Chapter 1: The More Things Change
Donna Noble stood at the window and looked out at the stars. Once upon a time she believed they were constant. Now she knew they were anything but. The stars could change, could be changed.
They could be wiped from existence.
She shuddered and folded her arms. Hugged herself tight. Regaining her memories made them fresher, as if the events had happened recently rather than over a year ago. It also made for unpleasant nightmares, which was why she was awake.
Sighing, she turned away from the window and took in the room. Hers, though it didn't feel like that yet. Oh, it was clean and neat, complete with basic amenities, but that was the problem – it was basic. The grey walls were cold and hard, all military straight lines that lacked personality and needed a woman's touch. Much like the captain, she thought with a smirk.
A soft hiss of air startled her. She looked up as the door slid open, glared at the man on the threshold.
"I thought the controls were calibrated just to me," she said in a flat voice.
Bialar Crais shrugged a shoulder. "Talyn told me you were awake. I believed there was something wrong."
Her irritation evaporated in the face of his concern. She unfolded her arms and dropped to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Not everything I remember is a good memory." She hitched her own shoulders. "Bad memories are keeping me up. It's not a big deal."
"Large enough, if it's keeping you awake."
He walked into the room, his gaze shifting over the few changes she'd managed to make. It didn't surprise her that he'd noticed them; Bialar was not a man to miss even the subtlest of alterations. His expression gave no indication of what he thought and Donna found herself with the urge to excuse what she'd done, even though he'd given her permission to make changes.
It was his presence, she realised; the powerful aura of command that had silenced a pub full of people and drawn her like a magnet. She wasn't sure if it was down to his military training or a more natural part of his personality, but either way the result was the same. He still made the hairs stand up along her arms, still made her shiver by mere proximity.
"You don't need to worry about me," she told him as he plonked himself down next to her. "I'm alright."
"Of course you are. There's nothing abnormal at all about not being able to sleep."
His sarcasm startled her. It hinted at a wry humour she'd not been aware of him having. Apparently the stringent military training had missed a few rough spots. She smirked at the thought, but her amusement faded as she considered his statement.
"Okay, so it is. That doesn't mean I want you to worry about it."
She regretted the words the second they were out of her mouth. Bialar's expression hardened and he shrugged.
"Then I won't," he said and stood up. She grabbed his hand.
"Don't." She rested her forehead against the back of his hand, absorbing the warmth of his skin. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that, I... Oh, I don't know what I meant. I'm just pissy and taking it out on you and I'm sorry."
She closed her eyes to hold the tears back. She was so damned tired, so damned sick of feeling at odds with everything. Leaving Earth was supposed to stop her feeling that way. It hadn't and she wanted to know what would.
A soft touch brushed over her hair. She gripped his hand tighter, holding onto the one thing that could ground her. She gave a muted moan of distress.
Bialar drew her to her feet and into a much needed embrace.
Tears thickened her throat. She buried her face into the crook of his neck. "I don't even know why I'm crying," she complained plaintively. "I'm not sad! I wanted to come."
"Coming with me meant leaving... everything you knew. Even though you wanted it, that doesn't make the choice any easier."
"That's not fair."
"Life isn't, I'm afraid."
A subtle reminder that he knew what he was talking about, that he understood her confliction because he'd been there, done that. She hugged him tighter, comforting as much as sought comfort.
"No," she murmured. "It bloody sucks."
"Sometimes." His hand trailed over her hair again. "But not always."
His voice carried a distinct undercurrent. Donna pulled back and looked at him. He smiled back and the warmth in his eyes made her stomach fizz pleasantly. She bit her lip and fiddled with the neckline of his top.
"Not always," she allowed. Pulling herself together with a sniff, she tossed her head and met his gaze again. "Okay, I'm done. No more moping. So did you want anything other to check whether I was alright?"
"Actually, I did. I want to show you something."
She let him lead her across the room, back to the window. Amongst the stars floated a small, yellow planet. She broke from the arm draped across her shoulders and stared out, entranced.
The TARDIS had disappeared in one place to appear in another. It had rarely hovered in space above an alien world and Donna realised that she'd missed a fair bit by arriving directly. She'd missed the sight of a sunrise from space, the turn of the planet as it spun on its axis, the ability to look down and admire from a distance.
"What do you think?"
"That's... that's the one I chose?"
"Absolutely. Talyn's picked up some planetary communications from the central city, which appears to be called Dalara."
She glanced at him and smiled. "When are we going down, then?"
"Now, if you'd like." He tilted his head. "Unless you'd rather sleep."
"Oh, yes, because I'm going to be able to with an alien world outside my window!" She laughed and took his arm. "Come on. I want to see it!"
Bialar glanced over at Donna as he piloted the transport pod through the planet's atmosphere. Her flushed cheeks and wide eyes revealed the depth of her excitement and he smiled, finding it somewhat contagious.
He landed the pod in a flurry of dust. She was out of her seat almost before the engines finished powering down. Chuckling at her eagerness, he activated the hatch and it slid upwards. A gust of heated air blew into the compartment, making him glad that he'd forgone his jacket.
His hand dropped to his pulse pistol. "What?"
"The sky is purple!"
A laugh escaped him and he released his grip on the pistol. Going into the rear section, he saw that Donna had already descended the steps, which was a little disconcerting.
"Didn't you think to wait? It could have been dangerous out here."
She pointed up. "The sky is purple."
He looked. The cloudless arch above was indeed a pale blue-pink.
"Well, yes. It's a result of the sun's gamma radiation on certain particles in the upper atmosphere."
Donna screwed her face up. "Ugh, I should have known you'd be a science geek. Just what I need – someone getting clever in..." She frowned. "What language do you speak anyway?"
"So that's what species you are?"
"Yes." He descended the steps and gave her a curious look. "Anything else you'd like to know?"
"Oh, lots." She grinned at him. "I'm spreading them out though. I rather like the mystery."
He laughed at that. She smirked impishly and procured his left hand. It still felt curious to be so linked, though the gesture wasn't as foreign as Donna probably thought it was. He knew that he'd not shared much of his past previous to the Peacekeepers, but oddly it was easier to tell her about those cycles. Possibly because there was little emotional attachment to them. Opening his heart about his family was harder, even though he trusted her.
As they walked down the incline to the city below, Bialar considered the curiosity of how Donna had already gained a place in his life. Had from the moment he'd seen her in the... pub, she'd called it. He couldn't put a finger on why, just that there was something about her, something he'd recognised.
He believed that she'd recognised the same something in him.
"What was your initial impression of me?" he asked her, curiosity getting the better of him.
She glanced at him, an amused smile playing about her lips. "Why d'you ask?"
"Well, it must have been reasonable. After all, you did come after me. I presume you wouldn't have followed me if you'd been afraid."
"Why ever would I have been afraid of you? You saved my life." She shook her head, but her eyes were smoky with memory. "The first thing you did was to pull me back, then stand between me and those... bug things. I was scared to death, but somehow I knew I'd be okay, that you wouldn't let them hurt me."
"I told you that," he reminded her and she nodded.
"I know, and I believed you. That's why..." She took a breath and released it as a soft sigh. "Mum was scared, because she didn't understand you when I did. I guess she realised that I'd still got the TARDIS in my head and it was translating. She wanted to get me away, from the situation. From you, probably, but then she had spent a year trying to stop my head imploding."
"Yes, I imagine that would have been stressful." Bialar frowned, less than impressed at her being abandoned in such a state. Perhaps their path would cross the Doctor's one day. He hoped so; he had a few choice words that he wanted to say to the Time Lord. "But you... were curious?"
"About you? No, why on Earth would I be curious about a tall, dark, handsome alien that charged into the pub like he was John Wayne, saved my life and then disappeared into the crowd? I should have written it down and made a million on the movie rights."
He'd heard one thing. "You think I'm handsome?"
