Author: Cloud aka wildwinterwitch
Pairing: Human!Ten/Rose, Pete'sWorld!Donna
Genre: hurt/comfort, romance, angst
Disclaimer: They all belong to RTD and the BBC; all I get is reviews, for which I'm most grateful. Characters you do not recognise from the show are mine, however.
Summary: The Doctor has more problems adjusting to his new form than it seems. Unable to open up to Rose, he does what he does best: Run. But only when he is forced to stop does he go on the journey that will show him who he really is.
Warning: When you read the first chapter you will see that I have messed with canon, but this did not happen out of inconsiderateness or laziness. I have taken away the Doctor's ability to speak English, and you will find out why as you read. You will get a perfectly reasonable explanation for my decision, one that is even canon-compliant. I'm taking writing fanfic seriously, I put a lot of research and thoughts into this so as not to offend anyone.
Author's Notes: I am not a doctor myself, so any errors in the Doctor's treatment are mine alone. I have also decided to add some changes to Pete's World: I've made Munich the capital of Germany and La Gioconda can be seen in the Uffizi in Florence (when in real life it's Berlin and Paris respectively).
Chapters 1 – 7 (Part 1)
He was gone the next morning.
It had been dark by the time they had returned to her place in London. Rose had never been so glad when the door closed behind them with a quiet sound. Here at least she knew what to do, here actually was something to do.
"What about a drink?" She mimicked drinking by way of providing subtitles for him. After the Doctor and Donna had left, he had remained oddly silent, clasping her hand in his as though he were holding on for dear life. He had opened his mouth then, wanted to say something, more than just her name.
"Rose? Allons-y?" The imperative had turned into a question. It had sounded strained, as though it took him a lot of will-power to utter the words. So different from a few heartbeats and a small eternity ago when he had asked her to love him.
"Oh ... my." It was only then that she had understood something. Separated from the TARDIS, there was nothing to provide a translation of the words being exchanged for him. All he could rely on was her name and set pieces of languages that had once taken his fancy.
Three words. Well, expressions. But that's what it came to.
"This is not molto bene," Rose had said, softly, chagrined. Yet she had managed to smile at him, and give his hand a tug. "Molto bene." And after a beat or two, had added: "Doctor."
He looked at her just as crestfallen, and offered her an intense look of excuse. At the moment, his eyes had been more eloquent than he had ever been in her presence. She had wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into her in a fierce hug.
"We'll be all right," she had whispered. "D'you hear? We'll be all right. Molto bene, Doctor."
The journey home had been rather silent, Jackie having picked up on the situation very quickly. She had said nothing, but her eyes had spoken volumes. They had separated at the Zeppelin port, mother and daughter only talking briefly.
Now he nodded and followed her into the kitchen. She could feel his eyes on her as she removed whatever drinks she had in her fridge and put them on the counter for him to choose from. She took two glasses from one of the cabinets and set them next to the assortment of containers.
"What would you like?" she asked slowly, careful to pronounce everything clearly and correctly. "This is ... jus' ... never mind." He was not a child. He was half Time Lord, easily the most intelligent man she had ever met, and here she was talking to him in this way. As if this wasn't bad enough for him as it was.
"Can't you," she began, meeting his attentive gaze, "y'know, do this telepathically? Learnin' English? You are still a telepath, yeah?" She stepped towards him, and reached up to gently touch his temples, to show him what she'd meant.
His eyes went wide, and he took a quick step back. He caught her hands by her wrists and pushed her hands away. "No. No. Nonononono."
Another word he knew.
"But why ever not?"
He explained. It was the most beautiful sound Rose had ever heard, and for a moment she was glad she wasn't supposed to listen to what he said. His voice had taken on a slightly different quality as he talked in his native tongue. It sounded musical, and not like anything she had ever heard. Not as rushed as back when the TARDIS had translated for them. Serene, almost. And then he stopped.
"I don' understand you," Rose said, taking a step back. He let go of her wrists.
He looked chagrined again, and reached out for her. Rose accepted his warm hand. It was still strange that it should be warm, like any man's, rather than cool, as she had come to know it.
No. He definitely was not any man.
She smiled, but had no idea if he was still a telepath.
He eventually chose the blue water bottle, and Rose poured some. "Water it is," she commented.
He touched her arm, then gestured for her to repeat the word. "Water," he repeated after her. He had a little difficulty with the unfamiliar sounds at first. But of course he managed. "Water. Water. Water."
"Yeah," Rose said. "Water."
She then had hastily cleared the bed in the spare bedroom which had become her study. The books and magazines and folders that covered the bed she swept up and piled them on the halfway neat desk. When she worked on a project she had taken to laying out all her research on the bed to keep an overview of what she had.
The Doctor was standing in front of the wall lined with books. Rose remembered her shop-girl self then, from what seemed to her now had been ages ago and literally in a different life. The old Rose Tyler had never cared much for her education, or at least the one they had wanted to impress on her at school. Ever since she had made a new life here in Pete's World, she had been trying to remedy this, and there was so much to discover, literature that her home planet never had.
Rose watched the Doctor trailing his fingers over the colourful spines of the volumes on the shelves. He was lost in his thoughts, or just appreciating what he saw. She had no way of knowing.
She pulled a volume of Shakespeare off the shelf. He had wanted to take her to one of the Bard's plays, but they had never managed. The book was one of the oldest volumes she possessed, dated back to the early 18th century.
But then she realised.
He wouldn't be able to understand a single word from it.
Was it going to be like this? Her name a question?
Rose looked up at him, and handed him the volume. "It's my favourite. It's Shakespeare. Love's Labour's Won."
His lips curved into a smile. Names didn't translate, and so he dipped his hand into the pocket of his blue jacket.
The expression on his face when he didn't find his spectacles was priceless, and Rose broke in to a fit of giggles.
"I'm sorry," she managed, forcing herself to sober. This really wasn't funny. The Doctor was just as lost without his spectacles as without his English words. "We'll have to get you a new pair tomorrow."
"I'm sorry," he repeated. And meant it.
Rose swallowed. "Don't. You don't have to." She left him to the Shakespeare then, busying herself with his bed once more.
She whipped up some risotto for them afterwards, with mangel and goat's cheese, because it demanded her attention, adding wine and stock one bit at a time. They ate in silence, listening to some music Rose had put on. At one point, the Doctor reached out for her, and covered her hand with his, squeezing it in what Rose took to be gratefulness. She wanted to kiss him to bits in that moment, but there was something in his eyes that begged her not to.
When it was time to go to bed, all she could give him was towels and an extra toothbrush she had meant to replace her own with the next morning. There was nothing in her wardrobe that would fit him.
The Doctor, however, had discovered a picture in one of the many frames she kept on the mantel in her spare bedroom. "Tony?" he asked.
Rose joined him at the mantel. She smiled, as she always did when she looked at her brother's picture. "Yeah, tha's him. Mum says he looks just like me at that age. I guess she's right. We've lost all my pictures," she explained. "I never cared much about them back ... I wish I did, though."
He did something very unexpected then. He kissed her temple, and whispered "I'm sorry". Little did she suspect then that this was his good-bye to her, because when she woke the next morning, much earlier than usual after a restless night, his bed was empty and cold. How come she had not heard him leave? Had she fallen asleep long enough after all?
