5. Sunrise – Zepheera enjoys something beautiful for once
AU: Donna AU of BTaS (the Doctor rescues Zepheera while Donna is traveling with him)
Warm, gentle pressure at Zepheera’s back brought her to the waking world. She nearly batted at the finger prodding at her when the Doctor whispered, “C’mon, wake up. It’s happening.”
That was enough encouragement for Zepheera. They’d spent the night out here, under an alien sky, because it was one of the simple pleasures that had never been available to the borrower. She was either too busy worrying about her survival or that of her people, or was stuck in a cage in a windowless room. Here she had friends who were concerned for her recovery, invested in her interests, and more than willing to be her safe place to fall.
Sitting up, Zepheera rubbed her eyes and looked around. Donna was still fast asleep in her own spot, and the sky above was becoming lighter by the second.
The Doctor’s hand shifted to form a platform near Zepheera, who sat on his chest while he lay on his back. She accepted the silent offer without hesitation, and the Doctor was able to sit up without sending Zepheera tumbling. Then she could take her usual perch on his shoulder.
“Any moment now…”
All of the tension from the effort of waking up melted as soon as Zepheera saw the first sliver of sunlight peeking over the horizon.
The Doctor plucked out a pair of sunglasses out of his pocket and balanced it on his shoulder so Zepheera could balance one lens on her lap to protect her eyes from the intensity of the sun without missing out on any of the beauty. Together, they watched the arrival of the sun change the colors of the sky and the clouds, a breathtaking canvas constantly in motion.
Zepheera, careful to not shift the sunglasses enough to cause them to fall, scooted herself closer to the Doctor’s neck. Part of her was grateful that he couldn’t see her tears when they were this close. It was still tough for her to be emotionally vulnerable around someone his size, and she didn’t want him to worry needlessly when he’d made her so happy.
“Thank you for this,” she said, unable to avoid the slight crack of emotion in her voice.
She could hear the smile in his voice as he whispered back, “Anytime.”
Zepheera clung to an inexplicable hose dangling from the ceiling to the console, the four-and-a-half inch tall woman slowly climbing up the notches one by one to be closer to eye level with her Time Lord and human companions.
“Do you have any idea where you’re going?” Donna demanded of the Doctor as he piloted the TARDIS. Usually she and Zepheera just accepted the turbulent nature of the time machine in flight, but today’s trip seemed particularly rough.
“Of course!” the Doctor scoffed in time with another hard shake of the TARDIS. Zepheera’s grip tightened on the rubbery handholds. Both giants braced themselves against the console, and the borrower suddenly regretted her decision to stray from her usual spot on the Doctor’s shoulder.
That regret didn’t last.
“I’ve just gotta adjust the– criminy!” The Doctor was thrown across the console, Donna against the seat behind her. Zepheera let out a startled cry, wrapping her arms and legs around the hose as it swayed widely. The monitor blipped desperately, and the Doctor swore under his breath, shoving himself to his feet and throwing several levels. The entire company breathed a sigh of relief when the TARDIS seemed to even out.
“What the hell was that?” Zepheera snapped, craning her neck to glare at the Doctor.
The Time Lord locked eyes with Zepheera’s tiny violets, and he held a hand underneath her so she could peel herself from the hose and land in a heap in his palm.
“Got a little too close to twenty-sixteen,” he said by way of explanation.
“What’s up with twenty-sixteen?” asked Donna, gathering herself.
The Doctor shot a dire look toward his human companion and the woman in his hand. “…Spoilers,” he muttered, lifting Zepheera to his shoulder.
She and Donna had learned not to question him when he said that word.
Suddenly there was light, nearly blinding
Zepheera. Then she became aware of the warmth surrounding her. Highly confused
about where she was and what was happening, she shot to her feet and
immediately fell back down. She was still sobbing and hyperventilating, and her
head was spinning and her lips and fingers tingled from lack of oxygen. But as
she fumbled around desperately, feeling the boundaries of the warm, soft,
leathery space she found herself in, the small part of Zepheera’s brain that
remained functional puzzled out another reason for her loss of balance.
Hands. She was in a human’s cupped hands. And
the human was moving very fast.
Then they stopped. Voices rumbled above her,
their clarity lost in Zepheera’s dizziness and the blood roaring in her ears.