Donna blinked. Her mouth opened and shut a few times and then her cheeks went pink. "I... um, well, um, you're not bad. I suppose." Her expression turned indignant. "That was not why I followed you!"
"I didn't say that it was." He tried not to grin at her. Failed. She rolled her eyes and hit his arm. He swallowed the somewhat giddy feeling and sobered. "So you were curious. But about where I came from and not... any other reason."
"You seemed to know what had happened and I... I wanted to know why I'd be singled out. When you mentioned hearing a song I almost remembered, like when you see a face and almost recall the name. When I followed you, I knew it was dangerous, that I was risking more than I realised."
Bialar nodded. "There were... defences, for want of a better word, in your mind. I believe they were designed to put you off from investigating anything that would have triggered the memories."
"I didn't care. I was so sick and tired of everyone treating me like something fragile, of living half a life. Then I did start to remember and my head hurt so much and I-I didn't want to die."
Hearing her side of the story made Bialar remember how pale she'd been, soaked to the skin by the rain, staring at him with eye eyes as she'd begged him to help her. He shuddered and pulled her abruptly to him, hugging her tightly to reassure himself that she was okay.
"I'd never have allowed that," he murmured. "Never."
She'd stiffened at his touch, but now she relaxed, put her arms around his shoulders. Then she pulled back and looked at him.
"I never thanked you for that," she said. "And I should have done. You saved my life."
"I was honoured to," he replied and she blushed again. Then she leaned in and kissed his cheek gently. He jolted and she smiled at him.
"Thank you, Bialar."
He worked his mouth, then managed, "You're most welcome." Her smile broadened and he was assaulted by several thoughts that were not particularly helpful. He coughed and disengaged himself from her. "Ah, shall we go? We still have the city to look at."
She took his hand. He noted that since she'd come round, they had been in almost continuous physical contact in one form or another. When he considered that the only relationship he'd had that came close in terms of time was his affair with Darinta Larell, he thought the fact should bother him.
Chapter 2: Two: The More They Stay the Same
Dalara was a city of winding streets and red walled houses that reminded Donna of Pompeii. She shuddered at the recollections and threw a glance over her shoulder at the hill behind. Just to make sure that it was a hill and nothing more.
"Is something the matter?"
Bialar's tone was concerned. She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "No, I'm fine. Just... taking it all in."
"And what do you think?"
His question caused a rush of excitement that pushed the less pleasant memories away.
"It's amazing," she gushed. "God, but I've missed this! It's all so... so alien and beautiful and is that an elephant?"
It stood at the far end of the street, spanning the estuary. Huge and sculptured from a soft pink stone striated with red lines that looked like veins. Donna stared at the massive statue, not entirely sure what it was supposed to be.
"What's an elephant?" Bialar asked. She opened her mouth to issue a tart retort, then remembered that he didn't know and that she now needed to explain.
"They look a little like that," she said and nodded at the... elephant. "Sort of. Except elephants on Earth tend to be grey and not… um…"
"Pink?" he supplied.
"I'd noticed. That's really weird."
"That it's pink?"
"No, that there should be a... a statue that looks sort of like an elephant this far from ho- Earth."
"I look human, but you don't find that strange. In fact, I believe you find me rather handsome."
Donna groaned, regretting that slip. "Trust you not to forget that," she said sourly. "It was just a phrase. I didn't mean it literally." His face fell. "Well, maybe a little, but I had more important things to worry about! And can we concentrate on the pink elephant rather than your ego?"
She turned back and stared again.
"Actually, it's more like a very large pig with a long nose. Which is even weirder and I think my head hurts."
Bialar came to her side, his expression concerned. "Should we go back to Talyn? Perhaps I missed something and-"
"No," she interrupted. She scanned his face and saw at the worry in his brown eyes. He really cared. Warmth flooded her and she smiled at him. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to panic you. I just meant... well, the whole elephant-on-an-alien-planet thing is a little confusing."
His grip on her upper arms relaxed somewhat, though he still frowned. "Are you sure? Maybe we should find a medical facility and have you examined anyway."
"There's really no need..."
"Perhaps not, but I would feel better. The cure I exacted was pretty much invented as I went along. Talyn is sure that it worked but I... I'm less than convinced."
She could tell – the uncertainty darkened his eyes further and his hold was painfully tight. She felt fine, but maybe she ought to double check. And it would ease his worries.
Looking over her shoulder at the street she said, "Do you know of somewhere, then?"
"I can find out." To Donna's horror, he shot a hand out, snagging an unsuspecting yellow-skinned alien with four eyes and hauling it close. "Medical facility," he said. "Where is it?"
"D-down there," the alien chattered. "Th-the large green building on the right."
Donna shook her head as he released the alien. "Was that entirely necessary?"
"What? I know where the facility is now."
"Yes, but..." She heaved a sigh. "You really need to work on your manners."
"I thanked him, didn't I?"
She opened her mouth to berate him further, but something in his face stopped her. He was still worried, she realised, and apparently his response to that was to get angry. It was touching, in a very weird, rather warped way.
Taking his hand, she said, "You did. Let's go get me checked out. Then you won't need to assault any more innocent aliens."
The green building stood three storeys high and leaned out over the street in what Bialar thought was a decidedly rather perilous fashion. Donna seemed to share his unvoiced opinion as she looked at it, doubt written on her face.
"This is the home of medical science on this planet?" she said in a tone that spoke volumes.
"It isn't much to report on, is it?" He eyed the filthy window ledges with disgust. "Hmm, maybe appearances can be deceptive."
"I hope so," she replied. "Because it appears as if it's going to fall down at any moment."
He looked up and down the street. "There's no other green building, so this must be the place. Perhaps we should look further, though."
"I don't really want to trail around an alien city in search of a doctor." Donna folded her arms. "This'll do."
She climbed up the few steps and went inside. Bialar had the distinct feeling that she was merely humouring him, that she wasn't concerned about the Time Lord Consciousness at all, but there was little he could do about that suspicion. He took a deep breath and followed her inside.
He'd not realised how warm he'd gotten until he felt the relief of the building's cool interior. He remembered from his encounters with Crichton that humans had a higher tolerance for heat and that it wouldn't be something Donna knew about. Perhaps he ought to correct that. Perhaps he should also pay better attention to the readout of a planet's temperature in future.
That decided, he looked around and took in the lobby. Clinically neat and professional, it was a complete contrast to the exterior. Bright lights did the work the dirty windows should have, reflecting off the pale green tiles laid on the floor. There was a central desk that arched around the being behind it.
"What do you know," Donna muttered. "It's cleaner on the inside."
Bialar bit back a smile as he headed to the desk. The being was the same species that he'd accosted in the street, though from the... shape, this one appeared female. He kept his eyes on her face as he announced, "We're here to see a doctor."
The alien blinked all four eyes and then looked down at the sheets of paper scattered over the desk.
"What seems to be the problem?" Her voice was pleasantly musical. "We have several doctors, specialising in different fields. For instance, if it's a problem with breeding-"
"No," Bialar said firmly. "It's more of a... of a head injury."
"Ah. Then Doctor Raspelion is whom you require." She perused the sheets again. "And he is free to see you now. You want that door there. Just knock and enter."
"Thank you." He smiled at her and then guided the still-spluttered Donna to the indicated door. "It wouldn't be a problem," he told her as he rapped his knuckles against the wood.
"What wouldn't be?" she asked, frowning at him.
A voice within the room called, "Enter!"
"Breeding," he said and opened the door to usher her in. She jerked to a halt and stared up at him. Caught out, Donna's face went through a kaleidoscope of expressions and he had to clench his jaw so as not to laugh outright. Her eyes narrowed and she elbowed hard him in the ribs.
"It'd be harder than you think," she retorted and stalked over to the bemused-looking alien, extended her hand, took his and smiled brightly. "Hi, Donna Noble. I've heard you can do things for people's brains. Wanna start with his?"
