Donna has been quiet ever since their adventures in the Library. Not just quiet for her, which would be a blessed relief, but generally quiet, which is a worry. The Doctor can understand it, though — he hasn’t exactly been the life and soul of the party either, but his thoughts are focussed on what his future will bring and when he will see River again. He’s thought of a thousand possible ways to change what happened in the Library, and yet it still all leads to the same answer. Still, he knows he has time to get to know River before losing her again.
It’s different for Donna. There’s no future. She can’t even be sure whether what she remembers actually existed. And he can’t even begin to imagine how much that hurts.
He puts the TARDIS into the vortex, sets the handbrake, and goes to find her.
Some indeterminable time later — there’s no time in the vortex as such, of course, but he knows it certainly isn’t a little while! — he’s getting frustrated.
“All right,” he snaps at the TARDIS, after realising that he’s been down this particular passage three times, “I’ve left her alone up ‘till now, but I need to talk to her, and it’s not doing her any good to lock herself away. So stop playing games!”
And to emphasise his point, he kicks a wall so hard that it hurts his toe. However, even as he’s hopping on the other foot, muttering curses under his breath in his native tongue, he sees a door swing open further down the hall.
“Thanks, old girl,” he says to the ship, letting his fingers trail along the wall as he approaches the open door.
He stops on the threshold, trying, for once, to be tactful.
“It’s all right, Doctor.” Donna’s voice comes from further within, and he suspects from her tone that she’s smiling. “You can come in.”
Stepping fully into the room, the Doctor mentally kicks himself for not realising that this would be where Donna would end up.
It was a room he had only discovered after the Time War. He calls it the sens-o-chamber when he wants to sound fancy, because, really, ‘magic room’ is something of a let-down. But it really does seem to be magic. It somehow absorbs the thoughts of the inhabitant and changes the walls, floor and ceiling to reflect those feelings and emotions. Before rescuing Rose, he had spent an immeasurable amount of time here, surrounded by the familiar fiery orange sky and green and silver landscapes of Gallifrey.
Now he finds himself in what appears to be a children’s bedroom. The walls are blue, the ceiling a brilliant yellow, and there are childish paintings hung at a child’s eye-level.
The part that hurts most is the realisation that this room never existed outside of a computer program, and yet everything in it looks real enough to touch.
The Doctor finds Donna sitting on furniture provided by the TARDIS, and which is different from the very basic seat that was there when he used to make his frequent visits. Donna is curled up in the corner of an L-shaped couch, which is upholstered in a rich green fabric. It sets off her flaming red hair and the Doctor can’t help but admire the affect.
“I thought you’d find your way here in the end,” Donna tells him, patting the place next to her in invitation. “But thank you. I guess I needed some space.”
He sits down, but not right beside her. He’s always prided himself as being something of an expert on body-language — at least, he’s been practicing it a lot more since the mistakes he made with Martha — and it couldn’t be more obvious from the way Donna’s hugging her legs and resting her chin on her knees that she needs space. It’s almost as if she’s waiting to be attacked.
Instead, he takes a seat at the other end of one arm of the couch and stretches his legs out in front of him, crossing his ankles. He knows this is the right thing to have done when Donna unlinks her hands and tucks her legs beneath her rather than using them as a shield.
“Are you all right?” he asks softly. “Really all right, I mean, not ‘all right’.”
Donna smiles, but it’s such a sad smile that it makes him hurt inside.
“Honestly?” She shrugs a little and the smile dissolves. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever get over — that — but it’s not like I can change anything anyway.”
The Doctor feels one corner of his mouth lift in a half-smile. “Did I ever tell you that you’re amazing?”
She huffs out a sort of sigh that sounds more like a suppressed sob. “I thought the word was ‘brilliant’.”
He smiles again, tenderly. “More than brilliant. Incredible. I don’t know anyone else who could go through what you’ve done…”
“You have,” she interrupts, and then, as he gives a slight, subconscious shake of his dead in denial, “Oh, don’t go doing that, Mr ‘Nothing Affects Me’. You’re at least nine hundred — in fact, you’ve probably hit the millenium, but you won’t admit it ’cos you don’t like to think of yourself as being that old. You’ve got to have had something like this happen. I know you’ve fallen in love…”
“No, I haven’t.”
