The atmosphere in the room was wrong.
Neither of them had ever been very good at not filling a silence, and yet here they were, not talking. And not just not talking, they weren’t saying anything either. Not chattering away about adventures they’d had, or planning where to go next, or even bickering about what to have for lunch, just… silence. It was an oppressive, screaming silence that expanded to fill whatever space was available, and Donna was hit by the ridiculous thought that if she didn’t say something soon she might never speak again.
So she said, “When’s the last time you slept?”
The Doctor looked up from the controls and stared at her like he had forgotten she existed. Maybe he had – he’d been staring at that one panel on the console for at least half an hour, glasses perched halfway down his nose even though Donna knew for a fact that he didn’t need them to see whatever he was supposedly looking at.
He opened his mouth, took a breath as though preparing himself to do something terrifying, then closed it again without answering.
At least being annoyed was better than the feelings Donna had been trying to ignore for the past few days. Annoyed was easy to deal with, and she was used to it. “Well?”
He cleared his throat and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I don’t need to sleep as much as you do.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
He shrugged. “Thursday, I think. Honestly, Donna, you can’t expect me to keep track of something as boring as sleep.”
“I don’t think it was Thursday.” She stood up from her spot on the crash-seat and rounded the console to stand beside him. “Look at you, you’re knackered.”
“I’m not,” he said, and then immediately failed to completely suppress a yawn. He stepped away from her, trying to keep the console between them. Donna followed him. He kept moving, always just slightly ahead of her. “Have we been to see Saturn yet? There’s a really good chip shop on one of the moons that has a fantastic view of the rings and -”
“You’re not driving me anywhere while you’re in this state, you’ll fall asleep at the controls and we’ll crash into something.”
The Doctor stopped suddenly and spun to face her. “Actually, that’s impossible, because there are safeties built into the-”
He stopped talking, looking much the same as he had the first time she’d slapped him.
“I don’t think you’ve slept since we left the Library,” said Donna.
“Course I have, that was two weeks ago. Well, one week, six days, thirteen hours and…” he stuck his tongue out to taste the air, “twenty-eight minutes.”
Donna sighed. “You don’t usually keep track of things like that.”
“How would you know? Do you want me to tell you exactly how long it is since we met? Because I can.” He looked at her, obviously hoping that she’d ask. But Donna was in no mood to let him change the subject.
“I haven’t slept much since then either,” she told him, quietly. “It’s not the same without Lee there, for a start. The bed feels huge and empty and… look, the point is that it’s not just you that can’t sleep.” She took a deep breath. “And I’ve been thinking about that, and maybe it’s a stupid idea but...”
The Doctor looked at her expectantly. Sometimes he had way too much faith in her, he really did. “I’m open to suggestions,” he said.
She reached out and gently tugged his glasses off, then folded them and slipped them into his jacket pocket.
“Donna?” He sounded confused.
“Shush,” she said, and she kissed him.
It took him a few moments to respond, but once he joined in it was pretty good. It wasn’t as awkward as she had feared it might be. She felt his hands settle at her waist, and she was getting quite into it when he pulled away from her. Donna let him move away and watched him closely for a reaction. He looked bloody terrified.
She decided to squash what she assumed was his biggest fear. “I’m not in love with you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I wasn’t worried,” he said, and she knew that he was lying.
“It’s just something else to think about for a while, that’s all. And then we can sleep.”
He stared at her for what felt like ages, and then he said, “Donna, you don’t need to -”
“I do,” she said. “This isn’t just about you, you know.” She kept talking to stop her nerve cracking. “We could both do with a distraction, and we’re old enough not to let it get weird.” When he didn’t reply she added, “Please.”
That, for some reason, seemed to work. He nodded. “Okay.”
Donna breathed out slowly. She was more relieved than she’d like to admit. She took his hand and led him away from the console.
They went to her room, because after all this time she still wasn’t sure where he slept. Somewhere deep in the TARDIS, she knew, past the kitchen and the football stadium where it rained all the time. He could keep that secret, it wasn’t important. What mattered was that they found a way to stop thinking about the recent past, and Donna was sure that her idea was as good as any other for that.
She paused with her hand on the door handle and looked at him.
“Changed your mind?” he asked, gently.
“No,” she said, shaking her head, “I haven’t. It’s just that last time I did anything like this it was with Lee. I don’t even know if that counts, because he wasn’t real. Should I be doing this with another man?” She was starting to ramble and she knew it. “I can’t cheat on Lee if he never existed, but -”
“Donna.” The Doctor put his hands on her shoulders. “You said you didn’t want to think about that stuff.”
“So don’t,” he said, and kissed her.
Donna turned the handle and backed the two of them into the room while they kissed. She forgot to stop when they were inside and she ended up falling onto the bed, pulling him down with her as she lost her balance. So much for her sultry seduction techniques, but his hands were wandering now and the room was getting hotter. She shifted a bit to get comfortable and then starting work on the knot in his tie.
The clock on Donna’s bedside table said it was 5.36 am, but no doubt the Doctor would tell her that it wasn’t really five in the morning because there was no real time in the vortex. Even though it was called the time vortex, which sort of suggested that there was plenty of time in it. Still, as far as Donna was concerned it was morning – if a bit too early for sensible people – and she had had a good night’s sleep. She looked at the Doctor.
He was still asleep, apparently catching up on what he had missed. He looked a lot younger like that, with the old eyes closed and without the worries of the universe on his mind. She’d have guessed that he was about the same age as she was. Maybe that was why everyone thought that they were married.
There were scars on him that she hadn’t expected, but maybe she should have, given the life he led. The life they both led, really. She traced a mark over his left heart with her fingertips, then turned her attention to a scar just under his collarbone.
“Are you making a map?”
“Just being nosy,” she said. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I’ve always preferred the word ‘curious’.”
She moved her hand back to her side. “Nah,” she said, “you’re definitely nosy,” and he smiled.
“You were right,” he said, stretching against the mattress, “I did need to sleep.”
“I know. You can make me breakfast to show me how grateful you are.”
“I always make you breakfast.”
“I want bacon and eggs,” she said, “not something from the food machine.” She poked his arm. “And you can bring it to me here, I’m having a lie-in.”
He sighed dramatically. “Anything else? Toast? A newspaper? The moon on a stick?”
“Now that you mention it, yeah, I’d like a moon of my own.”
He laughed, and then he kissed her forehead, which somehow seemed like the most intimate thing they had ever done. She felt herself blush, but either he didn’t notice or he didn’t want her to think he had noticed. He picked his clothes up and started getting dressed.
Donna turned onto her back and settled down to wait for her breakfast.