“So this is me, getting out.”
He’s known what was coming, ever since ‘I just can't.’
And he can’t quite believe how much that hurts.
Funnily enough, he remembers Donna using almost exactly the same words when she turned him down.
Golly, he hasn’t thought about her in ages.
He refuses to think any more about her now because Martha Jones deserves all of his attention, knowing that the way he’s treated her, the reason she thought she was second best, when really she’s brilliant, is the reason she’s leaving now.
It’s all his fault.
And he knows better than to beg her to stay.
He also knows that, no matter how much he might have bluffed it out for Martha, so she won’t feel guilty about going, he really isn’t going to be all right at all.
At least Martha doesn’t seem to realize that ‘all right’ is some special Time Lord code for ‘really not all right at all.’
He catches the object she’s just thrown at him, looking down at it and realising its her phone.
“Keep that,” she says before he can ask. “’Cause I'm not having you disappear. If that rings, when that rings,” she corrects herself, “you better come running. Got it?”
He holds the phone up in a gesture of agreement, unable to help feeling grateful that she isn’t abandoning him completely. “Got it,” he agrees solemnly.
Still, there’s an ache growing inside him as she turns away, heading for the doors. He knows she isn’t going to bounce back in this time, that she’s said what she needed to, that she knows he understands.
And then, just before she opens the door, she turns back to him with a grin. “I'll see you again, mister.”
He smiles back, but it fades away as the doors close and he hears the faintest sound of her footsteps on the ground outside before they, too, vanish.
No matter how often it happens, he hates this moment.
There’s an almost unbearable loneliness. The TARDIS drops the heating down since she doesn’t have to keep the place warm for human passengers, and he only just keeps himself from shivering, even though he isn’t actually cold.
Before he was this man, this face, he always hurried on to find someone else, to bring another wide-eyed companion along with him, to keep moving.
Since he’s become this Doctor, however, and much as he loves being around people, he can’t quite bring himself to act that way. Of course, Rose was different, but after Donna refused to travel with him, he waited for a while before getting involved with Martha Jones and the Royal Hope Hospital.
It’s almost as if he feels the need to grieve for the old companion before moving on to a new one, and he can’t help thinking it’s a change that probably came from the losses associated with the Time War.
Still, he feels as if things are different this time. Martha wasn’t torn away from him. She left because she chose to, because she was doing what was right for her.
And even though he hates that she’s gone, he can only be proud of her and respect her for her decision.
He just doesn’t know how he’s going to cope on his own after having had her companionship for so long.
And it’s as he’s musing miserably on this thought that an idea occurs to him.
It’s not a particularly good idea, certainly not very smart, and it risks breaking at least a handful of rules that he knows he shouldn’t.
That’s not enough to stop him though.
He sets the controls on the TARDIS, watching as the scanner searches through time and space for its quarry, before lighting on the target a long way and a long time from his present location on Earth.
The Doctor himself.
A future version.
All he wants is a glimpse, a spoiler, the knowledge that, eventually, things will get better than they are right now, that he won’t be alone forever.
The TARDIS doors give off their familiar creak as, with a sigh, he opens them. He feels as if the world should be grey and miserable to match his mood. Instead, he’s greeted with a buzz of sounds and lights and colours and smells.
A market is spread out in front of the TARDIS, with red and yellow being the primary hues, although he can see screens and signs in every colour of the rainbow. Stalls are gathered close together, leaving a narrow passageway between them for people to walk along, and the Doctor steps out into the heavily scented air, closing the blue doors behind him. He can hear music from somewhere nearby, what sounds like an oriental instrument, but even as he looks around for the source of the tune, he spots the object of his search instead.
He ducks behind the wall of one of the stalls to avoid being seen by his future self. He peers around the silken wall to watch himself, seeing as he points out something to someone beside him. Because of a man at another stall, the Doctor can’t see anything about his companion.
What makes him stop short, though, is the sound of laughter. Yes, there’s a light, female giggle, but also the sound he makes when he laughs — which doesn’t feel as if it’s happened in an impossibly long time.
