Donna couldn’t find the Doctor.
She stood in the empty corridor between the kitchen and her room, a piece of toast held forgotten in one hand. It was strange, because she hadn’t had to look for him since that first morning, and even then she barely had to wander about at all before she found him. “Don’t you sleep?” she’d wanted to know. He’d been in the lab, bent over some contraption on the bench amidst bubbling flasks and test tubes and who-knew-what-all, looking as if he’d been there all night, or whatever passed for night on the TARDIS. She stuck her head in there now, but there was no sign of him. Only his hand, bubbling sedately on a countertop near the sink.
The morning after Pompeii she’d found him in the kitchen, exactly the way she’d left him the night before: sitting in his usual seat with his hands wrapped loosely around a cup of tea, his expression distant and haunted. He didn’t see her at first, and Donna had stood silently in the doorway for a moment and watched him. Except for the fact that he had showered and changed from his familiar brown pinstripes into blue, she would have sworn he had been there all night. She could guess what he must be remembering. If he hadn’t slept, she thought, it was more than understandable.
After that, he was always in the kitchen, or if not there he was in the console room, bouncing on his toes and impatient to be off. But she could see into the console room from where she was standing, and except for the low hum of the engines and the slow movement of the central column, all was still and silent, the lights still dimmed. With a growing sense of unease, she turned on her heel and headed in the opposite direction, calling his name.
She supposed it was irrational to worry. If he had blown himself to bits in the lab, she would have noticed the mess; and the TARDIS seemed the least likely place for some accident to befall him. He was hardly going to trip and fall down the stairs. The ship herself didn’t seem concerned in the least. Still, he had an almost uncanny ability to anticipate her in the mornings, so much so that her toast was always perfectly timed to be popping up when she crossed the threshold into the kitchen, just as the kettle began to sing. It unnerved her that today he was nowhere to be found.
“Doctor?” She rounded another corner and stared down a corridor that ended in a twisting double staircase. She had known the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, but even her forays into it so far couldn’t have prepared her for the maze of corridors and rooms and stairs somehow folded into that little blue box, all of them apparently empty. He didn’t answer her calls in the library, the greenhouse, the enormous wardrobe (and he had knocked her for having a lot of stuff), the swimming pool, or any of the half-dozen bedrooms she checked. He wasn’t in the gym (skinny as he was, she doubted he ever used it), the movie theater, the no-less-than palatial bathroom she came across, or any of the other rooms whose purpose she could only guess at.
She walked without any particular direction in mind, knowing only that she wanted to find the Doctor, which was usually enough; but she wound up back at the library twenty minutes later no closer to finding him than before. With an exasperated sigh, she leaned in the doorway and looked up at the ceiling. “Where is he?” She knew the TARDIS couldn’t answer her properly, but she asked anyway. After a moment, an insistent niggling at the back of her mind made her peer into the library again, and she noticed something she hadn’t spotted before: the round toe of the Doctor’s trainer sticking up above the armrest of one of the sofas.
Donna called his name again. Caught somewhere between relief at having found him and alarm that he wasn’t answering, she strode into the room, ready to tell him off for giving her such a scare, until she came closer and saw why.
He was fast asleep. Sprawled gracelessly on the cushions, his coat twisted and tie askew, he looked like a little boy still dressed up after a party. He had a book open facedown on his chest under one hand and his glasses hung crookedly from one ear. He looked...peaceful, Donna thought with a pang, in a way that he hardly ever did. Awake, he was all manic energy, or hot, quiet fury or splintering grief. Never this stillness.
She came around the side of the sofa and, as carefully as she could, extracted the book from under his hand and set it on a side table, then removed his glasses and placed them on top of the book. His coat lay in a heap beside a nearby armchair, looking as if he’d tossed it and missed. She picked it up and shook it out, laying it over the back of the chair, and covered him up with the blanket she found folded on the seat. He sighed and stirred when it settled over him, but didn’t wake. She smiled down at him, feeling fond and a bit sad, and went off in search of something to read while he slept.
