The silence was deafening. Until this moment, Donna had never had such an appreciation for the phrase. All around her, the clinks of silverware against bone china, the splashes of expensive wine into fine stemware, and the hum of posh accents and droll laughter enveloped them like a fog, and yet the yawning gulf between her and the three others at the table plugged her ears and bored down into her stomach, turning her apprehension into full-on nausea. She wondered how she would be able to keep her dinner down, then dismissed the notion: at this rate, she’d be asked to leave and never come back before she’d get a chance to order.
Donna straightened the butter knife next to her plate as she stole a look at Jon sitting at her left. He seemed relaxed, if a little expectant, and why not? He wasn’t meeting her parents for the first time in a high-brow restaurant a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. He certainly looked the part in his crisp tailored suit though his hair, his one fashionable affectation jauntily gelled in place, stuck up more than is proper, but he remained oblivious to her discomfort. Probably thinks I made it here, survived the introductions, so it’s all good. A little help here? Catching her eye, he flashed her a shy grin and turned back to his mum. Obviously you’re not a mind reader. Or empathetic to people in any way. She rolled her eyes at him.
“I must admit, Jon really hasn’t told us much about you.” Jon’s mother, a stately matron with warm, intelligent brown eyes just like her son’s and brilliant white hair framing her face like a summer cloud, had insisted that Donna call her “Eliza” and not “Mrs. Smith” in a kind but nasal accent. She sat with easy grace, her hands folded in her lap against the soft silk of her evening dress. Donna fixed her gaze on the centerpiece of orchids and glass bells, acutely aware how out-of-place she was in her off-the-rack dress and costume jewelry. “Except that you’re quite lovely,” Eliza continued, “and I must say, he led us true there.”
Startled, Donna glanced nervously at Jon, who repeated his encouraging smile. “Thank you, M- Eliza. You’re too kind.” For Jon’s sake, she tried to paint a better portrait of herself by reigning in her usual attitude, but she couldn’t hide her London accent. She imagined that every word that came from her mouth rang out across the restaurant and drew dark looks from the other patrons. Perhaps that was why Jon, whose accent matched hers and not his parents’, spoke even less than he normally did here.
“You met at work, I believe. At Fischer.” Jon’s father Henry was the truly intimidating one. A tall, trim man, Donna imagined that in his prime, he looked exactly like his son, except that his steel blue eyes were shrewd and piercing and that so far, he hadn’t smiled once. Everything about him was in perfect order, from his short grey waves and trimmed beard, to his jacket, waistcoat, gold fob, and meticulous half-Windsor knot, to the exact half-inch of cuff peeking from his sleeve, to his gleaming shoes. Donna had always been certain she could hold her own against anyone, but she found herself trying to avoid catching his attention.
“Yes,” she replied. She had to say more than “yes”, “no”, and “thank you” to these people, so she blurted out, “We’re in the same group,” and immediately regretted it. They must know that already.
“A fine company, Fischer,” continued Henry, making Donna wonder if he’d heard her at all. “A good reputation. However, Jonathan, I think it would have served you better to have stayed at United. Bigger company, better facilities and support. If you’d kept on as architect there, you’d be in management by now.”
A hint of annoyance flitted across Jon’s face. “I doubt that. You’ve always said I’ve not a shred of common sense. Best for all concerned that I stay in engineering.”
“Nonsense,” Henry stated. “You are perfectly capable. Your problem has always been a lack of ambition.”
Eliza reached over and grasped her husband’s hand. “Dear...,” she began.
“I doubt that’s my only problem in your opinion,” Jon growled out, and his hand on the table curled into a fist. Donna knew what that meant: she’d helped him learn to control his powers for two months now, and his hands always clenched when he was trying to suppress them. She suspected he wasn’t actually angry enough to become potentially dangerous, but he needed to prevent even the smallest display of ability that might inform his parents that their son was a prime. That would be disastrous. She reached over and covered his hand just like his mother had his father’s moments earlier.
“Jon…” she murmured, but he snatched his hand away.
“There are other routes of advancement than management,” snapped Jon, his accent subtly shifting to mock his father’s. “Ambition takes different forms as well, don’t you agree? You could have taken party leadership if you wanted, but instead you stepped down to work for the Abingdon MP.”
Henry sniffed. “A Member of Parliament serves the country first. My strengths are in law, not politics. I went where I was needed.”
“My point.” Jon relaxed a touch, sitting back in his chair and glancing at Donna with a frustrated grimace. His father drew breath to retort, but Eliza put her foot down.
“Now, my dear, it’s no use dredging up old arguments. I doubt you two will ever see eye-to-eye. Jon has done very well for himself. You forget your son holds a doctorate in engineering and is well-respected in his field. That is nothing to scoff at. You should be proud of him.”
“I paid for that education,” Henry grumbled. “Four years at MIT, because he wouldn’t have anything less, had his heart set on it since he was ten. ‘The best engineering school in the world’ - I don’t know how many times I heard that whinge.” He turned to address Donna directly. “That alone cost more than his brother’s entire education up until he was called to the bar. Then four years at Cambridge on top of it. But he’s made every pound I spent count. Of course I’m proud of him.” With a glare at Jon, he pronounced, “I simply believe that my son could do so much more.”
Mercifully, a waiter appeared at that moment with menus, and everyone took the opportunity to hide behind walls of pale blue cardboard and let the tension dissipate. Donna goggled at the menu. No prices were displayed, but the descriptions of the dishes were enough for her to infer their range.
Jon leant closer and slipped an arm around Donna’s shoulders, his long fingers caressing her neck just below her ear. The gesture, she knew, was not simply a demonstration of affection: as he murmured under his breath, he channeled and amplified the sound through himself to the sonic field emanating from his hand and she could hear his voice as clearly as if he were speaking aloud. He would also hear her responses, pronounced with the merest of breaths, and thus, they could speak in almost perfect privacy.
“Choose whatever you want,” he urged. “Try something you’ve never thought you might. Don’t worry about the cost. In fact, my dad’s more likely to be insulted if he thinks you’re trying to choose the cheapest thing available.”
“I don’t even know what half this stuff is,” she hissed back. “This is the kind of food you had at home?”
“Nah. My mum’s an excellent cook, but she mostly cooked normal stuff, just like yours.” He glanced up to make sure his parents were still engrossed with their menus. “We really aren’t all that different from your family. I think my dad is just trying to impress you.”
Donna twitched with silent laughter. “Impress me? Scare me off, more like.”
Jon grinned. “Possibly.”
“Please don’t hesitate to order anything you want, Donna, dear,” Eliza called over her menu. “I particularly recommend the oysters, and the lobster is a house specialty.”
Donna shook her head. “I don’t think so, thanks. Shellfish’re better off staying in their shells, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Now there’s a woman with sense,” grunted Henry.
