Donna paused to catch her breath as she finally reached the TARDIS. Outside of the blue box, the Doctor stood speaking in a low murmur with Martha Jones. Their expressions were both grim and she couldn't blame them. All around them was rubble, abandoned cars, and the acrid smell of far away smoke. Part of her still didn't want to acknowledge the reality of where they were.
Heaving in one more breath she began walking towards them, the cramp in her side from having run the whole way finally subsiding a bit. Donna didn't know what was going on, but she knew girls appearing out of nowhere, accompanied by flashes of light, couldn't be a good thing. Certainly not normal at least. And not normal was the Doctor's specialty.
The Doctor greeted her with a somewhat morose smile. Somewhere in the dark evening air was a faint sound of moaning or grinding and it distracted her for a moment.
"Back already?" He was trying to sound cheery but hardly pulling it off. She decided to just go along with it.
"Had a nice little stroll. Saw some fireworks. Suppose I got a bit lonely without you there to enjoy them with." She forced a cocky grin and was happy to see a sincere smile in return. Even Martha's expression had softened. "Listen-"
The Doctor cut her off with a finger raised to his lips. "Shh." He was gazing off into the distance just over her left shoulder and she suppressed a shudder at what he might be seeing. Images of gross, marauding monsters creeping up behind her flashed through her mind.
Moving very cautiously he took a few steps back and knocked lightly on the TARDIS door. Almost immediately the face of Jack Harkness appeared and he stepped out slowly, regarding the Doctors own calculated movements. They nodded in some odd synchronized fashion that Donna reasoned all men understand at birth. A silent communication should couldn't possibly comprehend. Then they took off across the road, Martha close behind. Taking one quick look at the darkness around her, Donna quickly followed.
There was the thundering sound of footsteps in an otherwise silent city. Then rustling, a bit of grunting, and finally the shouted cry of "Aha!" Followed by laughter. Laughter and shouting and what she could only describe as whoops of joy coming from Jack.
Catching up with the others, Donna found Jack swinging a young black man around in a crushing hug. That in and of itself was hardly unusual, but the Doctor's position was far stranger in her eyes. In Martha's as well it appeared, as the woman was standing a fair bit back from all of the activity, looking obviously perplexed. Donna moved to join her and whispered conspiratorially. "Who is she?"
Martha shook her head and shrugged as they watched a blonde woman finally release the Doctor from her hug and begin peppering his face with kisses. "Oh my God it's you!" She shouted and squealed slightly. "I don't believe it!" She took a firm hold of him them and planted a kiss directly to his lips. Beside her, Donna could practically feel Martha lose her balance slightly before straightening back up. She reached out a hand to help stabilize her. "You don't think that's…?"
"Jack did say she was blonde."
Neither woman needed to specify who 'she' was. Rose. That named was spoken, uttered, whispered and at one pointed shouted, so many times in the TARDIS that neither of them could ever forget it. Poor Martha had been overshadowed by the name, while Donna had been haunted by it after she heard it come out of a heartbroken man on Christmas Day. She had often wondered what this girl who'd had such a firm hold on his hearts had been like. She hadn't expected this.
In front of them the pairs exchanged and the Doctor eagerly embraced the young man, laughing heartily.
"It's gotta be her, right?" Martha whispered. "I've never seen him so happy."
Donna nodded. "You're right. Even when he's smiling he's always got this… bit of sadness to him. Maddening really. Just wanted to beat it out of him sometimes." She smiled wryly. "I've definitely never seen him like this."
Before their discussion could go any further, the people in question all began to make their way over. Martha put on a brave face and smile as the Doctor began introductions.
"Right. Martha, Donna, this is Mickey Smith. He traveled with me for a while. A little while. Very little while. Right, anyway. Mickey Smith."
The now named Mickey smiled cockily and gave a nod in their direction.
"And this," the Doctor put an arm casually around the blonde, "is Ros-"
"We figured as much." Martha jumped forward, almost too eagerly. Donna couldn't help feeling sorry for her. The girl had her own life and a man of her own now, but she still had underlying feelings for the Doctor and it was evident that they wouldn't go away any time soon.
Martha shook the woman's hand eagerly. "It's so nice to finally meet you and put a face to the name. I mean he talks about you all the time. Rose this, Rose that. Sometimes you just wanna shut him up and get him focused on the present." She laughed nervously, still shaking hands. The blonde turned to the Doctor.
"Oh, so you've told 'em about her then? Didn't pull another Sarah-Jane Smith?"
The Doctor's eyes went wide and he shook his head vehemently, stammering out all sorts of whats, whys and hows. The woman rolled her eyes in return.
"Oh what, you think I didn't know about that? I am her mother you know. She does tell me things." She shook her head and regarded Donna and Martha. "You know, for all he is that's alien, he's nothing but a bloke sometimes, I tell you."
Martha stood stock still, having no idea what was going on. Suddenly, Donna felt herself laughing. This woman, who she now presumed was actually Rose's dear mother, had the Doctor squirming in his pants. Bless her. The nightmare mother-in-law who leaves lipstick smears on your cheek and tells embarrassing stories about you to anyone who would listen.
"Right, right." The Doctor jumped forward, pulling the woman back to discourage her from saying any more. "As I was saying, this is Rose's mother, Miss Jacqueline Andrea Suzette Prentice Tyler."
'Miss Jacqueline Tyler' shot him a glare and the smirking smile on his face quickly disappeared. He cleared his throat audibly. "You can call her Jackie."
A loud clang rang out around the corner and the foursome froze. After a moments pause, Mickey Smith nodded and turned away from the sound. "Right, follow me."
They walked slowly in silence, the lightheartedness of the reunion dampened by a growing sense of danger and anticipation. Donna thought she saw movement down and alley but it was far too dark to see. Ahead of her, Jack's head seemed to be in constant movement as it flicked side to side, keeping an eye on their surroundings.