The alien looked at him and then back at Donna. "Ahh, what seems to be the problem?"
"He thinks he's clever," she muttered.
Bialar shoved her into the chair and smiled at the doctor. "She suffered… a mental trauma for want of a better phrase. I believe that the procedure I used cured her, but… well, you are the expert and since the trauma was fairly life-threatening I thought a second opinion wise."
"Quite so, quite so," agreed the doctor, nodding. It stood up and rifled through a set of drawers. "So this... trauma, what was it exactly?"
He glanced at Donna. She shrugged.
"It's a little hard to explain," she said. "I, um, accidentally absorbed the consciousness of a Time Lord."
The alien doctor startled and blinked at her. "Well. That is... quite something." It withdrew an apparatus and waddled over. "Just sit still while I take some calculations," he said to Donna. She looked less than certain and Bialar watched the medic, alert for any indication that it was doing anything other than what it'd claimed.
"Just what do you plan to do?" he asked the creature.
"Mere investigations. Do not worry, I will not harm your mate."
"I am not his mate!" Donna protested, loud enough that the windows rattled. "We're just friends."
"Yes, exactly that," Bialar added, in an attempt to deflect the argument before it started. "Now, please; is there any residual problem?"
"It does not seem so," the doctor said in a cautious tone, sweeping the instrument over Donna's head again. "There are some... unusual readings, however... Your friend is of a species I have not encountered before. The readings may very well be normal for her kind."
Donna sighed. "So this was a complete waste of time, then?"
"Not so! Not so!" The medic tutted and put the instrument away. When it turned back its eyes were red and its lips pulled back to reveal rows of sharp, white teeth. "The brain of a new species," it murmured, hungry gaze fixed on Donna's white face. "I will make a fortune cataloguing you."
The pulse pistol was in his hand before he even thought how things might pan out. The alien doctor drew back with a cry as the blast hissed against the wall.
"Move away from her," Bialar told it. "Before I remove your brain."
As the alien backed up, he stood up and reached for Donna. She came to his side quickly, calm despite her ashen complexion.
"I think we should leave," she murmured.
"Yes. Make sure the exit is clear."
He kept his pistol trained on the doctor as Donna opened the door and looked out.
"Yeah, it's just that receptionist out there."
"Good. Get out. I'll be right behind you." She started out, then halted. He caught her glance out of the corner of his eye. "Donna!"
"No." Her voice was soft but firm. "We'll go together."
He frowned. "But this... this thing-"
"Is just going to let us walk away." She fixed the alien with a steady gaze. "Aren't you?"
The alien bobbed its head. "Yes, yes! Go." Its eyes were on the pistol. "Please, just take him away."
"Come on, Bialar," she said and took his arm. "Let's go."
He would have rather eliminated the threat, but apparently Donna was taking her promise not to let him very seriously. In way he was thankful, and thought that the alien medic ought to be as well.
They backed out of the room and closed the door. The alien on reception watched them walk across the lobby, her eyes wide with terror. He felt a little sorry for frightening her, but then her employer had frightened Donna.
Outside, he let out a hard breath. Donna walked away, her hands held to her face. He watched her, noting the line of her shoulders. His stomach sank, but he forced himself over to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Are you alright?"
She dropped her hands and turned. "Would you really have shot him?"
"As opposed to letting him kill you? Yes, I would have." He shoved the pistol into its holster and then looked at her. "I made a promise to protect you," he reminded her. "I won't let anyone hurt you."
Her cheeks paled, then flushed, her eyes flickering from anger to something... softer. Finally she sighed. "You're enough to give anyone a headache."
He took a step back. "Oh."
Donna sagged and reached for him. "Oh, don't. I didn't mean it. You're not, really. I just... you startled me. I didn't think you'd really kill him."
"I've killed before."
"I know. But hearing about it is a fair bit different to witnessing." Her hands found his. Despite what she'd just said, there was no censure in her eyes as she gazed at him. "I guess I'll just have to get used to you."
He gave her a wry smile. "Am I so very difficult?"
"Nothing simple is ever worthwhile," she replied with a smile of her own.
Bialar blinked, not entirely sure whether she meant that in the way he thought she had. Several responses came to mind, but before he could articulate any of them, a high-pitched siren began to scream.
He turned back to the medical facility and saw the medic on the steps, indicating their whereabouts to five heavy-armed aliens in uniform. "Ah, Donna?"
She took his hand and grinned. "Run?" she suggested.
Chapter 3: The Storm Inside
Donna collapsed against the hull of the transport pod, breathless from a combination of running and laughing. Bialar reached past her and the metal against her forehead trembled as the hatch opened, the steps descending on a hiss of air.
"Come on," he said and took her arm, hauling her to her feet. She wiped tears of mirth from her eyes and focused on him.
"You know they gave up a while back?"
"I do. However, I'd like to get off the planet and back to Talyn before they... equip themselves to chase us further."
She arched her eyebrows. "What d'you mean by equip?"
"I mean, as in heavier weaponry. Such as fighter ships."
"I don't think they want me that badly!" She glanced down the hill. There was no sign of their pursuers in any way, shape or form. "It'd be a little extreme, surely?"
"I have seen stranger things happen." He propelled her towards the steps. "So let's assume the worse and get back to Talyn. I thought you'd want to get out of here, to be honest."
"What, just because some yellow alien wanted to remove my brain?" She rolled her eyes. "How pathetic do you think am I?"
"I don't think you're pathetic at all." He shoved her now and she sighed, climbed the steps to the rear compartment of the transporter. "You are brave and brilliant."
She nearly fell over the last step. Regaining her balance, if not her equanimity, she turned and stared at him. "You said what?"
He looked at her, all wide-eyed contrived innocence. "Have I not mentioned this before?"
"Um, how about 'no'?"
"I'm sure I have." He stepped into the compartment and activated the controls to shut the hatch. It whirred and shut out the purple sky. "Maybe your memory is playing up again."
The squeak emerged before she could stop it. She glared, then caught the smirk playing at the corner of his mouth. Oh, it was like that, was it? She narrowed her eyes, then shrugged and examined her fingernails in a show of nonchalance.
"I think I'd remember an actual compliment even if they had lobotomised me, Bialar."
He snorted a laugh and came over to her. Stopped close, casually invading her personal space. She challenged him with a look and he smirked again.
"Well, I'm not given to compliments. But I think you are so..." He brushed her hair back, his knuckles grazing her cheek. She tried not to shiver at the light touch. "Brave. Adventurous. So full of life and I think... I think you're frelling amazing."
Donna stared, wary about what he was up to. Suspicion made her knock his hand away.
"Go and fly," she ordered. His eyebrows rose, then furrowed. She folded her arms.
"Alright," he said then and sank into the pilot's seat. She dropped into a rear seat, eyes on the back of his head as she let her thoughts run wild.
In anyone else – in anyone human - she'd have accepted the compliment with aplomb. But Bialar [i]wasn't [/i]human and... and she didn't know if he was simply trying to be nice or something... more. Nice was okay and she rather liked it, but more meant... what? She didn't exactly know.
She had to remember that he was alien and an unknown quantity. And while she was grateful that he'd saved her life, she wasn't that grateful. Not even if he was handsome. Not even when his proximity made her pulse go haywire.
The latter was disconcerting; after all, she'd not got a great track record with men. Or aliens, for that matter. Letting her heart rule was not an option. Not that she... he wasn't exactly her type, but he was good looking. And oh boy, but that was not a safe line of thought.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Bialar's soft query made her blink and she focused on him, frowning. "Talk about what?" she asked.
"Whatever happened in your past that made you retreat so drastically."
She stared at him, unnerved that he'd seen through her so easily. Looked away and gazed out of the window at the darkening sky. The memory was crystal sharp, as was the pain. She shook her head without looking at him.