After their orders were taken, Eliza took a firmer hand in guiding the conversation away from topics of contention and toward the actual purpose of evening, getting to know her son’s new “lady friend”, as she termed it. Donna felt far more at ease talking to Jon’s mother, who, contrary to her first impression of the woman, seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say and wasn’t judging her on every word.
More importantly, though, Eliza prevented her husband from dominating the table. Donna still had not been able to figure him out, and it was clear she needed to pass his inspection. She doubted that his father’s disapproval would influence Jon’s choices in any way, but satisfying the parents would improve their own future. Henry seemed content to eat his dinner and let Eliza ask the questions and tell the stories, and if he was judging Donna’s comments, he did so in silence.
“I’ve barely strayed from Chiswick,” Donna was saying, “‘cept on holiday. My mum’s always said I should expand my horizons, but I just can’t see myself anywhere else, you know?”
“Oh, of course, dear,” Eliza replied after swallowing her last bite, setting her fork down, and dabbing at her lips with her napkin. “I’m London born and bred like you. I never thought I’d leave, and I do miss all the opportunity, but I was surprised to find just how comforting the pace of life in Abingdon really is. But you’re young yet -”
“Not that young,” Donna laughed.
“Young enough,” Eliza repeated with a knowing nod. “Everything needs to be fast and exciting. One day, though, you might find that a life that ambles along is just what you need. I didn’t know it until I found it.”
“So you didn’t actually want to move to Abingdon, then?”
“Oh, no. That was entirely Henry’s decision.” She glanced at her husband to see if he objected to her talking about him, then continued. “He didn’t feel he was entirely effective as an MP, so he refused to stand for re-election and took a post on Albert Lindstrom’s staff, doing legal research and drafting bills and the like.” An impish twinkle gleamed in her eye. “I think controlling things from behind the scenes suits him better.”
“Pfah!” Henry grunted. He picked up his wine glass but didn’t drink, gesturing dismissively with it. “I don’t control anything. It’s Bertie’s ball. I just write it all down. As I said, I’m not a politician.”
“But you said you’re drafting bills. That’s MP work, isn’t it?” inquired Donna.
“The job description of a Member of Parliament encapsulates a great deal,” Henry stated, “including drafting bills, but no man can do everything himself. The paperwork alone could occupy him for his entire term of office. Bertie is a fine MP, a statesman and a leader, but his expertise is not in law, so he keeps me on his staff.”
“Oh, I’d no idea,” admitted Donna. “All I know about politics is what I’ve seen in films. They always seem to show a bunch of stuffy blokes in a cramped chamber yelling at each other.”
Everyone laughed, and Henry held his glass up to her. “You’ve a good portion of it spot on,” he pronounced and took a long sip.
The waiter appeared to take their coffee and dessert orders and clear away the empty dishes. Once he left, Henry settled back in his chair. “I must admit I enjoy the work. I’m getting too old for all that Parliament nonsense. Now I’m serving Queen and country without all the stress, and I spend my time immersed in my first love, which is common law.” He wagged a finger at his son. “So, you see, Jonathan, however much we may disagree, I do understand how you feel.”
“Then maybe you could drop it,” mumbled Jon.
“Never,” Henry growled, then turned back to Donna. “My current work is particularly rewarding. We’ve been working with Johnson’s and d’Arcy’s staffs on the Prime Agency bill, and we’re close. It’s been a year in the making, but we’re finally heading in the right direction, and once we’re done, it should speed right through both Houses in no time.”
Donna cocked her head at the concept. “Prime Agency? What’s that?”
“That’s the working name. We’ve had some debate about the difficulty of using the term ‘prime’, as when used in connection with government, one thinks immediately of the Prime Minister. That’s the problem with trendy American lexicon. However, it is the established term, so we must use it.” He refocused on Donna’s question with a satisfied sniff. “It’s what this country has desperately needed for nearly three years now. The bill establishes an agency that will manage primes living in the UK.”
Donna pursed her lips as she considered what she should say next. She had heard of the idea, though not the actual name. She’d known that Parliament had been considering passing laws concerning primes, and that the actual purpose and execution of those laws were still under contention. She hadn’t known that they were this close to actually having such laws enacted.
Jon had told her that his father was anti-prime, and she was glad that the bill he was drafting wasn’t attempting to criminalise them, but “managing” didn’t sound good either. “What does that mean?” she asked his father. “How will the government be managing primes?”
Henry settled back in his chair, quite content to discuss the work in which he took such pride. “The agency will establish a roll of all primes in the country, their names and locations as well as their abilities, so that risks can be assessed and precautions taken to protect them and their communities. The agency will also provide specialised services for primes, such as powers education and legal assistance, placing primes where they can use their powers to do the most good, as well as services for employers, landlords, physicians, anyone who has to deal with primes on a regular basis.”
He certainly did a good job of making it all sound fair and beneficial, but there was one thing that rubbed Donna the wrong way. “Then you’ll be forcing primes to reveal themselves. It’ll be illegal to keep it a secret, won’t it?”
Henry nodded. “It’s the only way it will work. It’s for their own good. If we don’t know who they are, we cannot protect them and their families from themselves.”
Donna drew in a breath to argue, then hesitated. Jon, afraid of antagonising his father in yet another way, had specifically requested that if the subject of primes or anything related came up during this dinner, that she let it go. He wanted to avoid an argument that could turn his parents, who were anti-prime though not so much as the radical Power Down movement, against her. However, it was against her nature to stay silent, and it scared her that national policy could be set by a prejudiced man like this. She deliberately turned her head so she could plausibly claim she hadn't seen Jon’s attempts to catch her attention and stated with calm inflection, “It sounds more like you’re trying to control them.”
“Donna…” Jon murmured, but she shushed him with a wave.
“No, it does,” she repeated. “That’s exactly what you’re trying to do.”
“They need to be managed,” Henry clarified. “Primes are dangerous, and we have a duty to protect our citizens.”
“No, they’re not. Primes aren’t dangerous,” she stated. Henry fixed her with an incredulous stare, so she elaborated. “Certainly Silver Falcon is superhumanly strong, but that doesn’t make him inherently dangerous. He controls himself. I’ve seen him loads of times hugging people on camera and they survive just fine.” She swallowed a smirk at the thought that her understanding of Falcon’s ability to moderate his strength came from very personal experience. She picked up the fork in front of Jon and brandished it. “Here. I’ve got a fork now. I could stab you with it.” She spun it in her hand to grasp it like a dagger and jabbed the air with it. “Do you need to ‘manage’ me now, because I’m dangerous?”
“Now,” began Eliza, “I believe there are better places to have this discussion, don’t you think?”
