Author's Note: This fic was written for TARDIS BigBang 2009 - their website has a lot of stories and art, including a few pieces for this fic. Beta thanks to Cytherea999 and Velara.


1.

Too cold, too bright, gleaming like diamonds, like sunlight on new snow, so white I can barely see, so freezing I can barely breathe, I can hardly even think, my mouth is moving to repeat words I don't want to say, no matter how hard I struggle against it, and it's only getting worse -

I only see the others as shadows against the bright light, but can feel them grabbing me, carrying me towards the door, towards the outside, the night and the sun, even brighter and colder, where I'll burn, without hope of regeneration, and the only part of me that will survive won't be me at all - these humans, these unimaginably cruel humans will murder me just because I'm different and they're afraid, and I can't fight them, can't reason with them without my voice -

My voice is my greatest weapon, with it, I've saved worlds, I've won wars before they've even begun, I've survived impossible situations time after time, but now that creature has it and I can't say a word, and they're going to cast me out, and I can't do anything, and I'm going to -

Suddenly, I'm screaming on top of my lungs, which has to mean it's screaming, too, yes, I can hear it, and I can feel its pain and anger and despair -

"One, two, three, four, five, six."

Our cry is cut short, and I land on the floor.

The source of the cold brightness is moving away from me, from the truck, the creature returning to its sapphire cave to lick its wounds, but I can tell that even though it has lost, it feels victorious.

**********

A fierce wind tore at everyone in the vehicle, and a blinding light poured in through the open door. Mrs Silvestry and the Doctor were screaming in unison, but the hostess held her ground, counting the seconds aloud. The force field disappeared, the two women were sucked outside, and snap, the door slid shut.

It was over.

Dee Dee looked around. Mrs Cane stood near her, looking like she was about to burst into tears. Her husband and son were at the back of the room, Jethro crouched between seats, so that only the top of his black hair was visible, Mr Cane on his knees in front of the door. Next to him, Professor Hobbes was hanging his head, looking ashamed above all else. Well, he should, too, Dee Dee thought. She had known him to be narrow-minded and self-important, but never would she have expected him to be such a coward.

In front of the two men lay the Doctor, face down on the floor. Not expecting the others to come to their senses anytime soon, Dee Dee ran over to him. "Doctor, are you all right? Doctor?"

When he didn't answer, she took hold of his shoulders and wrestled him around, so that he was resting on his back. His eyes were wide open, and he was staring at some point in the distance, not focusing on her at all. His face was frozen in a look of fear or pain, his brow was furrowed, all muscles taut. She could see the tendons standing out in his thin neck.

"My God, is he dead?" Professor Hobbes muttered behind her.

She looked at the Doctor more closely, and shook her head. "No, he's still breathing." It wasn't normal breathing, though, but restless and shaky, almost panting. Maybe he was just deeply shocked by what had happened, that was all. She could only guess how horrible it must've been to have his voice stolen like that. Maybe he just needed time to recover.

"It's all right, it's gone now," she told him soothingly.

He didn't answer, didn't really seem to have heard her at all.

"What happened to him?" Mrs Cane asked.

Dee Dee looked up, and saw that the others had gathered around her and the Doctor. At least they had the decency not to go on making accusations. No one was repeating anyone anymore. Even the stupidest of them would have to realise that he was innocent.

"I don't know," she answered Mrs Cane. "Everyone else all right?"

The others nodded and mumbled affirmatives, subdued.

They sat in silence for several minutes, but the Doctor still didn't speak or move.

Finally, it was Jethro who spoke aloud Dee Dee's worst fear. "What if that thing took his voice with it? What if whatever it did was permanent?"

She sat back, crossed her arms and shook her head. "I hope not. If it was, I doubt there's anything anyone can do."

More time passed, and nothing happened. No one spoke - there was nothing to say. They all knew the rescue truck was on its way. They also knew they hadn't exactly been heroic, and that they were safe only because the hostess had sacrificed herself. They, the survivors, were probably the worst of the lot, the ones who least deserved to be here, and there was nothing anyone could say to change that.

Dee Dee wondered what would happen if and when they got rescued, once they got out of here and back to the Leisure Palace. Would they be able to go on with their lives, just like that, as if none of this had happened? Had any of them changed, would Mr and Mrs Cane be more understanding towards their son, would Professor Hobbes be a little more considerate towards her - and now that she thought about him, would she even want to continue working for him?

She had another month of holidays left, but she couldn't imagine staying on this planet that long. She wanted to go back home, to visit her mother in her cottage under the friendly pale sun and violet sky of Ceren III. Then, she would return to her studies, her very much theoretical and academic studies, as a perfectly unremarkable third-year student of planetary archaeology, just reading books and writing papers, without as much as dreaming about fieldwork.