"So there is something?"
"Bialar?" She couldn't make her voice louder. "Leave it. Please."
He was silent for a moment, but she could feel his steady gaze all the way down her spine. Then he sighed and said, "As you wish. If you change your mind, though..."
"Did I... did I say something to make it worse?"
"No," she sighed and forced herself to meet his eyes. "I know you were just teasing. It's not important."
"I wasn't... teasing. I meant what I said. However, I did not intend to make you feel uncomfortable."
She sighed. "You didn't, it's just... just something I don't want to talk about. Right now. I..." she rubbed the back of her neck. Still-raw skin stung under her palm and she remembered. "How much do you already know?"
"I..." Talyn loomed ahead. Bialar frowned and guided the transport pod into the hanger. "I think we should talk about this somewhere else."
"Just..." He landed the pod and powered it down, then turned to her. His expression was regretful, with a hint of wariness. She realised he knew more than she'd imagined. "Would you come with me?"
"I already did," she said as she stood up. She gave him a wry smile and held out a hand. "Lead on."
He took her to his quarters.
Donna pulled her hand from his and stayed near the door, uncomfortable about intruding into his space. Not that he made her feel that – on the contrary, he was more than welcoming, but... But there was something about the room, possibly the even starker military air in here than her own quarters, that put her on edge.
He looked at her for a moment, then nodded thoughtfully and headed to the closet. Her curiosity was piqued by the long, heavy coat he took out. Silver shone on one cuff. Five bars. She'd seen enough uniforms of one kind or another that she recognised an indicator of rank.
"I haven't worn this since I brought you back here," he said as he laid it out on the bed. "For two cycles after I left the Peacekeepers it was either this or another." He fingers the bars. "Captain's bars. Captain Bialar Crais. Traitor to the Peacekeepers, killed trying to destroy a Command Carrier."
She licked her lips and rubbed her hands down her arms. "But... but you didn't die."
"No." He dropped the cuff. "Not then. Somehow I survived. I woke up and all I could hear was... singing. And, having nothing else to do, nothing to go back to, I followed the call."
"To Earth. To... me." She took a step further in, her eyes on his face. "And you saved my life."
"I'd lost everything I had and was. There was nothing and no one left for me, except for Talyn. Until I stepped foot on a backwards little planet and found the source of the song. It seemed so... anti-climatic, that single human woman that carried no weight of importance. But I stopped the creatures that would have killed her and that was... my good deed done, I thought."
Donna stopped at the end of the bed and looked down at the coat. "You were wearing this that evening. I remember watching you walk away and feeling so afraid. Of you, and that you'd just leave, and that was somehow worse than anything else you could have done." She swallowed and brought her gaze up to his face. "I-I didn't even know what I wanted, just that you could... help. I still don't know why, though. If I was so very unimportant-"
"Because you asked me," he interrupted in a soft voice. He smiled faintly at her. "Simply because you asked and it had been so long since anyone had. You had absolutely no reason to trust me, but you did and I... I couldn't turn you down."
"I see." She didn't, not entirely. She frowned at the long coat again. "So why haven't you worn this since then? And what's that got to do with what you did to me?"
"Two cycles and an almost death, yet it was bringing you back to Talyn that broke... habit, really. What I did... that was Talyn's idea. For all that I'd promised and intended to save you, I had no idea how to go about it. It didn't help that I didn't understand what was killing you. I took the coat off in the infirmary because it was heavier for being wet. Then Talyn suggested the secondary transponder and you were burning up and I just grabbed you, carried you to Command and then..." He reached out and Donna bit her lip as his fingers brushed her cheek. "I know more than I suspect you'd like me to. I was undecided as to whether to inform you about it, because on one hand there are your memories and I have no right, and then there was the possibility that you might need to talk, so..."
"So you kept quiet." It came out terse, though she wasn't actually annoyed. It made too much sense for her to get angry over, and... well, it was done. "But you didn't intend to see, did you?"
He shook his head. "I'd not even realised there were hidden memories for me to be privy to. Only when Talyn broke the barrier and it all rushed forth, I found myself immersed in... Fragments, you realise? Mostly. I did... There is one that was very clear."
She sat on the edge of the bed and steeled herself. "And that is?"
"What do you believe it to be?"
It was obvious really, since he'd agreed to her coming with him. The one thing that would have persuaded him over anything else, the one thing she'd rather him not know about so intimately.
"The last thing I remembered," she whispered, eyes on the floor. "Y-you saw him take it all away."
"Yes." His voice held the same flat tone in which he'd ordered the alien medic away from her. She sighed and looked up, nodded at the masked anger in his expression.
"I saw it as if I was experiencing it," he said. "I did experience it, to a degree. Not just a case of hearing the words, or seeing his face, but your fear and pain and..." His voice thickened and he glanced away. "I did not offer out of pity, Donna. But I did sympathise with you. I know what it is to be alone."
"I know." She stood up and moved to his side, taking his hands. "You saved me because I was broken and you thought that maybe fixing me would help fix yourself."
"It's not beyond the realms of possibility." His eyes scanned her face. "But I did not want you to accept out of pity, either."
"I didn't. I wanted to come because I wanted to travel again. I wanted the adventure."
He smiled then. "I know. You made a very persuasive argument for that."
"Oh, because you're so against the adventure!" She laughed and hit his arm. "Who was it that dragged me to the centre of the bridge just to show off how fast his starship could go? Oh yes, that was you."
Holding his hands wasn't enough. She broke free and threw her arms around his neck, still laughing softly. His arms wound around her waist and he gave a small chuckle.
"Guilty as charged," he admitted, then pushed her away a little, capturing her cheek with one hand. His eyes went very serious. "After Talyn had separated the Time Lord consciousness from your own, you remained unconscious for some time. I put you here, in my bed, and hoped that you would recover. Truth be told, I stayed for a very long time. It's very like you to wake up the microt I leave the room."
He smiled at her and she shrugged a shoulder. "Sorry."
"No matter." He dropped his hand to her shoulder. "Talyn monitored you and informed me when you came to. And I'm drifting from the point, which was that at no point did I consider the coat. Somewhere between going down to the planet and bringing you back in order to save your life, I'd... stepped beyond being a Peacekeeper. It just didn't matter any more."
"You didn't add the captain part," she remembered. "When you introduced yourself. You just said "Bialar Crais" and I was just pleased you had a proper name and not an appellation."
"I have not felt the need to put it back on." He hitched his shoulders with a sigh. "I am not a Peacekeeper, not am I likely to ever be one again."
She gazed at him. "Do you want to be one?"
His lips twitched. "No. It means following rules and regulations and not going down to possibly dangerous planets armed with just a singe pistol and a good pair of legs."
"They're not into running, then?"
He snorted. "Hardly."
"Captain Crais would have shot that alien without a second thought."
"And Bialar Crais?"
"Is a little less quick on the trigger because he listens to a brave and brilliant human who is very definitely not unimportant," he said and gave her a wide, genuine smile that brought one to her own mouth.
"Maybe I am fixing you then," she said.
He shook his head. "I know that you are. I just hope that... that I can help fix you."
A wave of unexpected emotion swamped her and she had to blink rapidly. Dropping her forehead to his shoulder, she held him tighter. "You are," she whispered. "It's just... going to take a little time. It... hurts, Bialar."
"I know, and I wish..." He sighed and hugged her. "If it takes time, then that's what I'll give it. Anything that you require, if it is within my ability to grant you, I will."
Donna bit her lip at that, knowing that he wasn't just saying what he thought she wanted to hear. No, he meant every word, and it was humbling and just a little scary. Humbling in just how generous he could be, for all his prickles and military stiffness. Scary in just how much his being so... human touched her.
In just how easy it would be to fall for him.