“No, no, let her speak,” Henry soothed. “This is interesting.” He nodded at Donna. “Even with your fork, you are nowhere near as dangerous as Silver Falcon.”
“Most primes aren’t.” She turned to Jon for support. “Like that one in the park? She could call a bird to her and make it do tricks.”
Jon swallowed hard before he found his voice. “Right. A bit of flying and singing. Not much power at all.”
“How exactly would you know that?” Henry asked, wagging a finger at Donna. “As you just pointed out, she could be controlling herself, presenting a palatable picture as she plans her avian assault.”
“But that’s the thing. You don’t know that either, that she’s planning anything,” she countered. “You can’t arrest someone because you think she might commit a crime. If you’ve some evidence, you could, but not on suspicion and means alone.”
"I never said anything about arresting them,” he clarified. “The Prime Agency bill is designed to help primes, not criminalise them.”
“That’s what they always say when it starts, isn’t it?” Donna mused. “Whenever anyone tries to impose limits on someone else, ‘We’re helping ‘em’, they say.”
Eliza almost burst out of her seat, waving her napkin at something across the room behind Donna. “Oh, over here!” she called as both her husband and Donna grinned at her obvious ploy to cut the discussion short. “Dear, please, fetch a chair for him.”
As Henry signaled a waiter, Jon rose from his seat. “Chris! I thought you were held up at work.”
So this is Jon’s brother, thought Donna as she appraised the man approaching the table. Though he was a hand shorter than Jon, his broad shoulders gave him more presence, and he moved with regal confidence, in stark contrast to Jon’s awkward gangliness. Also unlike Jon, he resembled their mother more, though those sharp blue eyes were entirely their father’s. His long, wide nose belonged to neither parent, and Donna almost giggled at the thought that it must be perfectly suited to sneer down at someone along. He dressed as formally as his father, though the cut of his jacket and waistcoat was thoroughly contemporary and fashionable.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he was saying. “I moved my last meeting to Monday and drove out as soon as I could.” He glanced down at the cleared table. “Just in time for coffee, I see.”
Jon turned to Donna. “Donna, this is my brother, Chris. Chris, this is my…” He glanced away for a moment, embarrassed. “This is Donna. Donna Noble.”
His brother took Donna’s hand and bowed low to kiss it. “Enchanté. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Donna. But please, call me Brax.”
Donna wasn’t quite sure if she’d heard him correctly. “Brax?” she repeated.
“Yes,” he said with a smile, obviously used to the question. He took the chair that the waiter brought for him, and Jon scooted closer to Donna. “Everyone calls me that, except for my family. It’s a nickname I picked up in school.”
“You mean you insisted on it,” scowled Henry. Shaking his head, he explained to Donna, “Every teenager goes through that phase where they want to be the next rock star. I got him the drum set and I think those boys managed three rehearsals before it was on to the next ‘cool’ thing. The only thing that stuck was the name. Braxel or somesuch.”
“Braxiatel,” corrected Brax, and proceeded to explain. “Kev Tyndall thought it would be more ‘metal’ to choose new names, then he came up with ‘Borusa’ for himself. How that’s ‘metal’, I still have no idea. But my friends liked ‘Brax’ and it stuck, and it was simply easier to keep it when we went to Oxford.”
Henry shook his head in disgust. “I do not know what is wrong with using your given name.”
“Have you actually tried saying it, Dad?” Though his words rebuked his father, his sly smile brimmed with tolerant amusement. “Chris Smith? It either all blends together or gets stuck on the tongue if you try to make it two words.”
“Your name is Christopher.”
“You’re the only one who calls me that. Even Mum and Jon call me Chris.” Brax turned to Donna, his eyes dark with dry humour. “If you have children someday, think hard about how their names and nicknames will work. I’ve had a devil of a time keeping it straight with everyone. Chris with Mum and Dad, C. Irving Smith for a professional name, Brax to friends and colleagues.”
“I’ll be sure to consult you when the time comes,” Donna assured him with a laugh, not quite sure that her original assessment of him was accurate. Brax carried himself with stereotypical privileged arrogance, complete with the posh accent, but his manner of speaking and jovial style felt rather too familiar for someone she’d just met. Slick, thought Donna. That’s the word. Slick. Like he’s putting on the face he wants me to see. It was not a comfortable feeling.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” Eliza cooed at her son. “Where is Romana? Couldn’t she get away?”
“Not in time, no. She spent all afternoon with the solicitor for the case she’s presenting next week. If I’d waited for her, we wouldn’t have made it. But this way, she’s home now to look after the girls.” He turned to Donna. “I’m afraid we’re not much company. With a table of Smiths, it’s all dry legal talk.”
"Oh, no," Donna protested, "we’ve barely strayed into anything like that."
"That’s because Mum's been telling her all of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood," grumbled Jon.
“That’s a time-honoured tradition, Jon,” laughed Brax. “That way, Donna knows exactly what she’s gotten herself into.”
Donna couldn’t resist. “And it wasn’t only your childhood. One of those happened at Cambridge, didn’t it? The one with the industrial lathe and the fairy cakes?” Jon turned a most satisfying shade of red, and she reached over to squeeze his hand in both comfort and apology.
The waiter returned with a tray laden with their desserts and coffee and tea for everyone, and the conversation turned toward savouring their sweets. Donna in particular gushed over her chocolate mille-feuille. She couldn’t help herself and finished her dessert before the others, and she resolved to take the opportunity to get to know Jon’s brother better. “You’re a barrister, then, you and your wife both?”
“Oh, yes.” Brax toyed with the handle of his coffee cup as he spoke. “In fact, we first met at a trial, though,” and he glanced at Jon, “it turns out she and my little brother were good mates at Cambridge. I worked for the prosecution and she represented the defendant. However, she defeated me quite soundly, and I knew at that moment she was the woman for me.”
“And what does the score stand at now?” prompted Jon.
“Five to two in her favour,” declared Brax with a proud smile for his wife. “All before we started seeing each other, mind you, years ago. Hardly ethical to argue against each other now. Well, Romana still argues cases,” he clarified. “I haven’t in years. I work on Kate Burchard’s staff.”
“She’s an MP, isn’t she?” asked Donna.
“Yes. Ilford North.”
“So you do things like your father.”
“Precisely,” answered Henry. “He’s gaining experience for a bid for a seat of his own. He’s better suited for that sort of business than I was, certainly.”
“Prime Minister Smith, then?” Donna asked with a wink.
“Oh, no. My ambition doesn’t aim quite that high. Besides,” Brax declared, “the real power’s in the back rooms.”
Henry snorted as he sipped his tea. “That’s the unvarnished truth, that is.”
Brax grimaced and, shaking his head, tugged at his ear. “Sorry, Dad. Didn’t catch that.”
