“What day is it?” Donna asked suddenly.
The Doctor quickly pulled his hand out of the bowl from which he had been stealing the scrapings of Donna’s delectable chocolate ripple cream and tried to look innocent.
“Whatever day you want it to be,” he said with a grin. “Time machine, remember?”
“Not like that, Dumbo.” She shot him a look of withering scorn. “I mean, I was just counting. Think about it. The other day, while we were being chased across the Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade — remember that little adventure? — you said it was a year exactly according to my timeline since we’d first met. And that was the day I was meant to be getting married to Lance, which was Christmas Eve. So how many days, according to my timeline, has it been since that anniversary?”
“Yes, thanks for bringing up that little disaster again.” The Doctor frowned. “I thought we agreed you weren’t going to remind me of it every time I turned around.”
Donna smirked. “You hadn’t turned around. Anyway,” she finished spreading the chocolate cream onto the cake and slid the plate into a clear space in the fridge, “are you going to answer my question?”
“Your que — oh, right, about what day it is.” The Doctor calculated rapidly. “I suppose — hey, it’s New Year’s Day!”
“Thought so!” Donna gave a nod of satisfaction and then poked the Doctor away from the table. “When you’ve quite finished cleaning that bowl, you can wash it properly so I can use it for something else.”
“Hmph!” The Doctor swiped the last bit of cream and licked it off his finger. “I don’t know why you bother to cook it at all. It's brilliant uncooked.”
“Yes, well, not all of us are six years old.”
“Nine hundred and six.”
“Not if your behaviour is anything to go by.” She nodded at the bowl. “Hurry up with that or our next destination will be Harrods on Boxing Day for me to buy another one.”
The Doctor yelped and dove for the sink. He’d been through that particular nightmare with Donna once and had no intention of reliving the experience. In less time than anyone would have thought possible, he turned and offered a clean, dry bowl.
“You prawn,” she said fondly. “Of course. Now, do you want just cinnamon in these rolls?”
“Are you making banana cake as well?”
“If you ask me nicely enough.”
“Then, yes, please, just cinnamon.” The Doctor slid himself onto the bench and swung his long legs. “Can I lick the bowl?”
“And you denied that you were only six!” Donna rolled her eyes. “All right, if you must.”
He grinned in delight and then looked around at the kitchen. That was one thing about Donna — she was a very tidy cook. Everything went away as soon as it was used, messes were wiped up straight immediately, and even the dishcloth lay neatly on the sink.
It wasn’t quite the same when he cooked. There was usually quite a big mess to clean up. In fact, Donna had once remarked that it looked as if a cyclone had gone through the room. The Doctor had pointed out the physical impossibility of this, but he couldn’t deny that it was a rather accurate description. Usually it was as a result of him using the blender and forgetting to put the lid on. The last time he’d done this, while making pumpkin soup, Donna had banned him from the kitchen, but he’d begged so hard to help with preparations for their party that she had finally let him.
Donna had mixed the cinnamon and flour and now she was busy rubbing in the butter. As the Doctor watched, a long red curl fell over her shoulder and she straightened, contorting her body in an effort to get it back with the rest of her hair without using her hands and streaking her hair with dough.
The Doctor grinned and then slid off the bench, stepping up behind Donna so that he could catch her hair in his hands. He ran his fingers through her long locks, capturing the stray curl and bringing it back with the rest. This close, he could smell the fruity shampoo she used and he had to stop himself from closing his eyes and breathing in her scent.
“Thanks,” she said briskly, breaking the spell. And then, “Are you going to stay there?”
“Have you got anything for me to tie it up with?”
She lifted her flour-covered hands out of the bowl in a gesture of demonstration. “Not on me, no.”
He grinned. “Okay. Hold still.”
Twisting the hair into a knot, he fished his sonic screwdriver out of his pocket and pointed it at her. Before she could finish the indignant yelp that had started at the familiar sound, he had secured her hair and was backing away.
“You bleeped my hair?”
“I soniced your hair, yes.” He hopped back up onto the bench. “It was either that or stay there all day holding it for you. And it will only last for about twenty minutes, so you might want to get on with your cooking.”
She shot him a filthy look, but he saw a glint of laughter in her eye and had to restrain an answering smile in order to avoid being banned from the kitchen for good. It had taken time, but the Doctor was now in no doubt that he fully understood Donna Noble.
Of course, that presented its own challenges, because it meant that she was well on her way to understanding him just as completely.
And that made him a little nervous.
Or was ‘nervous’ the explanation for the way he felt when they were sitting close to each other on the couch in the evenings? The Doctor would be reading something while Donna caught up with one of the television programs that she had finally admitted to missing. The Doctor had managed to sonic the television so that it received the programs at the same time as Sylvia would be watching them at home.
