Disclaimer: the only thing I own is a book about counselling, and I can't even claim that I have read it all; just the first chapter.
A/N: written and posted in order to wish dm1 a very happy birthday!
A/N2: there is a mention of Relate here, a government funded free service to counsel couples
And How Do You Feel About That
From somewhere behind them a clock loudly ticked on, stabbing through the silence that had momentarily fallen on the stuffy room.
The Doctor huffed in his seat and deliberately looked away. Why had he agreed to do this? It had seemed like a good idea when it had first been proposed, but now he wasn't so sure.
Across from him on the other side of a fireside rug, in her own separate armed chair, Donna rolled her eyes in exasperation. He was such a big kid at times!
"Are you seriously trying to say that this is MY fault?" she demanded to know.
The pout was out in full force on his face. "No," he hastily denied. "Because we all know that you are never to blame when something happens, whereas I am totally at fault," he sarcastically announced.
"Got that right," she muttered under her breath, hoping he had heard her nevertheless.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, he had. A scowl crossed his features. "God forbid that the mighty Donna Noble be wrong once in her life," he spat out.
She turned in her seat to face him squarely, and pointed an irate digit at him. "Are you saying that because you personally think it, or did my mother put you up to this?"
"Take that back!" he gritted from between his teeth, thoroughly disgusted. "How dare you suggest I am in league with your mother, of all people? The very idea…!"
"Then why?!" Donna loudly commanded to know.
As the Doctor sought to find the appropriate words to express his answer, a quiet, firm but calm voice from in front of them wondered, "If I may interject at this point, and get us back to the original question, Donna asked you a reasonable question a moment ago and you brushed off her concerns with a glib answer. She needs the truth, rather than this merry-go-round of arguments that the two of you keep having. We have heard her side of the story and now we need to hear yours, since your continuing relationship rather depends on mutual honesty, otherwise I cannot help you."
They were both partially facing another person in the 'austere but pretending to be friendly' room. A middle-aged woman dressed in shades of orange who peered at them with interest through her round-lensed glasses. On her lap sat a notepad that she occasionally jotted down a word or two.
The Doctor looked suitably chastised. "I understand that, Margaret, and I am grateful for your input here at Relate. It's just…" He threw his gaze towards Donna, imploring her to help him out of this dilemma. Evidently she was leaving it all up to him, so he gulped and admitted, "I find it rather difficult to talk about my emotions."
There was a confirming nod or two of Donna's head.
Margaret smiled reassuringly at him. "In that case, let me make an assumption that you can either agree or disagree with. I suggest that your motive for continually looking down the front of Donna's wedding dress on the day you met her may have something to do with your own feelings. So tell me, Doctor, how do you feel about Donna?"
"Well…" He gazed thoughtfully towards the ceiling, having decided to ignore her suggestion for now. "She is my companion, my current companion, so that is the first reason why I would care." There was a brief glance towards the woman in question. "She is my friend; in fact I would go as far as saying she is my best friend."
"Good," Margaret commented.
"And I did sort of, well… in fact I did rather… yes, I would say that technically I did… since we sort of bonded on the Day of the Planets: I married her. Although strictly speaking it wasn't voluntary," he spluttered on.
"Thanks," Donna grouched. "I didn't have a lot of say in the matter either, despite what you might have thought."
"When I asked if you were travelling the universe to find a husband, I wasn't putting myself forward," he remarked.
Donna visibly winced. "Yes, I get the picture. You don't have to spell it out."
"And yet you DID become her husband," Margaret stressed. "That is a fact, and has led to you both being here today, in my office. Do you like Donna?"
"Oh yes!" he quickly enthused, giving a nod. "She is brilliant!"
"He's always saying that. It's like it's written in his contract," Donna modestly dismissed, "but I'm just a temp from Chiswick. I'm nothing special."
"Yes you are," he insisted fondly. "You may have forgotten some of the stuff you knew and did when the Daleks were here, but that doesn't stop you being special."
Picking up on this, Margaret pressed further. "And do you think you are capable of loving Donna as a husband should?"
