Summary: Donna Noble forces the Tenth Doctor to do some Christmas shopping, and they bump into a rather unexpectedly familiar face – the best gift the Doctor could wish for.
"You can't use a time machine like this!" the Doctor burst out, resigned to go along with Donna's wishes once again.
"What use is time travel if you can't take advantage of the Christmas sales twice?" Donna replied with a chuffed smirk, swaggering down the alley where the TARDIS had landed.
The Doctor slammed the blue box's door behind him and rushed after her. "This is just... wrong," he kept complaining with a childish pout. "You can't play with time in this way. It's not decent. It's... against the rules."
"What rules?" Donna glanced at him sideways without slowing down, knowing she had cornered him.
"If there were rules, they'd be against this," the Doctor sighed, frustrated.
"Come on, it's not like we're changing world's history or causing paradoxes," Donna insisted on teasing him. "I just want another chance to get the best deals. You do this kind of cheap tricks all the time. Besides, don't be grumpy – it's Christmas."
"You hate Christmas," the Doctor retorted.
"But I love the shopping, and this is unarguably the best time of the year for it." Donna gave him a smug smile, grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him towards the end of the alley despite his protests.
They stepped out into a busy London's high street and were immediately hit by loud carols and joyful chatter. Donna pushed through the crowd, and the Doctor had no other choice than follow her along the road, dodging passersby and their overfull bags. Twinkling lights lit the street from above and a scent of cinnamon filled the air. It was impossible to resist the Christmas spirit.
Eventually, curiosity overcame the Doctor and he dropped his frown. "Why did you want to go back to 2004, though?" he asked Donna. "What's so good about the 2004 Christmas sales, exactly?"
"Boots," Donna declared, sticking her nose up high.
"Boots," Donna repeated. "There was this lovely pair of boots on sale but I couldn't make it to buy it in time. Nerys bought the last pair. The little traitor."
"She took those boots away from me on purpose," Donna continued ranting in a high picked tone. "She didn't even like them. She's never worn them once."
"Shoes?!" the Doctor lost it. "We've travelled back in time for some shoes?"
"You don't understand, those boots are no longer being produced," Donna justified herself. "I need to have them. I'll get my revenge on Nerys."
"You've been thinking about the same pair of shoes for four years?!" the Doctor cried out, bewildered.
"Revenge is best served cold," Donna shrugged.
"Four years and a time travelling machine, all for some shoes?!" The Doctor shook his head in disdain. "There's got to be some rule against this."
"Oi, don't give me that face, Time Lord. We've travelled to the other side of the universe to get you some spare parts for the TARDIS just the other week," Donna accused him, pointing the finger at him. "It's the same thing."
"The same thing?!" the Doctor shouted, undecided whether to laugh or feel offended. "The TARDIS is a very complex and sophisticated spaceship, it's not a pair of shoes!"
"Men!" Donna snorted, rolling her eyes.
The two of them kept strolling along the street, bantering. Their reflection on the shop windows showed their concealed smiles, revealing all the fun they were actually having just being in the presence of each other. When fake snow coming from one of the shops began to fall on them, making the Doctor startle and then ruffle his sticky-uppy hair in disbelief, Donna couldn't hold her laughter in any longer.
A few meters later, Donna stopped in the middle of the pavement and pointed excitedly to the other side of the street, recognizing their destination. "There it is. That's the store that sold the boots I want," she told the Doctor before dragging him across the road. He could only read the name of the department store, Henriks, written in flashing capitals letters on the sign above the entrance, and the gigantic red and white banners advertising half price discounts, before he was catapulted inside the bright interior of the building.
Some modern Christmas song welcomed them inside with its catchy chorus. Hundreds of people were swarming around the stands of the beauty department, every oxygen molecule in the large hall had been replaced by a mixture of sweet scents. With every step the Doctor and Donna took, sales assistants stopped them to ask Donna to sample their products – and she was apparently very happy to accept all their offers. Soon her wrists were covered with the dozens of perfumes she had tried on and she was unable to distinguish any of them.
"What do you think of this?" she asked the Doctor enthusiastically, snatching the nth sample from a tired employee's hands and shoving it up the Doctor's nostrils.
"I've smelt so many scents, I can't feel my nose anymore!" the Doctor exclaimed, sniffing. Another employee sprayed some cologne in his direction. "Stop doing that!" he cried out, sneezing. He recalled all the planets inhabited by sentient gas creatures he had visited during his travels. None of them was as lethal as that store.
He had just finished blowing his nose, when they finally moved to the upper floor. But another terrible shopping experience awaited the Doctor right outside the elevator: they ended up in the menswear department, and Donna was very determined to get him new clothes.
