“No, don't do that,” he pleads, horrified at the sound of his words coming from another throat. “Don’t. Don’t…”
She closes her mouth abruptly and the look on her face tells him that she understands at least something of how badly he’s been affected by what just happened.
“Sorry,” she murmurs, but reaches over and takes his hand before he can apologise for his tone, and the squeeze she gives to his fingers suggests that she doesn’t need him to speak.
He’s trying to muster a smile in response from muscles that are still unwilling to obey his mental orders when he glimpses movement out of the corner of his eye
Turning to look, he sees a familiar group of people standing near the main reception desk of the resort. Donna stands, her free hand moving to cover his shoulder, the other still clasping his fingers.
He can feel the warmth from her hands almost as if they are made of liquid fire, which is trickling into his icy, numb body. Her grasp is reassuringly tight around his fingers and he clings to it as a guarantee that he’s not alone anymore.
He almost staggers as he gets to his feet, and it’s only Donna’s hand on his shoulder that keep him upright.
“Is that them, Doctor?” she asks, nodding at the group.
He nods curtly, his lips narrowing as he sees Val glance in his direction. Jethro is staring miserably at the floor, his guilt obvious in the haggard look on his face and the slump of his shoulders. Biff and the Professor, meanwhile, are gesticulating furiously at the resort staff, their voices rising to shouts in tones that are only too familiar.
He can’t suppress a shudder and swallows painfully.
Donna’s arm slides down from his shoulder to wrap around his waist, her left side pressed against his back, and he can’t help the way he leans against her. She rubs her thumb over the back of his hand and he turns his head slightly to one side so that it rests against hers.
Her presence and physical support are so unspeakably comforting that he frowns as a slight interruption makes its presence felt with a tiny cough from beside them.
“Doctor,” a female voice says hesitantly, and he looks down, barely able to recognise Dee Dee without her glasses, which she’s fingering nervously, her hair hanging loose around her face as if it’s a curtain she can hide behind.
“What do you want?”
It’s Donna, not the Doctor, who speaks, and her grim, furious tone makes the already anxious woman shift uneasily from one foot to another.
No, the Doctor wants to tell Donna. Not her. It wasn’t her.
But the sound doesn’t come and all he can do is fix his eyes on Dee Dee’s beseeching expression.
“They’re — they’re going to make it right,” she says, waving back at the group near the desk, although her dark eyes never leave his face. “Get everyone away. Make it — better.”
“And that’s going to solve everything, is it?” Donna snaps, dropping her hand from the Doctor’s waist, although he still clings to her fingers. “That makes it all okay?”
“Of course not!” Dee Dee’s voice loses some of its nervousness, becoming more shrill as anger replaces anxiety. “It won’t — ever — be okay.”
“Congratulations on realising that,” sneers Donna, and Dee Dee’s response is full of fury and accusation.
“You weren’t there!”
“I know, and I should have been,” Donna shoots back, almost before the words are out of Dee Dee’s mouth. “Just to make sure that none of you ever had a chance to lay a hand on him. To make sure that you’ll always remember what you tried to do to the man who just wanted to save your pathetic, miserable lives!”
Guilt, the Doctor registers. Donna’s trying to relieve her own guilt at not being on the shuttle by taking it out on those who were. On Dee Dee, because she’s the closest. Just as the group around the reception desk are assuaging their own feelings by taking out all of their anger on the by-now browbeaten staff.
Dee Dee stares for a second in silence, her eyes flicking back to his face, and perhaps there’s something in his eyes as their gazes clash that stops her from speaking. Her face works with emotion for a moment before her eyes fill.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers, and flees.
Donna sighs and her shoulders droop slightly before she turns to face him, her head lifting again, taking charge.
“TARDIS,” she says firmly.
He nods, knowing she wants to avoid another scene, and he can’t help being relieved at the thought of escaping from this place, too.
Donna, he wants to tell her, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.
But he can’t say it. Because it’s not okay. And because she would know he wasn’t being honest with her if he tried to say it.
It’s definitely not her fault though and he wishes she would believe him if he told her.
The cool blue-green light of the TARDIS is soft and comforting, a gentle hum in the back of his mind greeting them, and he can feel the ball of tension in his stomach begin to unwind as Donna closes the door behind them.
It’s Donna who takes the controls, sending the TARDIS into the peace of the vortex — one hand still clutched in his — and Donna who leads him out of the console room.
He doesn’t ask where they’re going. Somehow, strangely, it’s comforting for him, the way she’s taken over. It’s not like before, when that unknown entity left him unable to move or act.
No, at this moment all he can feel is Donna’s concern for him, and her own guilt and desire to ensure that he’s all right.
Now he feels safe.
It takes him a moment to orientate himself when Donna guides him into the room next to the kitchen. Perhaps he had expected his own room, but this is the bedroom that the TARDIS had created for Donna, as she did for all his companions.
He can’t help the flicker of shock he experiences as Donna leads him over to the bed, wondering exactly what she’s planning. Still, he realises an instant later, any emotion he feels now is helping to quench the overwhelming terror he felt such a short time ago, the echo of which continues to linger inside.