A yellow sticky note sat on his pillow, a sticky note with a heart drawn on it, and an x.
That was before she discovered he had taken the notes from her purse.
Four days later, the first postcard arrived. Rose's heart skipped a beat when she recognised it. Her address had woken her curiosity first, since none of her friends had told her they had planned a trip to Paris. Maybe a spontaneous trip, considering the events, despite the incessant downpour that had set in after she had shared the risotto with the Doctor in her kitchen. But she didn't recognise the handwriting. It looked awkward, the letters drawn, like a child's that has just learned to print his name. The message was the same as the sticky note he had left on his pillow, a heart and an x.
"He is in Paris!" she practically shouted down the phone.
"Rose?" Pete sounded concerned.
"The Doctor! He's in Paris, or at least he was," Rose tried to decipher the date in the postmark, "three days ago."
"How do you know?" Pete's furrowed brow was audible over the phone. He had had Torchwood do everything to find the Doctor once Rose had called him, raising him and Jackie from sleep early on Sunday morning.
"He sent a postcard."
Silence. "He did what?"
"He must have copied my address from the post in my study."
"Are you absolutely sure it's from him?" Pete's tone was urgent, but calm.
Rose took a breath. "It's a heart and an x."
Pete knew about the sticky note, of course. "When can you be here?"
"I'm practically on my way," Rose said as she wrestled into a light trench coat. She had hardly dared set a foot outside her flat, just in case the Doctor returned and she wasn't home, despite her better knowledge. The Doctor had gone travelling again, without her this time. All the while, Torchwood had done everything in their power to find the man, without success. The Doctor knew enough about Earth to pay cash, and travelling across Europe did not require any form of identification any more, particularly not if he chose to travel by train. Just how he came by the tickets was beyond Rose. You usually had to talk to people to buy things.
The half human version of the Doctor had Torchwood stumped. They knew little enough about Time Lords as such, since their kind had never existed in this reality, so they had nothing to go by in their search for the Doctor. He had one heart, like everybody else, nothing but his intellect set him apart from the rest. Pete had told her early on that chances they would find him were pretty much zilch.
All they could do was wait.
When Rose arrived at Torchwood, Pete had already put up a map in one of the smaller conference rooms. A red line linked London and Paris and Jake Simmonds was already waiting for them in a room overlooking the Thames.
"I have made this a matter for decision at the top level," Pete explained after Rose had closed the door behind them. "The case needs discretion."
"The Doctor's a case now?" Rose pointed out.
"Not like any other case," Pete replied. "Or do you want the tabloids in this?" He pointed at an assortment of newspapers on the table. Naturally, the paparazzi had sneaked up on Rose and the Doctor upon their return from Bad Wolf Bay. "Who is he?", "Rose's beau" and some such the headlines read, accompanied by photos of herself and the Doctor.
"Well, at least we have photographs of him," Rose said, dropping one of the papers on the table. That's more than I have of him, she thought bitterly. "What do you suggest?"
"That we do nothing. Ignoring them might be the best we can do. They'll cross him off as a one-night stand."
Rose drew in a sharp breath, but did nothing to contradict Pete. She knew he was right, even when everything within her cried something else. She produced the postcard from her bag and handed it over to Jake. Whatever knowledge they could draw from it, they ought to have. Rose's mind had gone oddly blank. She felt like she had on her first day with Torchwood, like a fish out of the water.
Jackie, of course, had been furious that particular Sunday morning. "How dare he!?" she cried, startling Tony, who looked up from his game wide-eyed. Jackie sat down beside her little son, pulling him into her arms. "No, not you, sweetheart." She kissed his blond head. "How dare he, though?" she repeated, calmer this time.
"He didn't say," Rose replied softly, at a total loss. Was it something she had done? Had it been too much, or too little? She was playing with one of Tony's blocks, and when she looked at her mother, she couldn't help crying. "I don't want to lose him again, Mum. I love him."
Jackie drew her daughter into her embrace, and she kissed her hair, too. "I know, sweetheart, I know." For lack of anything better to say – for what could she say that wasn't a lie? – she just sat and held her children close to her.
The next postcard arrived three days later, from Munich. Her address looked a little bit less awkward, and the drawing of the heart had gained an artistic touch. All they had learned from the Paris postcard was that it had been posted in the 18th arrondissement. Montmartre, famous for its artists and Bohemians.
"That's just like him," Rose had said, when Jake had given her the information. There was no point in sending someone from Torchwood to Paris to look for the proverbial needle. The fact that he had posted the card in Montmartre didn't mean he had stayed there.
"How does he get by? All these languages, and he doesn't even speak English! How long will the money last?" she wondered. She had kept about £250 in her purse; she knew because she had been to the bank just before Jake had alerted her to the events that had led to Bad Wolf Bay.
"He's clever," Pete said. "He'll find a way to get by. I know I did when I travelled Europe as a student."
Pete was probably right, particularly since the Doctor was a very resourceful man.
Rose herself drew the line that connected Paris to Munich. Afterwards, she went to the Torchwood Library to look up the places he had gone to, Munich first, then Paris. What was it that he was looking for in these places? What did Paris and Munich have in common, apart from being capitals? She found nothing if not a desire to travel to these places herself.
From Munich, he sent a second card, which arrived two days after the first one. Instead of the heart and x, he had written a short message. His handwriting looked a bit more practised now, although it still looked too perfect to be an expression of personality.
Rose, I love you. I'm sorry.
He had not signed his name, or sent a kiss.
"How did he do that?" Jackie wondered as she looked at the card. "He could barely speak in Norway, and now this?"
Rose swallowed. "I have to go after him, Mum."
Jackie merely nodded. Rose had made her decision, and there was no changing that. The best Jackie could do was to support Rose, and she did not have to energy to try to persuade her otherwise. Rose had proven her wrong when she had gone to look for the Doctor the first time; she had found him, across realities even – how could she not believe in her ability to find him when he was on the same continent (technically)?
"Do you have to go alone, though?" Jackie asked. She would rather Mickey be with her; or Jake.
"I promise I'll give you a ring twice a day," Rose said, hugging her mother.
"Why does he do that to you, Rose?" she asked, sadly shaking her head. "I saw him with you on that beach."
"That's exactly why," Rose replied. "Not because you were there." When he had touched her arm and bent to whisper the three words to her, the world had stopped around them, everything but themselves had ceased to exist for those precious few heartbeats. "He ... he does not want me to ... to be with him when ..." Rose faltered. She drew a deep breath. "I think it's all my fault; the way I was pushing him away, making him feel second best."
"Oh sweetie don't say that!" Jackie exclaimed, despite herself. She had been there with them after all. But she could not admit to Rose that she might be right, not when she knew what it meant to take care of the Doctor. Jackie remembered him well from when she had first met him. And Rose had worked her magic on him, but at a cost, and Jackie was not sure if Rose could do it a second time. Not here, on Earth, grounded, without the distractions that the universe offered.
"Oh Mum," Rose sighed.
"I'll go to your place every day to check the post for more cards from God knows where," Jackie eventually said. "Provided you give us a ring whenever there's news."