Chapter 4: Tracks and Scars
Command was silent. It put Bialar on edge, because he had become used to Donna's bright chatter. He glanced up from the console to where she stood, staring out of the viewport. Her eyes were very far away, but he didn't have to wonder at what she was thinking about.
He slammed a level upwards. Talyn rumbled in protest.
~Do you mind?~
"I'm sorry," he thought back at the Leviathan. "It's just..."
~You're angry~ Talyn replied. ~And understandably so~
Bialar looked at Donna again. "How could he abandon her like that? He was supposed to be her friend! He should have taken better care of her."
~Maybe he did all he could~
"It wasn't enough."
It took him a microt to realise he'd spoken aloud and that Donna had heard him. He left the console and walked over to her. She gave him a puzzled frown, but at least she'd come... back. It was a relief to see the awful blankness leave her face.
"Talyn scolded me for being heavy handed with the controls."
She tilted her head. "Why?"
"I'm annoyed. At... well, at how you were treated." He didn't say by whom, but her eyes fogged at the mere allusion. "Neither of us believe enough was done."
"Let me finish," he said and she closed her mouth, her lips thinning. He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. "It's why we chose to save you, but not why I offered to bring you with us."
"I know it wasn't." She smiled and her whole face brightened. "So, where are we going now? Somewhere without brain stealing aliens, I hope."
"Oh, absolutely. Talyn's found a commerce planet and I thought we could bypass the medical facilities and go straight to the markets. I have some... things that I can trade and a few credits. We have a mission."
He dropped his hand and wandered away, aware that she followed him with her eyes. It wouldn't take long for curiosity to get the better of her, he knew and smiled to himself. He could almost feel the level rising.
In three, two, one...
"What mission?" she asked and he chuckled at her predictability.
"Your quarters are a poor reflection of your personality. I think we should correct that."
"I... see. Okay." She looked at him curiously. "So do yours reflect you, then?"
He snorted. "Probably more that I would like. They are... rather stiff and formal, aren't they?"
"A little." She smirked then. "Apart from the bed."
"Yes, you know – that big thing in the middle of your room. The one with gold sheets. Like a bit of luxury, do you Bialar?"
"A well-rested soldier is alert and ready for anything," he said airily.
She laughed and shook her head, a fond smile curving her lips. "Including a serious shopping session?"
"Indeed. Here, look." He activated the holographic star chart again. The commerce planet glowed red. "That's where we're going."
She stepped towards the hologram. "What's it called?"
"Trenova, though we're heading for a town called Hatam. From the amount of chatter, it seems that they're very welcoming and that the weather is fair. We'll be there within the arn."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Hatam turned out to be a city of wide, cobbled streets that were filled with vendor stalls. Bright awnings snapped in the barmy breeze and the air was a riot of smells. It was colourful and lively and just enough like Shan Shen that Donna decided wandering off was definitely not an option and stuck to Bialar's side like glue.
He bartered away some tools, earning a good handful of square, copper-coloured tokens. She'd no idea what that were worth in human terms, couldn't even ask him, though he seemed pleased enough with the outcome.
She looked around. "Where'd we start, then?"
"Where would you like to start?" he replied. "I thought perhaps that you'd like better coverings on your bed." He flashed a smile. "Perhaps even gold sheets."
She laughed and hugged his arm. A glitter of light caught her attention and she pulled him over to a stall that sold... well, she didn't know what they were but they were bright spirals decorated with dangling gemstones.
"Oh, how pretty!" She looked at him. "What are they?"
"I have no idea." He addressed the vendor, "Excuse me? What are you selling?"
A large woman dressed in several layers of clothing came forward. She had long, white hair and green eyes and a perpetual smile on her wide mouth.
"They's special, them is," she said. Her voice was lilting and she smiled even wider. "Magical. Thee 'angs them over thy bed and them captures thy dreams. 'Ere, thee see." She took one of the spirals down and fingered one of the dark gems. "The dark uns capture bad dreams an' lock them up so that thy sleep is untroubled. The light uns reflect the good ones – thy 'opes an' wishes an' makes them come true."
"A dream catcher," Donna said to Bialar. "We have them on Earth, except that ours look like spider webs."
"It's nonsense," he replied.
She looked at him. "Oh, and you're so sure about that, are you?"
"I am." His tone was stubborn. "Dreams, whether good or bad, cannot be captured."
"There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy," she retorted airily. He frowned, clearly puzzled. "Meaning just because you've not witnessed it, that doesn't make it impossible. Would you ever have believed that you could have heard a song from halfway across the universe?"
He looked at her for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I suppose I wouldn't have, but I am glad that I did."
"There you are, then. Sometimes you just need something to believe in." She held the dream catcher up and watched it spin slowly. "And it's not going to harm me, is it?"
Bialar sighed and looked at the vendor. "How much?"
He handed the woman two of the copper-coloured tokens.
Donna smiled at him. "Thank you."
"As you said, it will not harm you. Perhaps it will work. It is... something to believe in, at least."
She folded the spiral in on itself and the vendor handed her a bag. She slid the dream catcher inside and then hooked her free hand around Bialar's left elbow.
"Is four credits much?" she asked as they moved further down the street.
"More than you wanted to pay, though," she teased.
"Well, no. Not for something that has no practical use."
"It's for decoration, Bialar. Does your gold sheet have a practical use?"
"Yes, actually. There have been times when its smoothness has been... necessary."
There was something he wasn't telling her. She stopped in the middle of the street, forcing him to stop as well, and looked up at him.
"It doesn't matter," he said and glanced away, avoiding her stare. She shook his arm.
"Tell you what, you tell me and I'll decide if it matters or not."
He gazed into her eyes. After a moment he sighed. "Perhaps I should, though I believe that the... anomaly has corrected itself." He looked around them. "But not here. Let's find somewhere a little more private."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They wandered along the streets and made a few more purchases, eventually finding themselves on the outskirts. There was a small cafe, virtually empty despite the hour and the tables in the lushly growing garden. It was very much "somewhere a little more private" and Donna sat at a table under one of the spreading trees, rather enjoying the peace and quiet.
She watched Bialar come out of the cafe, a tray in his hands. He slid it onto the table and she picked up a silver-coloured glass, sniffing at the contents. It smelt like coconut but tasted a little like melon juice, if melon juice was alcoholic. She coughed and put the glass down.
"Wow that packs a punch!"
"Should I get you something else?" Bialar asked, reaching out for her glass. She put a protective hand over the top.
"No, you should not. It's yummy."
He laughed and sat down, taking the other glass to try the drink. She giggled when his eyes widened. "That's... that's different." He coughed and wiped his mouth with one hand. "Really different."
"I kind of like it," she told him and took another sip. Then she eyed him. "So, what did you have to tell me then?"
"It was too much to hope you'd forgotten," he sighed. He put the glass down and stared at it for a moment. "Talyn... Talyn has not always been as stable as he is now. In fact I believe it was only being forced to power him down that corrected the... anomalies in his personality."
She saw dark furrow of his brow, and reached out to place her hand on his. "What... anomalies?"
"As I told you, the transponder links my mind with his. What I have not/ told you is that there have been times where his mind would... would overcome mine." He hitched a shoulder, still avoiding her gaze. "Those times were somewhat painful and left their mark on my body."
Donna swallowed. "M-mark? Bialar, what did he do to you?"
"It's not..." He sighed again. "I'll show you."
He slid his hand out from under hers and pulled the zipper on his top down. Donna jerked back in her seat, no idea what he was doing other than... than stripping. Heat flushed her cheeks.
But she didn't look away.
Bialar Crais was very definitely not skinny. His chest was broad and well-muscled, his stomach toned if not ripped, but she'd never been a fan of six-packs anyway. Then she looked a little closer and realised that the caramel-coloured skin was not flawless – there were shiny scars, like old burns, scattered over the upper part of his chest.
"Oh!" Her gaze jolted to meet his eyes. "Oh, Bialar."
