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Assorted Jelly Babies

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Sam Jones had come to this seaside town to escape her problems. It turned out that more than a few of hers were the kind of problems you carried with you but the space did help. After all, her parents had never been interested in following her even when she lived in the same house as them, drug dealers stuck to areas where there were people to sell to, and even a bad reputation could only spread as far as people were willing to carry it.

Sam had taken more than a few pains to drop hers, along with most other traces of her old life. She’d cut and bleached her hair, taken up running, and fallen into a version of the vegetarian diet her parents had tried on her as a child. There was still fish involved, because the other alternatives were tofu or beans, but it was something.

The drugs were probably the hardest part of the process and, despite being clean for almost a year, the odd urge still came up. Mostly for cigarettes, seeing as people smoked those even in the smallest town, but it was easy enough to replace that with a piece of hard candy to work over until the desire for a smoke passed.

There were things she couldn’t change of course. The scars from various misadventures with needles and other sharp things, along with other casual abuses, were as much a part of her skin as her freckles and the deadness in her eyes never seemed to lift no matter how hard Sam smiled at her reflection, but she was used to those things.

Some part of her hoped that it would eventually go away, that her better choices would wear that emptiness away like the ocean wore away at the chalk cliffs, but there was another part that said that sadness was carved into her bones, as immutable as granite and infinitely less forgiving to those it fell on.

For now, she’d just take it one day at a time and, today, she was taking some time to herself.

Sam walked along the beach, stepping over the rough rocks that interrupted the long stretches of damp sand, only stopping to pick up trash to carry away and the odd animal washed ashore to throw back into the sea. Most of them were probably long past helping, but she did it anyway on the off-chance they weren’t.

If it helped them, it was good karma. If it didn’t… well, it made her feel better for having tried.

So there Sam went, picking her away along the sand, just out of reach of the surf, until something stopped her.

A white thing laying on the sand, partially covered by seaweed and a tangle of heavy grade fish net. Was it some kind of… fish or dolphin? Maybe a seal?

Sam’s heart skipped a beat as she finally processed what she was seeing.

That was a man lying on the sand, his body twisted around inside that net, his only clothing some sort of weird swimmer’s leggings which looked like the sort of high-end equipment that only belonged to professionals or the absurdly dedicated.

That made it ironic, then, for someone who loved swimming so much to die by drowning.

To Sam’s eye, he looked fairly fresh, without any of the disfigurements that usually followed most deaths and the natural processes of decomposition. Not that she knew much about those things, but film, television, and books had given her enough of a sketch to make assumptions off of. Really, the only sign that he was dead at all was the fact that he was candle wax pale and… well, not moving.

Just to be sure, she checked his pulse the best she could, pulling at the fishing net until she could reach inside properly. Nothing, and the skin of his wrist was just as clammy and cold as the fall air.

Pity. Not just because he was beautiful either, but Sam wouldn’t deny that played a large part of her reaction. It was like someone had brought one of those statues to life – the proper, carved marble Renaissance kind that looked like they’d walk off the pedestal if you breathed on them right – and then just… thrown him away, like he was some sort of broken toy rather than a person.

Didn’t make a lick of sense to her, but the idea of ‘life was rarely ever fair’ wasn’t a new concept in Sam Jones’ understanding of the world. People like her who were nothing but trouble lived while people who were just minding their own business died. Now she had to go back to the village and get some help, even if it was just the sort that figured out what his name was from dental records.

Abruptly, those cold pale fingers twitched and then slowly curled around her wrist. A low, almost impossibly quiet exhale of air rasped out from in between the man’s lips before all the facts slid together correctly.

Dead, no. Almost dead, yes. And, if Sam Jones remembered her movies correctly, almost dead was still slightly alive.

She tore off her coat, wrapping the stranger up in it as she tore away the fishing nets. Every inch of his skin was cold, clammy, and stiff, but that matched what she understood of hypothermia. Hypothermia was the condition of being too cold and if you fell asleep while in that sort of condition, you usually died. So, that meant get him warmed up quickly, ideally by getting him off of the wet sand and into a warm house.

Her place – an isolated cottage that was a decent walk from the town proper – wasn’t too far off, but there was no way she could carry a full grown man even that distance. Or maybe she could, even if it would hurt, but what was a little pain compared to someone else’s life?

“Hey,” Sam said, hooking one of her arms under one of his and bracing his body against hers. Even through the layered jumpers she was wearing, she could still feel the cold pouring off of him. “You think you can walk at all?”

Before he could respond, she moved to pull him upright, reaching down to help him bend his knees before realizing there wasn’t a knee to bend.

What she’d initially assumed to be some sort of swimsuit leggings was actually a tail; long, muscled, and covered in scales that rubbed against the skin of her palm like textured metal and with just as much heat to them.

Mermaid. Man. Person. Whatever the exact term was, it just made the situation a lot more difficult, even if it didn’t strictly alter her initial goal.

Sam adjusted her grip again, getting the closest she could manage to a bridal style carry without the benefit of knees to hold onto before lifting him up. He was heavier than expected, but somehow, she managed to get herself upright without dropping him.

She could probably chalk that up to clean living, if nothing else.

“Probably should take up strength training, ‘sides the running,” she wheezed to her semi-conscious cargo as she caught her balance again. Probably would have been a better idea to go get a sled or something, but too little too late now.

