It was a typical lazy late afternoon in the TARDIS for the Doctor and his companion, flaming-haired Chiswick native Donna Noble. Parking the TARDIS in the Vortex, as was his habit when not running for his life, the Doctor quickly set out performing maintenance on the Old Girl, as he occasionally called her with unabashed fondness. The TARDIS that is, not Donna. Donna, rest assured, would not be pleased at all by such terms of endearment, no matter how affectionately delivered.
From the galley, loud clanging could be heard drifting into the console room as Donna prepared one of their infrequent meals onboard the magnificent Time Machine. The vast majority of their meals were preferably a safely less-domestic take-out when not running to (or as likely - from) danger. Two slender brown-pinstriped legs jutting from beneath the TARDIS console, ending in a pair of well-worn Converse plimsolls, were about as close to domesticity as it got on the good ship TARDIS.
The time rotor atop the console, lit by an eerie blue light, was still and silent as they sat spinning in the swirling maelstrom of the Time Vortex. An odd assortment of incongruous bits and bobs formed the controls in a hexagonal pattern of panels around the console, suggesting that the ship was designed with six pilots in mind.
A crackling noise and shower of sparks erupted from below the console grating, followed closely by a startled yelp of pain from the ship’s sole pilot.
“Stop that!” snapped the Doctor, shaking the tingle from his fingers. The disgruntled and long-suffering ship had let him know what she thought of his repairs. He ignored the TARDIS’s tart telepathic suggestion of where he should really place his hands next. Holding his sonic screwdriver held precariously in his mouth, the Last of the Time Lords and sole remaining Child of Gallifrey resolutely continued rewiring. Within thirty seconds an alarming buzzing noise, followed by the flash of a bright electric arc, joined the cacophony coming from the galley.
Suit smudged with spots of oil and soot, the Doctor popped out from beneath the console and leapt up through an opening in the surrounding grating. Batting frantically at his singed and smoking shock of dark chestnut hair, he let out several exclamations in a language the TARDIS deigned not to translate. She may well be the last living TARDIS in existence, but she is still a lady.
“What?? What was that, now!?!” he shouted at the console. Swaggering slightly over to the console monitor, he twisted his head, this way and that, craning to catch a reflection and spot any damages to his precious coif. Whether he could actually detect any changes to the spiky locks seemed an impossible task, but he clearly took umbrage at both the arc and the time ship’s orneriness. Snatching up a large, black rubber mallet hanging from the left side of the console, he brandished it menacingly.
“That… now that is enough,” he spat, dark brown eyes ablaze in indignation. “Don’t make me use this,” he ranted, waving the tool at his almost life-long friend and home of some 700 years. Well, properly, he was waving it at her console, since it could be said she existed across all Time and Space simultaneously. Regardless, the TARDIS understood the sentiment and wheezed a small protest as the time rotor slowly shifted up and down.
“She’s tryin’ to tell you to leave her alone for a bit, you know,” a feminine voice said behind him. “How many hours you been at it, anyway? I finished readin’ my book in the library, and I’ve even cooked dinner since you started.”
“You?” he asked with a smirk. He gave the console one last raised eyebrow before turning away. “You cooked? Isn’t that a bit…domestic, even for you? Where’d you get the recipes?”
“Please tell me it wasn’t Cosmopolitan,” he said jokingly.
“Oi, what’s wrong with Cosmo?” she snapped.
“Oh, nothing,” he remarked mildly. “Nothing else of use ever came out of Cosmopolitan. It consists exclusively of grossly inaccurate and devious advice on how to get, or keep, a man. Not that I ever read it, mind you.”
Suddenly realizing from Donna’s glare that he’d just treaded onto dangerous territory, the Doctor decided to switch topics.
“So…what delectable delights have you prepared for our dinner, Donna,” he said with a lop-sided smile as he rocked on his heels. “Oooh, nice alliteration, if I must say so!” he chortled, clearly pleased with his cleverness.
Donna shook her head in exasperation before motioning him to a small nook next to the ship’s galley. Placing the rubber mallet back on its hook, he followed. The TARDIS gave a soft groan of relief as he walked away.
