Something landed over the Doctor's head, finishing what hearing his name had started - yanking him the rest of the way from his dream. He could just make out a voice, movement, through the muffling of the material over his ear.
A blanket, if he had to hazard a guess. He breathed in deeply. Everything smelled of strawberries. The artificial scent filled up his nose, his lungs, left him teetering on the edge of lightheaded as he pushed himself upright.
Giving the blanket a tug, he quickly sucked in a breath of non-human scented air, and dared to glance across the table at the muttering and moving person on the opposite side.
She froze, slowly turned to look at him. Her cheeks had gone red, nearly the exact shade of her hair actually. A fever? Too warm? He glanced at the fire, fumbled for the sonic. Three clicks and the crackling ceased, the heat began to recede from them. He glanced back at her, but the sharp look in her eyes remained.
Not that, then. Oh. Anger. The realization washed over him slowly, but he'd been living with humans long enough it should have been his first guess. He surely should have heard the warning bells that had accompanied the blanket she'd thrown at him.
Still, he couldn't quite pinpoint the reason behind her anger. What could he have done that might have upset her so much? Had he smarted off in his sleep? Or maybe he had insulted her entire species again. He did do that - fondly, of course.
Maybe he'd forgotten a date. Humans liked their celebrations. (So did he, if he were being honest). Her birthday, perhaps? That must be it, he'd forgotten her birthday like the clueless alien she'd surely call him when she did finally decide to speak.
He blinked a few times. No, that couldn't be it. He barely knew Donna, only about a week now. He'd not asked about her birthday yet, and he couldn't forget something he had never known. Well, he could actually, if-
No. Focus. He had to think.
"Do you have any idea what time it is, Doctor?" she asked, turning away. He jerked his attention back to her, as she answered herself, "It's four in the morning. Do you know what my mother will think if I come strolling in at four in the morning in the same clothes as the day before, Doctor?"
He swallowed. Four in the morning. He'd overslept. He'd let her oversleep. A lot.
"She'll think I slept with you!" Donna said, shooting him another glare as she balanced with one hand on the couch cushion, the other trying to shove her shoe back on properly." She'll be unbearable. More unbearable."
"I'm so sorry, Donna."
Inching his way around the table, he saw her shoulders lift and fall before she scooped her coat off the couch.
"I am, Donna," he insisted, reaching out to touch her shoulder. He dropped his hand back to his side. "I didn't mean to fall asleep. I can go there with you. I can explain to her. I'll take tell her we didn't...you know, sleep together. At least not like... that."
She rolled her eyes.
"'Cause you showing up with me will really convince her of that, Doctor, "she said, then shook her head. "It's fine. It wouldn't be the first time, probably won't be the last."
His jaw tightened in response.
He watched her deflate before him - arms holding the coat going limp. It dangled from her fingertips, but she didn't run. She didn't hit him and she didn't yell. She yawned. Coffee. He could do coffee.
"Well, Donna," he said, rocking onto the balls of his feet, and forcing cheer into his voice. "It's already-" he glanced at the clock on the far wall "- four fifteen. Surely another hour or two won't change her opinion on what we did or didn't do here tonight."
Her eyes narrowed.
"Just what are you suggesting, Doctor?"
"Breakfast," he hurried to say, dropping back onto his heels. "Breakfast, Donna. Coffee. Food. Company."
She met his eye, shifted her weight, then with a long exhale she tossed her coat onto the couch again.
"All right," she said. "What're we having, Spaceman."
Between the two of them, they'd managed to find the supplies for breakfast. For a brief moment, as he'd walked down the hall with her hand tucked into his, he'd imagined he'd find all the cupboards bare. She'd resume her glaring, and yank her hand free and that would be it. She'd be gone, leaving him in the room alone.
Instead, she'd rounded up the supplies for pancakes, tossed a package of bacon at him with an eye roll that suggested she could read his face loud and clear.
Donna stood next to him, chatting as he flipped the bacon around and she stirred the contents of her bowl.
"You're staring at me," she said, glancing at him. "It's weird. Is it an alien thing?"
He coughed, pulled his eyes back to the sizzling meat in the pan below him. He tapped his fingers against the counter.
"I wasn't staring, " he finally said. "Time Lords don't stare."
"Well, maybe not them," she said. Metal clanked against glass. "But you were. Got something on my face?"