"They no longer cause me any discomfort, but at the height of it... well, rough fabric aggravated the raw spots and tended to reopen scabs." He shrugged again and refastened his top. "So that is why I have a silken sheet on my bed. The gold is merely what the vendor had available at the time."
There was nothing she could say, so she rose silently, skirting the table and enveloped him in a tight hug. His hand moved to her hip and he gave a heavy sigh.
"You say this has stopped?" she ventured after a moment. "H-he's not hurting you any more?"
He squeezed her hip. "No, he's not. It's okay, now."
She let out a breath she'd not been aware of holding.
"Good," she said and loosed her embrace. Looking down at him, she wondered where the wave of protectiveness had come from – it wasn't as if he couldn't look after himself – but there it was and suddenly his needing her seemed a very real thing.
Her cheeks heated and she backed off, sitting down and picking up her fork, focusing on her food rather than the quizzical look she knew he was giving her.
The meal was some kind of poultry, almost like chicken but sweeter, served on what was, for all intents and purposes, rice. It was delicious, though she would have enjoyed it more without the awkward silence.
It was the first time she'd felt like this around him, and she didn't like it. The surge of protectiveness bubbled in her stomach no matter how hard she tried to push it away. But what could she do for him? He was a trained soldier, an ex-captain, and she was... she was an ex-temp with a penchant for getting herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He didn't need her.
Donna shoved the plate away and got up, abandoning her dinner, the bags of shopping and Bialar for the solitude of the garden, seeking refuge in the quiet away from his steady gaze. Her hands shook as she covered her face.
A twig snapped with a sharp report. She jerked her hands down, twisted away from the shadow at her shoulder. Hands closed on her arms and she tensed.
"No," she whispered, not sure what she was rejecting, only the desperate need to do so.
"What's wrong? Please Donna, tell me."
His plea shook her and the urge to bolt evaporated. The sudden loss of adrenaline made her shake even harder and nausea rose in her throat.
"I-I wanted... but what could I have done? I wouldn't have b–been able to stop him, would I? I'm useless. I can't do anything."
Strong arms wrapped around her. "Shush," he soothed. "What do you mean, do you can't do anything? Of course you can. What should you have stopped?"
She shook her head. "T-Talyn. If he... I looked at you a-and I'd have done anything b-but I can't. And he h-hurt you. I can't..." She dropped her voice to a whisper again, forced the confession out. "I couldn't bear it. You don't deserve that. But there's nothing I could have done."
Helplessness washed over her, crushing her with the weight of that knowledge.
"Oh Donna." Bialar squeezed her and then put a hand under her chin. "Is that what the matter is? That you want to... help, but you think that you can't?"
"It's stupid," she said. "I mean, you're a soldier, a Peacekeeper. You don't need me."
He shook his head. "But I do. I need you to keep me level. I need your friendship."
"But you don't need me looking after you."
"Do you want to?" He seemed genuinely surprised. "Well, stopping me going too far is looking after me in a way, surely? Accepting me as I am certainly is, and you do that just fine."
Dashing her tears away, Donna sniffed and looked at him. "You don't... mind?"
"Mind what? That you look after me? That you want to?" He frowned, clearly thinking it through. "I suppose I might, if I thought you believed me incapable of looking after myself. As it is, well, I want to care for you. I'm aware you are perfectly capable and there are several things with which you don't require aid, but there are others..." He paused and frowned harder. "I would be a poorer man if I minded the fact that you care for me, Donna. Pride... is a hollow victory. It gains nothing but loneliness and I've had enough of that to last a lifetime."
"Same here." She straightened, feeling suddenly better about the whole thing, if a little silly for her flight. "And it's not that I think you're daft and can't look after yourself. I know that you can, and you've proved it anyway. But... but if you got hurt..." Her hands slid over his top and she winced at what she knew hid under it. "Or just felt... like you needed me around. Then I am."
He smiled. "I know. And I very much appreciate having you there. With you, I can be myself and you accept that, no matter what. That makes it easier to be less... of the man I was."
Her cheeks heated again and she dropped her gaze. "You make me sound like a saint, and I'm not. And while we're on the subject of accepting... well, you've always taken me as read." The Doctor had, too, but there was something different in Bialar's acceptance of her that she couldn't quite place. "We... we make a good team, I think."
Bialar shook his head. Something sharp stabbed her heart, but then he smiled and touched her cheek.
"No, I know that we do."
Relief flooded her. She breathed out hard and slapped his arm lightly.
"Do you mind? I thought that... Seriously, you nearly gave me heart failure!" She tried to sound annoyed, but she was too happy and ended up laughing. "Come on. I've not finished my dinner and there's still some of that really nice drink left."
Chapter 5: Circle in the Sand
Cushions decorated the bed in Donna's quarters and a circular rug softened the hard floor. The room seemed warmer for the domestic touches, more a reflection of her personality, and Bialar was pleased at the changes.
He was less pleased about her current position; she stood on her toes on the edge of the bed as she reached up to hand the dreamcatcher from a support strut. There was nothing to support her and her balance was tenuous. She wobbled and his hand shot out to steady her.
"Do you mind?" she snapped at him. "That's my ass."
"Sorry." He slid his hand to her thigh. "Is that better?"
"Marginally." She stretched up higher and finally managed to hook the thread over the strut. "Give me a hand down?"
He sighed and held his other hand out. She took it and jumped to the floor.
"You do realise I could have gotten a DRD to hang that for you. It'd have been less likely to end in you falling."
She looked at him and smiled. "But I wouldn't have fallen, would I? You'd have caught me."
He lifted his eyebrows at that presumption, watched as she wandered across the room to rearrange the vase of flowers on her desk.
"Would I have? Are you certain of that?"
She turned with a sunny smile and utter faith in her eyes. "I'm absolutely certain. I know that you wouldn't let me fall, Bialar."
He stared at her, shaken by her conviction.
~You wouldn't, either~ Talyn put in. ~I know that~
"Shut up," he thought. A tremble ran through the ship and the back of his mind tickled with laughter. Aware that Donna was still watching, he looked around the room. "This is far more habitable. I never would have imagined you could change it so much."
"Yes, well, I did have some help." She picked up a cushion, plumped it and then laid it back down. "Thank you."
"A successful mission indeed," he noted, pleased. "And we didn't even get into any trouble."
She shrugged. "Can't have everything, I guess. We'll just have to try harder next time."
"You want to get into trouble? Need I remind you the last trouble was an alien wanting to remove your brain?"
"No, you don't, but you have to admit that trip wasn't boring."
He rubbed his forehead. "And this one was?"
She looked up and he saw her gaze rest briefly on his chest before she met his eyes. Something of her humour left her face.
"I didn't say that." Her voice was soft. "But I don't want to miss out on the more... adventurous places just so we can avoid getting into trouble. I want to be able to experience everything."
~She doesn't need coddling~
"No. Just... catching when she falls."
~Like you dislike being there for her. You can't fool me, Bialar~
He didn't like where the conversation was going, so pulled his awareness away from the alien one at the base of his skull. Looking across at Donna, he found her watching him with a slightly wistful expression.
"You're talking to him again, aren't you?"
"I was, yes."
She sighed and sat on the bed, then picked up a cushion and cuddled it.
"When the Time Lord consciousness overtook me I was able to hear the TARDIS. I could see all of time and space, and it was amazing." She gave a wan smile, and when she looked up at him, her eyes were sad. "Is it like that for you? I mean, I know it's not always been easy, but it must have been something if you kept the link even when... when he... did what he did."
"It's... incredible. I see everything he sees. I can feel the cold of space, the pull of gravity." He paused as her eyes widened and filled with a deep longing. "Talyn?"
Aloud he said, "You were too ill to experience the transponder properly, though I think if you concentrated hard enough, you might be able to remember some of it."
Her forehead furrowed. He waited for a moment, but then her face fell and she shook her head.