“…probably more than once. What do you mean, you haven’t?” She gives him a look of total exasperation. “Do they call it something different on Gallifrey, then? Because I’m talking about the soppy expression that appears on your face whenever Rose’s name gets mentioned — see, just there! That one!”
She points at him, with a blatant disregard for manners, and he frowns, desperately pulling his face straight.
“I do not,” he contradicts her. “Let’s change the subject.”
She looks at him scornfully. “I’m not Martha and it’s quite safe for you to talk about Rose to me without hurting my feelings. I’m not Rose, either, so you don’t have to come down off your little pedestal and admit anything that she’ll know about.” Donna rolls her eyes. “You men are all useless when it comes to feelings.”
“Hey!” He sits upright in indignation. “I’m not a man!”
“Oh, right, my mistake, sorry.” She rolls her eyes, not looking sorry at all. “Great Time Lord, all-seeing-all-knowing, powerful — lonely — God. Still rubbish at talking about feelings, thought, aren’t ya? And that, let me tell you, sunshine, is very, very male indeed. But then maybe every bloke in the universe is like that. Wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”
He’s watching her, his head tilted on one side, waiting for silence.
“Done?” he asks eventually, his lips twitching.
“Did you listen to a word I said?”
“Honestly?” He grins. “No. Ow! Watch the Converse!”
She sits down again, having administered a sharp slap to his foot, “So, back to Rose…”
“Yes.” She glares at him. “You brought yourself into the situation. I was having a good old wallow here, and you interrupted. We’re not going to tear my feelings apart and leave yours intact.”
He crosses his arms over his chest and leans back on the couch, away from her, wishing he could just get up and walk out. She’s right, though; he did come into this conversation and it’s clearly not over. And when there’s a soft click from the door, which clearly Donna doesn’t hear, but he does, he knows that the TARDIS has locked them both in here and he won’t be leaving until the ship decides it’s time.
“Go on then,” he says grumpily. “What is it?”
“Did you ever tell Rose you loved her?”
There’s a rush of warmth in his mind and he blinks hard to an effort to hold back the tears that want to form in his eyes. He tilts his head back to stare at the ceiling and reminds himself that he instigated this conversation. It doesn’t help.
“No,” he admits softly.
“I tried to.” He’s getting defensive, trying to justify himself. “I tried to on lots of occasions, only, well, things kept cropping up.”
“Oh, monsters, aliens…” He pauses and grins at the memory. “Some woman called Donna Noble.”
He leans back against the couch, pulls his legs up comfortably, and tells her about the last conversation he had with Rose. It’s been such a long time since he told the story to anyone — in fact, he’s not sure he ever did, not in this much detail, anyway — and he can feel a tiny knot in his mind, where he’d been keeping all those painful memories, loosening as he describes what took place.
“Did I make it worse or better by being there?” asks Donna when he’s done. “Would you have been better if you’d had some space? Time to get over things?”
“You mean,” he knows exactly where she’s going with this, and she’s not about to get away with feeling guilty, “would I have been better if I’d never met you?” He leans forward, his feet planted squarely on the floor and his elbows on his knees. “Do you really think that could ever be the case, Donna? I don’t think the Universe would have let us stay apart.”
“Were you looking for me when we met at Adipose industries?”
He quirks an eyebrow. “Honestly? No. But then,” he grins at her, “you did refuse the tempting invitation of a ride in my spaceship. I didn’t think you’d want a second invitation.”
“Aw,” she puts on a baby voice, “did I bruise the Doctor’s iddy-biddy pride when I said ‘no’?”
He chuckles. “It was a bit of a shock,” he admits. “You know, being so irresistible and all.”
She laughs outright at this. “I don’t think there’s enough room in here for the three of us if you’re ego’s going to stay, Doctor. I’d better leave.”
And she even stands up, but he reaches out and grabs her wrist before she walks away.
“We aren’t finished.”
“Aren’t we?” She’s looking down at him.
“Nope.” He pops the ‘p’ and gently tugs on her hand until she’s sitting beside him, casting her a curious glance as she grins. “What is it?”
“I just remember when I first heard you do that. For better or worse, remember?”
