The Doctor is fixing something under the console when he hears shuffling footsteps and looks up to see Donna enter the console room, her hair messy and a sleepy look in her eyes. He thinks, not for the first time, that when she has that particular expression on her face, she looks endearingly like a child who is trying to stay up past her bedtime.
“What is it?” he asks, sliding out from under the console and hauling himself to his feet. “Bad dream?”
She shrugs in that careless way she uses when she doesn’t want him to know he’s right.
“’M fine,” she declares.
“Yes, of course you are.” He smiles mockingly. “After all, it’s only been four hours since you declared you were so tired you were about to fall asleep on your feet. Why, you always recharge your batteries that quickly! The idea of you sleeping for eight hours at a stretch — not to mention nine or ten — is a filthy lie!”
Donna chuckles softly and leans against one of the coral supports. “You can keep working,” she tells him. “I’m okay.”
He tilts his head to one side and studies her critically. “You know I’m not going to believe that for a minute.”
She shrugs. “It was worth a try.”
“Oh, come on!” He slides his arm through hers and guides her out of the console room. “Don’t be so ridiculous, Donna Noble!” he tells her as they head down the dimly lit corridor. “You know you came looking for me for a reason. You could have settled yourself in the library until I realised you were awake, but you came to find me instead. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to expose you to the torture of hot chocolate and biscuits.”
Her lips quirk into a faint grin. “Well, I suppose, if you feel you must…”
He chuckles and leads the way into the kitchen. The saucepan of milk on the stove is already boiling, with two mugs waiting on the bench next to the biscuit tin. The Doctor is quick to notice that the TARDIS has provided Donna’s favourite chocolate ripple biscuits rather than the banana and chocolate cake he prefers.
“Ooh, very bad dream then,” he remarks as he pours the boiling milk onto the cocoa and puts everything onto a tray.
“How do you — what makes you say that?”
He smiles. “Even the TARDIS thinks you need looking after,” he tells her. “Come on, library. I think the fire will still be going.”
Donna rolls her eyes. “Nothing’s private around here, is it?”
“Nope!” He grins as they enter the library, knowing from the way she’s following him that she isn’t really annoyed. “Not a chance!”
Sighing, Donna sinks into the overstuffed armchair that she had inadvertently claimed during her first evening on the TARDIS. The Doctor places the tray on the coffee table and hands Donna a mug of cocoa before sitting down on the couch.
“Share,” he orders.
“You’ve got your own cocoa,” she complains. “Why do you need to share mine?”
“You know what I mean,” he retorts. “What was it this time? Are we back with the giant wasps again? Giant spiders? Giant cockroaches? What?”
“Actually, none of those.” She sighs, stares into the fire for a moment, and then leans forward to pick up one of the biscuits before looking at him. “I dreamt that we were outside Adipose Industries again — and you wouldn’t take me with you.”
For an instant he remembers that moment as if he’s living it again — “You’d come with me?” “I just want a mate” - and he can’t help the grin that creeps over his features as he remembers the joy he felt when she agreed. That fades when he sees the look on her face.
“What made you think of that now?”
Donna shrugs, biting into the biscuit she has just dunked into the cocoa. “Dunno,” she admits around a mouthful. “Just did.”
The Doctor looks at her through narrowed eyes. “You don’t really worry about that, do you? I mean, I didn’t say no. You’re here, not back in Chiswick with that mother of yours.”
She shifts in obvious discomfort. “’S stupid,” she admits.
He sips his cocoa and then arches an eyebrow as any idea occurs to him. “Stupid as in you worry that I’m going to get sick of having you around one day and dump you back there?”
The painful silence tells him that he’s right.
Reaching forward, he puts down his cup, watching as she drains her own cocoa in a bid to avoid looking at him. Resting his elbows on his knees, he waits for her to look at him. However she remains gazing at the fire and in the end he gets up and crosses the room, sitting on the arm of her chair, nudging her arm with his elbow until she finally lifts her eyes to meet his.
“Donna Noble,” he says softly, “there is no way I could ever not want you here. Don’t you ever imagine that I’m trying to get rid of you or that I want you to leave. I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it anymore — and I don’t particularly want to either. Got that?”
She nods, looking somewhat sheepish. “I suppose. It’s just — sometimes I can’t believe this is actually happening, you know? Seeing all the things I have and being here with you like this. Like I’m going to wake up one morning to find it’s all been a dream.”
He chuckles and covers her hand with his, feeling as she intertwines their fingers. “If it’s all a dream, I hope I’m dreaming the same thing,” he tells her, “because I’d hate to think you weren’t actually here with me.”
“Really?” And when she looks up, her expression is somewhere between hopeful and forlorn so that his hearts ache.
He rests his head against hers. “Really.”
She sighs in apparent relief and takes a firmer hold of his hand. He rubs his thumb over the back of her fingers and waits to see if she’s going to say anything else. The silence continues for several minutes before she suddenly yawns.
“Hmm, sounds like more sleep is the best plan,” he says with a grin. “What do you think — any more nightmares?”
“I hope not.” She smiles and squeezes his hand before letting go, stifling another yawn as she gets out of the chair. “What would I do without you?” she asks fondly as she leaves the room.
“No, Donna,” he murmurs as the door closes behind her, a smile on his face. “What would I do without you?”
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