She squeezed her eyes shut and covered her head with her arms, fearful of what
these two giants were going to do to her. After a moment, the hands opened up
beneath her. Zepheera gave a startled yelp as she fell a short distance,
landing splayed onto another pair of hands.
These new hands were bigger and decidedly
more dangerous than the first pair, but rather than trapping around her, they
drew her close to the person they were attached to. And as they gently pressed
her against a familiar pinstriped suit, her situation became clear.
She was waking up from a nightmare, which had
induced a panic attack. Donna must have heard her distress and brought her
straight to the Doctor, to whom Zepheera was more responsive in this state. The
position he moved her into now was woefully familiar to Zepheera. Remembering
his instructions, she concentrated on the Doctor’s slow breaths and did her
best to copy them. It made her chest hurt at first, but with each repetition
her nervous system calmed down another hair.
As her heart rate slowed down to a healthy
level and her head cleared, the Doctor and Donna’s hushed voices came into
focus as well.
“She’s getting worse,” Donna
“I know,” murmured the Doctor.
Despite how quiet he was trying to be, his voice reverberated through his
chest. Zepheera couldn’t ignore it if she tried.
“I mean, first the nightmares, then the
panic attacks, and now full-on night terrors? We can’t let her shrug this off
anymore. What good is hopping around time and space saving planets when we
can’t even help our own friend?”
“Donna, I know,” the Doctor all but
growled, sending a chill up Zepheera’s spine along with the vibrations. After
another deep breath for the borrower to mimic, he went on in a whisper.
“Trust me, I haven’t been ignoring her. It’s just… She’s been through a
lot with so-called doctors poking and prodding her and worse, and I
didn’t want to make her relive that by forcing help on her. I was waiting for
her to come to me.”
A moment of silence passed between the human
and the Time Lord, and Zepheera let out a shaky sigh. She hadn’t meant to cause
her larger friends so much trouble. Nothing she did stopped the nightmares, or
quashed this completely irrational fear of abandonment deep inside her. She
wanted to deal with it herself so the Doctor and Donna wouldn’t have to worry
about it. Clearly, that was beyond her power.
“I’ll talk to her when she wakes
up,” said the Doctor, interrupting Zepheera’s thoughts. “I’ll help
her, Donna, that’s a promise. For now, get some sleep. You need it more than I
After a second of hesitation, Donna replied,
“You better make good on that, Spaceman.” Her voice teemed with
concern, and with that her footsteps retreated further into the TARDIS.
Now that the conversation overhead was done,
Zepheera allowed herself to relax a little more. She had some deeply-rooted
apprehensions about what kind of help she was going to receive, but stronger
than them was the trust she had in the Doctor. If anybody could make her
better, it was him. No matter how long it took.
The Doctor leaned back, probably in the seat
in the console room if the dim lighting was anything to go by. With his chest
slightly more horizontal, Zepheera adjusted herself more comfortably. The
Doctor lifted his hand about a centimeter to give her more room, but didn’t
otherwise react to her shifting. She finally settled down laying on her side,
nestled in the space between his tie and the lapel of his suit.
The hand came back down to rest gently over
her lower half like a blanket, while his thumb absently stroked her arm and
part of her back. It was a small but comforting gesture that brought a faint
smile to Zepheera’s lips. The sound of his breathing paired with the muffled
thuds of his hearts in their strange one-two-three-four rhythm easily lulled
Zepheera to sleep.
If she dreamt at all, she didn’t recall it in
Zepheera frowned in confusion. The TARDIS had
landed and the doors were open, but she couldn’t see anything beyond them. Only
darkness. She looked up at the Doctor; being four and a half inches tall, she
had to tilt her head back quite a bit just to meet his gaze from her spot on
the floor. A sudden pang of insignificance shot through her gut like a cold
“Where…” Her throat had gone dry
and her voice came out quieter than usual, so she swallowed her fear and tried
again. “Where are we?”
The Doctor nodded toward the door. “Only
one way to find out.
Hesitant, Zepheera turned the other way to
lock eyes with Donna. The human offered a faint smile of encouragement. Even
so, something felt off to Zepheera. But her friends were waiting on her, so she
carefully approached the wide-open doors.
