Close Encounters of the Invisible Kind by Lilac Summers

Summary: The Doctor picks up a new companion, without having any clue that he's done so. This is why you shouldn't go investigating creepy houses.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Ninth Doctor, Tenth Doctor
Characters: Donna Noble, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (9th), The TARDIS, The TARDIS
Genres: Drama, Humor
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2014.08.08
Updated: 2017.01.28


Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Chapter 8: Chapter 8

Chapter 1: Chapter 1

Author's Notes: This idea came from a tumblr plot prompt. Rose, Jack, and Martha will be characters, but do note that this is Donna+Doctors-centric

It's been a very long time since someone has visited.

Donna hovers by a doorway, peering curiously at the man who has entered her home. He is of average height, nice eyes but truly outrageous ears, and buzzed hair.

He holds some weird contraption in his hands, and he's bleeping this way and that as he points it at random objects: the decrepit credenza, a broken chair. Why is he pointing the thingy at a broken chair?

Regardless, this is the most exciting thing that has happened to her in ages, so Donna moves closer to take a look over his shoulder at the strange technology. It looks like it's cobbled together from an eight track, a wire hanger, a sexual toy (a vibrator!) and a space-age doohikey that is projecting a picture of the space immediately before it. She thinks it's rather interesting, so she reaches out to touch it, and is absolutely delighted when the doohikey goes crazy.

The strange man frowns, shakes the thingy, and then swivels to face her. "Hello?" he calls, uncertainly. "Anyone here?"

"Boo?" says Donna dryly, though of course he doesn't hear her. Which is sad, really, because she's witty and no one appreciates it.

She moves closer to the thingy. It is a vibrator he's got on there! Man, she misses those.

The thingy goes crazy again, whirring and, er, vibrating. The man adjusts a dial and suddenly it's a tiny miniature Donna that's being projected on the screen!

"No way!" Donna says, looking down at the display. "Oh gawd, do I really look like that?"

The her that's being projected is very hazy, the color of smoke. Her hair floats around her, an amorphous cloud of colorless strands. Her features are completely blurred, except for raging, glowing eyes that look like pits into the underworld. "Holy hell, I'm scary as fuck!"

The man jumps. Just positively leaps when he sees her projected on his screen. It takes him back several steps, and he stares at the space where she stands. Well, where she was standing two seconds ago, because she's drifting towards him from the left now. "Holy Rassilon's Underpants, you startled me!" he says quickly, and takes a second as though he's choosing his words carefully. "Not that you're horrific looking or anything. Truly, I've seen heaps of things worse."

Donna rolls what she now knows are scary-as-fuck eyes, and floats closer so she can inspect the machine some more. If she stays to his side, she's not projected on the screen. Satisfied, she sticks a hand out and waves it over the machine. The vibrator starts whirring again, and she giggles at it.

The man furrows his brow at his machine. "Ah, so you're still close. Good, because I came to tell you that a lovely family would like to purchase this place but your, er, energy, lets call it, can be a bit off-putting to the common human. You mind moving on? I don't know, move towards the light or some such thing? You really are doing no use here," the man says, keeping a close eye on his machine.

Donna steps back so the distracting vibrator will stop. She furrows her non-existent brow back at him. As interesting as his visit is turning out to be, just who the hell does this bloke think he is, trying to run her out of her own home? She bats at the back of his head in aggravation, but it does nothing other than make him whirl with wide eyes as he feels the rush of displaced air. Donna blinks at his reaction, staring into those big blue eyes. They really are lovely eyes, she thinks, even if they get overshadowed by those ears.

"Don't get in a snit!" the man barks. "You're done here, time to pass on through to another dimension, or wherever else you belong. You're starting to scare the neighborhood kids."

She grimaces. She doesn't mean to scare anyone. It's just that she has nowhere to go. She hadn't wanted to stick around, really, but she had needed to make sure that her mom and dad and gramps got home safely when those crazy plastic thingies that started attacking people (a store mannequin is what killed her), and then before she knew it she had no other option but to stay here.

Since then, several families had tried to settle into the home, after her family left to get away from the sad memories. Donna liked the company, truly. Could you really blame her for trying to taste the cooking and accidentally setting the stove on fire? Or when the husband of the latest family was having an affair, and she tried to be helpful by spelling it on the bathroom mirror when his wife stepped out of the shower?

Look, it wasn't like she had planned on being the star of "Poltergeist: Chiswick."

"So, shoo!" the man was blathering on. "Nice new family wants to move in and they'd appreciate being left in peace."

Like it's her fault she was stuck here! She'd happily leave this place to the nutso's friends if she could! But is this jerk even giving her helpful suggestions on where she could go? No he is't! He's just trying to kick her out!

Donna swats at the machine in the mans' hands in a fit of real anger. Usually she can't move anything, but this time It goes flying out of his hand!

"Um," the man says, carefully stepping forward to pick up his machine and check that it's not broken. "I will take that as a yes and consider the matter dealt with. Don't make me come here again."

Which is just plain dumb, really, because that was obviously a "no, I'm not leaving," not a "yes, okay, I guess I'll leave my home just cuz you say so!" She readies herself to smack the thing out his hands again, but suddenly pauses, her ire deflating as a new idea takes hold. Where does this one live, anyway? Might not be a bad thing to change her surroundings, and at least he doesn't seem afraid of her. He seems to sense her a little bit better than anyone else, and she can apparently do things around him she couldn't do before, like throw stuff around!

But most of all, she's just gotten so bloody bored. This may be her last chance to leave this house, if she hitches a ride with him.

"Okay mate, you have yourself a deal," she tells big ears, and smiles wide when he tilts his head to the side, almost like he heard her.

The Doctor shakes off the heebie-jeebies from being in that house. Whatever was in it hadn't felt evil, necessarily. More like…discontent. A little bit sad. He had the distinct impression the "ghost" didn't mean to cause any harm.

Not that he believes in ghosts, really. More likely a wanderer lost in the 4th dimension, whose mental imprint was caught in a loop. It happened. Rarely, but usually when inexperienced people messed with interdimensional travel. Their body would be caught in the spaces between, their consciousness locked to the last temporal location before the failed jump. It was sad, but there was little help for it. But a trapped traveler could cause little trouble. He's just glad it hadn't been another incidence of the Gelth, which is what he had been expecting when Rose's neighbors had started speaking about the ghost that haunted the Chiswick home they intended to buy.

But well, it's dealt with now. He has more important things to do than play realtor for Rose's neighbors, and the "traveler" is harmless. He shrugs the memory away, packing the anomaly detector in his pocket and making a mental note that next time he should have it go "ding" when there's stuff.

Matter truly dismissed, he moves purposefully towards the TARDIS, which he left parked in a park. Rose should be done visiting her mum, and on her way back by now.

Almost to the TARDIS, however, he stops abruptly and turns around, scanning behind him. He has the eeriest feeling of being watched – of being followed.

But there is nothing strange in this park. Only one odd pigeon looking down at him from a streetlamp, evil intent in its gaze as it eyes the Doctor's pristine leather jacket with calculation.

The Doctor points one determined finger at the pigeon. "Don't even think about it! I've killed for less!"

The pigeon looks away like the thought of pooping on the Doctor never crossed its mind, and the Doctor hums his victory before continuing his trek to the TARDIS.

Donna, meanwhile, is looking around with great interest. It's been almost two years since she died, according to the random abandoned newspaper, but man, has fashion gotten ugly. And urgh, haven't skinny jeans gone away yet?

Some idiot jogger runs right through her like a big rude moron, and she tightens her hold on Big Ears' jacket so she won't float away. She found out too little too late, after her family left home and she was truly left alone, that if she didn't stay anchored to something she would start to float without direction. It's not a nice feeling – like she's being sucked off into space – so she is careful to always make sure she has an anchor. Her home had been her anchor all this time, and for now Big Ears has that honor.

Now he's walking towards a police box. She doesn't recall an old-timey police box being in this park, but whatever. Except, wait, he's going inside...and it's BARMY! And the fact that she, a ghost, finds something "barmy" means that it is ABSOLUTELY FLIPPIN' CRAZY!

"It's bigger on the inside!" she yelps.

The lights in the place glow bright, and she feels a distinct presence around her, so strong that she turns around, wondering if there's another ghost around here and she's trespassing on someone else's territory. But no, there's no one here that she can see. She carefully lets go of the man's jacket and moves her grip to the railing beside her. With relief, she feels a connection snick into place, welcoming her, securing her spirit to this place. Safe now, she floats towards the pretty blue cylinder in the middle of the room. It pulses softly at her; she feels something huge and ancient and kind brush against her non-corporeal edges.

"It's you!" she says in awe to the ship around her. "I'm sorry, am I not supposed to be here?"

The blue column pulses a friendly blue at her, and she gets the impression that it's okay for her to stay. Donna jerks a thumb at the man, standing frozen and confused by the doors, as if sensing that something is off. "Is that big idiot yours, then?"

The column falls and rises in affirmative.

"He doesn't know I followed him here, but I have no place else to go. Can I stay?"

Another affirmative, and Donna beams back at the ship. "You and I are gonna be great friends, I can tell!" she informs the ship.

Then she floats back to the man by the entryway. "Guess what, Big Ears, found myself a new home now and it's right here! You're my new bunk mate. Congratulations! Ha!" she says triumphantly in his face, and does a victory dance around him that he doesn't have the pleasure of seeing.

There's another passenger on board, someone named Rose who turns out to be little more than a teenager wearing too much mascara, and with a toothy grin that proclaims "I TOTALLY HAVE A MASSIVE CRUSH ON YOU, BIG EARS MAN!" to anyone who has the brains to see it. Alas, Big Ears apparently doesn't have the brains to see it.

She learns that Big Ears is called the "Doctor." Apparently the Doctor is an honest-to-goodness alien, and he has a habit of kidnapping people to be his "companion." It's a quaint word, and Donna snoops around a bit to see if it means companion companion. But no, it really is just companion, as much as Donna thinks Rose would like otherwise.

It takes her days upon days to explore the whole of the TARDIS. Time means nothing to her now, really, and so she gets to float from nook to cranny to her heart's content. It only took a few overheard conversations to figure out she was in a proper Space and Time ship, and how wonderful is that?! She, Donna Noble, on a ship that has ... wait, she remembers this bit …Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

And they travel! Donna hovers by the TARDIS doors every time they land. She likes to move her feet over the thresh-hold, though she always keeps a tight hold on the TARDIS. She's afraid of being swept away if she lets go, then she'd be stuck on some strange planet if the TARDIS left without her. So she only gets to watch, with envious melancholy, as Doctor Big Ears swings the doors wide to beautiful, alien vistas, and Rose and he go off on adventures.

But at least she can keep the TARDIS company, as they both wait for the other two to come back.

Donna also gets to watch Doctor Big Ears on his quiet times, when Rose is asleep and he fights to find ways to amuse himself. Donna has the run of the place, truly, and a plethora of empty rooms she could while away her afterlife in if she so chose, but something draws her to Big Ears man in a way she can't explain.

Also, his bedroom is the most welcoming - painted in shades of coral and blue, with pretty curlicue patterns etched into the antique furniture, and a feeling of lived-in-ness. She likes to while away the time there, plucking at his ears with her non-corporeal fingers; it annoys him and makes him bat away what must feel like clinging cobwebs. She watches over his shoulder as he reads or tinkers with new bleepy things. And she hovers close those times when he just stares off into nothing, for hours, lost within himself. He seems ... lonely. And Donna understands loneliness all too well.

She resolves to let him know she's here. After all, everyone should deserve to know they are no longer alone.

to be continued

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Chapter 2: Chapter 2

The hot water beats down on his shoulders, easing the tension left over from trying to keep the timelines intact after the demise of one Pete Tyler. He had given in to Rose's begging to see her father, and really, he's more angry at himself than her. He should know better than to put that type of temptation in front of a human. Yet, he'd had the highest hopes that Rose would understand, would follow his simple rules, and take him seriously about the damage to the timelines if she interfered. But in the end her sentimentality had almost destroyed them all.

The truth is, he needs to do a better job reminding himself that she is barely past adolescence, in human years. Mind, to him, all humans are just so young that, as long as they aren't child-sized, he tends to lump them all together.

The Doctor steps out of the shower into a bathroom filled with steam. The TARDIS automatically shuts off the water for him, and warm air begins to circulate rround the room to dry him off.

He moves to the sink, rooting in the medicine cabinet for the face lotion from Hericrux 3, guaranteed to keep a Time Lord's skin hydrated well into his 1300'th year.

When he closes the medicine cabinet, the condensation on the glass is disturbed.

"I can see you," the words form slowly in the foggy mirror, and the Doctor stumbles back in surprise. The words sound like a threat; he feels a cold chill crawl up his back How could something threatening have gotten into the TARDIS?!

His hearts racing, he holds the bottle of Hericrux lotion in his hand like a grenade.

"Y–" forms slowly on the mirror, condensation streaking. The Doctor braces a hand on the doorknob, ready to run and regroup if necessary.

"You're…" the word completes, and he waits breathlessly.


His hand goes limp, the bottle of lotion falling to the floor, as he blinks at the mirror in confusion.

"Naked naked naked," new ghostly words stress.

He gapes at the glass, breath finally kicking back into gear, before looking around wildly. He doesn't have a bath sheet. He doesn't use them - he prefers to air dry!

He grabs the next best thing – a hand towel – and presses it over his front.

The words on the mirror slowly fog over, as if a gentle breath is streaming over them.

"That," begins to form over the new expanse of condensation, "is a very small towel."

More breath, more words drawn on glass. "Hardly covers anything."

The Doctor is, at this point, torn between being petrified, intrigued, and possibly….flattered?

"Kudos!" ends the sentence.

Okay, he's flattered.

But then reality intrudes, that somehow, something has gotten into his TARDIS, uninvited! "No, wait, who's doing that? How is this–" he blusters, before an idea pings through his mind.

He rushes out to his room, roots around in his trouser pockets, reaches deep until the anomaly detector is back in his hands. He swings it around wildly and Donna deigns to step closer, making sure the screen captures her again.

"YOU!" shouts the Doctor.

Donna waves, and the blurry Donna onscreen copies her. "Yes, hello!" she says enthusiastically.

"You followed me here? But that was weeks ago!" the Doctor exclaims.

He looks around, all the odd little pieces clicking into place – all those times he felt like someone was hovering over his shoulder, all those times he felt not quite alone. "I knew there was something off! Why didn't you tell me?" he directs at the TARDIS at large.

There's a kind of distracted gurgle that Donna now recognizes is the TARDIS equivalent of a shoulder shrug.

The Doctor swings the doohikey around some more, and Donna stands still so he can keep her on the screen. She gives him a peace sign, which, in her blurriness, doesn't transfer well to the screen. Kind of sorta looks like she's flipping him off.

The Doctor looks affronted. "Why are you here?" demands the Doctor at high volume.

"You told me to leave my old place!" responds Donna reasonably.

"How did you manage to get in here!" he reiterates, slowly and even louder, as though speaking to someone hearing impaired.

She floats towards him. "I dunno if you've noticed but YOU CAN'T HEAR ME BUT I CAN HEAR YOU FINE SO WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING!" she screams in his face. Why does he keep asking questions he can't get answers to?

