The Doctor whistles in astonishment as he comes into the kitchen to see Donna in the midst of washing the large pile of glasses and dishes on the sink, the last remnants of the party they have been having to celebrate a nominal New Year.
“Hey!” he protests indignantly as he crosses the floor in three large strides and whips the cloth out of her hand. “I thought you were going to wait for me before you started that.”
“Well, you were taking such a long time seeing everyone off,” Donna complains, much to his surprise merely snatching up another cloth and continuing to wash the dirty glasses, rinsing each one and placing it on the draining board, “that I thought I might as well get started.”
“Martha asked where you were,” he tells her, frowning a little. “She wanted to say goodbye.”
“She seemed quite happy with just you,” Donna retorts, upturning a large silver bowl onto the sink with what the Doctor can’t help thinking is a needlessly loud ‘clang’. “Just like Sarah Jane!”
“Well, you seemed very comfortable being alone with Jack when you went for that little stroll of yours,” he snaps back, remembering when he saw them heading out of the large room where they had set up the party.
He wasn’t sure exactly how long they were gone, but he’d watched the door for at least half an hour and knew they hadn’t come back in that time.
She glances at him, and he sees the surprise, or perhaps alarm, in her eyes.
“Of course I noticed, Donna,” he replies impatiently, tossing down the damp cloth and picking up a tea towel so that he can start drying the glasses, unaccountably finding it easier to talk when he doesn’t have to look at her. “I pay attention to what my guests are up to — particularly if they go anywhere with Jack!”
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see her frowning. “So I’m just a guest, am I? I thought,” she goes on before he can contradict her, “you told me to treat the TARDIS like my own home! I wasn’t aware things changed when you had visitors! Or did you not really mean it? Is it just the thing you say to every person you drag along on these travels of yours out of politeness or something?”
“What?” he demands, disbelieving. “What do you mean by that? Of course I meant it!”
“Then why did you feel the need to spy on me?” she exclaims loudly.
“Because I don’t trust Jack!” he bursts out. “And considering what he said to me tonight about you, I certainly won’t be trusting him with you again!”
Finally Donna turns to look at him, throwing the cloth onto the bench so that she has both hands free to prop on her hips and glare at him.
“So you’re saying you have the right to choose my company — is that it?”
The Doctor stares at her, temporarily silenced. Thus far in this ‘conversation,’ not that it could properly be called one, he hasn’t thought much about what is being said, but now ideas are dancing through his mind, and he’s finding that they aren’t ones he is happy with.
His fingers clench around the cloth in his hand as he glares at her, trying to get the image of Donna and Jack wandering through the TARDIS garden, or sharing a quiet conversation and perhaps something more, out of his head.
For some reason, he can picture Jack leaning in close, whispering in Donna’s ear, his hand smoothing back those ginger locks, his lips hovering above the soft area of skin behind Donna’s ear, which the Doctor suddenly realises he has always wanted to…
There’s a sharp tinkle and then the Doctor feels a sudden pain in his hand, looking down to find that there was a glass in the cloth and he’s broken it into his fist.
“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry, Doctor! I never meant for that to happen!” Donna places a gentle hand on his uninjured arm and leads him over to a nearby chair.
He’s sitting down before he even realises, and then Donna fishes under the sink for the first aid kit he used on her once when she burned herself on the stove. She busies herself getting out bandages and cleaning the tweezers, all the time keeping her eyes averted from his face.
At her obvious concern, he feels his anger fade and he watches her out of the corner of his eye as he keeps pressure on his hand, trying to keep the blood from dripping onto the floor.
“What do you mean you never ‘meant’ for that to happen?” he asks. “You didn’t cause this.”
“Hold still,” Donna tells him, taking the chair beside him and resting his hand on the table so that she can ease away the towel and peer at the injury.
He can’t help noticing the way the colour has flooded to her face, and he thinks it’s more than the sight of the blood trickling from what turns out to be a fairly minor cut.
“Is there glass in it?” she prompts, and he checks mentally, nodding as he realises that a few slivers trapped beneath his skin.
“Let me.” He takes the tweezers and gently fishes around inside the wound for the tiny pieces, unable to help noticing the look on Donna’s face as she wipes away the drops of blood that ooze from his injury.
She’s shocked, and for a moment he wonders if she’s one of those people who goes a bit funny at the sight of blood, but he can tell there’s something more.
He suddenly realises that she’s holding herself responsible for the accident.
“This wasn’t your fault,” he repeats, as he removes the last piece and puts the tweezers aside, pressing on the cut to stop the trickle of blood before he puts gauze on it to keep it clean.
He can tell she’s not convinced by the way she shrugs and tries to turn away, but he grabs her arm to stop her from moving away.