Rose boarded the train to Munich alone. Jake had been called away to a case up north, and there was no one else Rose wanted in on the search for the Doctor. Pete had grudgingly agreed. Just like his wife he didn't think Rose's approach was the best of ideas, but he loved Rose dearly, and if it made her happy he was ready to give her his full support. It was better than her going up the walls.
She had to change trains in Paris, and then once more before she arrived in Munich about ten hours after she'd left London. Her busy mind had kept her from sleeping properly on the train, and she'd barely read a page of the novel she'd brought. The Doctor had travelled this way; she had bought a new notebook at a stationer's at St Pancras to keep track of her movements and her expenses. In this way Rose hoped to find out just how long the money would last the Doctor. It was well worth a try, even though she knew very well the Doctor's knack of getting by without money. The fact that he didn't speak English, however, narrowed his chances of talking people into giving him what is was that he wanted.
Rose found herself a quiet corner in a café near the hotel she wanted to stay at, and ordered some strong coffee and a breakfast that was plenty enough to serve three. She sent Jackie a quick message that she had arrived safe and sound. Fortunately the chef had already cut her pretzel in half and buttered it, since she had no idea how to do it without breaking the delicate-looking thing. The coffee was strong enough to raise the dead, and after a sip or two her restless night was forgotten. But where to now?
She could hardly walk around showing the Doctor's photo to everyone she met. This was exactly what Pete and Jake had asked her when she had told them about her plans of travelling after the Doctor. Where would she look for him? Where would he go? It had never been easy to tell what would catch the Doctor's fancy next. He was interested in anything and everything. Just across the street from the café were three major art galleries.
Well, it couldn't hurt to ask if he had bought a ticket for one of them. At least it would give her something to do until Jackie rang with news of her post.
No one in the galleries remembered selling a ticket to the Doctor. "Trust me, I would remember a man like him," a young woman, quite possibly a student at the nearby university, told her, handing her back the Doctor's picture. "He's gorgeous."
"Yeah, thanks," Rose said, disappointed despite herself.
Next, she went to the tourist information to find out if there was anything special on in the city, anything that might catch the Doctor's interest. She was given the monthly What's On magazine, and thumbed through it quickly, realising that the Doctor would have no use for this.
Rose laughed out loud. He would have no patience for the densely printed listings. Big and colourful it had to be to catch his attention.
Her mobile rang.
"He's moved on to Prague," Jackie announced. "Same message as the last one."
Rose arrived in Prague in the pouring rain. The cobblestones in the historic city centre were slick, and it was hard to get her bearings in the orange glow of the darkness. Her umbrella was too small to protect her carry-all from the damp. When she arrived at the family-run hotel she had booked she collapsed on the crisp white cotton sheets of her bed, utterly exhausted. After Jackie's phone-call there had been nothing in Munich to keep her there; so she had caught the next train to Prague. She had been realistic enough not to expect to meet the Doctor in Munich, of course; still she felt a pang of disappointment when she learned that he had moved several hundred kilometres east.
All she could do was follow the Doctor. So far Torchwood hadn't been able to come up with anything new. After all, they were looking for a human being, even if this human being had an extraordinarily beautiful mind. There was nothing that set him apart from anyone else that made him instantly recognisable. Pete worked his agents with an urgency that even eclipsed the late stages of finding the Doctor just before the Earth had been plucked out of the solar system. The problem was that they could hardly ask the police forces for support since the Doctor did not really exist where they were concerned. Torchwood had planned to procure the necessary background and documents for the Doctor to lead a normal human life, with driver's licence, health insurance, tax duties, bank account and all.
But in order to set up his new identity, they had to find him first.
And the Doctor was running, making himself invisible, and like everything he did, he did this very well – even if he was probably making it up as he went.
Fresh tears made Rose's nose tickle, and other than on the train she let them run across her temples and into her hair. She was alone, not in a small compartment with a compassionate elderly lady who wouldn't leave her alone about the sadness in her eyes. Never before in her life had she felt so helpless and lonely, not even on that worst day in her life. What was she doing here, looking for someone in the crowds that populated the narrow streets of this old city? It seemed ludicrous, but at least running after the Doctor gave her something to do. She had been running after him for so long now, she might as well run for a little while longer. At least now she did not have to cross realities.
That all became unimportant, however, when she thought of the day-to-day practicalities of life. He had hardly spoken that Saturday, and the secret of his travels had always been talk.
A terrible thought crept up on her. What if he had run from her, what if his inability to talk with her was really unwillingness, a consequence of her behaviour on Bad Wolf Bay?
"No!" she choked. He could be severe in his punishments, she had witnessed this side of his often enough, but he would never be this cruel. Not to her. Not when he sent her love letters.
Rose fell asleep without dinner, in her damp clothes, too exhausted even to clean up her blotchy face. She burrowed deep into the soft, silken duvet and pillows, feeling the luxurious fabric caressing her skin as she stretched and turned. Turned into the arms of the Doctor whose long legs quickly accommodated hers as she settled her back against his chest. She felt his lips nuzzle that spot where neck and shoulders met, felt his lips travel along her shoulder to kiss the mole that sat at the top her arm. The Doctor's caresses were languid and often barely more than a whisper on her skin. Rose purred in comfort.
When she turned again, the rain was still pelting against the window, illuminated from the yellow light of the street lamp. She shivered, and eventually it registered with her that she was alone in the bed. Somehow in this state between waking and dreaming she managed to shimmy out of her clothes and draw the simple duvet over herself.
She must have dozed off quickly and easily again, this time sleeping without her mind's cruel tricks. When she woke again, the friendly room was bathed in the indifferent light of yet another rainy day.
Rose sat up with a start. She grabbed her mobile and checked the time. Half past eight. She allowed her arms to give and flopped back onto the mattress. Now what? She stared at the ceiling, trying not to remember the reality of the dream she had had. That kind of dream was nothing new to her, but she feared that its powerful embrace would not let her go without a fight if she allowed her mind to dwell on it.
Before she went down to breakfast, she called Jackie. Of course, there was no news. "Well, I guess no news is good news," Rose said before she rang off. Still, she felt defeated.
Coffee. She needed coffee before she was able to think clearly or even make any plans. She found a small table tucked away into a niche in the covered courtyard of the hotel. The sound of the raindrops on the glass construction echoed through the high room and Rose felt as though she were sitting in a tent.
"Room 204," she told the waiter who came to her table, cleared away the second cover, and took her order. When he brought her a pot of coffee, it came with a Prague postcard. Rose thought it was a complimentary thing the hotel did, but when she turned it over to read the description of the photo, her breath caught. The Doctor had written her name – his hand was becoming more practised – and the message. The name of her hotel and room number had been added in a different pen and hand.
How had he done that? How had he managed to have this card delivered to her? There was no stamp on it, the picture was of Prague. It had not been sent in the post.
Yesterday's ugly idea returned.
The waiter returned with the rest of her breakfast.
"How did this get here?" Rose asked, her tone sharper than she had intended. She tried to amend it with a smile.
"Is special service of Prague hotels," the waiter explained. "You can leave message for guest who comes after you. And we bring to you." He smiled. "Is nice message, yes?" he added quietly, indicating the postcard in Rose's hand. "Sorry, is short message, big words." Well, at least he had the decency to admit he shouldn't have read the line.
