They'd separated them.
That had been the first sign that all was not well on this world. The women had led Donna away, promising her all kinds of wonders.
But then, the ones who were with him had declared that he would be treated. He had frowned. "Treated? But I'm not sick."
And a swift injection had dropped him to his knees. Before he lost consciousness, he'd heard a cold voice purr, "But you will be."
"Ah, he wakes!"
He strained, finding himself strapped to a table. "What? What's going on, here? What do you want?"
"Merely your punishment, Time Lord." He turned his head to find the head of the citadel striding over to him.
"What? What for?"
"You do not remember me," the older man laughed. "I have been waiting years for my revenge, and you do not remember me!"
"No, I don't remember you! Who are you?"
"I am Jarius," the man spat. "You destroyed my family and now I shall destroy you."
"Your family?" he gasped as his head was grasped and bolted into a crown held onto the table.
Jarius snarled, "My family was the Remlars of Trimpan IV!"
And he remembered. The family had become insane with power and had tried to destroy that world when it would not worship them. He had stopped them. "I did what I had to do."
"And now...Doctor," Jarius smiled coldly, "so do I." He stood. "Begin!"
More injections stuck into his neck and arms. He felt the cold burn of the alien drugs. "What are you--" The words ended in a strangled gasp of horror as his time-sense was suddenly dulled.
"Aaaaah, by the look on your face, I see it has worked. Begin phase two!" And Jarius left the room, along with all the attendants, leaving the Doctor strapped to the table.
"Jarius!" he yelled. "Jarius! Jarius, what are you doing? What is phase two? Jarius!"
Then he noticed it. The lights were getting brighter. Painfully so.
He tried to turn his head – and couldn't move it. He tried to close his eyes – and found that the drugs had removed his ability to even blink.
"Jarius!" he screamed, then all he could do was scream in pain.
It was with immense relief that he found the lights were slowly dimming. When they turned to rich, deep darkness, the relief was almost a living thing skittering against his spine.
Until he realised that he could still feel the damnable lights stinging against his face.
The stores on Rindon were amazing. There was literally nothing you couldn't buy – as Donna had found out when they passed a shop selling children whose parents could no longer afford them.
Donna had made special note of that one. She intended to bring the Doctor back here and close that shop down for good.
Now, she and her companion Prinela were looking at clothing when Prinela gushed, "Oh, this is terrific, having someone to come with me! Once the punishment is complete, I can't wait to do this with you every day!"
Donna froze. "Wait, what did you just say?"
Prinela looked at her and her eyes went huge. "Uhm...."
"What punishment? Who's being punished? And what every day, I'm not staying!"
"Oh, don't be silly. Of course there's no punishment."
Donna grabbed her wrist. "Prinela," she ground out. "I was a temp in Chiswick for nearly ten years. Do you have any idea what that means?" At the other woman's headshake, she snarled, her voice rising, "It means I have a bullshit detector a mile and a half wide and it's going off like crazy right now! So don't you stand there and tell me that I'm being silly! You tell me what's going on right now!"
Prinela's chin rose. "Fine," she said haughtily. "Your male companion is under arrest for genocide and once his punishment is over, you will never leave Rindon again. So you and I are going to become the best of friends, don't you see?"
"What?" Donna roared, perfectly aware of who she sounded like but not giving a rip about it at the moment. "Take me to the Doctor!"
"Don't be ridiculous," Prinela scoffed. "You're not going anywhere."
"Of course I am, and you're going to take me there!"
"Donna," Prinela hissed. "You're causing a scene."
And Donna nodded. "Oh, I'm causing a scene, am I? This is causing a scene?" She stepped back until she was in the aisle. She moved to the centre of the aisle, planted her feet, threw her head back and screamed at the top of her lungs:
"PRINELA MATOCO IS A BLOODY SHOP THIEF AND HAS TUCKED A BATCH OF SKIRTS UNDER HER SHIRT!"
