“You took your time,” said the Doctor as he heard Donna walk into the console room.
“You said we were going somewhere posh, I thought I should get dressed up.”
With the TARDIS eased into a smooth materialisation he turned to look at his companion. His eyes widened as his gaze swept over her.
Donna shifted uncomfortably. “What's wrong? Is it the dress? Is it too revealing?”
Her dress was a familiar dark blue, embellished with little star-like fragments of crystal. The fabric followed her curves perfectly before spilling down to her ankles. A string of diamonds ran round her neck, dipping down to her... He swallowed.
“No,” he managed, “it's nice. You look... nice.”
Donna rolled her eyes. “That's about all I can expect from you, isn't it? You're a real charmer, you are.”
“Where did you get the dress?” he asked, reaching for a safe topic.
She shrugged, making her breasts bounce suggestively in her bodice. “I asked the TARDIS for something suitable for a posh do.” She nodded at him. “Determined to get your money's worth out of that dinner jacket, aren't you?”
The Doctor pulled at his cuff self-consciously. “What's wrong with it?”
“Nothing. Apart from the trainers. Don't you have any other shoes? Do you just have a little shoe-rack with all the colours Converse ever made?”
“What do you want me to wear? Heels with little straps on them?”
“Don't be bitchy, it doesn't suit you.” She held her arm out as the time-rotor came to a halt.
The Doctor stared at her arm. “What?”
“Don't posh people always walk arm-in-arm?”
“Not that I've noticed. Besides, people might think we're... romantically linked.”
Donna took his arm with a chuckle. “As if.”
The Doctor felt something bump against his shoulder half-way through the opera. It was Donna. Sleeping Donna. It was... disturbingly pleasant. Maybe he could put an arm round her and... no, that would only lead to a broken arm when she woke up.
Still, it would be rude to disturb her.
The Doctor dried his eyes as the story came to its tragic conclusion. He wasn't going to let Donna see him do something as mockable as crying at an opera. With his eyes safely tear-free, he shrugged gently to dislodge her. “It's over,” he whispered. “You can clap now.”
Donna sat bolt upright and joined the applause. “That was lovely. It was the best opera I've ever seen.”
“Shall we go back and watch it again?”
“God, no,” said Donna. “I mean, um, I wouldn't want to ruin it by seeing it too many times. So, what happens now?”
“I'm not sure,” admitted the Doctor, “usually something's blown up by now.”
“Can we schmooze with posh people?”
“If you promise not to snore.”
The Doctor stood alone at the side of the room. He was holding a stick with a little cube of cheese on it.
He wasn't annoyed that Donna was social centre of the party, or sad that she hadn't spoken to him for over an hour, but the Doctor wasn't a natural wallflower and was finding his lack of popularity unsettling. Maybe Donna would introduce him to someone interesting or important or willing to listen to his hilarious anecdotes?
He ate his bit of cheese and headed towards Donna, dodging his way through the swarm of humans until he was in front of her. “Are you having a good time?” he asked, knowing perfectly well that she was.
“This is brilliant,” she said enthusiastically. “I've added five people to my Facebook friends and a bloke asked me out.”
“Which bloke?” asked the Doctor, a bit too quickly.
“Why do you care?”
“I don't,” he lied, looking around for any suspicious-looking men. “I'm a bit tired, shall we go back to the TARDIS?”
Donna shook her head. “You go, I'm enjoying myself.”
“On my own?” This wasn't how their friendship was supposed to work. She was supposed to keep him company and he reciprocated by being such a wonderful person to know.
“Why, do you need me to tuck you in?”
“No. I think I'll stay,” he said. “I'm having a great time.”
“Up to you,” said Donna, turning away to talk to someone else.
“I love champagne,” said Donna as they made their way back to the TARDIS. “Sometimes I think I was born to enjoy the finer things in life.”
The Doctor did not like champagne. He'd had plenty at the party and it failed to either get him drunk or act as some sort of social lubricant. “You're drunk,” he said, rather bitchily.
“I'm tipsy,” corrected Donna. “That's not the same thing at all.” She tugged his sleeve. “Can you take me to Paris?”
“What do you want to go there for?”
“It's supposed to be really romantic,” she said.
The Doctor's hearts jumped in his chest. Donna wanted him to take her somewhere romantic? She wanted to go somewhere romantic with him? “Donna,” he said, “I really like our friendship, and you're probably a beautiful woman, but -”
Donna smacked his arm. “I don't mean it like that, you idiot. And what do you mean 'probably'?”
He shrugged. “It's just a bit hard to tell with humans.”
Donna stopped walking and he had to pause as well to look at her. She stared at him for a bit and then said, “You are such a liar.” She started walking again. “If you don't think I'm beautiful then just say so, I don't mind.”
Well done, Doctor, said a horrid little voice in his head, now you've upset her. He caught up with her and said “Sorry, I thought you'd hit me if I called you attractive.”
“Well, I wouldn't.”
“Okay,” he said, unwilling to push his luck much further. He looked up at the sky as it started to rain. He took off his jacket and handed it to Donna. She hadn't worn anything over the dress and her shoulders were bare.
“I don't need it,” she said, shivering as the rain got heavier. She tried to hand it back to him.
“Go on, take it,” he insisted.
“Okay, but don't blame me if you catch a cold.” She slung it across her shoulders.
“You don't get a cold from rain, Donna, you get it from a virus.”
“What are you, Mythbusters?”
He ignored her jibe, put it down to the weather. “I'll take you to Paris tomorrow, if you really want to go. I'll even pick a good year for it.”
“I'll think about it,” said Donna.
They had arrived at the TARDIS now, and he searched his trouser pocket for the key, before remembering that he'd left it in his jacket. Without really thinking about it he reached over to retrieve it, brushing against her chest as he moved.
