There were moments when Donna really wanted to hug the Doctor. Moments like this, when he was reminiscing over tea about some far planet with an unpronounceable name, with such a look in his eye.
"Plitraxicharn'plaaaaaaaaaargh," the Doctor said, or something like it. "the skies were like gold shot with silver, and all the seas were sweet water, the sweetest you'll ever drink. And when the sun came up the whole planet started to sing, literally, the whole planet, one great chord that built and built until everything just rang with it." His voice had taken on a singing quality of its own as he told this story, something wistful and ancient that reminded her just how old he was, and how many memories he had. "All the life forms were symbiotic, absolutely reliant on each other for survival, so there weren't any wars, even after the natives developed individual sentient thought. They had about a thousand different rules for settling arguments, since they couldn't hurt each other. Art contests, mainly." He was like a professor, and a storyteller, and a wizard all in one, didacticism mingled with mystery and a constant bubbling enthusiasm as he watched her to see what effect his story was having.
Donna listened, spellbound, tea sitting forgotten on the table.
"The music was the best, though. Musicians were considered to have the very highest calling. They'd spend years of their lives composing pieces that could best harmonise with the music of the planet's morning, and hold sunrise festivals for months at a time, thousands of instruments, just singing and singing..." He trailed off, looking off into the middle distance, a skinny figure in pinstripes and trainers; somehow, he still managed to seem incredibly impressive. "And!" he exclaimed, making her jump at the sudden volume, "the ruling family, did you know? They were all ginger! All of them, but especially the king! Just like you!" He beamed at her.
There were moments when Donna really rather wanted to hit him, too. "Well, good for them," she told him sardonically, reeling a bit from having the spell broken so suddenly--and judging by the twinkle of unholy glee in his eye, he knew it, too. From professor to court jester in a heartbeat. Great. She tried not to roll her eyes.
"Oh, it is! I like ginger, was rather hoping I would be, this time 'round. I mean you're all so...bolshy."
"Bolshy? Is that even a word?" Donna wasn't entirely sure she shouldn't be offended.
"Sure it is. It means, you know, like you."
She certainly didn't know, and told him so. Firmly.
"It's like," he made an expansive and ambiguous gesture with his teacup--green today, and frilly around the edges, though yesterday the tea set had been white--"being outspoken, and tenacious, and, well, pretty magnificent."
Donna felt rather flattered. She smiled at him. "Thanks!"
"Comes from 'Bolshevik.' Real radicals. Bit misguided, mind you, can't say I like the killing."
Donna felt rather less flattered. She glared. "Thanks."
"Mind you, I've known quite a few."
"What, Bolsheviks? Or 'gingers?'" Her eyes widened in mockery at the term. Ridiculous enough in London, but coming from him....
"Even traveled with one," the Doctor continued obliviously. "Ginger, I mean. Bit weasely, really. Though that may have been self-preservation, considering my other companion."
"Weasely. Really." Other companions. No revelation there, though she did wonder just how many he'd run through. Out of curiosity. Not self-preservation. Really.
"Oh yes. But he was a bolshy weasel. That's it!" He sat up straight abruptly, as if struck. Tea splashed onto his paisley tie; he didn't seem to notice. "That's what you are. Bolshy weasels, the lot of you." He grinned as if he'd solved some Ultimate Theory of Everything.
"You spilled on your tie," she told him sarcastically.
"What?" He looked down with an expression of comic woe, like an actor in a silent movie. "Aw, I liked this tie."
"TARDIS'll get the stain out, yeah?"
"But I'll always know it was there."
Donna grinned wryly. "Whozzat, a photographic memory? Squillion years old with a photographic memory, how's that working for you?"
"Oh..." he drew the syllable out on a long exhale, and he changed again, no longer Charlie Chaplin. Donna watched, fascinated by the reel of faces he seemed to put on in the space of a moment, as if he couldn't decide which to show her: stately, wistful, bombastic, and for a breathtaking moment so very sorrowful, before he settled on an expression of wry humor to match her own. "It works."
Silence settled in the kitchen. Donna supposed it was a tribute to their friendship that it didn't feel awkward. They sipped tea, both absorbed in their own thoughts, though she had to wonder what went on in the head of a 900-year-old Time Lord. Probably working on that Theory of Everything. Although, remembering the fleeting look on his face, the sorrow and the wistfulness, maybe not. She wondered if he knew she'd seen it.
