So next time I can save your day
On the first day, everything was fine. River was welcomed by the all the people of the village as a guest, and they offered her everything she needed, a tent, some food and water, and, what she needed the most, information. She was there for work, archaeological research: this planet had once been one of the most prosperous of the system and technologically advanced, before it suddenly returned to a primal and tribal society, and nobody knew why. Of course she could not resist the mystery.
She had quickly made friends with the people who hosted her. It was easier here, as nobody actually knew her and who she was. They did not know anything about the Doctor, and they had heard nothing about the fact that she was supposed to have killed him. There was no hatred, she was nobody, just a stranger who was inquisitive about their history, and they were glad someone paid attention to them. They showed her ruins of the previous civilisation, and she could dig the whole day, trying to find clues, unsuccessfully. But it was only the first day and she knew it would be a long and difficult work, and she had great hopes she would find interesting things there.
When the night fell, she was invited into the chief's tent. His name was Almar, he was a tall and strong man in his fifties, wise and open-minded. He asked her plenty of questions about her work and what she knew about their history. He was eager to know more about his people and she asked him questions in return. He told her stories and fairy-tales, and it would be interesting for her to know what was real and what was only fantasy.
It was the middle of the night when she came back to her tent, exhausted but happy. She fell on her cot and fell asleep immediately, dreaming about ancient civilisations ruined by faceless monsters.
She was dizzy when she woke up, and felt like there was something trapped in the back of her throat. She did not really worry – her dinner had been generous and she had spent the whole previous day digging the ground under a hot sun. She took two aspirins and went out; she had too many things to do today to stay in bed because of a little headache.
Two hours later, she had found a collection of books hidden in a trunk a few feet under the surface, and she was so excited by what she had just discovered that she had completely forgotten about her dizziness. However when she stood up, looking at her treasure expectantly, everything suddenly spun around her. She almost fell on the ground, gripping the trunk tightly, her hearts pounding hard in her chest. She sat back down on the ground, focused on her breathing for a few seconds, expecting the feeling to leave her, but it did not. She lifted a shaking hand to her forehead, which was hot, hotter than it should have been. Apparently she was really ill.
She hissed between her teeth, and had to try several times before she managed to stand on her feet. She walked back to the village. By the time she reached her tent, all her muscles ached and she felt emptier and dizzier than ever. She collapsed on her bed after taking more aspirin and immediately fell asleep.
This time her dreams were dark and scary. She felt like she was falling and falling. She heard sniggering voices surrounding her, and she was uneasy. She called for help but nobody replied. She was cold, she was hot – sun burning her skin and ice freezing her lungs. It could have lasted hours, or maybe a few seconds. It felt like an endless nightmare.
She woke up in the middle of the night, her sheets in a mess and her skin covered with sweat. Her fever had not lowered, on the contrary it seemed to have increased. Her whole body was shaking now and it was more difficult to breathe.
She turned her head and saw a plate next to her; someone from the village must have brought some food and water to her. She did not touch the food but drank all the water quickly, coughing as she almost choked. The liquid was cool and pleasant in her throat, but it soon disappeared in the heat of her stomach, and she was still burning.
She tried to stand up. She must leave, something was wrong: she was never ill, not as she was now, and she should not be. She had nothing more with her than the medicine she had already taken and they had had no effect. She was in some tribal village and she guessed they would have nothing stronger. She needed to leave, go back to her modern place and find something or someone to cure her. She had a bad feeling that if she stayed much longer she would be bad, very bad.
She tried to stand up but apparently it was already too late. She was too weak, and she fought her dizziness as best as she could, but the feeling was stronger. She fainted, falling back on her cot into senseless dreams.
Almar turned around and discovered the worried face of his wife. The woman they had welcomed three days ago had been lying in her tent for more than forty-eight hours now, delirious with fever, and they could not do anything to help her. Their doctor had tried all the cures he knew, but nothing worked and he did not know what disease it was. She was getting worse and worse every hour and he was afraid she would not last long.
"How bad?" he asked and his wife's face darkened.
"Very bad." she answered, concerned. She had spent the last two days next to the woman, taking care of her, and her eyes were surrounded by black rings.
"Take me to her." he said abruptly. He knew he could do nothing but the woman was his guest, he was responsible for her and he felt guilty for what happened to her. He wanted to be sure everything was done to cure her, to save her.
His wife nodded silently and she led him to River without another word.
The tent was lit up by candles and incense, each one a calming medicine the doctor had been trying. The woman still looked bad, a shaking body in a tangle of sheets. Her skin was covered with sweat and her hair was matted on her head. Almar could hear her heavy breathing, and when he approached and touched her, she was burning, so hot he could not help jumping in surprise.
"I don't understand." the doctor admitted. He was sitting next to the bed, mopping River's forehead with cold water. "The fever is too hot. She should be dead by now. Nobody could stand such fever."
Almar did not reply anything, staring at the sick body. This woman might be strong, maybe a bit special, weird, maybe not human at all, but she was hurt and she was fighting to stay alive and he respected her more for that. And then he saw her lips moving, and he realized she was trying to say something.
"What does she say?" he asked the doctor, who became more worried than he already had been.
"She is delirious. She kept calling for a doctor, but I have been here for hours now. I just can't find what she needs." He looked totally helpless, and surely he was. This woman was dying next to him and he was the doctor, the healer, and he couldn't do anything.
"Any news of Jaido?" he asked. When he had admitted that he was powerless and had no idea of what River had or how to cure her, one of the best men of the village was sent to the neighbouring villages to ask for help. He had taken a horse early in the morning and would explore the whole valley if it was necessary. But he was not back yet.