She looked around. Everyone else was staring at the walls, just as lost in their thoughts as she was. She noticed everyone kept stealing glances at the Doctor, whether out of genuine worry or morbid curiosity, she couldn't tell. Whenever her eyes accidentally met someone else's, they quickly averted their gaze.

Finally, after what must've been the longest twenty minutes of Dee Dee Blasco's life, a voice addressed them through the loudspeakers. "Crusader 50, rescue vehicle coming alongside in three minutes, door seals set to automatic. Prepare for boarding, repeat, prepare for boarding."

The rescue crew entered the Crusader dressed in spacesuit-like protective clothing. After quickly checking that there were no environmental hazards about, they opened their helmets and began ushering the survivors to the rescue vehicle.

"What's going to happen to this bus?" Jethro asked one of them.

"A recovery team will come to tow it back to base later on. Our priority is to get you to safety as fast as possible. So, if you would please be so kind as to move on, sir."

The others trudged towards the door, like four sleepwalkers. Dee Dee lingered by the Doctor's side.

"He's... injured," she told the rescuers.

"What kind of injuries? Can he be moved?"

Could he? He wasn't actually hurt, as far as she knew, but what did she know, really? She was no doctor. "I'm not sure," she said.

One of the rescuers ran a scanner over the Doctor and whistled. "Well, well! He's not human. Never would've guessed, he really looks like one. No physical trauma, as far as I can tell. Let's go."

The rescuers lifted the Doctor by his arms and legs, and carried him over to their vehicle. Dee Dee followed them. She was the last to step out of the truck.

Where the Crusader vehicles looked a lot like small surface-to-orbit shuttles inside, the rescue truck reminded Dee Dee of a military craft. It was much more crammed, and had no windows at all, not even shielded ones. There were long benches lined up against the dark grey walls, and a pair of bunks at one end of the room. That was where they placed the Doctor. She sat down at the end of the bench nearest to him.

Someone cleared their throat loudly, and Dee Dee turned to look. A blond man, dressed in white coveralls, like all the rescuers, was standing in front of the door to the cockpit, trying to catch their attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, and those who don't wish to be categorised, I'm Jeff, the second in command of this rescue team. Welcome aboard the RV Mercy II. The emergency exit is at the back, right next to the lavatory. I'm afraid we don't have any entertainment here, and the ride is going to be less smooth than what the Crusaders offer, but at least we're fast. The return trip will take us just under two hours. Until we get to the Palace, if there's anything we can do for you, just ask."

The doors were sealed, and the truck began to move. Like Jeff had said, it definitely felt different from the Crusaders, much bumpier and noisier. Since it meant they were moving faster, Dee Dee didn't mind it at all.

Soon after they had taken off, the woman Dee Dee had labelled as a paramedic approached her. "Sorry to bother you, Miss, but are you with him?" she asked, nodding towards the now curtained bed where the Doctor lay.

"Oh, no, nothing of the sort. I only just met him." She wasn't entirely surprised by the question, though. She had to admit she was acting rather protectively about him. Guilt, mostly, she told herself. Of course, he had also been nice to her, and he was clever, and funny - not to mention much older than she was. Nothing new there. She always did fall for the impossible ones.

"Too bad," the medic said. "I was hoping you could tell me what he is. I don't recognise his species, and that complicates things. I mean, for all I know, this could be a perfectly normal reaction for him."

Dee Dee frowned. She hadn't even thought about that. Of course, he hadn't explicitly told them that he wasn't a human, even though he had sort-of given that impression.

"Do you know if he's travelling alone? Any friends or family we could contact?" the medic asked.

"He did mention someone, a friend called Donna. She's at the Palace, I think."

"Good. We'll contact her, then, once we get there. In the meantime, could you describe what exactly caused him to end up in this state?"

Dee Dee sighed. "It's strange and complicated, like the whole story of what happened on the Crusader 50. He was... He was taken over by an alien entity, or something like that. It - it stole his voice." She shook her head once again. "That doesn't make much sense, does it?"

The paramedic gave her a somewhat patronising smile that was enough of an answer.

"Is he going to be all right?" Dee Dee asked.

"I can't tell, really. I've got extensive first aid training, but this isn't anything that's was covered there. Still, at least he's physically all right, " she said, in a bland attempt to cheer Dee Dee up.

After asking for a few more details about him, which Dee Dee couldn't really answer - his name, for example - the paramedic returned to her patient, and Dee Dee was stuck staring at walls again. Opposite her, the Canes looked more like a peaceful, happy family than they ever had during the trip, huddled close to each other. Professor Hobbes sat next to Dee Dee, his eyes closed and the back of his head resting against the wall.

If Dee Dee had found those twenty minutes on the Crusader 50 long, these two hours lasted forever. She tried not to think about the deadly brightness outside, just behind the all too thin wall, right behind her back - the starlight, the emptiness, the Midnight sky.