The merperson didn’t respond, instead letting his head roll over into the hollow of Sam’s neck where his faint, cold breath could send her spine shivering.

Least it would be a sign he was still alive, she rationalized as she turned back towards home, hands full of a being she’d assumed the stuff of fairytale until five minutes ago. “Right, let’s just hope I’m going about this the right way.”


Sam Jones was pretty sure she was going about this the wrong way. She’d never even kept a goldfish alive for more than a week, what did she know about taking care of a manfish?

Well, enough to guess that the bathtub was probably not the greatest choice, but it’s not like she had a lot of those to choose from, what with the fact that her house had a sum total of four rooms (bedroom, bathroom slash laundry room, kitchen slash dining room, and sitting slash entry room) and a half-attached barn to work with, which, when combined a crawling dislike of the idea of getting anyone else involved, took a limited set of options down to one.

She couldn’t quite put a finger on what she didn’t like about telling someone else about him, but it was a close cousin to the feeling she got when she thought about going back to her parents; the absolute dread certainty that they’d be all over her, smothering and controlling – in the name of helpful concern, of course – until there was nothing left to do but suffocate or run away again. Probably back into the arms of her neighborhood friendly drug dealer, seeing as that’s how she dealt with her lackluster family situation the first time ‘round.

Or maybe it was the sort of selfishness that came with keeping a secret treasure all to oneself.

Sam shoved that train of thought out of her mind as the fish in her pan started to burn. Removing it from the heat, she quickly picked up the pale meat with her spatula and split it between the two bowls, shoving it to the side of the laver and cockles. Hopefully, the seafood would go over well with her unusual guest, because if it didn’t, Sam had no idea on where to go from there. The sort of fish flakes you bought at the pet store maybe?

Walking over to the bathroom, she knocked twice on the door and called, “Room service!” before pushing it open with her foot.

The water in the tub sloshed as the merman looked over at her with a pair of eyes so blue that they looked like someone had cut out a couple circles out of the sky on the clearest, brightest day of summer for the express purpose of sticking them in his face.

His tail was hanging over the end, too long for the tub by a foot or more but not looking any worse for wear despite that inconvenience and with the advantage of proper lighting, it was now possible to appreciate the real beauty of those green scales; the way they shimmered gold, silver, aqua-blue, and every other electric shade in between every time its owner adjusted himself.

His wavy hair was another piece of art, though a bit quieter in its own way. A gradient between the extremes of brown and green, starting as a rich and lustrous Titian red at the roots and becoming a shade of seaweed by the time it reached his shoulders, the real trick was the way the light managed to pull not only red and gold highlights out of it, but green and that same electric blue from the scales on the other end as well. Attached to another person with a regular sort of body, Sam might have just assumed it was an excellent dye job or an inspired cover up of one of those  ‘pool turned my peroxide green’ mishaps she’d run into after she’d started bleaching. Of course, hers had never turned out as neatly as his, but Sam wasn’t a mermaid and thus didn’t have mermaid magic to make her pretty.

The rest of him wasn’t bad either, especially now that there was a bit more color to him. While he was still pale skinned, there was some rosiness to it now that would have made it very easy to mistake the merman for a rather fit man if not for the… well, ‘mer’ part hanging over the far end of the tub.

“I got you something to eat,” she said, lifting up one of the bowls as she crossed the room, careful to walk on the throw rug rather than the damp tile. Slipping was the last thing she needed now.

The merman stared at the bowl, not even reaching up a hand to take it. Not that it was a problem; Sam had long ago discovered this set was very good at floating in an upright position. There was a small pleasure to eating macaroni and cheese while having a bubble bath after all.

“I get that you probably don’t use silverware under the sea, but I thought… well, once it cools down, you could probably use your fingers,” Sam said as she sat down on the toilet with her own bowl, stabbing into the fish with her fork and taking a bite. “See? Not poisoned. Barely even seasoned it, beyond a little salt. Figure that wouldn’t hurt you, seeing as you come from the ocean. Hard to get saltier than that.”

He tilted his head as if considering her words and then carefully picked up his fork. Once he confirmed that the piece of machined steel wasn’t going to jump to life and bite him, his grip tightened and he started imitating Sam’s movements, right down to blowing on the fish when it was too hot to eat immediately.

“You’re a smart one. Going to have to keep my bad habits to a minimum around you, lest you end up a ne’er-do-well too,” she murmured around a mouthful of cockles. She swallowed and tried to smile engagingly, only for the expression to falter after a second. “Betchya could guess I don’t get a lot of company out here. Can’t say I like humans that much anymore. They see something about you and, no matter what you’ve been doing now, they decide in their heads what you are and how they can treat you. It gets a bit lonely, but I can survive it. Even if I do end up talking too much when I’m not alone.”

There was another quizzical tilt of the head from the merman and then a slow, uncertain smile that stabbed into Sam’s heart like a knife despite the utter absence of malicious intent behind it.

She stood up quickly, almost dropping her bowl and fork in her scramble to get to her feet. “Well, I’ve got… chores to do. Dishes. Dusting. Stuff. I’ll get yours later.”

Sam tried to shove those startled blue eyes out of her mind as she practically ran into the kitchen, shoving the dirty dishes into the sink before she let herself sink to the floor, tangling her fingers in her hair.