"Donna!" Prinela gasped as the security guards moved their way.
Donna watched, arms crossed, as the guards surrounded a now-struggling Prinela, who was screaming that Donna was a liar.
Donna spared her a smirk and a "That, my dear, was causing a scene." before she spun on her heel, dropped her once-potential purchases at the front desk of the store, and bolted.
Shopping could wait. The Doctor needed her!
Despite everything, when he heard her loud voice, he felt himself smile. Good old Donna, he thought. Racing to my rescue like the American Cavalry.
He leaned his head back against the wall and sighed deeply.
Too bad this was the one thing he couldn't be rescued from. Not even by a very determined redheaded spitfire.
"Are you deaf, man?" she bellowed, raising her volume even more. "I said open the bloody door!"
"I'm afraid, ma'am," he answered softly. "That's a dangerous felon in there. We were told he would rip out our--"
"Oh, for G-d's sake!" She snatched the key ring from him and held them spread like a fan before his face. "Just tell me which one it is and you won't be responsible! I'll do it!"
He studied her for a moment, then reached a decision. He reached out and – mutely – tapped a single key.
She nodded firmly and held it, letting the others fall against her palm. "Now get out of here."
He didn't have to be told twice.
She fitted the key into the lock and turned it until it made a satisfying "Click". Then she pushed the door open and stepped inside the room.
The Doctor looked oddly vulnerable, sitting there in handcuffs. He wore no jacket or vest, and his shirt had been untucked from his belt. He had his head tilted back against the wall and his voice was strained. "Hullo, Donna."
"What did they do to you?" she asked, coming to sit beside him on the cot.
His head turned toward her slightly, though his gaze remained fixed over her head. "They tortured me."
The Doctor sighed. "About forty years ago – their time, just a few weeks mine – I landed here. The people were being oppressed by a family who thought they were deserving of the title of 'god'. I showed the people they were mere humans – and the people murdered all but the children. The hope was they could take the children and raise them right."
Donna touched his arm, and his eyes closed. "I take it," she said softly, "it didn't work out that way?" A few weeks ago his time, she thought. That was while I was recovering. When he thought the sight of him would kill me.
"No," he said, just as softly. "No, it didn't work out that way. Jarius – the head man here – is one of the older children who survived. He used this rest stop as a chance for vengeance."
"Will you heal when we get you to the TARDIS?"
He felt himself smile slightly again. When. Not if. Good old Donna. "I'm not sure, this time."
"What do you mean, you're not sure?"
"They pumped me full of drugs, Donna. They've stripped my time sense from me. Without that, I'm just a human with an extra cardio-respiratory system."
"And a brain that holds libraries of information," she pointed out.
He chuckled bitterly. "You would know."
"Yes, but it's like reading about it in a story now," she reminded him.
He smiled and leaned against her for a moment, gratitude stealing his voice. When he'd stripped the Time Lord part from her brain, he'd quite forgotten the magnificent propensity the human body and brain had to heal.
Her brain – quite on its own – had healed around the gaps he'd had to make. The memories had returned slowly, and her now fully human mind now recognised them as being hers, but distant enough that she couldn't remember anything but the facts.
Like reading it in a book.
"Donna," he said against her shoulder. "You're going to have to get us out of here."
And with that, she knew. "They didn't stop at taking your time sense, did they? What else did they do to you?"
"Doctor." She jostled him, pulling him to sit up and turning his face toward her to make her point. "What else did they---" she broke off abruptly, her eyes going huge.
"Oh, my G-d," she whispered.
His eyes were fixed, staring at a point over her head. The rich brown was all but swallowed up by huge pupils that didn't react when his head was tilted to the light.
"Oh, my G-d," she repeated. "You're blind."
His reply was in a choked voice clogged with fear and rage. "Yeah."
The Doctor hadn't quite known what to expect next. He felt arms pull him close and felt Donna's trembling as she just held him.
