Hands in his pockets, the Doctor leans back against a coral brace, trying to permanently record the scene in front of him simply by watching.
Not twenty minutes ago Donna and the Other had appeared, wine glasses in hand, and announced that under no circumstances was anyone being taken home before there was at least some semblance of a party. They'd gotten their wish without much argument, and now, wine distributed, the console room looks more like a reception hall than the control centre of a highly advanced, mostly-sentient spaceship.
Sarah Jane and Jackie share the jump seat and – to his horror – discuss the ups and downs of motherhood. ("A year?" "A bloody year! I thought she was dead!")
Donna leans back against the console, eyebrows raised, and plies Jack with more wine. ("Oh, I could tell you stories about Catraxian wine!" "Yeah, I'll bet you can.")
The Other bobs from side to side as he gives Martha and Mickey a detailed explanation of what, exactly, a biological meta-crisis means. ("Of course she gains knowledge of time and space, and I learn the intricate details of Brangelina.")
It's nice. They're laughing and happy and safe and it's nice, it really is, seeing them all together. The Doctor sighs, smiling faintly to himself and doing his best to ignore potential timelines for the moment.
It was going to sting, returning to an empty ship after seeing it so full.
For just a second he indulges, considers the possibility of what if: what if the brilliant, brave humans in front of him had no outstanding responsibilities, no more important places to go or people to be with? What if they, too, had no home beyond the TARDIS doors?
The Time Lord and his Children of Time.
It's a selfish thought, and he shoves it aside impatiently. That's not the case, and thank the universe's numerous gods and deities for that. They will leave, one by one, and he will smile, wave and wish them all the best as he always has. It's what they deserve and what they fought for.
Fought. His mind catches on the word like a scratched CD. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.
A shoulder bumps his, derailing him from an unpleasant train of thought, and he looks to his left to see Rose smiling up at him, a shy smile that speaks of years apart and reunions cut short. His stomach somersaults, and he tries not to feel the presence of the Other in his mind, tries to be blind to what he can see in the immediate future.
Instead, and against his better judgement, he leans into her, just a little, and revels in the warmth of their sides pressed together.
"You're quiet," she says, in a manner that very nearly masks her concern.
One corner of his mouth pulls up in a grin. "Just watching." He looks back towards the group gathered around the console. "Been a long time since the TARDIS was this full."
"It's nice." Suddenly the warm weight of her head is against his arm, familiar and comfortable and terrifying.
He swallows. "Yeah."
She exhales a happy sigh and burrows closer to him. "S'good to be back."
She's looking up at him, her hair falling over one half of her face, and he studies her the way he hadn't had a chance before, with the fate of everything in existence hanging on tenterhooks. She looks… different, older. Her hair is blonder and her waist, her face are thinner. But she's smiling at him, and it's the same Rose Tyler smile he remembers her wearing when she'd run to join him on the TARDIS so long ago.
It sends a not altogether unpleasant current down his spine. Rose Tyler, his fantastic human girl who'd clawed her way through holes in the universe just to get back to him.
And he was going to send her away again.
Across the room, he catches the eye of the Other and nearly manages not to feel a surge of jealousy.
"It's good to have you back, Rose Tyler," he tells her. He holds her gaze a moment longer, returns her smile, and then looks back towards the centre of the room.
Rose stands up straight and moves perpendicular to him, threading her arm through his. He thinks probably she'd take his hand, if he took it out of his pocket.
When he looks at her again, she's frowning.
He gives her what he hopes is a reassuring smile. "Wrong? Nothing, everything's fine. We just saved the universe! All of them! So better than fine, really, all things considered. Although, I could go for some of wine, have you tried it? Delicious. Fantastic wineries they've got in the Catraxian Galaxy, did I ever take you? No? Come on, we'd better get some before Donna's force-fed it all to Jack."
He goes to take a step forward and is impeded when she pulls him back by the arm.
"No." She stays rooted to the spot and looks at him, eyebrows raised. He avoids her eyes. "Something's wrong. You're babbling and you're not looking at me, and that always means that something's wrong."
Perceptive girl, that Rose Tyler.
The Doctor looks back at her, holds her gaze. "Rose, I'm fine," he insists, slowly, and wills it to be true.
She stares at him, silent, eyes searching, then finally says, "Listen, Doctor, what Davros said–"
"Well, well, well," comes a deceivingly American accent from behind her, "Rose Tyler, the girl so good this universe got rid of her. I don't think we've been properly reintroduced."
Rose turns, and Jack sends her a toothpaste smile, holding out his arms.
"Captain," Rose says, with as serious a tone and a nod as she can muster – then she releases her hold on the Doctor and leaps forward for a hug, something like "so good to see you" getting muffled in the process.
