Nineteen years.

Nineteen years wasn't that much time, really. You couldn't grow a decent tree in that little time, though if you put a lot of work into it, you could get a reasonable perennial garden. You couldn't quite raise a human child to functional adulthood in this present age, and a nineteen-year-old Time Lord wouldn't even be learning basic calculus yet. You might be able to make a decent whiskey in that amount of time, but not a great one. You might be able to write a good novel in that amount of time, though, or read an awful lot of them if you had the chance. You could go an awful lot of places if you could get there, and have an awful lot of adventures. Eat a lot of food - and you'd have time enough to try an awful lot of new foods, all sorts of exotic things, and maybe find yourself some new favorites. Get a lot of sleep, in hotel rooms and strangers' houses and sleeping bags in Arctic-proofed tents and your very own personal bed you'd been sleeping in for years - a different bed every night, if you liked, though really, there was never anything better than home. You could teach yourself how to draw. Climb mountains just for the view. Mine for gold and give it away just because you could. Win the lottery a few times just to pick up some extra pocket money. Meet a whole lot of new people, some of whom would be absolute tossers, most of whom would be pretty ordinary, and a few of whom just might be among the most extraordinary people in history. There was an awful lot you could do in nineteen years, really, and the more you could do, the shorter those nineteen years seemed to be. Nineteen busy, fun, exciting years could pass in the blink of an eye if you weren't careful.

If you weren't careful, nineteen years could drag by. There'd be nothing to eat but near-tasteless nutrient blocks that you had to shove down at top speed because they'd take them away after five minutes whether you were finished eating or not. There'd be nowhere to sleep except a thin, hard mattress on a cold, hard floor, that they carefully searched once a day just in case someone had slipped something in there that you, absolute bloody genius that you were, could use to escape (except how smart could you possibly be to get caught in the first place?) - the same way they searched you, stripped down to the skin once a day, poked and prodded like an animal to be put on show, as if there was any possible way you could even get anything to hide between one day and the next, and just in case you really were that clever, they took the time to shave your bloody head while they were at it, and often shaved your head bloody too. There'd be nothing to do except wait, wait for the next meal and the next search, pace your cell and stare at Earth, at the precious blue marble 239,000 miles away, that you'd done so much for and given so much to only to have it all come to this, and try to sleep on that thin hard mattress, and try to dream of something that hurt less than your reality, or remember the wonderful people you used to know and the great times you used to have. When there was nothing else, there was always the thought that you'd already finished one year of this misery and there were only nineteen more to go.

Nineteen years were a drop in the bucket to a Time Lord. But not if you had to spend those nineteen years in Hell.

The Doctor was consciously aware that the Mare Frigoris prison hadn't been designed with the sole, specific intention of driving him absolutely spare. It had been designed to safely house the most dangerous and escape-prone inmates in this part of the galaxy, some of whom actually were absolute bloody monsters. There were inmates here who'd tried to annihilate entire planets, and at least one who'd actually succeeded - there were inmates who were here mostly thanks to him, and he'd admit that with pride. There were worlds out there that only still existed thanks to him, and the efforts he'd made to stop their would-be destroyers in their tracks, Earth itself not least among them. And what was his reward? His very own cell for the next twenty years - well, nineteen now. Not a special place - oh, no, no special treatment for you, Mr. Doctor, you may save this world once a bloody year but that doesn't mean you can break into a bank vault whenever you like and then try to tell us there's something bad in there but you don't know what, except you're going to be considered an extreme escape risk and boy, will you be getting special treatment for that. No visitors. No contact with other inmates. No being allowed out of his cell once a day for exercise. No real guards, just heavily-armed robots that couldn't be tricked or bribed and would very calmly annihilate him if he tried to make physical contact, let alone tried to break them down for parts. No proper cot. No chance to write letters home. Not even a bloody book to read. There was no bloody privacy either - even without the daily strip-searches, there was still no getting away from the cameras in every corner of the ceiling, or the ever-watchful mechanical guard. He was actually surprised they let him have a jumpsuit instead of making him wander around naked all the time. Of course, if he ever mentioned it, they probably would.