She had barely settled in when a sound from the couch roused her from her book. Donna looked up. The Doctor was still asleep, but a line had appeared between his brows, and there was a tightness around his eyes. He made another sound, something very close to a whimper. For a moment she just stared at him. Nightmares, she thought. Of course he has nightmares.
He let out a cry, of protest, it sounded like. His body had gone tense. He tossed restlessly on the couch. Donna crossed the room and knelt beside him. She touched his shoulder. “Doctor?”
His arm twitched, as if to ward her off. He whimpered again. Donna took hold of his other shoulder and said his name again, louder. He struggled against her for a moment and then, all at once, opened his eyes with a sharp intake of breath. His hands came up and closed tight around her wrists. “Rose?” He was staring at her, eyes wide and terrified and not really seeing.
“No, it’s me,” Donna said gently.
It took him another moment before he focused on her face. His hands relaxed. He let out his breath and looked around, blinking in confusion. “Was I asleep?” he asked.
She let go of him and sat back on her heels. “Yeah.”
“Oh.” He had barely moved, but had somehow managed to become hopelessly tangled in the blanket.
“Bad dreams?” she asked.
He sat up and swung his feet around, shaking the blanket to the floor. He scrubbed his hands up over his face and through his hair. “Yeah,” he said, swallowing the second half of the syllable. He did it again, as if he were trying to scrub away the last remnants of the dream.
A moment went by. Donna got up and sat beside him on the couch. “I had terrible dreams, after the wedding,” she said.
It took Doctor a moment to respond. He stayed the way he was, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, and looked around at her. “About the Racnoss?”
“Not really, no. Though I should have, what with the image you conjured up saying Lance was her consort and all.” She fixed him with a stern look, and was glad to see a hint of a grin touch his face. “No, I kept dreaming about jumping from that cab into the TARDIS. In the dream, I never could.”
He nodded and looked away again. It was daft, really, Donna thought. Of all the things that had happened that day, all the things to have nightmares about, that that should be it. No giant spiders, no robot Santas, just jumping from that car. And she had dreamed it for months. Still did, sometimes.
“You were extraordinarily brave that day, you know,” the Doctor said, startling her from her thoughts. He kept his eyes on his hands, clasped loosely between his knees, but Donna stared at him in surprise nonetheless.
“Me?” She scoffed. “I was terrified.”
“I know.” He glanced at her and quickly away. “I’d have thought,” he added softly, “that you’d have had nightmares about me.”
Donna frowned at him. “Why would I have nightmares about you?” But even as she said it, she had a flash of him in her memory, soaking wet and surrounded by flame as he sent the waters of the Thames to drown the Racnoss young. And yes–he had been terrifying. She had even told him so. What had she said? Like a stranger. But–
“She was right about me, you know,” the Doctor continued before she could say anything.
He nodded. “About me being a–soldier.” He grimaced, as if the word tasted sour. He sighed and sat back against the cushions, tilting his head up to look at the domed ceiling of the library. “I saw her and I saw everything I hate inside myself. She took that gun...” He trailed off, his expression pained.
“But that’s not all you are,” Donna said. “The soldier. And you made her more than a soldier. Made her–“
“My daughter.” He turned his head to look at her. “She made a choice.”
He looked away again, blinking rapidly. “I just wish...” He broke off.
Donna placed her hand over his and gave it a squeeze. “You can cry, you know,” she said. “Sometimes it’s good to cry. Why do you think they made The Bridges of Madison County?”
He made a sound that started off as a chuckle and ended with a sob. But he swallowed hard and pulled away from her, hiding his face in his hands, and held very still. Donna let him, and didn’t say anything when his shoulders started to shake and he let out a quiet little hiccupping noise, just patted his shoulder and waited for the tension to drain out of him. When he had quieted, they sat in silence for a few minutes, until Donna asked, “Hungry?”
He glanced at her in surprise, eyebrows raised. “Yes, actually,” he said.
“Me, too.” She stood up and held her hand out. “You’ve slept through breakfast. And it’s become quite clear that if I want anything other than toast, I’m going to have to cook it myself.”
He frowned, affronted. “There’s nothing wrong with toast.” He put his hand in hers and let her lead him out into the corridor. “You can put anything on toast.”