She brushed her fingers over both cheeks, pink again, with the heat spreading out across the small kitchen. The color looked lovely on her. She looked lovely.
He swallowed around the guilt and regret that flared up inside him.
"No, nothing on your face," he said. "We just...Rose, and I, well, Martha too, really. We didn't cook all that much. Ever, actually. Too busy to stop, I guess."
Always too busy, he could see now. Always too busy, always running. Off to their next adventure, their next world, too fast for him to hold onto the little moments, however fleeting, while they were still his to hold.
But, for the first time in a long time - had to be lifetimes - it didn't matter that he had the universe waiting just outside his doors. It didn't matter that Donna might very well let him whisk her off somewhere - at least for a day.
He watched her check the consistency of her mixture and found he didn't feel the itching, aching, need to run. Not yet anyway. Not for this moment, right now. With her.
"Are you okay, Doctor?"
He glanced at her.
"Always,' he said, so automatic now - off his lips before he could consider the truth of it. He exhaled, added, "It's nice to have some company. Thanks, Donna."
She nodded, met his eye.
"Can't cook if you're blocking the stove, Martian," she said.
He felt inexplicably shy in her gaze, and he quickly turned his attention to the coffee pot before he could over think it. The smell of pancakes filled the room, and if she noticed his stomach growling, she didn't comment.
He added the bacon to the stacks divided across two plates, and he carried them both to the table. She followed after with their mugs.
The whole thing felt cozy. Domestic even. Not that he would dare to say it aloud. He could only imagine how Donna might react to the admission. No, he'd keep it to himself, but he couldn't miss the way she relaxed back into the chair. Or the way her eyes slipped closed as she took that first sip of coffee, a low noise of pleasure escaping out over her lips.
Her eyes snapped open, and he scooped up his fork and tried to pretend he hadn't been just a bit entranced.
It scared him how much he wanted her to stay.
Donna took a bite, smiled at him as she chewed.
"So, big old time machine. Must have something more interesting than a kitchen and a library?"
He grinned, leaned in. Talking about the TARDIS came easily to him. He told her all about the pool that vanished from time to time, and the large bath somewhere on the third level. He told her about the gardens and dozens of other silly little rooms.
He didn't dare tell her everything, though. He couldn't mention the rooms that always ended up together, tucked away somewhere in the back of the TARDIS. He'd already unloaded enough sadness and darkness on her to last a good long while. If he had any hopes of convincing her, or himself, that they could take off one day and return to the universe, he needed to keep it locked inside.
Where it belonged.
"Fine, you go."
The words were purposely loud, marked with a finality that Donna felt certain few had ever had the courage to disobey. She could think of nothing, at the moment, more frightening than her mother before her coffee.
She should have known better than to hope she could escape upstairs without being noticed. Turning, she dropped her coat on the rack and fussed with the sleeves until the floorboard creaked behind her.
Donna found her father standing there with a piece of toast in one hand, and a mug of tea in the other. He took a bite, the toast crunching as dark jam spread across his upper lip. She waited while he chewed, then finally swallowed.
"Your mother wanted me to tell you that -"
"Just where the hell were you all night?"
Donna blinked. Her father's eyes flickered to the left, as her mother came into view. He gave Donna a sympathetic smile, shoved another bite of toast into his mouth, and sunk back into the shadows.
She shifted her focus to her mother. Her mouth had gone thin and pale. Her eyes crinkled up tightly at the edges. Donna knew the look well, had encountered it numerous times in her younger years, when she'd stumbled in at some ungodly hour. Some things, it seemed, didn't change with age.
Her mouth still went dry. She resisted the urge to take a step back, to wipe her palms against her shirt.
"Not even a phone call," Sylvia said, fingers dropping around her hips. Donna's arms slipped to her sides at once. "Your father and I were worried, not that you'd care. You could have been dead in a ditch."
She knew the speech by heart, too.
"I didn't mean to worry you," Donna finally said. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry," Sylvia repeated. "That won't give us a night's sleep back, will it? And just where do you think you were? Here you are slinking in wearing the same clothes as the day before. Women your age should not be out partying all night, Donna."
Donna's eyebrows shot up, her fist curled at her side.
"Women my-" she started, snapped her mouth shut. Exhaling slowly, she attempted to count to ten before giving up and thinking only of returning to the TARDIS and the Doctor. A shouting match with her mother would only delay that. "I wasn't out partying. I just got caught up..."