He laughs, sliding his fingers through hers and squeezing gently. “I think this might be one of the ‘worse’, and I’m not leaving you alone. Nor are you running away from me under the guise of being all noble — sorry, no pun intended — and self-sacrificing. Got that?’
She salutes him in her best manner. “Yes, sir!”
“Hey!” He grabs her hands. “You know how much I hate that!”
“Well, when you act all lord-and-master-y, what do you expect?” She sits back against the couch, arching an eyebrow at him. “Still, if you’re going to take charge of this conversation, you’d better get on with it.”
He reaches up and tucks a curl of her glorious hair in behind her ear. “No time in the vortex, remember,” he teases. “It’s not like you’re going to miss anything.”
“Good.” She tucks her legs up in front of her and hugs them. “I want to know more about you and Rose.”
“Why?” he demands. “How is this helping you?”
“Because if I know what you felt, I might be able to understand if what I went through was real, or just some computer-generated emotion,” she shoots back.
He huffs in annoyance, irritated both by her irrefutable logic and the speed with which she replied, and pulls his hand away.
“You just said I’m a man and therefore rubbish with emotion.”
“And you denied it.” She smiles. “Can’t have it both ways, Doctor.”
He can’t help smiling back at her. That’s the problem with Donna — he can never stay angry with her, no matter how much she might drive him to distraction.
“Fine, what should I say then?”
“Well,” she gives him a cheeky grin, “for starters, you could admit that — on the very rare occasions that you actually sleep — you dream about her.”
He stares at her in bewilderment. “How do you know about that?”
She rolls her eyes. “It’s not like you do anything quietly, Spaceman. Oh, and that includes singing in the shower, while we’re at it. Or howling, in your case.”
Donna laughs. “You’re allowed to be less than perfect at something.”
He snorts. “Rose thought I had a good singing voice.”
“Then Rose was tone-deaf.” She smiles. “Any other faults I can tease you about — yours, I mean. I wouldn’t venture to criticise Rose.”
He thinks for a moment — or pretends to — and then shrugs, grinning. “Nope. Absolute perfection.”
“Hah!” She rolls her eyes. “You would say that!”
He puts on his ‘kicked puppy dog’ expression. “Aren’t I?”
“Not even close!” She shrugs. “No man is.”
And there’s a faraway look in her eyes that makes him think there might be a double meaning to that sentence.
“You mean, no real man,” he says gently. “So was Lee perfect?”
“He seemed like it.” She shrugs and pulls her legs up, curling into the corner of the couch, and then tries to force a smile. “But then, what person doesn’t think the one they love is perfect? Isn’t that part of the whole ‘love is blind’ ideology?”
He smiles. “You’re not fooling me, Donna Noble.”
“Didn’t expect to,” she shoots back with a half-smile, but it fades as her eyes come to rest on a point above his head.
The Doctor twists his head around and his eyes fall on a sketch that has certainly not been done by children. It’s a watercolour sketch of a woman sitting on the grass, her arms hugging her legs and a thick auburn ponytail hanging down over one shoulder. It’s instantly recognisable as Donna and it’s one of the most beautiful portraits he’s ever seen.
He forgets where he is and gets up to examine the picture more closely, fishing his glasses out of his pocket in order to do so. However the wall seems to recede as he approaches it and the picture is never any larger. He hears a half-laugh half-sob from behind him and turns back to Donna.
“I tried that, too,” she informs him. “It’s just — an illusion, I guess, is the best way to describe it.”
He shakes his head as he returns to the couch and sits down. “You want to see it,” he explains gently, “so the TARDIS is showing it to you. That’s what this room does.” He sighs. “I wish there was some way that she could give it to you, not just show it to you.”
“It’s not your fault, Doctor, and I don’t blame the TARDIS either. She’s doing all she can to help me to feel better.” She manages a feeble smile. “I just can’t help thinking about all we had — everything CAL gave us — everything in this room and everything I remember. And wondering what I’d give it have it all again.”
“Would you give everything up for Lee? All of this?”
He waves his hands in demonstration, and then realises that that’s just showing her what she lost. He tries a different tack.
“The TARDIS? Travel?”
He tries not to sound hurt as he asks the next question, but he’s suddenly frightened that her answer might be ‘yes’.