Donna took a step back. “Oi! What do you think you're doing, Spaceman?”
“I was just... the key's in the inside pocket.”
“Oh.” Donna fished it out and handed it to him. “I thought you were trying to cop a feel of the girls.”
“The girls?” he asked, confused.
Donna held her hands up to indicate her chest. “The girls.”
“Donna,” he said, wearily, “if I was going to feel you up I'd ask first and it wouldn't be when you were drunk.”
“Whatever,” she said, heading into the TARDIS as he held the door open for her.
He went to the library when Donna disappeared into her room. He walked along the aisles between the bookshelves, not quite browsing and not quite lost in thought. He'd ruined Donna's evening. He hadn't meant to, but he'd somehow told her she was ugly and now she probably hated him.
The Doctor replayed the conversation in his head. It had started going downhill when she'd asked to go to Paris on the grounds that it was supposed to be romantic. He still wasn't sure why she'd asked, what she'd meant by it. Probably nothing. Probably she just wanted to be able to say she'd been. He'd already taken to her Venice, Rome, the rings of Saturn and probably a dozen other places that might have been termed romantic. She didn't mean it like that.
Well, of course she didn't, he was a skinny streak of alien nothing, she'd made that clear often enough. He'd panicked, though, which he felt was understandable given his recent lack of experience in that area.
He stopped, pulled a book off a shelf at random, and headed back to the armchair by the fireplace to read.
“Four hundred quid, please,” said Donna.
The Doctor gaped at her. “For five minutes' rent?”
“It's got a hotel on it. That means it costs more.” She held up the little red building. “This is the best hotel on the board. They bring you breakfast in the morning.”
The Doctor sniffed. “I've never liked this game.”
“Probably because you're crap at it,” she said, kindly.
“It brings out the worst in people,” he said darkly.
“I let you nationalise the railway stations,” she pointed out, picking the pieces from the board and putting them back in the box. “What other games have you got? Can you play cards?”
He folded the Monopoly board and handed it to her. “Old Maid.”
“Excuse me?” She looked positively dangerous.
“It's a game,” he said quickly. “Someone gets left with an unmatchable card and that's the old maid.”
“You don't think that's a bit sexist?” she asked, not quite ready to forgive him.
“I suppose it is. Never really thought about it.” He looked at her across the table as she finished putting the Monopoly set in the box. “Donna,” he asked tentatively, “is there something you want to talk about?” A horrible thought stuck him — did she want to leave?
“It's just... this life of ours.”
“Yes?” he asked, only moderately terrified that she was about to announce her intention to go home.
She shrugged. “I'm never going to get married, am I?”
Oh good, thought the Doctor, she wants to talk about emotions. He swallowed nervously and tried to look calm. “You might,” he said, “I've been married loads of times.”
“People,” he said, vaguely.
She sighed. “Everyone thinks I'm married to you.”
“We always put them right,” he said, which he felt was reasonable. “I thought someone asked you out after the opera?”
“Yeah, but he wasn't really my type. I'm more into tall, dark and handsome.”
The Doctor couldn't help mentally comparing himself to her list. He was certainly tall, and he had dark hair. Was he handsome? He wasn't sure.
“Do you think I'm past it?” she asked.
“Love. I'm nearly forty, you know.”
The Doctor didn't like it when Donna looked sad. “That's nothing, I'm nine hundred and four.”
“Yeah, but you don't look it.”
The Doctor thought for a moment. Cheering Donna up was more important than keeping all his secrets, surely? “I used to look older. And there was a woman, Cameca, she was older than you... anyway, we got engaged. Accidentally,” he admitted, “but who knows what would have happened if I'd stayed with her?”
Donna frowned. “How do accidentally get engaged to someone?”
“Never drink hot chocolate with an Aztec. Anyway,” he continued, “the point was that neither of us was past it, and we were older than you are now.”
Donna stood up. “Thanks,” she said. “You can be really sweet sometimes, you know.” She kissed his cheek and left the room before he could react.
He knocked on the door of her room a few hours later. He had changed into the blue suit and his least-grubby pair of trainers.
Donna opened the door and sniffed the air. “Are you wearing perfume?” she asked.
“Aftershave. Don't you like it?”
“It's okay,” she said non-committally. She looked him up and down. “Are you going somewhere?”
“Paris, 1998. Assuming my date says yes.”
Donna looked a bit surprised. “You're going on a date? Who with?”
“A fiery red-head who might be about to slap me.” He waited for the penny to drop.
Donna sighed. “Doctor, I'm not going on a pity-date.”
“It's not a pity-date!” he protested. “I thought, you know, since we're friends that we might go somewhere together. Somewhere nice. Perhaps even somewhere romantic.” There, he'd committed himself.
She stared at him. “Are you seriously asking me out?”
“Yes, I am.” He was crossing the line he'd drawn after Martha, but what the hell, you only lived thirteen times.
“Where are we going? Should I get dressed up?” She touched her hair. “I need to have a shower.”
“I can wait.”
“I'll be as quick as I can,” she said, closing the door.
He waited for her in the console room, trying not to check the time every five minutes. Maybe she'd changed her mind. Maybe she didn't want to risk their friendship. Maybe she didn't think he was handsome.
“Okay, Spaceman,” she said as she walked into the room, “I'm ready when you are.” She was wearing a dark green dress, not as fitted as the one she'd worn to the opera, but flatteringly cut nonetheless. She'd put her hair up and she was smiling at him.
He offered his arm and she took it. “Just so you know,” he said, “last time took a girl to Paris the world almost ended.”
Donna didn't seem concerned. “I'm used to that happening, and it'd give us something to talk about over dinner. You're paying,” she added, “I don't have any pockets in this dress.”
They left the TARDIS arm-in-arm, and the world didn't end.