“How?” she choked out.
“Drugged me,” he breathed, and she heard the residual slurring. “Paralysed me. Couldn't blink. Strapped me down... burnt my sight away with light.... so much brighter than a sun....”
He shook his head. “Don't know... they took my time sense with the drugs. Don't even know how long I've been here.”
She squeezed him and released him, though she kept a hand on his arm. “Well, we're getting out of here.”
“How?” He spread his arms, hearing the “clink” of metal and feeling the tug as the chain refused to stretch any longer. “I'm manacled!”
“They took the sonic screwdriver.”
“I'll find it.”
“Jarius may have something to say about us leaving.”
“I'll handle him.”
“Donna, I can't see!”
“No, you – you don't --- Donna, I need sight to fly the TARDIS! Without sight, we're grounded!”
She squeezed his arm. “Now it's you who don't understand, Spaceman. We've four hands and I know your ears work. We're not as grounded as you think we are!”
There was a long pause, then he turned in the direction of her voice. “Donna?”
He smiled, the joy of it turning sad for her as his dulled brown eyes didn't change at all. “I have missed you.”
“Once I remembered you, I missed you, too. But we're together now and it's all gonna be okay, you hear me?” She brushed her lips against his temple. “All okay. Molto bene!”
“Molto bene,” he repeated, standing and taking a deep breath. “Okay, so....now we.... uhm....”
Donna's voice held a smile. “Now, you sit back down and let me find our things.”
With a sigh, he did so. “I hate this,” he growled. “You're heading into Rassilon-knows-what and I'm left behind, helpless to do anything but wait for you and hope it'll all turn out!”
To his surprise and slight anger, she burst out laughing! “What?” he demanded. “Oi! Stop that! What is it?”
Still chuckling, she kissed the top of his head and cupped his cheek. “That's exactly how we all feel when you go haring off! Welcome to Companionhood, Spaceman.”
“Oi! You!” he growled.
“I'll be right back!” And he heard the click of her heels as she left the room with a confident stride.
He sighed and leaned against the wall again.
Helpless until her return.
There was no telling how long the Doctor waited for Donna. But, when he heard her raised tones outside his cell, he couldn't stop the smile that spread.
He heard the door open and her voice held such a warm smile that he found himself picturing it and returning it. “Right, then! Hold out your hands!”
He did so, stretching them out in front of himself. He felt a tug and a bit of pressure, and then he was suddenly free. “How?” he gasped.
And to his horror, he heard Jarius's voice. “Your companion is most persuasive, Doctor. Because of her impassioned pleas, we have decided to be.... merciful. Your punishment is hereby declared complete. You are free to go.”
He opened his mouth, and Donna's hand landed on his arm. “Not now, Spaceman,” she breathed. “Wait till we're out of here.”
He pressed his lips together in annoyance, and stayed stubbournly silent until he felt warmth on his face. “We're outside?”
“M-hm,” Donna said. “We left the TARDIS in a public park, remember?”
“I do now,” he murmured. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he and Donna had landed on this world. When things had been so different.
When he had still had his now-paralysed time sense.
When he had still been able to see.
They stopped walking, and he heard the creaking of a door. Her hands took his again, and with a “Mind your step”, she led him inside.
He frowned, feeling a fleeting touch to his mind. “Donna?” he asked, standing perfectly still. “Where are we?”
There was a moment of horrified silence, then she whispered, “Oh, Doctor...” at the same time that the whisper of touch in his mind turned into a sharp, agonised wail.
“Oh, Rassilon,” he breathed, his eyes huge as the enormity of what Jarius's drugs had done to him struck like a physical blow.
They were inside the TARDIS.
And he hadn't known it.
Donna stood, watching emotions play across the Doctor's expressive face.
Confusion. Slow realisation. Utter horror. Complete devastation.
“Oh, Rassilon,” he breathed again, his face going so pale that his freckles suddenly stood out in startling contrast.