She tries to pluck at one of his ears to get his attention, and he bats away at the cold air that wafts by his face. "So that's been you all along!" he cries when he feels the familiar press of cool air and cobwebs pass his face.

"Well I need you to come here, you moron," Donna says, wafting backwards. She gets back in range of his camera again, and tries to make a "come here" gesture with her hand. The intent of it at least comes through on the screen.

Getting her drift, the Doctor follows her back to the bathroom. He has, Donna realizes with a giggle, completely forgotten that he's nude. He stopped using the hand towel ages ago.

Back at the bathroom mirror, Donna fogs up the glass — damn but this is taking a lot out of her! – and concentrates hard to write, slowly, "I'm Donna Noble…since u didn't ask."

The Doctor frowns at the mirror. "Well, Donna Noble - not that I care - I repeat, why the hell are you on my ship?"

"Where was I," she writes, lets him read, then refogs the mirror. Its slower going this time, as what little energy she has starts to flag. "S'posed to go." Fog, writes, "U outerspace dunce."

The Doctor rears back at the insult, though a bit of humor edges his thin lips. "Mouthy thing, aren't you," he asks.

Fog. Write. "Y. & I'm staying. TARDIS sez ok. S'there."

He crosses his arms over his bare chest. "Does she, now." He screws his face in thought for a second, reviewing his options.

As impossible as it seemed, looked like this Donna Noble had been around for a few weeks already. She hadn't caused any problems (other than the fact that she apparently liked to mess with his ears!) and the TARDIS liked her here. And to be honest, keeping the TARDIS happy was more important than whether or not the trapped soul of a traveler from the 4th dimension had managed to hitch a ride.

"If the TARDIS has no quarrel with you, then I guess you can stay until we find out what to do with you," he concedes.

Donna radiates triumph. Like she'd leave even if he told her to! She likes it here, and the TARDIS likes her here, too.

"Mind, no more sneaking into my bathroom!" the Doctor commands roughly, sensing her air of victory. "I don't need some wispy woman spying on me."

Fog. Write. "K. No prob."

He harrumphs at her. "There better not be, or I'll throw you right off my ship!"

What a little smug shit he is! Donna's exhausted by now, truly, but she refuses to let him have the last word. "U'r still naked," she writes, and laughs long and loud when he blanches and runs back into his room to throw on some clothes.

Rose doesn't take the news well. But Donna muses that it's largely the Doctor's fault, for being absolute rubbish at explaining things.

He ambushes Rose one morning at breakfast, as she blearily spoons cereal into her mouth.

"We have a traveler from the fourth dimension in the TARDIS with us," he tells her in lieu of a "good morning." Donna floats in after him, ready for a good show.

Rose's spoon halts in mid air, and she blinks at him in confusion and a little bit of ill-concealed hurt. "We have another traveler with us and you didn't tell me? Did you pick them up while I was asleep last night?"

"No, several weeks back when you went to visit your mum," says the oblivious Doctor.

The spoon lands in her bowl with a splash. "WEEKS!" Rose demands, gripping the kitchen table with fingertips white with tension. "You've had someone on-board for weeks and you didn't think it was something you should tell me?! Who is it? Why have you kept him hidden?" Another idea occurs to Roe, and she looks a little ill. "Or, is it a woman?"

Donna snickers while the Doctor frowns in confusion. "Why would that matter?"

"Is she human? Is she… pretty?" asks Rose, looking down into her cereal so the Doctor won't see how this really upsets her.

"How the hell should I know?" grumbles the Doctor.

"Well, can I meet her? How come I haven't gotten to see her all this time?"

"You probably have," muses the Doctor, scratching behind one ear. "In fact she's probably around here already. Donna, are you here?"

"Yes I am! And girl, have I got some fashion tips for you," interjects Donna, settling onto the chair beside Rose.

Rose looks at the Doctor, confused, and then glances around the room again. "Huh?"

"What do you mean, 'huh'?" asks the Doctor.

"I mean, 'huh, there's no one else here but you and me, Doctor.'"

He sighs, reminded once more how slow on the uptake humans are. "Well of course you can't see her Rose, didn't I just say she's a traveler stuck in the fourth dimension?"

"But what does that even mean?" Rose demands, while Donna leans over carefully and tries to stick her finger in the milk of Rose's cereal.

"It means, Rose," the Doctor says with a roll of his eyes, "that you can't see her or hear her or anything else because her soul is stuck IN THE FOURTH DIMENSION."

Roses frowns at his snippy tone, but a second later her brow clears and she looks a bit gobsmacked. "Wait, are you saying ... a soul ... is this ... do we have a ghost on-board?!"

"I don't believe in ghosts."

"Then how did you find out it was here!?" Rose demands.

"She wrote on my bathroom mirror in the steam."

"OH MY GOD, we do have a ghost!" Rose leaps up from her chair and backs up closer to the Doctor, visions of horror movies circling through her brain. "What does it want?!" she shrieks.

"Boo?" Donna says off-hand, still concerned with trying to dip her finger in the milk. If she concentrates really hard she can make a tiny ripple.

The Doctor looks down curiously at Rose as she latches on to his arm, pressing close. "I think she just wants a place to stay."

"But how do you know?! Maybe it's haunting us — maybe it wants revenge for something!"

The Doctor carefully disengages from Rose's strong grip, takes her shoulders, and settles her back into her seat. "She doesn't want anything and she isn't after revenge. The TARDIS likes her. She's been here for weeks and neither of us knew it. I can sense her every now and then, if I pay attention, but that's it."

At the Doctor's steady tone, Rose relaxes. She starts to look more curious than scared. "Are you sure?"

"Of course I am. I'll try to find this traveler in the TARDIS database, if it will make you feel better, and if she becomes a bother the TARDIS won't let her stay. I promise, I won't let anything happen to you, Rose."

And Rose goes mushy at that, staring at the Doctor with big glistening eyes. "Okay. I trust you. And maybe…maybe it'll be fun having a ghost!"

Donna looks at Rose with a raised brow. Damn, but this girl has it bad. "Yeah, it'll be a barrel of laughs." She abandons her quest for milk domination so she can address Rose earnestly. "Listen, honey, it's not that I'm trying to steal him or anything, but the bloke is simply not for you. You're still young, there are tons of men out there better for you. 'Cos this one, well, he's completely clueless about your feelings, for one. That whole 'I'm smarter than you' tone you let him get away with, when what he needs a good kick in the arse, it's just not a good sign."

"And, second, he's an alien. You remember that part, right?" Donna continues, concerned. "I don't think he really understands you, and you certainly don't understand him. Heck, you don't even know if you're, y'know, compatible." Donna politely points at the Doctor's crotch, just in case Rose isn't getting her drift. Which Rose isn't, obviously, since Rose can't hear her.

"Okay, actually, he is compatible, very compatible – but you don't know that. For all you know he could have ... he could have like a ... I dunno, have you seen the movie Alien? 'Cos he could have that. Down there." Donna adds another helpful indication towards the Doctor's crotch. "How would you feel, if you went in all unprepared, and then," she shoots her arm out suddenly, hand mimicking a biting head. "BAM! Certified biting alien penis. Enough to put you right off sex forever!"

Rose ignores this bit of brilliant advice. Donna sighs loudly and settles her chin on her hand. "But you haven't even thought of that, have you?Because you're young and he is showing you the universe and, heck, you don't know any better yet. And you're just going to keep making goo-goo eyes at him even if he's no good for you, because nobody listens to me anymore." It suddenly makes her really sad to realize this. No one listened to her when she was alive, and now no one can listen to her when she's dead. Nothing ever changes.

She reaches out to brush her ghostly fingers over Rose's eyelashes. "All right, go ahead and keep pining after him. But could you lay back on the mascara, at least?"

Rose brushes her hands over her face, plucking at her eyelashes, feeling like icy cobwebs are clinging to her eyes.

The Doctor recognizes the movement and frowns off into the general space around Rose. "Oi, get your spectral fingers off Rose!"

"OI," says Donna back, insulted at the reprimand. "We were just having a bit of girl chat!" She drifts from her chair and plucks at his ears instead, so that the Doctor bats at the air around him while Rose watches from the table with wide eyes.

"Quit that!"

"I'm not even really touching you! I can't touch anything, do anything! Stop being a big baby," Donna protests.

"You're being a nuisance, and it won't be tolerated," growls out the Doctor. "Stop it!"

"I'm not a nuisance! You stop telling me what to do!" cries Donna, hurt, and pushes him hard on the chest.

The Doctor's face registers some strange emotion as he stumbles back several steps, and his hand comes up to his chest where she pushed him.

Donna stares, and excitement begins to pump through her. "Oh my god, did you feel that? Did I move you?!" squeals Donna. Did she actually affect something other than steam or stupid milk? She's thrilled, and goes to try again, until she realizes that the look on the Doctor's and Rose's faces is fear, not excitement.

Her enthusiasm dies a quick death. Of course they would be scared. She's seen enough horror movies to know better. She's dead and they aren't and this is creepy for them. "Right. No one wants the ghost to get more powerful. Gotcha. Should have never let you know I was here. I just thought maybe... whatever. Nevermind." Resigned, she drifts sadly off to find some long-forgotten room where only the TARDIS, who isn't afraid of her no matter what, will be bothered by her. Where she won't be a nuisance.

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Chapter 3: Chapter 3

Several days pass before it occurs to the Doctor that he hasn't felt Donna's fingers poking his ears. When he realizes this, he casts a suspicious glance around his room, as if he expects her to pop out and shout "Boo!" now that he's noticed she's missing.

The TARDIS grumbles at him, mad at him for some reason, but he decides to worry about that later. First he needs to check that Donna hasn't been off haunting Rose, instead.

Several long hallways later he knocks on Rose's door.

The door is opened very quickly, a breathless, smiling Rose on the threshold. "Doctor! What are you doing here? You've never come to visit at my room befo–"

"Is Donna here?" the Doctor cuts her off, sticking his head inside Rose's room and taking a look around.

"I–" Rose stumbles, caught off guard. "I don't know. Is she supposed to be? How could I tell?" Although she told the Doctor having a ghost might be "fun", she isn't too happy to think she's had an invisible guest all this time. She edges closer to the Doctor.

"Donna," the Doctor calls out. "If you're in here come out this instant. I don't want you bothering Rose!"

There is no sense of some other presence, no rush of displaced air or the feeling of being watched.

"Huh," says the Doctor, pulling on an earlobe. "Guess she isn't here."

"Why would she be?" asks Rose.

"Well she's not in my room, which is where she usually stays. Spies on me in the shower."


"But I haven't felt her in days, not since the kitchen incident," he muses, soundly unaware of Rose sputtering behind him at the revelation he's been sharing his quarters (and showers!) with the female ghost.

The TARDIS, which had been grumbling quietly in the background, increases in volume. A harsh, scolding hiss escapes in a rush of steam from a pipe near his head.

"Oi, watch it!" the Doctor yelps, ducking. "What's your problem!"

Pipes bang in the distance while the Doctor's face twists in insult. "And that's my fault?" he demands, as Rose looks on, baffled.

The vents cough up frigid air, and then rumble to a stop.

"Why should I apologize? She's the one that came on-board without an invitation, and she pushed me!"

Rose scratches her head in confusion at the one-sided conversation.

The TARDIS veers sharply to the right, throwing them against one wall, before hurling them left. Rose ends up on the floor, the Doctor barely catching his balance before he knocks into her.

"Fine!" barks the Doctor, and then reaches down to haul Rose off the floor by the hand. "C'mon Rose, we have to go apologize."

Rose rubs her backside as she stands. "I'm really confused," though she follows along gamely. "Wait, what did I do that I have to apologize?!"

Led by the TARDIS' scolding, the Doctor and Rose find themselves in a long-forgotten attic. It is appropriately creepy, with unknown forms covered in sheets, chipped mirrors leaning drunkenly on walls, and a grand assortment of detritus the Doctor had collected and then promptly forgotten.

The TARDIS has let dust settle thickly on the surfaces – which made no sense, since dust settled in no other room, no matter how disused – but the Doctor thinks that sometimes the TARDIS likes to play with what she considers the proper ambiance.

Even the lighting is dim and shadowy, artificial sunlight filtering down from fake, unnecessarily grimy windows. It is all such a properly textbook spooky attic that the Doctor immediately realizes the TARDIS constructed it for the benefit of their resident "ghost."

Rose quickly lets go of his hand, giving him a definitive shake of the head when he indicates she should precede him. "I'm not going in there," she informs him. "Haunted attic? No thanks, not today. Never been a fan of horror movies."

He rolls his eyes and moves away, stepping inside. He immediately catches the sad feeling of dejection permeating the room and he sighs, feeling guilt creep into him.

"Donna?" he calls into the dark corners.

The air goes preternaturally still, like a child holding their breath in the hopes they won't be discovered during hide and seek.

"C'mon Donna, I know you're in here. Look, I came to say I'm sorry."

He feels a tentative breeze to his right, and follows it to a large broken buffet, its long expanse blanketed in dust. Understanding, he focuses on the dust and sees a single fingerprint appear in the thick layer, before it spreads into words.

"You're afraid of me," loops in the dust in a shaky hand.

"You startled me, is all. Not everyday a traveler from the fourth dimension pushes me around," he explains.

"Not traveler. Ghost. I died. I don't belong anywhere."

The Doctor blinks at this sentence. He still doesn't believe it. More likely Donna thinks she died, as she dissolved within the timestreams, pulled through different dimensions and caught between. Probably a Time Agent, stupid apes that they were, dabbling into what they didn't understand. Either way, it isn't worth arguing about now. Especially when he can feel Donna's words tugging at what he would have sworn were his utterly atrophied heartstrings.

"'Course you do," the Doctor informs her gruffly. "Everybody belongs somewhere." Except for him – he was much like Donna, a traveler stuck without a home, the TARDIS their only refuge as they floated aimlessly. "And the TARDIS can be the place you belong until we find it for you."

There are no more words for a while, until he sees tiny script forming in a corner, the size conveying Donna's embarrassment.

"Sorry I scared you. I was just excited."

The Doctor tugs at his collar, ill at ease with the apology. He's no longer so sure he was the wronged victim in all this, and doesn't like feeling like a bully. He folds his arms firmly over his chest. "Just try to contain yourself in the future."

"I can't touch anything. But I touched you. Why?"

He doesn't know why, and he worries about what that could mean. But for right now he thinks they've had enough of dingy attics, so he ignores the question and covers for the confusion with an impatient noise. "Come on then, let's get out of here so the TARDIS can clean up all this dust. She must have combed the Universe for this much! I'll even let you spy on me in the shower if you stop moping."

He would have missed it if he weren't paying such close attention, a tiny addition to her last sentence.

: )

He smiles and shakes his head at himself as he presumably leads Donna out of the attic to where Rose waits for him. What a silly old life he has, conversing with non-corporeal forms and feeling so oddly pleased at smiley-faces written in dust.

From that moment, Donna becomes a seamless addition to the TARDIS. She and Rose largely ignore each other - Donna correctly guessing that Rose isn't as blase about having "dead people" hanging around - though on occasion Rose complains that she can't find her mascara. Since Donna can't reliably do more than manipulate condensation or dust (and the occasionally angry push, as he knows firsthand) it's far more likely that Donna has looped the TARDIS into her game.