She swore to herself that she would never, ever come out here again out of her own free will.

********************

2.

Even though my mind's all jumbled, my sense of time is as clear and accurate as ever, and it's not a blessing, it's a curse, since it means I can't help but keep count of every fraction of a second that passes as we wait for the rescue vehicle, and then all through the journey back -

The cold and the brightness are fading as we put more distance between it and ourselves, more empty whiteness, but my voice is left behind, too, slipping further from me, now a part of something else - I can't even feel it anymore, I can't reach it, can't get it back -

We're still moving, farther and farther, and there's still nothing I can do -

By the time we reach the Palace, the freezing whiteness has turned into a tepid twilight, and even though I didn't meet my death under the Midnight sun, I'm still trapped with no way out, silenced like never before -

In the name of a thousand gods from a hundred different worlds, I'm afraid.

What's going to happen to me now?

**********

Donna was having the time of her life, basking in the warm white glow of the filtered extonic sunlight, swirling her pearly white drink with the pink straw. Better than a piña colada at some cheap hotel at the Canary Islands, that was for sure!

If only they could go on trips like this more often. She knew the Doctor thrived on excitement and danger, but it was wonderful to be able to relax for a change, after everything they'd been through. She could imagine she might grow tired of this, sooner or later, but definitely not yet, oh no. At the moment, she was enjoying herself thoroughly. Hopefully, the Doctor was having fun on his school trip, and wasn't bored out of his wits yet. It would be really bad for everyone stuck in a closed space with him if he was.

"Ahem. Excuse me, ma'am," the butler's polite voice interrupted her rest and relaxation.

"What is it, now? Can't a lady enjoy her drink in peace around here?"

"There's a call for you. Rest assured, if they hadn't insisted that it's most urgent, I would never have bothered you, ma'am."

"Oh, fine," she said, and sat up straight, reaching for the phone. Urgent? What could it possibly be? The Doctor wasn't supposed to be back in another four hours, and there was no one else in the whole Pleasure Palace who knew her at all. "Yes?"

"Good day, ma'am - is this Donna I'm talking to?" a slightly nervous-sounding tenor answered her.

"Yes, I'm Donna Noble. And you are?"

"Jules Bordon, the resident medical doctor. Listen, this is really important. Are you a friend of the being known as the Doctor?"

"Yes, I am," she answered slowly, a thousand scenarios running through her head already, from the amusing to the annoying to the atrocious. What had he got himself into this time? "What could possibly go wrong?" the Doctor had said. If that wasn't asking for trouble, nothing was.

"I'm afraid there's been an accident - you'd better come over here. The clinic, I mean. It's in the office wing. Easy to find, there's plenty of signs."

"All right," she said, hung up, gave the phone to the butler and cast a wistful look at the soft sunlight reflected from the surface of the pool. So much for enjoying herself. Trust the Doctor to put a stop to that. She headed to her room to change - not into the nice clothes she had put aside for dinner, just casual ones - and then to the lobby, to look for those signs.

The resident medic hadn't been exaggerating: she could easily spot the word "Doctor's Office" in big red letters. A series of such signs took her to a part of the Pleasure Palace she hadn't visited before, a dull area with long corridors and frosted glass doors with things like Director or Head of this and that written on them. Finally, she found the door which read Clinic. It led to a waiting room just like anywhere on Earth, complete with uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs and a collection of most likely age-old magazines. There was only one other door in the room aside from the one through which she'd entered it. She pressed the doorbell.

A man who could be no older than twenty-five opened the door. She instantly labelled him as French, even though they were thousands and thousands of years and light years away from France. She couldn't help it, his curly dark hair, almost black eyes and tanned skin just made her picture him in some tiny café in Paris, wearing a beret, writing poems and discussing philosophy. Exactly the type some women seemed to be head over heels for, while she couldn't have cared less.

"Sorry, I don't have time for consultations right now," he said bluntly. It was the same edgy voice she'd heard on the phone, and there was absolutely nothing French about it. Of course, since the TARDIS was supposed to be translating everything she heard, he could've been speaking French, and she would never even notice it.

"Assuming you're Doctor Bordon, it was you who asked to see me, not the other way around," Donna said. "Donna Noble, friend of the Doctor, remember?"

"Ah, of course, of course, I'm sorry," he said, sizing her up not at all discreetly. "Are you human?"

"Are you really a doctor?"

"He looks human too, but he isn't, so I thought I'd ask. No need to get snippy about it. So, are you?"

"Of course I am, and I wasn't being snippy, you really look far too young to be credible."

"I'm twenty-eight, which is more than old enough. Yes, this is my first time practising on my own, but I'm perfectly qualified. I can show you my diploma, if you want to," he said in a tone that Donna could only call suggestive, giving the impression that even though he seemed nervous at the moment, normally he would be all confidence and charm.