“Come on, I’ll show you. Time to eat,” Donna said over her shoulder.
A small, unremarkable wooden table dappled with nicks, and two equally battered wooden chairs, occupied the tiny dining nook adjacent to the galley. It had been cleared of the usual clutter; old maps, dirty teacups and spoons, floaty pens, souvenirs and the like. A look of pride flashed across Donna’s face as they approached the table, the surface of which she had ruefully scrubbed off what appeared to be centuries-old grime. Two mix-matched settings of plates, water goblets, cloth napkins, utensils and a few serving dishes had been carefully placed in all their eclectic glory. A wonderful, mouth-watering cheesy aroma wafted up from a casserole dish. It was a cauldron of brown and yellow crusty bits, steaming and bubbling lava-like after its recent exodus from the oven.
In spite of his insistence that domesticity was the bane of his existence, the Doctor remained a regular bloke in many respects. Slim and wiry physique notwithstanding, food would always catch the Time Lord’s eye and draw him in for a closer investigation. At least, that is the case during his current regeneration. Today was no exception. He ignored the two tureens with conspicuously green contents and focused his interest on the casserole.
A tad self-conscious under a reticent Doctor’s curious gaze, a state she seldom saw him in except when he lapsed into his broody moods, Donna turned to present her fare. She flushed a slight pink as she pointed to the dishes.
“Tonight,” she intoned professionally, “we have as our centerpiece, a lovely vegetarian Three Bean Cassoulet with Cheddar Cheese breaded topping. Accompanying it are sides of steamed fresh asparagus, woody parts carefully trimmed off, of course. We also have a side of sautéed fresh spinach leaves with garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and capers!”
“I could be wrong, but of course you know I’m never wrong about these things, but… doesn’t a cassoulet normally include meat? Like, sausage, or pork… or something?”
Donna grinned and vigorously shook her head. “Oh yeah, normally it does. But that’s the beauty of this recipe!” she gushed. “I substituted mushrooms for the meat. Nice meaty-like baby portabellas!”
The TARDIS transmitted the telepathic equivalent of a snort across their bond as the Doctor quickly clamped down on his facial expression for Donna’s sake.
Oh dear Rassilon, he thought in abject horror. Why does it have to be mushrooms?!? Agaricus Bisporus. FUNGI. The entire genus subsists on decaying matter. Dead things. Why, oh why, do humans insist on eating them?
It’s not that the Doctor disliked the taste or texture of mushrooms. Far from it. His current incarnation’s tendency toward oral fixation often led him to lick and taste, although he’d call it oral analysis, almost anything. He could literally identify millions of chemical substances with his superior Time Lord taste buds. No, it was the idea of mushrooms and their origin that bothered him. Mushrooms had their place, just not on his plate.
“Are we… out of meat of some sort, Donna?” he asked, trying to keep his voice from climbing several octaves.
Actually, he didn’t have a clue whether they had any other meat than bacon in storage, since they seldom cooked anything beyond breakfast foods, such as the occasional omelet. Milk, bread, eggs, bacon, waffle mix and marmalade were all standard staple items on the TARDIS. Sausages? Not so much.
Wait a minute… Where’d the blazes did she find fresh spinach, mushrooms and asparagus aboard the TARDIS?
“Oh,” Donna said faintly, interrupting his train of thought. “You don’t like mushrooms? I mean, I didn’t use too many,” she started to amend. “I even chopped them up into teensy, tiny little pieces, just enough to give you the texture of meat.”
Oh great… that’s just wizard, he groused to himself, gritting his teeth.
Beginning to feel a little hurt, Donna watched dumbly as the Doctor closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, saying nothing. Seeing she wasn’t getting an answer from him soon, she decided to forge on.
“I… I wanna start a new idea I got from another magazine,” she said quietly. “Meatless Mondays.”
Meatless Mondays, the Doctor mouthed silently, unable to maintain a stoic face any longer.
“Meatless Mondays, Donna?” he finally squeaked out loud.
