Author: Adalia Zandra
Characters: Ten, Rose, Jack. Just the littlest bit of human!Ten and Donna.
Categories: AU, Action/Adventure, Angst, Whump, H/C, OT3
Rating/Warnings: Teen, spoilers for the end of S4
Summary: The OT3 go on their first adventure together in an AU post-JE world. But the TARDIS redirects them slightly, and something is very wrong when they arrive. They decide to interfere. (In which the OT3 meet some interesting aliens and learn together about the subjective nature of truth.)
Author’s Notes: Written for nightrider101 as part of the OT3 Ficathon 2009. More info in the original author's notes.
Disclaimer/Apology: I don’t own these characters, I’m just borrowing them. For better or worse, I happen to be American. So please excuse my English.
Teaspoon Link: Click for whole fic (to date).
LJ Links: Part One | Part Two
Part Three — Searching for Hope
The Doctor was not having a good decade for volcanoes.
Finding out that he was the cause of the eruption that wiped out Pompeii and then nearly being killed in the blast, along with his companion (oh, Donna…) and the entire population of the city, apparently was not enough.
Now there was another mountain with its molten heart set on causing him trouble. And, of course, there was a volcanic cult suicidally bent on moving closer to the mountain instead of politely listening to his advice and thus surviving to grow into the hugely important species they were supposed to be.
Why couldn’t the TARDIS come up with an easy mission for him, just once? Maybe save a two-headed Xoiqish kitten from a Roatian dog-tree? Help a little old Tezh androgyne cross the street on Dool VI?
No, she had to dump him here just in time to be upstaged by a volcano whilst trying to convince the prehistoric Grex to save themselves from their own religious misconceptions.
The Doctor sighed philosophically, trying to ignore Castus’s continued ranting in his general direction. This was one thing he knew for a fact was definitely not, in any conceivable way, his fault.
There was nothing, after all, which he could directly do about the volcano.
Large chunks of nearly-molten rock began to rain down across the village. The Doctor hopped off the platform but remained standing near its edge, keeping a wary eye on the sky, waiting for the panicked crowd to disperse enough to clear a path for him out of the square.
The next time he happened to glance up at the platform, it was unoccupied. Castus had apparently decided he had better things to do than berate the Doctor.
He also kept an eye out for Rose and Jack, hoping that they were as safe as they could be amidst the panic. He expected that they’d be trying to find him, but knowing them they would be distracted by helping any individual Grex they encountered along the way.
He was worried for them, but he also knew they could take care of themselves. They were both competent and experienced.
It was still just the littlest bit odd to think of Rose that way, though. She’d always been competent, but it had been his job to help her start gaining some experience. Wasn’t she still two days out of Henrik’s and charmingly surprised by how alien the aliens were? Or maybe he’d just idolized his memory of her as that wide-eyed innocent after he’d lost her.
She’d been a wide-eyed innocent with a disturbingly large gun when he’d found her again. When she’d found him again.
She’d found him again! That in and of itself was still a bit unbelievable. And wonderful. And unbelievable. He felt like he’d spent the last two weeks blinking at her to see if she was still there.
Which she was, of course. But she was different. Not really bad or… wrong… just different. A little more militaristic and a little less naïve. And that was sort of the point.
Davros’s words, if not Castus’s, were still ringing in his ears.
“But this is the truth, Doctor! You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor, you made this!”
It really was the truth. He’d left his mark on all of them, in one way or another. They’d all changed because of him. Sadly, Davros hadn’t even been wrong about their newfound potential for murder.
Martha had almost destroyed her entire planet with the turn of a key. Though, unlike his oh-so-lucky self, she would not have survived her experience of genocide. Not to mention what the others had been up to with that warp star… dangerous little things, warp stars. They could have done almost as much damage as Martha.
So, yes, he knew what he tended to do to his companions. Had already done to them. Davros was right. He pulled them out of their proper lives, fashioned them into his weapons, and then left them behind when they were broken.
He’d been thinking a lot about it since the mess with Davros. And Donna.
It didn’t seem fair to do that to them just because he was lonely. He didn’t want them to suffer just for being his friends. He cared for them.
Each and every one of them. He… really cared for them. Maybe too much.
He was just pretty sure he didn’t deserve them.
Not that Rose and Jack seemed to be giving him much choice these days. They’d stuck to him like the proverbial glue for the past two weeks. They’d been determined to stick around long enough for things to settle on Earth, and for the Doctor to get the idea that they were not going to let him leave alone.
They’d taken turns staying with him on the TARDIS, complete with facetiously staged changings of the guard. That way each could get things done outside and still be sure that he’d be there when they returned. He’d refused to leave with either of them onboard, so their plan had worked admirably.
Cheeky humans. Sneaky, cheeky humans.
On one hand, he supposed he was grateful. After everything he’d done to both of them, he couldn’t imagine why they insisted on staying. But he was grateful.
On the other hand, he knew it would be better for them if they stayed away. The only question was if he had the courage to do what was right for them.
He suspected that he didn’t, and already mourned how much more he would inevitably hurt them.