“Why do you think you made this happen?” he demands, lifting his cut hand slightly in a gesture of demonstration.
There’s a long moment of silence before she speaks.
“If I hadn’t been… difficult,” she mumbles, avoiding his gaze, “you wouldn’t have been distracted.”
“Distractions and Jack tend to go hand in hand,” he says, trying to lighten the mood, although that brings back his thoughts about the immortal Time Agent in full force.
Colour floods Donna’s face and her eyes sink to study the floor.
The Doctor catches himself thinking that the flush of pink in her cheeks is very becoming, particularly when paired with her immaculate make-up, hair hanging loose, and the deep green of her dress.
At the same time, he curses inwardly at the realisation that it was the mention of Jack and not him who prompted the change. And he has to fight an instant of disbelief that he’s even having feelings like this for her. After all, this is his mate. Not that sort of mate, but the ‘friend’ that he’d needed ever since losing Rose and after Martha left.
It’s impossible that he should be thinking about her in this way.
And yet, he realises almost at once, it’s suddenly impossible for him to think of her in any other way.
She fusses over the small cut, trimming some of the gauze and carefully cutting a few lengths of tape just the right size to secure it, although he knows it won’t need to stay on for long. He can already feel his body rushing the necessary chemicals to his hand to seal up the laceration.
What he can’t help is the way he’s enjoying the obvious concern she is displaying for him. It reminds him of the fear in her voice when she put herself between him and the Empress of the Racnoss, or the time she helped him set off Pompeii. He knows there was a similar look in her eyes when she slapped his arm after he was teleported back from the Sontaran ship, even if she immediately gave herself away by the manner in which she held onto him once that was over. The way she had checked his hand over the extrapolation machine had taken its sample was similar to the way she’s touching him now.
However it was probably her reaction to his attempted poisoning that is foremost in his mind now. The panic in her voice at that moment had been very similar to the way she responded when the glass broke.
“It’s all right, Donna,” he says at last, for want of anything better to say, and because he can’t bear the silence or her needless bustle.
“I…” She moves to get up, gathering the corners of the dishcloth with the remains of the glass inside it. “I should clean up the mess.”
The Doctor tightens his hold on her arm and keeps her in her place. He isn’t sure quite why he’s behaving like this, except that he can feel the importance of this moment, and he knows that if one or both of them move away, it will be lost.
The look she turns on him is half-panicked, as if she’s afraid of where this might be leading.
“I never thought I’d say this,” he says, trying to speak lightly, “but Jack was right.”
“About what?” she asks, almost as if she can’t help herself, and the Doctor suddenly finds himself hoping that Jack was right, because he realises that couldn’t bear it if his ginger companion’s attention was focused on the Time Agent instead of the Time Lord in her life.
“When he told me that I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”
Donna rolls her own eyes as he repeats what Jack had said. “Don’t be daft!” she bursts out, although he can hear that her scorn isn’t as definite as usual and that gives him a certain amount of hope.
“And what’s more,” the Doctor persists, his grasp on Donna’s arm tightening slightly as he leans towards her, his voice lowering, “he thought you were keeping a pretty close eye on me, too.”
He’s positive he catches a glimpse of her lower lip trembling and that there is a flash of fear in her eyes as she turns away.
“I… admitted,” she says, her voice shaking traitorously, and she clearly can’t or won’t look at him, “that I was watching you. When you went with Sarah Jane. And Martha.”
“No.” He shakes his head, more confident now that Jack was right. “Not then. Not at the end of the night. Before that.”
“When?” The question shoots out of her mouth like a dart, as if the curiosity is too great for her to resist.
“He told me while we were clearing away the savoury foods, before you and Ianto brought out the sweet things.”
“But that was before…” Donna’s eyes are wide, and she actually claps a hand over her mouth as she says something she clearly didn’t intend to.
“Before?” The Doctor leans forward, sliding his hand slightly further up her arm as he stares into her eyes, seeing as the blush reddens her cheeks again. “Before what?”
“Before I talked to him,” she mumbles, but he catches the words.
“You talked to him?” He smoothes his thumb over the warm skin of her arm. “About what?” And as she refuses to meet his eye, “About me?”
“Mmm.” She shrugs, so obviously uncomfortable that he can’t help smiling. She almost looks like a child in trouble.
“So it seems we both talked to Jack about each other,” he says softly.
Her eyes suddenly fly up to meet his gaze. “What did you say about me?” she blurts out.
“Actually, it was more what he said.” The Doctor smiles a little, remembering how he had felt, listening to Jack. “He wanted to know why I tensed up every time you talked to another man.” He sighs. “I hadn’t even realised until that moment that I was doing it — even when you talked to the Brigadier, and I know there’s no danger with him!”