Henry placed his cup back on its saucer. “I said you’ll find that truer than you think, once you make it to Parliament. Many issues are debated behind closed doors long before they make it to the House floor.”
“Is that the way this Prime Agency thing is going to go?” asked Donna with a sickly sweet smile. “All rubber stamped before the public even gets to hear about it?”
“Donna!” chided Jon. “Please don’t bring that up again.”
Henry shook his head. “Not that. Primes are too much in the public eye, so it’ll get its time for debate and decision. It shouldn’t take long, however. Parliament is quite cognisant that something has to be done.”
“Something, yes,” Donna agreed, “but not that.”
“I take it you don’t approve of the Prime Agency bill?” asked Brax.
Donna took a deep breath to keep an even tone. Civility and intelligence was crucial here. “Not the way your father described it, no,” she pronounced.
“And that is?” he prodded.
“Please,” Jon interjected, “can we talk about something else? We’ve had enough argument for one night already.”
“That was hardly an argument,” Henry declared as he wagged a finger at his son. “It was a discussion, a lively one, I’ll admit, and Donna had some very interesting opinions, which I’m sure your brother would like to hear.” He turned to Brax. “Correct me if I am wrong, Donna, but she believes that the agency is intended to control and criminalise primes. She doubts the intent of the measure, that it is designed to help and protect both primes and the community. She believes that primes should be left to their own devices.” He turned back to her. “Is that correct?””
Donna sat stunned for a moment. She’d never before heard anyone who disagreed with her actually understand her point of view and repeat it back to her without exaggeration or misrepresentation. “Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Brax smiled. “My father is one of the best barristers in England. If you cannot understand your opposition enough to state their case accurately and succinctly, what hope do you have of defeating them?”
Donna grinned back. “Oh, I’m the opposition now, am I?”
“Absolutely,” stated Henry. “My constituency - well, it’s Bertie’s, of course - they want something to be done about the primes, and they’re not the only ones. The Prime Agency will do exactly as they’ve been asking. But here you are, providing a countering viewpoint. The definition of ‘opposition’, I would say.”
“Well, that’s flattering.” She glanced over at Jon, who sat stiff as a board, nervous and probably pretty upset with her, and then at Eliza, who listened to the conversation with polite disinterest. Donna suspected that she’d endured decades of debate in which she did not care to participate and was quite practised at quietly occupying her time. She turned back to Brax. “I only know what your father’s told me about the bill, but to me, it casts too wide a net. You’re worried that some primes can’t control their powers and are going to hurt themselves or their families?” Jon shifted in his seat beside her. “Then, sure, encourage them to come forward for help. But most primes don’t need that, and requiring them to reveal themselves and submit to… to being ‘managed’, that’s going too far.”
“That is an oversimplification of the history and reasons behind this bill,” Brax pointed out. “Community safety is only one concern. There are many others.”
“But that’s my point,” countered Donna. “The solution should fit the problem. Another thing that’s been talked about is the heroes fighting crime. My mum likes to say, ‘We can’t do that, why should they?’ It’s not going to help to unmask Silver Falcon and make him go to powers training. But you could, I don’t know, say if you want to be a hero, you got to train with the city police, learn the proper procedures and the laws. Maybe make a hero force or something.”
“That is certainly true,” replied Henry, “but this still doesn’t address the fear. People are afraid of primes, that ones like that Harold Saxon live among us and will turn the world upside-down before we realise it. If we know who the primes are, we can manage that fear.”
“Make ‘em wear a yellow star whilst you’re at it,” spat Donna. Eliza gasped, and a tense silence settled on the table.
“Don’t mention the war,” Jon murmured in a feeble attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
Bit too far, she thought, but if it gets them to think… “It’s what it sounds like to me,” Donna finally stated.
“That is utter nonsense. We are hardly advocating anything like… like that,” Henry sneered, his nose in the air.
“But that’s where it always starts.” She tapped the table to emphasise her point. “When you take a group and you say they’re different and say they’re the source of all the problems. They’re human, too, you know. You shouldn’t treat them any different than you would anyone else.”
“We’re not,” insisted Henry. “We are not segregating them, or assigning blame to anyone. The bill is designed to provide services to a segment of the community that requested them. They want this.”
Donna was pretty sure that wasn’t true for the most part. “They do? How do you know that?”
“Parliament does not work in a vacuum,” Henry declared. “Much of this bill is built upon public research and consultation with primes.”
“You’ve worked with primes to come up with this? And they like this?” Donna wasn’t quite able to hide the note of incredulity in her voice.
“I have not personally, to be honest,” he admitted, “but the people on Bertie’s staff, as well as others, they have, and there’s been a host of independent research. It all points to this.”
Donna shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t think any of my friends would like this,” she muttered.
Brax jumped in. “Then you know some primes personally.”
She frowned. Was that so uncommon? “A few, yeah.”
“And they would not approve of the Prime Agency bill?” he asked to clarify her opinion.
“Not the way you described it.” Donna gestured to include his father in that statement.
Brax’s head bobbed as he considered her answers. Donna could almost see him jotting down notes in his head, with an imaginary fountain pen in a leatherbound notebook. “How many primes do you know? Anyone we might have heard of?”
Donna made a show of thinking, to imply that the number was high enough that she had to count. “A few mates. I’ve met Silver Falcon a number of times, and Crimson Angel once, I think. Oh, and I know the Doctor.” She smirked inwardly at making three primes sound like around ten.
As Jon fidgeted next to her, his mother leant forward, her interest piqued. “You ‘know’ the Doctor. As in, you know who he is?”
Donna hesitated, not quite sure if she should… then she did. “Yeah, I do.” In for a penny, in for a pound. Sorry, Ears. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise. She barrelled on to keep their attention on her so they wouldn’t notice Jon’s mortification. “Nice bloke. Clever. Bit of a looker. With the mask off, he’s just like everyone else, really, though I bet that’s true for all of ‘em, except maybe Kathica.”
Eliza seemed quite amazed that Donna knew a named prime, and perhaps a bit jealous. “How well do you know him?”
“Well enough. He’s a mate.”
Brax cut in. “How did you find out he was the Doctor?”
Donna wasn’t quite sure how to respond, as the truth would take too long to explain and might drop clues as to the Doctor’s real identity. Henry and Brax were both clever, far more clever than herself, and she needed to keep that in mind before she tried to pull the wool over their eyes. Rescue from attempting to spin a tale that would hold under their scrutiny came from an unexpected quarter.
“That is irrelevant, Christopher, as you well know,” barked Henry. “How she discovered his identity has nothing to do with his opinion on the subject or how confident she is of her knowledge. Pay your brother’s lady friend due respect by staying on topic and save your manipulations for the office.”
“Of course.” Brax’s cold smile sent a chill down Donna’s spine. “I apologize, Donna. May I ask, have you discussed this with him before?”