"Yes," Rose said. A small smile tested her lips. Maybe she should be paying more attention to what the Doctor was trying to tell her rather than suspecting the worst of him. This card, too, read: Rose, I love you. In the Doctor's new, big handwriting.
The young man had just left with yet another apologetic smile, when it occurred to Rose that the Doctor had indeed told her more than just that he loved her. Not that that wasn't enough. But this postcard could tell her where he had stayed. And when.
Rose hastily wolfed down half a roll with jam, washed it down with the coffee – This is actually quite good! She thought as she put the cup down – and hurried to the reception desk.
The concierge was an elderly man with a kind smile and a pair of square spectacles riding low on the back of his nose. "What can I do for you, miss?"
"I got this postcard from another guest here in Prague," she explained. "And I was wondering if you could tell me where this guest stays. I'd like to get in touch with him," she added. The concierge needn't know that chances were the Doctor had already left the city for God knows where.
"So you know the sender?"
Rose leaned across the counter conspiratorially. "He loves me."
Three little words. And he was even willing to write them down. Commit them to paper memory.
"I see," the concierge replied with a good-natured grin. "Let me see." He went through some papers on his desk, and eventually passed her a slip of paper. It held the name and address of a local hotel, and a name.
"Thank you so much," Rose said.
"Is special service for guests in Prague. So they can find other persons," the concierge said.
The hotel where the Doctor had stayed – Rose didn't dare use the present tense – was on the other side of the old town. Opening her small umbrella, she stepped out into the rain. She almost didn't recognise the street. It looked completely different in the daylight, more inviting and full of stories. But, Rose supposed, it also had to do with the fact that for the first time since this madness had started she had something to go by. It was hard not to get her hopes up too high. She wasn't sure if she could bear another disappointment.
Why had the Doctor left her this message, then, if it wasn't about wanting to be found?
She had no time to lose, and so she hurried through the cobbled streets, checking her map from time to time to make sure she didn't get lost. And then she had found the address the concierge had given her.
This, too, was a small, family-run hotel, and while its facade could do with some plaster and paint, its interior had been renovated, and only recently. The state-of-the art furniture and decorations were an interesting contrast to the vault she had stepped down into from the street.
A young man and a middle-aged woman were behind the reception desk, probably mother and son if their likeness was anything to go by. As Rose went towards them, the young man looked up to her. A flash of recognition lit his face.
Rose slowed down. She had never seen this young man, so how did he recognise her?
"Rose Tyler?" he offered.
Rose nodded warily.
The young man spoke in rapid Czech to the woman, whose curious face lit up when he had finished. She positively beamed at Rose.
"Please," the young man said, "come with me. Can I offer you something to drink?" He was stepping around the desk, relieving her of the dripping mess that was her umbrella, and gestured for her to go through a glass door.
Rose asked for tea this time, and sat in one of the stylish but utterly comfortable armchairs of the hotel bar. The man followed her with a folder and joined her at the small table.
"My name is Jakub. I run this hotel together with my mother," he offered in fluent, charmingly accented English. As if on cue, his mother arrived with the tea. She said something to her son, then disappeared again.
"This will explain why we recognised you," he said, handig her the folder.
"What is this?" Rose accepted the folder, but hesitated to open it. She reached into her shoulder bag and produced the postacrd she had received that morning.
"Did you pass this on?" she asked.
"Yes," Jakub said. "It's a new service we offer. Local hotels have established a network, and a few of us younger hoteliers have introduced this message service. It is confidential, naturally."
"Naturally," Rose repeated, mellowing a little. She chided herself for this uncharacteristic paranoia. And suddenly, she realised. "He's not here anymore. In Prague?"
Jakub shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. He left the day before yesterday."
Rose refused herself the deep breath her body wanted her to take. "Do you know where he was off to?"
"I bought a train ticket for him." He hesitated. "For Vienna."
Rose was about to rise, but Jakub touched her arm lightly. "Please. Hear me out."
She nodded, settling back, sipping her tea. It was still very hot, but she needed something to occupy her hands, her busy body that wanted to run again, after the Doctor, with the Doctor. Eventually, she managed to tell Jakub that she would listen. He let go of her arm.
"Open the folder." He gestured at it.
Rose removed the elastic bands that held the folder shut, and opened the flap. Her eyes met her own in the picture that revealed itself. The likeness was amazing even if the picture itself was not quite finished. A bit of her left jaw was missing, and her neck ended in the white nothingness of the paper. The eyes held so much life, sadness and incredulity. A touch of disappointment, too. Rose felt as though she were looking into a mirror that showed the past.
This was exactly what she had felt on Bad Wolf Bay.
The bottom right corner was filled with alien script, flowing more elegantly than Arabic, with curved tails and upstrokes, accentuated by swirls and characters that looked like diacritics.
"He drew that," Rose said, ashamed about the flattering and faithful portrait.
"He was sitting over there," Jakub pointed at a table on the far side of the room. "There was so much sadness in him. But love, too," he hastened to add. "So much love."
Rose felt the tears rising, but she knew there was nothing she could do about them. "Then why has he left me? Why is he running?" Her fingers ghosted carefully over what he had written in graphite, unable to read it.
He had used a language and a script she didn't know. It could be her name, there, and his, and the date. It could be a curse or a blessing. It could be anything, really. And for the first time Rose could relate to him, understood what it must feel like, being trapped in this world, unable to understand anything.
Anything but a couple of expressions.
It would have kept her close to someone who could help her. On their journeys together, the TARDIS had done this job for him – for them – and here ... she would gladly have done that for him. That, and teach him everything about it.
"That's what we've been wondering," Jakub said, drawing her back to the present.
Rose wiped the tears off her cheeks. "And?"
"Why did he draw you like this?" Again, he gestured for the folder.
How could she possibly explain to him about Time Lords and metacrises and genocide? About the guilt and the fire and the rage? "It's complicated. I ..." she began, then faltered. Another wave of shame washed over her, its bitterness overwhelming her so that she almost couldn't breathe. "He made a choice, and I didn't support him. He trusts me with his life, and I ... I ..."
Jakub touched her arm again, but didn't say anything for a while. "What's his name, anyway?"
Through her tears, Rose spluttered, laughing. "I don't know. Everyone just calls him the Doctor. He never tells anyone his real name. Why, didn't he sign his name into your register? Don't you need to see some papers?"
"A man like him isn't called John Smith," was all Jakub offered.
Rose looked at him. "No, I guess not." She had never really thought about it, well, not more than that she found it a bit commonplace, but then the Doctor preferred it that way. Keep his head low in his own way, enough to be noticed and charm people into doing things for him, but not enough to stick out as someone remarkable in most people's memories.
"Look," Jakub bent forward, bracing his elbows on his black-clad knees, "we had the impression he wanted to be with you very much. That he missed you. And we're glad that you came, we really are."
There was always a but in that kind of tone.
"But I don't think he wants you to follow him. Not anymore, that is," he continued. "Whatever it is that lead him here – it has nothing to do with you." He reached into the inside breast pocket of his jacket and produced another postcard which he held out for Rose.
Rose took it and turned it over to read the message: I love you, Rose. There was an x, and underneath that more Gallifreyan script, like a signature.