She doesn’t look at him, and instantly the Doctor’s mind starts working out ways that they can uncover the identity of this mystery man without going back to the Library. Because if she wants it that much, he’ll give it to her, even if it means losing her.
“That’s the problem,” she says softly, and finally she looks up at him and her eyes are full of tears. “How can I know, Doctor? How can I know whether everything I felt for him was real, or just part of the computer program to make us compatible? I didn’t think you could love someone as much as I loved him. I didn’t think it was possible. And maybe it’s not. Maybe it was all just fake. I mean, Miss Evangelista became incredibly intelligent — so intelligent that she could see outside the program and realize what it was — and it destroyed her face in the process. That’s not real — so why should my feelings be real?”
“Miss Evangelista was a data ghost,” he tells her. “She got into the program a different way from you.”
“Different method, same result — it doesn’t make any difference,” she argues. “That’s the problem, Doctor. You can’t prove that I’m wrong — or that you are. We’ll never know.” She swallows hard. “And that’s what’s killing me. That never knowing.” She gives a bitter smile, and one tear begins a slow trek down her cheek. “If only I had something like River Song’s diary here that gave me the answers, I’d read every page and to hell with spoilers.”
“What if it told you something you didn’t want to know?” he asks, because he’s had the same thought.
“It’s better than not knowing.” She pulls her knees up to her chin again. “Believe me, this is something that I want to know. It’s just — eating me up inside because I won’t ever really know.”
The conversation all but ends there, and even the TARDIS seems to realize that there’s nothing to be gained from them staying in the room any longer, because when the Doctor tries the door, it opens.
In the end, as he tries to find some way to help Donna, the Doctor ends up typing a random co-ordinate into the TARDIS and waiting to see where they go.
“Last time you did this, we went to the Oodsphere,” Donna reminds him when he tells her what he’s done, adding, with an obvious attempt at humour, “Who’ll be chasing us this time?”
He smiles. “It’s not all running, you know.”
“Hmm, no, I can see that.” She leans against the jumpseat, her arms folded across her chest. “Adipose industries — running away from Matron Cofelia and her goons. Pompeii — running away from an erupting volcano. Admittedly I didn’t do so much running on the Oodsphere…”
“There you go then.”
“…but you were chased by that giant claw. And there was the time you had run from the Sontarans, while I got the relatively easy job of just clobbering them over the head with a mallet. Of course, there was a heck of a lot of running on Messaline. Running from the Vespiform. And running from the Vashta Nerada goes without saying.” She shakes her head. “I should have joined a gym before I went looking for you.”
He manages a laugh, but that dies as the console beeps to let them know that they are about to land. The Doctor pulls the monitor around so that he can check the condition of the unknown planet on which the TARDIS is standing and feels as a smile works its way across his face.
“Oh, you are good!” he tells the ship, which lets out a splutter before the engine goes silent.
The tone of Donna’s voice makes him look up and he can see concern on her face. It’s such a difference from their arrival on the Oodsphere, when she had been so full of anticipation, that he feels something inside his heart constrict. The last thing he wants is for her to be become fearful of the life they’re living, but after what they went through at the Library, he can’t help but understand her feelings.
“I can promise you this,” he tells her, unable to disguise the satisfied tone in his voice. “There won’t be any running here. There’s nothing to run from.”
He runs a scan for signs of life on the planet and turns the monitor to show her the flashing digit ‘2’.
“So it’ll just be us?”
“You don’t like the idea?”
She smiles, the first genuine smile since they left the sens-o-chamber. “Actually, I think it’s a great idea. Just as long as we’ll both survive out there.”
“I promise.” He runs diagnostics on the planet again. “Breatheable air, the gravity field from the TARDIS will protect us, and I think you’ll like it.”
And he knows from the look on her face, as they open the doors, that she does.
They’re standing in the middle of a huge field that seems to stretch forever in every direction. He inhales deeply and can smell the grass and a faint scent that suggests there are flowers somewhere on this planet.
“How has nobody found this place yet?” Donna murmurs.
He smiles. “We’ve gone quite a long way back in time — before this galactic vector was discovered. I can’t promise nobody will arrive while we’re here, but for now, it’s just us.”