For his part, the Doctor feels Donna's presence a bit more strongly. He theorizes that she's getting a bit of a boost from the energy of the vortex or the TARDIS the longer she stays.

He starts to learn her moods, too. A brush of cool air means she's saying hello. Smiley faces drawn in steamy mirrors means she's amused. Ripples in his tea cup means she's dipping her fingers in it, and makes him wonder if she misses tea. Cobwebs near his face means she's pulling at his ears and wants his attention, or she is simply bored and wants to start a row with him just to amuse herself.

And sometimes he feels her just there…floating…existing just on the edge of his consciousness. Watching the life around her without being able to take part in it. During those times, she feels very distant. Cold, aloof, and isolated.

It's during those particular moments that he starts talking to her. Nonsense, really, about this and that and everything else. But regardless of the topic, he feels her attention sharpen and she always draws closer. Generally it's about his and Rose's latest adventure, other times it's random trivia – like the fascinating mating habits of the Rare Blue Giant Louse from the Andromeda Galaxy. And sometimes, before he realizes it, he tells her things he thought he would never speak of again. Like Gallifrey. His lost family. His endless guilt.

To the Doctor's surprise, he begins to feel less alone, too, in those moments of confession. It's almost comforting to know Donna's there. Listening silently, not offering platitudes or promises. Just listening.

He starts leaving the TARDIS doors open when they're floating in space, so that Donna may have something to look at. He thinks she probably appreciates it. Rose likes it too, and sits with her legs dangling over the edge. He wonders if Donna is sitting beside her, her own legs drifting into nothingness. He imagines how the both of them would look together, laughing and sharing the view - if Rose and Donna would be good friends were Donna not trapped in the state she is.

Only he still doesn't think she's a ghost. In all his long life he's never come across a true ghost – as evidenced by the Gelth – so why would Donna be the only one?

One day he finally builds up the courage to type her name into the database, and only finds two pieces linked to a Donna Noble from the old address in Chiswick, England, 21st century. One is a single line from an Earth news article, listing the fatalities from when the Autons attacked and the Doctor dealt with the Nestene Consciousness. The other is an obituary:

Donna Noble, 1970 - 2005. Beloved daughter of Geoff and Sylvia Noble, and granddaughter to Wilfred Moff. Killed by the invasion of living mannequins while ensuring her family's safety. You will be missed, little general.

He closes the database and doesn't try to find out more. He believes in ghosts now.

During an adventure, the Doctor and Rose meet Captain Jack, and Rose convinces the Doctor to bring him on-board. When the Doctor steps into the TARDIS, followed by the handsome Captain, he immediately feels a rush of excited, cool air pass by him. Moments later, Captain Jack begins to pull at his hair and look around, confused, feeling as if he just walked into a cobweb.

The Doctor advances towards Jack and starts slapping the air around him. "Oi, back off!" he says into the air.

Jack looks at the Doctor as though he has gone insane. "I just got here! You invited me!"

"I'm not talking to you," the Doctor says, voice short, as he smacks air again. "I'm talking to Donna."

"And Donna is?" queries Jack, watching curiously as the Doctor casts a baleful glare at nothing.

"Resident ghost. You know she's trying to touch you when you feel cobwebby things around you. Also, she likes to spy on people in the bath," quips Rose.

Jack only blinks at the mention of a resident ghost, taking it all in a stride. He looks around himself with a charming, dimpled smile. "Is that so? Lovely to meet you, Donna. I have absolutely no problem with you spying on me in the bath. Anytime, sweetheart," calls Jack into the air with a wide smile.

Donna giggles like a school girl. "I will take you up on that offer," Donna promises Jack. "I hope you take lots and lots of showers."

He does, bless his heart.

And for a little while, everything is good, and Donna almost has a family again.

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Chapter 4: Chapter 4

"You're in an awfully chipper mood," observes the Doctor when he feels Donna dance around him, a rush of displaced air marking her movements. "Have you been watching Jack in the shower again?"

"I'd set up camp in there if I could," rhapsodizes Donna while she twirls around, giddy with the remembered sight of hunky naked male. She's bubbling with energy and she thinks perhaps Jack, especially naked Jack, is like ghost crack or something.

But it wasn't even the sight of that wonderfully toned, wet body that made her so happy. It was the way Jack would walk to the console room to announce loudly that he was going to take a shower, then would call for her and cheekily invite her to join him – like she was a real person, like she mattered. The way he kept a rambling conversation going in the steamy bathroom and pretended to answer questions she hadn't really asked. It was the way his laughter echoed off the tiles when Donna amused herself by zooming through the mist of the shower-head, managing to make small whirlwinds of droplets.

He treated her like she were anyone else, not some soppy ghost. And Donna finds it absolutely wonderful that out of all of time and space, she has managed to find two people – the Doctor and Jack – who try to include her as much as possible.

If she finally manages to grow on Rose, too, she will have herself a whole new family.

With this happy thought, she buzzes another quick circle around the Doctor and gives one of his ears a friendly tug. "Anyway, he said he didn't mind. And if a girl can't peek at a gorgeous man when she's a ghost, then when can she, I ask you?"

The Doctor shakes his head in amusement. He can't hear her words, but he can almost sense the tone. He imagines it as bossy and brash and bright, though he doesn't know why he thinks so. "I wouldn't have guessed that 51st century pheromones worked on the non-corporeal. You must be the cleanest ghost in all existence, with how much you've been hanging around Jack during bath-time."

Donna tilts her head, observing how focused the Doctor suddenly seems to be, furiously sonicking a loose screw on the console. "Are you…are you jealous?" she shrieks, delighted. "Are you all sad and sorry I no longer peek at you in the shower? Which I don't because you told me not to go back in there. Jealous, jealous!" she crows, swirling around him in circles. "Are you? Are you? Are you?" she bugs him, poking at his ears with each question.

Jack walks in, hair wet from his most recent shower, to the Doctor batting his hands madly around his head.

"So either the TARDIS developed an infestation of gnats, or Donna is bothering you," Jack observes, fastening a cuff.

The Doctor ends with one last swipe at the air and a "Quit it!" at Donna. He then turns his attention to Jack. "I do wish you would stop encouraging her."

Jack shrugs. "Why? Donna and I get along just fine, don't we sweetheart?" A cobwebby kiss on the cheek is his answer. He grins at the Doctor. "I can't help that I'm adorable."

There's a thump and a curse from far off in the TARDIS – Rose, perhaps, knocking something over. Bubbling with manic energy, Donna shouts, "I'll go check!" and rushes off, buoyed by the TARDIS' rusty laughter.

The Doctor senses her leave and listens to the drifting sounds of the TARDIS, before turning curious eyes to Jack. "Can you feel her, then, Donna? I understand Boe-kind are psychic."

Jack shrugs and settles into the jump seat, one hand slicking over wet hair. "Not really. No more than the odd sensation of walking into cobwebs, the way Rose described. Though every now and then I catch a tiny hint of noise – like static coming from very far off. But I always make a special effort to make any lady feel included, even ghostly ones." He smiles, all dimples and charm. "Would love to see her, though. Bet she's a looker. What do you feel?"

The Doctor decides, out of the kindness of his heart and no small amount of evil glee, not to mention that Donna is actually creepy-looking as hell: nebulous, featureless face and body, with glowing holes for eyes. "I don't feel much more than you. Though I do believe the longer she stays in the TARDIS, the stronger she becomes. I can tell when she's in the room now, and get a sense of her mood. Maybe one day I'll even be able to hear her," he muses, making one last adjustment to the screw.

Jack observes the Doctor with knowing eyes. "It must be lonely for Donna, not being able to interact. I've never actually met a ghost before, and I've been around. How long do you think she'll be able to stay? I mean, she can't just live on the TARDIS forever, can she? No matter what type of boost she gets, she's still not alive. Doesn't she belong somewhere, like the 'great beyond' or something?"

"I don't know, Jack. Where do our souls go when we die? Even the Time Lords didn't have an answer to that one. We thought we returned to the universe as energy but here Donna is, proving that there is something that remains.

"Yet if there is someplace we are supposed to go when we die, then why was Donna able to stay here? Does that place, wherever she is supposed to be, want her back? Or is staying here, absorbing the vortex, turning her into something that won't be accepted when she's finally ready to go?" the Doctor finishes quietly, voicing his frequent fears.

Their conversation comes to an abrupt halt when a swirl of energy enters the room once more, accompanied by a fuming Rose.

"Doctor, you have to make her stop!" demands Rose, waving a handful of mascara wands.

The Doctor senses Donna take refuge behind his back. The TARDIS is giggling, and he doesn't doubt Donna is, too. "Make who stop what?" the Doctor plays innocent.

"Donna! Make Donna stop stealing my mascara! All I've got left are wands with no bottles. I hid my new ones in a cupboard and practically killed myself climbing up there, to find only the wands left!"

"I didn't do it, I was having a shower with Jack!" proclaims Donna grandly.

Right on cue, Jack pipes up for her. "Donna was in the shower with me, I'm pretty sure."

Rose gapes. "And none of you have a problem with a ghost in your shower?!" she shrieks.

Jack saunters to her and swings an arm over Rose's shoulder, pulling her into his side and giving her a wink. Rose squeaks, mascara wands dropping from her limp fingers, while the Doctor watches impassively.

"Don't be jealous, darling. You can join me in the shower anytime, too."

Rose turns bright, bright red at that, casting uncertain glances the Doctor's way.

For his part, the Doctor merely rolls his eyes at Jack. "Ease up, Jack. You're going to short-circuit her brain if you keep pumping out so many pheromones."

"Ooooooh, Rose!" Donna abandons her hiding place behind the Doctor, to fly up to Rose with equal parts excitement and envy. "This is where you're supposed to take Jack up on his offer, because seriously, you do not want to miss out on that! Oh please please please, do this for the both of us. I won't watch. I mean, I'll hardly watch. Actually, doesn't matter, you won't know if I watch or not."

Jack is grinning at the Doctor. "And you don't have to feel left out, either, Doc. You may also join me in the shower whenever you like."

Rose's mouth drops open in shock, the Doctor rolls his eyes again like he was expecting the offer, and Donna floats to the ceiling in surprised glee.

"OH. MY. GAWD. Okay, I'd definitely be watching that. In fact, I'd get the TARDIS to record it," Donna informs everyone firmly, in case they were in doubt. So what if they can't hear her, she wants it known just in case.

But any further discussion on shower partners ends as the TARDIS thunks to a halt.

"Ah, here we are. If everyone is quite done, let's get going," says the Doctor

As they trek to the door, Rose turns around a gives a final glare around the room. "I'm not forgetting the mascara incident! This isn't over!"

"You bet," quips Donna. "I will have a list of 10 reasons for why you should totally get over your crush on the Doctor and jump Jack's bones instead. Number one is: LOOK AT HIM. I'll have another 9 for you when you return. Be excited!"

She floats with them to the door, imagining what it would be like to actually get to leave with them, experience whatever adventure they're heading off to. But she knows she can't, and that's okay, because she gets to wave to her new budding family as they file out the door, and it makes her happy even if they can't see her.

Afterward, she heads to the Doctor's room to wait in its soothing blue confines. And waits. And waits some more.

Hours later, they still are not back..

When Rose finally returns, alone and frantic, Donna feels her life (well, afterlife) is about to crumble.

"I don't understand," cries Donna, trying futilely to stop Rose. "You're hurting her! What are you doing?!"

Rose tightens the chains wrapped around the TARDIS console once more, deaf to Donna – as everyone always has been.

She runs back outside and gets into the tow truck, revving the engine, and all Donna can do is look on uselessly from the open front doors. "Stop it!"

The chains tighten and pull, and the TARDIS gives a long, unhappy groan.

Donna rushes back to the console. "Just do it. Giver her what she wants before you break!" she begs the TARDIS.

The TARIDS warbles at her, warning of consequences Donna doesn't quite understand. All Donna cares about is that the TARDIS is in pain, and the Doctor is lost. "She wants to go back and pick up the Doctor and Jack, right? That's good! Just….." Donna swallows. The TARDIS is her friend, and the closest thing to belonging she will ever find – but she doesn't understand the motivations behind even a tiny percentage of the TARDIS' actions, like why she would let Rose try to pry her open.

"I'll help," throws in Donna, recklessly. She doesn't know quite what she'd be helping with, but she figures it must be something pretty important if the TARDIS won't just open up, let Rose do whatever she's trying to do, and rescue the Doctor. "Let Rose go back and I'll help with whatever you need," Donna promises again.

The TARDIS pauses in her clanking before giving one last inquisitive groan. Rose is rushing back inside just as a panel by the console gives an ominous cliiick and begins to open.

Rose, who was sure of failing once more, watches with eyes wide in hope and surprise. Gold energy begins to stream from the panel, floating towards Rose.

"Oh. Oh, that …probably won't be good," observes Donna.

It's when she sees the gold stream into Rose – through her eyes and mouth and nose and ears – that she really starts to wonder what she's just promised. Alarmingly, the more gold that flows into Rose, the more Donna feels an undeniable pull towards the blond. Rose has become her own center of gravity, pulling Donna in like a black hole

Donna reaches out to the console, frantic fingers plucking at levers and wrapping around anything she can find. But her link to the TARDIS is utterly broken, and it's like trying to grasp anything else now as her fingers reach straight through. She can start to feel her non-corporeal edges dissolve, her anchor totally lost.

She has no choice but to let the invisible current tow her closer and closer to Rose, until she's staring at her from centimeters away and then…

Where is she?!

Everything feels weird. And heavy. And wrong.

And oh, so right.

There's mass to her, and the luxury of feeling bones and muscles and a body standing solidly on the ground. She's looking out of strange eyes, swirls of gold in her vision, but by god she's alive.

Donna is lost in the beautiful pleasure of feeling a heartbeat in her chest, of drawing breath into lungs, so it takes her a moment to notice she's moving.

Her feet are marching without her permission, and she sees unfamiliar soft white hands waving over levers before she realizes, with sick understanding, that she's not alive. She's in Rose, inhabiting her body like an unwilling virus.

It scares her, scares her more than how wonderful it feels to have hands and eyes and feet and feel cloth against her skin. She can't control anything that Rose is doing. And now that she's aware where she is, she starts to sense how full it seems inside her head, like whispers and screaming and singing, all at the edge of hearing. It takes only a little bit of focus to recognize that the singing is the TARDIS. The whisper is something new that seems to look at Donna and say, "I am the Bad Wolf."

And the screaming is Rose. Poor Rose who had no idea what she was asking for when she opened up the TARDIS.

Well, neither did Donna.

Now a final wave of Rose's hand sends them hurtling back where they came from, Rose's feet steady and sure during flight in a way they have never been before. The TARDIS lands smoothly, soundlessly, without a single quiver.

Rose or the TARDIS or this "Bad Wolf" carries them all through the door. The sight that greets them breaks Donna's heart, that of the Doctor facing off against an improbable army of pepper pots. The look on his face is resigned, almost calm, but as the pepper pots exclaim and he turns his head to see what the fuss is about, his face blanches with terror at the sight of Rose.

"Rose…what did you do?!" he gasps.

"I am the Bad Wolf…" come the words out of their lips. Donna loses the rest of the sentences as she feels engulfed in light, Rose pulling from the power of the TARDIS to make sweeping changes in the cosmos.