"Actually, no. What I want you to do is tell me why I'm here instead of lying in a beach chair, working on my tan, which is what I'd really like to be doing right now."

The young man's expression went from an assertive smile to a glum frown. "Yes, my apologies for that, but I really need to get some idea about his species and his medical history, since he's not capable of giving any information himself, and you were the only contact he named before the incident -"

"Oi, wait! Start at the beginning. Is he injured, or what? What's wrong with him?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," Bordon said meekly. "Come on, you better see for yourself."

He opened the door wide, and showed her in. The room wasn't that different from a doctor's office on Earth, only slightly bigger and with more computer screens. There was one on the desk, next to some devices about the size of a mobile phone, which Donna took for medical scanners or some such, and several more screens were set in one of the walls, over what looked like a cross between an examination table and a bed. The Doctor was lying on it, in his shirtsleeves, perfectly still, staring at the ceiling, with a horrified look on his face. She might've taken him for dead if it wasn't for the easily noticeable, rapid rise and fall of his chest.

"Doctor?" she said softly. "Doctor, it's me, Donna."

He didn't as much as blink.

She cupped his face, turning it towards her, looking into his eyes, and raised her voice. "Come on, Doctor. It's all right. I'm right here. Look at me."

He just stared ahead blankly.

"I take it you've never seen him like this before, then," Bordon muttered.

Donna rested her hand on the Doctor's shoulder, and could feel him trembling ever so slightly. She shook her head. "Is he even conscious?" she asked in a low voice.

"The scans show plenty of brain activity, but since I don't know what's normal, I can't tell if that's conscious thinking or dreaming or his species' equivalent to a coma." Bordon sighed. "I was hoping for an easy explanation. There are many species that do things like this, after all. Tonic immobility, thanatosis - playing possum, in layman's terms. Feigning death when faced with a threatening situation. What is he, anyway? I've searched all possible databases, and there's no match."

"No wonder. He's a Time Lord, and he's the last of his kind," Donna answered, stepping away from him. "I can't say I'd know much about them, but I'm pretty sure this isn't normal. What's happened to him?"

"I haven't got all the details yet, the survivors are being debriefed as we speak. I should get more information as soon as they're done. From what I've heard so far, an alien entity of some kind attacked the Crusader 50. They say it stole his voice, whatever that means."

"Well, obviously, he's not speaking, is he?"

"No, he's not, but, um, 'having your voice stolen' isn't exactly a proper medical diagnosis. His voice - what's that even supposed to mean? As far as I can see, his vocal chords are unharmed, as is his brain. There's no medical reason why he couldn't speak. I really have no idea what's wrong with him. Every scan I've run says that he's physically unharmed. Without the rather unusual circumstances, I'd readily call this a catatonic state, and consider it a psychological problem."

Donna frowned. "I really don't think it's psychological. Isn't there anything you can do?"

"Normally, the first thing I'd do would be to give him sedatives and see if that changes anything, but since I don't know his species..."

"I'm not sure you should give him anything, but really, I don't know. He hasn't told me that much about himself or his people. Loves to be all mysterious and alien."

Bordon crossed his arms, looking unhappy. "I guess you're not going to be of much help, then."

"Like you're doing any better yourself," Donna said, found herself a chair and sat down next to the Doctor. "Maybe he'll come out of it on his own."

"Yes, well, whatever the case, waiting seems to be about the only thing we can do. What worries me most at the moment is that he's not just unresponsive, his body is stuck in a over-stressed state."

"Oh, he's always hyperactive."

"I'd say this goes beyond hyperactive, frantic would be closer to what I'm seeing, and this is something I'm fairly certain about. After all, his physiology isn't entirely different from ours - I can easily recognise all the major organs. If this doesn't change, he's not going to stay physically fine for long. He's going to get exhausted simply lying there and doing nothing. "

"It might not be a problem. He can survive things humans can't," she said, failing to convince even herself.

"Hmm, like what? Can you give any examples?" he asked, but before she had time to answer, his mobile rang. "Ah, excuse me." He answered it, and spent the short conversation mostly saying "Yes" and "All right."

"That was one of the crisis workers," he explained once he was done with the call. "They asked if I could come over. Of course, I should've been there from the beginning, but since none of the others were in need of immediate medical attention, I thought I'd better see to him. Now that you're here and there's been no change in his condition ever since they brought him in..."

"Sure, go on, it's not like you're doing anything useful here anyway."

"Just give me a call if anything happens, anything at all," Bordon went on, completely ignoring Donna's comment. "My number is on my card, which you can find on the desk. I'll be back within a few hours. Hopefully, I'll know more by then."