The fact that Donna was up-to-date on what was happening with her usual television fare during their rare visits to Chiswick had served to placate Sylvia, at least to some degree, about the Doctor’s role in Donna’s life. And even the Doctor admitted to the occasional chuckle at some ridiculous reality TV moments.
Donna added the warm water and eggs to the mixture, which now also included yeast. Once that was mixed together, she set it aside, checked on the chocolate ripple cake and began on the banana cake that the Doctor had requested.
“Now don’t forget, this is for Martha, Jack and Gwen as well,” Donna reminded him as she mashed the bananas. “So don’t hog it all to yourself.”
“I wouldn’t!” The Doctor looked first indignant, and then hopeful. “Ianto won’t want any?”
“Can’t stand cooked bananas, or so he told me.” Donna’s eyes danced. “So that means more for you.”
“Brilliant!” The Doctor beamed and reached out to dip a finger into the bowl holding the mashed bananas, but received the wooden spoon across his knuckles for his trouble. “What was that for?”
“Sticking your dirty fingers into my cake mix. Now,” Donna turned away to eye the shelf containing jars of food, “where are the walnuts?”
“Need protein?” the Doctor quipped, nursing his bruised hand.
“Hey, I know you like them, and they go in both the banana cake and the cinnamon scrolls,” Donna retorted, turning back to her cooking with the jar in her hand.
Donna was right, the Doctor thought. He did like walnuts, but he hadn’t had them for a while. Not since he’d made an unpleasant meal of them, anchovies and ginger beer. He could still taste the unpleasant mixture if he thought about it for too long. That was one of the problems of having such a good memory — even the bad things tended to stay around.
Then again, so did the good ones.
Thinking about that moment always brought back the one that had followed it — Donna’s hand on the side of his head and her lips pressed against his.
He’d never have admitted that not everything about his near-death experience had been bad because he didn’t want to invite a slap. The look on Donna’s face when he mentioned needing to detox more often had been enough.
Without thinking, he reached out to the shelf and took down a jar, opening it and tasting the contents.
Then he was bent double, terrible groans coming from his mouth, while the empty glass jar lay in pieces at his feet.
“Doctor?” Donna looked up from her cooking. “Doctor, what is it? Doctor!”
“Poison,” he managed to croak, clutching at his throat as if it was closing up.
“What, again?” Donna stared for a second before leaping into action, scooping up the last of the glass jar and sniffing it. “Almonds! Doctor, why would you keep cyanide in your kitchen?! Here!” She snatched up the jar of walnuts, thrusting it at him before hunting the shelf for the anchovies that they both knew were there. Ginger beer was already standing on the table, as Donna had been sipping a glass of it, and the Doctor gulped a mouthful before pouring the rest of his head and then stuffing the anchovies into his mouth.
There was a second of silence before the Doctor frenetically waved his hands at Donna, his fingers spread wide, his mouth too full for speech.
“A shock again?” Donna folded her arms and took a step back. “You expect another kiss, Sunshine? I don’t think so.”
The Doctor stopped the frantic flapping of his arms and stared at her, horror etched all over his face. “Guh?” he got out, before swallowing the last of the salty mouthful.
There was a moment of silence and then Donna lunged at the Doctor, grabbed his shoulders and pushed him against the wall, her lips pressed to his for a long moment.
“Wouldn’t be a shock if you were expecting it,” she said in calm tones as she let him go and watched him stagger sideways.
He stared at her, crouched half-over, his breath coming in ragged gasps through parted lips. She watched him for a moment and then arched an eyebrow.
“Well, nothing to say? No flip comeback like last time? Not even a ‘thank you’?”
“Er…” he thought hurriedly, but his brain was still catching up with what had just happened and gave him nothing.
“S’pose not then.” Donna wheeled around and stalked out of the kitchen, leaving her half-finished cooking behind.
There was a long moment of silence in the kitchen. The Doctor finally got his breath back and stepped over the bench, picking up the remains of the small jar that had once held the almonds that were now scattered all over the floor.
“You’ll have to think of something else,” the Doctor said ruefully to himself, getting down on his knees to pick up the remaining nuts and glass shards.
He yelped suddenly and loudly as a hand slapped him hard across the back of the head. “What was that for?” he demanded, looking up to find Donna standing over him.
The expression on her face made even the Oncoming Storm shift nervously.
“Take note of this, Timeboy,” growled Donna from between clenched teeth. “If you ever frighten me like that again, I’ll kill you in ways that you never dreamt possible, and I’ll wait for each new regeneration to come along so I can try something different. Got that?”
He gulped nervously and nodded with what he hoped was a placating smile.
“Yes, Donna,” he agreed in a faint whisper.
She wheeled around and stormed out of the room, her long hair hanging down her back.
“New Year’s Resolution,” the Doctor muttered as he watched her go. “Never underestimate Donna again.”
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