Fantastic. She had a crush on a fish. This was why mermaids were a bad idea.


“I’m starting to think you understand English.”

The merman tilted his head at Sam, that damn smile coming back to mess up the rhythm of her heart. From her current angle, with her sitting on the floor with her back against the wall and him leaning over the edge of the tub, chin rested on his crossed forearms, he could be mistaken for a normal human until you calculated how long he’d been in the tub and the lack of wrinkles that usually came from doing that.

Of course, the tub was drained at the moment. Sam knew enough to know that water that had anything living in it needed to be changed every so often unless you wanted it to change itself into water with nothing living in it. That her mermaid was functional without the water helped the process, though she was loathe to remove him from the tub after all the trouble of getting him in there in the first place.

It was three days since she’d brought him in and Sam thought she was beginning to get a feel for him as a person, despite him never saying a word during that time.

If she had to sum him up in something as simple as words, he was the mysterious type who knew things; the sort who let others answer the questions put to him just by smiling or frowning at the right time. The small sort of expression too, nothing that anyone would really describe as lighting up a room or properly stormy, but the sort of expression that caused a minute shift in the wind; detectable, but never so obvious as to be known to anyone that wasn’t paying attention.

Maybe it was just the most efficient way of communicating for him. He was certainly good at them, seeing as he seemed to have one for almost every mood. This one was the one Sam had mentally labeled as ‘indulgent’. A clear agreement, but nothing truly eager.

“Puts you ahead of half the people I went to school with, at least,” Sam continued, hugging her knees as she rocked forwards and back again. “Bloke named Baz – short for Balthazar, couldn’t tell you why his parents named him that or how anyone got ‘Baz’ out of it – couldn’t write to save his life, but he was fair up on his numbers. ‘course, he got most of his practice selling drugs, so I suppose I shouldn’t complement him too much on that point. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dead by now, considering some of the rumors I heard about his ‘business’ partners.”

Somehow, despite the lack of response, it was easier to talk to the mute merman than anyone else. Maybe it was because he never looked like he was judging her, which was either because he didn’t care or that he had no idea what she was really talking about – understanding of English or not, the understanding of those words in the context of Sam’s life wasn’t guaranteed to follow it.

She dragged a hand back through her hair, feeling the exact place where the bleached silky blonde hit the coarser dark brown roots. It’d been a few weeks since her last bleach and while it was still in the realm of ‘stylish’, it would only be a month or so until it wasn’t.

Another set of fingers, wider and stronger and rougher than expected, laced around hers, combing through her hair smoothly and gently.

“You’re just bound and determined to make me fall in love with you, aren’t you?” Sam muttered to the merman as he leaned over the lip of the tub, arm stretched all the way out just so he could reach her.

He merely smiled in response, that twist of the mouth and crinkling of the eyes saying ‘maybe’ as clearly as the spoken word, as he continued the action, leaning further and further over the lip of the tub so he could reach more of her scalp.

Then, because wet curved porcelain isn’t the best thing to balance all one’s weight on, he slipped, falling over into Sam’s lap, his tail hitting the tile floor with a thunderous slap.

He also had forgotten to release Sam’s hair on his way down.

Yes, she thought to herself as she pushed aside the pain in her scalp and started checking the merman over for injuries, this fish was definitely going to end up killing her and it probably wouldn’t even be on purpose.


Time passed on and Sam Jones felt like she was falling into a rhythm. She set up a curtain in the bathroom so they could both have a little privacy when it was required. The sponge baths she was reduced to weren’t quite as pleasant as a good bubble bath, but it wasn’t like she could haul her fishy flatmate out of the tub and leave him to dry out on the couch for the half hour it took to get a decent soak. She could live without access to the tub, he couldn’t.

As for food… well, fish wasn’t bad, and if she seasoned it right, it wasn’t bad having it at almost every meal. She’d probably have to go into town to restock sooner than later, but that was still a week or so off.

All and all, it was a good price for company, silent as it was.

So, naturally, it couldn’t last and two weeks after Sam Jones brought her fishy friend into her home, someone knocked on the door.

Sam dropped the book she’d been reading to her merman, fumbling to catch it again before it could fall onto the damp tile. “Shit!” she hissed as she just managed to catch it and started scrambling towards the door.

Oh god, let it not be someone who would barge in, let it not be someone who absolutely had to snoop –

Sam pulled the door open and locked eyes with Mrs. Mathews, the middle-aged fishmonger’s wife, complete with her customary gingham dress and heavy rubber galoshes under a careworn shawl. On the upside, she wasn’t one of the town gossips. On the other, she was one of the only people in town that would have a legitimate reason to ask what was going on in the world of Sam Jones.

“Are you doing alright out here, Sam?” Mrs. Mathews asked, cutting off the storm of internal screaming.

“Perfectly, why? Do I not look alright? Maybe a touch peaky around the edges or something?” she replied, the words spilling out of her mouth like water and just managing to land in the right order by sheer chance.

The woman didn’t reply immediately, instead leaning over to peek into the house. “You haven’t been into town for a few weeks.”

“Really? I didn’t notice,” Sam lied. “Been sort of busy with– with– with things.”

“What sort of – oh my.”

