Of all the things that Jon did, Donna perhaps enjoyed it most when he played his violin. The music was gorgeous, of course, but what truly captivated her was his expression. Whether he was furiously sawing through difficult passages like the one he was now performing for her mother and grandfather, his brow furrowed with intense concentration, or twiddling idly with the simplest melodies as he sat alone by the tall window in his flat, she could see a rare contentment in his eyes, a level of comfort with and acceptance of himself that he otherwise never exhibited. Even performing for others, something she thought he’d be too shy to do, brought him joy. Engrossed in his music, he could forget his doubts and gain the self-confidence he only otherwise displayed when he was hiding behind his mask.
As the excerpt from the concerto came to an end, Donna glanced sideways at her mother, anticipating her amazement and approval. Sylvia had never cared for any of Donna’s boyfriends, so it thrilled her that she’d finally found one who continually impressed her mother. It had helped that Sylvia had instantly took a liking to the awkward wallflower as he bumbled through her kitchen breaking dinnerware whilst trying to help her host Donna’s party. Since then, he’d formed a strong bond with Sylvia’s aging father Wilf and proved himself to be a doting and devoted companion to her daughter. Now he added talent to his keen intelligence. Sylvia was enchanted with him, and Donna again whispered to herself her hope that this would help them all weather the storm that certain revelations would whip up later this evening.
Sylvia broke into hearty applause, joined by Wilf, as Jon relaxed. Cradling his beloved instrument in the crook of his arm, he executed a nervous bow, though the twinkle in his eye betrayed his pride in his performance.
“That was absolutely stunning,” Sylvia declared. “I have never! Have you ever heard anything so beautiful, Dad?”
Jon’s mouth dropped open and he tried to protest but was cut off by Wilf’s quiet assurances. “Well, I can’t say I know much about all that classical stuff, but that was one of the pleasantest five minutes I’ve spent. And the way you was playing all that from memory.” He turned to Donna. “Always fiddlin’, ain’t he? Can’t get him away from the thing, I bet.”
Jon shrugged. “It’s just so much fun, making it sound like you want it to. My classmates thought it was so much work, but I thought it was play.”
“You’re one of the lucky ones, then,” Sylvia observed. “I could never get Donna to practise anything, even the things she liked doing.”
“Mum!” cried Donna. No matter the situation, Sylvia could always find a way to bring up her daughter’s shortcomings.
“Oh, hush,” Sylvia spat to her daughter, twitching with an imperious shrug. “Remember that guitar you begged for? Six months, it was all you could talk about, and then the moment you got it, you played it twice, moaned about how much your fingers hurt, and it went under the bed and never came back out.”
As Donna huffed up to retort, Jon grinned at her. “Yes, Sylvia,” he said without tearing his gaze away from her daughter, “I am one of the lucky ones, in many ways. So very lucky.”
Donna couldn’t help but smile back. She hopped to her feet. “I’m sure Jon’s parched after all that. Anyone want more tea or wine?”
As Sylvia and Wilf responded, Jon sat down on the couch next to Donna’s grandfather, the violin and bow nestled in his lap. “But yes, I did love playing this thing. My mum never had to get after me to practise.”
“Must be nice,” murmured Sylvia. “Why you’re not playing with the symphony, I’ll never know. You’re such a natural.”
“Actually, I’m not, not at all.” Sylvia frowned in disbelief, and Jon felt compelled to explain. “I’m technically skilled, but I don’t have that…” He groped for the appropriate phrase. “That ability to feel the music.” Nestling the instrument under his chin, he popped out a few bars of a jig, his bow bouncing merrily on the strings. “You see?” he asked when he was done, shrugging as he glanced around. “Perfectly timed and executed and perfectly bland. My tutor used to say my playing was precise and mathematical, but dry as bleached bones under the Sahara sun, and a tenth as evocative.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not so bad as that,” said Sylvia, dismissing Jon’s admission with a wave of her hand. “What you just played, that concerto, that was simply lovely.”
The tips of Jon’s ears coloured at the compliment, and he busied himself with laying the violin on the coffee table to hide his embarrassment. “Thank you. But I’d never be able to land a spot in an orchestra, not the way I play. That’s not bad, mind you. I love my job. Can’t beat building big metal machines.”