Without thinking, she took his hands again. “We'll fix it,” she said with absolute conviction in her voice.
“How?” he gasped. “I don't even know what Jarius used on me!”
Donna took a deep breath and forced herself to stare into his blank eyes. “Then we find out. You've got to have some kind of sickbay or infirmary---”
A door suddenly shimmered into view, and Donna smirked. “C'mon.”
“Where?” the Doctor asked, letting her lead him.
Donna went through the doors and found herself in a room with diagnostic equipment and beds. “Doctor, I found your infirmary.”
“It must have moved,” he mused. “In normal times, it's down the hall, not attached---”
“But these aren't exactly normal times,” Donna mused. “Okay, so how does this work?”
The Doctor made a vague gesture. “There's a bed somewhere. Lay me on it and it'll tell you what I've got in my system.” He took off his coat. “Preferably in script you can read.” As he spoke, he began to undo his shirt buttons.
“Oi!” Donna gasped. “What're you doing?”
“If clothing's in there, the healing pod will disintegrate it. And I'm too fond of this outfit to have that.”
She sighed. “Okay. Let me know when you're ready.” She turned her attention to fuss with the bed.
Carefully keeping her eyes on his face, she led him to the bed and helped him lie down. “Do you want the cover?”
He nodded. “Yeah, it's cold.” He sighed as she drew it to his chest. “There's a blue button. Push it to close the pod. Then the green button to run the diagnostic. It'll stop on its own when it's done and the results will be on a screen.” He sighed again. “I hope you can read it. If the pod fills with gas, don't worry – that'll just be the TARDIS deciding I need to be asleep to test deeper or heal right. Okay?”
“Okay,” Donna said. “See you on the other side, Spaceman.”
He smiled, and she pushed the blue button. The cover slid over the Doctor's prone form.
Almost instantly, with a faint hiss, a yellow mist began to fill the pod.
Donna watched anxiously as the Doctor's form relaxed completely. After the mist receded, she pushed the green button.
Then all there was to do was to wait.
The Doctor had once told her that time really had no meaning inside the TARDIS. She'd argued that she still got hungry and tired, and he'd explained that was merely here human biorhythms asserting themselves.
She'd crossed her arms and glared at him. “Then how come you have a kitchen and a bedroom of your own?” she'd countered.
Maddeningly, he'd smiled and shrugged. “I like to eat and sleep,” he'd told her. “Not that I have to, of course....”
“Oi,” she'd growled. “You don't fool me for one second, Mister Martian. You're more human than you want to let on!”
But right now, Donna was intensely glad that the Doctor was alien. Any human who had so many drugs in such massive amounts coursing through his body would be insane or dead.
Donna smiled to see that the drugs were being counteracted. Slowly, slowly, they were leaving the sleeping Time Lord's body.
But her smile fled as the graph that represented the savage damage done to his eyes remained stubbournly unchanged.
At last, the drugs were out of his system. The pod retracted, and the Doctor's eyes fluttered open. His head turned – away from her. “Donna.”
She took his hand, and his head swiveled to face her. “I'm here,” she whispered.
And he smiled. “We're in the vortex,” he said. “And we're inside the TARDIS. I can feel her again. I can feel time again.”
His smile faltered suddenly, and his hand tightened on hers. “Donna....I-I....I'm still blind.”
“I know,” she said. “The primary function seemed to have been getting the drugs out of you.”
He nodded slowly. “And she released me to eat,” he said, sitting up slowly. “To refuel myself, as it were, before she finishes with me.”
“Right,” Donna said. “We'll get you dressed--”
“Just my pyjamas,” he said. “So I only have to mess with four buttons instead of fifteen.”
She cupped his cheek. “I'll be right back.”
She was on her way back to the infirmary – still laughing over the fact that most of the Doctor's boxers had bananas on them – when it hit her.
