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"A gift is not given in exchange for another."
Campble nodded slowly. "Yes, I see." He closed the book and put it carefully on the table beside him with a little pat. "Now, how long can you stay? Please no more nonsense about needing to prevent some calamity on the other side of the galaxy."
A grin. "No, all's right with the galaxy. At least as right as one interfering time traveller can make it. If I have your honourable self's permission, I will stay for some while. There is some research I need to complete."
"As long as you like."
"Isn't this where we bargain out the price and payment method?"
A quiver that ran through the Master Librarian's whole body. "Doctor, this regeneration is as bad as your last. Will you never learn to approach these things discreetly? No I suppose not," glancing at the sparkle in the Doctor's eyes. "Let us say ..."
A disappointed look. "Aren't we going to go through the ritual?"
An impatient gesture of his upper hands. "No need. Not with a friend. I suggest that if you come and talk to me twice a week, an hour at a time, that will be sufficient payment for that week's research."
"I counter with three times."
Eyestalks waving gently, "No, no, you have missed the point of bargaining. You are not supposed to increase the payment."
A smile followed by a serious look. "I know what I am doing. I have been away too long my friend. If you will grant me the time ..."
"It will make the First Underlibrarian go mad. I will do it. He will deserve it for having been so annoying this week."
Voice soft, "And what is going on that your long-time friend, Melosin, has been annoying?"
"There is nothing. He just has become irritating. Must be his age."
"Nothing to do with you?"
"Of course not. I am as I have always been."
The Doctor sat silent, eyebrows slightly raised.
Campble blinked and one eye stock waved around. "Of course I am not exactly the same. Time passes, the physical self changes. I think ... you know ... he has realised how long we have known each other and he worries how old HE is getting. Now, where will you be resting? Shall we accommodate you in the Library?"
The Doctor stared at Campble for a moment and then replied, his attention not entirely on what he was saying. "A little vacation from the TARDIS would be wise. She grows too complacent."
A sharp 'ooooh' and then "You must tell me on some occasion about your TARDIS and your relationship with each other."
Another blush. "I ... sometime." He stared at his feet and then resettled himself in his chair.
A long sigh, almost a groan. "Now I am afraid I must ... I have other ..."
The Doctor rose quickly. "Of course, forgive me for being here so long."
The Master Librarian's body sagged down into his chair. "If you would just follow ..."
His voice drifted away. the doors behind the Doctor opened again and Melosin came in. Campble looked at his long time friend and colleague. "Ah, Melosin. Please have the Doctor conducted to the guestrooms. He will be staying with us to do some research."
"All arranged, sir. Doctor, if you will ..."
"Come back to me, Melosin."
The First Underlibrarian glanced quickly at Campble and his voice was respectful and restrained with an underlying affection. "sir." He led the Time Lord out of the room and handed him over the Third Underlibrarian.
Just before they parted, the Doctor put his hand out to the First Underlibrarian, being careful not to touch him without permission. "Is something wrong?"
"No, we are pleased to have you with us, Doctor."
"I meant with the Master Librarian. Your concern earlier."
"I suppose you might say I am too protective of him. He is one of the rarest treasures this Library holds." The First Underlibrarian bowed his head and went back to the Master Librarian.
The Doctor stared thoughtfully at him until a soft shuffle of feet reminded him that the Third Underlibrarian was waiting to take him to his borrowed quarters.
Nine days later, in the afternoon, the Doctor was about to enter the Master Librarian's visitors room when the door opened with a snap from the other side and a robed figure paused in the doorway. From the room, a roaring voice, "Get from my sight! Don't come back until you know what you are doing!"
The Doctor stepped back as the Chief Medicus of the Library exited the room. He glanced at the Time Lord and was about to move past when the Doctor spoke.
"Please, is there something wrong with the Master Librarian?"
The Medicus drew himself in, his lower arms crossing his body in an almost defensive gesture. "You understand, sir, that he is ... no ... I suggest you ask him ... if you dare. Pray excuse me." He flowed away, dignified but clearly disturbed by whatever had gone on in the room.
The Doctor glanced at the open doorway and with a deep breath entered.
The Master Librarian was sitting hunched up in his chair. His body rippled in emotion. It was also clear that his body was undergoing some sort of change. The colour and texture of his skin was much altered from what was normal for a Siblui, and even from how it had been at the Doctor's arrival some nine days earlier. Unhealthy looking.
Without looking up, the Master Librarian grumbled. "Who is it now? Is it necessary to bother me again?"
The Doctor paused in his approach to Campble. "It is only me. Shall we defer our conversation? Nothing critical."
Campble's head jerked up. "Oh ... I ... no. stay if you like. Not going to be good company today. Not very entertaining."
The Time Lord moved closer. "Friends need only be friends, not entertainers. You should be however it is you feel. I can stay and share some quiet time if that would be your choice. Or tell you about what I found in my researches."
"Hmmt. I am getting ... yes, have tea and sit with me. You only have so long here before you go." He paused and blinked for a few seconds, off in his own thoughts, before pushing a button. When a young Siblui came in, "Refreshment for my guest -- tea, Earther style and biscuits."
The young Siblu, assigned as the Master Librarian's servant, did not go.
"Be off, hurry now. Don't keep us waiting."
The servant's skin rippled and he murmured, "For you, Master Librarian?"