The Doctor watches them just long enough to send Jack an encouraging grin, then turns and leaves them to their reunion.
Donna turns to survey the room, now that her source of conversation has up and left her for Rose Tyler. She pushes herself up from the console and looks around, one hand in her pocket, one hand holding her wine.
It's good to see this place so full. If there's anyone in the universe who might actually benefit from what amounts to be essentially a family reunion, it's the Doctor. She decides they'll have to do this more often; Sarah Jane, Martha and Jack are bound to co-operate, even if the Doctor is likely to shy away from such domesticity.
Actually, Donna supposes, his reluctance might make the idea even more appealing. She can, for instance, readily imagine the look of mingled horror, revulsion and the teensiest bit of affection he might give them if hey were to, say… throw him a birthday party.
With pointy hats. And cake. (But probably not the appropriate number of candles, lest they violate seven galaxies' worth of fire safety codes.)
She grins into her wine glass and makes a mental note to put Martha's number in her phone.
Over the top of Martha's head, the Doctor in blue catches her eye and sends her a manic grin, waving with the hand that had, by all rights, kind of saved the universe. It occurs to Donna then that for him this is as much a goodbye as a reunion, and she feels a cold twinge of sympathy. He'll get Rose, but only in exchange for everything else, and the other Doctor –
Automatically she looks to her left, just in time to see the one with the binary vascular system slip away from Rose and Jack. Raising her eyebrows, Donna swallows the rest of her wine in one gulp, sets down her glass and sweeps after him.
"Oh no you don't, Tweedle Dumb," she mutters as she catches his elbow, pulling him to some corner of the room where she can give him a proper lecture without being overheard. "No wallflower-ing somewhere else. Honestly, the two of you, bloody biggest sulks in the universe."
He stares at her, bewildered. "Tweedle Dumb?"
She shrugs. "You rather be Tweedle Dee?" She folds her arms across her chest and decides now is perhaps not the best time to debate nicknames. "He told me what you're planning."
He pulls back, his jaw set, and fixes her with one of his don't question me, I'm in charge stares that has never had any affect on her whatsoever. She sincerely hopes when she's old, gray and a slow runner and he's looking to find a replacement model, the girl isn't the sort who wilts under this stare and backs down. The Doctor does not need someone who will treat him like a god; he just needs a friend.
I'll have to run auditions, Donna thinks.
"Don't try to stop me," he snaps, harsh enough that she leans back.
She smirks at the hostility, unperturbed. "Actually, wasn't planning on it. I think it's a good idea."
The defensiveness rushes out of him in a breath. For a brief second, she thinks he looks as though he wanted her to stop him.
"Well… good," he says lamely, unsure what to say now that she's removed the wind from his outraged sails.
"Yeah, good," she quips back before she can help herself – then she sighs, letting her arms fall to her sides. Impossible Time Lord that he may be, he does not need her bickering with him, and that is not what she intends to do. "I just wanted to say – he told me, and I think it's a good idea, and I know they'll be happy together, doing human-y things and sharing arthritis medication and all that…"
She trails off and looks back over her shoulder, watching the doppelganger in blue. He's leaning over the back of the jump seat, being absolutely horrified by Jackie's description of Rose as tabloid fodder. Donna has fleeting image of an alternate version of herself, gobbling up details of the enigmatic Rose Tyler's mysterious new beau.
She blinks and refocuses. She turns back at the Doctor in front of her, and continues:
"But I also know what she means to you, and I know how much it's gonna hurt you, and I'm sorry for that, I really am." He opens his mouth to interrupt, but she keeps going. "I'm sorry, and I swear to God we can watch The Notebook seven times in a row and eat Ben & Jerry's out of the tub afterwards if you want, but right now she's on board, and so are all your friends, and if you don't make the most of that you're going to regret it for the rest of your long Time Lord life. So go talk to her. To them. Properly."
For a long moment he regards her, silent, and she's not sure she's done anything but handed him a shaker of salt and said here, try cleaning your wounds with this but then he nods and swallows.
"Yeah," he agrees quietly. He hesitates. "Donna –"
She rolls her eyes. "Well don't talk to me, there's plenty of time left to talk to me, go!" She moves behind him and gives him a firm shove towards the center of the room. "Mingle! Run your ridiculous mouth off at someone else for a change!"
The Doctor stumbles forward and looks back at her, grinning. "As you wish!"
Something about the grin seems off, strange. Insincere. She opens her mouth to ask, but he's already bounded around the console with an excited "Mickey Smith! Long time no see! Hello!" and so she decides to let it go.
Instead, Donna takes a second to familiarize herself with the hum of the TARDIS in her mind, and then goes to ask Dr. Jones for her mobile number. There are planets to save, civilizations to rescue, and embarrassingly domestic surprise parties to plan.