So on the one hand, he hoped they would (stay…) rejoin him for the trip he knew he was shortly going to have to take up the Grex’s all-hallowed volcano. And on the other hand, he hoped they would stay (stay away…) relatively safe, in the village, helping the Grex as they could.
He mused idly for a moment about how full his ‘hands’ apparently were, and how someone really ought to invent pockets for that sort of thing. Maybe that would make his life easier.
Then he was accosted by a large, brown blur, barreling into him and spinning him around. He found himself slammed up against the platform face first, a rather unexpected and equally uncomfortable development. Strong hands pinned his arms at his sides.
“Oof!” he said in protest, his hands scrabbling for purchase, searching for any sort of leverage with which to free himself.
“This is all your fault!” cried his attacker. His voice wasn’t familiar, meaning he was one of the nameless thousands of Grex who had stood in that crowd and listened to Castus blame the Doctor for an inconvenient Act of Nature.
The Doctor abruptly gave up struggling in favor of returning his new acquaintance’s unfriendly sentiments verbally.
“Sure, blame me! Of all the things in this misbegotten Universe that one could consider to be in any way my fault, your ruddy volcano is last on the list!”
With one concentrated effort, the Doctor used his relatively unencumbered legs to shove off from the side of the platform. Both he and his attacker tumbled to the ground.
He rolled free and stumbled back onto his feet only to find himself confronted with two more very angry Grex.
“You angered the spirits!” one of the newcomers accused, advancing on him. The other stopped to help the Doctor’s original attacker back to his feet before both of them advanced as well.
The Doctor backed away a few steps.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to talk about this?” he suggested hopefully.
“It was your talking that angered the Mountain!” one of them replied.
“We are being punished because of you!” another added.
They closed in on him. The Doctor backed away another step.
“Look out! It’s coming right for us!” he shouted suddenly, pointing dramatically into the air.
The three Grex in front of him instinctively and fearfully looked up to search the sky for incoming rocks or debris.
The Doctor hastily backed further away, turning to put some distance between him and them with a good run.
In his next step, he nearly fell over the edge of the short ramp leading up onto the platform. He caught himself in time, but the moment was lost and the three Grex were closing in again.
He was pinned in the corner between the platform and the ramp. There wasn’t enough time to jump up. They’d only grab him and pull him back down.
He wondered if they’d fall for the same trick twice, but somehow he didn’t think so.
They looked very, very angry.
This was going to hurt.
“Oi! Leave him alone!”
Only two of the Grex could actually reach him at a time in his corner. Two was enough.
“I said leave him alone!”
Could he stop them without actually damaging them? Or himself? Time to find out…
“Stop! I said stop! You have more important things to be doing right now!”
Suddenly there was only one Grex in front of him, threateningly waving his fists.
“Stop it, I said!”
Then there were none.
“Go see to your families, your homes! Go!”
And then there was a Grex in front of him again, but this one was different. Smaller, dressed differently.
She was waving her happily un-fisted hand in front of his face.
“Are you all right?” she asked. It was the woman who’d joined Ales on the platform before the mountain had abruptly ended the village meeting by impolitely erupting.
“Brilliant!” he replied, taking a moment to try knocking some brown dust off his brown coat. He couldn’t really tell if it had worked. “Friends of yours, were they?”
She shook her head. “Not really. They’re troublemakers. But I’m an acolyte, so they listen to me. Usually.”
“Well, thanks,” the Doctor said. “I really didn’t think that was going to end well.”
“It still might not,” she told him seriously. “Were you telling the truth about the Mountain?”
“What, about the poison?” he replied. “Of course I was telling the truth! I don’t go around claiming things like that just for fun, you know.”
“But can you prove it?” she insisted. “The only way to make Castus tell everyone to leave the Mountain is to prove it!”
He nodded. “I know. I’m going to go up the mountain to get samples of the gas and the water. I can prove that they’ll make you sick, and that I can help cure you if you leave this place. I’ll prove it if I have to kidnap Castus to do it!”
“I’m going with you,” she told him firmly. “I know where to find water and air from inside the Mountain. And Castus might listen to me. I’m his niece.”
The Doctor considered her critically. She clearly had a good head on her shoulders and plenty of courage under fire. She was determined, and she claimed to know where to look for what he needed.
But she was young, she had her whole life ahead of her, and the trip would probably be dangerous. In the end, he couldn’t let her risk her life just to help him.
“No,” he said, shaking his head decisively. “It’s too dangerous. I’m going alone.”
“Don’t be stupid,” she replied angrily. “We don’t have time for that kind of lone-hero foolishness. It makes more sense not to go alone if it’s dangerous. And I know where to find the water and air from the Mountain!”
She shocked him by grabbing his arms and proceeding to physically shake him.
“I’m going. Are you coming with me, or am I going to have to waste time convincing my brother to join me?” she asked him.
He blinked. When had this become her expedition?
“Why do you believe me, anyway?” he asked her. He was startled, and it was the first question that came to his mind.
“I don’t,” she replied honestly. “But what you’ve said seems saner to me than moving closer to this spirits-forsaken mountain. I want to see you try to prove your claims.”