That screaming that Donna has identified as the "true" Rose is getting louder and louder in her head, hurting Donna's brain. The Doctor is begging Rose, the Bad Wolf, to stop, but Donna understands that Rose is caught up in the overwhelming power of the TARDIS and can't – maybe even doesn't want – to let go. Donna can actually feel it burning through Rose's body like a cancer, and Rose is wrapped up in it, unable to see a way out.

So what are you going to do about it, silly girl? Donna berates herself. You have to do something! The TARDIS must have known you could help someway, or she wouldn't have accepted your offer!

But what can she do? She's was ever just a temp, and now a dead one at that!

Except that right now she's in this body, trapped with a burning Rose. And for one horrible moment, one truly evil instant, Donna wonders what will happen if Rose burns. If Rose burns, could Donna perhaps stay? Could Donna inhabit the empty places Rose's soul left as she burned away, and steal this body for her own? To feel again, to touch, to breathe and laugh and have people see her and listen and be alive.

Donna kills the thought as quickly as she acknowledges it lurking in the back of her mind. Because Rose is sweet and naive and so young still, so caught up in the romance of life that she thinks everything is one big game. But she's maturing, and given enough time and the wonderful experiences the Doctor has given her, she could become someone truly brilliant.

This is Rose's time, Rose's life, and Donna…Donna's time is over.

"Let it go," Donna shouts loudly in Rose's brain, for want of any other ideas. It's the only thing that occurs to her, and one thing that Donna's always been able to do: shout. "It's enough!" she screams into the maelstrom of energies.

A thought flits through her mind, in Rose's broken voice, "I can't. I can't find a way out."

"I will help you," promises Donna. "Follow my voice. Stop using the power – it doesn't belong to you anyway – and just follow my voice."

"...Donna?" Rose's thoughts falter, the TARDIS' energy slipping slightly from her grasp.

"Yes! Yeah, sweetheart, it's me. You don't want to be a ghost like ol' dead Donna now, do you? You can't go adventuring with the Doctor if you do! You have to let it all go."

She continues to cajole and berate and occasionally sass at Rose until, with a sigh, Rose forces her hold on the power free. The gold that had overpowered her vision clears enough for Donna to see the Doctor approaching them carefully, grasping her (wait, no, Rose's) head in his large, gentle hands.

And kissing her.

Oh, Donna hasn't been kissed in a very long time. Hasn't felt lips and warmth and another person's touch on her in ages. And though she knows the Doctor isn't kissing her, it still feels as though he is. It feels wonderful. If Donna could, she'd wrap her arms around him and hold him tight and not let go.

Even if it's not really a kiss, but the Doctor's own brand of a cure, as he slowly pulls the TARDIS' energy within himself.

Donna feels the last golden tendrils wrapped around Rose like a puppeteer unravel. She feels the pressure of the Doctor's lips against hers begin to fade away as Donna's soul once again is pulled along, a leaf caught in a river, at the mercy of currents she can't control.

She loses the feeling in her hands, in her feet, the lovely novelty of mass, until she's an amorphous nothing once more.

For one quick moment, she wonders if she'll be pulled into the Doctor this time, and won't that be interesting…

But she smacks into what feels like a solid barrier, letting her go no farther. He's a Time Lord, after all, and perhaps his brain is already too full to hold a ghost, or he can protect himself against possessions. Donna reels at the impact for a moment before quickly gripping the Doctor's arm, anchoring herself to him now that she's back in ghost form. And so she has a front row view of him taking the last drop of energy, of catching an unconscious Rose in his arms, and him opening eyes that now glow a brilliant gold with pilfered TARDIS energy.

To her shock, he turns his head to where she floats, gripping his arm. Those golden eyes widen, and the Doctor smiles with delight. "Is that you, Donna?"

Donna stares. He's looking right at her! "Doctor?" she says, tentatively.

The Doctor's smile stretches even wider, if that's possible, like it will split his face in two. "Look at you! You are beautiful!" he says.

Donna's non-existent heart leaps in her throat. Hope builds to staggering heights. "You–you can see m–" she starts to say, right when the Doctor closes his eyes for one long moment, his face twisting in pain.

When he opens them again, they are blue and normal, and he looks right through her as if she's no longer there. His brow furrows in confusion, like he can't quite recall what he was looking at.

"Doctor?" Donna whispers. She whispers it because if he doesn't turn to look at her again, she can fool herself into thinking it's because she wasn't loud enough for him to hear her.

He doesn't turn to look at her again.

Instead, he picks Rose up and strides to the TARDIS; Donna is towed in after him once more by her grip on his arm.

And she doesn't care what anyone else would say; she's not crying, 'cuz ghosts don't have tear ducts, anyway.

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Chapter 5: Chapter 5

Inside the TARDIS, Donna is unable to link back to the ship. There's simply nothing there to hold her together; the TARDIS is no more than coral walls and endless space. Donna keeps an iron grip on the Doctor's arm as he tows her around unknowingly, an invisible afterthought caught to his sleeve.

She's trying very hard not to think about that one brilliant moment of being seen, of being acknowledged. It would have been too good to be true, anyway. So instead she fills her mind with unimportant questions, like why for some reason the Doctor makes such a good anchor. Most probably because he's an alien fancy pants Time Lord or something. If that's the case, Donna's glad that' she's the only ghost who seems to have discovered him; otherwise she'd be sharing her armhold with a bazillion other ghosties.

And that thought brings her to Jack. Because as much as she'd like to demand where Jack is, the fact that he isn't with them is answer enough. He must be dead, and already on his way to wherever souls were supposed to go. Which is okay – Donna tells herself firmly – though she thinks Jack would have made a fabulous ghost. They would have had so much fun, haunting the TARDIS together! He could have been….he could have been a true partner, someone who saw her and heard her and understood her. And for one warped instant, Donna is jealous. Furiously, insanely jealous. Jealous that Jack was able to move on to where he must truly belong, where he would find peace or reconnect with all his loved ones. Jealous that he wasn't stuck trying to fool himself into thinking there was any rhyme or reason to keep clinging to a world that didn't acknowledge his exisence.

If only she weren't so stubborn (scared), Donna wonders if she'll get a chance to meet Jack again one day, in that place where souls go to rest.

She shakes those thoughts off as the Doctor sets Rose down. Rose is coming to, finding her feet and looking around blearily.

"You need to step back, Rose."

Rose does, fearful of what's next, though she does so reluctantly.

Donna does not. She's dead anyway, what does it matter, and she has nothing else to hold on to.

He presses a complicated configuration of buttons, finally pulling an impressive-looking lever. Donna hears the familiar click of a panel opening, the same one that once contained the heart of the TARDIS.

The Doctor stumbles back, dragging Donna with him in his drunken weave.

He starts making a speech. Donna tunes out most of it, too busy looking at his face, and how his skin seems to glow from within. She reaches up with one hand to touch, drawn to it somehow.

The Doctor startles mid-speech, a hand raising to cover where she touched him. "Donna, was that you? Are you next to me?"

"Yeah," she says, then tugs his ear for good measure.

He grins in her direction. "Not sure you're gonna have such fantastic ears to pull in a bit," he tells her, as the glowing intensifies.

Rose is sobbing in the background, but Donna is not afraid for the Doctor. Who better than she knows what death truly is? And the Doctor is simply so full of life; if he can cheat death with this "regeneration" thing, what does it matter? As long as he can continue to have his wonderful adventures with the TARDIS, everything else is cosmetic.

Of course, Donna's blase attitude only lasts until the Doctor explodes like a bloody Roman candle, and Donna gets a faceful of magic fairy sparkles or whatever the fuck it is. And, quite frankly, she wasn't expecting the resurrection of Tinker Bell.

A brighter set of golden tendrils escape from him, swimming lazily back to the TARDIS: the energy Rose stole, being returned back to the ship. As more flows away from the Doctor, Donna experiments by putting one uncertain foot down on the floor. Sure enough, she feels her connection to the ship click back into place.

She could let go of the Doctor now, but she doesn't. Donna's always been too curious for her own good. It's fascinating watching up close as his features seem to melt under all that light, reforming into something else.

Except, suddenly, the energy backlash hits her like a subatomic wave. It moves straight through her, a gut-twisting sensation, like it's trying to take her in and rewrite her and put her back together again in a different order.

It's horrible. Worse than that time she and Nerys drank a bottle of absinthe. Worse than dying. If it weren't for the fact that she hasn't eaten anything in over two years and is, more importantly, already dead, Donna is sure she would have vomited all over herself. As it is, she can't guarantee that she isn't going to spew ectoplasm (if there is such a thing as ghost vomit). She makes very sure to face the Doctor, just in case. Because if she is going to vomit, it's going to be on his stupid face, for not taking the time to warn his resident ghost that maybe she should step back, too.

And in that moment she realizes she's looking into completely different eyes. A completely different face. Straight into brown eyes under new hair – so much hair – and yes, the big ears are gone.

"Blimey," she breathes, shocked.

The new Doctor blinks at her. "Hello!"

She blinks back. "Wait, you can see m…"

He falters a bit, concentration broken. "O– new teeth, that's weird…"

Rose makes a strangled, funny sounding noise from where she stands holding on to a coral strut. The Doctor's gaze swivels to her, dazed, crazed smile on a young new face. "Where was I?! Barcelona!"

He pounces forward and starts hitting levers as if he never paused to have a bit of an inconvenient regeneration, swimming in a black leather jacket that no longer fits him.

Rose stares from her safe location, several feet away. Donna glares, from her own location, rooted to the spot where he was standing before. "You bloody tease!" she shouts. "Can you see me or can't you? Because I'm kind of getting sick of guessing!"

And for one improbable moment, Donna and Rose are completely united in their mistrust of this strange new Doctor.

In the midst of disjointed babble, it becomes clear that the Doctor is taking Rose home. Rose sits on the jump seat, unusually quiet. Donna floats high in the coral rafters, miffed, glaring down at the top of this new Doctor's head. Gosh, he really does have a lot of hair, doesn't he? All kinds of fluffy and soft looking and…

And that's not the point! The point is she's giving him the silent treatment – even if he doesn't know it. Because she was SURE he saw her before he regenerated, and she was SURE he saw her right after, but now he's acting like he never did and instead of sad she's just angry. Is he having her on? Was is "play a joke on the your resident ghost" day? And if not, what the hell is going on!

They land with a jolt. Barely a second has passed before the Doctor runs for the doors with the faulty energy of a child who's had too much sugar. Rose wanders out after him, cautiously, and finally the TARDIS and Donna are alone once more.

Donna turns to the glowing column of energy beside her. "I'm not so sure I approve," she sniffs.

The TARDIS keeps a smug silence.

But a day later, Donna's ire has evaporated. She floats from room to room in worried circles. Where are the Doctor and Rose?

She just lost Jack, she can't lose the Doctor! She doesn't care that he has a new Martian face or how fluffly that hair might be, she just wants him back!

Hours later and he's till not back. Donna's trying to distract herself by pressing interesting shapes in the grass of the TARDIS garden when she hears the main doors open and slam shut. She rushes through floors and walls and ceilings to reach the main control room, flying at top speed.

"Wait, what's going on? Where's the Doctor?" demands Donna as Rose barges inside, going straight to her room to throw things willy-nilly into a bag. Rose looks worried and frightened, which causes even more anxiety to creep up Donna's spine.

"Rose, talk to me. Rose. Rose!" Donna plucks at Rose's hands, trying to still her movements.

Rose brushes the cold feeling from her hands, casting an annoyed look around the room. "Is that you, Donna? I don't have time for this! Stop trying to touch me!"

"Just tell me where the Doctor is! Is everything okay?" begs Donna. The TARDIS echoes her concern with an inquisitive groan.

Donna glances up at the ceiling. "I don't know what's going on! He changed, and hasn't come back. And he didn't look altogether in tip top shape. Why isn't he back? What should I do?"

The TARDIS creaks back at her, an answer Donna knew all along, but one that petrifies her.

"I'm afraid," she admits to the TARDIS. "What if I float away? I'm safe here, with you."

The TARDIS chides her with a clanging of pipes. Rose finishes packing, zipping up the large bag with decisive movements before leaving her bedroom and heading towards the control room. Donna floats behind her indecisively, hovering as Rose pauses by the TARDIS doors just long enough to shrug on her coat.

The TARDIS gives another harsh creak, a final warning. Donna gathers her courage and resolutely grabs on to Rose's hood. Rose steps through the doors, unknowingly carrying Donna with her, and Donna feels the security of her connection to the TARDIS break. She's free from her anchor, and now it's only her grip on Rose that keeps her from dispersing into space. It's her only chance to get to the Doctor.

But her grip on Rose is slippery, like she's trying to hold on to water.

In a panic, she realizes it's because she has no real connection to the girl, not at all the way she was able to securely hold on to the Doctor when she left her home in Chiswick. And when she "rode" on Rose the last time, Rose was infused with the heart of the TARDIS, literally taking the TARDIS with her – and Donna's connection along with it.

She feels the air rip at her, tiny pieces of herself ready to float away. She tries to bury herself within Rose, reaching through skin and flesh for heart and bone in a poor approximation of possession. It barely buys her any purchase; if they don't get to their destination soon, she'll be lost.

They enter a small flat. Rose abandons her bag on a couch, so Donna assumes this is their final destination. Donna breathes a sigh of relief and carefully reaches out to a wall with the intent of anchoring herself.

Nothing happens. The room refuses to hold her.

Terrified, she grabs for Rose again just as Rose moves to go farther into the flat. Donna is crying in fear as her tenuous hold slips and slides along Rose's arm. She can't hold on for much longer, and then she's going to float away and be lost!

Even worse, without an anchor something deep inside tells her she won't get to go to wherever her Gran is, or her best friend who died when they were seven, or to Jack's never-ending party in the sky. She will simply cease to exist, because if she had belonged in the afterlife she wouldn't have been left stuck here on Earth to begin with.

Donna's grip slides from Rose for the final time right as they enter a bedroom.

And there, in the middle of a bed, is a sleeping Doctor.

With a will born of desperation, Donna propels herself to him. Her hands reach him, grip him, hold. Secure and true. All her edges coalesce and hold firm so she's whole once more.

"Oh thank god, bless you, you stupid spaceman!" she cries in relief. She'd kiss him if she could, but he's unconscious and that's just creepy. Instead, to show her appreciation, she makes a grab for an ear to pull. But they really are boring normal ears now. So she grabs a handful of hair and pulls that, instead.

The Doctor grumbles in his sleep, and Donna laughs. Rose and her mother stop their conversation to look down at him.

Donna has only had a little bit of time to snuggle in close, making herself at home in the Doctor's bed, when a Christmas tree attacks.

to be continued

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Chapter 6: Chapter 6

Donna's enjoying feeling "connected" again, no longer worrying about being pulled into the ether, and quite curious to get a good close-up look at the Doctor.

Rose and her mum step out and close the bedroom door behind them, completely unaware of the new house-guest Rose has brought along. Donna hears voices outside the bedroom, ignores them, ignores everything but the interesting face in front of her, relaxed in sleep. She'd been close up when he'd changed, but the shock at the entire process had kept her from appreciating the new face. After, she'd been too wary and upset to get close, but now…

He's got freckles! So many freckles. She used to have freckles. Oh, she misses freckles!