"Well I am drinking what my guest will drinking of course. You are wasting time." His voice was irritated. The servant darted out of the room. Campble moved a little in his chair, adjusting the placement of his legs. He and the Doctor sat without speaking for several minutes until the Doctor leaned slightly forward.
"I am continuing the examination of the new element, sardonian, reported by the Tranni. Some intriguing evidence to suggest the earliest results were not based on the proper tests."
"I hate tests, " the Master Librarian interrupted. "Stupid, pointless busywork for technicians. Especially when the same results are found and no new or useful commentary is provided!"
The Doctor moved back in his chair at the Master Librarian's outburst. He had seen him irritated before but over major things that fully justified such anger. Head tilted, face serious, "There is something wrong and you have not told me."
A long stare from all of Campble's eyes. His hands clenched spasmodically, voice quiet and dark with suppressed anger. "These fools say I am dying. They offer no treatment, no cure, only death. Is that what you wanted to know?"
The Doctor paled and felt his hearts stumble. "What, what is it?"
"Does that matter? It's incurable and not communicable. Not lethal to any other species but mine. But me."
"But they may have overlooked something ..."
"No! They claim they have checked every medical source recorded here."
"Then there might be something ..."
"Why must you always think that others can not find the answers!? That a thing is not insoluble unless YOU declare it so?"
The Doctor recoiled as if he had been slapped across the face. "I don't ... don't ..."
"Yes, you do! You just did!"
He realised that Campble was right. "I'm sorry. I know how you must feel ..."
This time he was struck by the Master Librarian, one long arm reaching out quickly to smack his chest, right between his hearts. "NO, YOU DO NOT, ARROGANT TIME LORD! No, you don't. How could you? You live for aeons. You regenerate twelve times. How can you possibly know what it feels like to approach your own death after as short a lifetime as I have had had? Why, even when you do end your last regeneration, all you are goes into your Matrix to live on. But me ... no! To know that everything I am, how I feel, what I know will disappear. That the darkness of non-existence will claim me."
"Your children ..."
"Oh yes, the answer of the inane. Live on in your offspring. They will lose me too. I WILL CEASE TO BE! And do you know why? Do you?"
The Doctor shook his head, unable to speak.
"Because as a youngster, I entered the central computer core, just to see it, and breathed in vratha fumes. 80 standard years ago. Here I am, I should live for another 50 standard years but no!" He lost steam about then and growing pale and wheezing, slumped disconsolately in his chair.
The Doctor gathered his shredded emotions and calmed himself. "Tell me the cause and let me try. I promise, no tests. I'll disappear until I find a cure."
One hand waved weakly at him. "No point. Go away. Just let me be here in peace."
When he stretched a hand toward his friend, the Doctor was shocked at the way the Siblui shrank back, face grimacing.
"Don't touch me. I don't want your pity. Go away."
"Not pity but concern from affection for a friend in trouble."
"Yes, yes. Go away." His voice was very tired now, despairing instead of angry.
"May I speak to the Medicus about the details of your illness?"
"Whatever you want. Go away. Go away."
The Doctor rose, reluctant to leave his friend in such distress but needing to commence his search with whatever information the Medicus could provide. "If there is something you want from me, please have them send for me. At any time."
A frown and a small nod. Eyestalks that sank back against the skull. Skin no longer dark coloured.
The Doctor stared at his friend, mouth working slowly, his full feelings clear on his long face now that Campble's eyes were closed. A soft sigh and he exited the room. As he went into the anteroom, he saw the First Underlibrarian.
"I know he is dying. He told me. If ever he asks or even if he does not ask, I am available at all hours. Please, where is the Medicus?"
Melosin looked into his eyes. "I know that he was speaking angrily to you. You do understand it was not personal. It was his illness."
The Doctor shook his head sadly. "No, it is personal. His anger is quite focussed on what it is in each of us that hurts him in his dying. The Medicus?"
The First Underlibrarian's face had spasmed and then become frozen as the Doctor spoke. With a jerk of his body, "This way."
The Doctor felt very tired as they walked away from the Master Librarian's quarters.
The Doctor awoke with a jerk at the crash of shattering crystal and metal. He raised his head from his crossed arm and looked at the mess of broken equipment on the floor. He was still a bit dozy and disoriented but after a moment he concluded that his extended right arm must have moved in his sleep and pushed the equipment off the bench. A glance around and he knew he was in the TARDIS lab, where he had spent most of the last eleven days when he was not with the Medicus or sitting with the Master Librarian.
Rubbing his eyes, he tried to come fully awake. He had not intended to fall asleep, had fought it but lost. "Kratz!" he swore as he realized all the materials he had last been testing were spilled on the floor. And that he had lost valuable time by falling asleep instead of continuing his desperate searching.
Four days ago he thought he had found the solution only to discover it would not work on Siblui physiology. The Medicus had congratulated him.
"You have found a remedy that will cure many."
"But not save him." The Doctor sighed.
"No, not save him."
Now he had lost so much time by falling asleep. He rubbed his throbbing temples and stared at the small clock on the shelf above the bench. A present from, from someone a long time ago. The name just would not come. It was nearly time for his visit to the Master Librarian.
His body protested as he stood up and he swayed slightly, light headed.
"No! I am a Time Lord. I can do without the rest other species must have. I can do this. I will find a solution!" He sounded desperate to himself. And unconvincing.
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