“Ooh, you are gonna love this,” he hears next, and then, “One two three!”
The man in the way finally moves just in time for the Doctor to see himself and his unknown companion raises foam-topped cups to their mouths. He can’t help smiling a little at the memory of just how good that drink tastes.
And then, as the Doctor lowers the cup, his earlier self gets a proper look and feels his hearts bound at the happiness on those well-known features.
Somehow just the knowledge that, eventually, he will get back to this again lifts the worst of the weight that slammed onto his shoulders with the departure of Martha.
He sees them leave the stall that sells the drinks and ducks back around the corner, determined not to let them catch a glimpse of him. He could leave now, having got the knowledge he came here for, but he wants to know what his future companion looks like so that he will recognise them when he sees them again.
Or for the first time, in their timeline.
The usual wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey — what?
He stops dead, staring at the woman who is following the Doctor through the heavily laden stalls.
It can’t be — can it?
Surely it’s just because he happens to have been thinking about her that he’s somehow imagining she’s here. After all, she was so certain when she said ‘no.’
And yet, as he looks again, he realises that his eyes aren’t deceiving him.
It’s definitely Donna Noble standing at the market stall, watching as the Doctor begins to argue cheerfully with a vendor about the price of some item that’s caught his eye.
“No way,” he breathes, ducking around the stall in an attempt to get a closer look.
“You want shukina?” a woman from one of the nearby stalls asks him. “Lovely shukina.”
“No,” he says impatiently, ducking around her, trying for a better view.
And then suddenly, there they are in front of him, only a few hundred feet away.
It’s definitely Donna Noble standing there.
Either that or her twin sister, and he knows she doesn’t have one of those.
Shocked, his mind racing, trying to work out how she could possibly be there, what could possibly bring her back to him, he steps away, trying desperately to retrace his path back to his TARDIS before either of them catch sight of him.
He feels panic fill him at the sound of Donna’s voice, and then her hands grab his arm and she turns him to face her.
“How on Earth did you get here from all the way over there…” she’s beginning when she happens to glance back in the direction she’s come from and the words die on her lips at the glimpse of familiar spiky brown hair back where she left him.
“I’m sorry,” he apologises at once. “I didn’t think you’d see me.”
“Who are you?” she demands at once, turning back to study his face. “When are you? Before or after now?”
He can’t find the words to answer, because he’s too busy staring at her, filled with the memories of their last meeting and the battle against the Racnoss.
“Oh, I know that look, mate,” she says suddenly, squeezing his fingers. “That’s the lost expression I saw when we found each other at — well, never mind where.”
“We found each other?” he asks faintly, aware of how bad it would be to know all the details, but aching to discover the truth.
“Yeah.” Donna smiles. “We did. We do in your future, ’cos I reckon it’s not too long since Martha.”
He nods, admitting this, although he can appreciate how careful she’s being not to give him too much information. “You always did seem to know me pretty well, Donna Noble,” he tells her, unable to help letting a little affection creep into his tones.
“Still do,” she says with a grin. “And I know better than to tell you what happens, how we end up here. No spoilers from this end.”
Suddenly he tightens his hold on her hand, not caring how what he’s about to do will change things.
“Stay with me now,” he begs, unsurprised at the desperation in his voice as he pulls their linked hands closer to him. “Please! You were right. I — I need someone!”
“And you’ll find someone,” she says reassuringly, smoothing her thumb over his knuckles. “Maybe it’s me. Maybe not. Or not yet anyway. But we both know I can’t come with you now. Can’t leave him on his own,” she adds, nodding back in the direction of the other Doctor, who is bargaining with a stallholder, although his voice is lost in the din of the other people at the market.
“You said no before,” he reminds her, his voice cracking. “I couldn’t bear it if you turned me down again.”