She shifts her hold on him, finally noticing his clothes. "You weren't wearing that before," she muses, touching the sleeve of his stripey pajamas. "Who changed you into them? Oh ho ho - was it Roooooose?" she teases. "Oooh, that's gonna be trouble."

Even with the crooked nose, he's handsome. In a different way than his other face. Younger, less stress lines around the forehead.

It's nice, being alone with him for a little while. She's gotten so used to sharing the quiet times with him, the old him at least. When he would talk to her about everything and explain what he was tinkering with. It was very rare that he would sleep, though. So rare that she's proud of herself for braving the loss of the safety of the TARDIS to come watch over him. Pleased at herself, Donna takes a moment to fancy herself a guardian angel, all selfless and magical instead of dead and invisible. Maybe this is why she isn't able to pass on? Maybe this is her purpose.

She resolves to keep watch seriously from now on. No more teasing and wise-cracking, just supportive and kind like a proper angel would act.

With new determination, she takes a firmer hold of his arm, hovering protectively.

She waits. Stares a little at his face. His eyelashes are long, but the very tips are pale. Some mascara and eyeliner would probably look great on him, she muses. Surely guardian angels are supposed to give makeup tips? She could have the TARDIS drop off all of Rose's stolen mascara bottles in the Doctor's bathroom, as a helpful hint.

She waits some more. Sets her hands on his chest to measure the odd disjointed beats. Tries to gather enough energy to style all that new hair appropriately and judges her success. He looks more like a scared rooster now instead of an electrocution victim, so she considers that a win.

He sleeps.

She counts the freckles on his nose.

He keeps sleeping.

Donna huffs and bats around at dust motes.

Why didn't anyone mention that being a guardian angel is boring as fuck?

The screaming and thundering of feet outside the bedroom door breaks up the monotony just as she was pondering changing his crazed-rooster hair into a mohawk.

Donna scampers (unnecessarily, in fact, but it's no fun to feel people trample through her) to the Doctor's other side as Rose and her mum and a boy all pile inside the small bedroom. They slam the door shut on what appears to be a rampaging… surely it's not…No! Is it?!

"That is a Christmas tree," Donna informs everyone and no one, just in case Rose and her mum and that nice young chap she's never seen before - all screaming in fear as the wayward bit of Christmas cheer tries to cut through the bedroom door - haven't noticed.

"That. Is. A. Flippin'. Christmas. Tree." Donna reiterates.

Rose stumbles to the Doctor's bedside, begging gently for him to wake up. She grabs the sonic, sticks it in the Doctor's lax hand.

"You're doing it all wrong," Donna tells Rose, and slaps her hands sharply on the Doctor's cheeks. "OI," she hollers, "THERE IS A FLIPPIN' CHRISTMAS TREE ON THE ATTACK!"

The Doctor's brow furrows, and he murmurs unintelligibly. Rose redoubles her efforts to wake him. She leans in close and whispers sweetly, "Help me."

But Donna looms closer, snags his hair, and shouts. "WAKE THE FUCK UP OR EVERYONE'S GOING TO DIE."

She's just about to qualify that statement with a quick "except for me," when he bolts upright in bed, wide awake, staring at nothing. "But I don't know if I'm ginger yet," he warbles, his hand going up to tentatively touch where Donna is "gripping" his hair.

Thankfully, he focuses on the homicidal tree, points the sonic, and easy peasy it falls silent. Just a sad, wilting piece of Christmas frippery once more.

"Why don't you just teach your 'companions' how to use that?" whines Donna, hooked to the Doctor's sleeve. "You'd save on so many theatrics.".

"There's 6401 settings and 3290 subsettings. They'd never know which to use." The Doctor swings into motion again, kicking off the covers and racing down the hall, so startingly quick that Donna imagines little cartoon "yoink!" noises being made as she's dragged along behind him.

They pile onto the walkway overlooking the street and a trio of Santas.

Creepy Santas are creepy. "Yikes! What the fuck are those?" Donna asks. "See, this is why I don't like Christmas."

"Pilotfish," hisses the Doctor, raising his sonic imperiously as the Santas back away and then - to Donna's delight - disappear in a proper alien-like beam. The Doctor starts rambling about something or other. Donna has a bad habit of tuning out during the exposition, but can you blame her? She's outside! Seeing new stuff like disappearing aliens, with no threat of floating away, the Doctor serving as her nice stable anchor.

As the Doctor complains and says he was woken too early, Donna gets a good look at Rose's young male friend. Oh, isn't he a cutie! So much better suited for Rose, too, in Donna's opinion. Not that anyone's had the good sense to ask her.

Donna's attention is dragged away when the Doctor vomits up more gold sparkles, and faints dead away again. " Seriously?" complains Donna. "Are you wearing a corset or somethin' under those pjs? You're worse than a maiden aunt in a romance novel."

And that's the end of her getting to explore outside, since the Doctor is hauled up by his motley crew and taken back to the TARDIS.

She and the Doctor are back in the TARDIS. There's probably super interesting alien events going on outside but no, she's stuck in here while the Doctor lays about like a bloody sleeping beauty. Rose's mum dropped off a thermos of tea and everyone marched off to save the world while she, ghostly Donna, is left behind to stare some more at a sleeping Doctor.

"I renounce being your guardian angel," proclaims Donna to an unconscious Doctor. "It's not nearly as exciting as I thought it would be."

The TARDIS makes a chiding little creak at her and Donna's lips turn down in a guilty frown.

"I know. I know it's not his fault. It's just, I feel so useless!" she despairs, and kicks out at the thermos on the floor.

It tips over, fragrant tea spilling out and through the grated floor.

"Oops." Donna grimaces and casts a quick look at the TARDIS console, embarrassed at making a mess. That's gonna suck to clean up. Did the TARDIS notice? If they get ants, Donna's gonna be in so much trouble!

She's huddled down to peer into the grating, watching the tea drip onto what looks like pretty important wires, when the Doctor suddenly sits up with a great gasping breath.

"AAACK!" screams Donna, startled, and flies back.

The Doctor takes another deep breath, looks around wildly until he spots the thermos, and then chugs what's left in the container. Finished, he runs out of the TARDIS with nary a bye-your-leave..

Quiet reigns for a moment.

"Er…yeah, that was my plan all along," Donna informs the TARDIS.

Presumably, the Doctor and Rose do something heroic, judging by the Doctor's swagger as they re-enter the TARDIS much later. The Doctor is waving a rapier about, making grand gestures and looking smug.

"And what time do you call this, then?" nags Donna, channeling her mother's frostiest tones. She's been worrying for ages!

Of course, she's ignored. The Doctor and Rose begin to have a somewhat serious discussion about this new face of his, and how he can't change back even if she wanted him to. Donna's seen the way Rose has eyed this Doctor's arse, so she can't imagine Rose wants him to change back that badly. Overall, Donna's getting rather bored by the pretense of it all, so she floats to Doctor and snags his (depressingly normal) ear. "She's not that upset; stop humoring her."

"The change can be difficult for some to adjust to," the Doctor explains.

"She likes your tight bum and your new fancy hair. Don't worry so much about it," Donna advises.

"Really, Donna, you can't simplify a change as complicated as a regeneration into a 'tight bum and fancy hair'," he chides.

"You can if you're a 19-year old, horn-" Donna freezes, her brain processing what he just said. Did he just…?!

"You can hear me!" she shrieks.

The Doctor jumps, grimacing. "Of course I can, you're shouting right in my ear!"

"No, Doctor…YOU CAN HEAR me!"

"I just said I cou-" that mobile face contorts in shock, before a wide smile flashes across it. "I can! I can hear you perfectly. I've been hearing you. ROSE, I can hear Donna!"

"I was kind of figuring that out," says Rose.

"Can you hear her?" he turns to Rose, excited.

"No. Not a thing,"

The Doctor frowns, until he registers the cold sensation on his ear, and an idea forms. "Maybe it's tactile. Donna, go touch Rose."

"Uh, I don't really like being touched by ghosts - no offense - so I'd rather…Oh, okay, here we go, then," shivers Rose as Donna grabs Rose's cheek despite her protests, and the familiar cobwebby feeling settles over Rose.

"You really only need two coats of mascara, and you should always wash your face before bed," intones Donna.

Rose stares off at the Doctor, bemused and silent.

"Anything?" queries the Doctor.

"Nope. Just…cobwebs and cold and I…I really don't like it, please let go now Donna."

Donna does so, crestfallen.

"Hmmmm. I didn't hear anything either. Which at least answers my question about proximity and-"

"But you can hear me, right!?" demands Donna, latched back onto the Doctor's arm. He recoils at the volume of it.

"There you are! Yes, I can hear you."

Donna grasps desperately tighter. "Loud and clear, right?"

"As a whistle."

"You can hear me?" whispers Donna once more, this time soft and tremulous.

"Yes Donna," the Doctor replies slowly. Understanding, deep and caring, settles in the Doctor's eyes as he gazes at where he thinks she stands. "You are heard."

She doesn't stop talking. Sentences string together with no rhyme or reason. She moves from his collar to his arm to his shoulder, a flurry of words following in the Doctor's wake as he moves within the dressing room.

And Donna doesn't plan to stop talking. She tells him about her family, about how she was a temp, about how her death interrupted a budding romance with a man named Lance. She rattles on about her favorite rooms in the TARDIS, insults how he takes his tea, recommends he wear eyeliner, and in general goes on …and on…and on.

She figures the Doctor tuned her out ages ago. She would have tuned him out after the first 5 minutes. But she hasn't had a person listen to her in ages, and she can't seem to shut her gob.

"And then the TARDIS said-"

The Doctor pauses in the midst of wrapping a huge scarf around himself. "The TARDIS talks to you?"

Donna pauses at the realization that he has, in fact, been listening. Something a bit warm and embarrassing blooms in her heart at that. She counters it with a brash, "What, doesn't she talk to you? Maybe if you didn't hit her with a mallet she wouldn't give you the silent treatment."

The Doctor grins at his reflection. "Oh, she talks to me. I just never knew she could talk to anyone else. What does she sound like to you?"

Donna swirls away to peek at a nearby stack of shoes. "I dunno, like - like bells and whispers and creaks that somehow make sense."

The Doctor frowns around him. "Did you let go? You can't let go, Donna."

Donna rolls her eyes at herself. It's easy to forget. She comes back and latches on to his shoulder. "This is going to be awkward when you go to the loo," she declares.

He whirls, forgetting he can't actually see her. "You are still not allowed to follow me into the loo! No showers!"

In direct contradiction to his "no showers" rule, he seems to have no qualms about standing in font of her in just his pants, turning this way and that in front of a grand mirror as he admires his new form. "Now at least make yourself useful and help me pick something out."

She's happy to help. And based on what he's tried on so far, he needs it! She zooms in and out of clothing racks, taking pleasure in watching the clothing flutter in her wake.

The Doctor slides on an orange jumpsuit that looks distressingly like he may have escaped prison. He glances at a swaying rack of clothing from the corner of his eye, while buckling a sparkly belt around his slim waist. "What do you think?"

She returns so she can thump him upside the head. They both watch his hair ruffle slightly. "There's your answer," she says, inordinately proud of her enhanced "powers." If you can call ruffling hair and disturbing clothing a power, anyway.

The Doctor grabs a truly awful coat from a rack, and proceeds to slip his arms through it. "Oooh, I like this one! Old favorite," he preens.

"No," says Donna unequivocally, and starts to pull at his collar.

A kind of awkward tug of war ensues, with the Doctor trying to smooth the collar flat, and it immediately rumpling out of shape as invisible hands try to pluck it away. With a sigh, he gives up and discards it.

"Happy now?"


"Then what do you suggest, since you seem to consider yourself an expert," he grouches at her, sounding so much like his old self that Donna smiles.

"Pretty much anything but that horrible coat," she says, and zooms to a rack she recently disturbed. She finds the item she likes, concentrates, and pushes all her energy at the garment. It swings widely, out of line with the rest of the clothing.

"Pinstripes?" queries the Doctor, surprised. "All right, I'll try it. Mind, I'm just humoring you."

Of course, a minute later he's back to preening, pleased with the slim lines of the tailored suit. He smooths his hair back, unused to having quite so much of it after his last self. He strikes a pose. He does look…quite dapper, doesn't he?

"Nope," disagrees Donna, as though she can sense when he's feeling too pleased with himself. She concentrates and then pulls his hair all at once, so it stands on end like a ruffled chicken once more.

"Donna!" the Doctor pats it back down but Donna likes these new skills she has somehow picked up - she likes them very, very much. So she grins evilly and pulls his hair up again.

"You look like an evil lawyer when you wear it back," she complains, keeping a firm hold on his hair.

"I do not! I look distinguished."

"Do too. In fact, you're one tie-pin away from resembling aHarry Potter villain. Trust me, you want your hair to stick up. All the kids are doing it."

"Well, when you put it that way. I am on the young side this time, aren't I? At my prime!" He primps a bit more.

"Oh, gawd. You turned up vain. Vainer. Just what we all needed," mutters Donna.

The Doctor harrumphs at Donna, and makes a few final adjustments. Content, he saunters out, new clothes and new hair and new attitude.

Donna watches him go with a fond smile, before looking around at the mess he's left behind. So many interesting outfits in this huge space. She itches to try them on, to actually feel the fabric beneath her hands, not just the dulled down impression she experiences. Even if she's able to move more things now, it still feels like she's touching everything through glass.

She doesn't want to miss Rose's reaction to the newly-suited Doctor, but she does take one last moment to peer into the large mirror the Doctor was using before. There's nothing there, of course. She still doesn't cast a reflection. And she's starting to forget what she looks like. Is that a bad sign?

Her good mood lags for a moment, but then she reminds herself of all she has gained: a true voice and a bit more control over her environment. And it's so much more than she had just a day ago. And maybe the Doctor did see her, for a little bit, those two times. Perhaps one day he'll be able to see her again.

Maybe one day she'll be able to see herself.

to be continued

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Chapter 7: Chapter 7

Life and haunting fall into a pattern for those aboard the TARDIS.

For Rose, this means traveling to unknown worlds/times and getting to know this new Doctor. He's different. In all good ways. He's younger and he laughs with her (not quite so much as at her like his previous version). He's so much more carefree and he seems to really see her. She loved him as he was before but, well, now he's flirting back, finally, and that's a great sign! And then there was that kiss on New Earth ... even if it was Cassandra leading everything, it must count for something! Everything would be perfect if it weren't for the fact that the TARDIS is haunted. That's just creepy, no matter what the Doctor or the TARDIS thinks.

For the Doctor, it means getting used to his new teeth. And his hair! Oh, he likes the hair; it gives Donna something to grab on to now that the ears are normal-sized. This face is better at hiding things, too. It's a useful skill. People focus on his looks and don't see what's really behind his eyes. It works on everyone, it seems, except Donna. But since Donna follows him like a shadow when he's in the TARDIS - his constant invisible companion - there's no use trying to fool her with a smile and a twinkle.

And for Donna, it means living vicariously through the Doctor's and Rose's adventures. Every day she waits breathlessly (literally) for them to return. He always acts delighted to spend time recounting their daring-do, always running into the TARDIS and shouting out "Don-na! You won't believe what just happened!"

