Author's Note: This one takes place some time after "Journey's End".
Summary: And just like that, she walks away, brushes past him and out into her world of gossip and temp jobs and bad attitudes. Just like that, she's gone again. And that's good... because at least a few people in the entire universe know that once she was Donna Noble, the Doctor's best mate, traveller of the stars, and saviour of worlds.
Donna Noble, Saviour of Worlds
He shouldn't be there and he knows it. He should be running, sprinting back down the alleyway his feet absently took him down, leading him here. Here- the last place on this world, at this time period anyway, that he should be.
And yet here he is, standing with his hands in his trouser pockets, staring at the doorway, fighting a quiet, depressed battle within himself. Should he leave? Walk away again? He should, he really should, he really never should have come back here, and yet here he is.
What an idiot he is! Being there, standing out in the open for her to see. What if she does?
And what if she does? She doesn't remember him, what harm will a few short words with her do? A couple of questions to see how everything's going for her?
What if he forgets himself and says something- something that triggers her memory? What if he makes her remember everything? He can't fix it again- he couldn't bear to do it a second time even if he could.
"Oi! What do you think you're staring at? It's not a free show- it's private property!"
He knows those sharp tones and scratchy voice. He knows he's been caught and now he's stuck.
He shouldn't look at her. He should just walk away. Should turn his back to her and run. Run forever.
But he has to look because he needs to know how she's doing. He needs to see her. That's why he came here in the first place after all.
Oh, Donna. Same old, fiery red-headed Donna. Same face he knew when he first met her, set with a harshness she didn't feel, and same green eyes, sparkling with a wild abandon he wishes she could let loose.
"What are you staring at?"
"I've gotta go."
He turns with a sudden burst of adrenaline, trying to get away, but she grabs his arm, pulling him back towards her. "Wait. Aren't you that man- my granddad's friend?"
"I don't know."
"Sure you are. I remember seeing you that day- em… that day when people were talking about seeing other planets in the sky. Do you remember that day?"
"Vaguely. Sorry, I have to go."
"No, really, what were you doing just standing here, staring at our house? He's probably up on the hill if you wanted to talk to him."
"No, I'm- that's okay. I just… I'm sorry… I have to go."
He doesn't look back. He just walks. Walks as fast as he can, not wanting to see his best mate's face filled with disinterest, bordering on annoyance as he leaves her all over again.
He must be completely mad for going back there. Absolutely nutters, but there's no way around it now. He got a glimpse, just a tiny glimmer of an answer to all the questions he has.
And he needs to know. To know if she's happy. To know if she likes what she's doing. To know if she has reconnected with her friends. To know if she has found someone to care about her.
He needs to know if the pleading in her eyes was worth ignoring.
That's why he stands awkwardly in the same alleyway he had wandered through the other day and watches Donna as she smiles at her grandfather and walks out to her car. He watches as she pulls out and starts up the road. He watches and waits until she's gone from sight before darting across the street, up the path and knocking heavily on her door.
And what a relief it is to finally see her grandfather's gruff, old face looking out at him. The Doctor hardly notices the confusion contorting the old man's face; he just smiles an unimaginably large smile that doesn't reflect his true feelings at all. He's mastered those kinds of smiles.
"Well how are you then?"
"Doctor? What are you doing here? I'm fine, me. How have you been?"
"Good, good." He sort of nods awkwardly to himself, eyes glazing over as they look away for a moment, before- suddenly- his face comes alive again. "Well, are you going to invite me in?"
"Of course, of course. Donna just headed off for work. Won't be back for hours."
"Good, good. Don't want her to see me."
"Again, you mean? Startled me, she did, when she mentioned ya the other day. At least I figured that's who she was talkin' about. Would you like some tea?"
"I'd love some, thank-you." He follows the man absently as he takes him towards the back of the house. "I wanted to talk to you about her, actually."
"Have you figured out a way to fix her? I mean, not that she's broken exactly."
"No, I haven't. Why do you ask?"
The old man just shrugs, hiding the way his face fell and his eyes darkened by turning his back and preparing the tea. "Just figured that'd be the only way you'd come back here, s'all."
"Oh… I, em… I just wanted to check on her. See how she's been doing. Adjusting."
"Oh, she's just like she always was."
"Before she met you, you know. She's still my Donna."
"I hear a 'but' in your voice."
The Doctor accepts his tea, his sad eyes staying locked on the other man's. "But," he shrugs, "she changed with you, Doctor, you know that. She found her stride, found her confidence. She saw things differently. Now… now it's like before."
"Hey, gramps, do you know where I left my bag the other day? I forgot to- Oh, hi there."
It was that same terrifying feeling crawling up the back of his spine and digging through the pit of his stomach. The one that screamed at him to run away, that scolded him for coming to see her.
But there was that other part of him, that part that literally just lit up with joy at the familiar sound of her voice. The part that had him spinning out of his seat and smiling at Donna.
And then promptly lost all forms of communication. "Hi- em… yeah."
"Right… My bag?"
"I think you left it on the table, over there."
"Oh, right. So you finally decided to come inside, did you?" She asks even as she walks into the other room.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Just had to ask a quick question. I'm actually on my way out."
"Oh. Same. Have to get to work. I'm late."
"Where do you work?"
"Oh, I'm just a temp."
"Where are you temping?"
"A computer software company. Nothing really excited. Secretarial work and all that."
"Right," he says, nodding his head and stuffing his hands into his pockets. Secretarial work. It just wasn't suited for Donna. "Ever think about working for Children's Services?"
"Like with adopted and abused kids and stuff?"
"Actually I never have."
"I have to go."
"Me too. It was nice to see you."
"You too, I suppose. Bye, gramps."
And just like that, she walks away, brushes past him and out into her world of gossip and temp jobs and bad attitudes. Just like that, she's gone again.