He’s feeling marginally more like himself — although still stunned into silence — when Donna seats him on the edge of the bed and removes his jacket.
The grin she casts at him might be a pale shadow of its usual self, but he’s relieved to see that guilt is not the only emotion on her face.
“Don’t get any ideas, chum,” she teases lightly.
He manages a tiny, exhausted smile in reply as she slowly undoes the buttons of his blue shirt and gently strips it off, leaving only his black undershirt.
He’s still wondering exactly what she has in mind — and curiosity causes that mass of terror to shrink even further — when she gets on the bed, kneeling behind him on the mattress, her hands beginning to smooth over his shoulders before her fingers start to knead the tight muscles.
He groans in eager anticipation, his eyes falling shut, but before he can let his head roll forward to give her unrestricted access to his neck and shoulders, her fingers slide up into his hair and she begins massaging his scalp.
As if it’s made of water, he can feel the tension tumbling away down his shoulders and back as her fingers stroke and prod his head. He can’t help letting out a series of soft groans as her hands find the worst places and smooth out the knots of stress.
It’s more than just Donna’s hands working their magic, though. It’s the gentle pressure of her fingers, so different from the steely grip of the hands that grabbed him on the shuttle bus and dragged him towards the door with that terrible sunlight waiting for him out there.
It’s the knowledge that Donna would never hurt him, that he couldn’t be any more safe than he is at this moment.
It’s that certainty that lets him properly relax.
When Donna’s hands move down to his neck, his head rolls forward before he can collect the strength to hold it upright. Her fingers rub and work at his neck and down his shoulders, her thumbs pressing against his spine and finding all of the pressure points in turn.
He can’t help waiting for her to make a crack about how skinny he is.
And yet, when the silence continues, he’s not surprised.
He knows that it’s in Donna’s nature to care for people. He’s seen her do it time and time again. It’s one of the many things he loves about her. And he knows that the only way for her to deal with her guilt at having let him go alone to face the danger on that ship is to care for him now. He can feel it in the urgency of the pressure in her fingers
He slowly lifts his head, feeling the muscles catch and grab, stiff from lack of use, and then reaches up with both arms to place his hands on top of her fingers, stilling the motion. A tingling sensation lingers in the wake of her touch. He turns, lifting his legs up onto the bed so that he can look at her.
He’s not surprised to see traces of tears on her face. She moves to wipe them away, as if they’re something to be ashamed of, but he captures her hands in one of his and gently brushes her cheeks dry with the other.
“Donna,” he says softly, and it feels right that her name should be the first coherent sound out of a throat that feels rusty from lack of use.
“I’m sorry,” she says in a harsh whisper. “I’m so sorry.”
“Shh.” He lifts his hand, still entwined in hers, and rests his index finger against her lips. “No, Donna. I won’t let you blame yourself for this. If you’d been there, they would have tried to throw you out, too. I’d never have forgiven myself if they’d done that.”
“At least I would have been with you.” Her lips tremble before she narrows them into a straight line and her fingers clutch his convulsively. “That’s all that matters to me.”
His lips curl into a half-smile at the similarity of their reactions. He strokes the tips of his fingers down her cheek.
“Donna Noble, what would I do without you?” he says softly.
She attempts a laugh, but chokes as tears form in her eyes again. One escapes from the corner of her eye and he wipes it away, wishing there was a way to persuade her — and himself — that it was all over. He wipes away a second tear, and then a third, but changes tack when it becomes clear that Donna has given up trying to control them.
And as he draws her into his arms, her face buried in his shoulder, he thinks that it’s probably a good thing. She probably needs the chance to get over it as well.
Maybe Donna isn’t the only one of them with a caring side.
He strokes her hair, feeling her arms clinging around his back, his own hold on her not one whit less strong. He needs her right now so much, more than he could ever have believed possible. He needs the reassurance that she’s not about to leave. For once, he needs to believe in her claims of ‘forever’ because, after what just happened, it’s going to be a long time before he’ll want to be alone again.
“Oh, Donna,” he sighs against her hair.
He feels her move slightly in his arms as she turns her face up to his and he looks down to find that her lips are only a fraction of an inch away from his. He can smell the fruity scent of her breath and feel the heat of her skin against his.
And before he can think, he dips his head that tiny distance so that his lips brush hers.
Donna gives a soft moan, and that’s the rather belated moment when the Doctor finally remembers all of their conversations about ‘just mates’. Cursing his memory for letting him down at this critical time, he’s ready to let Donna go if she fights to get away, and prepares to duck if there’s a slap heading his way.
However that’s the moment when he realises that, although her hands have come up behind his head, it’s not to administer a sharp whack. Instead her fingers tangle in his hair, just as they did when she was massaging his head, but this time she’s randomly clutching fistfuls of hair, her lips pressed to his and her eyes closed.
And it’s also the moment when he finally realises how much he’s wanted this, and for how long.