"Try this one," she ordered the Doctor while throwing him the ugliest Christmas jumper in the shop. "It's rat-sized, should fit you."
"I'm not wearing this," he objected firmly, studying the picture on the sweater with raised eyebrows.
"Have you seen it?" The Doctor waved the jumper at Donna. "There's a Christmas pudding on it!"
"It's a laugh!" she replied, reaching him and trying to forcibly put it on him over his clothes.
"It's hideous!" he complained with his head stuck in the sweater.
"What do you know about fashion?" Donna scolded him once he had escaped from her. "You always wear the same suit, you never change!"
"I don't need to change!" he yelled, running around the room. "Why would I? Look at me!"
Donna kept chasing him wielding the jumper intimidatingly as a weapon until a shop assistant gently asked them to stop scaring the other customers. So they moved on and quickly passed through the toy department – Donna had to drag the Doctor away from the robot dogs and radio controlled drones before he could break any of them. A couple of wrong turns later, not to mention the Doctor's attempt to change the direction of the escalators with his sonic screwdriver just to avoid walking to the other side of the room, they reached the womenswear department. That's when the real torture started for the Doctor.
He had to wait for over two hours in front of the fitting rooms while Donna tried on what felt like the entire winter collection of the store. Each dress she tried had to be greeted with the appropriate comment from the Doctor, otherwise his punishment was to put it back on the hanger and bring it back out on its rack. She didn't like any of the dresses she had tried.
Then the Doctor followed her to the lingerie section and watched her compare every single nightgown until she was happy with one.
"Okay, I'm done. Let's pay for this and go back to the TARDIS," Donna eventually announced, holding a very short, tight red nightie trimmed with lace.
"Wait, what about the boots? Are you not going to buy them?" the Doctor stopped her when she started to leave.
"What boots?" Donna asked back, confused.
"The boots! The very reason we travelled back in time!" he explained.
She seemed to suddenly remember. "Oh, right." Then shrugged. "Don't need those anymore now that I can use this alluring robe to seduce―"
"Seduce who? Santa Claus?" the Doctor interrupted her, unnerved.
"Listen, dumbo, you don't understand any of this," she replied, annoyed by his rudeness, "but maybe I'll meet some decent bloke during one of our adventures―"
"That'd be a true Christmas miracle," the Doctor mumbled under his breath.
"―so I have to be ready to put all my womanly wiles to good use," she completed.
"I'm so glad I don't understand any of this right now," the Doctor remarked.
"Cashiers are that way," she pointed out, offended, ending the conversation. The Doctor led the way, a mischievous smile on his face.
They joined the long queue in front of the cashiers of the clothing department. The Doctor threatened again to use his screwdriver to set off the fire alarms and make all other costumers flee so they wouldn't have to wait, but Donna made sure he behaved until their turn came. When they finally reached the top of the queue, the Doctor's hearts skipped a bit. Behind the counter, the most unexpected yet familiar face appeared.
An eighteen-year-old Rose Tyler had just closed the cash register drawer and was now handing the receipt to an old lady. She pushed a lock of her long, blond hair away from her cheek and curved her full lips into a sweet smile. Despite her tender look, her eyes revealed her tiredness after a long day at work, dark circles coloured the skin under them. She had clearly been doing a lot of overtime lately, probably to gather the money to buy her mother some nice Christmas present, or simply to have an excuse to stay out of her flat as long as possible.
When the old lady had left, Rose's attention went back to the still long queue of people waiting to pay. Her eyes met the Doctor's, and his hearts skipped another beat.
He slowly turned to face Donna, his eyes popping out of his head. He could only manage to stutter a confused, "What... How...?"
Donna looked back at him with a knowing gaze. The playfulness that had animated her face for the whole afternoon had now been replaced by a warm, affectionate look. A delicate smile surfaced on her lips in response to the astonishment in the Doctor's eyes. She had planned the surprise all along, timing it with meticulous precision, and was so pleased her plan had worked.
"Merry Christmas," she whispered to him in a caring tone, disclosing all her fondness for him.
The Doctor kept staring at Donna in a daze, trying to put the pieces together, until Rose called out for them.
"Next customer, please," she said in her London accent so dear to the Doctor's ears.
He turned around, still wondering whether she was really in front of him or she was just an illusion. Rose looked as beautiful as she looked in his dreams. Maybe after all he had seen and done, his mind was finally starting to fail him.
Donna took him by the arm and hesitantly dragged him forward towards his long lost companion, then handed Rose her nightie and watched her scan it.
"Do you have a loyalty card?" Rose asked them as to every other costumer. After all, they were just ordinary costumers to her. She couldn't have imagined that in just a few months she would travel the universe with that strange man in a sharp suit who was looking at her so inquisitively.