"A man, then," Sylvia said. "And so soon after Lance." His name caught Donna between her ribs, and she rubbed a hand over her side. Her mother didn't seem to notice. "Who was it? No, don't even tell me. Going to wind up pregnant, you are. Pregnant, with no job, living with your parents. What then, Donna?"
She felt rage and grief bubbling up inside her, and if either escaped, she didn't think she'd make it back to the Doctor's today. She wouldn't let her mother - wouldn't let Lance's memory - ruin this for her.
"Suppose I'll name the baby after you."
Her mother gasped, sputtered. Donna forced herself to turn away, hurried off up the stairs and into her bedroom. She just resisted an all too teenage urge to slam her door. Baby steps. Dropping onto her bed, Donna sighed, and pulled off her damp shoes and let them drop down onto the floor next to the growing heap of clothes.
TARDIS probably has a washing machine...
Stripping off yesterdays clothes, she dropped them without looking back.
Donna allowed herself the luxury of stomping her way into the bathroom. She shoved the shower handle all the way to heat, tapped her foot as steam slowly filled the room and blurred her reflection. Only then did the first layer of rage fall away.
Stepping into the shower, she scrubbed, until the heat burned up the last of her feelings. The smell of strawberries soothed her, and when she stepped out again her breath had finally stopped coming in pants.
She stared at her clothes, and finally pulled out the most comfortable outfit she had. The oversized sweatshirt wouldn't do her figure any favors, but the material had been washed into a comforting softness.
It didn't matter anyway, she realized, as she dressed. She had no one to impress. The Doctor...well, she didn't think he counted in that department. Sure, he'd had the 'friend'. But friend could mean anything to an alien like him.
Her fingers tightened around her hair brush. Alien. The word rolled around inside her head as if she'd been saying it casually her whole life. As if she'd met loads of them, and skinny streaks of nothing were old news.
If only Lance could see her now. No, she wouldn't think of him. He didn't matter. That didn't matter.
She dropped her brush back onto her dresser and turned away. Donna headed down the stairs, fully aware that her parents had to hear her. Neither of them reappeared as she pulled her coat from the rack and opened the front door.
Probably her father would plead her case, whatever he decided that to be, and her mother would settle to somewhere near a low boil by the time Donna returned.
If not...well, she had hours separating her and that.
Hours, and the Doctor. Donna stepped outside, stood still as she breathed in the winter air. She let the icy wind whip up inside her shirt before finally pulling on her coat and zipping it.
She felt alive. She hadn't even known she'd been missing the feeling all these years, until it crashed over her on Christmas. How could she ever go back?
Donna smiled, kept smiling, as she shoved her hands into her pockets and started the short walk back to the Doctor.
I do have a job, she remembered, too late to do any good.
His eyebrows shot up as she stepped back into the TARDIS, as if they hadn't spoken about her return less than an hour ago. She'd even told him she'd be right back after she informed her parents she hadn't been murdered, and to call off the police.
He looked so pleased to see her, though, feet dropping down off the console as he leaned up, that she didn't mention it.
"Donna," he said. "You're back. Brilliant."
"I'm back," she agreed.
Stepping in closer, Donna ran her fingers over the console. Cool and solid beneath her fingertips, though the contact seemed to stretch right up into her arm. She trailed her fingers along, careful to avoid the buttons and levers as she did. Any of them could be the one to send them off into the past, or some sort of space void. Still - beautiful. The whole thing was frightening and beautiful. Sort of like the Doctor, actually.
Her face flushed and she yanked her hand away. She tried to force her thoughts into something passive - still didn't know if he could read minds. Donna looked back at him. His fingers rested on the console, his head tilted as the pitch of the hum around them softened.
"She likes you."
He met her eyes, and she didn't doubt the truth of his words for a moment. Even if she didn't know what to do with the knowledge.
Donna stepped in closer, and he stood up off the seat.
"Well, then, Spaceman," she said. "What will we be working on today?"
He blinked at her, his right arm slowly folded up and his fingers tugged at his ear. His eyes rolled from one side of the room to the other.
"What?" he asked, shaking his head as his arm flopped back to his side. "No, of course I didn't forget. Time Lords don't forget. Great big massive brains, Donna. Well-"
He stretched the word out, rocked onto the sides of his feet. Donna brushed by him, stood in the hall while he muttered at her back. She let him work it out aloud, only caught about half the words anyway. He'd have to circle back to something relevant eventually, she'd jump back on the ride then.