She shook her head. “Not in so many words, but I’m pretty sure I know what he’d think about it.”
“That he’d oppose it?”
Donna glanced at Jon to find him staring down at his hands in his lap. She suspected from his intent expression that he was listening to his parents’ and brother’s heartbeats and breathing, to gauge their reactions to Donna’s answers. If he’s doing that, he trusts I’ll represent him well. “I know for a fact that he wouldn’t like this agency thing forcing him to come forward, but I do think he’d like organising the heroes and training them. Responsibility. That’s the word he used. Heroes need to take responsibility for what they do.”
Henry cleared his throat. “I, for one, would prefer to hear his opinions directly from him. Do you think he would agree to a chat?”
Donna laughed. “Not a chance.” She bit back tagging her statement with a mocking “sunshine” like she normally did.
“In costume, of course,” he hastened to add. “Or we could do one of those online conversations, if that’s preferable. I admit I’ve never done one, but I hear you wouldn’t recognise your mother on one. You see, my dear, I’m interested in his opinions and ideas, not his identity.”
The suggestions were certainly good, but she doubted anything could convince Jon to talk as a prime to anyone, especially his father and brother. “I really don’t think so.”
“Would you do me the favour of asking him? I could issue the invitation on Bertie’s letterhead, if that helps.” Henry's seated bow was gracefully formal.
“Er, I don’t know,” stammered Donna. She didn’t want to refuse the invitation, as he issued it with such respect for both her and the Doctor, but she feared that this entire ruse was pushing Jon too far. Luckily, he came to her rescue.
“It can’t hurt, Donna,” he soothed, taking her hand. “He’d probably be flattered. And the worst he could do is say ‘no’.”
“Have you met him as well, Jon?” his mother asked.
“I have. Seems a good man, and quite personable, too. But Donna knows him better than I do.” He delivered his opinion of himself with a perfectly straight face, and Donna had to swallow a grin.
“Well, all right,” Donna drawled, and nodded to his father. “Do the letterhead thing. Make it official.”
Henry pulled a fountain pen and a small notebook - exactly the kind Donna had imagined Brax using earlier - from the breast pocket of his jacket and started writing. “Do I address it to ‘The Doctor’?”
“That’s best, yeah.”
“Splendid.” He stowed the notebook away. “I shall send the invitation to you at Fischer and you may relay it as you like. Thank you, Donna.” He glanced at his younger son, who was watching him, the disbelief plain on his face. “I expect you are surprised that I wish to talk to this Doctor?”
“Frankly, you’ve never been one to entertain other opinions,” remarked Jon.
Henry shook his head. “I have always entertained all opinions offered. I consider them, decide which is best, and move forward whilst discarding the rest. You cannot work in jurisprudence if you are not prepared to give due consideration to others’ opinions and interpretations.”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Then it’s just my opinions that you choose to ignore?”
“Nonsense.” Henry folded his hands in front of him on the table, seeming to Donna like he was preparing a formal argument. “I have always listened to you. We rarely agree, and certainly I shall avail myself of a father’s prerogative to offer his son advice and attempt to argue him out of his more foolish notions, but have I ever stopped you from acting on your beliefs?”
Jon stared at him, wide-eyed, and could offer no answer.
“I thought not.” He leant forward. “I am sure you believe that I have always favoured Christopher. It may seem that way because he and I agree on most things and rarely argue. You, however, must always come at me from the opposite direction and challenge me with that incisive mind of yours. One son to be my constant ally, and the other to keep me honest and performing at my best. A father could not hope for better.” He turned to Donna. “And I do not say that for your benefit, my dear. Jonathan endeavours to keep his brilliance well hidden, but you must discover it on your own.”
Donna stared, speechless, as Henry turned to his wife to ask if she had been enjoying the evening, and a quick glance at Jon confirmed his surprise as well. Every time she thought she’d figured Henry out, he threw another spanner in the works. He wasn’t the cold, implacable patriarch that Jon had described to her, but she supposed it was only natural that the son who had spent his life trying and, to his mind, failing to live up to his father’s expectations would picture him that way. Neither was he the pompous MP she’d thought he’d be, though, as she had mentioned earlier, her imagination was fueled by films and not by any measure of reality. Certainly, he was pretentious and self-important, but he reminded her of her best friend Nerys: inscrutable to outsiders and expressive only to those close to him, but in his own eccentric way.
“As I said earlier, with us, everything turns to law and politics,” said Brax with a gracious smile.
“Well, this was my fault. I’m the one who brought this back up,” Donna admitted with a grimace of apology to Jon.
“Perhaps, but my father and I cannot resist any opportunity to debate.” He sat back and fidgeted self-consciously with the knot of his tie as if he’d just admitted something shameful. “I believe it is the main reason Jon avoids these gatherings if he can. He prefers it when the rest of my family are here, because the conversation tends toward the girls and their interests.”
Donna appreciated his effort to introduce a new topic and she went along with it. “How old are your daughters?”
“Anna is ten, and Emma will be eight next month.”
“The best age, that. I bet coming from two families of barristers, they’re quite the handful.”
Brax laughed. “They do love to argue, that is true. Fortunately, they take after their mother. Bookworms both, and their arguments tend to be over who gets to borrow what from the library.”
“Actually, Anna is taking after her uncle,” commented Eliza. She turned to Jon with a fond smile. “She finally completed that Lego boat she showed you last time you visited them. She took your lessons on, what did she say? Force and surfaces?”
Jon grinned. “Yes, Mum, close enough.”
Eliza didn’t look convinced that anything she’d said was ‘close enough’. “Well. She rebuilt it so it floats now, and she wants you to help her set up a rubber band propeller.”
“Next time I’m over,” agreed Jon, “but she probably can do it herself. She can modify the one we set up on that little car she built.”
Tugging at the hem of his waistcoat, Brax straightened with fatherly pride. “Of course she can. She just wants to work on it with you,” he snarled, shooting a jealous glare at Jon who returned a proud grin at his niece’s preference for his company. Their mother smiled happily at what was obviously a long-running game between her sons.
“Then I’ll have to come visit soon," Jon replied and turned to Donna. “And then you’ll get to meet Romana and the girls as well.”
“I’d love that.” This style of conversation was far more comfortable, and Donna continued inquiring after Brax’s family to keep the focus away from politics. Brax eagerly answered all her questions, going into detail about the girls’ interests and friends, proving to Donna that no matter how serious his political aspirations were, he was still devoted to his family.
As Eliza related an amusing (and rather telling) anecdote of their grandfather attempting to teach the young girls the conventions of formal debate, Donna glanced at Jon only to realise he was no longer paying attention to the conversation, turned instead toward the front of the restaurant. Twisting in her seat, she spotted the maitre d’ speaking with a waiter, leaning close to keep their words private. Guests at the two tables near the front window craned their heads to look out, two of them standing to circle around to a better vantage point. The restaurant fell silent as people noticed the odd behaviour.