He had signed his name. She could not read it any more than she could pronounce it, but it was there. His real name.
Rose realised that with this gesture, he had made her the greatest gift he could possibly give her. He had given her all that he was, all that he had. And that was the Doctor. It was something the Doctor in her old universe would never have been able to give her.
"Go home, Miss Tyler," Jakub said. "He will find you in his own time."
And go home was what Rose did. There was no point in following him across the continent without ever having the slightest chance of catching up with him. He had become an invisible man, and his lack of communication with anyone beyond the absolute necessities made it impossible to track him. Even for Torchwood.
Jackie and Tony were there to pick Rose up at St Pancras. She swept her little brother up in a crushing embrace, and he showered her with wet little-boy kisses. Afterwards he refused to sit in his buggy, so Rose settled his weight on her hip, glad for the feeling of being useful and needed that his arms around her conveyed her. She kissed his chubby cheek.
"Here, these arrived today," Jackie said after she had had a chance to welcome her daughter back. There were two postcards, one from Vienna, where the Doctor had gone after Prague, and from there he had moved on to Florence.
"I'd so like to be with him," Rose sighed as she studied the pictures. Both messages of love were signed in Gallifreyan.
"I know, sweetheart," Jackie said softly. "I wish you could. And I certainly hope he would like that, too."
"But I think it's better that you're here now," Jackie added. "You see, so he knows it's you who gets the postcards."
Rose stopped, and turned at Jackie. "How did he know I went to Prague in the first place? Why haven't I thought of this before?"
"He knows you, Rose," Jackie offered eventually. It was the only explanation, for who had possibly had the chance to tell him where she was? And hadn't her daughter tried anything in her power to find him before?
The card from Florence turned out to be the last to arrive.
He stood in front of the letter box, postcard in hand. His fingers ghosted lovingly over the words he had written, in both Latin and Gallifreyan letters.
His Latin letters came more freely now, more willingly, at least the words in the messages for Rose and his human name did. These words were about the only ones he could write. A woman in Paris had printed the words for him, and he had copied them out as best he could, into the notebook he had found in Rose's study, with a pencil he had also found there. The angular letters came reluctantly at first, and had caused his right hand to cramp with the awkward movements. Seven pages he had filled in the notebook with the words. Then he had picked up an empty postcard a tourist had forgotten on the marble table in a small Paris café. He had laboriously copied Rose's address from a letter he had found on the table in her hall and pocketed that Sunday morning. Then he added his well-practised Latin letters. He had been about to post the card when a little boy had caught his wrist. With some gestures the boy had tried – eventually successfully – to explain that the postcard needed a stamp. Of course. How could he have forgotten about it. Before he had been able to go and find a stamp, the boy was offering him one. He had had to thank the boy in Gallifreyan, but if he hadn't understood the words, then he had the gratefulness in his voice.
Chagrined, he slipped the postcard into the letter box. There were so many things he wanted to share with Rose. Travelling without her somehow did not feel right, and yet staying with her hadn't either. Something was wrong about this, and until he could find out what this was, he felt compelled to move around to find it, to travel. Until he had found whatever it was that he was looking for, postcards would have to do. He couldn't be sure if Rose had stopped following him. He knew he would never stop if it were her running away from him – just like he would have done anything to get her back from Pete's World.
He reached into the pocket of his trousers and produced the coral the Other had given him. The coral was a piece of his beloved TARDIS, and it was warm in his palm, and when he closed his eyes and willed his human heart to calm he could feel the Earth moving. He wondered if this sensation was anything like the one Rose had had when he had held her hand to show her.
Lost in thought, he played with the golden piece of coral, rolled it around his palm and through his fingers, basked in its warmth and the rough, porous texture. From this small piece, he could grow another TARDIS, even with the comparatively crude technology of the 21st century. Torchwood would be of help. He would have to work with them, that much he realised.
He slipped this most precious possession back into the pocket of his trousers, where it was safe, where he could feel it press into his thigh, reassuring him. He picked up the overnight bag that held the rest of his possessions, and moved into the shade of the loggia. The place was teeming with tourists from all over the world, and he was lucky to find a place to sit and rest when a sunburnt couple left to see if it was their time yet to enter the Uffizi. He smiled softly to himself as he remembered the day he had visited Leonardo working on La Gioconda. In the Other's World, you would have to go to Paris to see what was probably the most famous work of art in the world. In Pete's World, the diminutive painting was to be found here, where it belonged.
He took a sip from his water bottle. The water from certain public fountains was clean enough to drink, and so he followed the Florentines' example and refilled his plastic bottle whenever necessary. That way, he could get by without spending too much of what little money he had left. He had been lucky once, when he had found a wallet in Munich. It had held notes only, there had been no way of finding its owner. And another time he had calculated wisely and won the jackpot in a slot machine. He had had enough money to stay in reasonably comfortable places, to buy something to eat – even when he lacked the appetite most of the time, he knew enough about human bodies to give his what it needed – and other things that until then he had never needed to think about, thanks to his TARDIS. A sponge bag, for example, and its contents. Clothes. A sketch-pad.
He had got a pair of those at a supermarket. Of course he knew that there were specialist shops for custom-made glasses, but he had no hope of telling the clerks what he needed. So the cheap version had to do. He had, however, spent a little more on a nice pair of sunglasses. They were perfect for hiding, and that, after all, was what he was trying to do.
What from, he had no idea. It was just like he had no idea why it was wrong to be or not to be with Rose.
Just as he was about to take another sip from the warm water in his bottle, he froze. The way one of the people in the crowd around him was moving caught his eye. Something about her – it was a woman, he noticed – was very familiar. He recognised the body-language, and told himself it couldn't be, it was impossible. Until the woman took off her wide strawhat, and the sun caught in her long, ginger hair.
The Doctor blinked, and took off his sunglasses. When he looked again, the woman was gone, had become one with the crowd again.
He stood on the step he had been sitting on, but despite this and his height, he had no chance of finding her again.
"Nah," he said, putting his glasses on again, sitting down on the cool stone. Muttering "It can't be" in Gallifreyan.
Why, though, can't it? he wondered. This world was home to a Pete Tyler, and even Mick-Mickeyty-Mickey had had an alternate version over here. So why shouldn't there be a Pete's World version of Donna?
She had been brilliant, in her own, special way. And something tugged at his single heart at the thought of what had become of her in the Other's World. The metacrisis had been mutual. A human Donna with a Doctor mind. A DoctorDonna, just like the Ood had predicted. There was no doubt about what the Other had had to do to save her. And he would have done the same.
His nose went ticklish again, and he knew what that meant. Tears came so much easier to his human self, and for the first time it occurred to him that maybe, this was a bit of Donna's personality that lingered in the margins of his mind.
The Doctor smiled, and lifted his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Thank you, Donna," he said under his breath, in Gallifreyan.
"You mean he drew that?" Jackie asked. They were sitting in the window seat of Rose's room at the Mansion. With one hand, Jackie was balancing a mug of tea on her knee, in the other she held the pencil portrait the Doctor had made of her daughter. The likeness was amazing, as was the expression in her eyes; even the quirky line around her mouth that didn't show yet, but would in the years to come, was there. "From memory?" she added.
Rose nodded, pressing the back of her thumb to her lips.