“Thanks.” She smiles at him and he’s pleases to note that the concern has vanished from her eyes.
“Well, it was the TARDIS’s doing more than mine, but you’re welcome.” He steps out onto the grass and offers his hand to her. “Shall we?” He grins. “No running. Promise.”
With a stifled laugh, she steps onto the soft grass and takes his hand. The sound of their feet on the grass seems unnaturally loud in the absence of any other noise. They walk around for some time, but there’s no visible end to the grass.
“Can we stay here for a while?”
He sits down on the ground and gently tugs on her hand until she joins him on the wide expanse of grass.
She lies on her side, her head resting on one arm, and the Doctor lies back on the grass, reminded of the time he and Rose visited New New Earth. He tries to drive the thought of Rose away, but that and Donna’s earlier questions mean that he speaks before thinking properly.
“Did Lee tell you he loved you?”
His conscience gives him a good, hard whack when he sees the stricken expression on her face.
“Yes,” she whispers, before shaking her head quickly, as if to remove the thought.
“Maybe that should have been a clue that everything wasn’t real,” she goes on, with an attempt at humour, but her lower jaw trembles as she speaks and she closes her eyes in an obvious attempt to will away tears. “What man does that in reality?” she asks, trying to make a joke out of it, but her voice shakes traitorously as she pulls herself back into a sitting position.
The Doctor jerks back into a sitting position and slides his arm around her shoulders, holding her gently against him as tears soak his jacket, his hand rubbing slow circles on her back. They sit there for what the Doctor calculates is about ten Earth minutes before Donna lifts her head and wipes her eyes almost viciously.
“God, I’m sorry,” she tells him. “Pathetic, that’s me. A hopeless, pathetic lump of…”
“Now, stop that,” he chides gently. He takes her hands and draws them onto his lap, stroking them as he continues to talk. “Anyone would feel the way you do. You’ve lost someone, Donna. Whether Lee was real or not, he was there, in your memory, and now he’s gone. Grief is a human emotion.”
She manages a watery smile. “So not a Time Lord emotion, I take it?”
He frowns. “How does this always come back to me?”
Donna shrugs. “Means I’m not thinking about me,” she offers, and he thinks that that might even be a good thing.
“Fine, then, since you ask,” he moves so that his arm is around her shoulders and she’s leaning against him, “yes, it is, but, no, it probably shouldn’t be.”
She entwines the fingers of his loose hand with hers. “If it wasn’t,” she suggests, “then you wouldn’t understand human beings as well as you do, and you wouldn’t be interested in spending time with them. And that goes for all emotions, not just grief.”
“Love,” he murmurs, and she sits bolt upright, a look of triumph on her face.
“Hah! I knew it! You won’t ever have admitted it to Rose, but at least you admit it to yourself!”
He smiles, aware that this will be a surprise to her. “Actually, I wasn’t thinking about Rose.”
Her eyebrows shoot upwards so fast that the Doctor half-wonders if they’ll fly off.
“Oh, really?” Donna rolls onto her stomach and props her chin up on her fists, her elbows digging into the soft ground. “Details, thanks!”
The Doctor chuckles softly. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was human? No,” as Donna shakes her head, “okay, Martha and I were — no surprises here, really — on the run…”
And he describes his experiences with the Family of Blood and, most importantly, with Joan Redfern.
“She was — she was right there, and offering me things that I’d never imagined I could want. Marriage — a family — all the things that I can’t ever have as a Time Lord. Stability. No more flying from one end of the Universe to the other. A home.” He closes his eyes and thinks back to those moments with Joan, before the memories of what happened next rudely interrupt the daydream, as they always do. “But it had to end…”
Idly, as he tells her what he did to the Family of Blood, he thinks that this is probably the longest he can ever remember Donna Noble being silent. And he’s glad that she understands he needs this time. So, even though he hadn’t planned to at first, he tells her about his last meeting with Joan.
“I went back,” he says slowly, “and maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I was being selfish, but I had to say goodbye. To see her one last time. But I wish I hadn’t.”
He buries his face in his hands for a moment before looking up again.
“The look on her face.”
He exhales slowly, his breath hissing between clenched teeth.