“What’s this, then? An acolyte who doesn’t mindlessly revere the Great Mons Vitae?” the Doctor said brightly, suddenly more interested in her than in convincing her to stay behind. “That’s brilliant! What’s your name?”
“Avia,” she replied. “And ‘the Great Mons Vitae’ killed my husband. I have neither love nor reverence for it any longer, and I refuse to see my pouchling grow up in fear of it.”
As if in response, a large rock thudded into the ground several meters away. The Doctor had been too distracted by his new friend to pay attention to the sky and didn’t notice it until its impact. They were lucky it hadn’t landed any closer, but as it was they were showered with hot ash and dirt.
It was actually surprising that they hadn’t been hit sooner. Telling by the muffled thumps and panicked shouts audible from all direction in the village, the entire settlement was getting quite a pounding.
They both coughed as they breathed dusty air, but other than that Avia barely blinked in reaction. She just ruffled her wings and ran a hand through her short, brown hair. As the Doctor tried to brush ash out of his own hair, he noticed that Avia, unlike most of the Grex he’d seen, was completely uninjured.
And she did know where to look for the samples. She might actually be helpful.
She had a stake in this, as well. It was the fate of her child and her species hanging in the balance.
“All right! You can come with me,” the Doctor acceded, speaking as if it had been Avia making the arguments in her favor aloud instead of himself in his own mind. “My name’s the Doctor. We’re going to make a lovely team, you and I.”
She gave him an odd look.
“I’m still not sure I trust you,” she reminded him. “I don’t know who you are, Doctor, or where you’re from. I’m not even convinced that you’re Grex and not… something else. Spirits only know what, though.”
“Oh, I’m something else, all right,” the Doctor replied cheekily, giving Avia a grin. He liked her. “Are you coming along, then?”
With one last ineffective swipe at the ash covering his shoulders and arms, he set off resolutely towards the mountain. The square was now mostly clear, the Grex having scattered either to flee or to attempt to minimize the damage from the eruption.
He was pleased when Avia reappeared beside him a moment later, hurrying to catch up.
“We’d do better to go that way,” she said then, pointing slightly to the left of their current path.
“You said you know where I can find my samples?” he asked, even as he obligingly adjusted his course. They were now headed out of the village towards a different part of the mountain’s slope.
“My brother and I used to play on the slopes when we were pouchlings, before the mountain turned on us,” Avia explained. “We found a cave, about an hour and a half’s walk from the edge of the village. Inside the cave, we found a hot spring. There was warm air bubbling up through the water, heating it.”
“Water and air from inside the mountain, just as you said. That’s perfect,” he replied, “though it sounds a bit far. I’d be happier to find something closer.”
“There might very well be a closer spring, but not that I know of from my own explorations,” she told him. “We can look as we go.”
They were deep into the settlement now, the square out of sight behind them. All around them, people rushed about carrying buckets of water, moving belongings or supplies, or helping each other. There seemed to be a few people here and there whose sole purpose was to stand lookout, watching the sky and warning their fellows of incoming missiles.
Despite the devastation the mountain was wreaking upon them, the Doctor was at least pleased to see how the Grex pulled together to make the best of their nearly hopeless situation. Here was a glimpse of the Grex as he knew they had the potential to be.
He was still keeping an eye out for Jack or Rose, but saw neither of them before he and Avia reached the boundary of the village. In the full three hundred and sixty degrees of settlement around the square, apparently neither Rose nor Jack had found themselves anywhere on his particular path towards the edge.
There was no time to go back and look for them if Avia was right and the nearest source of samples was an hour and a half away. Perhaps a bit less, if that estimate was based on the average walking speed of a pouchling. And if they rushed.
He picked up his pace a bit, happy to see that Avia appeared to have no trouble keeping up. It was, he had to grudgingly admit, nice to have someone along.
He really hoped Rose and Jack were all right.
In no time at all, he and Avia were beyond the edge of the settlement and on the mountain’s slope. It was a dreary and brown landscape dotted with boulders and scraggly trees.
Ash from the eruption covered nearly everything, though fewer of the large rocks seemed to be landing at their level the further up the slope they ventured. That, at least, was a blessing. The Doctor found it difficult enough to keep his footing without having to dodge falling boulders as well as stationary ones. Luckily, what exposed magma there was seemed to be confined to sparse and easily avoidable pockets.
Avia led the way confidently, keeping up the brisk pace the Doctor had set back in the village. He was curious about her, about her life and what had made her into the frankly amazing person she was now, but she seemed reluctant to talk as they travelled. Eventually he stopped asking her questions and instead focused on keeping up.
She seemed to have an easier time than him on the rougher terrain they encountered about twenty minutes into their journey. The trees had thinned out even more and then disappeared completely, leaving only a barren and rocky landscape before them. The slope was fairly steep, and the loose dirt made for tricky footing as they continued to climb.
About ten minutes after they left the timberline behind them, the eruption seemed to finally peter out and stop. Avia only increased her pace in response, explaining, “Castus will have everyone packing up and getting ready to move now. They’ll start out as soon as they can, and go back later for what they can’t carry at first. We’re running out of time.”