"What're those squiggles, anyway?" she asked, attempting to hide her amazement behind the annoyed tone of someone who doesn't understand something.
"Tha's Gallifreyan, I s'pose," Rose mumbled, slipping into the safety of her childhood.
"Well what does it say?" Jackie had never been a woman to conceal her impatience.
"Dunno," Rose replied, now biting the back of her thumb. She leaned back in her seat, picking up her mug where it sat on the windowsill. All the more surprising was how gently and carefully Jackie put the portrait on the floor by her feet.
Jackie still couldn't quite believe that Rose had returned so early, that she had given up her search for the man she loved. "You do love him, though, don't you?"
Rose looked at her most intently. "'course I do." She might as well have been asked if she loved her brother.
"Then you just let him be?"
"If tha's what he wants, yeah," Rose replied, sipping her tea. "Isn't that what love's about, sometimes?"
"Even if ... you know ... ?"
"Even then. He's the Doctor."
"What about the one who left with Donna?" Jackie asked softly.
Rose sighed. The man who left with Donna was more like her first Doctor than the man who had stayed behind with her. She realised that now. Even if the One Who Left had made a choice for them – it had been for the better, too, Rose knew she wouldn't have been able to make a decision there and then – even if she had been angry then, she now saw the wisdom behind it. And felt ashamed at her reaction of disappointment. She should have told the Doctor that of course she wanted him, and what a silly question that was.
But there was no going back now.
"You said it," Rose replied, studying the dregs of her tea on the bottom of her mug, "he's the One Who Left."
"That poor thing, though," Jackie mused. "D'you reckon he's on his own again?"
Rose looked up. "No idea. It's all up to Donna, I s'pose."
"The world won't be enough for her, I reckon," Jackie said. "What with that meta-business an'all."
"Yeah," Rose nodded. Lost in thought. And she wondered if Donna was all right. When she had looked into the heart of the TARDIS the Doctor had to take that experience away from her. Too overwhelming it had been for her tiny human mind. What it was like to share a Time Lord's mind Rose could only guess, but chances were that that wasn't any more salubrious to a human's tiny mind. So the Doctor would sooner or later have to take these powers away from Donna. She didn't dare think of what the consequences of something like that would be for the Doctor. When he had taken the soul of the TARDIS from her, he had died for her. Had given one of his lives to save hers. There was no doubt the Doctor would do the same for Donna, particularly not with Davros' accusations still ringing painfully in his ears.
She looked at Jackie, wondering just for a second if she needed to know, and decided that she didn't. The whole story had been demanding enough, and being the mother she was, Jackie would fuss over the One Who Left. A lot. Not that he didn't deserve it. But what good would it do anyone? If he could make choices, well, so could she. And her life was complicated enough at the moment as it was.
She had the Doctor to take care of. "He isn't you." These were the words that were still ringing in her ears. And right they were, only she hadn't realised until now that they did not only contain accusations, shortcomings – being half-human. A whole new world could be discovered in these three little worlds. And Rose was ready to travel this world.
He decided to stay in Florence another night.
How easy the decision has been, he was wondering as he walked down the comparatively wide street that connected the Duomo and the Uffizi. He had treated himself to some gelato, home-made ice-cream that had cost a fortune but tasted oh so deliciously and tickled his sensitive taste buds most pleasantly. As he licked some of the soft ice-cream from his lips he was amazed to find how quickly he had got used to his human body's higher temperature. His tongue was cold against his lips, and he briefly wondered if that what was Rose had noticed when she had kissed him – well, when Cassandra had forced her to kiss him.
He decided that that kiss didn't count. And when he had kissed her on Bad Wolf Bay, he had done so with his human lips. He scooped up some more of the delicious banana ice-cream with his tongue and savoured its texture and taste. He smiled.
The street was crawling with people, chattering away in all kinds of languages, marvelling at everything around them or just focused on each other or occupied with the lenses of their cameras. Or with him. The Doctor could feel the eyes of not only one woman – and the occasional man – rest on him. So he hadn't lost that particular sense. Then again, if he believed Rose, it was a sense humans had, too, well, not recognised and acknowledged as such, not more than a sensation, really. But it was there.
After he had found himself a nice little inexpensive hotel on the outskirts of the city, he decided to go out for an evening stroll. When he had opened the window and shutters of his simple room, he had felt the gentle evening breeze fill the room, carrying with it the clean scent of river water. The heat of the day was gone, and it was getting more comfortable outside, even as the daylight quickly faded in the valley the city ducked into. Already, the lines of the surrounding hills were black and disappeared into the hazy evening sky.
He took a deep breath, and a not uncomfortable light-headedness took hold of his body. He enjoyed the momentary feeling of weightlessness before he made to cross the narrow street. Other than the street in the city centre, this was covered in tarmac rather than the largish slabs of stone that had been polished by millions of feet shuffling across them. The street was radiating the warmth it had absorbed during the day.
The Doctor took a step forward.
And the next thing he knew he was all fire and pain and it was hard to breathe. And his overwhelmed senses took their own sweet time to allow his mind to register what was going on. He could feel the rough surface of the warm tarmac against his skin, its unforgiving hardness, and there was a blinding light and a shadow that fell between the source of the light and his line of vision – blurry it was, as though he wer trying to examine something closely without his glasses – and he wanted to make sure the TARDIS coral was still in the pocket of his trousers, and then ...
"Donna." He heard his own voice; it sounded raspy, bubbly, gurgling in his throat. "Donna." He attempted a smile as she bent over him, her blue eyes scared and wide.
And then the darkness came.
Donna Mullen had travelled to Florence for lessons in Italian. Mark and Wilfred had given her this for Christmas. She had always loved the language, but had never found the time to brush up on what she had learned at school. Life had demanded a fair amount of her time and energy, and so it took nearly two decades and the combined forces of her husband and her grandfather to realise this project. The senior consultant had only been too happy to give her three weeks off, since she never went on holiday or called in sick.
It turned out, however, that she had not chosen a good point in time to take this well-deserved holiday. While Mark and Sam were at home in London, enjoying some quality father-son time, and she was taking her Italian lessons, the Earth was stolen. Donna's plan had been to return to her family immediately, but international travel had been restricted during this time of crisis, and so she had been lucky to be able to make a phone call before the communications system blew.
To say that she had been worried sick about her family was quite an understatement. She had been more worried about their safety than her own – not without reason, for Florence was a safer place that Saturday than London. When it had been over, there had been nothing she had wanted more than return home, but traffic was chaotic, and Mark told her over the phone that their place was a mess and that he didn't want her to return until he'd had the chance to clean everything up.
"But you're all right, aren't you?" Donna asked for the umpteenth time.
"Yes, don't you worry about us, sweetie," Mark said in his most reassuring of tones. Donna knew the tone, and she could trust it. Yet, it was difficult to bite back the tears. Since then, she had checked in with her husband and son daily. "Really, mum," Sam had said at one point.
And now that she was beginning to recover from the shock, this skinny man had stepped into her life, quite literally. One minute was standing on the pavement, the next – when she was passing by in her little rental car – he stepped into the street. She had had no chance whatsoever to prevent the accident from happening, even the police said that, particularly what with the lighting conditions of early dusk.
