I was shocked to discover that this is the first story I've posted to this site in over 6 years. It probably would have been even longer if it wasn't for this story pestering me to death and not letting me sleep. It's been rattling around in my brain since the season finale of Doctor Who earlier this year. Though I'm certain that this specific idea is making the rounds, this is my personal take on it. My thanks to my DW buds, Emeraldcity, Sunkrux, Raven and Achaoticdreamer for letting me bounce all sorts of strange ideas off of them. A special thanks to DNash for playing beta and calling me a dork...repeatedly.
The Doctor stood and watched as the man placed the neatly wrapped yellow bundle against his chest and then fumbled with the buttons of his heavy coat
The Doctor stood and watched as the man placed the neatly wrapped yellow bundle against his chest and then fumbled with the buttons of his heavy coat. Thick steam misted around a pale, bleak face as the man blew lukewarm air into his freezing hands before pulling a pair of black knit gloves from his pocket and sliding one on each hand. A blast of frigid air swirled around the Doctor's feet, sending tendrils of cold slithering between the layers of his own wool clothing. Though his Timelord physiology made his tolerance to temperature extremes substantially higher then the bundled up humans scurrying around him, he couldn't contain a shiver as the cold found a sensitive spot beneath his coffee colored trench coat. At least it was more convenient to blame the cold and not the face of the man exiting the florist shop some thirty meters away. The Doctor had been watching him off and on for about a month. A creature of tedious routine born of desperate loneliness, the grim man's life seemed to alternate between an empty, one room flat and a job he approached with somnambulistic enthusiasm. The only break in the endless back-and-forth between work and home was a once per week trip to the florist where he would purchase a bouquet of yellow Dornian tea flowers. The flowers, closely resembling Earth's daffodil, were even now tucked away beneath the man's wool coat, his body heat protecting the fragile blooms from the cold winter air.
Spending a small fortune on flowers, that one is, the Doctor couldn't help thinking. Dornian tea flowers in the middle of winter couldn't possibly be cheap. Then again, what else has he got to spend his money on? In the time the Doctor had been watching him, he hadn't seen the man spend a penny on anything save meals that were eaten alone. He'd watched once as an assorted group of younger men and women, most likely co-workers, stumbled uncomfortably through an invitation to join them for a night at the nearby pub. The man, looking sad and lost, had struggled with the polite refusal, his tongue getting tangled around some of the more difficult consonants. The Doctor couldn't help but hear the snickering as the group brushed past him going the opposite direction, and was grateful that the man was now too far down the busy street to hear it as well.
As the object of his attention turned left and began walking away from the florist shop, the Doctor fell into step a careful distance behind. After four weeks of the same routine, the Doctor knew exactly where the man's brisk walk would take him. The knowledge gave him the opportunity to take in his surroundings and once again marvel at the similarities between 51st century Dornia and 21st century Earth. Yet another of the universe's little quirks that the Doctor was cautiously interpreting as a cross somewhere between fate and a sort of cosmic approval of what he was about to offer this lost, lonely man. The research necessary to find him had taken only a matter of hours, while the soul searching involved in deciding to actively seek him out had warred within the Doctor for a much longer period. Timelines were the least of his problems. This path he was about to embark on involved risks that could very well make a bad problem worse. This man would have to make a choice that would change his entire existence. Could the Doctor trust him to make the right one? It wasn't only instinct that gave him the confidence to believe he would. Instinct alone should have made his twin hearts beat at twice their normal speed and his mind sort through all the potential ramifications of what he was about to offer. Instead, he felt the calm that comes with the certainty that what you are doing is the absolute right thing. He had come to Dornia with nothing but the pictures painted in his mind by stories and descriptions tinged with equal parts love and loss. He'd been prepared for disappointment. What he had gotten was another glimpse into the human spirit and its capacity for love.
The Doctor watched as the man stopped in front of a closed iron gate. A fence in the same material surrounded a patch of tree-filled park a square city block in area. A pathway led from the gate straight across to a gate on the opposite side. Off of this main pathway, smaller walkways crossed perpendicularly about every three meters, extending toward the side fences in either direction. Along each of these paths were small, stone monuments, each inscribed with a name. The Doctor had seen more worlds in more times then he could possibly count. It never ceased to amaze him how similarly individuals across time and space chose to honor their dead.
The first time the Doctor had followed the man on his weekly trip to the cemetery, he had waited for him to leave and then retraced the man's steps to read the names on the monuments he had visited. This time the Doctor didn't need to follow. He knew where the man's steps would take him; tenth row in and the fifth, sixth and seventh stones to the left. Seeing the man kneeling in front of those same stones, the Doctor knew that he would be evenly distributing the expensive flowers among the three, despite knowing full well that the cold of the evening would turn them brown and dead in no time. The Doctor knew that the man would spend the next fifteen minutes sitting in front of those stones despite the cold. He could see the man's lips moving, his eyes bright and his expression animated, as if carrying on a conversation with a long lost friend. It was only during these visits that the Doctor ever saw the man smile.
"Daffodils. He used to bring me daffodils once a week. I had told him in some silly conversation that it was my favorite flower, and he remembered. It was one of a hundred different reasons why I loved him."
The words had echoed in the Doctor's head the first time he'd stood in front of those stones, seeing what mattered most to this sad, lonely man. The Doctor had closed his eyes and remembered…
It was a week after The Library and they were sitting in the TARDIS drinking twin cups of tea. They had both been edgy and sad, the emotional turmoil of their personal experiences in The Library still haunting them. The stories Donna told about her life in the computer world had been cathartic. Donna had been loved, truly loved, and was beginning to believe that she was worthy of that kind of love. At the same time, the Doctor took some small comfort in knowing that the same computer world would care for River Song. He hoped she found the same happiness there that Donna had.