Almar shook his head in negation and the two men sighed. Jaido was their last chance to save River. And if he did not come back soon, there would be nothing to save.
The fever was overwhelming and she tried to hold on but it was too difficult. Dreams were mixed up with reality and it seemed like everything she saw, everything she heard, everything she felt was distorted. The only thing she knew was the fact that she needed a doctor –no, she needed the Doctor, her Doctor.
She was more or less aware of people around her, touching her, talking to her. She tried to explain them what she wanted, who they had to find, but she was not sure they understood. She was not even sure she really talked to them. She felt exhausted and lost, perhaps she was not able to speak and everything was another illusion caused by the fever. But she kept repeating his name, she kept thinking of him, because maybe, if she thought hard enough, he would hear her and come to her…
Almar was woken up a few hours before dawn the same night; Jaido was back and he was bringing someone with him. They had been brought to River's tent as soon as they had arrived.
When he entered, Jaido welcomed him; he looked exhausted but proud to have achieved his duty. Two other men were there, his doctor and the doctor from the other village, bent over the sick woman, whispering. They both turned back, and it was the stranger who spoke to him.
"It's her." he said.
"You know her?" Almar asked, surprised.
"I do. A few years ago, there was that man… He came to help us with some issues we had. Everything turned right for us, but he got ill. The fever was high and nothing we tried managed to help him. And then she came out of nowhere..." He looked back at the curly woman who seemed more ill than ever. "She took him, and she cured him."
"How? What can we do to save her?"
"Nothing. She did not tell us how she saved him. But a few days after, the Doctor came back…"
"The Doctor?" Almar interrupted him, remembering was she was saying over and over.
"The Doctor, yes, it was the man's name."
"She kept asking for a doctor, do you think it could be him?"
"I don't know. Maybe." He stopped, thinking for a few seconds. "He told us she would come back and would need our help. And he gave us this." He put something out of his coat and Almar looked closer. It was a silver sphere, engraved with symbols he could not understand. There was a little bulge on its top, and when the doctor pressed it, it began to buzz slightly, a soft blue light flashing regularly.
"What is it?"
"I have no idea. He just asked us to turn it on when she would need it, and he would come."
The men looked at the sphere expectantly, but it kept flashing and humming, nothing else.
"I don't know. I think we just have to wait."
They waited. Night ended, morning settled, and nothing came. Everyone woke up and went out, doing their everyday tasks, as if it was a normal day. Only a few men didn't move, watching over River, Almar and the two doctors. She was worse than ever, the fever was incredibly high and she had stopped talking since dawn. Her breath was barely audible and her pulse almost undetectable.
It was the middle of the day when a whooshing sound echoed and there were cries of frightened people as a blue box suddenly appeared in the village. The three men in River's tent came out just in time to see a strange man coming out of the box. He did not hesitate, coming to them as soon as he recognized the doctor.
"Where is she?" he asked and they did not answer him, just opened the tent and he stepped in quickly. He kneeled next to the bed and took River's hand in his, whispering things to her that nobody could understand.
Almar watched him carefully. That man, the Doctor, looked like a young fool with strange clothes and clumsy limbs, but there was something in his eyes proving he was old and wise, and the concern he felt for the woman was deep and real. He brushed a damp strand out of her forehead and took her in his arms cautiously. She moaned, a cry of pain and fear before gripping his shirt in a desperate way. She tried to open her eyes and speak, but he shushed her, telling everything would be okay.
"Thank you." He said then, turning back to Almar. "Thank you for taking care of her."
"Is she… She'll be okay now? You will cure her?"
"I will. You called me just in time. I owe you her life."
He did not have to tell anything else, the men knew how important she was for him, how he cared for her.
"You're welcome." Almar replied, and the Doctor only nodded. Then they watched him, leaving the tent and entering his strange box with the woman still in his arms. He stepped inside the structure and, a few seconds later, it disappeared.
When River opened her eyes for the first time she couldn't actually see anything. Everything was too dark or maybe too bright, and the only thing she could be aware of was the ache in her head. She closed her eyes quickly and tried to focus on something else.
Apparently the fever and the nightmares had gone, and she was not in her tent anymore. She could feel the softness of delicate sheets on her skin, and her head was resting on a smooth pillow. There was something in the air, familiar and welcoming, and she could hear a slight humming around her. It seemed to be home. She sighed in delight; she felt right, she felt safe. She did not think it was another dream, it felt too good, and her muscles were still aching in a way that could only be caused by reality.
"Hello Sweetie." said a beloved voice and she blinked a few times before she succeeded in opening her eyes. The first thing she could see was his face; he was smiling, but he also looked drawn and worried.
"That's my line." she managed to reply, her throat dry and her voice husky –but somehow, she was smiling too.
"I know." he simply said, and he laced his fingers with hers, kissing her carefully on her forehead. She closed her eyes as she did and sighed deeply.
"What happened to me?" she asked, opening her eyes again. She felt tired but wanted some answers before going back to sleep.
"You got what is a perfectly inoffensive cold for human, but is extremely dangerous for two-hearts people like you."
"Oh yes, but I took all the precautions before coming back to that planet."
"Coming back?" she repeated, and he winced.
"Spoilers." he replied. She smiled at his clumsiness and closed her eyes, leaning on him as she decided his chest would be a perfect pillow.
"Great." she mutters. "Looking forward to it."
He might answer something but she did not hear him. She felt asleep soon, and she knew she would be okay now. His arms around her, that was all she needed.
Thanks for reading!
And big thanks to Jenn for the beta, and for all her wonderful fics ;) x