The Doctor shook his head in response to her question. He had never really seen her at work and, although he was proud of her efforts, he had to fight the impulse to grab her hand and bring her away from that shop, show her how much more was out there just waiting for her, give her the whole of time and space. Again.
He thought he couldn't miss their time together more than he already did, but seeing her just a few inches away from him, unable to touch her exactly like on that damn day in Norway, made him burn up inside. Knowing that she didn't have the faintest idea who he was was killing him.
Nevertheless, meeting a younger version of Rose also gave him a sense of release. It reminded him that everything they had shared together had really happened, it wasn't just some story he had invented for himself in his loneliness. It reminded him that she had lived her life to the fullest and she still had so much life to live. Despite how he had ruined her existence forever, somewhere she was still living and breathing, and she was so alive.
Donna paid for her nightgown and Rose handed the change back to her after a little struggle with the cash drawer. "Would you like me to gift wrap it for you?" she asked then in a rehearsed tone.
Donna declined. She too was staring at Rose as if she wasn't quite real, and the girl started to become quite aware of her dishevelling hair and messy makeup. Rose looked like any ordinary girl, but Donna didn't miss the sparkle in her eyes behind the tiredness. No wonder the Doctor liked her.
"It's not a gift," Donna replied after a few seconds to lessen the awkwardness. "I'm buying it for myself."
"Well, it's still a gift. Your husband will really love it," Rose joked. She glanced at the Doctor with a cunning smile while putting the nightie inside a bag.
"Oh no, no, no, we're- we're not a couple," the Doctor and Donna said simultaneously, appalled by the very thought of being married.
"Of course," Rose giggled. For some reason, she looked relieved. She glanced again at the Doctor to admire his face, lingered on his hair a moment too long, and blushed. She must have wondered what it felt like to run her fingers through it, but immediately surfaced from her fantasy.
She looked away, and within moments she would forgot his appearance. He was just another customer, albeit a handsome one. She had seen hundreds of people just that day, all their faces blurred together. He wasn't important. Not yet.
"Happy holidays," Rose smiled, putting the receipt in the shopping bag and giving it to Donna.
"You too," she replied and started to leave, gently driving the Doctor away from the counter, but a few steps later he stopped again. He wanted to say something to Rose, but couldn't think of what to say. A knot formed in his stomach. Nothing could convey the whirlwind of emotions that were raging inside him. No word could live up to their relationship. But then Rose curiously glanced at him once more, and he melted.
"Could you please do one thing for me?" he asked her with a broken voice.
"I beg your pardon?" she mumbled, confused, the next costumer already approaching her.
"Have a great Christmas. Do that for me," the Doctor continued, his lips trembling. "Spend some time with your family. Hang out with your boyfriend. Get some rest. There are great things coming for you next year, and you've got to be ready." He winked to wipe away the tears piling up against his lower eyelid and forced out a half-smile.
Rose widened her grin. She didn't know why that odd man was telling her those things. He was just another costumer, and she had had way too many weird customers come in the shop to remember his face particularly for more than a few minutes. But for a moment, she distinctly thought that she wouldn't mind meeting that kind, handsome stranger again.
The next impatient costumer stole her attention, and the Doctor and Donna turned away, proceeding to leave the store and disappearing from Rose's memory.
"How?" he simply asked his ginger friend once they had stepped outside in the biting cold of London.
"Don't be so daft," Donna laughed. "I did some research and put two and two together. I thought 'he always brings me to the most amazing, surprising places, now it's my turn.' You've been everywhere, but I imagined you wouldn't ever bring yourself to visit Rose's timeline without a little push. So that's what I did. Take it as a little thank you gift."
"I should be thanking you," the Doctor said, touched.
"You underestimated me," she joked, punching him in the arm. "Turns out I'm less useless than you thought."
"I never thought you were useless," he replied, giving her a sideways hug while walking.
"She wasn't exactly as I pictured her, Rose," Donna mentioned. "But she is definitely something. I can see why you like her."
"She was brilliant," the Doctor specified. "Exactly as you are."
Donna smiled and lowered her gaze, feeling flattered. The Doctor held her tighter. Fake snow showered them as they approached the alley where they'd left the TARDIS, carols began playing to perfectly match the muddle of joy and sorrow in their chests.
"And Donna?" the Doctor added suddenly, drawing the TARDIS key from his pocket.
"Merry Christmas to you too."
A/N: I wish a wonderful Christmas and an amazing New Year to everyone who read this, I hope you enjoyed it. I wanted to write something lighter to celebrate the holiday season, but I couldn't avoid a bit of angst. Anyway, I think the Doctor was quite happy with his unusual Christmas gift in the end. If you'd be kind enough to leave me a review or a comment about your opinions on this fic, that'd make a great Christmas gift. Thank you all for your support.