At least - and this tiny mercy just kept growing in magnitude with every day he spent here - at least he had a window. A south-facing window, no less. Sure, he spent more-or-less all day every day being blinded by the sun, but at night, the view he had of Earth was really amazing. It was really the only good thing in his life right now. Certainly the only good thing in his present. He couldn't really see the future, not from here. And his past...oh, if only if he could spend the next nineteen years living in his past, instead of being trapped in this cold, ugly, terrible present.

Well, from here, at least, he could see that Earth had gotten along all right without him for a year. Of course, it was entirely possible that once he served his sentence, all twenty years of it, he'd get shipped back to Earth and hop right back into the TARDIS and head back twenty years so he could save it from everything that had happened while he was stuck up here. It was also entirely possible that there was nothing important going on down there, or that there was something going on down there, every sort of disaster, and that the day was being very capably saved by someone other than him. Kay was right - he wasn't the only force for good in the universe, or even on that planet. He only thought he was.

On the other hand...how utterly, absolutely, lid-flipping, fallen-off-your-rocker mad would he have gone by the end of all twenty years? One year had already changed him. He hadn't even noticed he was changing, only that he had - suddenly realizing one day that the only emotion he felt anymore was a sort of apathetic depression. There was no anger anymore when he ate a little too slowly and the robot guard yanked his food back before he'd had enough. There was no shame or humiliation when they stripped his jumpsuit off and started scanning him and prodding him and prying his mouth open, no outrage when they scraped his face and scalp down to bare skin all over again. When they scraped the skin off too, he barely cared enough to feel pain. And he could sit back and wonder how that had happened, ask himself what had happened to the cheerful, energetic man he used to be, the one whose life was never complete without a friend and an adventure and something new to run from every day...but why bother? He already knew. This place was killing him by inches, was what had happened.

Would he still be alive in nineteen years? He didn't know, and he honestly didn't know what to hope for. If he lived, then hooray, he lived, but if he died, he'd get out of here that much sooner.

Couldn't they have at least given him a hook or something to hang himself from?

...Was he honestly even thinking that?

He'd be free that much sooner.

No, no, he would not be resorting to that, even if it was possible. He hadn't gone quite that mad yet, thank you. That did sort of leave the possibility that he might go that mad in the future, but he'd worry about it when the future in question actually got there. He wasn't in much of a position to go chase it down right then, even if he wanted to. At any rate, he'd already served one year; that meant there were only nineteen years left.

Only nineteen. What a laugh, if he still had the ability to laugh. He wasn't even sure he still had the ability to talk. He hadn't seen another living being in a year. That hadn't stopped him talking at first - to Earth, to the guard, to the walls, to the mattress, to himself - but now he couldn't even muster the will to do that. He didn't remember how long it had been since he'd done anything but scream at the ceiling when he couldn't take it anymore. Actually, that was sounding like a good idea right now - at least as good an idea as he was likely to have. Why not? Lying down on the mattress, he stared up at the ceiling for a moment, took a few deep breaths, and screamed, because he'd done bloody everything to save that planet and this was what he got for it and he just knew that whatever was in that vault had the capacity to end worlds and just might end this one and he didn't deserve to be here and it wasn't bloody fair and there was literally nothing he could do but lie there and scream at the ceiling, scream until his lungs ached and his throat burned and his voice was all but gone, because if there was one thing left for him to feel besides apathetic depression, it was agony. And when he couldn't scream anymore, he rolled over and cried, because there was nothing else he could do and he was going to be trapped in this little cell for the next nineteen years and just one year in here was breaking his hearts and destroying his mind and it wasn't...bloody...fair.

