In the first floor of the building Donna Noble works in, there’s a dodgy little café.
She finds it on her first day, during that awkward lunch-hour she’s got no one to spend with. It’s fantastically boring work she’s doing, plugging data into computer programs, and she’s certain she’ll need a good, strong dose of caffeine if she’s going to stay awake.
Instead she winds up staring at the man behind the counter incredulously.
“What do you mean, you don’t have tea?” she demands, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“Ran out, like I said,” he says. “Ridiculous, I know.”
“How do you run out of tea? It’s a café!”
“Sorry,” he says, and though he sounds apologetic he looks somewhat amused. “Can I get you a coffee instead?”
“I don’t drink coffee anymore,” Donna snaps, feeling severely put out as she stares up at the menu.
“‘Anymore’?” he asks. “Why not?” There’s a hint of genuine interest that stops Donna from telling him to mind his own business. Sometimes Donna feels like it’s been much too long since someone talked to her with genuine interest.
She looks at him, her eyes drifting to his nametag. Shaun, it says. “I can’t remember,” she admits, suddenly feeling daft.
“You’ve just not had the right cup,” Shaun says decisively, pointing at her. “I’ll make you one. Best coffee you’ll ever have.” He winks. “I promise.”
Donna looks at him with one eyebrow raised, but his stare is so earnest that finally she sighs. “Fine,” she concedes, and she’s just about to pull her purse out of her handbag when it dawns on her he might be flirting.
Feels like a long time since that’s happened, too.
She cranes her neck just a bit to sneak a peak over the counter when he turns to make the coffee, and then feigns interest in her handbag when he turns around. He holds the cup out to her and smiles.
“There you go,” Shaun says, and then lowers his voice to a whisper. “On the house.”
Definitely flirting, Donna thinks, and she can’t help but grin as she heads back to the office.
It’s a bloody good cup of coffee, too.
The dodgy little café on the first floor becomes something of a lunch-hour habit for Donna, and as he works every day, so does the flirting with Shaun. He never runs out of tea again but she orders coffee anyway. They share bits and pieces of each other in the brief exchanges over the cash register. Donna files each one away and mulls over it later while she drinks her coffee and does her mindless work. He lives with a roommate, a bloke named Greg. He’s got two brothers and a sister and all their names begin with ‘S’. He’s always wanted to be a chef but never been able to afford the classes.
It’s not such a bad tradition, as a mid-day pick-me-up, and within two weeks it’s Donna’s favourite part of the nine-to-five.
By four weeks, it’s her favourite part of the day, period.
One Tuesday she heads down to find a bored-looking young girl standing behind the counter.
“Traded shifts,” the girl explains, not quite bothering to make eye-contact as she says it. “He’s working my Saturday.” She shrugs. “It’s his birthday today.”
It may be a bit of an overreaction for someone she’s only flirted with, but Donna spends the rest of the day deciding what to get him.
She settles on a cookbook and one of those big white chef hats. She deliberates over a card for much too long and finally decides not to get one, signing the little tag on the gift bag instead. She waits around until he’s on break to give it to him, and the second she hands the bag over she’s convinced she’s just made a gigantic fool of herself. He probably gives free coffees to every woman who comes into the shop, all of whom are probably far prettier than she is and none of whom are daft enough to buy him bloody birthday gifts.
But his face lights up when he opens it, and he laughs and beams at her so sincerely she feels a little less daft.
And then he says, “Oh, Donna, you’re brilliant,” and she snogs him right then and there.
He tells her later that was the best part of the gift.
He cooks for her on their first date, and Donna’s too embarrassed to ask if it’s because he can’t afford to take her out. There was a time, Donna thinks, with no small amount of shame, that might have put her off, but now it hardly seems to matter, and it’s not like she’s got money to spare, either, not with her temping job ending soon. And anyway she’s anxious to see if his cooking lives up to his coffee.
His roommate Greg is just on his way out the door when she arrives, but he stops to say hello and assures her he’s heard great things. Shaun’s flat is small and cramped, but it’s nice, she thinks, in a homey sort of way, and the sofa in the living room is perfect for watching television.
He puts out a bottle of wine on the table and very nearly burns the dinner because, he says, he’s nervous. Donna feels giddy before she’s even had a sip of the Syrah and helps herself to a big piece of pie even though she hates pears. He laughs at her jokes and doesn’t mind when she’s loud, and somehow–this is the miracle, Donna thinks–he makes her feel important.
“Can I ask you something?” he asks her one night, three months later, while they sit on his sofa and watch the credits for Back to the Future roll across the screen. It’s a weird movie, Donna thinks. She’s certain she liked it more the last time she watched it. Now it just seems wrong.
“Sure,” she says absently, her mind still stuck on flux capacitors.
“You seem quite sad sometimes,” Shaun says, jolting Donna back to reality. His voice is soft and concerned, like he’s worried he’ll frighten her off. “Like… something’s wrong. What is it? Is it your dad?”
Donna doesn’t look at him. She stares at the screen, suddenly feeling exposed. “No,” she says, “no, it’s…” She swallows, and her throat is suddenly thick. “I don’t know what it is,” she admits. “It’s like… like something’s missing. It’s like I’ve left the stove on, or I’ve left something behind, or…”
She gives her head a shake and looks at him. “You know when you’re trying to think of a word and it’s on the tip of your tongue and you know it’s there but you just can’t think of it? It’s like that. All the time.” She laughs once and looks down at her lap. “You must think I’m mental.”
“Nah.” He puts an arm around her and Donna leans in, resting her head against his shoulder. “I think you’re brilliant.”
