She looks older.
She's sitting alone at a table in a rather nice restaurant, in a pool of sunshine, looking over the menu. Seated in a dark corner near the back, he studies her, making sure not to make eye contact. Silly, really, since he's wearing an entirely different face, and there's not a chance in the world that she'd recognise him even if she still had her memories of him. But being stared at by a stranger is likely to make her uncomfortable, and that's the last thing he wants, today of all days.
Older. Yes, definitely older. Not old, not yet, but not young, either. There are silvery glints in her mass of ginger hair, and more lines at the corners of her eyes than he remembers. Her figure is a little rounder than it was, and there are grooves on each side of her mouth. She's older... and yet she's still beautiful.
It's been ten years since she was on the TARDIS, by her personal timeline. Somewhat less for him, but still far too long. He wishes he could have her back. After all this time, he still misses her terribly.
But he can't have her back, and he knows it. Some decisions can't be undone. Some things can't be changed. But that doesn't stop them from hurting.
And yet, he wishes...
The door opens, and her husband walks in, with two small children in tow. A girl and a boy. He's kept in contact with her grandfather, and he knows she named them Joshua and Ella, though of course she doesn't know why she chose those names. She doesn't recall that she had two "children" by those names in a virtual reality. She shouldn't remember those names at all, but some things, he supposes, are too important to ever be suppressed completely.
The children squeal and rush to her, and she opens her arms and hugs them, beaming. Shaun Temple pauses next to her and grins down on her. His eyes shine with love as he looks at her.
"Happy birthday," he says.
She laughs, and pats the seat next to her. He squeezes into the booth beside her, rather than sitting across the table from her, and puts an arm around her. She puts her head on his shoulder, and the kids crowd into their laps. They're the very picture of a perfect family.
Donna Temple-Noble is forty-five years old today. And she's happy. No one could look at her bright smile as her family surrounds her and doubt it. She's happy.
Human lives are so short, their lifespans but a moment compared to his, and yet, he thinks, in a way they make up for it, simply by the sheer amount of love and joy and delight that they manage to pack into the few brief years of their lives. Humans are amazing.
Donna is amazing.
He gets up and saunters in their direction. Next to their table, he pauses. "Did I hear him say it was your birthday?" he asks.
She looks up at him, smiling, glowing. Even if her memories were intact, there's no possibility she could recognise him. He's just a stranger, a slender young man in a tweed jacket and a bow tie, a mass of unkempt dark hair falling over his forehead.
"Yes," she admits. "It is."
"Birthdays are cool," he says, smiling back at her. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks," she says, and turns her attention away from him, and back to her family, where it belongs. He's only a stranger to her now. He's not what matters most in her life any more. Her husband and her children are the center of her world now. And that, he thinks with a touch of sorrow, is how it should be.
He walks on past, and goes out the door, leaving her behind.