“I suppose that’s a mercy,” replied Sylvia. “The world could use more scientists and engineers. But I’m just happy you’ll be bringing Donna some culture. She’s still in denial about the Spice Girls breaking up.”
“It’s just a hiatus, Mum. Any day now, they’ll get back together,” Donna chimed in with a wink as she returned with a tray laden with tea things. Jon jumped up to put his instrument away on its rack, then everyone sat up to prepare their tea.
“Still,” Sylvia continued, scooping a bit of sugar into her drink, “I must say that you’ve been good for Donna. I know you had us over to make us feel more comfortable with the idea of her moving in here, and whilst a mother’s never going to be pleased when her only daughter moves out, I have to say I’m happy for you both. You just have to promise to keep coming over to see Dad.”
With a proud smile that was all for Donna, Wilf nodded his agreement. “I’m expectin’ you, twice a week as usual. And bring my girl with you. I’ll not have her forgettin’ her old granddad.”
“I’d never, Gramps,” Donna chided him. “I’ll be over all the time. It’ll be like I’m living right at home.”
“Emptying the refrigerator each time, I’m sure,” Sylvia huffed in mock irritation as she stirred her tea.
Jon quirked a tiny smile at Sylvia’s and Wilf’s approval, but it vanished quickly. “Thank you, both of you. I appreciate your confidence, but…” He gulped and glanced at Donna in a silent plea for strength. “There’s more. That wasn’t all that I invited you over for.”
“Oh?” Sylvia could tell something was wrong, and she peered at her daughter as well, looking for a clue. “Whatever’s the matter?”
Licking his lips, Jon curled in on himself as he looked away. “I… I have something to tell you,” he murmured, more to himself than to his guests. “Something you need to know about me.” He took a deep breath. “Wilf. Mrs. Noble…”
Sylvia frowned. “Oh, we’re back to ‘Mrs. Noble’ again, are we? Come now, Jon, whatever it is can’t be all that bad.”
“Mum!” scolded Donna. “This is hard enough as it is.”
“Oh, keep it to yourself, madam,” Sylvia sniffed. “Jon’s like family. We’re not going to think any less of him, whatever might be the matter.”
“Yes, you will.” Straightening, Jon caught Sylvia’s gaze, then took another deep breath, gathering his confidence. “Sylvia,” and he nodded to her and her father. “Wilf. I… I don’t know how to say this. Best way is straight out, I suppose.” Sylvia looked about to burst with another protest, but she kept her peace. “I’m…” He swallowed once more and looked Sylvia in the eye. “I’m a prime.”
Sylvia recoiled, as if a spider had leapt out of Jon’s breast pocket. She stared at him like she’d never seen him before, her wide eyes raking him up and down. “You’re…?”
Stammering, Jon begged her patience and understanding. “J-just a, just a little bit. Not even so much as you’d notice, really. I mean, you haven’t, actually, have you? Noticed, I mean, that I’m, er, a prime. Just a t-tiny bit of one.”
“But, but…” Sylvia’s gape, disbelieving and uncertain, hardened and she whirled on her daughter. “You put him up to this, didn’t you? This is one of your silly little party pieces, embarrassing your mother in company. I don’t know what you’re thinking, but this is not funny.”
“This is not a joke, Mother,” Donna insisted. “I’d never lie about something like this, and certainly wouldn’t ask him to.” She glanced at Jon before adding, “He really is a prime.”
“Just a bit,” Jon repeated in an almost inaudible mumble.
“So you’re one of them!” Sylvia’s supercilious sneer left Jon in no doubt of her opinion. “If that doesn’t take! Leading us all on like that. It’s just like I’ve always said.”
Wilf leant forward and patted his daughter’s knee. “Now there’s no reason to get all excited, my dear.”
“But Dad, he’s a prime!” Sylvia protested. “One of them! You know it’s just not right.” Shaking her head, she appraised Jon from head to toe. “Here you’ve been keeping it all a big secret. Ashamed, are you? I would be if I were. And now you tell us, just as she was about to move in?”
