A/N You can all thank my advisory professor for the lateness of this chapter. And for the potential lack of quick future updates...the villain has me writing my senior thesis right now! Am I a senior? No. Why am I torturing myself like this? I ask myself that same question every morning when I wake up in tears. But, hey! Spring break is for writing! So here's a short little chapter (since I conveniently left my outline-book at school and can't actually remember what I was supposed to be writing for this chapter...) to hopefully hold all of us over until I have time to really get down and dirty with a word document. Please Enjoy!

Chapter 45:


Somehow the tiny, insignificant noise was heard over the sound of the struggling pair. The Doctor, lungs burning and ribcage feeling like it was about to concave beneath the joined pressure of lack of air and Nine sitting on his chest, barely even registered that the sound meant, concentration entirely focused on keeping the impending darkness at bay. A fraction of a second later, as Nine's claws dug further into his skin, the Doctor realized what had happened. Not wasting another moment, he kicked out with his legs, disentangling them from the knot the chain had formed around his ankles when he fell. The cuff fell away, finally released from the peg and not a moment too soon.

Driven by the last remaining strength he had, the Doctor swung his legs high in the air, slamming his knees into Nine's spine. Nine jolted forward but the force wasn't strong enough to knock him off entirely. It was, however, enough to loosen his knees, and the Doctor wrenched his right arm free from beneath the alien. Although instinct told him to grasp and claw at the vice-like grip around his throat, he forced his fingers to curl into a fist and threw a vicious right hook into Nine's jaw. Not a moment later his knees struck Nine in the spine again before wrapping around his neck and twisting. Off balance and stunned from the sudden strikes, Nine slipped off the Doctor, hand falling away from the Time Lord's throat.

Glorious air rushed into the Doctor's lungs, but he didn't have time to savor it. Nine was coming back to his sense, a squawk of anger coming from his snarling mouth as he turned on the Doctor again. The Doctor rolled once, twice, trying to distance himself from the murderous alien as much as he could even as his muscles screamed for oxygen to fuel them. He gulped in air only to cough it back out as dirt and sand flew in instead. The coughing didn't stop, but neither did he. The Doctor rolled backwards, mindless of how pathetic he looked, hacking and trying to crawl away from the impending danger.

Nine was back on his feet and launched himself at the Doctor, a string of scaly spines rising up along his neck to make him look even larger and more threatening. Not that he needed to. The Doctor twisted over so he was once again on his back, staring up at Nine as the alien pounced on him. What little air the Time Lord had managed to regain was gone a second later as Nine landed on his chest again, arm raised, talons poised, this time to slash instead of crush. They were arching down. The Doctor had less than a second. He stretched as far as he could and -


Nine fell like a dead weight on top of the Doctor. The Time Lord grunted softly as his airway was squash even more, any excess oxygen being flushed cruelly out of his lungs again. He lay there for a moment, stunned and gasping shallowly as Nine's body weighed down against his chest, before the gravity of the situation returned to him. He had to get up. He had to get going again. Time had already run out, the last competitor had been uncuffed, the snatchers would have been released. The Doctor stared upwards at the clear blue sky above and realized just how exposed he was in the clearing. He had to move.

With more effort that he wished it would take, the Doctor managed to shrug and shove Nine's limp form off of him. Blood was oozing from a wound just above the alien's left ear; a dark purple that matched the stain setting into the jagged edge of the rock clasped tightly in the Doctor's hand. After a moment he dropped the stone, and it landed with a heavy thud on the forest floor.

A small measure of guilt swelled up inside him at the sight of the unconscious, bloody being. Nine wouldn't die from the injury, but the Doctor didn't envy the headache he would have when he woke up. He didn't have to hit him so hard, he could have just run away, or tried talking to him -

No. He did try talking to him, and the alien attacked anyway. Trying to dissuade him had been about as successful as trying to escape a black hole on the back of a leaf blower. This wasn't the time for talk; Nine knew that, everyone else there probably knew that, and it had almost cost the Doctor his life to learn that. Now was the time for action, for defense, for violence if it came down to it. Survival was the first thing in order. Than rescuing Rose. His morals and guilty conscience would have to come later.

This certainly meant he would have to give up his habit of chatting the ears off his enemies, for the time being...but by no means did he have to become a killer. And by no means did he have to become heartless, either. He might play their game, but he didn't have to become one of them.

So even as he cruelly crushed down the guilt lodged somewhere in his aching chest, the Doctor moved into action. He couldn't just leave Nine laying unconscious in the clearing, vulnerable and defenseless. Although he doubted Jancon would activate the virus in an knocked-out competitor if the snatchers did come along, but the Doctor didn't want to risk the life of the alien, or those of the snatchers if it came to that.