He left her alone with the Doctor, except it was more being all alone. She had rarely felt this lonely during her travels with him - stuck in an alien world who knew how far from home, without any local people she knew, no one but him who understood where she came from, and now he wasn't really with her. If only he could tell her what to do - oh, but that gave her an idea! Maybe he could.

She remembered that telepathy thing she had seen him do a few times. She placed her hands on his temples, like he had done, and concentrated, tried to open her mind, to invite him into hers. Of course, she had no idea what she was doing, but if he was conscious and aware, she was sure he would figure it out and do his thing.

Nothing happened. Maybe it wouldn't work this way around. She grabbed his wrists instead, and lifted his hands to the sides of her face. She would've thought his limbs would be all limp and floppy, but instead, his hands actually stayed right where she had placed them. Again, she made an effort to clear her head of any thoughts and to listen to any soft whisper of his mind, but still, there was nothing at all.

She stayed there until it started feeling silly, just sitting in silence with her head between his palms, waiting for something to happen. She withdrew her head, and his hands remained where she'd put them, grasping at thin air now, like those of some wax figure. She pushed them down to rest by his sides again. It might've been funny, if the situation hadn't been so dismal.

She ran her hand through his hair, and was instantly struck by a pang of regret. Oh, she shouldn't have done that. Had she done it in any other circumstances, he would have complained loudly, she was sure about it. Now, he didn't as much as flinch. It wasn't right.

"Come on, spaceman. You need to help me out here. I really don't know what to do," she whispered.

********************

3.

That voice - Donna! Great, yes, Donna is here, she will figure this out -

If only I could see her - ah, there she is, turning my face to look into my eyes, and for a passing moment, I can see into hers - but now she's out of sight again -

If only I could let her know I'm still here, wave a hand, make a sound, but no matter how hard I try, I can't as much as open my mouth - at least I closed it when I stopped screaming, it would've been embarrassing to be stuck with my mouth open - not to mention how lucky I am that I didn't close my eyes, because then I wouldn't even be able to see a thing - I can't even blink now, not on my own - I'm blinking every now and then, of course, otherwise my eyes would get all dry, but it's just an involuntary reaction, just like breathing, I'm still doing it, but I can't consciously affect it -

Come on, Donna, think, use that intuitive human brain of yours, have a few crazy ideas that make no sense and then suddenly, half-accidentally leap to one that does -

She has to come up with something, she has to, I can't stay like this, don't know how long I can take it, it's not that my body is starting to ache, which it is, I'll give you that, all muscles strained and hearts and lungs working overtime, but that I can manage, no, it's my mind I'm worried about, I can barely think when I'm stuck like this, and I see no future for myself, there's nowhere for me to go from here, but this can't be how it's all going to end - the Ood said my song would end, is this it?

There, the young doctor's leaving - I almost feel sorry for him, facing a situation that none of his training could possibly have prepared him for - he reminds me of Martha, they are around the same age, both so anxious to prove themselves, both excellent in theory, but still learning the practice - except that Martha wouldn't stick to the numbers when they tell nothing useful, she would be able to think outside the box and solve this somehow -

Donna will be able to solve this, too, Donna, come on, come on, please -

Yes! Telepathy! Yes, yes, that's brilliant, brilliant, Donna -

She places my hands on the sides of her head and I can hear her clearly, I can feel her confusion and worry and she's waiting for me to say something, and I try, oh, how I try, but I can't, it's just like trying to move my lips, I'm concentrating so hard I feel like I might start bleeding out of my ears and nose - but I can't say a thing, can't give her any kind of a sign, and I know she can't even see how I'm struggling.

That creature took all of it. All of my voice, not just my physical voice, my gestures, my expressions, but even my psychic voice, all lost out there in the shimmering white emptiness -

And Donna says she doesn't know what to do.

**********

The passengers of the Crusader 50 and the crisis team were just about done going through everything that had happened, when Jules showed up. Dee Dee had been expecting him sooner, but no doubt he'd been busy taking care of the Doctor. After he had made a quick announcement that he was there for the survivors should they need anything, from sleeping pills to sick notes, the meeting was over, and they were finally free to go their ways.

Dee Dee stayed in the conference room, and went straight to Jules. Doctor Jules Bordon was a graduate of Nexthallican University, which was were Dee Dee was studying. Of course, they were in completely different fields, and had never met at the Uni, but it gave them something in common nevertheless, a rare thing in the Pleasure Palace, with its random collection of people from all around the known universe.

They had spent several afternoons in different cafés, reminiscing about their alma mater, and complaining about the here and now. She would go on about the Professor, and he would describe the latest absurdities his clinic patients had come up with. She couldn't deny she fancied him, but the two of them were just friends, and Dee Dee would never have dreamed of anything else. After all, Jules was handsome and well-to-do and smart, and half the staff had a crush on him, while Dee Dee was, well, just herself, no one interesting nor special.

"How's the Doctor?" she asked Jules.

