a dramatic arm.

"This is the legendary Mended Drum, the finest pub in Ankh-Morpork," he declared, happily. "Well, when I say 'finest', I mean 'most typical', which I admit may not mean what you think it means. Um."

Donna's lip curled as she inhaled.

"Mings a bit in 'ere," she said. The Doctor looked profoundly shocked.

"Mings?" he repeated, outraged. "That's ambience!"

Donna nodded thoughtfully, and glanced around the room one more time, taking in the scarred plaster, battered furniture, sticky tables, crusted chandelier and damp, boggy floor.

"Sorry," she said, at last. "I didn't know that ambience smells like wee."

The Doctor smirked.

"You're a hard woman, Donna Noble," he said.

"Oh, but I'm worth it," she told him, batting her eyelashes.

"I'll get us a drink," said the Doctor, and leapt up from the table. There was a very faint squelching noise, and while his smile stayed right where it was, the rest of his face crept away from it. "Er," he went on, without moving a single muscle, "what have I stepped in?"

Donna bent and looked under the table. She coughed discreetly, and straightened up again.

"Some ambience," she told him.

Donna propped her elbows on the table as the Doctor headed for the bar, dragging one foot through the straw in a vain attempt to clean his shoe.

Her reverie was interrupted as a rat clambered onto the table. Acting on pure reflex, she grabbed a bottle from the next table and swung it double-handed, belting the creature off the table and into the thick straw on the floor. She was just about to climb onto her chair in disgust when she heard a small voice drifting up from beneath the table.

"Ach," it said, blearily, "I like a girl wi' spirit."

Curiosity overtook the shock and revulsion, and she stood up and peered over the far edge of the table. There was a grubby little man in rat-skin trousers lying prone in a heap of filth, a large, happy grin plastered over his face. Donna goggled and said nothing.

"Ye've a mean right arm on ye, lassie," he said, struggling into a sitting position. "Can I buy yer a wee dram?"

Aside from the fact that he was six inches high - and it had to be said that as asides went, that one was a biggie - Donna was suddenly overcome with a very familiar feeling. A routine response came to her aid.

"Actually, I'm sort of with someone," she said, weakly, sitting back down. The little man scrambled up the table leg and faced her down, one eyebrow curled.

"Sorta?" he said, inquiringly. "Ye've a swain?"

His accent was so thick that she struggled for a second to decipher what he'd said; that done, she laughed nervously and shook her head.

"Well, no, we're not a couple," she admitted. The little man beamed.

"Then ye'll drink wi' me," he said, happily, and extended a tiny hand. "Me name's Wee Mad Arthur, but ye can call me 'Arthur'," he told her, magnanimously. Donna reached out gingerly; he grasped her hand and kissed one fingernail decorously. His grip was surprisingly strong.

"My name's Donna," she said, cringing inside, and hoping that he'd remember to let go of her finger at some point. She tugged gently, trying to make the point.

"'tis a verrrra pretty name," said Arthur, still hanging onto her hand. She tugged a little more firmly, but this only resulted in her lifting him off the table, where he dangled blithely in front of her horrified gaze.

A hand entered her peripheral vision and set two mugs down on the table with a loud bang. Donna couldn't seem to move her head; she was transfixed by the hanging, lovestruck gnome.

"Oh, no," said the Doctor, with a heartsick groan. "Not you. Anyone but you..."