It was a slow, lonely battle trying to get back to his feet. The Doctor's lungs still burned with every gasp of air and his ankle gave a small twinge of pain when he put any weight down on it. Not a good start to the Trials, twisting his ankle. If he couldn't run, he was basically screwed. A hand found its way up to his throat, feeling the torn and bruised skin around his neck. Nine had nearly snapped the Doctor's esophagus. Another few seconds, a little more pressure, and the Doctor would have died just moments after the attack, choking to death as his own blood clotted in his destroyed throat. Blood colored his fingers orange when he pulled them away; not much, but enough to fear the wound was deep enough to cause infection.

He would have to worry about that later. Stealing himself, the Doctor prepared for any amount of pain that might come as he leaned down and grabbed Nine be the arms, dragging him backwards across the dirt towards the tree line. It was slow work with his ankle throbbing with each step and lungs aching from the extra strain. He half expected his fellow competitor to be light as a feather, judging by his clear avian-like heritage, but Nine was surprisingly heavy. His feet dragged unhelpfully in front of them, limbs like a marionette with it's strings cut.

The Doctor felt more than saw himself finally cross into the tree line. The shade was cool and refreshing after the struggle he'd just been through in the unrelenting sun. It wasn't nearly as hot as the desert of Drephia had been - he shuddered at the painful memory of being tied to that pole outside the outpost - but the protection of the trees was still a welcome relief. He dragged Nine a few more layers in before propping the alien up against a tree trunk and collapsing down beside him with a heavy "Whoooo."

The forest was eerily quiet, and after only a few seconds of the unsettling silence, the Doctor cleared his throat and clapped Nine on the shoulder like they were old drinking pals. "There you go, buddy. You just rest up." The Doctor found himself muttering as he closed his eyes and let his head fall back against the tree. "You're going to have one hell of a headache in the morning. I certainly don't envy you that." He opened one eye briefly and glanced sideways at the unresponsive competitor.

"No hard feelings, I trust?" The Doctor went on. When Nine didn't reply - not that the Doctor really expected him to - the Time Lord instead ran his eyes over the alien's body. He hadn't had much time to take in Nine's appearance earlier, not with all the disappearing and strangling going on. Now he truly could see just how razor sharp those talons were, just as sharp as his facial features and hooked, beak-like nose and just as hard as the black scales leading from the talons over his hands and up his arms. The Doctor had no doubt his feet and ankles were the same, but that only deepened the frown forming between his eyebrows.

"Part bird, part reptile, but can...what is it, teleport? Move impossibly fast? How do you manage that little party trick, eh?" He mused out loud. Nine gave no response. "Biological? Learned? Illusion?..." Nine was as silent and unconscious as ever. The Doctor blew out an exasperated breath. "Well, blimey, you're quiet company. Granted, I guess I have a bit of blame to take for that. Knocking someone unconscious does tend to be a bit of a conversation killer."

Determined as ever, the Doctor paused again incase Nine decided to comment. No entirely surprisingly, he did not. After another expectant moment, the Doctor just clapped him on the shoulder one more time. "Yep, good talk. Let's do it again sometime." Having his breath back, the Doctor pushed himself to his feet, using the tree for leverage. He stuck out his tongue, tasting the air like a lizard. There was a strong magnetic zing in the air. He was too far North. The finish line was somewhere off in the southwestern region of the arena. Reaching into his pocket, glad none of the contents had spilled out during the little skirmish, the Doctor pulled out the cheap compass and inspected it. The little arrow was pointing behind him and to the right. at least he was facing the right direction. Now all he had to do was -


The cry was more from surprise than pain as the Doctor glanced down at the burning spot on his left arm. The ridged dot by the crook of his elbow pulsed warningly. Someone must have just been picked up by the snatchers, the tag inside the competitor's skin activating. The Doctor hadn't noticed during the testing just how strong he'd made the alert on his own subdermal remote, but at least there would be no mistaking it or missing the alarm. Without hesitating another second, he pressed his finger to the raised bump searing just below his skin and sent out the signal for the antivirus. He hoped that, if he was fast enough and consistent enough each time, Jancon just might think it was a fluke, might think the virus didn't work, might think his precious pet Time Lord had screwed up and the distance between the remote control and the tag was too far apart for the signal to reach. If the Doctor was fast enough, the virus wouldn't even have time to react within the competitor. If he was fast enough, no one needed to die.

Unless they get in my way, the strong, defiant voice that had gotten him through Eyal training suddenly spoke up. It was his voice of instinct, of survival, strengthening his resolve and reminding him of the verdict he'd come to only minutes earlier. He would do whatever it took to make it through this Trial and get back to Rose with the least amount of bloodshed he could, but it was pointless to avoid the inevitable fact that, at some point, he would have to injure or kill to make it happen. You've already destroyed your entire planet, the suddenly venomous, vindictive voice added, what's a few more pints of blood on your hands?