She nodded. “Healthier, yeah?”
“Rubbish. We can just run more,” he smirked, demonstrating with an exaggerated jog in place. “No lack of dangerous situations to be had.”
“Runnin’ don’t replace healthy eatin’, Doctor,” Donna said, sticking to her guns. “All that cholesterol is gonna plug up both your hearts.”
“Ha!” he puffed. “Superior Time Lord physiology, me. I’ve never had to eat healthy and I’m 900 years-old, thank you very much.” Not so pleasant memories of carrot juice and an infamous stalk of celery came to mind, but he failed to mention them. Besides, the celery stalk was both decorative… well, debatably decorative given the time period on 20th century Earth… and an antidote, he rationalized.
“Well, I don’t have bloody Time Lord physiology, and I’m nowhere near 900,” Donna spat combatively. “We start today. Now sit!”
Shrinking a bit under Donna’s withering glare, he slinked to the table and dutifully took a seat.
“You know, there’s no such thing as Mondays in the Vortex,” he muttered lamely, not meeting Donna’s eyes. “Temporal Stasis while we’re in the TARDIS; all time is relative.”
“Then relative to today, it’ll be every seven days, yeah? A day bein’ defined as after I sleep in my jimjams, get up, shower and appear in the console room. Got that, Spaceboy?”
Sighing in resignation, the Doctor’s thoughts turned to how he might arrange for them to be somewhere in Norway seven Donna-days from now. Preferably they would be visiting the indigenous Sámi in Sápmi for a couple of days. Most unfortunately, asparagus and spinach appear not to grow well in permafrost. Ooooh…brilliant idea!
The Doctor pouted as his eyes dropped down to the table. A tray of neatly aligned steamed asparagus spears was sitting far too closely for his comfort, he noted. A look of utter juvenile disdain dripped from his countenance.
“Oi,” Donna spat. “Do ya’ have to pout about eatin’ real food? It’s just asparagus, not some weird alien glop like you’re always shovin’ at me!
The scowl deepened. “Time Lord’s don’t pout,” he sniffed haughtily.
“Well, you’re doin’ a smashin’ good job of imitatin’ a poutin’ human, then,” she retorted with hand on hip.
Silence fell at the table while the Doctor glared defiantly at Donna, his lip protruding only slightly less than before.
“Well, go on, then,” Donna urged. “Just one little bite of an asparagus, ok? You might like it,” she cooed, as if cajoling a recalcitrant five year-old.
Leaning back into his chair, the Doctor interlaced his fingers across his abdomen as if he had all the time in the world. He was, after all, the Last Lord of Time. Time would obey him, at the very least where vegetables were concerned. He jutted his chin out and idly twiddled his thumbs around each other, never breaking his pointedly baleful stare into Donna’s eyes.
The verbal and visual throwdown between the two deadlocked traveling companions continued for several minutes before Donna dropped her focus to the meal before them. Stabbing an asparagus spear with her fork, she shoved half of it into her mouth. She chewed slowly and deliberately. After a few seconds, tears began to well as she found herself unable to contain her frustration. The sound of her tonsils clashing echoed through the room, as if she were choking on the bit of vegetable matter.
“I… I… c-can’t do this anymore,” she almost sobbed. The tears began to fall in earnest as she battled to get the words out.
The Doctor blanched, his freckles standing in stark relief against pale skin. A crestfallen look rapidly replaced the scowl as he watched his best mate struggling to contain her distress. Donna wasn’t just his best mate; she was like a sister to him and his closest confidant. She was strong, brave, fiery and strident, at times; yet, so compassionate. What could possibly drive such a force of Nature to tears over a stupid meal, for Rassilon’s sake? He couldn’t, he simply couldn’t, stand to see her cry. His brilliant, brilliant Donna. Seeing her break snapped his heart-strings like gossamer glass threads, especially as it dawned on him that he was inadvertently the cause.
Cold fingers of fear suddenly constricted his hearts at the realization that he was, indeed, the cause of this rare outburst. Was she about to ask him to take her home?!? Might she actually leave him because he refused to eat disgustingly green vegetal matter, he thought with a shudder?