She finished her tea quietly, saw that he'd finished his, and took their cups to the sink to wash, even though the TARDIS could have done it. She liked the simple noise of washing up, and thought that he might as well. It was a sound that brought one, well, down to earth, and considering their current position hovering somewhere in the Time Vortex, that was saying something. The Doctor didn't seem domestic, as such, but their tea ritual was comfortable and stable, a homely, familiar task amid the mad adventuring. She wondered if he'd ever had to wash up as a child. Assuming he'd had a home. Assuming he'd had a family. Maybe he was adopted. Raised by a pack of humans.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him make an odd gesture, as if to the air, and knew he was talking to the TARDIS. No. Definitely not raised by humans.
Chores done, she dried her hands on a white tea-towel that she could've sworn hadn't been there a minute before, and bade the Doctor a goodnight, which he returned absentmindedly. She left him still staring into the middle distance: a being wise and wonderful as any storybook magician; a sad old man in a tea-stained tie. She made her way down the corridor, but stopped outside her room, looking at the door which today seemed to be wood. Oak, precisely, and she wondered where the TARDIS had been hiding this model. Her hand rested on the polished brass doorknob, but she didn't turn it. There was something missing, or incomplete, a feeling like having left the gas on.
A minute later she popped her head around the kitchen door, startling the Doctor out of his reverie. "Two questions for you." She leveled him with her best determined stare.
His eyebrow went up. "Ask."
"One. What happened to your companion? The ginger one?"
The Doctor tilted his head, his chin firming in a way that seemed childishly stubborn; he seemed likely not to answer. But she waited, never taking her eyes off of him, and eventually his mouth quirked up in a half-smile at their impromptu staring contest. "He left," the Doctor said mildly, and then, unexpectedly, volunteered: "Turlough. That was his name."
Donna nodded, acknowledging the confidence. "Two. That planet you were talking about. The king of it. What was his name?"
His other eyebrow went up, as he clearly tried to figure out the reason behind this line of questioning; he just as clearly settled on silly human. "Which one?" he asked. "There were lots of kings."
"I dunno, one of them. Your favorite. What was his name?"
At this point he was grinning, possibly at the randomness of the question. "Affelkippelark the Fourth. Always liked him. Very ginger." Then he looked at her expectantly, as if to inquire why she was asking. Well, let him wonder. She wasn't too sure herself.
"Right. Thanks. 'Night." Straight to bed this time, only to lie awake under the covers listening to the quiet hum of the TARDIS as it hovered, or whatever, in the vortex. This happened sometimes: life of adventure, sleepless nights. Went together. But this was the first time he'd kept her awake like this, and it was a good thing that she wasn't some young, love-struck girl or else she'd think it romantic, lying awake over a man. She'd lain awake over Lance. But Donna wasn't young, or particularly romantic anymore, and the Doctor, for all of the wonder of him, didn't strike her as a figure of romance anyway. Too old, too wounded. Too skinny. She stifled a traitorous snicker.
What he was, she realized at last, was lonely. Which seemed so very obvious, but he bore the weight of it so constantly that it faded into the background. Old pain, and no real way to fix it. She knew the feeling, of not belonging, of being too odd, too loud, too bolshy. Square, spiky peg in a round hole too sizes two small, and ginger to boot. At least she had her Gramps. The Doctor had nobody. And that was it, really. He had no family, no Gramps, no real group to belong to. No Doctor Club of wanderers to meet up and drink tea. Just a long line of companions that came and went. Just her. She sighed, turned over, punched her pillow into shape. Just her.
And what am I, chopped liver? Yeah, so what if she was a measly human with a tiny lifespan and no real knowledge of the enormous universe that the Doctor seemed to keep unfolding out, a bit at a time, as if he were a stage magician revealing his next trick. At least she was here, and learning. And she was his friend, for whatever good it could do. Some good at least, even if it was only to make tea and fill the silence with odd questions. Put a dent in his solitude, make him feel appreciated, or at least liked. Smack him, too, when it came to it.
Not alone while he has me. Probably not the first companion to think it, and hopefully not the last. Donna sat up, giving up on sleep in favor of acting on the silly little idea that had popped into her silly human brain.