The space outside was pitch-black, the dim
light of the console room didn’t seem to touch it. Even after she’d taken a few
steps into this dark place, Zepheera could hardly believe she was walking on
something solid. She blinked hard and looked around with wide eyes, wandering
about a foot further away from the doors. The absence of light, the absolute
nothingness was beginning to hurt her eyes.
A sudden wave of dread hit her as she noticed
the absence of something else. Vibrations in the floor that indicated her
relatively giant friends following her.
She whirled around, squinting through the
light in the TARDIS that seemed blaring to her dark-accustomed eyes.
"What’s going on?” she called,
holding a hand up as a visor as her vision adjusted. Her pulse quickened when
two immense blurs came into focus.
The Doctor and Donna were exactly where she
left them. They stared down at Zepheera with stone faces. Her anxiety mounted.
She had a feeling about what exactly those expressions meant. She had frequent
nightmares about them. And as the Doctor lifted a hand, fingers pressed close
together in preparation to click, Zepheera’s fears were all at once realized.
Zepheera was being left behind.
“I don’t understand!” She stumbled
forward, still partially disoriented, in the hope that she could make them
second-guess this decision long enough for her to make it back inside.
“Did I do something wrong? Please tell me, I’ll never do whatever it is
Zepheera’s blood ran cold at the sound of the
Doctor snapping his fingers, freezing her in place. In reaction to the Doctor,
the TARDIS doors closed on their own. The sound of the blue box taking off
broke Zepheera out of her shocked state.
“No! Please!” she shouted over the
growing noise and rising winds as the TARDIS began to dematerialize.
She broke into a run, desperately throwing
herself against the wooden doors. “Don’t do this! Doctor! Donna!”
Tears flowed freely down Zepheera’s cheeks as
she beat her tiny fists futilely on the door. As the ship that had not only
been the vehicle for the best few weeks of traveling that Zepheera had ever
experienced but her home disappeared completely, she crumbled into a
heap on the ground. Her entire body shook, her sobs the only sound.
She felt the darkness close in on her, all
but suffocating her as she started hyperventilating. All alone. Abandoned by
her only friends in the world. Trapped once again with no way out. For a
moment, she convinced herself that the surface on which she lay felt just like
the acrylic kennel she’d spent six months in before she met the Doctor.
Once that thought invaded her head, her
screaming began in earnest.
Then came the sensory overload.
Dark or Trapped? Oh golly gosh gee, I thought you said and!
Four hours there and four hours back. Like a school trip, Donna had called it. Such a duration was the main reason Donna had chosen to sunbathe in the Midnight Leisure Palace rather than accompany the Doctor and Zepheera on their little field trip to the Sapphire Waterfall.
Only two months since the borrower had joined their travels in the TARDIS, after the Doctor rescued her from a terrible circumstance, and Zepheera was already willing to spend the next eight hours locked in a box with several unknown humans. All for what would probably amount to fifteen minutes of a pretty view. Donna had to admit it was a rather brave decision for someone less than five inches tall.
Then again, she supposed Zepheera could have agreed to go because the Doctor would be there, and he was going because
Zepheera was gonna keep him company. Go figure.
Four hours later, the pool was still empty, apart from Donna in her robe and long chair. A few people had come and gone, but she paid them no mind. In fact, she didn’t think much of it when another set of footsteps echoed from the entrance hallway. Then she remembered that all the others who visited the pool had either been rowdy family groups or extra-friendly individuals chatting up the quiet staff. The silence of this person’s approach piqued Donna’s interest enough to open her eyes and turn to look.
She gasped and sat bolt upright at the sight of the Doctor rounding the corner, his long overcoat draped over one arm. It was much too early for their return. Something was wrong, she just knew it; everything about him threw up red flags in Donna’s mind, from his stony expression to his somber gait. Full of concern, she got up and approached him slowly.
When she got close enough, her breath caught at Zepheera’s notable absence from his shoulder. The Doctor shook his head when he saw the worry in Donna’s eyes, and he nodded toward his left shoulder. Now that she was closer, Donna could detect the slightest raise in the Doctor’s loosened collar on that side. Miniscule fingers curled around the edge of the fabric as the borrower underneath, partially illuminated by the potent x-tonic light, peeked warily out at Donna.
Donna’s heart sank. Zepheera hadn’t acted like this around her since before they’d gotten to know each other as close friends, and she’d never known the Doctor to be so quiet.