“You, however, appear to be uninterested in anything other than banana marmalade.” They entered the kitchen and she gave him a nudge toward the table. “I didn’t even know you could make marmalade from bananas,” she added, as she started rummaging through the cupboards.
“From Asosata 9. Nice planet. Trabi system, Chi galaxy. I planted those banana groves. Rich in pectin.” Donna looked at him blankly. “The stuff that makes jam set,” he added. “What have you got against bananas, anyway? Bananas are good.”
“I’m allergic,” Donna responded. “Pancakes?” She had gathered the ingredients and was already measuring flour into a mixing bowl, so he was getting pancakes whether he liked it or not, but she was nonetheless gratified when his face lit up and he said, “Oooh, I like pancakes.”
“With banana marmalade?” Donna raised her eyebrows.
Donna flicked the wooden spoon at him. He ducked just in time. The glob of batter hit the wall behind him.
“Oi!” He glared at her, but his eyes were twinkling. “I hope you’re planning on cleaning up after yourself.”
Donna gave him an innocent look before she began spooning batter into the frying pan. “I’m cooking,” she said. “You’re cleaning up.”
The Doctor put away two stacks of pancakes, quickly, with the same kind of single-mindedness that he might have applied to defusing a bomb. When he had finished, he sat with his hands on the table, staring at the empty plate as if he expected more food to appear at any moment.
Donna ate hers more slowly, with the syrup she had found prominently displayed in one of the cupboards. She glanced at him every so often. “All right now?” she asked when she finally caught his eye.
He shrugged and looked away. “About as ‘all right’ as I ever am,” he said. Then he looked her straight in the eye again, without wavering, and she could see he was telling her the truth. That, she would take.
He sat back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “So where to next?” he asked.
Donna pointed her fork at him. “The first place you’re going is to bed,” she said. She reached across him to gather up his plate and took both their dishes to the sink. “Because something tells me that was the first time you’ve slept since I’ve been around, am I right?”
He shrugged. “Lots of daylight where I come from. We evolved not to need much sleep.” His expression turned far-off and dreamy. “Two suns, it was beautiful...” he trailed off.
Donna watched him for a moment a sudden realization stabbing into her: I want to go home, she had told him on the Ood Sphere. But he could never go home. She had known, of course; but something about the way he was gazing off into the distance made her realize just how much it meant to have a home to go back to.
She leaned on the counter. “Tell me about it.”
He gave his head a shake. “Eight hours! How could you possibly sleep that long? And every night! No wonder your species is so undeveloped; you spend half your lives asleep.”
Donna searched his face. For a moment, she thought about pressing him. It would be good for him to talk, she thought; but not now. He was exhausted. She could see it in the lines of his body, his strained cheerfulness and shadowed eyes. “Have you even got a bed?” She asked instead.
“Somewhere. Haven’t used it in awhile.” His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Why?”
Donna rolled her eyes. “None of that,” she said. “Honestly. You really do think you’re God’s gift, don’t you? Don’t answer that,” she said when he opened his mouth. “Highly-evolved species or no, I still say you need a proper sleep, not just a catnap on the sofa. If the TARDIS knows what’s good for you, she’ll find your bedroom and put it just across the corridor.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “And whatever you say goes, is that it?”
”Yes.” Her expression softened. “After that, I don’t know. Maybe the TARDIS could find us a party. I know I could do with one.”
“A party.” He smiled up at the ceiling. “I like a party.”
Donna flicked the wooden spoon at him again, droplets of water flying over the counter this time instead of pancake batter. “Bed, you,” she said.
The Doctor raised his hands in surrender. “All right, all right, I’m going.” But he paused in the doorway. “Donna...” he began.
She smiled. “Don’t mention it,” she said. He gave a small smile in return, and disappeared into the hallway. A moment later she heard a door clicking shut. She wondered if he ever had pleasant dreams. Dreams where two suns still shone in the sky above his home. She hoped so.
She finished washing the dishes and headed back to the library. The TARDIS had provided her with a whole bookcase full of mysteries, and she had started an Agatha Christie before the Doctor had woken. She had time, she thought, to read a few chapters more.