“What?” he sputtered weakly as confusion, shock and panic began a war in his chest.
“Look at you,” she gasped angrily. “H-here I am, wastin’ away to a...a… blimp while y-you,” she stammered as she stabbed a finger in his direction, “sit there like some… some … sk-skinny… lit’l… alien… streak of… nothing!” Large globules of tears cascaded down her cheeks and splashed onto an empty plate. “All we ever eat are…ch-ch-chips and… and… Jaffa cakes, tonnes of biscuits, ch-chocolate eclairs and… m-m-meats on sticks… and… and… ice cream! All the runnin’ ‘round in the universe ain’t gonna keep that rubbish off these hips, you… you… Space git!”
Surprisingly nonplussed by Donna’s tirade, the Man of Many Words Who Often Said Nothing of Consequence did the only thing he could think of at the moment. He picked up a long spear of asparagus in his fingers, and bit down. Chocolate brown orbs closed slowly as he fought to suppress shivers threatening to quake his greyhound-thin frame.
He hated it. Oh yes, of course he did. Asparagus, he mused, may not be quite as disgusting as pears, which, naturally, aren’t botanically classified as vegetables at all like the dreaded asparagus plant. Pears are a despicable example of Evolution’s diversity in fruits, including the deadly poisonous variety. While not as loathsome as pears, nor poisonous, asparagus remained a reproachful vegetable that was well in the running for second place on the Doctor scale of things-never-to-be-eaten.
Delicate Time Lord taste buds rebelled as he chewed gingerly and slowly, their extreme sensitivity sparking an urgent neurological order straight to his center. Reverse peristalsis, clamored the internal klaxon. Swallowing quickly, he desperately tried to quell his body’s urge to launch the offending matter across the table into his unsuspecting companion’s rather ample décolletage. Only an inflated sense of self-pride granted him the good graces not to vomit. Opening his eyes after a couple of shaky breaths, he plastered on one of his hallmark manic grins.
“We wouldn’t happen to have any Hollandaise sauce, would we?” he asked pleasantly.
Tilting her head in relieved gratitude, Donna suppressed her desire to snicker at the broadly smiling alien. She decided not to mention the piece of green he flashed, stuck conspicuously between his upper teeth. “Right there,” she nodded quietly toward a small gravy boat set to the side of the dishes. Her eyes, still red-rimmed, crinkled a bit in amusement. “Thought you might want that,” she murmured.
“Molto Bene!” the Doctor exclaimed in relief. He proceeded to place a dollop of cassoulet on his plate, followed by a minuscule teaspoon of sautéed spinach and a single asparagus. Grabbing the gravy boat, he poured most of the Hollandaise over everything before setting the container down with a flourish.
Ah yes, let it not be said that the Doctor didn’t care for his companions and go to any lengths to keep them happy.
Six Donna-days later . . .
“So, Space Nut,” Donna asked, her red tresses still damp from her morning shower. “Where’re we going today?”
Stationed at the TARDIS console, as he was almost every morning when Donna awoke, the Doctor spun around with a huge grin on his face.
“Weelll,” he drawled. “You know that today is Christmas on the ‘ol Earth, right?”
Donna nodded, having spent the better part of the last week shopping ‘til she dropped. Unlimited credit chits, courtesy of the TARDIS, were every girl’s dream.
“Thought I might take us for a few days to see the Sámi in upper Norway, Donna!” he said excitedly. They have reindeer, Donna! Isn’t that just brilliant? Tiny little reindeer with big antlers. We might even see Rudolf! Can’t get much more Christmassy than that, eh? Think we could find an actual red-nosed reindeer, Donna? It might even be the genesis of the song, for all we know. Don’t know until we’ve investigated, eh?”
As by design, Donna’s eye began to cross under the onslaught of the Oncoming Babble, and she totally missed the parts of his lecture regarding permafrost, Sámi culture and sleeping in a rawhide tent.
Oh, am I ever so clever, he thought, rubbing his hands together gleefully. Wait’ll she tries the reindeer jerky!