He agreed, but found himself marveling at how quickly and easily she was able to navigate the perilous landscape. He was busy working on a theory in the back of his mind about the extra stability afforded by a lower center of gravity and a pair of articulated wings when, unsurprisingly, he became the first of them to take a tumble. A rock he’d though was secure turned out not to be, and his foot slipped out from under him.
He didn’t fall far, but landed crookedly with most of his weight bearing down on one wrist in the instant before it gave way and dumped him nearly on his face.
He rolled over, holding his right wrist carefully, and looked up to see Avia making her way back towards him.
“Are you all right?” she asked, concern in her voice and written across her features.
“Lovely,” he replied, sitting up easily. His wrist was throbbing like mad, but didn’t seem to be broken.
He levered himself up using his other arm, instinctively brushing at the dirt on his coat even though he knew by now that it was a lost cause.
“Fit as a fiddle, see?” he added when she still looked concerned. He stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, careful not to topple over.
She flashed a quick smile, which the Doctor returned.
“Let’s keep going, then,” she said. “I think we’re a little bit more than halfway there.”
“We’re making good time, then,” he observed. “It’s only been just over half an hour.”
“We still need to hurry,” she replied, and that was that. They set off again, and again she seemed reluctant to talk.
She’d been so forthcoming back in the village. The Doctor wondered if it was something he’d said.
He turned his attention back to the physics of articulated wings on humanoids, mostly as a mental diversion from worrying about how Rose and Jack had fared in the eruption.
They were fine.
They could take care of themselves, and each other. It was his job to worry about finding proof of the harmful gasses in the mountain.
And to keep Avia safe in the process, though she’d mostly done a much better job of taking care of him than the other way around. The Doctor didn’t get his chance to return the favor until about fifty minutes into their trek, when it was Avia’s turn to slip and go down.
He was too far back to catch her, and had to spend a very busy moment dodging the rocks sent tumbling down at him by her fall. When he got to her, she was flat on her stomach on the steeply sloped ground, her wings raised and spread out over her head and shoulders in much the same way a human would instinctively cover their head with their arms.
The edge of one wing was pinned underneath a medium-sized rock.
“Avia?” he questioned.
Her free wing slipped away from her face.
“I’m fine,” she ground out. “Can you please get that rock off my wing?”
“One removed rock, coming right up,” the Doctor replied, carefully positioning himself next to her wing. He checked his footing, then bent down to lift the rock.
It was more difficult to get a solid grip than it was to actually lift the weight, and he had the rock off her and tossed down the mountain behind them in short order.
“How’s the wing?” he asked as he helped her stand. A few mottled brown feathers remained behind in the dust where the rock had been.
She shrugged her shoulder experimentally, ruffling the limb in question. Another feather shook loose and fluttered to join its brethren on the ground.
“S’all right, I think,” she replied after a moment, sounding almost surprised. “It was mostly caught on the feathers, so it’s just bruised. Thanks.”
“Least I could do,” he replied in turn, glad that she was okay. “Onward, then?”
“I think we’re there, actually,” Avia told him, turning to look around carefully. “That ridge looks familiar…”
Her voice trailed off, and a moment later she nodded resolutely. “Yes, that’s it. The cave entrance ought to be just over there.”
“Well, let’s go get ourselves some samples, then!” the Doctor said, clapping his hands and then rubbing them together excitedly.
Avia once again led the way, this time much more slowly as she kept an eye out for the cave entrance.
“Do you actually have something to put those samples of yours in?” she asked him as she looked.
The Doctor blinked, and abruptly began rummaging in his coat pockets.
“Of course I do!” he replied only an instant later, proudly displaying a handful of vials. They were made of a specially formulated glass compound, designed to be extra-strong, which was probably why they had survived in his pockets since… oh, when had he last seen them? That time in that laboratory on that planet…? He hoped they were clean, and nonchalantly pried the rubber stopper out of one and waved it under his nose with a sniff.
Avia was giving him another strange look.
“See?” he said, and waved the open vial at her.
She shook her head like she wasn’t quite sure what to make of him, but that was a reaction he had long since become used to. He grinned at her, then put the stopper back in the vial and returned the entire handful of vials to his coat pocket.
“This is it,” she said, apparently opting to ignore him and instead pointing to what appeared to be a hole in the ground. “It’s a small drop, then it opens up into a passageway into the mountain. The spring is at the other end of the passageway.”
The Doctor eyed the hole uneasily, suddenly worried. He hadn’t realized that Avia’s cave was actually a fully underground tunnel leading into the mountain. For no real reason, he’d assumed it would just be a stereotypical hole in the mountainside.
“And you haven’t been here in how many years?” he asked.
“It’s been at least ten summers,” she replied with a shrug. “Why?”
“How do you know it hasn’t caved in during all the eruptions that have happened?” he asked.
Avia looked up at him nervously.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “Does that mean we’ve probably come all the way up here for nothing?”
“Maybe not,” the Doctor replied, trying to be cheerful. “Let’s have a look. Worst case, we try to find another water or steam source somewhere else on our way back down to the village.”
Avia gave him another nervous glance, and then seemed to gather her courage. She practically hopped into the hole.
The Doctor peered in after her, but it was too dark to see much other than the ground just beneath the opening.