Grasping Jon’s sleeve, she tugged to pull him closer. “Jon?”
He leant in. “There are primes outside, fighting. Just a block down.” He twitched and clenched his hands, wanting to investigate and help but unable to without revealing his powers to his family.
Donna patted his arm to acknowledge his internal battle and glanced at his father, who stared off towards the window like everyone else.
“What the devil is going on?” Henry murmured as he leant over to wrap a protective arm around his wife’s shoulders.
“It’s a prime battle outside,” Brax declared, clearly enough that the word “prime” bounced around the room as the people at each subsequent table echoed his statement.
“How do you know that?” his father demanded.
Brax pointed at Jon. “That’s what he just said. How did you know?”
“Oh, er,” Jon stammered as he tried to think of a plausible reason, “lots of prime encounters in the city these days and that’s the way they always go. Everyone loves to watch primes, despite the risks. Nothing else gets their attention anymore.” He pointed at the guests leaving their tables to go outside and spectate. “See?”
“I’d no idea it was this bad.” Eliza frowned as she watched.
“And that just illustrates what I was saying,” Henry stated, nodding with self-satisfaction. “Businesses in high incident areas suffer. Their customers either leave like this to watch the primes or avoid the area altogether for fear of their safety.”
“That’s tosh, that is,” Donna spat. “Some might, but lots of others see increased traffic because of primes. It’s almost like a sport.”
“Yes, a sport. It’s like a sport,” agreed Brax, to everyone’s surprise. “And you know, I’d like to see this. Come on.” He rose and beckoned to everyone to follow him out.
“Don’t need to ask me twice,” Donna grinned and grabbed her handbag as she got up. Jon, she knew, would also leap at the opportunity; he might not be able join the fight, but he’d want to observe.
“Oh, no, Chris,” pleaded Eliza, tugging on his sleeve, “don’t go out there. It’s too dangerous.”
“We’ll be fine, Mum,” he replied with an airy wave of his hand. “Don’t worry.”
Henry stood up with his sons. “I should see this as well. Might be very educational. Why don’t you stay inside, Eliza? We’ll return presently..”
She sighed. “Oh, all right. Just… don’t get out in front, all right?”
“Of course not, dear.”
Spectators lined the pavement up and down the block, watching Silver Falcon and Crimson Angel hovering above a lone figure standing in the center of the far intersection and tacitly leaving the road clear as their arena. Traffic had already diverted itself, so Donna and Brax had no trouble finding a clear view from a spot on the kerb, and Henry came up next to his son while Jon stood behind Donna, his hands on her shoulders. She wondered if he was preparing to throw her behind him if trouble came their way.
The woman defiantly brandishing a sign reading “PRIME RIGHTS” at the hovering heroes wore a nondescript windbreaker and loose blue jeans and concealed her face with a masquerade mask. “That’s all we want!” she was yelling. “We want to be left alone!”
“And you thought the best way to deliver that message was to walk right into Buckingham Palace with your sign?” Falcon jeered, crossing his arms across his strong chest as he floated above her. “Not the best plan, love.”
“You see?” Henry asked Donna. “They are lawless. They need to be managed.”
“She’s one woman,” she pointed out. “She’s not all primes.”
“It got people’s attention,” insisted the woman. “The Queen for one, at least. And look at this.” She gestured at the crowd. “All these people here are listening, and the press will be here soon. How else can we stand up for ourselves? No one’s listening to what we have to say. They just want to get rid of us.” She turned and chanted toward the onlookers, “The government cannot take away our rights. They cannot label us and lock us away.”
“No one is trying to lock us away,” stated Angel.
Donna sidled closer to Brax and Henry to murmur, “People know that’s what you’re trying to do.”
Brax shook his head. “They completely misunderstand the intention.”
The woman shouted up at the costumed heroes, “Yes, they are! They’ve been trying to do that since we first appeared. The people in power, they’re afraid we’ll take their control away, so they’re backing the Downers, cos it’s not their fault if that’s what the people want, right? This is oppression. History repeats itself time and again, for every new minority. You’re both primes. Is that what you really want?”
Falcon shrugged. “What I want is unimportant. We can argue all day about rights, but the fact is, breaking and entering is a crime. Time to come with us, love.” He started to descend toward the woman.
Though she continued to stand tall and proud, the woman backed up a few steps as Falcon approached and the crowd shifted uneasily; though they had no idea what might happen, they all knew that things could get dangerous without notice. The woman’s resolve hardened and, throwing her sign down, she planted her feet and thrust her chest out, her fists on her hips. “You can’t stop me, Silver Falcon,” the woman hissed. “You can’t touch me, and you can’t hold me. I am Whisper, and I’ll slip right out of your grasp like the wind.”
Jon gasped. “She’s…” he murmured under his breath.
Donna leant in. “She’s what?”
“Oh, we’ll see about that.” Falcon streaked down and as soon as his feet touched the ground, he swung hard at her stomach. His fist swished right through her and he lost his balance, staggering off to the side before he caught himself. Whisper laughed.
“Didn’t you even wonder how I got in and out of the palace? When I said you can’t touch me, I meant it quite literally.” She flicked her hand dismissively at him. “Go on. Run along.”
“Why, you…” snarled Falcon as he turned to have a go at her again and Donna smirked. Lance was nothing if not stubborn.
“She’s a, whatchacallem?” She asked Jon.
“A phaser. Like the Phantom,” he replied.
“That’s the one that cleared out Notre Dame’s treasury?” asked Brax. He craned his neck to get a better look, then moved away, a few meters past his father down the pavement.
Silver Falcon had taken another swing at the woman, who wagged a finger at him like he was a naughty child. He took a step back and circled her whilst reassessing the situation, obviously fuming behind his mask.
Donna nodded. “Le Fantôme. Except he went all see-through when he phased. Thing is,” and her eyes flicked upward, “wasn’t it Crimson Angel that brought him down?”
The hero in red had her hands stretched in front of her, her sparkling crimson energy vines snaking from her fingers toward the protesting prime. Whisper mocked her flying adversary as the ropes encircled her, then squawked in surprise as they bound her tight. “What the-?”
“You didn’t do your homework, did you?” asked Angel with a saccharine lilt. “My energy cancels phasing. I’m the only person in the world who could catch you, and you didn’t even know.”
In a panic, Whisper struggled against the ropes. “You can’t hold me forever!” she screamed. “Let them down for a second and I’m gone.”
Angel pulled the ropes a touch tighter, making Whisper wince, and crooned, “Then we’ll have to make sure you don’t get the chance. Falcon?”