Bursting into the infirmary, she let out a ”HA!” so loud that it showed she'd forgotten for a moment he couldn't see. He startled so badly that he went down off the table in a comical flailing of arms and legs.
Torn between the impulses to laugh and to fuss over him, she put the clothes on the bed and leaned over it. “You okay, there?” she asked, her voice liberally laced with amusement.
His cold glare lost much of its punch when it was directed over her shoulder. He did manage, though, to lace his voice with enough ice to kill an ocean liner. “Fine, thanks.” Reaching to make certain he didn't hit his head – or anything else – he stood up. “What was that about?”
She handed him his boxers and once he had them on, she handed over his scarlet-and-gold striped pyjamas. “Oh, just over the fact that I finally caught you in a bald-faced lie.”
Anger turned to puzzlement on his expressive face like a switch had been thrown. “What?” he gasped, his fingers stilling in the task of crookedly buttoning the pyjamas. “What did I lie about?”
“Bit crooked, there,” she said as she moved his hands and re-buttoned his pyjama top. “About the big, bad alien drink of water not needing to eat.”
“Oh. That.” Pink kissed his cheekbones, highlighting the sprinkling of freckles there. “Well.....ah, you see, we'd only just met then, and I didn't want--”
She stilled his rambling by gently flattening her palm against his chest. “You were trying to impress me.”
“Well...” the Doctor stammered. “Uh....yes?”
“Thought so,” Donna laughed, running the tip of her finger down his nose and
finishing affectionately, “Dumbo.”
After a hearty meal of chicken and rolls and corn and chips and green beans and banana pudding – and Donna wondering, not for the first time, where the hell he put all that – that Doctor allowed Donna to lead him back to the Infirmary.
She folded his pyjamas neatly as he laid back down and covered himself. “I hope this works,” she breathed.
He smiled. “I'm sure it will. I'm more than ready to leave this darkness behind!”
“Right, then! Are you ready?”
“Donna, what did I just say?”
She laughed, and his rose to join with it. “Okay, then! Here we go!”
“See you later,” the Doctor said as she pushed the button and the pod slowly covered him.
“Yeah,” she breathed, watching the yellow gas fill the pod and dissipate, leaving him sleeping. She pushed the green button.
The screen on the pod lit up, schematics showing the Doctor's eyes and the structural damage Jarius had done. It was truly extensive.
“Okay,” Donna breathed. “Go on. Heal him.”
A loud beep, and another component came into the pod. A blindfold stretched across the Doctor's eyes. It began to softly glow.
And this time – maddeningly slowly – the graph began to move.
“Good girl,” Donna sighed, rubbing her fingers against the pod cover.
It seemed like it took forever. Donna woke twice from involountary sleep, when she just grew too tired to stay awake. She changed into clean clothes twice. She ate several times, whenever she'd find food appearing on the infirmary table. It seemed the TARDIS wouldn't let her neglect herself, even though her entire being was consumed with helpless waiting.
The entire time, the Doctor slept peacefully in the healing pod.
The entire time, the healing steadily progressed.
Donna was napping, curled up on another bed close by, when a cheery beep sounded and the pod began to retract.
The Doctor sat up, blinking. He laughed, raising his hands in front of his face and turning them. “Donna, it worked! Donna, I can see! …..Donna?”
Seeing her asleep, he smiled fondly and stood up. He drew on his pyjamas and lifted her into his arms. She mumbled and he whispered, “Shh, I've got you.” She stilled, curling her face into his shoulder and clutching at his shirt.
He carried her to her room and drew off her shoes, tucking her into bed. He sat beside her and caressed her cheek.
“Thank you, Earth girl,” he whispered, leaning forward to brush a kiss to her cheek. “You took such good care of me.”
And in her sleep, she smiled and captured his hand. He allowed it, stretching out beside her and just watching her sleep.
She'd cared for him and kept him safe.
Now it was his turn.
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