That's Donna's cue to swoop in to grab his hair so he can hear her. She eggs him on by calling him a filthy liar and accusing him of exaggerating. All with sly undertones because she knows the Doctor will redouble his efforts to convince her that yes, the Face of Boe is a giant head in a jar! and then she says noooo, get out, really?! That's insane! Oh my gawd, tell me more. And he does, on and on, gleefully, until Rose rolls her eyes and leaves the console room because it's no fun listening to a one-sided conversation.

Donna is more content than she has been for a long time. To be acknowledged, to be able to chat and argue and shout and whine and laugh and be heard is such a novel concept that she rarely lets go of the Doctor. But, secretly, Donna fears the Doctor is bound to get tired of her pestering him. She tries her best not to patter on endlessly. Somewhere in the back of her mind she still hears her mother's voice, "How you go on so, Donna. Always so loud. No man likes a nag." It's stupid and silly and she knows it; after all, she's dead, there's really no point worrying about her mother's antiquated advice at this point.

Most importantly, the Doctor doesn't seem to mind her chatter. He never tells her to let go, is always open to answering her questions or recounting funny stories or waxing poetic about bananas or just whatever - god, he likes to talk as much as she does, more even!

Donna is such a constant presence that it gets to the point where Rose knows whether Donna is around or not by how wild the Doctor's hair looks at any given point. The messier it is means Donna is hanging on. Which is, like, all the time, Rose feels. It's like she never gets time alone with him in the TARDIS!

Rose finally questions him one day when his hair looks a bit more tamed, and takes a chance that Donna isn't around. "Isn't it weird, having her follow you everywhere? Always around?"

The Doctor pauses, a banana half-way to his mouth. "Who?" he questions, blinking at her.

"Donna," Rose says in a low voice, still managing to roll her eyes at the stupid question. "The ghost haunting us!"

The Doctor smiles benignly, choosing to ignore the eye roll. "Not really," shrugs the Doctor, tidily finishing his bite and tucking the peel into his pocket, for some unknown future reason. "It's not unlike being psychically linked with someone at most times. Donna's like a voice in my ear, like the TARDIS." He gets a strange, longing look on his face at that, making Rose think he actually enjoys never having a moment's peace. "We Time Lords all used to be connected like that, once."

His face clears and he gets back to the topic at hand. "But weird? Naaaah. I've been 'round the universe a few times. Seen heaps of weirder things."

"Yeah, but this is a, a dead person, following you around. It's not natural. You said the dead stay dead. That they need to stay dead," and there's a bit of accusation in her voice, redolent of watching her father die, which the Doctor chooses to ignore as well.

"Donna, well...I don't quite know what Donna is, to be honest. And yes, the dead do indeed tend to stay that way, and even a Time Lord can't change that. So, usually I would say there are no such things as ghosts," he explains. "But I have no other definition for what she could be and yet, here Donna is, and quite chummy with the TARDIS too, who should know better."

Rose thinks that the Doctor should know better, too.

But the Doctor continues to smile at Rose, all charm and good cheer as he expounds. "And isn't that wonderful? It means she's special. In the whole wide universe that I know, never seen anything quite like Donna. And what are the odds that she would cross our path - out of all the billions of billions of people at any given time?! That's just plain lucky!"

"Lucky" isn't quite what Rose would call it. Creepy. Odd. Mood-killing, she stresses to herself as she watches the Doctor's hair suddenly spike up, ruffled by invisible hands. Her private time with the Doctor is officially over.

"What'd I miss?" asks Donna, done with her daily chore of inspecting Rose's room for new bottles of mascara. She had latched on to the Doctor's hair without a second thought, only belatedly realizing that Rose looks particularly serious and that she seems to have halted a private conversation.

"Errrr, am I interrupting something?" queries Donna.

"Nothing at all," denies the Doctor, and then he asks Rose where she'd like to go today, and the conversation is officially put to rest.

He doesn't fool Donna one bit, based on Rose's downcast eyes and furrowed brow. Had Rose finally come right out and proclaimed her crush?!

The other Doctor -- her big-eared Doctor (and boy, does she miss those ears, although the new hair kind of makes up for it)-- would have brusquely brushed Rose off. But now Donna observes curiously. Because the Doctor said preferences and personality could shift after a "regeneration". Where the Doctor she'd first met had treated Rose like an exotic pet - his attitude more than a bit superior, a bit dismissive, completely clueless - this version was hyper, irreverent, and much more touchy-feely than the last. This Doctor is flirty.

And Rose is absolutely flippin' delighted.

Donna wonders as she watches things develop. It's not impossible, after all. Rose is adorable, fun and easy, and genuinely head over heels with the Doctor in the way that only those in the throes of first love can be.

Thus Donna resolves to keep her opinions to herself...until she realizes that, oh god, the Doctor is actually, innocently just flirty. And still completely clueless. His hugs and smiles and compliments are no more serious than his previous grumbles and insults and sass. It's simply how he is. It means nothing, and Rose has no idea.

She still manages to hold back, though, until after a particularly aggravating evening of watching the Doctor obliviously push and pull at Rose, and watching Rose growing equally more infatuated/frustrated. Donna decides enough is enough, and it's time to step in and give the Doctor a clue.

She waits for a moment of privacy with the Doctor. Then makes the cardinal mistake, however, of saying, quite seriously, "Doctor, I have something very important to talk to you about."

He gets the oddest look of panic on his face at the idea of a serious conversation, and suddenly the Doctor is saying "Can't talk now, Donna!" when he's never, not once, said that before. He decides he wants to have another adventure. And shouldn't he and Rose watch a movie in the library? And Rose, let's go get take out. Oh, time for a spring cleaning, I absolutely need your help in the control room, Rose! Oh, Rose, do you really have to go sleep now - aww, that's too bad.

All this sudden constant attention exacerbates the problem of Rose's infatuation, but after a whirlwind day even Rose needs time to herself, to shower and nap after all the activity.

The Doctor announces he also needs a shower, and casts out a stern "Don't follow me, Donna, we have a deal!" before locking himself in his bathroom. Like a lock does anything against a ghost, silly man. And like she hasn't seen her share of penises. Even alien ones! But she promised, so she waits in his room and twiddles her thumbs, angry at herself over how badly she underestimated the Doctor's aversion to talking about his feelings.

He finally slinks out, diving into his bed with a loud "Oh, I should finally sleep, it's about that time!" and he resolutely closes his eyes and begins to snore.

Donna frowns and floats over his stupid lying face. She pokes the tip of his nose. "Doctor."

He snores louder.

"Doctor! I know you've been avoiding being alone to talk to me."

He turns over and buries his head in his pillow.

"You're a horrible faker. I know you can hear me!" she says again, pulling on his hair.

He pulls the covers over his head.

Donna rolls her eyes and allows herself to sink through the covers to snuggle next to him on the bed. She places a spectral hand on the back of his neck and breathes a chilly, creepy "Oooh, this is cozy, innit?" into his ear.

She trails her fingers up his neck in a very convincing impression of a spider wearing ice cubes for shoes.

The Doctor sits upright with a grumble, pushing the covers down. "All right, fine," he sighs, sounding defeated. "You win. Lay it on me."

Donna cackles in triumph before settling comfortably beside him, the wispy touch of her hand over his. "You're such a ninny. What're you so freaked out about, anyway?"

"I understand, Donna, it isn't going to hurt my feelings," he hugs his legs, resting his chin on his knees and looking for all the world like a big kid who's bravely about to give up his favorite teddy bear. "Always knew this day would come."

Donna cocks her head. Has he really been dreading hearing her opinion about this whole Rose mess so badly? "Well, jeez. It's not the end of the world! I mean, you just gotta let her down easy, if that's what you're gonna do. Or, you know, put out already if you really do mean all that flirting."

It's the Doctor's turn to look confused. "Wait, what? Flirting? Put out what for whom? What?"

"Errr," Donna looks around herself like she may have missed another teenage companion somehow. "Rose?"

"Rose!" exclaims the Doctor, eyebrows pinging upward in realization. "You want to talk to me about Rose!"

"Yeah, duh. Who else am I–"

"I thought you wanted to talk about you!"

Donna flies back, shocked. "WHAT!" she shrieks, before realizing he can't hear her anymore. She zooms back close, grabs his hair, screams in his face, "WHAT!"

He recoils at that. "Ow."

"Listen here, Spaceman. I don't know what kind of kinky stuff you Time Lords are into — and, okay, so maybe I started it when I sneaked into your shower — but I'm dead here, if you haven't realized it. Just because I can sorta touch you doesn't mean I'm going to be your invisible happy hands, and you better get your big-haired head out of that gutter if you know what's–"

"No! I–" and he's laughing now at her, the git! "Not like that! I thought you wanted to talk to me about you! Leaving the TARDIS!"

Donna chokes mid rant, feeling pain clench around a heart that hasn't beat in years. "Y-You want me gone? Did I do something wrong? But, where would I go? I don't have anywhere else to…" she stumbles over her panic. She lets go of his hair. She knew she'd been following him around too much, and that sooner or later he'd get sick of her. Her mother was right, as always.

The Doctor flings hands out about himself, trying to catch a hold of her before she drifts too far away. "No, Donna, come back," he urges. "Come on. Here." He puts out his hand, palm up, and Donna slowly floats back to lay one cautious fingertip on his palm. "Of course, I don't want you gone," assures the Doctor. "I thought you were ready to move on, and that's what you've been wanting to talk to me about."

"I," begins Donna, but shuts her mouth in dread, at finally admitting this to both the Doctor and herself. A gentle prod from the TARDIS has her marshalling courage to whisper to the Doctor, "Something went wrong. I don't think there's anywhere else for me. There's no white light, no 'other side' waiting for me. I'll just disappear."

The Doctor closes his hand over her fingers, almost as if he would hold her hand if he could. He can't, but Donna appreciates the gesture anyway.

"That can't be right. I've seen so many things Donna — so many wonderful, strange things — there must be a place where you belong. It doesn't just end in nothing for you."

What if the TARDIS is the final place where she belongs? Donna wonders. "But I can stay here, with you, until then? You won't kick me out?"

The Doctor smiles a blinding smile in her general direction, and she can't help but grin back. "'Course you can. As long as you like. Forever, if you wanted to."

If Donna were a soppy ghost, this would be where she would throw her arms around him and hug him as hard as she can, relieved tears dripping from her eyes.

Donna is not a soppy ghost, but since the Doctor can't feel her arms or see her tears, there's absolutely no one to say whether she does this or not, anyway.


It's only later, after she and the Doctor have started a spirited discussion as to whether mousse or gel is a better choice for his hair — his apparent need for sleep forgotten — that Donna remembers what the whole point of their discussion was.

"Rose!" she exclaims suddenly. "We were supposed to talk about this problem you've got with Rose!"

The Doctor steps away from the vanity where he has 13 different types of hair products, and a jar of slime carefully extracted from the endangered giant snails of Ichoronimous-X.

"I have a problem with Rose?" he asks, distracted, turning his head back and forth to admire the spiked hairdo caused by the slime.

Donna claps both hands down hard over his head. The hair flattens. The Doctor frowns.

"Yes. You're a big flirt."

He scoffs at that, and tries to pull his hair back into place though her ghostly palms hold it down (and how does she do that? There's no weight to her! It baffles him.) "I'm not a flirt. I'm friendly!"

"You told her you imprinted on her like a duckling;I heard her going on about it!" she accuses.

"She's the first person I saw when I regenerated," he explains. "Can't help it, it's a regeneration side-effect." His brow furrows a bit as something niggles at his brain, deeply buried. Blue eyes with golden starbursts swim in his memory before fading. "'Least, I think she's the first person I saw. It's kind of all blurry. Anyway, what does that have to do with it?"

Donna huffs in frustration, pleased to see the air move enough to ruffle his hair. "For her, it's practically a declaration of love!"

He blinks at his reflection. "That's not what I meant at all!"

"Well, I know that, you plum. So what are you going to do about it?"

"Do I have to do anything about it?" he whines. "Things are working out lovely between us all. Why disturb anything?"

How like a bloke, Donna sighs. "You're leading her on with your smiles and the hand-holding and 'ooh, let me take you someplace special' stuff," she informs the Doctor. "On Earth, many construe that as flirting. Might not mean anything to you, but she's a bazillion years younger than you and doesn't know better. You've gotta clear things up. Or maybe you decide you do like her that way. Either way, clear the air or put out, 'coz the girl's gonna get carpal tunnel if you keep acting like you do."

The Doctor tries to work out the connection between unrequited love and repetitive motion injuries. He really does; he's a genius, he can figure it out.

Absolutely nothing comes to mind. "What does that have anything to do with anything?" he has to ask. "Rose doesn't type."

Donna breaks into loud guffaws. "Oh, bless! You're adorable."

"What? I don't get it!"

Donna dissolves into further hysterics.


"Wa–wa–wanking!" she wheezes out. "I meant wanking. It's a miracle she hasn't broken something."

"Oh! Donna!" he shrieks, as scandalized as possible. He bats at the arm she's holding. "Stop it! No!"

"Doctor?" calls Rose tentatively from the other side of the door.

The Doctor pales, looking around him pleadingly as Donna hoots with glee.

Solid knocks fall on the door as Rose calls out again, and the Doctor facepalms before heading to the door.

"Oh, oh this is perfect!" Donna enthuses, hugging herself in glee, before following the Doctor. She hooks her chin over his shoulder, radiating amused curiosity at him.

He opens the door to a flush-faced Rose, who gives him a thorough once-over, from his striped-pajama trousers to his mismatched paisley jacket. Donna snorts in his ear.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't...I didn't know you were going to bed, too. But I couldn't sleep," she smiles winsomely, bright white teeth in a scrubbed clean face. "No matter what I tried!"

"Wanking. That means wanking again," helpfully supplies Donna to the Doctor.

He makes a sharp brushing off motion over his shoulder, which would have smartly clipped Donna on the nose if she had a body to speak of.

"Of course you can't sleep; not with the entirety of time and space out there waiting for us! In a mood for an adventure?" he offers.

Rose's smile widens. "Always!" and she offers her hand.

The Doctor takes it, resolutely.

Donna giggles, leaning in with a sly "I wouldn't touch that hand if I were you."

And absolutely can't stop laughing when the Doctor instinctively pulls his hand back and looks mortified.


Mickey comes on board almost immediately after.

New guests on the TARDIS are always a welcome change for Donna, so she's really very excited.

"No, Donna! No peeking in on Mickey!"

"But he's cute!"

"He's a child!"

"He's older than her! She's a child!" cries Donna, indignant, pointing at Rose, and though the Doctor can't see her gesture there's only one person she can be talking about.

"And I don't peek at Rose in the shower! Just like you will not be spying on Mickey."

"It's completely different! You're ANCIENT"

"And you're dead."

"Oh, gonna throw that in my face now, are you. Everytime you lose an argument, it's going to be 'well, you're dead!'."

"I'm not losing this argument! I can't believe I'm even having this argument with y-"

"What is going on?" whispers Mickey to Rose, watching the Doctor lose his marbles and hold a conversation with no one. "And what's this about peeking at you in the shower?!"

"No, no. That's just Donna," sighs Rose, with a roll of her eyes. "C'mon, let's go to the galley. They'll be arguing for a while."

"Who's Donna?"

"Just the ghost."