“For your information, Mother, he didn’t just tell me. I’ve always known, ever since we started seeing each other. He told me the day before, in fact.” Donna reached over and took Jon’s hand, flashing him a confident smile before turning back to her mother.
Sylvia drew herself up with an accusatory frown. “You’ve known all this time and you’ve been bringing him home like it’s nothing at all? When are you going to grow up, Donna? You’re putting your obsession with primes and celebrities ahead of your own family.”
“Bollocks!” spat Donna. “My being with Jon has got nothing to do with him being a prime. I love him. He’s only telling you now because we knew you’d act like this.”
“Act like what?” Sylvia’s expression was pure indignation.
“Getting all in a huff and treating Jon like he’s pond scum. After all you just said, too!” She patted him on the shoulder. “Look at him. He’s still the same Jon you’ve always known. He’s like family, you said.”
“Family protect each other,” sniffed Sylvia. “Family don’t keep secrets from each other.”
“Well, it’s about time you came out and said it, I say. I been waitin’ long enough,” grumbled Wilf.
Both Donna and her mother spun to stare at him. “You knew?” they squeaked in unison.
Wilf recoiled from the double assault from his two girls. “Could hardly not, what with you tellin’ me that day, you know, when Lance stood you up, that you was with the Doctor -”
“She was!” exclaimed Sylvia. “Keeping me in the dark about things, both of you! Look what this is doing to you, Donna!”
“Shut it, Mum!” Donna shot back.
Sylvia snorted. “Well, I never!”
Wilf tried his best to keep on against the two of them. “And… and then you said after the Harold Saxon thing that you knew who he was, and then the next day, you come home with Jon. It were obvious, weren’t it? I’d have to have lost the plot to not figure it all out.”’
“And you never said?” squeaked Donna.
Wilf shrugged. “I figured, you’d tell us when you was good and ready. No point in forcin’ you, now is there?”
“Wait, Dad. You’re saying Jon’s the Doctor? The one that stopped Harold Saxon?” Sylvia interjected as she eyed Jon up and down with equal parts suspicion and respect.
Wilf’s eyes were also on Jon, but his were filled with pride. “That’s him.”
“Dad, you should have told me!” Sylvia cried.
“And set you against the boy before you got a chance to know him?” With a nod of approval at his stargazing mate, Wilf sat back. “He deserved a fair shot.”
“I deserved to know what was going on in my own home!” Sylvia retorted.
“What was going on?” Donna threw her hands up in frustration. “What was going on was that I was seeing a nice, intelligent bloke for once, the first one you’ve ever liked. That’s all. No superpowers or danger or anything, not a jot. If he didn’t insist on telling you himself, you’d have never known.”
“And you think that makes it all okay?” Sylvia mimicked Donna’s habit of preening her ginger locks. “‘Nothing’s ever gone wrong so it’s all right. Mum’s just off her rocker.’”
“No,” Donna declared, swallowing down the insult. “I think it shows there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Hmph.” Crossing her arms across her chest, Sylvia turned her nose up at her daughter and the man sitting near her.
“Well,” Wilf drawled, trying to soften the mood, “if you ask me, this don’t change a thing. We’ve known Jon for, what, half a year now? He’s a fine young man. Not even talkin’ about him as, you know, the Doctor.” He grinned a bit as he referred to Jon by his hero name, then cringed under Sylvia’s glare.
“He is, Gramps.” Donna cast a shining glance at Jon. “He’s everything I’ve ever wanted.” Jon ducked his head to hide the spots of colour on his cheeks.
“Isn’t that what’s important?” Wilf asked, though it was obvious it was meant for his own daughter. When she pointedly ignored him, he turned back to Jon and wagged a finger at him. “Go on, then. Show us what you can do.”
As Jon jerked straight, amazed to be asked to display his powers, Sylvia gasped. “Dad! Don’t encourage him!”
“Why not? He’s got the right to be who he is.” Wilf turned back to Jon. “They’ve talked about you on the news a bit, and I been payin’ attention. They’ve been callin’ you one of the finest acrobats.”
“Er, yeah, that’s right. I’m fast and agile.” Jon coloured again as he listed his powers. “I’ve a bit more than that. Nothing visible, though. Nothing you’d really notice. I, er…” He hesitated a moment, then went with the simplest description of his other ability. “I make sound.”