Instead of answering himself, the Doctor knelt down, grabbed the compass he'd dropped when the alert went off, and pocketed it among his other few possessions. He started off at a swift pace, angling a little more west than south. If he followed this path - and remembered the map properly - he would eventually intersect with one of the two creeks that ran through the arena. His throat felt raw from coughing and layered with coarse sand. He would need something to drink soon and he only hoped the creek wasn't too far away. The sun was already slanting down towards the horizon. The Doctor guessed he had about two and a half, maybe three hours of sunlight left, and would need to find shelter before the night took over, too.

If it hadn't been for his growing thirst, sore neck, slightly throbbing ankle, and the ever-present tingle of paranoia (no, awareness, the Doctor tried to console himself) he might have actually began to enjoy himself. Despite the impending nightfall, the forest was beautiful, the trees illuminated by the soft light filtering through the upper branches and leafs. The birds he'd heard earlier, however, had stopped their cheerful chirping, most likely disturbed by the zooming of the snatchers' aircrafts. So instead the Doctor whistled lowly to himself, determined - if not delusional - that he was going to enjoy every little moment of peace he could.

Jancon watched with caged curiosity as the victorious snatchers swept away the now neutralized competitor. Twelve's strange, tentacle-like appendages dangled harmlessly behind him as he was dragged into the aircraft, stunned but still alive and conscious. Jancon absentmindedly ran his thumb along the curved edge of the remote hidden discretely between his leg and the arm of his large, wind-backed chair. It had been a good minute or two since he'd pressed the button and nothing had happened yet. During the testing, the effects had taken only seconds to reach the slaveboy. Of course, distance had to be taken into account, but he'd hardly expected it to take this long. Maybe he should have tested that as well...he was getting lazy.

He doubted the Time Lord had done anything so simple to compromise the project. It was hardly a secret that John didn't approve of his master's winning tactic, but with everything the Time Lord had at stake, and the ease at which Jancon could have decided to test the reach of the remote's signal, it would have been so foolishly beyond John's intellect to do something so noticeable and rash. No, it must have been something else.

Either way, the Prebassador glanced sideways out of the corner of his eye at the human curled up on the couch across the room as if her body-language could have revealed her mate's involvement. However, the girl gave nothing away except for that fact that she clearly didn't wish to be in their company.

Like Jancon, Rose sat slightly apart from the rest of the crowd converged in the entertainment room, not joining in with their conversation or laughter. She had hardly touched any of the food or drink laid out either, feeling nauseous just at the thought of putting anything in her stomach. She didn't really care that she looked like an insolent teenager, curled up on a couch by herself with her knees drawn to her chest, eyes glued to the screen as her fingers played absently with the stones on her necklace. It was impossible to get involved in the conversation - not that she had any desire to since most of the guests today had been the same ones from the disastrous dinner party a week earlier. All that mattered to her was what was happening on the screen in front of her.

And she honestly couldn't decide which she dreaded more...when the Doctor wasn't on the screen, or when he was. She hated both equally and yet couldn't stop the hitch in her breath every time she saw his skinny, familiar form. Compared to all the other competitors, he just looked so...normal. So not prepared, even though she knew he'd been training relentlessly for the last few weeks. But he didn't have the stone-like protective skin of number Seven, or the extra appendages like number Five, or the terrifyingly useful and deadly teeth of number Eight.

He has his brain, she remembered suddenly as flashes of different scenarios from the past danced across her memory. Scenarios in which the Doctor and Rose surely would have died had it not been for his quick and clever thinking. That was the Doctor's special weapon above the others. That's what would get him through the Trials. At least, that was what Rose told herself he had to think. Anything she could do to keep herself from going insane with worry was welcome at this point.

"Rose, dear, do try these kaege-flød, they are delicious."

Rose was jolted out of her thoughts by Ilaria's fluid voice. She saw a tray of some kind of cakes appear in her peripheral vision, but she refused to tear her eyes away from the screen, just in case the Doctor came back. They'd just watched him escape competitor number Nine's attack, but who knew what else that crazy, danger-prone Time Lord had gotten himself into now. So Rose just shook her head, mindful of how impolite she was being and unable to actually give a damn.

Ilaria sighed, but when she spoke again Rose could practically hear the smile in her voice. "Yes, of course, quite right you are, dear. You'll want to keep your figure nice and slim. You'll need to be attracting a new mate soon, anyway."

And with that the aristocrat sauntered away, oblivious of the now slightly green-tinted skin on Rose's face as the words swept over her, making her stomach flip over and tears of fear and frustration leap, unshed, into her eyes.


A/N Like I said, just a short little chapter. More will be crammed into the next one as soon as I find the time to write it. In the meantime, please leave a review and pray for my sanity to remain intact. I mean...what little sanity I had to being with...

Recap of Trials competitor order:

1 – Sontaran

2 – Male with red hair and mischievous cloudy yellow eyes

3 – Small female with sharp eyes

4 – Zygon

5 – Male with four-arms

6 – Sinjuray female (feline-like alien)

7 – 'Rocky', muscular, stone-like skin

8 – Vampire-like female

9 – Male with scales, talon like hands

10 – The Doctor!

11 – Female Aonian

12 – Tentacles