Ultimately, it is generally agreed upon that Donna won't join Mickey in the shower. But whether or not she's allowed to peek at Mickey, he's a doll. Donna approves.

Donna makes it a point not to enter Rose's room anymore, not after floating in on an enlightening view of Rose and Mickey in bed. Though this means that she can't participate in her weekly mascara-cleaning ritual, the loss is overshadowed by knowing that at least she doesn't have to worry about Rose's wrist health anymore.

The Doctor, of course, will never admit that bringing Mickey along has anything to do with the conversation he and Donna had about Rose, but that doesn't stop Donna and the TARDIS from radiating smug "I told you so" vibes his way.

And so everyone wins, for a while.

to be continued

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Chapter 8: Chapter 8

The bummer of it is, Mickey doesn't like her.

Rose's reticence has rubbed off on him. In the short time he's been onboard, it isn't uncommon for him to look around himself suspiciously when alone. (Donna hadn't helped matters by writing a friendly, misty "Right behind you!" at him last time he looked in a mirror.)

Donna isn't one to have to have everyone like her, but it just seems unfair that she can't even make an honest effort to win someone over.

And so, in a bit of harmless pique, Donna has decided to spend the day draped over Mickey's shoulders like a cape. It amuses her as he tows her around unknowingly. Because hey, when you're dead you take your entertainment where you can.

Rose calls out to Mickey from somewhere in the depths of the TARDIS and he speeds up his pace. Donna allows herself to billow behind him and keeps up an unheard monologue on how he really shouldn't be so closed-minded and should give resident ghosts a chance. It's only funnier when he shudders with a sudden chill — but he's too new to the TARDIS to realize he's personally being haunted. Seems like Rose and the Doctor had forgotten to mention the very important tidbit of what it actually felt like to have Donna cling on. To Donna's delight, he hasn't caught on that, as he peers cautiously into a dark corner, she's actually fluttering right behind him, clipped to his shoulders.

Mickey arrives at the library where the Doctor is helpfully piling books into Rose's arms. The Doctor looks up at his entrance just in time to catch Mickey brush at his shoulder and give in to an all-body shudder.

"Oh, there you are! I've been wondering where you've been!"

Mickey is shyly pleased that the Doctor seems so glad to see him. "Oh, well, I was exploring the—"

The Doctor looks a bit startled that Mickey is speaking to him, before brushing him off with a wave of his hand, "Oh, no, Rickey Mickety Mick, I wasn't talking to you."

Donna abandons Mickey and rushes over to clap a freezing hand over the Doctor's lips. "You hush - don't ruin my fun!"

"Haven't heard from you almost all day," wonders the Doctor, rudely ignoring that Donna is covering his mouth. "Thought you were off stealing Rose's mascara again. "

"I knew it!" yells Rose, at the same time that Donna protests, "I haven't…lately!"

Mickey realizes to whom the Doctor is speaking and he takes a few hurried steps back. "Oh god, the ghost is here, isn't it?"

Donna gives a resigned little sigh. "I'm not an 'it'. See, you scared him. I didn't want him to know," she mourns, draping herself over the Doctor much as she had over Mickey. "He doesn't like me, you know."

The Doctor pats his shoulder in consolation, correctly guessing her hand is there. "Nonsense! Of course he likes you. You like Donna, don't you, Mickey?"

Rose is suddenly fascinated by the top volume on Sock Styles of the 27th Clom Dynasty. She buries her nose deeper in the first few pages as Mickey hems and haws. a bit wild 'round the eyes. "Err, yeah! Ghosts — cool and not terrifying at all! Nothing bad ever happens from having dead people floating around."

Donna wilts over the Doctor, a gloomy shroud. The fact that there is no wry retort from her means that she's actually hurt. The Doctor frowns thunderously at Mickey before forcing out a, "See! One big happy family. All right, let's focus on Clom. Lovely cheerful Clom with the largest-ever amusement park. They have a roller coaster that drops 1000 feet. 1000 feet! 305 meters, it's a marvel more malfunctions haven't happened. We're likely due for one any day. Mickey, we'll make sure you get to go on that first! Now, Rose has the volume on…"

Donna drifts away, a little metaphorical black cloud, leaving them to it. She shouldn't care that Mickey doesn't like her. Shouldn't care that they get to go to Clom without her. She has more than enough, here on the TARDIS.

But she does care, more and more every day. She sinks down through the floor, to hide in the depths of the ship even the Doctor doesn't know about.

The Doctor senses her go as he scans the room under furrowed brows.

They don't make it to Clom, surprise surprise. They end up in an abandoned spaceship, and Rose and Mickey are almost harvested for parts.

Rose would be angrier about this if the the Doctor didn't look so exhausted. Hollow. And cold. Colder than Rose has ever seen him.

She and Mickey trail after him through the dead ship, both silent. She wracks her brain for the right thing to say and, finding nothing, can only follow his bowed back.

He veers away suddenly, dips into a corridor, and emerges leading Arthur, the horse placidly clip-clopping behind him.

"I thought I said 'no' to the horse," Rose teases, glad for an opportunity to break the quiet.

She expects another quip about Mickey, but the Doctor drifts past her towards the TARDIS doors. "Donna will like him. It's no good to feel alone."

Rose has even less to say to that.

"YOU GOT ME A PONY!" Donna shrieks, upon being presented with her gift.

She's twirling around the doctor like a streamer in the wind, too excited to settle, though a fingertip drifts over his shoulders so he can hear her delight.

Arthur's ear swivel back and his dark, liquid eyes track her movement.

Donna squeals. She flies forward, back and around Arthur, amazed as the horse shimmies nervously, head swiveling to track her. "YOU GOT ME A PSYCHIC PONY!" she amends, in an even more ear-piercing volume, forcing the Doctor to stick a finger in the ear she shouted in.

"Is he?" he queries.

"Yes, he can see me!" enthuses Donna, and swoops right round to hug her new horse. In her glee she misjudges, passes right through Arthur. The horse neighs uncomfortably, but Donna comes in for a second try, managing to throw her arms around his neck, cooing.

Arthur shies back a bit before figuring she can't do much harm, and settles back to nose at the Doctor's pockets.

After an adequate amount of telling Arthur how he's the most handsome, smartest, nicest, most gifted horse in the whole wide universe, Donna seems satisfied.

"Come along, Milo!" Donna urges, one hand on the horse's ear and one on the Doctor.

"His name's Arthur," corrects the Doctor.


"Arthur," he reiterates.

"Harry Plodder!" she exclaims.

"Arth— okay, I like that one."

Mickey and Rose hang well back, watching Doctor and Horse being led away by invisible hands.

"So, he got the ghost a horse," observes Mickey.

"Seems like," nods Rose.

"Nobody finds that weird."

"I find it weird," mutters Rose.

"Where do you think they're going?" Mickey wants to know.

"Wherever Donna wants them to go, I suspect."

"Damn, it somehow got creepier," shivers Mickey.

"I agree," sighs Rose. She's not scared of Donna anymore, and hasn't been for a very long time. But it doesn't seem right to her that the Doctor is so attached to someone who is dead. That can't possibly be healthy.

They follow at a distance, until they come to a fork that veers away from wherever horse and ghost and Time Lord are heading. Their presence, or lack thereof, is completely unnoticed by either Donna or the Doctor, as Donna focuses on coming up with increasingly ridiculous names for Arthur, and the Doctor focuses on Donna's joy.

Rose glances back, once, and sees the Doctor turn to argue with Donna, a smile on his face. First smile since they left Madame de Pompadour behind.

The TARDIS has constructed a lush green field for Arthur — or Harry Plodder, depending whom you ask — with a quaint, cheerful stable at one end. Off in the green grass he sees the horse step high in a spirited dance with an unseen friend. The Doctor imagines Donna swooping in and out between the horse's legs, or clinging to his back when Arthur takes off on a gallop into the distance, wheeling about and returning, to bow is head and accept a ghostly pat to the head.

Some days have passed now since Arthur's arrival, and the Doctor's been spending a lot of his time out here in the field, watching (picturing) Donna play with her new horse. The country sun beats overhead and the heat relaxes the tension in his shoulders, making a rainy funeral procession in Renaissance France seem far away indeed.

Rustling beside him has him opening his eyes to see Rose settling comfortably on the grass at his side.

"It looks like he's dancing!" laughs Rose, gazing off at Arthur, who's back to performing high-spirited side-steps.

He smiles, happy to share in her laughter, and leans back on his elbows, legs crossing at the ankle.

They sit in companionable silence for a bit, before he thinks to ask, "Where's Mickey?"

"He didn't want to come out here when Donna's here. That is her playing with Arthur, right?"

"I think she's training him," grins the Doctor. "For what, I'm not quite sure."

Rose digests this information, glances sideways at him and observes his fond gaze, settled on a horse and its invisible trainer. She says, very carefully, "Doctor. I'm worried about you."

The Doctor turns surprised eyes at her. "Whyever for?"

"Y—you seem to and Donna...You seem to spend too much time with Donna."

The Doctor looks away. "Who else does she have, after all, to interact with?"

Rose makes a frustrated sound. "I don't know. The TARDIS? Her new horse? Doctor…Donna's dead. Is it really safe to get so attached? I don't think she's meant to be here."

The Doctor's silence is heavy, and when he finally turns back to Rose, she shrinks back at the alienness of his gaze. "Dear child," he says, and his voice drops its cheerful pretense to sound deep and mysterious as an ancient ocean, too old for a besotted Rose to comprehend. It makes her feel very small and inconsequential. "None of you are meant to be here. All of you leave."

"No," chokes out Rose. "I can stay here with you. I want to. Forever."

"Your forever is a blink of an eye to me, Rose. A beat of my hearts," he reminds her, not unkindly. "Humans aren't meant to have more. And one day you'll want to live out your version of forever with someone who can share it with you."

Rose's eyes are blurry with tears, at the reminder of her mortality. At his unwillingness to even try. Even if she doesn't understand the depths of him now, she could grow to. Can't he be willing to play in the shallows with her until she can?

"But you think a ghost can give you your kind of forever?"

The Doctor pretends to not see her tears, just as Rose pretends to not hear the resolve in his voice. "I think Donna belongs…belongs in the TARDIS perhaps more than anyone else. She is someone who has nothing left to lose, staying here with me."

"And I do?"

"Oh Rose. Yes. Your whole life. Your family. Your world. The future, brilliant you."

"I don't care about those things! I care about you! Don't you care about me?"

It's a strike to his hearts, how naive she is. When he'd give anything, anything, to have his family, and the future of Gallifrey, back.

But it's clear from her tear-streaked face that this isn't what Rose wants to hear right now and, besides, the Doctor doesn't want to continue this conversation.

He's loved all his companions — perhaps not in the manner some wanted to be loved — but he loved them in his own way, nonetheless. Few times he'd been tempted to try for something more, Reinette being the latest. She'd waited for him for a lifetime, when he'd popped in and out of her life just a few minutes at a time. And in the end, when he'd turned right around and walked through that fireplace to go back to her…he had ended up watching her funeral procession instead. Her life had been spent forever waiting.

Oh how brief their lives were. A handful of minutes. A walk through a fireplace. Mayflies.

Rose continues to wait for his answer, chin trembling and more tears welling in her eyes. These children, always so willing to wait and waste their precious minutes on him.

He has no answer for her that will please her, so instead he pats her hand and eases to his feet, saying nothing. All the tension the sunny field had eased has returned. He walks away from her and towards a dancing horse and a playful ghost.

He's a few strides to the homely stable, where he can see Arthur munching on some feed, when an unexpected voice makes him jump.

"We should get him a friend," Donna muses, suddenly at his ear.


"Sure, Arthur," responds Donna, a wry edge to her voice.

"You're his friend," he points out, quietly.

"I'm dead," she says flatly. "He needs another horse around so he can have horse conversations about horse things."

"Horse conversations," repeats the Doctor, bone dry.

"Yeah, you know. Things only another horse would appreciate. Horses he can have horse adventures with."

The Doctor has the sneaking suspicion they aren't talking about Arthur at all.

"You're being ridiculous," he declares, and proceeds into the stable.

"I'm being ridiculous," scoffs Donna, a faint whisper to his left, but leaves it at that, and so he's grateful.

He breathes in the scent of fresh hay and clean horse. His converse sink into the hay strewn on the floor and he rocks back and forth, enjoying the crunch.

Arthur lifts his head and eyes him from his open stall, as though saying What are you doing all the way over there, and not over here paying attention to me.

"Go pet him, you big lump, don't be rude!" admonishes Donna. He does so, stepping up to stroke the horse's silky mane. Arthur gives him a regal nod, as though it's his due. "Tell him it's from me," Donna commands.

"What, the petting?" the Doctor asks, incredulous.

"Yes the petting! I can't really touch him, you know. I want him to know I would pet him if I could."

The Doctor rolls his eyes and brings up his other hand, stroking the horse's forehead as well. "That's from Donna," he intones dutifully. Arthur doesn't seem to care less, but Donna is pleased.

"Okay, now give him that apple in your pocket."

He doesn't know how she knows he's carrying an apple in his left trouser pocket, and doesn't quite want to ask. That apple's been in there for a good 15 years.

But he fishes the apple out, as fresh as the day he plucked it from a king's banquet table, and offers it to the horse.

"Wait! Tell him it's from me, too!"

"It's my apple," the Doctor grumbles, then informs the horse, "This is from Donna, too." Arthur delicately lips the apple from his hand and butts the Doctor with his nose once in a quick thanks.

"See, even though they were both from me, he's thanking you for it," murmurs Donna.

The Doctor wipes his hand on his trouser leg and leans back against the wall, watching Arthur return to his oats. "He's just a horse, Donna."

"He's a horse who appreciates someone who can touch him and give him the things he needs to be happy."

The Doctor tips his head back in resignation, a dull thunk resounding as it rests against the wooden wall. "Oh Rassilon, this isn't about Arthur is it. You heard my conversation with Rose."

Donna's presence is a bit of cold air against his shoulder, a tentative grasp of spectral fingers against his own. "Rose wasn't wrong, Doctor."

"About what? Wanting to stay here with me forever? You're the one who pointed out she wants more from me than I can give her, Donna."

"No, no. About me being just a ghost."

"You're not 'just' anything Donna! You're unique — in the whole wide Universe I've never —"

"But I am just a ghost. Dead. My time is over and, but for some quirk or delay in the afterlife processing center, I'm here," she cuts him off ruthlessly.

"But you like it here, Donna. You said you wanted to stay," his tone is almost pleading.

"I love it here in the TARDIS, and being your friend. I never thought I'd get to talk to anyone ever again. But I don't know why I'm here, or how long I'll be allowed to stay. And besides you need…you'll always need someone to see and touch and share biscuits with and plan adventures with. If not Rose because she wants to get into your precious skinny trousers, then someone who'll just be your mate."

"I do have companions, Donna. I've always had them," he reminds her brusquely.

"And yet you never let them too close. You'd rather spend your free time with me. And don't get me wrong, I lov— I really appreciate it — but you need more."

She adds quietly, a whisper of winter breeze on his cheek, "You need someone to pet your forehead and feed you apples."

He smiles in response, but it's a sad quirk of lips. "I prefer bananas."

Donna pinches his arm, though he feels little more than a brush of cobwebs against his wrist. "Just think on it," she commands, and is suddenly gone — with the Doctor none the wiser how much that conversation had cost her — floating away from him and leaving him alone with a horse who eyes his other pocket in case he's hiding more apples.