“It looks clear so far!” Avia’s voice called up to him. “Come on!”
Feeling a little more optimistic, the Doctor eased himself down into the hole. It was just barely deeper than he was tall, but there was a steep slope leading down from the edge that made it easy to slide down, and hopefully to walk back up.
Near the entrance, the walls and ceiling of the tunnel seemed to be more dirt than rock. It was tightly packed, but still sent clouds of ash into the air if knocked into or otherwise disturbed, such as by the passage of two would-be spelunkers.
Shaking more ash out of his hair, the Doctor turned to follow Avia’s voice. She was waiting for him just beyond a bend in the tunnel a few meters down.
“I can’t see much past here,” she told him. She was holding what looked to be an old torch, using it to gesture towards a pile of similar torches stacked up against the wall. “We used to leave these here for when we visited. Looks like a few of them are still usable.”
“That’ll be helpful,” he replied happily. “Give us a tick, and we’ll have that burning.”
A quick spin through the sonic screwdriver’s functions and he found one that would ignite the ten year old torch. In short order it was burning merrily. He spirited the sonic away back into his pocket.
“What was that strange sound? And how did you do that without flint?” Avia breathed in awe.
“Aw, that’s nothing,” the Doctor replied. “You should see what I can do with everlasting matches. Now! Which way to the hot spring?”
“Who are you?” she asked, still staring at him in the flickering torchlight.
“I’m just the Doctor,” he said, shrugging.
“But… what does that mean? Where did you come from?” she persisted.
“What does it matter? You didn’t care before,” he replied defensively. “Are we going to go get samples, or not?”
“I don’t understand you,” she said, shaking her head. She obviously wasn’t talking about the samples.
“Join the club,” he suggested with a wry smile. “But interspecies misunderstandings aren’t our most pressing problem. Well, not right now. Well… anyway. Hot spring?”
“This way,” she finally said, but as she turned to lead the way down the tunnel the Doctor clearly heard her mutter, “Inter-… species?”
Well, this was an interesting development. He wondered what Avia would make of the confirmation of her suspicions that he was not even Grex.
He considered what he knew of her again as he followed her. She seemed nice enough. She was a young mother from a family with high social standing, currently in training to be a religious leader and yet still able to make rational decisions that differed from her training. She was willing to go out on a limb for the sake of a stranger. And she hated the mountain they were currently wandering further into because it had killed her husband and was terrorizing her pouchling and her people.
He liked her, for all that he was a little worried how she’d react when it became obvious that he was an alien. She’d already made it clear that she didn’t really trust him, which honestly was part of why he liked her. She was smart.
“What’s your pouchling’s name?” he asked her suddenly, ducking to avoid hitting his head on an overhang. She hadn’t wanted to talk about Ales, or Castus, or her childhood, or the village, or the mountain… maybe she would talk about her child.
“Spero,” she replied, pride evident in her voice. “He’ll soon be five summers, not really a pouchling any longer, but he’s still small for his age.”
“You must love him very much,” the Doctor continued.
“Of course I do. I’m doing this for him,” she said quietly. Then she gave him a level stare over her shoulder. “Why do you keep asking me about myself, when you won’t answer my questions about you?”
Well, she had him there.
He shrugged. “My friends tell me I’m rude,” he said by way of explanation, grinning sheepishly.
Avia couldn’t seem to hide a tiny smile. “They’re right. You are. But I still don’t…”
She stopped suddenly and reached a hand out to touch the wall near her head.
“What is it?” the Doctor asked. He reached out to touch the wall as well. Here, further into the tunnel, the walls were now mostly stone. But they still seemed to be partly made up of a large quantity of packed dirt.
They also seemed to be rumbling ever so slightly.
“Oh, no, not again…!” he complained. This just wasn’t fair!
“Come on!” Avia shouted. “The spring should only be a few minutes ahead if we run!”
Their dark little world shook around them, and suddenly the Doctor was trying to breathe dirt again.
He coughed to clear his throat and shouted, “We need to get out of here!”
“It’s lasted this long, it isn’t going to cave in now! Come on!” Avia replied, using one hand to steady herself on the wall as she moved further into the tunnel.
“Avia!” he tried again, but she wasn’t listening. They really needed to get out. But he’d brought her here, and he couldn’t leave her now.
He had no choice but to follow her.
The torchlight sputtered as the entire mountain seemed to shake, dousing them yet again in dirt and ash. They turned another corner, and came to an abrupt halt as they discovered that the cave had not, in fact, survived the last ten years completely unscathed.
“Can we go back, now?” the Doctor asked, coughing again. It was getting noticeably harder to breathe.
Avia was wheezing slightly, staring in obvious anger at the large stone that seemed to be propped up against the tunnel wall, almost completely blocking their path.
“I think I can fit underneath it!” she said, and pushed the torch into the Doctor’s hand.
He accepted it rather than let it drop to the ground.
“Avia, don’t!” he cried after her, but she was already on her hands and knees, working her way underneath the stone.
“I’ve not come this far just to give up!” she shouted back at him, her voice muffled.
The mountain rumbled again. The walls were shaking, shedding more dirt on and around the Doctor.
