Adalia Zandra (adaliafic) wrote,
Adalia Zandra

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FIC: Snap 3/3

Previous parts: part one | part two 

Snap (3/3)

Donna dreamed of Lee and the children, and a picnic at the play park. A beautifully sunny day, carefree and happy. A loving family spending quality time together.

Slowly, she became aware of a figure cloaked in black sitting on a nearby park bench, watching them.

She tried to ignore it. Tried to cling desperately to the image of her family and the picnic in the park. But, heartbreakingly, it was just an image.

The park dissolved, Lee and the children fading into mere phantoms in her memory. Donna screamed her loss at the figure cloaked in black until it, too, faded away.

She floated, alone and empty, aware only of a paradoxical sense of loss and expectation.

Then there was a voice. A familiar voice, repeating familiar words.

“Hush now. It’s okay. You’ll see me again.”

The voice continued, repeating those same words over and over again, slowly eating away at her composure and her self-control. And she was stuck somehow. She knew that she could stop the words if she could only get free, but she was stuck. She had been stuck for what felt like an eternity.

She was desperate. She would do anything just to make that voice stop… she would beg, plead…

“Please! Please, River, stop! Just… just be quiet, please. Please be quiet!”

Donna woke suddenly to the sound of a body hitting the grating in the TARDIS console room and the feeling of her own body nearly following suit. The shoulder she’d been leaning on was no longer beside her and she had tumbled into an ungainly sprawl on the jump seat, gasping for breath in the wake of her nightmare.

“Please! Please stop it!”

Wait. That wasn’t her voice. And she was awake. The Doctor’s shoulder had moved out from under her and that had woken her.

Wait! The Doctor!

Donna rolled over, trying to stand but instead clumsily dumping herself to the grating with a bang. She muttered a few curses and crawled to the other side of the jump seat, heading for the pair of dirty red trainers she could see there.

“Please, River!” whimpered the Doctor. “Please be quiet!”

He was curled in on himself, eyes squeezed shut and hands pressing against his ears in a clear attempt to block out whatever he was hearing.

Donna didn’t have to guess what that was. Had they somehow shared a dream? Or was this just such an obvious nightmare for them both to have? Did it matter?

“Doctor,” she called gently, shaking his shoulder. “Doctor, wake up.”

“Please!” he cried again. “Please!”

“Doctor!” Donna shouted. Gently calling hadn’t worked, so she tried grabbing his wrists and yanking his hands away from his ears. “Wake up! Doctor!”

His eyes snapped open and he focused on her. He gasped tearfully and pleaded, “Donna? Make it stop, Donna. Make it stop!”

“It was just a nightmare, you’re awake now,” she tried to reassure him.

He shook his head in denial, turning his wrists in her grip so that his hands were holding her wrists as well.

“I can hear her, Donna. Please make her stop!” he begged.

Donna was suddenly very worried. She knew what he’d been through back in the library but she hadn’t quite expected this bad a reaction from him. She’d lost her whole family in that stupid library and she wasn’t crying in a heap on the floor! It just didn’t seem in character and it was frightening and heartbreaking all at the same time. And worse, it seemed to be more than just a nightmare. He was awake, reacting to her, and yet claiming that he could still hear River’s voice. Was this some sort of flashback? A hallucination?

“Just focus on my voice, Doctor,” she told him, leaning over so that she would fill his field of vision. Their gazes met and held. “Just listen to me, don’t worry about anything else. You’re on the TARDIS. You fell asleep in the console room and you had a nightmare. But you’re awake now. You’re awake, you’re safe. I’m here. There’s nobody but us. It’s quiet. You’re awake. It’s okay.”

Maybe it was the way he seemed to calm as he listened to her that made her confidence swell and made her careless. But she’d fallen into a rhythm of soothing phrases and the one word she definitely should not have used just slipped out before she had a chance to think twice about it.

The Doctor reacted violently. He pulled away from her, scrambling backwards until he hit the base of one of the TARDIS’s coral support struts. There he sat, hands over his ears once more, shouting, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! It’s not okay!”

He looked wild, scared and angry. He glared at her, repeating, “It’s not okay!”