Donna jumped and spun back around to face him. She crossed her arms up over her chest and tried to ignore the way her heart beat inside her throat.
"The library," he said, stepping around her, heading down the hall. He paused, looked back over his shoulder."Are you coming?"
She hurried after him, caught up near the kitchen.
"Been meaning to work in there for ages," he said, glancing at her. "Well, I say ages. A year. About a year. A few months."
Minutes, more likely.
She said nothing, kept his pace. Shoving the library door open, the Doctor patted his pockets as he stepped inside. He pulled out a yo-yo, followed by a ball of something fuzzy that he sniffed but thankfully didn't lick.
He motioned for her to take them, dropped them into her hands as he went back to searching. He added three buttons, and what looked like a bean before he found the sonic. She heard it buzz, glanced up as the fireplace flickered back into existence.
He scooped up her handfuls, dropped them back into his pocket and grinned.
"There we are," he said. "Now, work. This way, Donna."
One right and two lefts later, she found herself tucked away into the library's depths. The path he'd led them on had stretched out farther still, and she wondered how long it would actually take to work her way through the shelves. Part of her, all of her actually, hoped she'd get the chance to find out.
"You can start here," he said, nodding at the shelves. "I'll work in the -" he made a vague gesture over his shoulder "-section. I won't be far. Just shout if you need anything."
He backed away from her, disappeared around the corner. She waited until his footsteps faded to sigh.
In the absence of actual instruction, she stepped in closer to try to figure out what needed work. There seemed to be an order here, each book lined up perfectly with the one at its side. Even the shelves were dust free.
Donna turned, ready to shout for the Doctor - she'd get him to admit even he didn't know why they were here, and they could move on - when she spotted the over plump arm chair. Next to it stood a table, a book flat on its surface. It all looked worn, old, snatched from history and forgotten in this corner.
Glancing over her shoulder, Donna inched in closer. She half-expected the book to bite. Or shout. Anything that a book shouldn't be doing, really. Reaching out, she tapped the cover.
Her fingers remained whole. She picked it up. Running her fingertips down over the cover, she tipped it up to read the spine. Nothing. Odd. Dropping down into the chair, she settled it out over her lap and flipped to the first page.
A drawing with snippets of words. Well, still a bit unusual. A children's book, perhaps. She flipped another page. Nope. Not a children's book. Donna flipped through several more pages, stopped and stared. Two stick like creatures faced each other, their long antennas wrapping around each other's-
"Doctor?" she called out. "What's a loomix?"
He coughed. Something fell. She heard several rapid footsteps and his head peeked into view.
She held up the book, felt certain his species must not be capable of blushing because his face remained the same steady pale color. Even if his throat bobbed a telling number of times.
"Nothing," he said, straightening up. "Didn't translate properly. TARDIS must be on the blink. I'll go sort that."
She watched him vanish, snapped the book shut.
"Yeah, right," she muttered, dropping the book back onto the table. If this whole section turned out to be space porn, she'd slap him. After she perused, of course.
Donna plucked another book off the shelf, flipped it open. Words. A nice start. She backed up to the chair, dropped down and turned another page. A boy. A girl. Easy enough. She leaned back, wiggled until she got comfortable.
She lost track of time, had made it halfway through the book before her breath caught. Her mind rolled back to Lance. He'd never been as sweet as Ilgor (the blue-skinned alien of her suddenly developed dreams). Actually, he had once. Right after he'd agreed to marry her.
He'd taken her to this quiet little place. They'd had a nice dinner. He'd walked her home, kissed her goodnight. She'd felt...special. Really and properly special. For the first time. She'd felt so happy. That alone should have been her red flag.
A tear dropped onto the page, and Donna smoothed it over with her finger. The water trail spread to the edge and she shut the book before another could soak into the paper.
How could she have been so stupid? How could she have believed in him? Or that she might find her happy ending. They didn't exist. Not for her. Not for someone who cared too much about gossip and too little about proper news. Not for people who had no future, who still lived at home, who-
She let out a soft sob, the book slid off her legs and onto the floor. The sound echoed, too loud against her ears, as she pulled her legs up to her chest and let herself finally feel it all.