"Which one, me or my patient?" he joked.

"He, of course. The alien."

"No change, I'm afraid, and no explanation, either."

"Can I see him?"

"That's really not up to me anymore, you'll have to ask his friend, Donna. I have to warn you, though, she's... Quite straightforward."

"I think I can manage that. I'd have wanted to talk to her anyway."

"Of course, but if you ask me, Dee, there's no need for you to hurry. You should take care of yourself, first and foremost. You've been through a lot. Eat, rest, call home, and so on."

"Oh, don't worry, Jules, I'm fine!" Dee Dee exclaimed. What she didn't say was, she felt like she desperately needed to do something, anything useful, after all the time she had already spent sitting and waiting, and that she was sure she wouldn't be able to rest before she had done all she could to help the Doctor.

So, once she left Jules's company, she ignored his advice and walked straight to the clinic. A tall woman with flaming red hair opened her the door. "Sorry, Doctor Bordon isn't here right now, you'll have to come back later," she said rather bossily.

"Yes, I know, I just saw him," Dee Dee told her. "I'm looking for the Doctor. You're Donna, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am. Do I know you? Do you know him?"

"Uh, no, and sort-of. I was onboard the Crusader 50 too. I was just wondering how he's doing."

"Ah, well, come on in, then."

Dee Dee followed her into Jules's office. Just like he had said, the Doctor was exactly like when she'd last seen him. She crossed her arms and let out a deep sigh.

"Aren't you supposed to be talking to a shrink or something?" Donna asked.

"I already did that, and they let me go."

"So, no one got hurt other than him?"

"Four people died," Dee Dee said bluntly. She didn't really feel anything at the words, as if she was talking about something that had happened to someone else.

"Oh - I'm so sorry - I had no idea. The truth is, I really have no idea what happened out there, in general."

"I could tell you."

"No, it must've been horrible, I couldn't ask you to go through it again."

"No, no, it's all right," Dee Dee said, sat down in Jules's office chair, and went on to tell it all.

It really was all right, too, because she finally felt she was doing something useful. Donna was a great listener - maybe not in the most conventional sense, since she kept interrupting Dee Dee with loud remarks, again and again, but compared to the crisis workers, she was wonderful. They had seemed sceptical and reserved at best, their compassion ever so slightly patronising and practised. Donna was genuinely sympathetic, and didn't appear doubtful once, as if she heard stories like this every day.

Once Dee Dee got to the part where the other passengers had been about to cast out the Doctor, Donna stood up, furious, looking like she was ready to punch them in the face should she ever meet any of them. "I can't believe it! He was defenceless - how could they even think about doing that!"

"You have to understand, we were really scared, it was such a strange situation, and he wasn't really helping, because he was so vague with all his answers - wouldn't tell us his real name, couldn't tell us what made him different from everyone else. I tried to tell them not to do it, but... There's really no excuse. It was awful, and we were all ashamed afterwards. Luckily, they didn't succeed."

Dee Dee was just finishing her account, when Jules returned to his office. He took a quick look at the Doctor's readings, and tilted his head from side to side thoughtfully. "Still the same. Well, at least he's not worse. So," he turned to look at Donna. "I've heard the whole story now, but apparently, so have you?"

"Yeah. Quite a story it was, too," she said darkly.

"Unfortunately, it doesn't really explain anything, nor give us any idea how to help him."

Dee Dee shook her head ever so slightly at Jules, and cast a meaningful glance at the Doctor. She couldn't believe Jules could be so inconsiderate! They didn't know whether the Doctor could hear them or not. Talking about him like this, as if he wasn't in the room at all, wasn't exactly the nicest thing they could do, and letting him know they were at a loss really wouldn't make him feel better.

She cleared her voice, and said, "I'm sure we'll think of something."

Jules seemed to catch her drift. "Of course we will," he said quickly. "Or rather, I will. This really isn't your area of expertise, Dee, and you were onboard that unlucky truck as well. I already told you once that you should concentrate on your own well-being. When's the last time you ate?"

"I don't..." She frowned. She couldn't answer that off the top of her head, she had to actually think about it. "In the morning, before we left, I guess, but I'm really not hungry." She was telling him the truth, too. She wasn't, no matter how long had passed since breakfast.

"That's not surprising, considering everything that's happened. Still, you should eat. I'm prescribing you a single large dose of hot chocolate, to be taken with food, right now, at the nearest café," Jules told her in his most official voice. It was so pompous she couldn't help grinning a little. "You could join her, actually, Miss Noble. The Doctor's not going anywhere."

"Which means I'm not going anywhere, either," Donna said adamantly. "What if he wakes up? I want to be here. I need to be here!"

"And I need to run some more tests. This is still my office, he's my patient, and I have work to do." He walked over to the door, and held it open for them. "Please. Give me at least two hours."