Sam followed Mrs. Mathews stare and found her jaw dropping.

Her merman was standing in the middle of her living room on a pair of very human legs and without a stitch of fabric on him apart from the towel he was tousling his hair with, leaving nothing but the angle of his stance to cover up the exact details of how human his lower half was at the moment.

Undaunted by the staring or the stunned silence accompanying it, he flashed a smile – innocent on the surface, but with an easy mischief playing under beneath it – at the two women before walking out of sight into the kitchen with a smooth gait that shouldn’t have belonged to someone who most definitely didn’t have legs ten minutes ago.

Mrs. Mathews licked her lips, fascination burning in her eyes like a coal hiding in the depths of a dark fireplace. “I see why you’ve been keeping to yourself these last few weeks.”

Sam’s jaw managed to rehinge itself in time for her red face properly caught fire. “It’s not –”

“Oh, no need to deny it to me, dear. I understand completely.”

Sam was pretty sure that she didn’t, but it was easier to just nod and accept the conspiratorial wink and puckish chortle that Mrs. Mathews gave her before leaving than try to spin a story with a tied tongue with a stutter and a scream lurking right behind it. Besides, she had bigger fish to fry.

She stalked into the kitchen and immediately had to refocus her eyes on the cupboards, because the other option was to let her gaze wander somewhere else, where it would most likely stay until something interrupted the ensuing stupor.

Thankfully, the opportunity for that distraction came and passed quickly as her merman turned to face her, his smile widening to show off pearly teeth and an equally unmissable pride. If that pride was in himself for having pulled off the ‘tail to legs’ trick while no-one was looking or successfully pranking the two women, Sam couldn’t say.

“Couldn’t you have done this a few weeks ago, instead of making me haul you around every time you fell out of the bath?” she asked.

The smile fell into a put upon puppy dog frown that made full use of those brilliantly blue eyes.

Sam almost relented. Almost, because she knew that the puppy dog frown only came out when he was trying to convince her to be sympathetic and give him something that he wanted. ‘Just one more story before you go to bed, Sam’, that expression said. ‘Just a few more minutes before you stop combing my hair, Sam’, was another possible translation. Right now, it was very much a ‘oh please, don’t turn me out of your house, Sam,’ sort of look.

“I’m not kicking you out,” she said. “I just want to know if I can finally take a bubble bath again.”

The curious look that followed that just confirmed that Sam Jones would probably not be taking that bath alone. That he probably wouldn’t be interested in leaving after was implied, but Sam couldn’t quite bring herself to mind.

Chapter Text

“I can tell you’re hot and bothered from all the way over here.”

The Doctor stopped his heavy breathing long enough to pin his companion with as dry a stare as he could manage with his face burning up and sweat beading up along every centimeter of skin. “Was it necessary to phrase it like that?” he asked.

They shrugged as much as their shackles would allow. It was almost unfair how comfortable they looked given the situation. Certainly, the human looked as good as anyone did after being dragged into the equivalent of a medieval dungeon, which was miles better than how the Time Lord felt at the moment. “I was just wondering if it was a hobby for you; getting tied up and manhandled.” Narrowing their eyes, they tilted their head to the side. “…did they do something else?”

The tone had taken a distinct shift from casual to serious. The Doctor was starting to wonder if that telegraphing of intent was a deliberate habit of this companion. It wasn’t like he’d had much chance to feel out their quirks before this misadventure had gotten in the way.

“…I don’t know,” he finally said, shifting as much as he could to try to unstick his sweat-soaked clothes from his skin. He finally gave up, the fabric somehow clinging to his body even tighter for his efforts. This wasn’t the first time the cricket jumper had struck him as a mistake in this regeneration, but the realization always struck the same hopeless chord. “It could be that they drugged me with something, it maybe a reaction to some plant native to this planet. It might have been that I picked something up on our last adventure that is presenting itself now.”

Or maybe it was something else that his body had a specific allergy to. Something that no-one else would suspect would do this much damage and thus would go unnoticed until…

The Doctor cut off that train of thought, wishing he had some means of wiping the sweat off of his face instead.

His companion had shifted somewhere inside the space of that thought, bringing their legs up under their body in an unorthodox crouch. “We don’t have any time to waste then, do we?” they asked as they started working at the aged mortar holding their shackles to the wall. It didn’t take much time for them to loosen the material enough for the whole mess to come loose and they were free… or as free as a person with a foot and a half of heavy chain linking their wrists together was.

They set to work on the Doctor’s, not that the Doctor could feel much of it. His hands had long since gone numb, giving him little sensation other than the pressure of the shackles around his wrists, the soreness of his shoulders from maintaining such an awkward position for so long, and the prickling sensation of pins and needles running  from fingertip to bicep in both arms.

His head felt too heavy to function, dropping every time the Time Lord stopped giving all his energy to the task of keeping it up. Still, despite the seeming pointlessness of the task, he kept at it because the alternative was…

What was it? Something –

His arms fell down right before a cool hand pressed against his forehead, chasing the hazy thought away with a touch. “Doctor?” his companion asked, eyes wide in concern.

“We need to get back to the TARDIS,” the Doctor managed to get out around the darkness crowding at the edges of his vision. “There should be tools to get these shackles off properly and the infirmary has supplies that won’t… that probably won’t kill me.”