“Danger of what?” Donna prompts, and he suddenly realises that now he’s said more than he meant to.
“Danger — that you might be interested in him,” he admits reluctantly.
“Sir Alistair?” She lets out a small explosion of laughter, finally turning her eyes back to his face. “No. I mean,” she goes on before he can express his relief, “not that I mightn’t have been interested a few years ago. But not now. Well, probably not.”
He’s about to say something when he happens to glimpse a teasing light in her eyes. The tension drains away and he manages to smile back at her.
“It’s about as likely as me feeling that way about Sarah,” he tells her. “And Martha — well, I think I’ve missed that bus, if I ever thought about catching it. She’s very sensibly moved on.”
“So I’m not sensible?” Colour floods Donna’s cheeks again, but this time she doesn’t lower her eyes, giving an awkward laugh instead. “I just put my foot in it, didn’t I?”
“I think so,” he agrees with a smile, stroking her arm. “But no more than I already did.”
For a moment she simply gazes into his eyes, the heightened colour slowly fading from her cheeks. Then she suddenly smiles, a smile that makes his hearts sing and brings a grin to his own face.
“You love me,” she says simply, and he nods, his reply as honest as hers.
She nods for a moment, and he can see that the tension in her neck and shoulders has faded. As he watches, he sees the formerly anxious look in her eyes replaced by the teasing expression he loves more than anything else.
“So is this the moment I should break both your hearts by telling you I don’t feel the same way?” she jokes, the hand that had been smoothing the gauze square on his palm sliding forward so that their fingers intertwine.
“Only if you never want me to believe a word you say ever again,” he retorts, lifting their linked fingers so that he can kiss the back of her hand.
Somehow it feels different from the other times he’s held her hand, and not just because of the absence of them running for their lives. Her free hand slides up along his other arm and he feels a shiver down his spine that only makes the grin on his face widen. He would never have believed that a gentle touch from Donna Noble could make him feel like this.
“What did you say to Jack?” he asks at last, his curiosity having been peaked by her admission.
“It was more what he said to me,” she confesses, her eyes roaming up and down the tuxedo he’s wearing, although the bow tie is hanging loosely around his neck and has been ever since he saw their last guest off.
“Which was?” he prompts almost eagerly.
“He was talking about how good you were looking.” She looks suddenly shy. “How well you were, and how happy. How he hadn’t seen you that happy for ages, and it must be all due to me.”
“And I suppose you scoffed at the suggestion that you could have had anything to do with it,” he says knowingly.
“I was going to,” she admits. “But then I realised that, when he said you were looking good, I thought of it in the sense of good-looking — and, at that moment, it occurred to me that that’s exactly what I thought you were.”
“Me?” He quirks an amused eyebrow at her. “The ‘long streak of alien nothing’?”
“Mmm.” The colour deepens in her cheeks once again and she studies the floor before raising shamed eyes. “I reserve the right to change my mind,” she says almost defensively.
“A woman’s prerogative,” he says with a chuckle. “I can’t argue with that then, can I?”
“Not if you know what’s good for you.” Donna grins at him, although he can see more than the usual friendliness in her eyes and it makes his hearts beat at twice their usual speed.
Suddenly unable to bear even the small distance between them, he tugs on her arm, pulling her gently towards him until she’s sitting on his lap. He slides his free hand around her waist, her fingers slipping into his hair as she brushes her lips against his.
Even though he knows he shouldn’t be thinking at this moment, he can’t help comparing this to their other kiss, the flavour of anchovies and walnuts and ginger beer not a pleasant memory, particularly when Donna tastes like chocolate and coconut and ginger now.
He releases the grasp on her fingers so that he can stroke his hand up her arm, along her neck and into her hair, feeling as she melts against him, stroking her hand down the stubble on his cheek. He breaks the kiss in order to let Donna breathe, but can’t bear to lose contact with her altogether, brushing a trail of gentle kisses along her jaw and down her neck.
“I think,” Donna says suddenly, as the Doctor is finally able to realise what it’s like to press light kisses against the area behind her ear, “that the two of us might have been manipulated by a certain Captain Jack.”
“Mmm,” he murmurs, feeling as goosebumps lift beneath his mouth at the feeling of his cool breath against her warm skin. “We could go to Cardiff so you can punish him,” he suggests, although right now he doesn’t really want to go anywhere.
“Nah.” She turns her head so that she can capture his lips with hers. “I’d rather thank him,” she whispers, kissing him again.
“Me, too,” he agrees against her mouth. “Later.”
She chuckles, her fingers stroking down his chest to the buttons on his shirt. “Definitely. Much later.”
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