“Oh, with pleasure.” He stepped up to the bound prime, pulled his fist back, and swung.
“Move!” shouted Jon. He knew from personal experience that Angel’s ropes weren’t unbreakable, and under the force of the angered and humiliated Falcon’s punch, they would shatter, sending Whisper flying and landing somewhere between himself and where his brother stood in front of the next restaurant. Throwing Donna aside as gently as he could given his haste, he jumped in front of his father and instantly recalculated the now-airborne Whisper’s trajectory by her sounds. She was heading almost straight for Brax, and he wasn’t sure if he could make it in time.
He leapt to intercept, quite aware that Brax and everyone around him were frozen in momentary surprise, unable to react as quickly as a super-agile prime. Whisper was flying much too fast, and whilst Brax was starting to react, to jump out of the way, it wouldn’t be far or fast enough. Jon could tackle him and probably do just a bit less damage than the flying body would, or he could knock Whisper off her path; he would clip Brax as well, but with any luck his brother would come out of this with only a bad bruise. Adjusting his path toward the better option, he lowered his head and curled to ram Whisper with his shoulder, then screwed his eyes closed. He could maneuver perfectly without them, and though he couldn’t stop from hearing (and feeling) himself colliding with his own brother, at least he didn’t have to see it.
The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, sprawled over something warm and squishy, staring at a patch of concrete in a daze. A voice called, “Jon! Jon!” from a million miles away, sounding very much like his brother Chris, but what was Chris doing here in Chiswick, on the pavement outside the Nobles’ back door? A hand grasped his arm and tried to roll him off the squishy thing.
“Jon? Are you all right?” Brax’s face finally came into focus in front of him.
“Yeah, fine. Just... just give me a mo’.” He pushed himself up, off the mass he now remembered as the phasing prime Whisper. Oh. Right. Primes. Dinner. Dad. Bloody hell. Sitting back on the pavement, he gulped down some fresh air to gather his wits. He needed to come up with a good excuse for this one, and quickly.
“You saved my life,” Brax breathed as Henry and Donna ran up. “Or at least some serious hurt. You’re all right, yes?”
As Donna settled beside him and laid a gentle hand on his arm, Jon made a show of checking himself over. “I’m okay, actually. Just a tad fuzzed. Oh.” He flicked at the shoulder of his jacket, the silvery lining peeking out where the sleeve had torn. “My good suit,” he groaned.
Brax broke into the grandest smile and threw his arms around him. “Thank God, Jon!”
“Oh, give over, Chris!” Jon extricated himself, annoyed at being fussed over and still not particularly comfortable with close contact, even after all these months of working with his powers. “But what about you? Are you all right?”
“Perfect,” Brax replied as he checked over his brother again, not quite ready to believe he hadn’t hurt himself. “You blocked her off entirely. Don’t worry about me.”
Jon frowned. “But I hit you. I had to have.”
“No, not at all.” Brax leant back to let his brother have a good look to convince him he was unharmed. “Bloody close, but not even a scrape.”
Jon stared, not quite believing his eyes or ears. He was sure he’d catch Brax hard on the arm, or possibly the face, but his brother knelt right there, whole, smiling, and relaxed. His superhearing - his bat sense, as Donna called it, bless her - usually gave him precise understanding of the movements of everything around him and he’d been sure he would collide with his brother, but all evidence suggested that he had been mistaken. He twisted in place. “And Donna, love? Are you okay? Sorry for tossing you, but...”
She hugged him, pecking him on the cheek. “I’m fine, Ears. Bit surprised, is all.”
“I have never seen anyone move so quickly,” commented Henry. “Good show, Jonathan.”
Jon shrugged. “I just saw what I had to do.”
“And you did it well. Thanks for the assist.” boomed a voice behind him. They all looked up to see Silver Falcon standing over them. “Jon, Donna, we’ve got to stop meeting like this,” he greeted them with a jaunty salute.
As Jon silently thanked Falcon for distracting his father’s attention away from his own performance, Donna grunted up at the hero, “Falcon.” Jumping to her feet, she strode over and slapped him across the silver and red face mask. “What the bloody hell was that, birdboy? You coulda killed someone!” She glanced over at Crimson Angel, who knelt on the pavement tending the still-unconscious Whisper. “Look what you did!”
Abashed, Falcon ducked his head and gestured feebly at his disabled opponent. “Sorry. I guess she pushed my buttons. She’ll be fine. We’ll take her to A&E, but she’s a prime. She’ll bounce back.”
Donna jabbed a finger toward Brax. “He wouldn’t have. You’re lucky Jon’s fast on his feet. No excuses,” she scolded. “You keep those buttons unpushed, you hear me?” As she turned and knelt next to Jon again, the crowd gathering around them rumbled with laughter at the way the feisty ginger schooled Britain’s most prominent prime.
“You really do know him,” exclaimed Brax, biting back a grin. “Better than you said, in fact.”
“Honest truth,” replied Donna.
Jon gestured at his family. “Falcon, this is my brother, Chris, and my father, Henry. Dad, Chris, this is Silver Falcon, and Crimson Angel over there.” He waved a shy greeting to her.
Straightening himself into a classic proud superhero stance, Falcon stepped forward and offered a hand to the older man. “A pleasure, sir.”
“Likewise.” Donna noticed that whilst Henry did not hesitate to shake the prime’s hand, his response was short and clipped. He turned and nodded politely to Angel.
“And you as well,” said Falcon, turning to shake Brax’s hand. “I apologise for…” and he gestured at the unconscious Whisper. “That was inexcusable.”
“No harm done. And it gave my brother a chance to play the hero. Keep up the good work.” He shook his head and smiled, but Donna could read his mind through the predatory glint in his eye: Now I’ve got personal experience to back my arguments.
Falcon stepped back, clapping his hands together. “Sorry to meet and run, but we need to tend to her.” He bowed to Jon and Donna and spun to wave at the crowd, then strode over to gently gather Whisper into his arms. Together, Crimson Angel and Silver Falcon rose into the sky and flew off.
If Donna had been proud of shaming Falcon for endangering the spectators of this minor encounter, it paled in comparison to Eliza’s reaction when they all returned to the table. Alerted by the tear in Jon’s jacket that something had happened, she sat still as a statue as Brax related to her the events out in the street, her warm brown eyes chilling to ice as he described Falcon’s punch and Jon’s quick reaction. When his tale was finished, she turned to her husband and described, quietly and in no uncertain terms, what would happen to him if he ever took her boys into a dangerous situation like that again. When he protested that it had not been his idea to go out to watch the fight and that both ‘boys’ were grown men capable of making their own decisions, she informed him that as he was head of the family, she held him fully responsible, and that she considered any requisite discipline of her sons to be the province of their partners.