“Now what kind of power is that?” Sylvia snapped, not quite able to ignore Jon, the first prime she’d ever met face-to-face - that she knew of, anyway.
“Nothing useful, really,” Jon was quick to assure her. “But I can, well... Better if I show you.” He looked over his shoulder at the door to Donna’s intended bedroom. “Oh, I’ve moved my equipment upstairs to clear the room for Donna. Let me just…”
Hopping up from his seat, he took a step and leapt up to the nearest pipe, bouncing off it to vault over the railing of the upstairs landing and disappear into his room. Donna bit back her amused smile as her mother gasped, “Oh, my word!” and jerked back in her seat. Sylvia clutched a hand to her chest, unable to tear her wide eyes away from Jon’s performance. Wilf sat similarly stunned, but he was enjoying every second.
“It’s brilliant seeing it up close, isn’t it?” Donna crooned.
Sylvia collected herself with a quiver, then harrumphed again. “I see why there’s not a single picture or vase in here, and why he chose a conversion in the first place. You’re going to have to learn to duck.”
Donna snorted at her mother’s attempt to cover up her surprise with sarcasm. “He does know where all his arms and legs are, Mum.”
Jon burst from his room with his laptop cradled to his chest, hopped over the handrail, and landed lightly just below. “Oh, that was rude,” he pronounced with a polite bow to Sylvia. “Sorry. I’m like that sometimes. Rude. But it’s just natural for me to -” and he jerked his head toward the pipe. “I forgot you aren’t used to it.”
“This is your home,” Wilf soothed, shooting a silencing glance at his daughter. “You do what you want here.”
Jon waited another beat to take his seat again. Opening the computer, he pulled a microphone from his pocket and hooked it in, then turned the screen toward his guests. As Wilf leant in to look, Sylvia turned her nose up at it, though she watched out of the corner of her eye.
Jon pointed to the application open on the screen. “This is an audio oscillogram. It shows you the sound wave, well, sort of. Not to get too technical, but it’ll show you what you’re hearing.” When he held up microphone to his lips and murmured into it, his voice issued from the cheap laptop speaker and the wave on the screen flickered in time and amplitude to his words and volume. “You see?” the speaker crackled, “You can see how the sound looks.”
Wilf and Sylvia nodded, the latter frowning as she tried to anticipate what he was going to do.
“Now listen to this.” Jon enclosed the head of the microphone in his fist. A nervous smile flickered across his face then faded as he concentrated, and the laptop speaker came to life with a melodic, slightly brassy “God Save the Queen”. The line on the oscillogram danced accordingly.
Sylvia gasped. “You’re doing that?”
She glanced at the violin in its bracket. “Were you doing that earlier?”
“Oh, no. That was actually the violin, not me making it up.” Jon took his hand from the microphone and the music stopped. “You can’t hear this without the amplification. That’s what I can do. Hardly even worth mentioning, is it?”
Though she forced a neutral but hopeful expression, Donna squirmed inside as she watched her mother consider what Jon had said. His sonics were more powerful and versatile than he was letting on and he had neglected to mention his other remarkable power, his superhuman hearing. Sylvia’s talent, however, was sensing what hadn’t been said and she just might realise there was a lot more to the less threatening, more palatable package that Jon had presented. Jon’s eyes twitched to hers, and she knew he’d heard the quickening of her heartrate and breathing as she’d anticipated Sylvia’s disapproval.
Sylvia tutted. “Hardly worth mentioning? Then why did you?”
Donna couldn’t keep it in any longer. “Because you’re my mum and you deserve to know. Because we want your full approval.”
Sylvia drew herself up. “But it wouldn’t stop you if I didn’t approve, would it?”
Donna mimicked her posture, but with a calm and cool air. “No. But I hope you will.”
“And I’m just supposed to go along?” Sylvia clucked as she set her fists on her hips. “I never thought I’d see the day when you’d turn your back on your family, Donna.”
Donna sucked in a breath to argue, but Jon’s warm hand on hers stopped her.