"Erm," he squeaked, and his face went bright pink. His neck was given a fervent rub in self-consolation. "My lifestyle doesn't allow for anything like that."
"Then your peeping down Donna's clothing was a matter of lust?" Margaret quizzed him.
"No no no no," he snootily insisted, holding up his hands to halt her words. "Time Lords do not dally with such behaviour."
"He was probably doing it out of scientific curiosity," Donna piped up. "It's not every day that you see a chest that could blot out the Isle of Wight. And he's more used to skinny pretty girls being around him, judging by how Martha and Rose look. I'm like a ginger freak show in comparison."
"Donna," he gasped out, "you know that I love your ginger hair. It is one of your defining qualities."
"Along with the boobs. You're allowed to state the obvious, Spaceman. They're a bit hard to miss."
His gaze landed on her cleavage and stayed there as he hastily adjusted his collar. "Well, since you mentioned your…" There was a vague gesture that could have been absolutely anything. "Yes, you are right."
This was getting nowhere fast. Was the man in lust or in love with his wife? "Doctor, you are obviously experiencing some emotion when you catch glimpses of Donna's body. Are you pleased with your reaction?"
"I erm," he hesitated, thinking of the damage Donna could wrought if she so much as suspected how deeply his feelings went. "Not particularly. You know, in the grand scheme of things. Ours is a very pleasing friendship, so why ruin such a relationship? Donna said no nonsense, so no nonsense has happened."
"Why would you say that, Donna?"
"I did say it," she confessed. "He had just told me that he wanted a mate and I thought he was after a quick bunk up." She snorted her scorn. "Had enough of that sort of thing to last me a life time. Men and their wandering hands, shall we say. I didn't go looking for him in order to throw myself into his bed. I wanted to find him because…"
There was an embarrassed pause.
"Because?" Margaret encouraged her to continue talking. "How did you think things would be different with him?"
"He didn't treat me like a piece of totty to be conquered for some personal bet, but like he really cared about my well-being. And he was off limits, so that eased things a bit."
"How was he off limits?"
The Doctor squirmed as Donna answered, "Apart from being from a different part of the world, he was obviously wrapped up in someone else when I first met him. We both were. So there was none of that awkward business with chat up lines."
Margaret frowned. There had been previous talk of something more meaningful than ways to break the ice. "Didn't you say that he pretended to marry you on the day you first met?"
"Yes," Donna replied, fondly remembering that moment. "We were trying to cheer each other up, in our own way. Although, when you think about it, he didn't have to cuddle me while we waited for the flood water to recede neither, but he kept me safe."
"So… Doctor. Within hours of knowing Donna you wanted to place a ring on her finger, albeit in jest."
"I know what you are suggesting, and it isn't true," the Doctor hotly denied. "Yes, we quickly grew on each other after a shaky start, but it was nothing like that, I assure you. I just happened to have that ring in my pocket, and at the time it was a good idea to put it on her finger. Perhaps I could have chosen an alternative finger to place the ring, but the deed is done now."
'Clearly in denial' Margaret wrote on her paper. "How do you feel about the fact that you have ended up married anyway?"
"Ironic," the Doctor admitted. "It had been assumed everywhere that we went, from the very beginning, that we were a couple; so it is ironic that the very laws of nature have forced us into such a relationship."
"How does that make you feel?"
They were back to feelings and emotions again. Not a good place to be. "Rather mixed on the subject," he replied.
"No matter how hard you push him, he's not going to say he is pleased about us," Donna observed. "He's been lumbered with me when the person he really wanted isn't here anymore."
"Why is that?"
"Because he sent her away."
Margaret leaned towards the Doctor in interest. "You sent her away. Why did you do that?"
His hand came up so that he could rub the back of his neck again in comfort. "I couldn't give her what she wanted or deserved, so I took her back to her family." He then turned towards Donna and angrily queried, "What do you mean I got lumbered with you?!"