Dee Dee couldn't read from his face whether he really wanted to run tests, or if he was just making up excuses to drive them away, so Dee Dee would go and have a bite to eat. Whichever the case, it worked. Looking very unhappy and complaining loudly, Donna led the way out of the room.

********************

4.

Donna and Dee Dee are leaving, leaving me with the young doctor again, who simply doesn't have the slightest clue what to do, and will probably just keep on running scans and tests endlessly, never understanding a thing - if only I could see the results myself - after all, I'm the only one who could interpret them, who would know what's normal and what's not, it might actually help me to understand this - then again, I wouldn't be able to tell the humans anything anyway, so even if I could figure this out, I'd still be every bit as stuck as before, with nowhere to go -

I'm at a dead end - dead, hm, there's an idea - not a nice one, but I must admit I'm getting desperate here - if I regenerated, that could be the way out, might be the only way out, the final option - the process is so powerful that it would most likely negate whatever the creature did to me - but that's not going to happen, since I'm nowhere near to dying yet, and my mind may be long gone before my body begins to fail - it's not like I can just decide to regenerate, someone would have to -

If Donna could - oh, I can't believe I'm even considering this! I couldn't ask that of her, ask her to do the unimaginable, even if it were the only way to save me - besides, I very concretely can't ask her anyway, so, once again, the point is moot - and I've never as much as mentioned regeneration to her, so she doesn't know, she'll never come up with the idea on her own, and the others here haven't even heard about Time Lords -

Think, think, think, there has to be something I can do, some kind of a solution, if only I could understand the exact nature of what that creature did to me, and how - if only I could concentrate and think properly instead of this frenzied rambling, but -

**********

Crystal Cupola Café was situated under one of the thick glass domes filtering the extonic sunlight, a lot like the pool room where Donna had spent most of her time here. The round tables were set around an equally round counter right in the middle of the area. At this time in the evening, there weren't that many people around, since most of them would either be having dinner or partying in the countless pubs and clubs.

"So, tell me about yourself," Donna asked Dee Dee, once they had sat down with their snacks and drinks. Maybe this wasn't such a bad idea, after all. Maybe she really could use a break from the worrying, something to take her mind off the Doctor and the hopelessness of the situation for a moment. Clear her thoughts a little. She was sure it would be good for Dee Dee as well.

"There's not that much to tell, really. I'm from Ceren III," Dee Dee told her. "It's a small and uninteresting place, I'm sure you've never heard of it. And, well, I was always good at school and liked studying. I ended up applying for planetary archaeology, because I wanted to travel, and to do something a bit less common. Then, Professor Hobbes picked me as his assistant for the holidays, and, well, here I am. What about you?"

Donna wasn't quite sure what she should say. She never was, since the Doctor had never given her any exact guidelines. Sometimes it felt like to her that he complained about every other thing she said. Maybe it was better to be vague, for now. "Me, I was never any good at school. I've been working as a temp for the last few years, and I am good at that, if I do say so myself."

"Is that what you're doing now, then? Temping as the Doctor's assistant?"

Donna chortled and almost choked on her sandwich. "Me, working for him? Oh, dear, no. Long story short, I just sort of ran into him, and ended up travelling with him."

"So, are you two..."

"Mates. Friends, I mean. Just good friends," Donna said quickly. "How about you and Doctor Bordon, then?"

It was Dee Dee's turn to cough and splutter. "Me and Jules? Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Two young, pretty and smart people who are nice towards each other. It seemed kind of obvious."

Dee Dee shook her head, apparently at a loss for words. "So, um... How long have you been travelling with him?" she asked, changing the subject not too subtly. "What planets have you visited?"

"Well, it's kind of hard to keep count, we've been here and there, past and present," Donna said ambiguously.

"Past and present - you don't mean time travel?"

Donna hadn't thought she had been that obvious about it, but of course, Dee Dee had figured it out just like that. She really was quite bright. Probably a lot brighter than Donna was. "You've got it," Donna admitted.

"Oh, wow! There are so many theories, and all those stories going around, but I never thought I'd actually get to meet someone who's done that!"

"You ever heard of Time Lords?"

"No, who are they? Your people?"

"His people. I'm just a human, from good old Earth."

"Earth? Really? I can't believe it! What time period do you come from, then, if you don't mind me asking?"

To her amazement, Donna found herself telling half her life's story to Dee Dee, and hearing a lot about hers in return. They talked for quite a while. It felt nice, actually - Donna was no longer all alone in this alien time and place. She now had a friend, someone who just might understand her, not to mention someone who shared her concern about the Doctor.

"So, should we go back to the clinic, now?" Dee Dee asked, when they had finished their second mugs of hot chocolate, and the two hours Doctor Bordon had asked for had passed.

"I'm going back. You should go to your room and get some sleep," Donna said.