“The pain in her eyes. The betrayal and the — the loss. There I was — exactly the same as the man she was in love with, except that I had a Time Lord mind and a Time Lord body. So I was John Smith — but not him. I was a stranger — the Doctor.”
He looks up at the woman opposite him on the grass, and he can see a reflection of his pain in her eyes.
“I’m always walking away from people, Donna. Never looking back because I don’t want to see the look in their eyes. Don’t want to see the pain I’m causing. But I couldn’t leave Joan without saying goodbye. She was the chance — the only chance I’ll ever have — to get away from being the person who makes the choices and who has to save people.”
He looks up at the sky, feeling as if there’s a weight on his shoulders.
“You can’t imagine how much I dreamt about the chance to let go of all that and be — happy.”
“You could have.” Donna’s voice makes him start; it’s been such a long time since she said anything that he’s almost forgotten she’s there. “You could have stayed there and waited. Tried to make her fall in love with you again. The — what did you call it — Chameleon Arch might have changed every part of your DNA, but it wouldn’t change your nature. And that’s what she would have loved. You didn’t give her a chance.”
He shakes his head. “I couldn’t. Not really. It’s not — it’s not what Time Lords do. Even on Gallifrey, it wasn’t all domestic and sweet. It was all time and order and rules and organisation. Making sure the Universe didn’t destroy itself. It’s what we’ve always done and what we’ll always do. I’ll always do,” he adds, remembering that he’s the only Time Lord left. “And besides,” he continues, “what would that have meant for Martha? Stuck in the 1910s, treated like a second-rate individual because of the colour of her skin, watching me in love with someone else when I know she was in love with me, too?”
“Send her home in the TARDIS,” Donna suggests. “She’d get over you. She did.”
He shrugs. “You make it sound so easy.”
“And you always have to make things complicated.” She raises an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you?”
“No.” He frowns and then has to smile. “It just seems like it sometimes, that’s all.”
“All the time,” she corrects him. “Sometimes it’s better to be wrong. Not to be so sure of yourself.”
“Time and space,” he reminds her, tapping his temple. “I know what can and can’t be.”
“I don’t think that was it at all,” she says as she sits up. “I think you had the same fear that we all do as humans — the fear of rejection. You weren’t willing to try again in case she rejected you. She wouldn’t travel with you, but considering the world she lived in, is that such a surprise? At least, when I met you, I had all the stories that had been going around regarding aliens and spaceships. Those things were just a myth in the 1920s and she would have been far more terrified of them than I was.” She smiles sadly at him. “You asked her the wrong question. You asked her to come with you. You should have asked if she wanted you to stay with her.”
The Doctor wakes with a jerk, his head coming up off the cushions he’s lying on, and he stares around the room for a moment in absolute confusion. The memory floods back — he and Donna had dinner and then went into the library after they had eaten and cleaned everything away. Donna began to read aloud from one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries — it’s become their favourite material since meeting the author — and the Doctor presumes he must have fallen asleep. Well, she won’t be happy about that!
He looks around, expecting to find Donna glaring at him or sitting in sulky silence, but the room is empty. Then he hears the familiar sound that the TARDIS makes when it is materialising or dematerialising and he leaps to his feet, running wildly down the passageways — and he’s sure that they are twice as long as normal — and finally bursting into the console room.
“Oh, good morning!”
Donna’s voice is chirpy and he glares at her, his eyes widening as he realises that she’s not only standing next to the console, but actually pressing some of the buttons!
“What are you doing?!”
“Putting the handbrake on,” she says, and does so. “Don’t want the old girl wandering off while we’re away.”
“Donna,” he snatches her hands off the controls and holds them firmly, “what are you doing? What do you mean, ‘while we’re away’?”
“Well, don’t you want to see where we are?” She grins and tries to free her hand, but his grip is too strong. “Oi, Timeboy, hands!”
“They’re here,” he smiles grimly and lifts the four hands — his and hers — into the air in a gesture of demonstration, “and they won’t be going anywhere else until you tell me what’s going on. And where we are. And what you did. And how you did it.”
“You showed me,” she reminds him. “You taught me how to drive the TARDIS.”
“That doesn’t mean you were meant to do it without me!” He glares at her. “Where are we anyway?”