~Ask her~ Talyn said again.
Bialar sat down next to Donna and took her hand. "Do you wish to experience it?"
She blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I still have the transponder I used to save your life. I removed it only because I knew that Talyn's consciousness would have... might have been too much for you to cope with, on top of everything else. That and I really should have asked."
"You saved my life," she replied with a smile. "I think I can forgive you."
He chuckled and squeezed her hand. "The point is I'm asking now."
She stared at him. "You what?"
"If you want," he said quickly. "The one way you can experience Talyn would be to take the transporter. Properly, this time."
Doubt clouded her face and she looked away. She was silent for some time and he had to wait, had to be patient and let her make up her mind.
"What does Talyn think about that idea?" she asked eventually.
"He told me to ask you." He shrugged. "He has certain opinions about you."
"What sort of opinions?"
It was such a Donna tone that he smiled.
"Oh, he likes you," he said and patted her hand reassuringly. "He wants you to be happy. As do I."
Her cheeks coloured and she rolled her eyes. "Stop it."
"I do. And he does. As a point, he deemed to remind me that you're capable of taking care of yourself. That my decisions should not involve avoiding danger, just so that you're kept safe."
"Why, what an insightful ship you have, captain," she said, her voice stiff. He glanced at her sideways. Her annoyance was a poor mask for her fears.
"You don't want to take the transponder."
It was odd how, for a decision he'd only just made, her rejection could cause such disappointment. He hadn't realised that it meant that much to him that she accepted, that she became a more... permanent part of his life.
"Bialar," she said, turning to face him fully and taking his other hand. "It's not that I don't want/ to take it, it's just... it's such a big step. And I'm not ready for it right now. I'm still trying to adjust to the changes I've made already." Her thumbs rubbed across his knuckles. "You understand that, don't you? I'm very grateful that you asked, but... I'm not ready."
Looking into her eyes, he saw the regret in their depths and pushed his disappointment down. This was about her, not him.
"Of course I understand," he assured her. "Please, do not feel guilty for saying no. The choice was yours. But I will leave the offer open, should you wish to change your mind in the future."
She smiled and pulled her hands from his, putting her arms around his shoulders and hugging him.
"Thank you." Her voice was husky. "It means a lot that you offered."
"You are welcome." He thought about that, then added for good measure, "Always."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Donna regretted refusing the transponder before the day was over. It was impossible to see Bialar's eyes take on that slightly distant look and not feel excluded. Oh Talyn would make noises – blips and burbles that sounded as if he was talking, if she could just understand him. She put her hands on the warm hull. It hummed with life, reminding her painfully of the TARDIS, yet she still couldn't make herself commit.
She was afraid. He held the Time Lord consciousness and though she was sure Bialar wouldn't have offered if he thought there was a danger, she couldn't help feel nervous at the idea of joining her mind to that of the ship.
How much would he be able to see? There were a lot of things that she didn't want him to know about. Lance, for one. She picked up her cup and drained the liquid it held. She looked over to where Bialar was finishing making dinner.
She watched him for a moment, smiling to herself at such a scene of domesticity so far from home.
Home. Where was that, now? She thought of her mother and grandfather and, though she felt a distinct pang, there was no desire to go back there. The TARDIS? Hardly, she thought with a snort.
Bialar glanced over, a curious expression on his face. "Are you okay?"
She nodded quickly. "Yeah. l was just... thinking."
He looked at her for a moment longer, clearly wanting to ask what had been on her mind, then changing his mind. She did not feel a flicker of disappointment when he looked away again. It was just... hunger. She toyed with her cup, then took a deep breath.
"Did you ever want to go... back?" she asked.
"To the Peacekeepers?"
"Yeah. I mean, it was a big part of your life wasn't it? You'd done all that work and stuff."
He stirred the pot, his expression thoughtful. "There were a few times soon after I'd left." His smile was self-depreciating. "As captain my life was... comfortable. Meals were provided as I wished and I was... ah, never short of companionship."
She choked on her drink and put the cup down. Stared at him, her cheeks burning. She'd never really considered that aspect of his life before. "Oh," she said weakly. "So... um, after that?"
"After that living as a renegade, hand to mouth and day to day, was something of a shock." He ladled out the contents of the pot into two dishes and brought them over. "I had to relearn many skills, such as cooking my own food. You have the advantage of two cycles' experience."
"I take it that you weren't very good at first." She tasted the stew. It was utterly delicious and made it hard to believe he'd ever been a poor cook. "I can't tell."
"Oh, I was appalling. If it hadn't been for the food cubes, I'd have starved to death."
"Oh dear." She chuckled, then stirred her stew slowly, thinking. "But after that, you didn't want to go back?"
He tore his bread apart. "On occasion. It rarely lasted though. Going back would have meant having to obey regulations again, and I'd become accustomed to my own counsel." He tilted his head. "Why do you ask? Are you having second thoughts?"
"No," she said, firm about that. "Absolutely not. I was just watching you being all homebody and suddenly realised that I wasn't sure where home was/ anymore."
Bialar dipped his bread and took a bite. His face was thoughtful as he chewed. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking, and she wondered if she should have told him that.
"I think," he said then, his words slow and careful. "That home is where you choose to make it. I was born on a rural planet, had parents that cared for me, yet I have not considered that home for many cycles. Then I was captain of a Command Carrier, and while there were times I wanted to go back, I am happy where I am. Are you... unhappy?"
She startled, dropping her spoon. "What? No! No, I'm fine. I was just... thinking."
He raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"It helps now that my room is nicer." She coloured as she realised how that might sound. "More like my own."
"That was my intention. Talyn is your home as much as he is mine."
She smiled at him. "You're very generous."
"Tsk, I'm no such thing. I told you that he likes you. He wants you to be comfortable."
"Hm, well I can't do that sat on my ass." Leaning slightly forward, she looked at him hopefully. "Can I learn to fly him? Would you teach me?"
"You need to be involved." If it was a guess, it was a damned good one. She nodded and his lips quirked. "I had not thought of that option. Stupid, since it is such an obvious one." He sat back in his chair. "I can teach you. I have every faith that you can learn."
Delight flooded her and she scrambled to her feet in order to throw her arms around him. "Thank you!" She grinned down at him, then, bubbling with excitement, kissed him soundly on the mouth. "You're wonderful."
Bialar looked utterly stunned; his eyes wide and a faint slash of colour on his cheeks. He disengaged her arms and shifted in his seat with a cough.
"Yes. Well. I'm glad to see you so enthusiastic."
She'd embarrassed him. The realisation made her blink in surprise and she had to fight the urge to grin at him. Maybe she should have warned him...
"Detox," she murmured and stepped back.
"N-nothing. I was just remembering... something." She licked her lips, tasting stew and raslak rather than walnuts and salt. "It's not important."
And maybe if she said that enough it would become true.
Chapter 6: Breaking Point
"Navigation, communications, weapons and that one's power."
Donna took a deep breath and tried to commit the consoles to memory. With just the four, which were more organised than those on the TARDIS had been, it was much easier to follow. Excitement thrilled down her spine. She could do this.
"Is that it, then? Just the four?"
Bialar chuckled. "No. There is one more." He lifted a hand to the back of his neck, when he lowered it again the transponder nestled in his palm. "I have relinquished my own control. Talyn, switch to manual control."
The deck beneath her feet tilted just slightly as the ship decelerated, the engines going silent as control was transferred. A thrill shivered down her spine: she was in control now, though she still looked at Bialar for guidance.
He held out a hand. As she came over, he rested it on the small of her back, bringing her over to the navigational console. Her skin tingled at that slight, innocent contact. She inhaled, held her breath. Get a grip Donna, she scolded herself. He's only touching you.
Only that innocent touch sent her pulse haywire and her hands shook as she placed them on the panel in front of her. She tried to focus, but her brain remained fixated on the warm pressure just above her hips. She swallowed hard.
