"I don't get it," Donna said suddenly, apropos of nothing.
The Doctor was quite used to these little outbursts of Donna's by now, although the random expositions had been something of a surprise when she first started.
She'd exploded into conversation, asking questions out of nowhere and he had been swiftly left behind, only for Donna to exclaim what a dummy he was and walk away.
At least now he knew that he wasn't supposed to know what she was talking about automatically. In fact, the day he was following the same thought train as Donna Noble was the day he gave up travelling and took up farming on Io.
He fiddled with the TARDIS monitor again trying to get a clearer picture. "What don't you get?" he asked.
"You. You're this great space alien, yeah. Time machine; space-boy; sonic compensation tucked in your pocket. You've got all this knowledge; all this…" she swept her arms open to indicate the awesomeness of her surroundings.
"Ye-es," he said warily, quite sure that he wasn't going to like the direction of this talk.
"You can do all this, but you can't get Rose back."
He stiffened at the name and his face set in a mask of stubborn unwillingness to allow the conversation to continue. He was harsh, he was stoic, he was…not impressing Donna.
"See, I know you, Doctor. There's nothing you can't do if you put your mind to it."
"I told you," he spat through gritted teeth, "she's lost—trapped. I can't reach her."
"Can't or won't?" Donna challenged. "Because there's a hell of a difference, mate. See, from what I've seen, if you really wanted to reach her, you'd find some way of making it happen. Clever bloke like you. But you haven't, and I don't get it."
There was silence in the TARDIS, punctuated only by the rhythmic roar of the Time Rotor as it slunk up and down.
Donna could see a sheen of moisture in the Doctor's eyes but she wasn't going to give in—it wasn't in her nature and she had lived with the ghost of Rose Tyler for months now.
She often wished she had met the girl who held such a firm hold on the Doctors hearts and that had got her thinking, especially after the Doctor had finally told her what had happened in Canary Wharf.
The idea had been playing around in her head until such a point that it had to be addressed.
When the Doctor finally spoke, his voice sounded hollow, like it was coming from far away.
"When I first met Rose I'd been in a war and we lost. Everyone lost. I was going through the motions, just waiting to finish it all. I met this shop girl, Rose, in a basement where some store dummies had come to life. Long story, involved the Nestene, anti-plastic and a bronze gymnastics medal."
Donna remembered that one (although she was mystified as to where gymnastics came into it). She'd been temping in New Look at the time and almost had kittens when two of the children's models got up and walked out of the shop.
She may have had more ease believing in aliens after that if she hadn't have been suffering from the after effects of a bad break up and tequila slammers at the time and had blamed it on too much angst and alcohol.
The Doctor continued. "I'd wanted to die…" he trailed off, not willing to share that much weakness with anyone, but his hesitation told Donna all she needed to know.
"An hour with Rose and I just wanted to live. I wanted to show her how to live. She saved me, literally and…in so many ways, over and over again. Never asked for anything and never walked away even when I tested her." Those glittering brown eyes turned to face Donna, but she knew it wasn't her he was seeing; it was a blonde with wide eyes and a touching smile.
He came to some sort of decision and took a deep breath. "People travel with me for different reasons, Donna. Because they want to see the universe, to escape, to have adventures… because they get lost on the way to Heathrow. Everyone comes on board knowing that this is temporary, even if they pretend otherwise." He gave her a knowing look. "But not Rose. Straight away she said goodbye to her normal life, without ever looking back. Fearless." He sniffed. "That's what she was, fearless. Rose wasn't out for expanding her horizons—she was here for me."
Donna frowned. "You what?"
"She didn't want me to be alone. "Better with two" she said on her first trip. She almost died then, billions of years in the future but when I offered to take her home," he grinned suddenly, "we had chips—our first date. Course I didn't know it was a date then. Didn't really believe she'd stay. But she did no matter how dangerous it got. She stayed and, trust me; I wasn't an easy bloke to get along with back then."
"Got news for you, sunshine," Donna replied archly, "you ain't exactly Mr. Congeniality now."
He sighed. "I fell…started to…well. Things went really wrong—end of the universe wrong and I sent her away. I mean sent her away properly—locked TARDIS, tricked on board and sent back to Earth. Alone."
"What she do?"