He looked at the walls and the stone above Avia carefully.
Some of the dirt around the stone was shifting.
The mountain shook again.
Make that a lot of the dirt around it.
“Avia! Get out of there!”
Too late. It was going slide down the wall.
He dropped the torch and dove under the stone as the mountain continued to shake.
The Doctor was really not having a good decade for volcanoes.
Sixty-three very long and very loud seconds later…
Avia’s ears were ringing, but that was the least of her problems. She was stretched out on her stomach underneath the large stone that had blocked their path, one wing and one leg up to her hip pinned tightly between it and the dirt floor of the tunnel.
She wasn’t crushed, just painfully pinned. She also wasn’t yet sure why the whole thing hadn’t just flattened her into the ground.
The mountain was still shaking and rumbling, every vibration running through her painfully, but the loud sound of the nearby cave wall collapsing at least seemed to have stopped. This was a good thing, since she currently seemed to be underneath said wall.
“Not your brightest move,” she whispered to herself.
“No, not really,” came a strained voice from very nearby.
“Doctor?” she questioned. She opened her eyes carefully, blinking the dirt out of them, only to find that she couldn’t see. “What happened to the torch?”
“Buried in what’s left of the wall, I expect,” the same strained voice replied. “Can you get free? Back yourself out into the tunnel?”
Avia tried to inch herself backwards, but was too tightly pinned to move. She tried using her arms to dig at the dirt beneath her trapped wing, but couldn’t make any real progress. She couldn’t even reach her leg to try to free it, and it hurt too much to try moving it.
“I’m stuck,” she admitted. She felt like an idiot.
The mountain rumbled around them again.
She felt like a very frightened idiot.
Oh, Spero, she thought, I was trying to save you but I think I may have just orphaned you instead! Oh, my son, I’m so sorry…
“Okay,” the Doctor said very slowly, interrupting her inner monologue. “I have good news, and I have bad news.”
“Yes?” she prompted him when he didn’t continue. Some good news would be nice, and she couldn’t imagine what bad news would be worse than what she’d already done.
“Well, which do you want first?” he asked, as if this was obvious. “You’re s’pposed to say.”
“Er… I don’t know. Bad?” she answered, wondering why it was important. He’d tell her both, wouldn’t he?
“The bad news is that we’re trapped underneath this rock and I don’t think we’ll be able to get ourselves free without getting squished in the process,” he replied. “And I don’t really recommend getting squished.”
Okay. That was pretty bad, but she’d pretty much guessed that already.
“What’s the good news, then?” she asked.
“We aren’t dead,” he replied succinctly. “That’s always a plus in situations like this.”
Avia had to laugh at that. “You’re mad!”
“So I’ve been told,” he agreed amiably.
There was still an odd edge to his voice. It didn’t sound like fear or blame.
Maybe it was pain. Was he hurt?
The mountain gave another almighty heave around them. As it settled again and her own pain eased off, Avia thought she heard the Doctor moaning quietly.
“Are you injured?” she asked him after she had coughed enough to clear her lungs again. It was getting noticeably harder and harder to breathe. She wondered if it was just all the dust in the air, or if the Doctor’s poison was starting to affect her.
He was also coughing, and seemed to be having trouble getting in enough breath to speak.
“P-probably,” he finally managed to say. “Can you reach my pocket?”
“What?” she replied. He was ‘probably’ injured and he wanted her to reach his pocket?
Well, she’d ‘probably’ got them both killed with her stupidity, the least she could do was humor him before they died. Trying to blink back tears as she thought again about leaving Spero alone, she reached out towards the Doctor’s voice and soon encountered what felt like the hem of his strange-looking clothing.
“My sonic… the thing that lit the torch… no, not in that pocket, in the inside one… if you can reach it, we can use it for light,” he explained.
Light. That would be nice. Maybe it would illuminate some hope. Maybe she hadn’t left Spero an orphan, after all.
She reached her hand out further, trying to find the inside pocket he was directing her to, and found herself accidently pushing against what felt like his side.
Avia didn’t think ribs were supposed to feel that obvious. Her mother would have said that he needed to eat more.
“You need to eat more,” she told him.
His only answer was a soft sigh. She imagined he was tired of being told that by well-meaning strangers, but she didn’t ask.
She continued her blind search instead, moving her hand back and forth in an attempt to find the pocket he claimed was inside his outer garment. His shoulders were hunched and his clothes seemed to be partially bunched up beneath him, making it hard to tell where one piece of fabric began and another ended. She wound up with her arm reaching around his at an awkward angle.
He seemed to be on his hands and knees. Maybe his other arm was pinned?
Tugging on a piece of cloth, trying to straighten it out at his direction, her hand slipped and banged up into what felt like his throat. He jerked up, away from the touch. There was a muffled thump and then she heard him moan painfully.
Avia found his side again with her hand, trying to convey apology through the touch.
“Sorry!” she reinforced the apology aloud.
She could feel his body shaking beneath her hand. The stone above them seemed to shake in sympathy, shifting as he buckled slightly, causing her to gasp as it pressed against her wing and her hip.
She resisted the urge to snatch her hand away. The stone stopped moving when he did, and returned to its previous position when he straightened his arms again.