This did nothing, of course, for her peace of mind. She had functioned efficiently after it had happened, her training kicking in. But now that she was sitting in the relatives' room in one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs it seemed as though the whole world came crashing down on her – again.
Doctor Donna Mullen was reduced to tears. She did not normally lose her self-control like this, but Donna found comfort in her private sobbing.
"Signora?" A soft voice woke her, holding out a box of tissues for her to clean up. Donna accepted it gratefully and recognised the doctor from the casualty ward who had treated the skinny man. She could not remember his name.
The doctor sat down beside her. "My English is not good, but I try," he said in his gorgeous Italian accent. When Donna offered to speak Italian he brushed her off, telling her he needed to practise.
"I'm a doctor myself," Donna offered. "My name's Donna."
"Ah, you treated him good, Dottoressa" the doctor said. "Sono Giorgio. We need informations about the man."
"I ... I don't know him," Donna replied.
"But he called you Donna, no?" Giorgio asked.
"Yes," Donna said. "Yes, he did. But I never told him my name. I just took care of him right after ..." She dabbed at her eyes again. She really had no idea who this skinny man was. This skinny, gorgeous man. And he had whispered her name, again and again. He even had attempted a pain-filled smile, and he had said something in Italian. Molto bene. Donna, molto bene. As though he had recognised her. But Donna had no idea where or what from.
"Oh." Giorgio was at a loss. Clearly, he had come to her for more information, but she couldn't give him any. "This is difficult, perchè we cannot find his name, address. Nothing."
"Oh, right," Donna said slowly.
"We have only this." From his coat pocket he produced a golden stone the size of a litchi.
I hate litchis, Donna thought. "What is that?" She took the stone from his palm.
"We do not know." He sounded chagrined. He had really hoped she could be of help to him. The stone was too light for a common stone, Donna thought, very rough, too, and warm, even. Too warm to be coming from a coat pocket. "I have never seen anything like it before." She returned the thing to Giorgio.
"How is he?" she finally managed to ask, having put it off for far too long. It had been hard to tell how severe his internal injuries were, all she had been able to find was a possible concussion, and that he had broken his left leg, as he fell off the bonnet.
"His left leg is very bad. He needs an operation. But he was fortunate, only a concussion and some bruises," Giorgio said.
"How bad is his leg?"
Giorgio didn't answer. Donna paled. "What have I done?" she whispered.
"Is probably best to go home," Giorgio suggested.
Donna looked at him, scandalised. "No way. I'll stay here until he's out of surgery."
Seeing that Donna couldn't be dissuaded, Giorgio squeezed her hand, and – having given her directions for the cafeteria, and reassured her countless times that he would let her know when she could see the patient – he excused himself.
Donna could hardly believe that this stranger was apparently all on his own, with no family or other people to contact. With no one to be there for him. That was one of the hardest bits about her job, having to see patients who had to deal with whatever it was that ailed them on their own. This and her bad conscience made her wait at the hospital.
She must have dozed off in her chair, for it was a gentle touch at her shoulder that woke her. Disoriented, she squinted in the harsh light of the relatives' room. Slowly, Giorgio's face swam into focus. "You can see him now, if you want."
"Is he okay?" Donna asked.
"Molto bene," Donna murmured, standing to follow the nurse Giorgio had asked to take her to the patient. As she passed the doctor, he gave her the litchi-stone. "You take care of this, yes? I cannot." Donna nodded, and absentmindedly dropped the stone into her enormous handbag.
Donna hesitated at the foot of the stranger's bed. His eyes were closed, but she couldn't tell if he was asleep or withdrawn, his floppy brown hair and the beginnings of a stubble standing out starkly against his pale skin. A soft bleeping monitored his pulse, and his left leg was prickly with an external fixator. Apart from a few minor cuts and bruises he looked unharmed, and Donna felt a wave of relative relief wash through her. Granted, the leg would take time to heal, and he was going to have to undergo lengthy physiotherapy, but other than that he appeared to have been lucky.
She stepped around the bed, drawing up a chair. After a beat or so, she took his right hand. His eyes fluttered open, and he slowly turned his head. The stranger looked at her with glassy, the most wonderful chocolate-coloured eyes. Donna had a sinking feeling at his intense gaze, and she dropped her eyes to where his hand lay in hers. She gave his fingers a gentle squeeze.
"Donna." His voice was almost inaudible.
She looked up, and found him smiling.
"Yes," she swallowed. "How do you know my name?" She had reverted to her native English–
–but how could she be sure he understood her at all, when all he said was her name? And how did he know her?
"Shush," she whispered. "You sleep now. I'll be back in the morning." She repeated herself in Italian, but the man did not seem to understand her.
"Donna?" He had trouble keeping his eyes open.
Donna stood. "Good night." And left when he didn't reply.
When Donna visited him the next morning, just as she had promised, he said nothing, not even her name. There was, however, a brief flicker of recognition in his eyes when she sat down beside him, but he didn't even smile. The nurse, who had just finished whatever she had been doing when Donna entered, told her in Italian that he hadn't said a single word. "Which is a pity, because we can't give him anything for the pain. Or learn his name."
Donna nodded, and turned to him, grabbing his hand. She waited for the nurse to leave before she said: "I am so sorry for what happened. I wish ... no," she took a deep breath. "There's no excuse. I didn't see you when I should have."
He held her gaze for a second or so, but Donna wasn't sure what to make of the confusing mixture of expressions in them.
"Do you understand me?" she wanted to know in English. When he didn't react, she repeated the question in Italian.
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch?"
"That's about it. I don't speak any other languages," Donna sighed. "Not that we would have had any chance with my German in the first place. So, I'll stick to English then." She drew in a deep breath, then touched her chest. "Donna." She gestured at his chest, looking at him expectantly. He let his eyes drift to his chest, but didn't offer a reply.
Donna's eyes narrowed shrewdly. So he was following her. For a moment she had suspected that there was more to his concussion, but this was obviously not the case. But what was it then?
"Look, we do have to give you a name. It's rather inconvenient to refer to you with pronouns only. So, John." She pretended to be chattering away, but from the corner of her eye she could see his eyes flash, but she let the moment pass without letting him know she'd noticed.
John, he was.
Donna visited him every day without fail for the next couple of days, during lunchtime – to shove the fork into his hand – and in the early evening to do exactly that again. He had no idea if he liked what they were feeding him, and he didn't care much, but he might as well eat. His head was nothing but a dull throb, but it was nothing compared to the fire that was raging in his left leg. The tears it drove into his eyes did not make it any better. But he refused the painkillers they wanted to give him; in a way the pain was good and his fingers could always clench the sheets.
Donna talked, of course, but not quite as much as the memory in one corner of his mind suggested. She was probably speaking English—she sounded different when she spoke to the nurses and the young doctor. He didn't care much. Yet she sounded the same, so full of life and bubbly, and sometimes sarcastic. Like his Donna. Or rather, like the Donna he remembered. Sometimes she sounded calm, almost as if she had carefully rehearsed her words, and there was a silent undertone that accompanied all her words. That was something new. She showed him pictures of three generations of men; one of them looked like Wilfred; the other two were quite possibly her husband and son. He couldn't tell, without his glasses everything looked rather blurry. Pride and love made her eyes shine, and he found he was glad.