"She came back," his voice was still full of marvel. "She ripped open the heart of the TARDIS and took the time vortex into herself. I mean it was bad, end of the universe, rip apart the fabric of reality bad, but she did it. She piloted the TARDIS back to save me. She was going to die for me."
"And let me guess—it scared you?" Off his look Donna nodded. "Would've scared me—someone willing to die for you."
"Yeah." He was quiet for a long moment staring thoughtfully at the dials in front of him. "I tried to run from it, from her. But I could never run very far. I couldn't believe that this one so very human girl could mean so much to me. I tried to make her see…make her understand…"
Donna gave him a pointed look, her mind knowing where this was going. "What did you do?"
The Doctor winced as much at her tone as the remembrance. "Brought her ex on board. Saw an old companion who hadn't moved on and who I'd left miles away from home. Dropped down a cave leaving her on a cursed ship about to go into a black hole. Flirted with a French courtesan and left her alone on a space station while I…danced."
Donna blinked. "And she stayed with you."
"Ruddy nutcase. Mad Rose. Tell me she at least slapped you."
"Loyal Rose," he corrected, choosing not to answer the second part. "She promised me forever and no matter how much I pushed, she always came back. Each time I sent her away to save her life, she came back—even from a parallel world. She said she'd made her choice and she was never going to leave me and finally, finally I believed her."
"Slow on the uptake!" Donna shook her head in despair. "So…you send her away in the TARDIS and she comes back. Send her to a parallel world and she comes back. Left her god knows where and she still comes back." She shook her head again. "Boomerang Rose."
The Doctor didn't appreciate that level of levity and he tried to show Donna how serious he was. "She was going to stay with me forever. She sent her family away. I was her choice. Then she fell, slipped away into that universe and the doors closed behind her."
Donna waited but that seemed to be it. "So? Break 'em down. Listen, if the girl has tried that hard to prove she's serious then she's serious and you'd be a right dunce to pass her up. Go get her already, you big alien idiot!"
"I don't," he began.
"Rose always finds her way back to me."
"What is she? Golden retriever?"
He ignored her. "If there were some way through the rift—Rose would have found it by now. She'd be back."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Or maybe she's finally waiting for you to prove that you're worth it."
He started, insulted. "What?"
"She comes back. She finds you. She saves you. Seems to me like she's done all the work. This is the 21st century, mate. It ain't like you can be the damsel in distress forever. Maybe it's your turn to make a flaming move and prove that you want her back as much as she wants to be back. Maybe all your 'sending her away for her own good' has given her the idea that you don't want her, ever thought of that?"
He frowned deeply. "Rose knows I want her back."
"Don't bet on it, sunshine," Donna snorted. "Nothing says "stay" like dropping her on a parallel world and slamming the doors shut. Did you at least tell her you loved her?"
He flushed. "There wasn't…I was…she knew!"
Donna stared at him in disgust. "Big alien idiot. You are pathetic. I wanna meet this Rose and tell her not to flipping bother. You're a big male alien baby. She can do so much better!"
"Oh thanks, yeah, thank you very much."
"Well, you ain't exactly tried to prove yourself, have you? Well, have you?"
He glanced at her warily. "Are you channelling Jackie Tyler?"
"I'll channel a good slap if you don't stop moping. Now out there is a sick, deluded girl who loves you, god help her, and you are gonna sit there until you figure out a way to get to her. Are we clear?"
The Doctor found his legs folding underneath him, the force of Donna's assertiveness turning his knees to jelly.
"Are you thinking?"
"Good cuz you're gonna sit there until you've found a way. Are we clear?"
There was a beat as they studiously avoided each others gaze.
"Do you think she can really do better?"
"God, yes," Donna rolled her eyes. "I don't know what any of 'em sees in you. Mad Martha, Round the bend Rose. You're a skinny streak of nothing."
He pouted. "You're so good for my ego."
"Oi," she poked him. "Are you thinking? Cuz it sounds like you're talking."
"I can do both!" he insisted.
"I doubt that, mate," Donna replied smugly. "Anyway I've yet to see results."
A slow self-satisfied grin started to make its way across his face ad he leaped to his feet. "You want results, I can show you results. Donna Noble, prepare to meet Rose Tyler."
Donna examined her nails and sniffed. "About time too."