He parts his lips, beginning a tentative investigation of her mouth with his tongue, tasting the sweet fruity flavours of a drink he imagines she had at the resort. She reciprocates in kind, and he finds his hands sliding under the belt of the white robe she was wearing when he found her beside the pool. It slides open almost too easily and he’s about to push it back over her shoulders and off when he hesitates.
Too fast, he thinks.
And yet he can’t quite bring himself to push her away.
The initial urgency subsides and the kiss becomes slower, longer, and, the Doctor has to admit, a damned sight hotter, too.
Or is that just him?
For one wild moment, he wonders why this only ever seems to happen when alien possession is involved.
But in the end, he decides that he’s over-thinking things and it would be far more sensible to enjoy it.
So of course that’s the moment when Donna breaks the kiss and turns her head away, her hands coming away from his hair to push against his chest and create some distance between them, her embarrassment and discomfort obvious.
“I’m sorry,” she says again.
“What for?” he asks at once, and then, as she remains silent, with a very good idea of how she’s feeling, because, after all, she hasn’t slapped him yet, “Are you sorry for kissing me or sorry for enjoying it?”
“I — I don’t…” She stops, takes a deep breath, and looks up at him, something sparkling in her eyes. He’s not quite sure if it’s annoyance or amusement. “You kissed me.”
“Semantics.” He grins. “I don’t recall getting slapped, so, and please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think you were exactly objecting.”
“Were you?” she shoots back.
The Doctor rolls his eyes. “You always have to make everything into a contest between us, don’t you?”
“And you never give a straight answer,” she retorts, and now he’s positive that that sparkle in her eyes is laughter.
He can feel that she’s no longer tense in his arms and relaxes his hold, waiting to see if she moves. When she doesn’t, he arches an eyebrow.
“Tell you what,” he says. “Since you complained that I kissed you, if you liked it so much, you have to kiss me.”
She sits bolt upright, clearly taken aback. “What?”
He waggles his eyebrows at her. “Oh, you heard me.”
He’s delighted to see that any vestige of guilt or pain has completely vanished from her gleaming eyes. He is, however, somewhat disturbed by the wicked light that is suddenly uncomfortably obvious in the gleaming blue depths that are so firmly fixed on him. Still, this is, at least partly, his fault.
And then Donna is suddenly up on her knees, leaning over him, her hands on his chest.
“Wh-what are you doing?” he protests uneasily.
She smirks. “You said I had to kiss you.”
“Ye-es,” he agrees slowly, not quite sure where this is heading.
“You never said where,” she retorts, whipping off his black undershirt before he can protest and then pressing him back against the pillows
“Donna,” he’s beginning somewhat nervously, with no idea what he might be going to say next, when suddenly she’s looming above him.
“Shut up, Spaceman,” she tells him, before resuming the kiss they had interrupted some minutes earlier.
Now it’s his turn to moan as she strokes his tongue with hers and he can fully taste the cocktail she drank while by the pool. His hands are on her face and in her hair, and he’s just starting to realize that other parts of his anatomy are reacting to the warmth of her body against his when she breaks the kiss and pulls away, sucking in her lower lip as if to savour his taste fully.
“I’m not done,” she tells him as he opens his mouth to speak.
He obediently closes his mouth and waits, although his eyebrows shoot upwards of their own volition when she straddles his thighs and leans down over his chest so that her hair tickles his bare skin.
The trail of light kisses down his chest only enhances the feelings that their earlier kiss had prompted and the Doctor groans aloud, wanting nothing more than to grab Donna and kiss her mouth. However, even as he looks down, his eyes widen at the realisation that her gown is gaping open.
And then she’s undoing his belt, sliding it off in one quick movement, and then his pants are loose around his waist. That makes him sit up in a hurry.
She stops and arches an eyebrow. “Has it really been that long for you, Time Boy?”
He stares at her for another moment before grabbing her wrist and pulling her back up to him, a grin creeping across his face.
“Now, now,” he scolds, “no need to rush. I thought perhaps this was something we should explore — together.”
“Oh, you were just jealous because I was having all the fun,” she retorts, climbing back up him so that, when he lies against the pillows again, their faces are at the same level.
“Well, why would you want to do that all on your own?” he demands, sliding one hand in under the gaping opening of her gown and running the tips of his fingers over her skin. “Much more fun with both of us, I would have thought,” he goes on, and she chuckles.
“You know, Spaceman, you really are clever sometimes, you know,” she says, and then kisses him again.
“I prefer ‘brilliant’,” he retorts against her lips and then doesn’t have a chance to speak again — not coherently anyway — for a long time.
And one day in the future, when the Doctor tells someone about what happened on Midnight, a planet now deserted by living creatures and left to revolve in silence around its deadly sun, the response to his story will surprise him.
“Well,” they will say, “considering what happened, how close you came to dying, I really can’t understand why you look so — happy!”
And he’ll have to admit to himself that the rest of the story, the reason that Midnight doesn’t give him the nightmares it should, isn’t really anything he’s going to be able to tell anyone else.
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