“Oh, spirits!” she breathed. “You’re holding it up!”
“Yes,” he hissed through what sounded like clenched teeth.
“You’re holding it up, and you’re hurt, and I’m pinned, and… and oh, spirits! This is my fault!” she babbled, trying to fight back tears. It was as if a dam had broken, letting her panicked thoughts free. “Spero’s going to be an orphan and it’s my fault!”
“Avia,” he said. He sounded just a little bit desperate.
She heard him, but couldn’t seem to stop herself now that she’d started. “We’re going to die. My son is going to be an orphan. And Castus will make everyone move closer to the Mountain. If you’re right, they’re all going to die, too! Spero and Ales and Uncle Castus and everyone else! And now you can’t prove it and make them stop because we’re going to die! Oh, spirits, what have I done?”
“Avia!” she heard the Doctor pleading with her again.
“What!” she shouted back.
“D’you think you could maybe calm down a minute? Ta,” he said mildly.
Avia took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm herself. This was not helping. Just like any other time the Mountain was angry, panicking was not going to help. Panicking would not get her back to Spero.
And getting back to Spero was all that really mattered.
“Sorry,” she said after a moment. What would Castus say, to see one of his acolytes panicking like a small pouchling?
“S’all right,” the Doctor replied. “Nothing wrong with a good panic as long as it doesn’t get in the way of getting things done.”
“But what can we do? We’re trapped,” she reminded him.
“You still haven’t got my sonic out of my coat pocket,” he reminded her in turn. “Who knows what we’ll see once we shed some light on the situation?”
Right. Light could be helpful. She reached out towards him again, this time a bit more carefully. She eased her hand under the edge of his odd outer garment, his ‘coat.’ To Avia, one’s coat grew in the late autumn and started to shed in the early spring. It was not a garment with pockets.
But pockets this coat had aplenty. Eventually, with a little more guidance from the Doctor, she had tugged the coat until it was straight and then found the correct pocket. Her hand closed around a small tube. She pulled it out.
“Hit the button on the side,” he told her.
“It won’t set me on fire or anything, will it?” she had to ask, still wary of anything so magical.
“Not likely to, no,” he replied. “Go on.”
Avia decided that she had nothing to lose, and pressed the raised bit she could feel on the side of the tube.
The end pointing towards her began to glow blue and emit a strange whirring noise.
“Eep!” said Avia, and dropped the tube.
The light went out and the noise stopped.
The Doctor chuckled.
“Not on fire, are you?” he asked.
“Shut up,” she replied, feeling around for the tube. When she’d found it again, she was careful to point it the other way before she hit the button.
This time the noise didn’t surprise her, and she was able to look around.
“Well, I have good news and I have bad news,” she said a moment later.
“Go on, then, good news first,” the Doctor replied. He was on his hands and knees beside her, well within reach of her outstretched arm. He appeared to be bracing the stone with his shoulders. Somehow he was actually supporting its weight, keeping it from crushing both of them.
“Okay,” she answered. “The good news is that I can see past you. The wall collapsed around us, but it widened the passage on the other side. It’s clear now over there.”
“That’s nice,” he replied. “Or it would be, if we weren’t trapped over here. Dare I ask what the bad news is?”
“You’re bleeding,” she told him.
He was. She didn’t know if it had been the large stone currently pinning them or another falling rock he’d encountered on his way down, but something had done battle with the back of the Doctor’s skull and he had apparently come out the loser.
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed,” he replied, sounding as if she’d just told him nothing more bothersome than that there was a twig caught in his feathers. Not that he had feathers. Whatever.
She wasn’t sure if he was serious or not, but he really didn’t seem to be bothered by the blood streaked through his hair and over his ear.
“How’s your vision? Can you see clearly?” she asked him.
As an acolyte, Avia had learned a bit about medicine. She wasn’t sure what she hoped to accomplish by determining how serious his injuries were, since they were still trapped, but it did give her something to do other than panic about her son.
“I suppose,” the Doctor replied. “All I can really see is the ground right in front of me. It looks… like ground. Dirt and rocks and things.”
If Ales had spoken like that, she would have been sure her brother was addled. But it was hard to tell with this Doctor. He used such strange turns of phrase to begin with.
“Have you ever had a head injury before?” she asked him next. She knew that head wounds tended to look more serious than they were, so the blood didn’t bother her too much. But she also knew that a solid knock to the head could have other, less visible repercussions. Repercussions which tended to get worse with each subsequent injury.
He was chuckling. “It depends on how you define head injury, but I think we can safely say I’ve had a couple. Well… a few. Well… maybe more than a few. But less than a lot. Say, several? I have a thick skull. I’ve had some experience with the phenomenon.”
“Can you tell how bad it is, then?” she questioned. “Did you just get a cut, or do I need to be worried about keeping you awake?”
“I know my name is ‘the Doctor’ but should you really be trusting me to self-diagnose a possible concussion?” he replied calmly.
She still couldn’t tell if he was being serious. He’d been just as rambling and confusing before getting conked on the head as he was now.