“I’m sorry!” she cried. “But you are in the TARDIS, you did fall asleep in the console room and have a nightmare, and you are awake now! Can you really still hear her voice?”

He nodded, keeping his hands in place over his ears.

She cautiously approached him, crawling forward again, stopping just in front of him.

“I heard her, too. When we were both asleep,” she admitted.

His eyes widened, and his hands loosened their death grip on his head as he seemed to perk up with interest at her words.

“I had a nightmare,” Donna continued. “I heard River. And then you fell off the jump seat and I woke up. I can’t hear her any more. It was just a dream. And you’re awake, now, too.”

“But I can still hear her!” he protested. “Those same words over and over again and I’d do anything… anything to make her stop!”

“I don’t know how to help you!” Donna cried. “I wish I could do something, but you’re already awake! I don’t know why you can still hear her!”

“Why… why can I still…” the Doctor mumbled. He closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate. “Shut up, River, I'm trying to think! Why can I still hear…”

Donna waited, barely breathing, hoping to God that he would be able to figure out what was going on because she certainly didn’t have a clue.

“… can still hear her… hard to think… too much noise, too tired… still tired… why? Why am I tired?”

He opened his eyes and looked at Donna, as if addressing that question to her.

She glanced at her watch. “We only slept for an hour or so. I’m still tired, myself.”

But he shook his head and closed his eyes again.

“Shouldn’t be this tired… no energy… like I’ve been drained somehow… something’s wrong, Donna. Something’s very, very wrong!”

“What can I do?” she replied, reaching out to him again, his time holding on to his shoulders. “Can I help? Doctor?”

He made an inarticulate noise of frustration. “I can’t think! I can’t… shut up, River!

Donna spent a small moment panicking helplessly as she watched him breathe heavily through clenched teeth. Then, hoping to bank on the success she’d had before until she’d clumsily used the one forbidden word, she squeezed his shoulders tightly and took a deep breath of her own.

“Of course you can think, Doctor, you can always think,” she told him, trying to sound calm and soothing. “Just open your eyes, that’s it. Just look at me, listen to my voice. You can figure this out. You can do it.”

His eyes had opened and again their gazes met. He still looked like he was indulging in a bit of panic, himself, but now Donna could see his usual determination in his eyes as well.

“That’s it,” she said encouragingly. What were the questions he’d asked himself? “Why are you still tired? Why can you still hear her?”

“Her voice. She’s still ghosting?” he muttered. “Ghosting… from the comm unit… the neural relay… neural… relay… it connects to the wearer, draws power from them…”

Then he gasped suddenly and began squirming like he was trying to swat away an insect that had crawled onto his suit.

“I’m thick!” he cried. “I told you I was thick. I am! I’m so thick!”

Donna sat back quickly to avoid being hit by wildly flailing limbs, watching as he wiggled up onto his knees and then shoved his hands deep into his pockets. He felt around frantically, and then one hand came up triumphantly an instant later, clutching River’s comm unit.

He nearly dropped it in his haste but quickly recovered his grip on the small piece of plastic. Then he tossed it over Donna’s head, flinging it away from himself.

She heard it ping off the edge of the console and turned in time to see it bounce off the back of the jump seat. It landed on the grating a good distance away from them with a clatter.

Its green lights blinked merrily.

Donna turned back to see that the Doctor had fallen back against the coral strut again. He sat with his knees drawn up and his head buried in his arms, panting for breath.

“What was that all about? What happened?” she asked him, slowly moving to sit beside him.

He looked up at her.

“The comm units run off a neural relay, remember? They draw power from the person wearing them, connect to their neural pathways. River’s pattern was fused into her comm unit in a massive burst of power during the memory transfer,” he explained.

“But… what happened?” Donna had to ask again.

“As long as it was connected to her suit while she was connected to the data core it was drawing power from the computer. But as soon as I took it, it started drawing from me, instead. Massive amounts of power, linking through my own neural pathways,” he elaborated. “It was in my head. She was ghosting in my head because I had that thing in my pocket.”