"But I -"

"Doctor Bordon said you need to concentrate on your own well-being, and I'll see to it that you will. You're welcome to join us again in the morning."

"And what're you going to do? Sit by his bedside all night?"

Donna shrugged. "I don't know."

Dee Dee locked her dark eyes with Donna's, a dead serious expression on her face. "Well, whatever you do, please, don't say that to him."

Donna thought about those words as she walked back to Doctor Bordon's office. She had already said something similar to the Doctor, and Dee Dee was right, she shouldn't have. If he was aware of what was going on, of course he would be desperate and scared out of his wits - or over-stressed and frantic, like Doctor Bordon had described his physical state. Donna definitely hadn't done anything to help him.

When Donna opened the door to the office, Doctor Bordon motioned at her to stay in the waiting room, and joined her there, closing the door behind him. "A word with you, in private," he explained. Apparently he had had thoughts similar to hers, and didn't want to talk about the Doctor where he might hear them.

"What about?" Donna asked, instantly worried. "He's not worse, is he?"

"No, nothing like that. It's just that I was wondering if you could tell me about, well, the basics for him. I mean, I really don't know anything about his species. What does he eat or drink, and how often? Does he sleep? How much?"

"I really don't know," Donna had to admit.

Bordon tilted his head back, with an exasperated sigh. "How can you not know?"

"Like I said, he doesn't really talk about such things. He does eat and drink, just like humans, but I don't know how much of that he really needs. As for sleeping, I've never seen him do that, but I'm pretty sure he does."

She had never really realised how little she knew about him. He could prattle on endlessly about some absurd adventure he'd had two hundred years ago, but in the end, it was always about things that had happened to him, rather than about him, period. She barely knew more about his people than that they were gone.

"I wish you could do better than just 'pretty sure'. The thing is, this case really is beyond me," Doctor Bordon said plainly. "I specialised in human medicine, so I've only done the compulsory courses in xenomedicine. I'm really not used to treating unknown aliens."

Donna rolled her eyes. "So much for you being perfectly qualified, then."

"I am qualified to diagnose and treat a hundred different species, his just isn't among them. Besides, whatever my qualifications, you can see this place isn't exactly a hospital. I'm only here to give first aid and to help with minor health concerns. All serious cases and those needing long-term treatment are quickly transported elsewhere. If this is a permanent condition, he's going to need supportive care that I'm not able to provide, so I really think we should -"

"No way it's permanent! I'm sure he can hang on a little longer. I think we'd better just sleep on this, and talk about the future in the morning, if there's still no change."

Bordon looked like he wanted to disagree, but shrugged. "All right. You're the only one who knows anything about him, which makes you the expert."

"Good," Donna said. "Now, I'm going to sit with him for a while."

"Keeping him company is probably a good idea. I'm going to sleep, myself, but I've set up the computers so that they'll wake me up instantly if there's any significant change. And feel free to call me, no matter the hour."

Doctor Bordon left, and Donna returned to the Doctor's side. She couldn't help grimacing at the panic-stricken expression etched on his face. His chest was still heaving, too.

"Don't worry, Doctor. We'll figure out something," she told him, in the most convincing tone she could manage. "You have my word on it. You'll see. It's going to be all right." She gave his arm a reassuring squeeze, and noted that the muscles felt taut as wire, trembling with constant tension. Boy, was he going to be sore if - no, not if, when! - when he came out of this.

Without really thinking about what she was doing, she placed both hands on his shoulders, and began massaging the cramped muscles. He actually shuddered under her touch, his breath hitching.

She pulled her hands back, wondering whether that had been a good sign or a bad one. Would he find her touching him an invasion of his privacy? After all, it wasn't like they were usually this intimate. Then again, she had actually got a response of some sort out of him, which was more than one could say about anything else anyone had done so far.

"Don't you start getting any funny ideas. It's just a massage, and only because you need one badly. Not going to make a habit of it," she told him, and continued kneading his shoulders, then his arms.

She thought she could actually feel him relax somewhat. It even seemed to her that the look on his face had changed slightly, from wide-eyed shock to a blank, emotionless stare. Even though it was an improvement of sorts, it was still hard to feel optimistic, when his usually so expressive face was completely devoid of any signs of life, let alone awareness.

She moved her uncomfortable, low-backed chair to the head of his bed, so that she could lean against the wall. It was almost midnight. Midnight on Midnight - she was sure he would have found that funny and made a pun out of it, had he been able to.

Donna really didn't feel like sleeping. Even though she was determined to reassure him that everything would be all right, the one thing she couldn't do was reassure herself. She wasn't one to give up easily, and she would keep on trying to help him as long as he was alive, but the truth was, she still had no idea what to do. She rested the back of her head against the wall, and closed her eyes, silent tears sliding down her cheeks.