“It’s not like I really have a choice,” she reminded him. “I’m pinned, and you’re the only thing between me and finding out what it’s like to be flat. Thank you, by the way.”
“You’re very welcome,” he replied, then coughed again. The rock shifted above them as he moved.
“So I think I have the right to be a bit worried about your health right now,” she continued when he quieted. “How badly are you injured?”
“Er… my head and shoulders feel like I’ve been run over by a lorry,” he admitted after a moment.
“What’s a lorry?” she asked.
“Let me put it a different way,” he replied patiently. “I feel like a huge rock fell on my head and now I’m holding that rock up with my shoulders.”
Okay, that was sarcasm. She knew sarcasm when she heard it.
“Are you always this way or is it just because of the head injury?” she retorted.
“All of the above,” he replied. Whatever that meant. “I think. What were we talking about?”
“Your head,” she reminded him.
“Oh, yes, my head. I like my head. Especially this one, what with all the hair. Gotta love the hair! Not as much some other heads I’ve had, but definitely more than last time. Yes, I quite like my current head,” he rambled. “It feels a bit funny at the moment, though.”
Wonderful. He was delirious.
“You’re delirious!” she told him.
“Am I? That’s nice,” he replied. “It explains why I’m so tired. Which is funny, because I don’t often feel tired at all.”
“Oh, spirits,” Avia whispered to herself. Tears pricked at her eyes. She was going to die here beside this odd stranger. She’d got both of them killed, along with what she feared was the last hope for her son and their people.
“I don’t see what they’ve got to do with it,” the Doctor said.
“What?” she replied. How did he know what she was thinking?
“The spirits. I don’t see what they’ve got to do with it,” he repeated.
Oh. He was clearly referring to her absent-minded call to the deities of the mountain.
“Actually I don’t, either,” Avia admitted. “I just say that out of habit. But this is my fault. I’m sorry.”
“What for?” he asked.
Was he serious, or was that the knock to the head talking again?
“For getting you killed! And for failing Spero,” she explained.
“Well, I don’t know about Spero, but I’m not dead,” he replied. He coughed again, then added in a slightly worried voice, “Am I?”
Avia couldn’t help but reach out to touch him again, resting her free hand on his upper arm in a way that she hoped felt reassuring. He’d sounded so vulnerable just then.
“No, you’re not dead,” she told him. “We’re just in a whole lot of trouble.”
The Doctor wheezed out a small laugh. “That’s all right, then. A whole lot of trouble is no trouble at all!”
“You’re an optimist,” she observed sourly. “Always looking for the sunny side of the mountain even when it’s raining, I bet.”
“Something like that,” he replied. “I find that it helps keep one’s spirits up. Weren’t we talking about the spirits?”
“We were,” she reminded him. “We decided the ones in the mountain had nothing to do with it.”
“That’s nice for them, I suppose,” the Doctor said. “Lets them right off, doesn’t it?”
Avia was pretty sure one of them had lost the thread of conversation somewhere along the way, but wasn’t entirely sure which of them it was.
“Er… yes,” she replied, an answer which seemed safe enough.
“That’s nice,” the Doctor repeated. “Not that I’m not having a wonderful time, but how about we get out of here?”
“I wouldn’t mind it,” Avia said, humoring him, “but I’m afraid we’re stuck.”
“I,” the Doctor said haughtily, “have a plan.”
Avia deeply wished she could tell when he was being serious and when he was just raving. If he had a plan, there was hope. If he was just raving…
“What’s your plan?” she asked. It was better to play along and find hope than it was to give up.
There was no way she could just give up. She could panic a bit, easily. But she wouldn’t give up. Spero needed her.
“It’s a good plan,” the Doctor replied. “Tried and true. I’ve tested it dozens of times.”
“But what is it?” she asked again.
“We’re going to wait for my friends to find us and rescue us,” he explained.
Well, it wasn’t a horrible plan, assuming his friends knew where to find them. Assuming he actually had friends, and not concussion-induced imaginary figments.
“Your friends would happen to be real people, yes?” she asked.
“Of course they are!” he replied, clearly offended on their behalf. “Well, Jack’s sort of an anomaly in space-time now, but he’s still a person. And Rose is really, really real, which is just brilliant!”
He was giggling, but then he trailed off into coughs again. When he’d caught his breath, he continued.
“Besides, if they weren’t real, who was it that spilled milk all over the kitchen floor in the TARDIS yesterday? I know it was one of them, though they both tried to deny it. Protecting each other, I suspect. But that’s as it should be. They protect each other. They even try to protect me… that’s why I know they’ll come find us.”
“Okay, Doctor, I believe you,” she said when he paused for breath only to start coughing again.
Mostly she just thought they’d both be more comfortable if he stopped talking, coughing, and causing the stone above them to shift. But a small part of her dared to hope that his ravings had some sense in them.
Maybe his friends Jack and Rose were on their way. Maybe Ales would remember the hot spring and know where to help them look. She had told him that she was curious about the Doctor’s claims before they’d been separated back in the village square. Maybe he and Uncle Castus would realize what she’d done.
Maybe there were already rescuers searching for them.
Maybe there was still hope that she would see Spero again.
Oh, spirits, let there still be hope!