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Chicken Soup

By Alden Bates

The Doctor sneezed explosively into his paisley handkerchief.

He looked at the handkerchief in bewilderment and sniffed experimentally. He couldn't be getting a cold; he was immune to all disease. The console flashed its lights at him.

Perhaps it was stress. He'd been worrying quite a bit over last few days, especially when Mel had almost gotten killed during their last adventure. He didn't suppose that the involuntary swim he'd had in frigid mountain water had helped either.

He was about to dismiss the thought and go back to working on the console when his nose twitched again.

"Ahhrgh chooo!"

"What was that, Doctor?" Mel bounded in with her skipping rope. The Doctor guiltily stuffed the handkerchief into a pocket.

"Ah, nothing, Mel. Just adjusting some of the controls. They make the most dreadful of noises."

Breathing through his mouth, he flicked a switch and moved around, keeping the console between himself and his companion.

"Are you sure? It sounded like a sneeze to me..."

"I'm perfectly all right!" He exclaimed and promptly collapsed.

When he recovered, Mel was leaning over him, her concerned face framed by her curly hair.

"You're sick!," she squeaked. "You should be in bed!"

"I'm the Doctor; I don't get sick."

"Rubbish," She tugged him to his feet and slung one of his arms over her shoulder. "Come on, I can't carry you."

He staggered weakly, supported by her. They walked back through the interior door, up the corridor past Mel's room, down another corridor and into the Doctor's room.

She placed him on his bed, and he fell back. His cheek pressed against the multi-coloured pillow, one of the relics of his last incarnation.

"I'll go and get you some chicken soup. That'll help you get over your cold," he heard her say before he passed out again.

He woke suddenly, gasping as though from a nightmare, but he didn't remember dreaming anything. He hated dreams anyway. The visions of his subconscious were never pretty.

Mel was sitting by the bed on a stool. He obviously hadn't been asleep long, because she was still wearing the same green tracksuit and holding a steaming bowl of soup.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

He snuffled and clutched his head. "Like a dozen Daleks are holding a party in my skull. What's happening? Have we landed?"

Mel pushed him back against the pillow. "Not yet. Not for a day or two at least. I reset the controls."

"What?" he asked, alarmed.

"Sit up so you can have your soup."

The Doctor wriggled into a sitting position. "I think my nanites can handle a simple cold without it."

"You're going to eat it anyway."

He eyed the soup with a sudden feeling of dread. "It hasn't got real chickens in it, has it?"

"Of course not! It's from the food machine," Mel pushed the bowl into his hands.

"Only one spoon?" he asked forlornly.

Mel grinned and tapped him on the nose. He grinned back and sipped cautiously. The soup soothed his throat as he swallowed, savouring the taste. She was watching him intently, eager for the verdict.

"Yes, very nice, Mel," He took another sip.

"What's this?" She reached past him and pulled his umbrella from where he had hidden it under the sheets. "Oh, _Doctor_! You're not supposed to take your umbrella to bed with you!"

"Mel!" He looked frantically for a place to put the bowl so he could snatch the umbrella back, but there wasn't anywhere, and if he put it on the bed, it'd get knocked over.

"Calm down. I'll put it on the bedside table." she put the umbrella down. "You've dribbled the soup now."

She mopped at his chin with his handkerchief, her face intently concentrating on the task.

"I used to babysit," she said. "The children weren't much older than three or four, and they used to get terribly sick."

"It's been a long time since I was four years old," the Doctor muttered. "I can do things for myself now."

"Of course you can," Mel soothed. "But while you're sick I'm going to look after you. Finish your soup before it gets cold."

He meekly obeyed, stirring the liquid around with his spoon. Mel watched the whole time. He noticed that she had a book under her arm.

"I hope you're not intending to read to me," he said pointedly, passing her the empty bowl. She set the bowl on the bedside table next to the umbrella.

"Why not?"

"Mel, I'm almost a thousand years old; I don't have people reading me bedtime stories."

"Now you do," she smiled. "Just lie back; You might enjoy it."

He let out a sigh of suffering and sank into the pillow.

The book turned out to be "The Little Engine That Could". A lesson in the power of positive thinking and good self-esteem. He watched her frown of concentration as she read, focused totally on the story. Her voice had softened, and she spoke as if he was a child of four, even inserting "choo choo" noises into the narrative. Her small hands turned the pages precisely.

He remembered that she'd be leaving soon. A necessary sacrifice, leaving her behind so that Fenric wouldn't have to kill her. That didn't make it any easier for him to do, but the fact that it was for her own good helped.

What's worse what that he could never tell her. She would insist on staying, no matter what else he said.

A profound sadness struck him as her voice weaved through the words. His streams of thought began shutting down. The story resonated in his mind, the only thing left.

Mel closed the book and smiled at the sleeping Doctor. His features had relaxed into an expression of innocent slumber. She leaned over, kissed him on the forehead and quietly left the room.

Mel arrived in the console room the next morning, as accurately as TARDIS time dictated.

The Doctor spun around to greet her, umbrella in hand and a crooked grin on his face.

"Doctor! You're better!"

"I told you my nanites could handle it," He touched the end of her nose. "On to adventures anew, I think."

Mel hugged him and held her breath as the console's central column began to slow.

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