Donna is having an absolutely shit day when Shaun proposes.
She gets in a fight with her mother over who pays for most of the petrol. Her computer freezes and costs her three hours of effort at work. In the elevator, someone backs into her and Donna spills her coffee all down the front of her suit. She breaks a nail trying to work the fax machine, it rains so hard she gets drenched on her way to her car, and when he calls “come in!” instead of opening the door himself, Donna is ready to scream at him. He’s been working loads lately, picking up shifts and pulling doubles, and when they finally manage a night to see each other, he’s not even interested enough to come to the door.
But when she lets herself in she finds him crouched on one knee, a bouquet in one hand and a tiny velvet box in the other, and she winds up screaming for entirely different reasons.
She forgets about the lottery ticket until she takes off her wedding dress.
It’s quite an intricate process, getting in and out of one of those, and Donna doesn’t even notice when it flutters to the floor, all crumpled.
Shaun does, though. He crouches down and picks it up, smoothing it out with his fingers as he wrinkles his forehead.
“A lottery ticket?” He stares at her, perplexed. “Who gave us this?”
Donna Temple-Noble raises her eyebrows and looks at him sternly. “Are you seriously more interested in a lotto ticket than in me taking off this dress?”
Shaun laughs, and the lotto ticket gets placed on the night table.
She forgets the lotto ticket until Shaun brings in the paper the next day.
“It was just sitting outside the door,” he says, shrugging as he tosses it on the table. “Guess it’s free.”
Donna finds she’s not particularly interested in the paper on the morning of her honeymoon, but she opens it anyway. “Where’s that lotto ticket?” she asks, flipping through to the proper section.
She double-checks the numbers once, twice, three times once he hands her the ticket.
Then she screams so loud they get a noise complaint, and knocks over her coffee as she leaps up to throw her arms around him.
There are a million things they can do now that they couldn’t do before.
Find a nice house. Get a car. Shaun can sign up for cooking classes.
“What do you want to do?” he asks her, almost two weeks after their big win.
The answer comes to her before she even stops to think about it.
“Travel,” she says.
So they do.
One night in Hawaii, Donna wakes up feeling like she’s on fire.
Her eyes snap open and she sits up in bed, her heart thumping in her chest while her head pounds. She draws in a gasping breath and blinks blearily around the room, trying desperately to get her bearings straight. She feels warm all over, uncomfortably so, and her skin feels like it’s burning. It’s a second before she realizes her cheeks are wet, and another second before she realizes she’s crying.
What the hell had she been dreaming about?
The sheets rustle as Shaun sits up beside her. “Donna?” His voice croaks with sleep. “Are you all right?”
“I’m…” Donna starts, but trails off when she can’t find the words. She shakes her head and draws in a stuttering breath.
“Donna?” Shaun puts his arm around her shoulders, his worry clear in his voice. “What’s wrong?”
In between short, hiccupping breaths, Donna stammers, “I don’t know.”
There’s a tempest of emotions swirling in her that she can’t even begin to explain. She’s scared, but she doesn’t know what of. There’s a crushing, aching loneliness in the pit of her stomach that feels like it belongs to someone else. She’s furious, like fate has stripped her bare of everything but the knowledge that life is bitterly unfair.
And she’s sad–desperately sad–like she’s lost someone she loves.
Shaun pulls her closer and Donna twists towards him, muffling a sob by burying her face in his chest. She weeps into his shirt, wracked by a grief she can’t understand.
She wakes up the next morning to the smell of bacon.
By the time she opens her eyes light is streaming in through the window and Shaun’s side of the bed is empty, but she takes one big breath and smiles into her pillow. Better than room service, he is. She doesn’t even have to tip.
She ties the sash of her robe as she makes her way into the kitchenette. She creeps up behind him and peeks over his shoulder.
“Bacon and crêpes?” She grins. “I bloody love you.”
Shaun nods. “I should hope so.”
She grabs the milk from the fridge and a glass from the counter and sits down at the table, perfectly content. It’s not until Shaun sets a plate in front of her and asks, “How are you feeling?” that she remembers that she remembers the previous night.
She blinks down at her bacon, surprised and a little embarrassed. “Fine,” she says, reflexively at first, before she repeats it with more conviction. “I’m… fine.”
Shaun sits down across from her, a look of concentrated concern on his face. “What was it?” he asks gently. “You can tell me.”
“I don’t know,” she answers flatly. She shrugs stabs a piece of bacon with her fork. “Honestly. Not a clue.” She pops the bacon in her mouth. “Sorry.”
He still looks worried, but he nods nevertheless. “It’s all right.” He frowns. “Do you feel any better this morning?”
Donna doesn’t answer at first. She sets her fork down and looks out the glass door that leads to the balcony, through which she can just see the deep turquoise of the ocean. She thinks about the previous night, bawling inexplicably. It was the hardest she’d cried since her father died, and she doesn’t even know why.
But now she’s sitting at the table of a hotel suite in Hawaii, eating bacon and crêpes with her husband and looking at the ocean. She’s got more money than she ever dreamed of. In three days, they’re on a flight to Tokyo. She’s seen more of the world in the last four months than she’d ever imagined, and for some reason the man sitting across the table looks at her like she’s the most important woman in the world. It's not exactly making do, is it?
“Yeah,” she says, and she can feel herself letting go of something as she does. “Yeah.” She smiles. “Much better.”
Shaun smiles back at her. “Good.”
Donna Temple-Noble cuts a piece of crêpe and takes a bite, then wrinkles her nose. “Did you put pears in this?”
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