Did anyone on Earth even care that he was up here, barring the people who'd put him here? Did anyone else even know? It seemed possible that as soon as he was out of here and free to return to the TARDIS and resume his old life, he might just go back to his old self and pick up right where he left off and no one who knew him would know that he'd just spent twenty years in Hell. But it didn't seem likely. As much as he dreamed about it, he didn't think that even if he was somehow magically released today, he could just open up the TARDIS doors and step inside and everything would be grand again. After twenty years, it would be even worse. Twenty years of this - this isolation and humiliation and abuse and imprisonment - just might be long enough to leave him permanently broken. He hoped not - he liked to think that he was more resilient than that - but he couldn't rule it out. One year had turned him into a silent, apathetic wreck. What would the next nineteen do?

He was a thousand years old already, and could easily live another thousand if he was careful. Nineteen or twenty years was little more than a slight blip over his entire lifespan. If he didn't go mad enough to commit suicide, he'd almost certainly live long enough to recover from this. But he was never, ever, ever going to forget it.

Did anyone down there miss him? Did anyone even know he was gone?

What would Rose think, if she saw him here? He knew he wasn't allowed visitors (or hoped he wasn't allowed visitors, because if he was then that meant no one had cared enough to come visit in a whole year), but he thought that if she could possibly be there, she would be, by any means necessary. She wouldn't care what he'd been accused of or convicted of. She wouldn't simply accept that the mad old Doctor had finally fallen off his rocker and started to think he could do whatever he liked. She'd do whatever it took to keep him sane - and if all she could do was be there, that alone would go a long way. But Rose was in a different dimension, living happily ever after with that half-Donna metacrisis Doctor, and she would never know what was happening to him in this one. All he had were memories of her, and they just...weren't really enough.

What would Susan think? Was she even still alive? He liked to think she was, somewhere, sometime; that she hadn't returned to Gallifrey to fight in the Time War, and that she'd somehow survived its effects, wherever she was, even though some part of him knew it was impossible. He'd done everything for her, pulled up stakes and abandoned a very comfortable life and a very promising career in order to save her from her grasping, ambitious relatives, not least her own mother - his own daughter. Really, it was thanks to her that he'd had such an amazing life, as opposed to turning into yet another dried-up professional politician who'd never left Gallifrey and didn't see any need to, thank you very much, "expanding your horizons" was for nutters and idiots. She'd saved him from the same fate so many other Time Lords had suffered without even knowing they were suffering, and he liked to think he'd been able to return the favor. But if she could see him now, curled up on a mattress in a tiny prison cell, shaved bald and treated like an animal, what would she think?

How long would it be before they sent him in for psychiatric evaluation? After all, some actual sentient being had to be watching what those cameras and that robot guard were recording. They had to have noticed that he'd stopped talking and didn't move around much anymore and would occasionally just lie down and scream at the ceiling, and they really couldn't just mean to drive him completely mad, could they? Maybe they did. Or maybe they were so utterly convinced that he'd escape at the slightest opportunity that they wouldn't even risk taking him out of this cell to save his life, let alone his sanity.

What if he did die in here? What would they do? All things considered, he rather thought their first course of action would be to make sure he was dead by shooting him twice. If he actually was dead, that wouldn't bother him so much, but it did rule out faking his own death as a means of escape, and cutting off any means of escape he might possibly have did seem to be their goal.

Would that really be so bad?

Yes, yes it would. Another nineteen years of this might seem like eternal damnation right now, but it would eventually be over, and he would have a life to get back to. To rebuild if he had to, from scratch if he had to. But there would be a life for him outside this cell again, in nineteen years. He just had to survive the wait.


AN: Make of it what you will. Imagine that it will someday get better. Imagine that it will only get worse. Imagine that he'll be miraculously released the next day and find all his friends waiting for him back on Earth. Imagine that he'll serve all twenty years and return to Earth alone to find that the TARDIS was sold at a police auction. Read into it whatever you want. Except yaoi, because that would be kind of difficult in this situation.