The Doctor wanders into the study and picks up a book from his desk with would-be carelessness.
“Nice try, old thing,” he remarks, patting the back of the couch somewhat patronisingly as he spreads himself along it and cracks open his book. “But I know what you’re up to with that branch of mistletoe in the chandelier and it’s not going to work. Not to mention the ones in the doorway. Oh, and in the console room. She’s never going to fall for it, so you might as well give up.”
He watches out of the corner of his eye as those silvery-green leaves he can see from his current position fade away and gives a satisfied grunt as he returns to his book. Donna enters the room a short time later with a tray of tea things, and the Doctor starts a fire in the grate with his sonic screwdriver before joining her on the thick rug that has been spread on the floor beside the coffee table.
“Strange,” Donna muses as she picks up her cup of tea.
“What’s that?” the Doctor demands, before cramming two biscuits into his mouth at once, effectively gagging himself.
“This cup.” She holds it up to get a better look at it. “I’d have sworn it was plain when I got it out of the cupboard, but in here it looks like there’s a pattern on it: leaves or some such thing.”
The Doctor rolls his eyes, knowing what his manipulative blue box is up to, but thanks to his mouthful of butternut snaps, he can’t get out any of the words he has in his mind and can do nothing as Donna continues to speak.
“They look familiar, too,” she goes on, turning the cup from side to side. “Can’t think where I’ve seen them before though. Do you...”
She looks up at him for the first time, and her eyes widen.
“Um,” she says slowly, “Doctor, why do you have a sprig of holly on your head?”
He immediately reaches up to touch his hair, and gets his fingers pricked by the sharp-tipped leaves. Yanking his hand away, he curses — fortunately the words are stifled by the last of the biscuits, which he hastily chews and swallows — and jams his bleeding fingertips into his mouth.
“’S ’y ’oopid ’ip,” he mumbles, and Donna arches an eyebrow as she reaches across and delicately lifts the crown of prickly leaves dotted with red berries off his hair.
“What was that?” she demands as she puts the wreath of holly on the table beside the teapot.
“It’s my stupid ship,” he repeats, having taken his fingers out of his mouth in order to be understood. “She’s got all these daft ideas that she wants — me — to act on,” he goes on, having to adjust his sentence very rapidly to avoid mentioning Donna’s possible participation in the ridiculous romantic thoughts the TARDIS seems to have developed.
“Like what?” Donna asks, picking up her mug again, but before he can speak, her eyes fall on the decorated ceramic.
It’s no longer white. Instead the leaves are silvery green, against which the white berries stand out clearly.
For several long, silent minutes, Donna studies her cup, turning it this way and that, while the Doctor waits, watching her, wondering how she will react. Her eyes lift — but only as far as the holly on the table. He anxiously watches her look from one to the other, feeling as if he wants to scream to end this awkward silence. It’s a relief when she finally speaks.
“So,” she says slowly, “the TARDIS has it in her mind that it’s Christmas?”
“Something like that,” he agrees, relieved that she did not immediately jump to the same conclusion he did.
“You know, Doctor,” she says lightly, her eyes fixed on the mistletoe decorating her mug, the colour of which is brightening as the seconds pass, “on Earth, traditions are important.”
“Not just on Earth,” he corrects her, watching as she continues to drink her tea. “They have some really fascinating traditions...”
She continues to sit and watch him as he expounds on the importance of traditions all over the universe. At first he is hoping that, by drawing her attention away from the subject at hand, she will forget what they were discussing. Then, in the interest of what he is saying, he begins to forget it himself.
Donna is uncharacteristically silent as she waits for him to finish. There is a small smile on her face as she listens to him expound on the beauties of traditions across the known galaxies.
He is so invested in his descriptions that he forgets about his own drink, which slowly goes cold. He doesn’t notice Donna inching closer. In fact, he is completely oblivious to her nearness until he shifts his focus from the fireplace — he’s been describing a fire ritual, and the flames seemed appropriate — to find her right beside him, pointing at something above his head.
Instinctively looking up, he finds the empty mistletoe-decorated mug being held above his head. Then Donna’s fingers curl around his lower jaw, gently drawing it down again so that he can see her lips only a breath away from his.
“Tradition,” she murmurs as she closes the almost infinitesimal gap between them.
The TARDIS cleans up the remains of the Doctor’s spilt tea with little more than a satisfied hum.
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