He started shivering slightly as he spoke, and Donna didn’t waste time debating with herself when her newly-found maternal instincts told her to hug him again. She reached an arm around his shoulders, pulling him close. He leaned against her willingly.

“But the neural… thing… the comm unit, it was in your screwdriver. I mean, future you. When you gave it to her. If you react to it like this, how can you carry it around like that?” she asked him, hoping to keep him calm and thinking rationally.

“Easy,” he said with a small laugh. “I just have to fix it so it draws power from the screwdriver. Then it won’t link with me. It’ll take some work to boost the screwdriver’s power capacity. I’ll have to do it, though. It needs power or the pattern will degrade over time. And that would cause a paradox, because I’ve already saved her. But it can be done.”

“That’s good,” she replied, letting her head rest against his where he was leaning on her shoulder. The reversal of position from how they’d drifted off together on the jump seat amused her for a moment, during which they sat there silently.

“Are you all right?” she asked him then, worried about him. Without River’s comm unit affecting him he seemed fine, except that he was being quiet and was letting her practically hold him as they sat there on the floor.

“What about you?” he turned the question back on her.

“I’m always all right,” she turned his own reply back on him.

“Is that special Donna code for really not all right at all?” he asked.

She chuckled quietly, then admitted, “Yeah. Suppose it is. It’s like I’ve just lost my whole family… except I know Mum and Granddad are fine at home, and I know that Lee and the children weren’t even real. I don’t even really remember… a life with them. It’s more like I remember remembering them, now. And it hurts because I want to remember.”

“That’s an after-effect of the virtual world you were in. Your mind was never meant to exist in a computer like that, so the computer had to fudge things a bit when it came to consciousness and memory. It was essentially a dream. You’ll remember it like a dream,” he explained. Then, with more compassion and less science teacher in his tone, he added, “But it was still real to you.”

“It was,” she agreed.

“It’s strange,” he said. “You remember dreaming a life you know you never had. I know I’m going to have a life I can’t even dream of remembering yet.”

He gave a little laugh, and one of his hands came up to find one of hers and squeeze it tightly. She squeezed his hand in reply. He sat up then, taking a deep breath.

“I feel much better without that thing draining energy from me,” he observed.

He stood, using his grip on her hand to pull her up with him.

“Do you want me to pick it up for you?” she asked, not wanting him to have to endure another single moment of having River ghosting in his mind. “Can it latch on to me like that?”

“No, it took time for it to fully sync up with me, especially because I kept forcing myself to think about other things. Like snapping open the TARDIS doors. It was only able to fully integrate after I fell asleep because it was draining so much energy from me. So it’s safe for you to pick it up,” he replied. “Just bring it over here to the console. Thanks.”

She walked over to the comm unit. Its green lights were still blinking away. She picked it up and carried it back over to where the Doctor now stood, holding open a small cupboard in the console’s edge.

“She’s really stuck in here? A whole person in this tiny little thing?” Donna had to ask, marveling at the small piece of technology in her hands.

“Just her pattern. Frozen in time, like I said,” he told her. He gestured to the open cupboard.

She carefully placed the comm unit inside and took a small step back as he carefully closed the lid.

They held their places for a moment. It felt oddly like a funeral to Donna, so she kept herself silent until the Doctor finally shook himself and began to move away.

She watched him dance around the console, pulling levers and hitting buttons. The familiar racket of dematerialization started up and Donna knew they were finally leaving the library.

She thought about trying to convince him to park the TARDIS somewhere quiet long enough for her to get a real night’s rest, but decided that she could work on that later. Maybe she would ask him for a trip home, to visit her real family. Her Mum and Granddad.

It still hurt when she thought about Lee and her children and the life that she could still distantly remember dreaming. But the Doctor looked like he was feeling more like himself again and his energetic chirpiness was as contagious as ever.

“I guess we’re both all right, then,” she observed, clinging to a railing near the console as the TARDIS began to shake and rattle around her. “Next chapter’s this way!”

“Yeah,” the Doctor replied, looking solemnly across at her even as he clung desperately to the controls. “And you know what, Donna? That’s okay.”

They shared knowing grins across the console as the TARDIS hurtled them headfirst into the future.

Tags: doctor who, fic, snap
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