“Well, hopefully,” she cranes her neck to peer at the screen that is just out of the Doctor’s line of sight, “right where I want us to be.”
The Doctor isn’t quite sure how she does it, but suddenly her fingers are wrapped around his and she’s pulling him towards the door. She grabs his duster and flings it over his shoulder before opening the door and pushing him out of it ahead of her.
“Oh, zip it, Timeboy!”
She grins and closes the door of the TARDIS before turning and straightening his tie. He pulls on his duster and then runs his fingers through his hair.
“So, where are we?”
She smiles somewhat mysteriously. “Farringham.”
He feels something pass through him and suppresses the urge to shudder. “What?”
“Farringham.” She takes his hand. “Herefordshire. In the year of our Lord two thousand and eight. Not 1913.” Donna squeezes his fingers. “Trust me, Doctor. I wouldn’t do that to you. Not without warning.”
He exhales slowly, eyes on the ground, and nods. “Why are we here then?”
“Answers.” She smiles sadly. “Like River’s diary. You’ll know, one way or another.”
He frowns at her. “Know what?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “It just feels right to bring you here. I know I couldn’t have done it without the TARDIS, so she thinks it’s right, too.”
He nods and then squeezes her fingers, gesturing forward with his free hand. “All right then. Allons-y.”
They stride out across the grass and towards the small village. The Doctor casts a suspicious glance at a scarecrow as they pass it, but the only movement comes from the wind that is blowing.
Donna tugs on the Doctor’s hand and pulls him in the direction of a small church. However she doesn’t take him inside but rather around to the graveyard behind the stone building.
“Bit morbid, don’t you think?” he suggests.
She sighs. “Doctor, there’s no way Joan could still be alive. It’s been more than ninety years since you were here. So we’re going to find her here.”
His steps are reluctant as he follows her into the gated area. He was appalled at the thought of coming face-to-face with Joan, but he’s not sure that this is much better.
“Here we are.” Donna’s gone into the church, but her voice comes back out to him and he follows to find her looking over through a large bound book. “1900. Didn’t you say that’s when she told you her husband died?”
He takes the book from her hand, opens it onto the nearby lectern and pulls out the sonic screwdriver, pointing it at the book. The pages flick through on their own and finally stop. He leans over the page and runs his fingers down the entries.
“Redfern, Oliver. Died January 23 1900. Married to Joan Nichols. No children.”
They hunt through the books together and find mention of Joan’s second marriage to Henry Wales in 1917.
“You see,” says Donna softly, “she moved on. Just like Martha.” She chuckles and points to notation next to Henry Wales’ name. “She even married a doctor. Is that the fate of everyone who meets you?”
He smiles somewhat bitterly. “Maybe it is.”
“So, Joan Wales.” She takes his hand again and leads him over to a small plan of the cemetery that is pinned to the wall. “There she is,” and she points to the location in the grounds outside.
They approach the small grave together, the Doctor’s arm brushing against Donna’s as they walk, and he thinks that he hasn’t had too many companions who understand him as well as she does. She’s right — he does need this. It will allow him to come to terms with what happened here.
The stone is dotted with moss, and Donna kneels down to rub it off. The stone bears the inscription of Joan Wales and the years 1880 and 1963, as well as the mention of her husband and three children.
“You see.” Donna pokes him gently as she gets to her feet. “She did move on. Married again. Had a family.”
He smiles sadly. “Yes,” he agrees, “she did.” But he can’t help thinking — and wishing — that it was his name on that gravestone. John Smith. Loving husband. The one thing he can never be.
The Doctor and Donna start at the voice and turn to find a man standing behind them. He nods at the gravestone.
“You knew Mrs Wales.”
The Doctor inclines his head slightly, aware that admitting he knew her as Joan Redfern will be dangerous. However there’s a sly smile on the vicar’s face as he extends his hand.
“I’m Pastor Humphreys. And you are?”
“I’m the Doctor.” He shakes the other man’s hand. “And this is Donna.”
Even as Donna shakes his hand, the Doctor feels a drop of rain on his cheek. He turns his face to the sky and sees that black clouds are massing above them.
“Please, come in and have a cup of tea,” Pastor Humphreys says, nodding in the direction of the nearby vicarage. “With any luck, the storm will blow over quickly.”