"On that beach, you told her, when she asked what you'd do now, 'I've got madam'," Donna quoted, "as though I'm some terrible consolation prize. How am I supposed to take that?"
"Like the truth it is," he raged. "SHE was the one who got the consolation prize, not me. I was trying to be diplomatic and let her down gently."
"Then why didn't you say so?"
"I just did! I thought you knew how I felt. I was quite happy to be left with you by my side. If I wasn't, I'd have never dumped her back in that place."
Margaret sat back and let them voice all of this. It was gaining some important ground between them.
But Donna was still having some doubts. "When I almost died because of the Daleks, Jack said that you were practically beside yourself. Is that true?"
"He had no right telling you that!"
"That's by the by," she waved off. "I'll ask again. Is it true?"
Reluctantly, he brokenly muttered, "Yes." Giving a sniff, he supposed, "Did you enjoy yourselves mocking my grief?"
"If you must know, he was apologising for not hugging me when you did your whole phoenix impersonation," she griped. "He seemed to think, although gawd knows where he got the idea, that you were giving off some fancy vibe that I was yours and not to be touched. Like hell you did. He also claimed you acted all jealous when we did the Facebook thing and then, when I pulled a face, he mentioned how cut up you were when you thought I was dead." With a grim smile, she confessed, "I thought he was kidding about you and was having me on, especially 'cos I caught him flirting with Sarah Jane. I mean, Martha said he flirts with everything and everyone, so why didn't he try it on with me? That's why I confronted him."
"Oh Donna," he gasped sympathetically. "I am so sorry."
"Yeah, you and me both." She feigned some cheer by commenting, "It's my own fault. If you expose any part of your chest, men look. If you make the effort to cover up, then you aren't even worth the bother of them turning their head in your direction. Let's face it, the only reason you have hugged me lately has been because I grabbed you first."
"That is not…," he went to protest, and then realised that was true. "Okay, I have let you come to me recently; further than recently, if I'm honest, but I wanted to make sure you were alright with our personal boundaries."
"Doesn't explain how you practically sit on me half the time," she commented to herself under her breath. "And I know how horrible that kiss must have been for you," she said for him to actually hear, "but it did the trick at the time."
"What kiss was this?" Margaret asked.
"Just a quick peck when we were visiting an author friend," the Doctor stated dismissively. "It was a sort of a dare. You know, like spin the bottle."
"So you chose to kiss Donna?"
"No, I kissed him," Donna confessed. "Caused him to go all sorts of weird."
"I can imagine," Margaret remarked, and made another note, underlining her previous 'denial' word. She then glanced at her watch. "Our time is almost up, so let's have a quick recap about where we have got so far." This was greeted with consenting nods. "Despite your married status, you are not claiming any romantic feelings towards each other but worry that others' expectations will damage your current relationship. This fear is causing a strain that has led you here. You are, however, freely admitting deep feelings of friendship and love those qualities in one another. What I will advise you to do is express those warm feelings as much as possible, at each and every opportunity." Placing her hands in her lap, she smiled broadly at them in encouragement. "Honestly, what you have together is wonderfully supportive and not unhealthily co-dependent. It doesn't matter how some people perceive you because equal relationships like yours are worth fighting for. Continue enjoying your time together, in any way that you like, and remember to trust your instincts."
"Thank you, Margaret." The Doctor stood, indicating that Donna do the same, and then shook Margaret's hand. "We'll remember that."
"Yes, thank you," Donna added her own parting words and handshake.
Once outside the building, the Doctor offered his hand for Donna to take and began to lead the way back to the TARDIS. "So what did you think of that?"
"I don't know. But I feel better. What about you?"
"I'm better then alright," he replied, grinning with relief. "But there is one thing that is still puzzling me."
"Oh?" she queried. "What's got that big ol' brain of yours in a tizz?"
He pulled her closer to whisper, "Do we have sex or not? I'm not sure if she meant that we should."
She smirked back at him. "Well, if it involves expressing those warm feelings of friendship she was going on about, then I suppose we can try risking it."
"Donna Noble, I could kiss you."
So he did.