"Desk," she told the darkened room. "I need a desk. Lights!" The lights came up as the TARDIS responded to her request, and she felt no surprise at seeing a desk and chair in the corner of the room where no desk--and no corner for that matter--had been before. She swung her legs out of bed, and padded over barefoot. "Pen, paper, scissors, glue, markers," she said, feeling rather as if she were reading the supply list for a child in primary school. Perhaps she was, who knew? Who knew whether her idea was ridiculous? She had a notion it was, and a notion that the Doctor, of all people, wouldn't mind. The desk drawers revealed the requested supplies, and the scent of them made her feel very young again, just for a moment. "Safety pins," she added after a moment's thought, and opened another drawer to find them in the back. "Thanks." The TARDIS hummed, as if in approval. Donna smiled, and got to work.
The Doctor walked into the console room as the last stop on his rounds. The quiet hours while his companions slept were always the hardest, the bleakest, and he knew they made him broody. Broody as a brood hen. A brooding brood hen. He wrinkled his nose at the comparison, and toyed idly, not for the first time, with the idea of stopping off at a medical center sometime in the 98th century when the human race, for a time, had eradicated the need to sleep. What was the point of sleeping, when there were a zillion blessedly distracting things they could be doing instead? Of course, remembering the resulting wars that had nearly wiped out a fifth of humanity, he thought better of it. The idea of making Donna Noble more aggressive was enough to give any halfway intelligent being pause. And he was more than halfway intelligent.
He let his hand trail slowly along a column, eyeing the console idly. Screen, check, handbrake, check, paper--"Hello," he said. "What are you?" He picked it up. It was an envelope, made of old Earth-type cardstock, the good kind. It had DOCTOR printed across the front in neat copperplate lettering. "Guess you're for me, then." He hefted it, feeling the slight weight, and the small bumps where the contents poked against the paper. On further consideration, he brought it close and sniffed it. Paper and ink, and was that glue? No perfume. Good. "I do not," he told the envelope firmly, "want a perfumed letter. Unless I know precisely whom it's from." The letter didn't answer, and he smiled. A mystery, then. How intriguing. Perhaps he should wait a while before opening it, prolong the suspense a bit.
"Oh, who am I trying to fool?" No way this particular incarnation had the patience for that. Still, he tried not to tear the envelope too much in his haste, inserting one finger under the flap, breaking the seal as gently as he could. Inside were a card and what looked like a little square badge, both made of the same paper as the envelope.
"What?" He felt his eyebrows rise into his hairline, rather wondering if he'd nodded off himself. This certainly made a change from his usual run of dreams. Just a bit bewildered, and wasn't that a novel feeling, he tilted the card to the light. It read:
Awarded to THE DOCTOR
In Honour of Many Acts of Bolshyness
We, the Ginger Club of Gingeria, Gingervania, Gingivitis or Whatever
Hereby Grant the Title of:
Along With All the Rights and Responsibilities Thereof.
Signed, H.R.M. Affelkipelark IV of Plitraxicharn'plaaaaaaaaaargh
Cosigned, Donna Noble
And, added lightly in pencil: You'll have to figure the date yourself, Time Lord, 'cause hell if I know.
She'd spelled the king's name wrong.
"Huh," said the Doctor, staring at the card. "Huh." Well. He blinked, swallowed thickly, started to grin. Honorary Ginger? Donna Noble, President of the Ginger Club. She just would, wouldn't she? "And, what d'you know, I've been inducted! Acts of Bolshyness. I like that. That's me, the Bolshy Doctor!" He slipped the card back in the envelope, took out the badge instead. HONORARY GINGER, it read. He guffawed. "Oh, I so am." This was so the best present he'd received for, oh, a while. Genius little human brain, to come up with that. And so very Donna Noble at her bolshy best.
He pinned the badge with its brassy little heading to the front of his suit; not for keeps, it wouldn't last that long, but long enough for her to see he'd got it. That he liked it. Silly thing. The card he slipped into one of his voluminous pockets for safe keeping, as he made a mental note to take her someplace extra-exciting in thanks. Maybe to meet the real Ginger Club? He imagined being in a room with that many gingers, and himself with a badge and Donna for protection...on second thought, no. They might fight. Or worse, get along. But he'd take her somewhere. Oh yes, definitely. He settled down to think of someplace perfect, running his fingers gently over the little badge.
In her room, Donna smiled in the dark as the TARDIS hummed a bit louder. Message received, then. Good. She drew the covers over her head and went to sleep.