"Right then." Damn but her voice was a little breathy. She coughed. "Where'd I start, then?"
"Talyn isn't a ship you can really fly per se," Bialar said. "His systems will do most of the work, even under manual control. What I'm going to show you is how to use them to your advantage."
His hand curled around her wrist and he guided her upwards. "Here. This activates the hologram of the immediate area."
"The one with all the stars?"
"That's it." He let her go and she pressed the button, watched the hologram form in front of her. She grinned at him. He chuckled. "Well done."
She elbowed his ribs. "Don't patronise me, Crais."
He held up both hands. A hollow sensation settled in her stomach turned at the loss of his touch.
"I wasn't patronising you," he said. "At least, I didn't mean to."
"Alright." She didn't want to get into an argument with him, so pushed her irritation aside. "So, we have our star map. How do we get from here to..." She debated the myriad of planets and then pointed to one. "There?"
"Well, normally I'd just tell Talyn to fix the co-ordinates, much as I did last time. He would take an order from you, by the way. However, to set co-ordinates manually you need to bring up the information stored."
He touched the planet and it grew, the rest of the stars fading into nothingness. More detail became visible; land masses and seas, the two moons in orbit. Glancing down at the console, Donna saw that a panel was lit up with a series of alien symbols.
"Is that the co-ordinates?"
"Yes. Press the button beneath to accept them into the navigational control and Talyn will plot a course automatically."
She did so and the hologram changed again; this time showing where they were currently and a red line across space to the planet. She grinned, delighted.
"This is easy! Okay, now what?"
Bialar chuckled. "Well, if we going to get from here to there, then we'll need some power."
Donna pushed past him as she hurried to the next console. Having seen him work this control, she was pretty sure she knew what to do and put her hand on one of the switches. She hesitated and glanced at him. He inclined his head slightly, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
Throwing the switch, she listened to the engines power up again. Excitement coursed through her: she'd done it. Okay, so it was hardly complicated, but knowing that she could pilot Talyn gave her a heady sense of achievement. Bouncing on her toes, she spun to grin madly at Bialar.
He laughed and gave her a slow clap. "Very nice. So, where are we going?"
She stilled, uncertainty washing over her. Looking at the holographic planet, she ventured, "There?"
"Which is where, exactly?"
"I have no idea." She shrugged carelessly. "It's meant to be an adventure though, isn't it?"
As excuses went, it was rather flimsy and Bialar's eyebrows lifted sardonically. She beamed at him and he rolled his eyes.
"Aw, come on. It'll be a surprise for both of us this way." She sidled up to him and took his hand in both of hers, battling her eyelashes at him. "It'll be fun."
He gave a low groan. "Oh, you had to say it, didn't you?"
"Don't you like fun, Bialar?"
"Of course I do. It's just your definition differs drastically to my own."
Donna tilted her head, curious. "So what is your idea of fun?"
He looked at her, his lips parted. Something dark flickered in his eyes as his gaze shifted down and then back to her face. She caught her breath and froze, torn between pulling away and getting even closer. Her mouth went dry.
Then he shook his head and exhaled hard, breaking the tension.
"Nothing that involves being shot at or the possibility of certain death," he said, his voice lower than usual. He coughed and glanced around the bridge, seemingly trying to avoid her eyes.
"The possibility of certain death?" she echoed. A part of her said that she ought to be asking him what he was thinking. Another part said that she really didn't want to know. "Isn't that a contradiction?"
"Hm? Um, yes, maybe." He pulled his hand from hers and stepped away. Glanced back at her, confusion written on his face. "I meant that we shouldn't go charging into a situation that we know nothing about."
Donna chewed at her bottom lip. She should leave it, she really should. But there was... well, an elephant in the room. Maybe it was time that at least one of them stopped ignoring it.
"Are we still talking about the planet?"
If she hadn't been listening for it, she might not have noticed the slight pause, the hesitation before his lie. If she didn't know him better, she'd have taken his expression as annoyance. She looked at him. He held her gaze for a beat, then glanced away.
"Liar," she breathed, unable to keep the word back. His eyes widened then narrowed, and his eyebrows furrowed in a dark frown. But she wasn't about to be put off. "Well, you are. What is going on here?"
He glowered at her, then sighed and the tight expression melted to one of uncertainty. "Why are you asking me?" His voice held a sour undercurrent. "You're the one that invades my personal space, gets in close and then backs off if I give the slightest response."
Donna blinked. "You're accusing me of being a... a tease?"
"No!" It was an outrageous suggestion. "I'm bloody not."
"So you're not interested in me?"
Ohh, there was a loaded question. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, her emotions in turmoil. She heaved in a shaky breath and let it out slowly. Her heart quavered and her stomach turned over.
"It's not that simple," she managed huskily. "This is... God, this is too soon. I can't do this now, Bialar. Don't make me, please."
"You started it."
He was cross, angry even. Probably frustrated if he genuinely believed she was playing him, when she wasn't meaning to do anything of the sort. Helplessness flooded her and she blinked back tears.
"I'm sorry. I just... I don't know what you want."
"Believe me, the feeling is mutual."
She broke at the cold tone. "Please don't be angry with me. I'm sorry. I am. I..."
It wasn't that she didn't trust him, but her heart was still mending from Lance's betrayal. That was another relationship to have moved too quickly too soon, though she doubted Bialar would try feeding her to a giant spider.
And then there was the Doctor.
Bialar huffed. She wiped her cheeks and looked at him. His expression was sour, his lips in a thin line. His eyes glittered with anger, but they weren't focused on her.
"Damn it all," he muttered and rubbed his mouth. He held a hand out. "Come here."
"Why?" She stared at him warily.
"Because I want you to. Or do you think that I'll hurt you?"
"I don't... know." She forced the words out, knowing that she'd hurt him. It flashed across his face and she swallowed. "I mean, I know you wouldn't mean to, and not physically but... But the problem is that you could. You have no idea..."
How much she already cared for him. How easily she could fall for him, and probably had already to some degree, given that the look on his face wrenched at her heart. Hurt shifted and the light in his eyes was the dawn of understanding.
"It's more than just the Doctor, isn't it?" It wasn't really a question, but she nodded anyway: she owed him that much. "Oh, Donna," he sighed. He lifted his hand again. "Please."
The soft plea dissolved her reserve and she bolted to him, threw her arms around him. He held her tightly and she buried her face against his top. She didn't cry, but her eyes stung with unshed tears and her chest ached.
"I'm sorry," she breathed, not sure what she was apologising for.
"Don't be. It's not your fault." His voice was warm again and she bit her lip hard. Held him tighter. He squeezed back, seeming to understand her distress. "Though I really want to know what is going on with you, Donna."
"Why does it matter?"
She knew: she just wanted to hear him say it.
"It matters because you matter to me. I... like you. I think that you are brilliant and lovely and I want..." His voice caught and her heart stopped. His slow breath out stirred her hair and melted some of the ice deep inside her. "It is one adventure I am very interested in exploring."
Only Bialar could phrase it like that and a bubble of amusement worked up her throat. She chuckled and pulled back, gave him a misty smile.
"Okay, I'll make you a deal. We go to that planet, without any scans or guns or anything, and I'll tell you everything. What do you think?"
His eyes scanned her face. "I think that's acceptable. Though if we get shot at, I get to mention that I did warn you."
She chuckled. "Alright."
They'd been at a crossroads, she realised. Or more precisely, a breaking point. It terrified her that she could have screwed everything up, that she could have lost his trust in her. That she could have almost lost him.
Fear shivered down her spine and she fought the need to clutch at him. It occurred to her that she wasn't falling for him. That was the wrong tense. She heaved a defeated sigh and surrendered to her battered heart, hoping that it knew what it was doing this time around.
Somehow, she believed it did.