Finding out what would have to wait. For now, Donna’s friends were hurting and needed her comfort. Without a word, she pulled the Doctor into a tight hug, careful to avoid his left shoulder.
It took a moment, but the Doctor eventually hugged her back. A minute later, Donna felt the tiniest of weights dropping onto her own shoulder. A wave of relief swept over her as Zepheera nestled into the soft fabric of the robe near her neck. Whatever happened out there, it hadn’t affected any of the progress between the odd pair of women.
“Alright,” she mumbled into the Doctor’s shoulder, warning them both that she was about to pull away. Meeting his dark gaze only filled Donna with determination. “Tell me everything.”
Both the borrower and the Time Lord turned to look at the human standing in the entrance to the TARDIS console room. The red-haired woman was shrugging on a jacket as she stepped in. “Who are you talking to?”
“I’m in the middle of something, Donna,” said the Doctor pointedly
Donna rolled her eyes and approached with purpose in her steps. “No use keeping secrets from me, Spaceman, I live here too.”
Her gaze quickly fell on Zepheera, whose heartbeat quickened at the contact with a completely new human – Donna, the Doctor had called her.
“Blimey, get a load of that!” the human exclaimed. Zepheera flinched at the volume and backed up into the screen behind her, pulling her knees close again. She squeezed her eyes shut, overwhelmed by the sight of two giants looming over her.
The Doctor looked appalled by his companion’s behavior. “Donna, lower your voice,” he rebuked. “She’s been through a lot, no need to frighten her all over again by gawking!”
Without waiting for a response, he turned back to the four and a half inch tall woman huddled on the sill of his monitor. “Zepheera… C’mon, look at me,” he coaxed.
Considering she was outnumbered, Zepheera had no choice but to obey. She lifted her head to look up at the Doctor and Donna, who had come around to stand behind the Doctor’s right shoulder. The Doctor smiled encouragingly.
“That’s it. See? No harm done. This is just my friend, Donna. She travels with me.”
“She’s so teeny,” Donna cooed, leaning over the Doctor to stretch a finger toward Zepheera, as if touching her would somehow prove her existence further. Zepheera backed away from the sudden approach before the Doctor stopped the human.
“No no, don’t do that,” he warned firmly. “Really. Don’t.”
Looking a bit sheepish, Donna withdrew her hand. “Was she always this small?”
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to roll his eyes. “Yes, now would you back off for a minute and let me get on with this?”
Much to Zepheera’s surprise, the human stepped away with a muttered apology. Once she was out of sight, the Doctor addressed Zepheera again. “Sorry about that. She’s harmless, I promise.” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Anyway, what I meant to say was, I’d like you to stay. At least for a while, just so I can make sure all those drugs didn’t leave you with any permanent damage. If you could bear with me for a few days, I’ll take you wherever you want to go. Does that sound alright to you?”
Zepheera supposed that was fair. At least it didn’t sound like she’d be locked in a cage anymore. She nodded her approval.
The Doctor smiled. “Brilliant. Welcome aboard, then. Er, is there anything you want to do now?”
It took some digging, but Zepheera realized there was a lot she wanted to do. She wanted to sleep in a bed, she wanted to eat a meal that consisted of more than old cheese and bread, she wanted to drink an entire thimbleful of some kind of alcoholic drink. She looked down at herself; she wanted to wear clothes that made her feel like a person again. Then she touched a lock of her dark hair. It had already been getting long at the time of her capture, and it had grown past her shoulders over the months.
“I want to cut my hair,” she told him. She was certain she wouldn’t feel anything like her old self until she did. And she had a feeling she could ask for the rest at any time.
XD I imagine Zepheera and Donna would have a roller-coaster of a relationship. Donna’s a rather intimidating human for a borrower, being so loudspoken and robust in personality, so Zepheera would be wary of her at first. After a rocky start, Zepheera would warm up to Donna, but the Doctor would be quicker to adjust to having such a small person around all the time (i.e. keeping his voice lower and gentle handling). She and Donna would definitely butt heads every now and then, just like Donna does with the Doctor on occasion. It’s practically how the three of them show affection.
While they have their differences, at the end of the day Zepheera and Donna get along fine because they know exactly what they have in common. They’re both strong-willed and passionate, relish in all the traveling, and they both truly care about the Doctor, a man they want nothing to do with romantically and everything to do with in all other respects.