Exchanging glances, Donna and the Doctor follow him into the house. They get inside just as a streak of lightning cuts across the sky and the rain begins to pour down. The Doctor removes his duster and hangs it up while the home’s owner switches on the light and goes into the living room, turning on a small gas heater.
“Please, take a seat,” he says. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
The Doctor does sit down, but only for an instant. He’s uncomfortable in this situation, but he doesn’t know why. He crosses to the window and looks out over the green fields, the TARDIS standing in lonely glory in the middle of it, just as it did decades earlier.
Something about Donna’s voice makes him turn around and his eyes widen as he sees what has attracted her attention.
It’s a black-and-white pencil sketch of a man standing in a doorway, leaning against the doorjamb, his hands deep in the pockets of his trousers. His hair is messy and there’s a blank look — or is it a faint frown? — on his face. Top button of his shirt undone and tie slightly loose. Jacket buttoned up. Duster held back by the hands in his pockets. And shoes that don’t match the formality of the rest of his outfit, as they are undeniably trainers.
“I don’t…” the Doctor is beginning, when Donna taps the picture frame next to the one containing the sketch.
The differences are so obvious as to be painful. This picture is colourful and shows a smiling man — clearly the same man as in the pencil sketch — his hair much neater. His shirt and bow tie are immaculate and covered by a dark blue jacket. But it’s the smile on his face that is such a vivid contrast to the former image.
“You look so — ” Donna turns and examines his features. “Happy.”
He nods slowly. “I was.” He corrects himself quickly. “He was.”
“My mother never forgave you, Mr Smith.”
The Pastor’s voice from the doorway makes them both turn sharply, and the Doctor draws in his breath with a noiseless gasp at the sight of a leather-bound book in the man’s left hand.
“I don’t — ” he begins, before cutting himself off. “How did you know?”
Pastor Humphreys gestures at the pictures they are standing beside. “It’s not difficult. You never changed. Somehow, after all this time, you’re exactly the same.” He eyes the man up and down. “Even the same clothes. My grandmother described them in such perfect detail that I knew you at once.”
“Joan Redfern, as you knew her. She was Nanna Wales to me.” He smiles and steps into the room. “She used to tell me stories about you. We’d go out and look up at the stars at night and she’d try to guess where you might be.” His smile fades. “My mother was so angry with you, though. She blamed you for hurting her mother so much.”
“That — was never my intention.”
“No.” The vicar’s eyebrows lift slightly. “I’m sure it wasn’t. But my grandmother told me that she was certain you’d come back one day. That she wasn’t sure it would be in her lifetime, but if I ever saw you, I was to give you this,” he holds out the diary, “and to tell you that she forgave you. A long time ago.”
“Thank you.” The Doctor steps forward and takes the diary, clasping the other man’s hand. “That means a great deal.”
The pastor smiles and waves back in the direction he came from. “Now, about that tea…”
And so the Doctor finds himself in a situation he would never have imagined — talking about his memories of Joan as he has tea and biscuits in a house full of pieces that have come from the little cottage he remembers so well, even if he only ever visited it for such a short time. The conversation lasts throughout the duration of the storm and it’s twilight by the time he and Donna return to the TARDIS. He slides his arm around Donna’s shoulder and squeezes, smiling at her.
She grins. “You’re welcome. It was lovely be a part of that and listen to everything you had to say. It’s good to know you do have emotions, even if it takes something like this for you to show it.”
He ushers her into the TARDIS and closes the door before throwing off his duster and crossing the short distance to the console.
“So,” Donna sits on the jumpseat and opens the Journal of Impossible Things, flicking through it and looking at the various sketches, before turning her eyes back to him, “where to now?”
“Oh, somewhere fun.” He grins and puts in the co-ordinates. “A place we can listen to good music, maybe having some dancing and a good meal. I’ve heard of a planet with a restaurant where they have an anti-gravity field so you have eat wearing bibs.”
“Dancing?” She raises her eyebrows. “You, with your musicality?”
He grins and turns back to the monitor, humming softly.
“Well, what’s that then?” she demands
And as he breaks into a perfectly tuneful version of ‘My Way’, he watches in satisfaction as her mouth opens and she stares at him in shock.
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