“Mrs. Noble,” he began, his tone soft and even, “I understand your fears, and I agree with you.” Faltering a bit, he drew a quick breath. “To a point. Not that I’m dangerous, ‘cause I’m not. Though I can be, sometimes, but usually I’m not.” Sylvia frowned as he danced around his point. “What I mean is, what you said at Donna’s party, all the way back then. We need control. Primes, I mean. We need to take responsibility for who and what we are, and we need some oversight.”
With a self-important nod, Sylvia turned to Donna. “You see? That’s just what I was saying.”
“But that’s on a general level,” Jon hastened to say. He leant forward to capture her full attention. “Let me ask you. Please tell me, what is it about me that you object to? Not about all primes, or even any of the other ones you’ve heard about. Just me.”
Sylvia fixed him with a hard stare, pursing her lips as she straightened her shoulders. “I don’t see why I need to say a word,” she finally spat. “I’ve said it all before, a million times.”
“You have?” asked Jon, though his placid expression betrayed that he had expected her to dodge the question. “I’ve never heard you say a word against me, not even when I broke your favourite serving platter.”
“Well, not you specifically,” she pointed out.
“But that’s what I’m asking. Please, tell me what you dislike about me,” he requested again.
Sylvia fidgeted in her seat, her fingers twiddling in her lap with the cloth of her dress. When her nervous eyes twitched from Jon to her daughter, Donna jumped at the opportunity.
“You can’t, can you, Mum?” Donna crowed, triumph ringing in her voice. “You’ve always liked him and you still do. You just can’t admit that you’re wrong.”
“Donna,” Jon warned, but it was too late. With a huff, Sylvia jumped to her feet.
“I will not stand to be treated like this. You!” Towering over Jon, she thrust a finger at him. “You’re part of it all, everything that’s wrong about primes, and I don’t like you dragging my daughter into that world. And my father for that matter. Everything I hold dear!” Striding off, she grabbed her coat from the rack near the door. “Come on, Dad. We’re going home,” she ordered before snatching up her handbag and marching out.
Jon, Donna, and Wilf sat staring at the door for a handful of silent seconds after it slammed shut, until Wilf climbed to his feet and clapped his granddaughter on the shoulder. “I’ll talk to her. She’ll come round. You’ll see,” he assured her.
“When pigs fly,” growled Donna. “She just… I can’t… Oo, sometimes I just wanna…” Her hands balled into fists in her lap.
“Just you wait. She just needs a bit o’ time and a cuppa to brood over, and maybe just a little magic.” He winked at her, and Donna couldn’t help smiling. “But I better,” and he jerked his head toward the door,” or she’ll barge back in to collect me, and no one wants that.”
Jon leapt up to fetch Wilf’s coat and helped him on with it. “Thank you, Wilf. Your approval means everything to me.”
“Oi, now, you just go out there and do great things, Doctor, and come back and tell me all about it. Twice a week, up the hill.” Clapping him on the arm, Wilf wiggled his fingers in farewell to Donna and scurried out the door after his daughter.
Jon did up the locks, then turned to Donna, a faint smile on his lips as he leant back against the door. “That went better than I’d imagined,” he declared.
“A step up from the apocalypse?” she asked, flicking her hair back over her shoulder in irritation. “I do not believe her! After all she said, she-”
“Donna.” Jon strode over and took her hand. “It’s all right. It really did go just fine.”
“Fine? That was fine?” Donna sputtered.
“Donna,” he called again, gently. “Think about it. She never said no.” Donna’s eyes widened, and he returned an encouraging smile. “She’s starting to think maybe we’re not so bad, you know? And that’s a giant leap in the right direction. You just pushed her a little too far too fast.”
Donna felt the hope blossom in her chest and warm her heart. “You really think so?”
“I’m not the best judge, but I do.” Biting his lip, he glanced away, embarrassed. “I’d like to think she likes me enough to look past my... well, ignore it anyway. And I don’t think she’ll let you slip away. She’s your mum, after all.”
“Yeah,” Donna breathed with a sigh. “She is. Such as it is.”
Jon sat down on the arm of Donna’s chair and, giving her shoulders a warm squeeze, leant in to peck her on the forehead. “So that’s done, ma Donna, and it went as well as we could hope.”
Jon smiled. “Now we wait.”