He does think on it.

They travel to an alternate universe, and Mickey turns out to be so much more brave than the Doctor ever gave him credit for. After leaving Mickey behind to take on a new mantle, he's down one companion in the TARDIS. Rose begins demanding more of his attention once more.

So he thinks about how often he left Rose and Mickey alone to their own devices so he could go talk to Donna instead. Thinks about how used he's become to feeling her hover over his bed, watchful on those rare times when he gives in to sleep, or a welcome distraction when he needs conversation in the wake of nightmares. Thinks about how he's come to expect the feeling of a ghostly hand in his hair. Thinks about the pleasure he feels when the TARDIS sometimes giggles for no reason, and he knows it's because Donna is joking around with the only other being who is truly aware of her.

Thinks about that evening he spent slowly turning the pages of books Donna picked out, because she couldn't turn the pages herself. He had no interest in The Viking and the Maiden, but it was either that or read aloud to her and she'd burst out laughing the first time he'd said "turgid manhood".

Thinks about how much he'd enjoyed that evening — and how he had no clue what Rose had been doing in the meanwhile.

And then he thinks about Rose.

Rose, who pulled him out of a bitter darkness; a breath of carefree air when he'd needed it most.

Whom he, in turn, had plucked out of a boring life, barely past adolescence and with no real experience in the world. And of course she'd been dazzled by him — it's what he'd wanted, what he'd needed after only seeing a monster when he looked in the mirror. So what had he really expected, in the end, for her to feel for him?

Rose, who never said no to any of his most harebrained ideas, and was only too willing to follow him into disaster for a joke and the promise a good time.

With each successive adventure it's become clearer to him, as he abandons Rose once more upon returning to the TARDIS, that Rose and Donna are both right. He'd rather spend time with Donna when in the TARDIS, but he depends too much on Rose's hero worship to bolster him through each horrible decision he makes. It's not fair to Rose, and likely keeping her from becoming the wonderful, independent person he glimpses slumbering within her.

He needs a companion who will temper his growing overconfidence, an equal, and one who he can share with openly on the TARDIS without fear of them wanting more than he can give.

But he's not ready to let go of Rose; even if it's for her own good. She's like a comfortable security blanket that he's yet unwilling to discard. And after all, he argues with Donna, suitable companions are hard to find.

Donna argues back that he should have a candid talk with Rose, explain how he really feels and let Rose decide her own future.

The very idea of that type of conversation makes him break out in hives.

Soon, he thinks to himself, next time Rose gives him a toothy smile and links hands with him before they take off running. Soon.

Until the choice is taken out of everyone's hands.

"I lost her, Donna. She was so brave," he sobs, clinging to the console.

The TARDIS is glowing a muted green, mirroring the Doctor's distress. Donna had had no time to figure out what had happened, only that the Doctor had tumbled, distraught, through the door. "What? Rose?! She — she died?" Donna whispers, clutching his shoulder.

The question seems to give him strength, and he sniffs before straightening. "No. No, she's okay. In the alternate world, with Mickey and her mum and her dad. She's fine."

"Oh. but that's — that's good, right?" ventures Donna, haltingly.

The Doctor nods. Donna watches him struggle for composure. "She's fine. She'll be fine," he repeats to himself.

He turns away, giving all appearance of being in control once more, until he spies the cheap purple jacket slung carelessly over a rail. He freezes. Donna frets, following as he slowly makes his way to the jacket. When he touches the imitation leather, his features crumble.

"I just wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to lose her yet. I lose them all. I've lost so many." He grips the jacket, knuckles white with the force, and Donna wishes — not for the first time — that she could truly hold his hand.

"And I never told her," the Doctor continues, shoulders shaking, "I was going to. I thought I had time! Tell her how much she helped me. She was silly and young and brave and I needed that after…after the Time War."

Because she never saw your faults, thinks Donna. Which would have been terribly unhealthy for both of them in the long run. The Doctor's inability to return Rose's feelings would also have certainly soured the relationship as time passed. But the Doctor knew all this already, and had procrastinated in facing the issue — in telling Rose what she really meant to him and giving her the choice to lead her life as she thought best. How awful he must feel now.

There's nothing she can say to comfort him, no way to even offer him the warmth of a hug. Donna slides away from him and up to the TARDIS' central column, hugging it tight as it pulses consolingly at Donna and the Doctor.

She watches the Doctor grieve and feels as useless as ever.

In the end, the Doctor decides he needs closure. A chance to tell Rose how much she had helped him, the chance to wish her happiness. He'd lost companions before without getting an opportunity to do so, but this time he has a plan.

It's a stupid plan, Donna thinks, if she knew anything about how tearful confessions went, but well, no one had asked her.

So here they are, Donna watching a breaking Rose standing upon a windy beach. The Doctor's sad attempt at well-wishing devolves into a lecture on the dangers of hopping dimensions. Donna scratches her head in confusion. Where are all the "you were a wonderful companion, top notch; I wish you the best, have a great summer" speeches he had rehearsed? This is already going downhill.

And much as she anticipates, halfway through the Doctor's fumbling not-really-saying-anything-noteworthy, Rose's weeping face proves to be too much.

"I love you," the agonized words escape Rose.

Donna winces. Oh jeez, there's no good options here. Either the Doctor says he loves her back — whether it's a lie or not — and Rose feels like she lost her one true love. Or he says something stupid like "Thanks!" or "I do too, like a brother would!" and just comes off as a jerk. Or…

He comes up with his own, spectacularly stupid option.

He says "Right you are" like the biggest git, and then waffles about and admits nothing in an attempt to run out the clock! Leaving the poor girl with the lifelong doubt about what he might ever had said.

Donna claps both her hands over her face in horror at this trainwreck happening in front of her. The Doctor has fucked up so royally, she'd die of second-hand embarrassment if she weren't already dead.

She doesn't even have the satisfaction of tearing the Doctor a new one for his idiocy because — as he deliberately closes the transmission before he can actually say anything binding — he looks as dejected and guilty as ever.

Sensing her disapproval, he growls out an "I don't want to hear it, Donna," continuing to stare fixedly at the controls. Donna gives him the finger, even if she does feel a bit bad about how guilty he looks. Surely he knows how badly he screwed that up.

However, she doesn't want to leave the Doctor alone and so sad, even if he deserves a fist to the eye. She floats up to the TARDIS column, making soft soothing noises and giving careful little pats to the glowing pillar. It's trembling from the effort at creating a temporary bridge between dimensions, and Donna feels bad for her.

It's because her hands are on the blue column of energy that she feels the minute shift, from exhausted trembling to manic buzzing.

"Wha—" she begins, and turns to scan the console room.

To notice the bride standing by the doors, seemingly frozen in confusion.

"Er…" she says eloquently, drifting down to place a hand on the Doctor's shoulder. She'd rather not disturb the Doctor in his grief. And yet, he probably really should notice that…

Wait. Wait wait wait.

"That's...that's my bloody dress!"

She'd forgotten that she had a hold of the Doctor, and he jumps at her shout.

"What is your problem!" he growls, whirling, then stumbling to a slack-jawed stop when he sees the stranger in his TARDIS.

At his voice, the bride turns to face them, looking around with spooked eyes. When she spies the Doctor by the console, the woman opens her mouth in one gaping "oh" and let out a high, unending shriek of fright.

Donna's grip on the Doctor would have been painful if it had substance. "Holy crap! NERYS?!"

"You recognize her?" shouts the Doctor over the loud shrieking.

"Yes, that's my so-called 'best' friend wearing the dress I had dibs on, from Chez Alison! The cheek!" She tries her mightiest to tug the Doctor towards her ex-bestie, but doesn't kid herself that it's her grip that propels the Doctor forward.

Nerys scrambles back from the approaching Doctor, pressing herself against the TARDIS doors. The shriek climbs another octave.

"Do you know how to make her stop screaming?" he asks Donna, giving up trying to placate the woman and instead plugging his ears.

"You want to go over there and explain to her that the ghost of her friend is telling her to calm down? You think that's gonna work?"

He grimaces, conceding the point.

Nerys is well and truly freaking out, as well she should be suddenly finding herself in a strange room with a strange man, when it looks like she had been heading to her wedding, instead.

Donna steels herself and floats over, making shushing noises that she knows her frenemy can't see or hear. "Not that I blame you, Nerys dear, but you truly must shut up," complains Donna.

To her surprise, Nerys does stop. Not because she heard Donna, but because she's starting to hyperventilate, in the throes of a panic attack.

"Oh, that won't do," claims the Doctor into the sudden silence. "Here, breathe in this." He digs a paper bag out of his pocket and advances on Nerys, who springs away from him, her breath coming in and out in labored gasps.

"Nerys, you're going to make yourself pass out," Donna chides, reaching out to pat her friend on the arm.

And immediately gets sucked into her.

Donna reels, suddenly trapped within flesh, the mass of it pulling her down. Sensing she's no longer alone inside her brain, Nerys hides in a corner of her psyche and locks herself away, happy to no longer be in control of this nightmare.

She blinks, stops wheezing, and thunks to the floor, letting Nerys' legs give way beneath her. She feels like she weighs a ton. It's very different being in sole control of a body as opposed to just a passenger, as she had been with Rose. She can't seem to control any of these ungainly limbs. She looks up at the Doctor, who's approaching cautiously with the bag once more.

"There there, loud lady," he's saying, pleased that she no longer looks ready to pass out and finally was listening to him. "That's right, just be quiet and let's get to the bottom of this. Who are you and how did you get on my ship?"

Donna opens Nerys' mouth, closes it again. Feels around with a strange tongue around strange teeth, and forces saliva down a strange throat. Everything takes so much effort.

"Doc-torr," Donna forms the word carefully, the feeling of a tongue curling around teeth and palate a novel one. She startles at the sound of her voice. Does Nerys really sound like that? God, it's awful!

The Doctor stops advancing abruptly. The disbelief he feels at finding a stranger on his ship turns abruptly into distrust. "How do you know me? Who sent you!"

"It's - it' Don-na." The control is coming to her mouth faster now. Of course it would; she'd always been a talker.

The Doctor blinks. "Donna?" He reaches out tentatively and presses a finger to her arm, as though making sure she's not some figment of his imagination. "What did you do!"

"Don't know," she responds, moving her limbs slowly, testing out the ungainly feel of them. "I went to … to touch her hand and I was just …sucked into her."

She tries to clamber to her feet but can't quite remember how legs work. "Help me up, yeah."

He reaches down cautiously and helps her to her feet. She stands swaying for a moment, almost goes down again but the Doctor is handy at catching her and righting her back, before she gets the hang of her new center of balance. Reasonably stable, she looks down at her skinny frame.

The neckline of the dress is a low-cut V, and displays Nerys' chest to full advantage (which is why Donna had picked it, it was her dress, she'd called dibs, damn it!). Ever curious, she pokes at the top of her left breast, feeling it jiggle under the skin. "Aha! I KNEW IT!"

The Doctor follows her motions with his eyes, confused about …well, about everything, but at the moment more confused as to why Donna was feeling up her friend. "Knew what?"

"Knew they were fake! You don't drop down to this weight without losing some boob. 'Long holiday in America' my arse!" she pokes the other breast with grim satisfaction, before looking up to find the Doctor frowning down at Nerys' cleavage.

"Oi!" She snaps her fingers under his nose, making him jerk his head up. "Don't stare at my… Nerys' breasts!"

"I'm not - you stop that!" he reprimands, slapping her hand away as she goes in for another poke. "You need to get out of there. She's not your body to use, and I have to figure out why she's here," he warns, watching Donna twist her hips and wave her arms experimentally.

"Don't lecture me! I know that - and I didn't mean to; it just happened! I wanted to stop her screaming, not possess her." She glares a bit, and runs her hands over the silk of the dress just one more time, to enjoy the feeling of it on her fingertips. "No need to fret, I'm leaving now, so don't get your knickers in a twist. You better plug your ears though, 'cos when I'm gone she's gonna go right back to screaming."

She would have liked to hug the Doctor, she realizes only a second too late. She's never done that before, and she'll never get the chance again. She could really use one, too. She almost opens her mouth to ask for a hug, but discards the idea as stupid. Besides, he's backing up to a safe distance, and raising the paper bag in case he needs to swoop in again.

Hiding the trembling of her lips — goodbye substance — she pushes hard against Nerys' skin.

It's like hitting concrete, or being wrapped in a straightjacket. One made of bones, muscles and skin. The happy novelty of Nerys' body morphs into dread. She's trapped, in this heavy, foreign cage of flesh.

"I can't get out!" she wails. She pushes again, harder, and Nerys' body only stumbles forward. Wild, she reaches towards the Doctor. "Come here, help me!"

"What?!" he exclaims, edging closer again. "How?"

"Grab on to my hands," Donna instructs. The Doctor does so, gripping her cold, skinny fingers. With his grip on her, Donna tries to attach to the Doctor and pull herself out.

She doesn't budge.

Donna panics. "It's not working! Doctor, I don't want to be stuck in Nerys, of all people! She's a million times worse than Rose!"

"Rose?!" echoes the Doctor's startled squawk . "When were you inside Rose?! How!"

"Oh that's right, you don't remember. That time at the game station? I was in there with her. You snogged me out of her."

"WHAT! I did not!"

"You sure did! Snogged me right and proper, like a hoover vacuum you were."

"I...that was...I didn'!" he splutters, hands shooting to his hair.

"When she took the Tardis inside her, she caught me, too. I convinced her to stop using the TARDIS and let you help. Little did I know that you were gonna 'help' with your big ol' mouth!" His absolute embarrassment helps her temper the panic. It really is delightful seeing him so befuddled. Why hadn't she told him this earlier?

The Doctor stares, wheels turning. He hadn't, had he?! Regeneration played havoc on the brain, but if he concentrated hard he could almost remember, almost picture those mysterious eyes, sad and lonely, looking into his.

Donna snickers while he turns various shades of red, before the severity of the situation brings her back down. "No but really, I don't think that's gonna do it this time, and I can't get out."

He sighs, the memory of that gaze dissipating. "You can't normally take over people, can you?"

Donna is walking over to a coral strut, wrapping her hands around it and trying to get the TARDIS to pull her out instead. There's nothing — no sense of connection to tether her back to the ship.

"No, I go right through them. I was only in Rose because she pulled the TARDIS into her, and I'm linked to the TARDIS. You fishing the heart of the TARDIS out pulled me out, too." She pushes a sweaty strand of blond hair off her forehead, then raises a hand to her gaze with a little gasp — she's just noticed that Nerys' nails are painted a bright red. How tacky! On her wedding day!? She would have never let Nerys make such a bad decision!

"Then something's drawn Nerys here, and you into Nerys, and once we figure out what it is we can pull you back out," concludes the Doctor.

"So I'm stuck in her in the meanwhile? Because she's no help at all — just blubbering off somewhere in the corner of her mind," Donna scoffs, with a roll of her eyes. "Classic Nerys!"

The Doctor scrubs a hand down his chin, looking at his new temporary companion. "I'm afraid so."

"Well, yippee," she responds, with a sarcastic twirl of a tacky red-tipped finger, and then pokes at Nerys' left breast again to watch it bounce.

to be continued

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