“I won’t,” she promises. “So many things happened, Doctor. Everything changed. I changed. I’ll travel with you again, and we’ll go to all sorts of places. The only thing I can’t tell you is when. We never really talked about what he — you — got up to in between our two meetings.”
He nods, conceding this. He doesn’t like talking about other companions to the current people in the TARDIS. He knows that, sometimes, like with Rose, it would have been a good idea, but mostly it’s too painful to discuss.
“How will I find you?” he asks at last.
“Just keep doing what you always do, what you do best,” she tells him with an understanding smile. “Keep an eye on the Earth. Deal with alien threats as they come along. Especially the crazy stuff. Then we’ll bump into each other just like we’re supposed to.”
“You believe in all that now?” he asks curiously.
“You opened my eyes,” she admits. “And,” she adds, freeing her hand gently from his hold, “I promise I’ll tell you all about when we see each other again. Yeah?”
“Yes,” he agrees, before his eyes widen as she suddenly hugs him.
He can’t help wrapping his arms around her in return, the faint memory of the scent of her shampoo he had first smelled when they were standing in the doorway of the TARDIS looking out at the creation of the Earth coming back to him as he rests his head against hers for a moment before letting her pull away.
“I want to see you a bit more cheerful the next time we see each other,” she tells him. “You weren’t this mopey then. Or at least, you won’t be. Blimey,” she rolls her eyes, “this time travel stuff can be complicated.”
It’s an effort, but he manages to smile at her comment. She reaches up to dot a kiss to his cheek, just like Martha did, and she’s smiling back at him steps away.
“I’ll see you soon,” she promises, and he nods as she turns to leave, glancing back at him only once before heading in the direction of the other Doctor.
He sees her attention caught by a woman in a black and gold robe before he loses sight of her altogether. For a few minutes he watches his future self, seeing as the man looks around, presumably for Donna, before returning his attention to the stallholder with whom he is talking.
With a sigh, although it’s not as miserable as it was when he arrived, the Doctor turns away from the noisy, bustling, cheerful scene around him and heads for the TARDIS. He knows it would be too dangerous to stay, but he can’t help feeling that the loneliness of his beloved blue box will only be enhanced by the knowledge of the forbidden fruit he’s tasted so briefly today.
Still, as he slides the key into the lock and steps over the threshold, rather than moping, he finds himself imagining what it will be like to bring Donna back here, to have her with him again, and to take her all over the Universe.
It’s enough to shake him out of the deep well of misery he found himself in after Martha closed that door behind her.
He nods as he crosses to the console, a deep sense of relief settling in him. The knowledge that he isn’t going to be alone for long is soothing to the sore, lonely place in his soul. Still, he can’t help shaking his head in near-disbelief when he thinks about what is to come.
He still can’t quite believe he’s going to see her again, and what’s more, that this time she’s going to take him up on his invitation from such a long time ago. Leaning against the console, he sighs deeply, not quite ready to smile yet, but unable to help the tiny, wriggling worm of excitement and anticipation he can feel starting to develop inside him.
She’s out there somewhere, waiting for him, and it’s clearly a mere matter of time before they cross paths again.
Still, he’s not going to find her if he just sits here, is he?
Pushing himself upright, he moves around to the controls, reaches for the handbrake and flips it off. However he lets out a yell as the TARDIS suddenly tips almost completely upside down, throwing him against the jumpseat while smoke begins to pour from the central core.
Any thoughts of misery and loneliness are gone in an instant.
“Whoa!” he yelps, struggling to get back to his feet again. “Stop that. Stop it!” he orders when the ship is finally calm again. “What was all that about, eh?”
He knocks on the core, trying to get the TARDIS to calm down. “Eh?” he repeats. “What’s your problem?”
“Right,” another voice — an all too familiar voice — says in brusque tones. “Just settle down now.”
And as he looks up into the face of his fifth incarnation, he becomes aware that, not only does he have a few things to get through before he finds Donna again, but that things are about to get even more weird than they usually are.
If Donna thought his life was filled with bizarre happenings before, he can’t wait to tell her all about this!
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