“As such, for Jon,” Eliza addressed Donna with a gracious smile, “I defer to you. I apologize for such a display, but I believe this incident warranted immediate attention.” She shot a black look at her husband.
Donna’s eyes sparkled with laughter as she took Jon’s hand and squeezed it. “Yeah, we’ll have a chat about this, won’t we?”
“I’m sure we will,” Jon replied, equally amused.
Henry cleared his throat. “Eliza, I do apologise, my dear. However, we are all safe, and I shall endeavour to preserve that.” He covered her hand on the table and squeezed it. “I will say that it was, as I suspected, all very informative.”
“Oh, I can’t wait,” Donna breathed to herself and glanced at Jon to see the reprimand in his eyes.
“Silver Falcon was perfectly pleasant and civil face-to-face,” Henry continued, “but in the heat of the moment, he has no control and that is exactly when he must. And that new prime, Whisper, well, I don’t see that there’s anything to say about her at all. She was quite proud to admit she’d broken into the palace.”
“In protest of all of the things that you’re proposing,” Donna pointed out.
“There are acceptable and unacceptable forms of protest. Which she chose illustrates her character.” He sat back, confident in his judgment of the woman.
Donna pursed her lips to hold back her first reaction to his assessment. “You’re just looking for what you want to see. Silver Falcon was trying to talk her down before she taunted him and he lashed out like anyone might. Whisper may have broken into the palace, but only as a protest. She wasn’t intending to do anything bad. And you forget Crimson Angel. She did nothing wrong at all.”
Brax shook his head. “All I know is that if it wasn’t for the quick actions of a human,” and he glanced at his brother, “I’d be at A&E right now. I, for one, don’t think that we can afford to let this go on and figure out who’s dangerous and who’s safe by the body count.”
Donna drew in a breath to argue but stopped at Jon’s warm hand on hers. The tiny shake of his head told her to drop it, that the argument had gone on long enough and was not helping, not now. She swallowed her pique and turned to his father. “No invite for the Doctor, then, I guess.”
“Oh, no, I’ve not changed my mind on that,” Henry replied. “I look forward to meeting him and hearing his opinions, if he cares to give them. There is no such thing as too much research. I shall send you the invitation first thing Monday morning.”
Donna nodded at that but couldn’t smile. “Well, that’s good to hear. I’ll do my best to convince him to meet with you, but no promises.”
“Oh, yes, I understand.”
The conversation drifted off but did not last much longer, as Jon’s parents wanted to start the long drive home before it got too late and Brax wished to get back to his family. As Henry settled the bill, Eliza rose from her seat and circled the table to hug both of her sons and then Donna. “It was so lovely to meet you at last, Donna, dear. I do hope that you will come with Jon to visit us up in Abingdon now and again. Oh, and I must insist that you come for the holidays next month. Jon normally stays with us Christmas Eve through Boxing Day.”
Donna sputtered with surprise. “Oh! No, I can’t, really. You know, holidays with my mum and Gramps, that’s how we do it. Maybe with new family, if you can spare him,” she added with a smile for Jon.
“Oh, new family, what a splendid idea! You must bring them out with you!” Eliza suggested. “I would love to meet them, and it will make for a warm, festive holiday. We’ve the room, if you don’t mind the fold-out bed in Henry’s office.”
“Okay with us, Mum,” Jon replied with an eager glint in his eye.
Donna guessed he’d prefer to have more people to distract his father’s attention off him, but it felt a bit premature to start participating in their family traditions. “I really don’t think so…” she began.
Eliza turned to her son. “Didn’t you tell me that you stargaze with Donna’s grandfather? I’m sure he would love a few nights out under the Oxfordshire sky. You can see so much more there than you can in town.”
“Yes, I’m sure he would,” agreed Jon, taking Donna’s hand to urge her to accept. “Do you still have my old telescope stored away? It would save having to pack his up.”
“Oh, no, we donated it when we moved out there.”
“Thought as much. I’m sure I can find a fairly inexpensive one to leave with you, if you don’t mind, Mum.” When she agreed, he winked at Donna, but she still wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t know,” she mused. She eyed Brax, standing next to his mother. “Won’t it be a full house, though, with your family as well?”
“Oh, no. During the day, perhaps, but we don’t stay there overnight. Christmas Eve with Romana’s father in Slough, then we drive to Dad’s on Christmas morning, and then after dinner, on to Sheffield for Boxing Day with her mum.” He smirked, his eyes dancing playfully. “I’m sorry I can’t provide the excuse you’re looking for.”
Out of ideas, Donna relented, heaving an exaggerated sigh. “All right, you’ve convinced me. Christmas at the Smith’s.” A squeeze of her hand communicated Jon’s approval. “And I’ll ask my mum. She might like the change-up, actually. Holidays have been pretty hard on her since my dad passed.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” said Eliza. “I hope we can provide some support and holiday cheer.”
“Did I hear that Miss Noble is coming home with Jonathan for Christmas?” Henry growled as he rose from the table after completing his business with the waiter.
Donna tensed, his gruff tone setting her wondering if she’d made the wrong decision. “Yes. Thank you so much for the invitation,” she replied with as much gratitude and anticipation as she could muster.
“Excellent!” he declared. “I look forward to further discussions with you, hopefully on a range of topics and not just prime issues, though I’m sure that we could debate that endlessly.”
Donna stared at him in disbelief. “You do?”
“Absolutely. It is difficult to find debate opponents who are clever, passionate, eloquent, and not afraid to say what they think. When I find one, I refuse to let her slip away.” As Donna gaped at that assessment of herself, he turned to Jon with a wicked gleam in his eye. “This one’ll push your limits and keep you honest. I approve.”
Spots of colour rose on Jon’s cheeks and, with a shy smile at Donna, he slipped an arm around her waist. “Thanks, Dad. I think she’s brilliant.”
“You’ve done quite well for yourself, Jonathan.” He sniffed. “This time.”
Before Jon could draw breath to retort, Eliza reprimanded her husband with a sharp, “Henry! You can’t ever say something nice to your son without following it up. Tch! Sometimes you behave like you’re eight years old. Perhaps it’s past someone’s bedtime,” she concluded in that sickly sweet tone that mothers use on recalcitrant children. Henry turned away, coughing into his fist to recover his dignity.
“Well,” interjected Brax, “the holidays will be that much brighter now and I’m looking forward to them. And to you,” he nodded at Jon, “visiting sooner to help Anna with her Legos. But for now, I must bid you all a good night.”
As Brax hugged his mother once more, Donna took the opportunity to thank Henry for the dinner and the evening and to make their goodbyes. The group left the restaurant together and parted ways on the pavement outside, Donna clinging to Jon’s elbow as they strolled toward St. James’ Park.