Probably. Hah. What a reassuring statement. If worst came to worst, he hoped that the next regeneration would –

“You don’t think the guards will stop us?” his companion asked as they pulled the Time Lord to his feet.

“It’s a possibility,” the Doctor replied, sagging over their shoulder. His legs were little better than useless at the moment, with muscles he wasn’t fully cognizant of having trembling while his knees seemed to have the tensile strength of jelly babies. “But… they’re, ah… underdeveloped enough that if you say I have the plague, they’ll be begging us to leave.”

“Or they’ll light us on fire.”

“I believe that sort of disease fighting logic… ah, no that would correspond with this period of development, but I don’t think they’ll want to risk touching us. Not if what they think I have is contagious,” he said as his thoughts pulled together and then scattered again like a swarm of disturbed bees. “Of course, the first issue is getting past the door, I think.”

His companion tested it, only for the door to swing open on its hinge with a quiet wheeze.

“…a bit anticlimactic, isn’t it?” the Doctor asked, sticking his head out the door to look either way down the hall. Empty and completely silent. Odd and ever so slightly ominous.

“I’ll take ‘anticlimactic’ over ‘trapped forever’,” the human replied as they steadied their grip on the Doctor and started out into the hallway.


 

One hallway being empty would be excusable. Two, odd, but not too much stranger than the last. It was the fourth empty stretch of what should have been an inhabited castle they stumbled upon that told the Doctor something was very wrong.

“We should have run into somebody by now,” he muttered as they passed by yet another empty room. Like the others, there were minor marks of panic hidden in the otherwise mundane details; objects flung to the floor, doors left ajar, and valuables left out in the open instead of tucked away as they should have been.

“Maybe there’s an actual plague going around,” his companion replied sarcastically, the effect of which was lost as they tripped over the legs of a body and let loose a scream that rivaled most teakettles.

The Doctor was fairly certain on that point, because there was no sound to compare it to but the ringing in his ears for the next minute or so.

The body was humanoid to the point of looking like a misplaced 14th century human if one had somehow arrived on this planet with a total ignorance of that geographic detail. They were dressed as most of the guards in the castle were; livery of black and gold with a red belt and shoes over padded cloth armor. The last hadn’t done much for them, as the face that stared up at them with an expression of agony locked into its waxy features testified.

After all, the usual armor against disease was much more subtler than anything made to stop something as common as arrows.

“Don’t touch him,” the Doctor ordered as he shoved himself and his companion back. “We don’t know how whatever killed him is transmitted.”

Or how quickly it acted, considering that the castle had been full of living servants only a few hours ago. It might not even be a proper plague, but a deliberately created biological agent. All the more reason to get out as soon as possible.

There were a few other bodies, though not many. Whatever had happened had come without enough warning for people to start running… or wasn’t airborne, which was a small comfort to the Doctor, if only because it meant that he didn’t have to worry about his companion dropping dead in the next hour.

No, that concern only applied to the Time Lord himself.


 

They reached the TARDIS before too long and it was elementary for the Doctor to find and use a sonic screwdriver to remove their bindings.

It was what followed that would be difficult.

The infirmary was much like the rest of the TARDIS; off-white, largely sterile in appearance, and possessed of a certain timeless style that didn’t entirely fit with the human idea of a time/space machine.

The Doctor lifted up his arm, pointing to a cupboard to their left marked with a teal crescent and a barely legible scribble of Linear Gallifreyan. Not as elegant as Circular in action, but much easier to write quickly and without need to double check for any slips that would turn a casual phrase into baroque obscenity. “In there, there should be… a series of syringes, about the length of your finger and full of a transparent orange-yellow liquid. They’re a… foreign contaminant cleanser. Should clear whatever I’m reacting to from my system.”

His companion set him down on one of the reclining tables and disappeared from his senses for a moment. There wasn’t enough time to figure out if it was a moment of disassociation or a small blackout before they were back, pressing the warm shaft of the syringe into his hand.

The Doctor set it down, taking care to place it somewhere where it wouldn’t fall to the floor before he tried to remove his clothes, only for his numbed fingers to slip off of the material.

He tried again with as much success. He couldn’t get a grip on the soaked material and he couldn’t move his arms enough to get anything close to ‘leverage’.

“I need –” he began before finding his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth.

“What?”

The Doctor swallowed. “I think I need some help,” he repeated, finally getting the word out properly. “With this jumper. I –”

His companion’s steadier hands were around him in an instant, gently peeling the soaked cricket jumper off of him. As it finally let go of his head and arms, the Doctor sighed. Not only was he much cooler than before, the wet wool wasn’t weighing him down and squeezing the breath out of him either.

Of course, that didn’t mean that everything was automatically better. The effort of escaping his own clothes had drained all the energy the Time Lord had to spare, leaving him collapsed over the shoulder of his companion with his face pressed against the deliciously cool skin of their neck.

That was a fairly good marker of the trouble he was in. If a human’s skin was feeling ‘deliciously cool’ when it was his body temperature that was supposed to be the colder of the two, he was running a fever far outside of anything healthy for a Gallifreyan.

Or was the acceptable range of temperature different for Time Lords? He’d never paid good attention to the details of what the genetic modifications had entailed, the exact numbers slipping from his mind as soon as the droning voice of his teacher had finished reciting them.

