A/N: I just finished series 4, and naturally, cried like I'd just had an amputation at the end of "Journey's End". Dreamt this, and well, here we are. I intend this to be a one-shot, a beginning to which I won't likely provide any middle or end. A prologue, perhaps. But it's a start, and nothing can go from nowhere. Everything begins somewhere. I hope we get something like this before Tennant bows out.
It started innocently enough, really. It was Christmas again, and her mum had swanned off to pass out mince pies or something equally nutty. Wilf had made it up and down the attic stairs twice, but that was about all he could take - leaving her to ferry all the rest of the bits and bobs for decorating into the kitchen to sort it out before dragging it all through the house. She was plugging in some blinking fairy lights when the line shorted, blowing a tiny bulb, and shocking her; sharply enough to make her pull her finger back and stick it in her mouth.
"Bloody stupid fairy lights. Cheap bastards!" she yelled, at no one in particular, and went back to the kitchen to find a replacement bulb.
# # # # #
"Donna, what are you doing?"
"What's it look like, mum, I'm organizing!"
Sylvia had discovered her daughter organizing the chest freezer, something that, if she had made a list, would have been on the top of the list of things she never expected to see her daughter do. She watched, mildly horrified, as her daughter rearranged every single bag of frozen peas and butcher-paper wrapped leg of lamb.
"It can only be so efficient if you don't pack it right," Donna said snidely, closing the chest freezer down tight and walking away.
# # # # #
Wilf found the doodles, and almost had heart failure right then and there. She'd begun with what was clearly a sketch of a telephone booth, the normal kind, but the sketches had eventually gained a bulkier shape, and little letters which seemed to spell out 'vooorp!' He crumpled the paper in his hand, and after taking a few deep breaths, went into the kitchen and slipped it into the bin, carefully dislodging a banana peel so that it wouldn't be visible at the top.
# # # # #
"What are you doing to the toaster oven?!" Sylvia screeched.
"It's broken, mum," Donna said calmly, as though her mother might have come home slightly more idiotic than when she left.
"Well of course it's broken now, you've got it all over the table! It wasn't broken this morning!"
"I'm fixin' it. Regular maintenance," Donna replied, still not looking up at the horrified look on her mother's face. She picked up a coil and squinted, blowing on it, before snapping it back into place. "Something you wanted?"
# # # # #
"I can't get it to sum correctly. I hate these new programmers, come in and change everything and now my forms don't run properly and they've changed all the file locations so I can't pull the previous data!"
Donna's head peeked up over her cubicle divider. She listened as a keyboard was banged, and someone else suggested just restarting the bloody thing. Getting up and sashaying over to the cube with the issues, she offered her assistance.
"Naw, temps don't have access to this stuff."
"But I'm good with computers, just let me have a look," she said, a look of innocence on her face as though trying to prove that nothing she did could possibly screw it up any worse.
The operator slid his chair back, and gestured to the desktop. "All you," he said, with a wave of his hand.
In less than two minutes, she pulled up the primary file tree, upgraded the entire server network (shouts of delight echoed from various terminals) and reconnected all the lost file locations with the new ones, pushing the new links throughout the system. With a satisfied cock of her head, she pushed herself away from the terminal and just winked. "Well that's a bit of alright, now innit?"
# # # # #
"Yeah, Mel over in accounting said you fixed his laptop last week, and I'm just having one of those days, you know? Nothing I do is right. Thought maybe if you could give it a little of your Donna magic?"
She grinned. "Oh, I suppose," and she sat down, crossed her legs, and began to take apart the server tower. Somewhere in the midst of examining the motherboards, she failed to notice that there was a single exposed wire that had been jerked looser by her manhandling of the hardware. Reaching for another, she got good and zapped, bringing the network down with her.
"Oi, that hurt," she said into the darkness, and then shielded her eyes from the flashlight provided by Ken the IT manager. "Just pulled summat loose there, I'll be on it in a tick," she assured him, and had everything back up and running in no time, humming something that Ken, who spoke seven languages, couldn't identify for the life of him.
# # # # #
Wilf had not confessed his worries to his daughter, because she would most certainly flip her lid. So he started small. A man who travels through time and space and seemed to like Earth an awful lot must be the observant type. But he'd seen a few films, he knew that if he tried to leave a message for the Doctor, it had to mean something if it was the right him, and be totally inconspicuous to the wrong him. He spent several days trying to decide on a riddle or a rhyme that he wanted to put on a sign in their front yard ("Da! What're you doin? Leave the gnomes alone!") or perhaps put an ad in the newspaper.
He got his good idea the night the two of them sat up on the roof, looking out at the stars. She quoted the average atmospheric pressure on Mars, the numbers just tripping off her tongue as though she didn't even mean to say them, and he knew. He wrote everything down on his little notepad, even though the information meant nothing to him. He looked down at her from his lawn chair, and she was completely silent, looking up, just admiring the view.
The next day he put in the newspaper: Mars Atmospheric Pressure avg 6-10 millibars. Wilf.
He watched the ads very carefully, getting rather upset when his daughter had put it in the bin or given it away before he got a chance to read them.
"Why do you get a copy of the Star anyway? It's rubbish! Babies from the Titanic and bat children? The return of Jesus Christ? You're a nutter."
It took thirteen weeks, but he finally saw a reply: Gunnersbury Station, 2pm. Dr. Smith.