They came to a stop outside what looked like a closed down Italian restaurant. Mickey knelt down to knock quickly on a rusting cellar door. It groaned as he forced it open to lean inside. Donna'd expected him to climb inside, perhaps to hide or formulate some sort of plan, but he straightened back up, handing something she couldn't quite see to Jackie. He reached back in and stood this time, holding two large gray objects that looked like oversized guns from a sci-fi movie.
The last thing to emerge from the cellar was a woman, her auburn hair a bit of a mess, and a wicked smile on her face. She held one of the large guns as well and hefted its weight up in her arms.
This new mystery woman looked at the Doctor and gave him a saucy wink. Donna pondered briefly as to whether or not this was Rose, but she was far too old to be Jackie's daughter. Although with this new life of hers, she did have to factor time travel into the mix. Thankfully her thoughts, which she could see would grow even more confusing, proved unnecessary as the Doctor quickly identified the woman.
"Sarah-Jane!" He moved forward to give this new woman a hug, squeezing her tightly.
"Here you go Boss." Mickey held his gun out to the Doctor who released Sarah-Jane abruptly, as if he'd just remembered the reality of the situation. He looked the weapon over and sneered like a child given a plate full of broccoli.
"No thanks, I'll pass." He looked over their rapidly growing group and frowned. "So, what are you all doing? Is this all of you? I mean…"
Mickey smiled. "Rose's here, if that's what you mean. She came in after us so we haven't met up yet, but I'm picking up her signal." He held up a small device to show him. "Anyway, not much time for explanations. We came over the same way we did last time, just followed the bad guys."
"Bad guys?" Jack interrupted. "What are we dealing with here?"
Mickey shook his head. "Nothing we haven't dealt with before. It took a while to get it right, but these will take care of 'em." He gestured to one of the guns which was resting against his leg.
"And you?" The Doctor asked, turning to Sarah-Jane.
"Oh you know me, never too far behind trouble." She smiled fondly. "I was poking around, trying to figure out what was going on when I ran into Mickey. It was quite a shock when I saw him."
There was another strange sound in the distance and Martha stepped forward. "Enough with the introductions and explanations, yeah? Whatever's out there is gonna find us quick if we're all just standing around in the open."
"She's right," Mickey agreed. "We'd better split up." He looked everyone over briefly. "Rightbest we split up. You, Martha right?" Martha nodded. "Take this." He handed her a gun, then glanced up the street. "Doctor, you take her up around that way. Should see a fountain about two blocks down. Hang a left there and just keep going. We'll swing around this way and meet up with you near the TARDIS. The energy readings are highest in this area, so we should be able to see something along the way."
To Donna's surprise, the Doctor didn't question the plan. He merely nodded with a small little smile playing over his lips, then took off with Martha.
"I don't get it," Jack questioned, as soon as they were out of site. "Why send those two alone? Safer to split evenly, don't you think."
Mickey nodded and smiled. "Yeah, definitely. But he's more likely to run into Rose if he goes that way. Thought it'd be best if he was alone for that. You might be too much of a distraction."
"Whatever gave you that idea?" Jack's smile was teasing, even a bit flirtatious.
"Please, one look at you and I could tell. Never mind some of the stories you told us. Anyway, I would have sent him alone but it'd be too suspicious, never mind dangerous. So I picked one of the strangers randomly."
Donna wasn't sure if she was relieved to be in the larger group, or nervous about not having the Doctor around, should something happen. She forced the thought from her mind as they began walking. It was a relief that during their short trip back to the TARDIS, though tense, they didn't see or hear anything further.
As they rounded the last corner, Donna was surprised to see someone standing by the TARDIS. Even with all of the previous confusion she was willing to place a safe bet that this girl, the same one she'd seen come stumbling out of nowhere, was Rose. Outfitted in snug black slacks and a leather jacket over an almost surprising pink top, her honey colored hair hanging loosely, she looked the part of a girl who'd traveled across the universe and back. Tough enough to face the Doctor's enemies, but sweet enough to steal his heart.
She was looking at the exterior of the TARDIS fondly, a hint of tears in her eyes when she saw them. She greeted them first with a genial smile that grew into a wide mouthed grin before she came running towards them.
"Jack!" She barreled into him, wrapping her arms around him while he lifted her right up off the floor. They looked as much like reunited lovers as old friends. Jack's elated cry confirmed that this jubilant girl was in fact the infamous Rose Tyler.
Rose released Jack and moved to hug Sarah-Jane, obviously surprised by her presence. Finally she briefly greeted her mother and Mickey in the same manner.
"Ah, Rose." Jack placed a hand on her shoulder and gestured to Donna, who stood outside what had become a tight circle. "This is Donna Noble. Doctor said her slap is even worse than your mothers."
Rose let out a small giggle, then reached out to shake her hand. "You've traveled with the Doctor?"
Donna nodded. "He's mentioned you, you know. Quite a few times actually."
Rose smiled. "I'd hoped so."
Donna heard a small sound to their left and turned, expecting to see the Doctor and Martha approaching. Instead she caught sight of something metal, gleaming in the yellow street lights, disappear down an alley. She reached out to grab the nearest person, tugging Jack over by his shirt. She pointed towards the alley, but her gesture was missed as the Doctor came into view several blocks down.
She could tell the instant he saw Rose. His face lit up and he took off running so fast that Martha was left far behind. He was speeding past the alley when Donna saw the metallic object remerge. The Doctor's smile was brilliant, his stride long and purposeful. His laughed echoed as he drew nearer.
Even as she heard the sound of the object's heartless "exterminate" cut across the air and saw the laser shot pierce the Doctor's side, she thought that it looked like the happiest moment of his life.