The Doctor pushed the confused rush of thoughts aside as another cool touch ghosted down his back. Cold. He needed something cold to keep his body from burning up from the inside out.

“You sure you don’t want me to get the rest of that off of you? That shirt’s just about glued to your skin…” his companion noted as they plucked another sweat-soaked fold of the clothing in question. They must have missed the way it was making the Time Lord shudder, because they kept going through the motions, absently tracing lines of cold along the wrinkles of his shirt.

“No- in a few minutes. I just want to…” Fall over. Sleep. Die and let the next model deal with this. “No, best to do this while I’m still conscious.”

The shirt was worse than the jumper, because while the thin cotton wasn’t nearly as constricting as the heavy wool was, it was also a thin material that was practically – as his companion described – glued to skin by his own sweat. The entire ordeal was painful and unpleasant, leaving the Time Lord feeling like he’d just had an entire layer of his skin removed instead of a mundane article of clothing.

Still, the Doctor was glad that he had help for that part, because this next step was one that he would be doing almost entirely on his own.

Taking the syringe from his companion, he willed his trembling hand to steady as he prepared to inject its contents into his bloodstream. Even on the off-chance that his new companion was versed in human anatomy, it wouldn’t have helped in the task.

A Gallifreyan circulatory system was very different from a human one and the modifications to it that marked him as a Time Lord only served to widen the gulf between the two. A missed stroke would only mean pain and the searing sensation of the cleanser brute-forcing its way out of whatever soft tissue it ended up in rather than the fever, mild delirium, and ache that accompanied proper application.

The first might kill him from shock and stress, the second… well, it would still hurt, but he’d live to complain about it. Still…

“Hold me steady,” the Doctor ordered, relaxing at the cool touch of his companion’s body wrapping around his, one arm wrapped around his back while their other hand supported his. Then, he eased the needle into his arm.

There was barely any pain to it, even after he emptied the syringe of its contents. That was a good sign, though it was only the first stage of the process. Pulling the needle out of his arm and dabbing the point of injection with a salve, the Doctor finally let his body do what it had been telling him to do for the last few hours.

“Doctor!”


 

“I was just resting my eyes,” the Doctor said again as his companion half-carried, half-dragged him through the TARDIS hallways, apparently in search for his bedroom.

“And falling over is part of that process?” they asked sarcastically as they pushed open another door, only to find… ah, one of the scarf rooms. His previous incarnation had gone through many over his tenure and taken up knitting as both a hobby and means of supplying his own demand.

“Upon occasion.”

His companion let the door shut itself as they adjusted their grip on the Doctor. “I think I’m starting to get a real idea of what travelling you is typically like.”

“I’m particularly enjoying that undertone of confidence in your voice right now,” he replied in his own sarcastic tone. More than a few had accused it of having only a hair of difference from his usual tone of voice, but if they were capable of picking up on it so easily, it was clearly obvious enough for his needs.

“You should be glad that I decided that I liked you before all this constant ‘near-death’ nonsense started,” they muttered as they dragged him further down the hallway.

They did eventually find his room just as the cleanser really started doing its job.

The mark of this was the Doctor losing control of his body.

His knees folded, dragging himself and his companion halfway down to the floor before they could compensate for the change in leverage. It was only luck that saw them getting the Time Lord to the bed before gravity took over the process on its own.

“Doctor?”

“I-it just got rather warm in here,” he rasped, swallowing the understatement along with the dryness that had taken over his tongue. It didn’t matter that the cricket jumper and shirt were long discarded; the heat was boiling under his skin like an impending regeneration and there was nothing that could be done about it short of applying ice or attempting to flay himself alive.

There was a reason why he avoided using the cleanser unless there was no other way of resolving whatever biological issue he was suffering from; because most of the time the experience felt only a few degrees off of dying proper.

“Do you need water? Ice? Do you want me to draw you a cold bath?” his companion asked before doing a quick verbal backpedal as they started to pace in circles. The cool façade had cracked like ice in the spring and even the haze of fever couldn’t keep the Time Lord from seeing it. “No, wait, bad idea. I don’t know where that is and there’s so many ways that can go wrong if I get that far, my goddd…”

The Doctor exerted all the power he had left just to roll over, stretching out his arm as far as he could, only to have it flop over the side of his bed.  “Don’t… don’t go. Please.”

He must not have spoken loudly enough, because they were moving towards the door.

“I’m going to go get you some water. Stay here,” he heard his companion say, and before he could tell them to stay, their presence had disappeared from his room so completely the Time Lord might have doubted they had even been there at all.

Regardless of that detail, there was no questioning that this experience was not going to be one of his better ones.

This was the sort of medicine that could kill species with bodies too weak to take the strain. Time Lords were better off than that, but there would still be more pain than most other, more specific treatments. The primary burn would be over… in what? An hour or two? After that, it was just a matter of resting for a day or so, most of which would take the form of sleep, because there wasn’t much else one could do while the bone-deep ache slowly faded from their body.

The Doctor was in hour one and his only relief was passing out of consciousness.

He resurfaced to chatter. Human, his brain pieced together dumbly before narrowing down the language to English and then starting to translate it to what he could understand.

