He's Like Fire
"Who is he?"
The question was one Donna hears often now, particularly whenever she makes a visit home. This time it was asked by one of her old friends and colleagues, Barbara Nivens. She happened to be in the café in which Donna nipped into after her visit with her mum and granpop. They'd exchanged the usual pleasantries, and Donna had even hoped she might be able to get away easily, but then Barbara asked why she was buying coffee in bulk.
"I'm traveling," Donna replied, the half-truth slipping off her tongue with ease even as her mind flicked to the TARDIS' woefully inadequate coffee supply (not to mention her companion's absolute intolerance for caffeine). "And I like to have this lil' bit of home with me on the… road."
Again, she tried for an easy break away, but bringing up traveling led to an inquiry about her traveling companion, and she'd only made half an expression towards an answer before the question came, Barbara wide-eyed and incredulous,
"Who is he?"
And Donna froze.
Normally, when the question came she threw off a conveniently vague three-word phrase like "He's a friend" or "Just a guy" but at that moment, in that coffee shop, looking at her now so-distant friend, a different three word phrase came to her mind. It was a phrase uttered by a near-stranger, a phrase Donna had paid only fleeting attention to at the time. Now, however, it was all she could think.
He's like fire.
At the time, Sontaran and teleportation machines and poison gas had prevented her from fully appreciating the truth of that statement. Yet it was those exact same things, along with desperate war and senseless murders and giant wasps that made her now unable to think of anything else.
He's like fire, she longed to say to Barbara. He's beautiful and he's warm and you could watch him move for hours. But you can't ever get too close, and not just because he's dangerous. Though he is. Hemakes warmth and light but he can also destroy. He can burn down cities, whole worlds, even souls… All it would take would be a look or a word but it terrifies him, because he knows he himself would end up as nothing but ash.
But you can't too close because he won't let you. He's separate and singular and there are times when you can't possibly relate. And yet there are times when he's so, so human…
He's like fire, she wanted to repeat, making sure Barbara understood. He burns so fierce and so bright that everything else is gray in comparison. You think he can't possible see you when you're stuck in all the gray and he's surrounded by this light… but then he looks at you and suddenly you're fire too.
You can't believe the feeling, she wanted to say, and her abnormally soft tone would convince Barbara that this really meant something. It's like… it's like you have this power. You can do anything, and what you do matters. You matter, when you're with him. And—
She would step back then, because the next part was something Donna was still dealing with herself.
And it burns, but you don't care. You're not made to be fire, not like he is, and you can feel it racing through your insides and leaving them blackened and crumbling behind. But you don't care.
Now Donna would be talking softly to convince herself rather than Barbara. You don't care because you''ll gladly end up black if it means being allowed to stay in the fire, out of the gray, as long as you can. You forget the burns and the wounds and the scars to just go along for the ride. And it's gorgeous and it's scary and it's always changing, and with him you get pulled right to the middle, and there the heat is the strongest and the purest you'll ever feel.
Barbara's voice broke into her thoughts and Donna blinked, coming back to herself in the coffee shop. She focussed her gaze back on her friend, mouth opening though she still had no idea what her answer was going to be, but Barbara was no longer looking at her. She was looking over Donna's shoulder to where a tall, skinny man with wild hair and a rumpled suit stood tapping impatiently on the glass window of the shop, his expression a mix of exasperation and blazing excitement. Both Barbara and Donna blinked, then the question came again, this time laced with genuine wonder.
"Who is he?"
And Donna, as she smiled indulgently at her companions elaborate attempt at subtle gesturing that clearly meant "stop gabbing and let's get back to the TARDIS and somewhere interesting," suddenly had just the right three-word answer.
"He's the Doctor," she said. Then, smiling at Barbara's indignantly bewildered expression, she scooped her bags of coffee into her arms and stepped outside into the blazing sunshine. She could feel it's heat pressing against her pale skin, and knew that soon it would begin to burn.
But she ignored it and, after some jostling of the coffee bags, took the Doctor's offered hand, and together they set off once more towards adventure.