Shaking off the memory, the Doctor passed the gate to the cemetery and continued towards the man's home a few blocks away. Walking down the now quieter street, he once again remembered staring down at the stone markers during his first visit. 'Rodney McAvoy' and 'Madeline McAvoy' were the names on the first two stones. The man's parents. They had died while he was "away". For all intents and purposes, he was a time traveler already. For one hundred years he had been locked in a computer world as all of time passed him by. The Doctor had been so thrilled with the lives he had saved that he hadn't stopped to consider what these survivors had already lost; parents, children, siblings and friends. A lucky few had visited The Library that auspicious day with a friend or loved one. When released, they at least had somebody with whom to re-enter the world. This man had been alone that day and was now more alone then ever.
Money had not been a problem. The Doctor knew that substantial donations had been quietly made by the Lux family to all of The Library survivors. The Doctor also knew that the first thing this man had done was spend a good portion of that money searching for a woman who did not exist. He had seen her, briefly, in the throngs of people frantically trying to make their way off the planet. He knew she hadn't been a computer generated dream. He had gone through the lists of names over and over, searching a dozen planets in the system for the ginger haired, sharp witted woman who had been his wife; who had loved him despite his stammer; who had given him children and more happiness then he had ever known.
The Doctor knew all of this but doubt had still niggled at the back of his mind. The Donna he left back in Chiswick was not the same woman this man had been married to. That knowledge continued to cause him incredible pain. The sadness in Wilf's eyes as he had talked about the Doctor making Donna better still haunted his dreams. He felt responsible. He had made her and then, in what should have been her finest hour, he had destroyed her. He'd walked around for the last six months in a grief-filled fog, full of self-recrimination, mourning a valiant woman who no longer existed. It wasn't until he had stared down at the name on the third stone that he had finally felt the first hints of that fog lifting.
'Donna Noble McAvoy' was inscribed on the smooth, marble-like stone; a bouquet of yellow tea flowers placed lovingly on top. It was at that moment that the Doctor knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had made the right decision coming to this place. I didn't make Donna who she was, the Doctor thought with no small level of disgust at his own arrogance. It was always there. All she needed was the encouragement and the confidence. If Donna became the woman she was simply inspired by friendship and respect, what potential did she have being enveloped in the love of a man like this one?
He knew instantly that he would tell this man everything; the whole story. He would know who Donna Noble had been, who she was now, and what she could be. He would tell him about Earth and time travel and the critical importance of starting over. Literally. No history, no stories and, most importantly, no Doctor. The man would understand and he would accept. He would keep the secrets that needed keeping. This man, with his stammer and his empty flat and his once a week visit to a lonely cemetery, would die himself before he would hurt Donna. In this fact, the Doctor trusted implicitly. He owed her so much, and this man would be his gift to her; the woman who had saved the universe; the woman who had been his friend.
After the initial epiphany, the Doctor had spent the next several weeks examining the ripples in time as the man went about his daily routine. He needed to be certain that plucking him out of his own time and depositing him in another wouldn't send unsettling currents of disruption across the time vortex. Throw a stone in a still pond and, in most cases, the effects were profound and felt in rapidly growing circles. With a little finesse, however, you could throw a stone in a pond with nary a ripple. It was a good thing that the Doctor was a very accomplished stone thrower.
The Doctor approached the entrance to the man's building and held the door for a woman and her two young children as the three went laughing into the evening chill. He smiled at the young, blonde woman and, for a moment, imagined Donna as the mother she had been…
Another evening in the TARDIS. This time drinks a bit stronger then tea. He could distinctly remember the tears in her eyes as she spoke about her children and the stunned disbelief that motherhood had fit her so well.
"Why are you so surprised?" he had said to her with complete sincerity. "God knows you're passionate about everything you do. Why not motherhood?" He stopped and snickered with that quizzical, teasing expression she had grown to love. "You really don't do anything halfway, do you?" he said in feigned amazement, as if coming to some sudden realization about her character. She had laughed, and the tension of the evening had dissipated over Bracknean brandy and chocolate hobnobs.
The sound of Donna's laughter echoed through his memories as the Doctor stepped inside the four story apartment building decorated in serene tones of beige and soft greens. A thick carpet of some material the Doctor didn't immediately recognize muffled his steps as he climbed the stairs to the second floor. Down the hall and behind closed doors, he could hear the muted sounds of everyday people living their everyday lives, and, for one split second of incredible pain, he let himself think of Rose. One second, and then he shut it off, shifting emotions on the proverbial dime as he stood in front of the man's flat and knocked quietly on the closed door. Only someone who knew him well and was looking closely would see the layers upon layers of pain hidden behind those dark brown eyes. All this man would see when he opened his flat door would be a stranger's face lit up with a knowing smile of promise.
"Y-y-y-yes. C-c-c-can I h-help y-you?"
The door was open and the lanky, dark haired man he had studied for the last four weeks stared back at him. In that instant, the Doctor felt something inside him click, as if the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle had been put into place. Once, in the blink of an eye, he had seen a lifetime of could-have-been with Joan Redfern. As he stared into the curious green eyes of the man in front of him, the Doctor saw glimpses not of what could be, but of what would be this man's future. What he saw planted a foolish grin on his face that couldn't help but work its infectious charm on a bewildered Lee McAvoy.
"Hello there. I'm the Doctor and I come bearing gifts."