“Sorry I took so long. I’m not exactly familiar with the layout, but I finally found a… a machine that gave me these little bags of what I’m really hoping is water. Probably gave me too many but I can at least use them to cool you down.”

The Doctor couldn’t contain his sigh of relief as the cold packets were placed at different locations around his body, allowing the chill to spread further than it should have. “It’sss water. Barbara did this for Susan once. Long time ago. Clever things, humans. Making use of what they have, instead of wasting time with what they don’t.”

There was a small sound of something plastic being poked and then a thin straw being eased into his mouth. Almost on reflex, he took a sip and was rewarded with a burst of cool, tasteless water.

“Hydration didn’t seem like a bad idea either, with the way you’ve been sweating,” his companion explained as they settled down next to his bed, their head within easy reach if the Doctor felt like stretching his fingers out to touch it. “I’d have grabbed something with electrolytes, but I don’t know where anything is or if you even need them, what with the whole ‘I-only-look-human’ thing and the ‘superior Time Lord biology’ stuff.”

The Doctor twisted his mouth into the closest thing he could manage to a smile at the moment, only to fail at getting the corners to do anything more than twitch vaguely upwards. “It doesn’t feel particularly superior right now.”

There was a soft touch on his face that he took a moment to recognize as his companion brushing his hair behind his ear.

“You know I’m a lot older than you,” the Doctor finally said.

“Yep.”

“So there is no need to treat me like a child.”

“Not usually, no.” There was a slight smile playing around their mouth as they ruffled the Doctor’s hair, which was still damp from his earlier sweating. “But I think we can make an exception this time around.”

Part of him wanted to object, to complain at the casual physical intimacy. Another part welcomed it. Mostly, the Time Lord was too tired to care about anything but his immediate needs. Namely; cooling off and falling asleep.

If half-consciously pulling his companion into bed with him for the sake of having a cool body to cuddle with… well, they’d probably forgive him in the morning. Even if they seemed to accept their new situation as the Doctor’s personal stuffed animal without even a token complaint.

Chapter Text

The Doctor had changed, which Sarah might have been able to take more easily if it had been like when K’anpo had changed into Cho Je. But no, the Doctor’s had been different.

And that was the problem.

The dragon that was filling the room – there was no question that it was a dragon and even less of a question that it was a very large example of giant lizard – was like something out of a storybook. Not to say it was ugly, necessarily, but it was large, scaly, winged, and very toothsome for that flash of an instant that it had looked at them through heavily lidded eyes and flashed what might have counted as a winning grin on a humanlike face. Then it had fallen into a light doze, the only movement the flex of long claws and its side rising and falling with every breath.

“I swear, the man never tells me anything,” the Brigadier muttered with a tone seemed more fitting for a man finding out that someone he was responsible had run off for a weekend holiday without any notice than for one who had just been presented with a fire-breathing lizard out of legend. Then, he’d walked out of the room.

On the other hand, the journalist was finding herself at a loss for words. Any sentences her brain began to assemble were discarded just as quickly as they were thrown together and action… well, action was even further from Sarah Jane’s ability at the moment.

So that left her to stand there, her hands torn between the actions of reaching out and dropping to tangle her fingers together in a nervous tangle, which only resulted in the appendages hovering uselessly somewhere around her waist.

“Just list out the facts,” Sarah Jane said quietly, trying to calm herself down. “The Doctor had just returned from… that spider planet. Metebelis Three. He fell out of the TARDIS, was lying on the floor, and… and…”

And then the human-shaped alien was gone, leaving a giant lizard in his place.

“Not a lizard.”

Sarah Jane jumped at the voice, just managing not to fall over. The lizar–er, dragon was awake and watching her through shuttered eyes. It could have been a statue for how still it was, not even seeming to breathe as it studied her.

Then it moved.

Sarah Jane scrambled back, only to trip over her heels and fall to the floor, her back hitting the side of the Doctor’s desk.

“Sarah,” the dragon said as it came closer. It wasn’t quite the sort of voice a human should have; too deep, drawling, and sonorous to come from such a – relatively – small body as a human’s, but it suited a mythological creature well.

But of all the details to notice at this point, the only one that was really registering to Sarah Jane’s mind was that no eyes should have been that blue.

No, that was the sort of blue that belonged to gemstones, not living creatures. Sarah Jane should know – her Aunt Lavina had a lapis lazuli ring that looked just like them, save for the fact that it was set in an ornate silver setting rather than in something’s face.

The ring was family treasure of sorts, the kind that had been handed down for a few generations past the point anyone would have been able to purchase it themselves. Accordingly, Lavina rarely brought it out, but Sarah had seen it clearly enough in the past to know the color and the dragon’s eyes were only a shade or two lighter and softer than that. Still not enough to be mistaken for anything human, but it was –

“Mesmerizing, aren’t they?”

Sarah blinked as the spell broke, but the dragon kept talking anyway, its head bobbing and twisting as it went. It seemed to be admiring itself in a comically undersized mirror that the Doctor must have left out before their little misadventure with the spiders.

“I’ll admit, regeneration is a lottery, but these… are very nice eyes, if I do say so myself,” the dragon purred as it angled its head to better appreciate the details of its face. “Not to mention infinitely more useful than using a watch or a match to induce a hypnotic state, if I must stick to terms of strict practicality. I somewhat doubt such accessories are available in the size I require. Ah, and I'll have to figure out something with the sonic screwdriver...”