Donna seemed to have a good life, a much better life than the Donna he had left behind with the Other One. He would take all her memories of their time together from her. A metacrisis could not simply be kissed away. Taking away her memories meant killing a part of her, dropping her back into her old life. Leaving him alone. And lonely. It meant killing the woman he had come to love like a sister.
Donna brought things, like underwear and t-shirts, and a new sponge bag, and fruit, but none of the things he had bought himself. Not the notebook. Nor the TARDIS coral.
Donna called him John. Clever as she was, she had finagled this name out of him. But he didn't care much. She stopped coming after a week or so.
The day after her last visit, they made him get up and put some weight on his bad leg. He remembered howling with pain, it had been almost as bad as submitting himself to the Chameleon Arch. After that, they made him repeat this procedure every day, and still he refused the comfort of painkillers. And two weeks after her last visit, the frame in which his leg had been trapped was removed and replaced by a stiff case of plaster. The spot where the bone had broken through the pale skin of his leg had healed, leaving behind a red crescent.
The dull ache in his head had eventually disappeared, too, leaving behind nightmares to nest in the dark recesses of his mind. They filled his sleep—a concept he still had to get used to, he'd never slept much as a full Time Lord, partly because it meant asking for nightmares. Most times, one of the nurses would rescue him from the burning plains of Gallifrey, skies filled with Daleks, Jackie's screams as she was being cyberised, Astrid as she fell, Reinette being taken to Paris in a hearse, and Rose. Rose being torn into Pete's World, Rose asleep in her bed as he bent to kiss her good-bye, a wad of money in his hand.
Donna rang off, putting the phone down slowly and thoughtfully on the counter. Mark stopped stirring his curry, wiped his hands on a towel and drew his wife into an embrace. He kissed the top of her head. "Any news?"
Donna withdrew and shook her head. "Nothing. They've found nothing. Can you believe that?"
"And how is your Italian patient doing?"
"He still doesn't speak, he refuses his medication, but he willingly does anything they put him through in physio. Pecks at his food."
Mark returned to his curry, adding some more of the chopped vegetables. It had been a shock when Donna had called to tell him what had happened. And he was at a loss of how he could help her coping with the events. There was nothing he could do to really take away the guilt that was tormenting her. Guilt for an accident she had had no way of preventing. There was only one thing he could offer.
"Do you want to go back? Check on him?" he blurted.
Donna always asked Giorgio to say hello to John for her, and she was sure he did pass the message on, but there was never an answer. Giorgio had once hinted at the fact that John might not be exactly the brightest of men, that the injury to his brain had been worse than could be assessed or that his hearing was impaired. Donna didn't think so for some reason. She insisted that there was more to John, and that it wasn't what everybody was thinking. It certainly was a mystery that the man was apparently not missed by anyone; not by family, friends or his employer.
Relief washed over Donna's pale face. He had obviously, finally found the right words to make her feel better. "Yes, I would love that."
When she called her hospital, it turned out that she would have to wait at least a fortnight until she could leave, because some of the doctors could only go abroad during the school holidays. "That's alright," she bravely told Mark, busying herself with the plates. "I can wait."
Donna had left, but her name still echoed in his room. The young doctor or the nurses would mention it, looking at him insistently as though willing a reaction from him. But Donna was gone. He would never forget her name, there was no need for them to keep going on about her. Didn't they realise that? But he didn't care much. He looked blankly at them. He did not understand, and he did not want to. They would not understand him if he talked to them. He did everything else they wanted – they poked him with needles and he underwent the torture that was physiotherapy, he ate when they pushed the fork into his hand. Why couldn't they just leave him be? He did not want to harm anyone.
But one day everything changed.
It was bound to happen, he knew that. Something always happened to change the things as they were, he would be a right fool if he did not realise that. He had learned this lesson, time and again. The painful way, too, in most cases.
The nurse came in, the slim one with the dark cherry hair, a bubbly laugh always in her wake, and she brought a letter. It came in an envelope with a single word written on it – quite possibly John. She held the letter out for him, and after a heartbeat he accepted the letter, and nodded his thanks. She left.
The letter was shaking in his hand, which was because his hand was shaking. And his single, lonely heart was beating so fast not even his hand above it could calm it down. Was this a letter from Rose? Had she found him? Why hadn't she come herself? Why would she write John on the envelope? Or did the characters spell Doctor?
He squinted hard at the word, and it swam into clearer focus. Still, it made no sense. He had never learned to read Latin script. All he knew was Rose's address because he had copied it faithfully from a letter he had stolen – which other than I love you he had not learned to write by heart.
He turned the letter over, but nothing was written on it. There was just the flap that closed the envelope. He flipped the letter over again, but it remained silent. He gripped the creamy paper hard, feeling the muscles in his jaw clench as he fought the tickle in his nose.
He only looked up when a small hand covered his and gently but insistently pulled the crumpled envelope from his fist. A little girl had silently appeared by his side. She was not more than twelve years old, with dark hair and eyes the colour of dark chocolate. She was in her pyjamas, and she was propped against the edge of his bed. A pair of crutches were leaning against his bedside table.
She looked at him with a compassionate smile and encouraged by his surprise, reached up with her free hand and touched his cheek. To wipe away the tears he hadn't noticed. She said something, something he of course didn't understand, but it didn't matter. It was the sound of her voice that was more important now than anything, her calm, comforting, compassionate voice.
He drew the girl into a hug, lifting her off her feet and pulling her up to sit on the edge of his bed.
He probably shouldn't be doing this, but it felt good. He let go of her.
She made to return the letter to him, but he refused her.
"John?" she asked, having glanced at the envelope.
The Doctor nodded.
She touched her chest. "Chiara."
He repeated her name.
Chiara said something, very fast. It was probably Italian.
The Doctor shook his head, smiling.
Chiara looked crestfallen. She made herself, however, comfortable by his side, and he could see that her left ankle was in a cast. Having smoothed the crumpled letter, she turned it over and made to tear it open.
She wanted to read the letter to him.
"Oh sweetheart, I'm not going to understand a word of what you'll read," he said in his own tongue.
She looked at him wide-eyed. Gallifreyan did this to people. It supposedly was a very musical language. "But thank you anyway."
Chiara stretched to kiss his cheek, then carefully slid off his bed and hobbled out of his room on her crutches. She was halfway out the door when he called her name. She turned around, and he mimicked writing something. Chiara nodded, and continued on her way.
She returned with a bag around her neck, which turned out to contain a notebook and pencil case. Chiara sat on the edge of his bed again, and laid the stationery out for him on the table he usually ate from. The Doctor hesitated briefly before he chose a pencil and wrote Rose's name at the top of an empty page. He pointed at the crumpled letter.
This time, he let Chiara open the letter. She was a clever girl, for her eyes swept straight to the ending. "Donna," she read. And looked at him askance. Was it bad that the letter came from Donna? Who was Donna anyway? And Rose? Why would you rather the letter be from Rose?
The Doctor swallowed, then nodded. Donna had not forgotten him. At least not the Donna on this Earth.
But he wanted Rose.
Chiara said something to him. He barely registered her gesturing at the letter, probably asking if she should read him the letter after all, but he shook his head. He didn't care.
And then he was alone again.