"Sometimes I feel like you're more interested in staring at our house than actually talking to my grandfather."

The familiarity and the suddenness of the voice startles him but he doesn't respond, doesn't turn around. All he does is smile faintly. "It is a very fetching design though. Give me some good architecture to look at any day. It's not just your house, like the one to the right too."

"They're practically the same."

He shrugs when he actually takes the time to look over at it. "It's more the garden."

"Not really architecture."

"No, but it's aesthetically pleasing."

"What about the one to the left?"

He glances over before shaking his head. "Nope, not a cat person."

"Also has nothing to do with architecture."

"So, I'm picky."

"Right. What are you doing just standing out here? Again, I might add. Haven't seen you in a while."

"No, been out of town. Just came by to say hello to your grandfather. Got distracted."

"Looks like that happens pretty easily for you." She starts to walk away suddenly and his mouth falls with the intent of complaining but nothing comes out. She pauses and turns to look after a moment when she realizes that he's not following. "Aren't you going to come inside and say hi?"

"Oh, sure. So," he sighs as he falls into step with her. "How has this past year treated you?"

"Actually, I now work as a full time case agent at Children's Services."

"Seriously? Well that's brilliant! I knew you had it in you."

"Did you know? We've hardly known each other more than three days."

His steps falter and he bites back the pain. "True. So everything's well then? Nice job? Like the people? All that?"

"Well," she inhales a breath and he smiles, knowing that her following words were about to come out in a string of thoughts. "Like my boss, hate the guy I work with most of the time, like the girl down the hall, hate the copy machine because it never works, hate the coffee because it's always cold, hate a lot of the parents I have to deal with, and love and pity and respect and very occasionally hate the children I'm responsible for."

The Doctor just nods and holds back the enormous, goofy smile he desperately wants to let loose. "Sounds good then."

"Yeah. It is. Em," she hesitates for a moment, her hand over the doorknob. "Well, I have to get ready to go out, but I'm sure that you can find my grandfather."

"Yeah, thanks. Where are you going out?"

She smiles at him as she heads for the stairs. "My boyfriend's taking me out. It's our six month anniversary."

"Congratulations."

Boyfriend. Commitment. Good job.

Good for her.

"Good for you, Donna Noble."

/-/-

Same alleyway. Same time of day- late afternoon, not quite dinner time. Same old stance, same old Doctor, same old brown pinstriped suit.

He just stands there, observing all of the houses on the street this time, waiting with a nervous patience.

Well, he doesn't really feel patient, he feels like his skin is going to run off towards the house across the street without him any moment. He feels like he might need to run a mile or two just to keep the pumping adrenaline at bay. He feels like he might wear a hole in the ground where he's tapping and shuffling his shoe if she doesn't show up soon.

But he is a Time Lord, a lord of time who perceives the passage of time much differently to the Humans of Earth that he is watching. He can wait for hours without noticing if he feels like it.

The familiar small blue car turns down the road and every nerve stands on end. There she is. Donna. His wonderful, spunky, snarky, controlling Donna. He hasn't seen her in so long, years upon years for him. Maybe two for her. He's not really sure to be honest.

His feet have waited long enough, have held his body upright for nearly an hour waiting for her. Without prompting, they're sprinting him across the street and up the drive. Donna doesn't notice him until her hand is on the door handle.

"Hello there."

Her whole body tenses in surprise before she calms and a smile spread over her face as she turns and sees who it is. "Hello. It's been a long time. Where have you been hiding?"

He shrugs. "A little blue box." The words spring off his tongue so naturally. His eyes fall closed, mentally he smacks himself. Not yet. He can't let her remember yet.

"What are you here for? My grandfather doesn't live here anymore."

"He doesn't?" She looks slightly bemused and shakes her head. "Oh, well... actually, em... I actually wanted to talk to you."

"Me?"

"Yeah... em..." He swallows hard and looks away. Somehow, in even his huge, genius brain it didn't occur to him to come up with an opening line while waiting for her. "I actually need to ask you something. Something important. It's about me, sort of... not really actually. It's about you. And your life. And... well, I just need to know if you want-"

"Are you trying ta ask me out?"

"What? No?! Why-? Ew!"

"Oi! Then what? You in the middle of some sort of midlife crisis or something?"

"No," his face contorts into an indignant shape, but then relaxes, realizing that that could actually be what this is. "No, I have something I actually need to talk to you about."

"You look far too serious to talk to someone that you've only know for five days."

It still hurts to hear her talk about him as if he were a complete stranger. He bites it down, because it's his fault, it was his actions that did this.

He takes a breath and continues, "Would you ever want a different life? Not a better life necessarily, just a different life. You'd still be Donna with the same parents and same life, you just would have done something different?" He can see something in her eyes, some startled memory, some word he said that caught her attention. He takes another deep breath. "Would you change for anything?"

She takes a long time before she breathes, "Only a dream."

"Pardon?"

"This dream I sometimes have. Don't remember it really. I just know that I like what happens in it."

Those words scare him. Scare him that she's been remembering without realizing it, that she's been slowly dying probably because he came back into her life, probably because he triggered some memory of hers.

"Oh, well..." His face is drawn, his eyes on the ground as he speaks quickly and frightened. "Just forget about it. Forget about the dream, forget about me, forget about any of this. I have to go."

"Wait," she tries to yell for him but his long strides have already brought him across the lawn. "Stop!" she yells again, this time racing after him and grabbing his arm. "What was the point of all that?"

"I can't tell you."

"You can't tell me but you're desperate to hear my answer?"

"It sounds ridiculous, I know but..." A frustrated hand runs through his hair before he finds her eyes. "Just say yes and you'll understand."

"Are you mad? Say yes to what?"

"To another life."

"I like my life."

Four words change his life, shattering every hope he had when he came back, splintering his courage to talk her into this. His jaw is tight and his nod curt when he says, "That's all I needed to know."

She doesn't try to stop him this time when he walks away. She doesn't yell, doesn't run. She doesn't know that she should want to. She doesn't even know his name.

And that's good. That's good... because at least a few people in the entire universe know that once, once she was Donna Noble, the Doctor's best mate, traveller of the stars, and saviour of worlds.

He stops just outside Donna's sight, right inside of the shadows of the alleyway, where he turns to look at her one last time. She stands for a moment, confusion and irritation and so many other things running through her mind. Despite the storm of emotions, it doesn't take her long to do exactly as he asked. She forgets about him, forgets about his questions and how he interrupted her world today for just a few minutes.

She forgets and walks back up to her door where a little girl with fiery red hair is laughing and toddling towards her. He can hear the sounds of Donna lifting the girl into the air, her own happiness mixing with the little girl's giggles.

And right then he knows his answer. He knows the answer to all of his questions. She doesn't need him, never did. All she needed was a little push in the right direction. She'll be just fine. She will be. And that's all that matters to him.