It was sort of funny, seeing that lizardy sort of face jumping about in animated emotion as its owner prattled on about seemingly nothing at all, but there was still no question that Sarah Jane was still somewhat frightened.

The… well, it couldn’t be anyone other than the Doctor, could it?... seemed to pick up on her disease, because his entire posture deflated as he dropped another few inches closer to the floor that Sarah didn’t realize he had in the first place. “Don’t be scared of me,” he murmured, that low deep voice becoming as soft and gentle as velvet.

“You’re a dragon.” It came out as a squeak, one that Sarah Jane quickly wished hadn’t come from her mouth. “Th-that’s something that most people would be scared of, Doctor.” Especially after their little adventure with the dinosaurs.

“Really?” He twisted his head around to observe himself as if just noticing the fact, shuffling his wings and tail experimentally. “Ah, a minor slip. Well, if your concern was about me eating you, there’s no call to worry; humans far too lacking in nutritional value.”

Minor? To Sarah’s mind, ‘minor’ would be mismatching his eyes or adding an extra finger by accident. This… this was a lot bigger than ‘minor’. “Well, nice to know it’s my lack of nutritional value and not our friendship keeping me alive,” she said.

The Doctor grinned - all toothy, nothing like the carefully closed lipped smiles of before and flicked the tip of his tail in amusement before he reached up to tap a talon against the side of his snout. The human gesture was a hard contrast to the inhuman teeth lurking just beneath it, even if it did little to distract from them. “Oh, I’m sure there’s a touch of that playing a part in the decision making process,” he replied teasingly.

His ‘hands’, unlike the rest of him save for maybe his eyes, had a human shape to them. Oh, they were still just as scaly as the rest of him, but once you got past the initial shock of the four inch long talons and the natural armor plating, the similarities in structure and pattern from the bone structure right down to the fingerprints, though no human fingertip was home to ridges and whorls that deep.

“Not entirely unlike a gecko’s, though I doubt that my size would allow me to climb up walls without a little supplementary equipment reducing my weight. Something to consider, I suppose.”

Sarah looked up into those deep blue eyes again. “Are you reading my mind?”

The Doctor shrugged, his wings and shoulders shifting like mountains in the throes of an earthquake. “Possibly. Alternatively, you might be in the habit of mumbling. But please, go on and keep looking. I’m hardly in a position to get a good look at myself at the moment, but if you’d care to explore for me…”

She took a hesitant step forward and, now that the one lingering seed of doubt had been put to rest by the lack of aggressive response, began to move more confidently, even going so far as to climb up on his shoulder to more closely observe the details of the Doctor’s head and shoulders.

“Carefully.”

The horns weren’t particularly extraordinary compared to the illustrations of dragons Sarah Jane had seen in story books, curling around like a ram’s rather than clustering out in cluster of outsized porcupine spikes. The horse-like ears hiding beneath them were slightly surprising – lizards didn’t have ears, after all – but, then again, who was to say what features a dragon could and couldn’t have? It wasn’t like wings were normal additions to reptiles either, yet here they were.

Abruptly, one of the ears twitched away from her hands and Sarah Jane almost lost her balance as a shiver ran through the Doctor’s body.

“Ticklish,” the Time Lord mumbled as he pulled his head away and hid it under his clawed hands. “Please, continue.”

She nodded, carefully bracing a hand against his side as she continued to trace the details.

The Doctor’s scales were largely brown, tan, and grey with a nearly natural inclusion of olive and pale yellow peppering the larger swaths of earthy colors, but reds – both bright and burgundy – and purples snuck through the former like a secret, one that only became obvious when the Doctor shifted in just the right way so the light caught them and sent what had looked like dull shades of brown and grey glittering as much brighter and bolder hues. There were a few traceable patterns to their placement, lines that divided the layers of lighter and darker colors, but then there were others, randomly placed and erratically clustered by some unknown hand who’d taken part in the design process.

Texturally, they were smooth with only the slightest trace of roughness to give away that they were naturally developed tissue. The barest trace of warmth hiding beneath wasn’t particularly reassuring, but the Doctor had always been cold to the touch, regardless of how human he looked, and it followed that an outsized lizard would be cold blooded.

Another shudder ran through his body as Sarah Jane touched the membrane of his wings – the same colors as the scales ran through them, but the skin was much softer, almost to the point of being velvety –, but she jerked back before they could jump out and away like his ears had.

“Bit silly for a dragon to be so ticklish, don’t you think?” she asked, walking back around to where the Doctor’s head lay.

He cracked open an eye to look at her. “It’s not like I had a lot of input in the process.”

“I suppose,” Sarah Jane said before thinking of something. “Can you breathe fire?”

The Doctor drew in a breath, holding onto it for a moment before releasing it right in Sarah’s face. She barely had time to cover her face and give a small scream before the blast of concentrated air flung her hair backwards.

“Absolutely not,” he said, settling back down into his recumbent position as the journalist tried to get her heart rate back under control. “I think I would have noticed developing the specialized organs required to pull off that particular trick. Alas.”

Sarah Jane considered that and then brought out her next question. “…what about flying?”

The Doctor grinned. This time, the teeth didn’t look frightening at all.

“Let’s find out.”