He said he was just going out for a walk, and after not listening to Sylvia's argument, Wilfred Mott made his way to the tube station, hoping to find answers. Hoping that his brilliant granddaughter, who'd filled her room with toothpick-and-pea Bohr's models of elements he'd never heard of and could quote Pi to twenty-six decimal places before making a face because she knew no one was listening, wasn't going to burn up as he'd warned. He hated keeping secrets from her, though her mother still insisted it was better this way, and it was eating away at him. So he got a cup of coffee and a warm sultana scone and waited.
Waited for what might come next.
Waited for the man that he hoped would have the answers, the man his granddaughter was meant to travel the stars with.
# # # # #
"What is that smell?" Donna was three feet from the walkway to her mum's house when she smelled it: honey, mulled cider, those cinnamony sachets they packed in with the Christmas tree skirt – it was in the air, and it was coming from further up the block.
She followed the scent, her nose picking up the trail like some sort of crime dog – a thought she chuckled at when she wondered, idly, why she was following a smell away from her house when she had been so close to home. It had finally started to become normal – she was still a temp, but the company she had been temping for was going to buy out her contract. She made herself more useful than they expected, and people spoke up for her. She'd never really been good at anything before, and it felt amazing. She came home, and she was happy, and she couldn't really remember that happening a whole lot before. She briefly considered moving out once she got hired on for real, but in her more contemplative hours (sometimes she couldn't sleep at all) she realized that as much as her mother's nagging got on her last nerve some days, she would be lost without someone to nag. Either that or she'd turn to nagging grandda more than she already did, and Donna felt a kinship with her grandfather that prohibited abandoning a man in the trenches.
She smiled to herself as she walked, drifting towards the scent rather than pursuing it with purpose. It reminded her of sunny days (which London did occasionally get, but she never felt the same way about London's sunny days as she did about sunny days she couldn't quite describe) and laughing. It made her want to take up running. Which was, of course, ridiculous. She'd never been one for sport her entire life and she certainly wasn't going to pick it up now.
Laughing about the idea of dressing in tracksuit bottoms and pulling her hair back and going for a jog before she had to go to work every morning, her feet suddenly stopped. It was right here, the smell. She didn't realize how many blocks she'd walked, but smack in front of her was a sign directing her to the tube stop – that was at least eight blocks away, and it didn't seem she'd been walking that far. With a sigh, she realized she was being quite daft, just walking. She'd be late getting home, and her mum would rant about not calling. She twisted her body to reach into her bag and retrieve her phone, intending to check and see if there was a message wondering if she was picking up a few groceries or something, when she saw it.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it sitting on the pavement like it belonged there. Right next to the telephone box, was a blue…police box? She laughed. She'd never noticed it there before. It seemed so…old-timey, like one more bit of London that had been forgotten. She could just imagine it: they decommission the police call box, and commission the installation of a regular telephone and the paperwork gets mucked up and no one comes and picks up the blue antique. So there it sits, disconnected and useless. Probably a convenient garbage bin, she thought with a resigned frown. She inhaled deeply, and suddenly there it was. It was back. That smell. That smell of everything right and good with the world. She smiled, and, entranced, approached the police box.
# # # # #
"I'm worried, is all, about my girl. You said she could never remember, that she'd burn right up, and she's rememberin'!" Wilf's voice rose in pitch as he got excited, his worry collapsing his calm.
"She's not remembering. Just has to be her brain recycling bits and pieces. If she really remembered, you'd never know it. She just wouldn't wake up," he said sadly, not looking at the older man. She'd never remember, she couldn't. He missed her, and he hated that he had to come back and reassure this old man, because it all brought memories back, sharp and clear; and he'd been doing his very best to dull them and hide them away from himself. But he felt guilty – he was afraid that if he didn't come back and check that he'd spend too much time worrying himself that something had gone wrong – that she'd started to go haywire, like the memory wipe didn't take, and then she would be really gone, instead of his make-pretend idea that she was gone, and that would hurt worse. He liked to think that, like all the others, she'd just left. But he didn't even like to think that, because he knew, he really knew, that she never would have left. She had the spirit, the soul for it; she'd never made demands of him like so many others had, and she had real staying power – he may not have known all her motives for doing it, but he respected that she had them.
Wilf pulled a crumpled bit of paper out of his jacket pocket and began smoothing it out. "She's been drawin' things – doodling while she's on the phone, on her napkins at restaurants, on any bits of paper she gets her hands on. She's been drawing your time machine, Doctor. I don't claim to know anything about what you did to her, but I took your warning to heart. I know I didn't like it, because I know she was happier, and I hate seeing her pretend to be happy now, but I don't want her to die," he finished with a sag of his shoulders. "I shouldn't outlive my granddaughter, Doctor. I just shouldn't."
The Doctor took the bit of paper from Wilf's hand, and studied the little sketches of a familiar blue police box. The shape was the same, shaded with blue ballpoint pen, but the words 'police box' did not appear anywhere. The only word was an onomatopoetic 'vooorp!' that he smiled at – he supposed that's what she did sound like, and it hurt and he almost choked on the little surge of amusement.
"It's nothing, Wilf. I told you," he said, rising. "She doesn't really remember. It's just pictures, her subconscious mind recycles leftovers in her dreams – it's nothing to worry about."
"But she knows things. She knew the atmospheric pressure of Mars!" Wilf protested, rising to keep the Doctor from just brushing him off and leaving again. "She knows things like distances to stars, and all their names, not the scientific names you can look up in books, but names like she knows them. Planets and things that no one knows!"
The Doctor gave him a sad smile and shrugged. "If it wouldn't kill her, I would wish she could remember," he looked away. "You know I wish she could," he said quietly, and Wilf pressed his lips together in defeat and reached for the crumbled paper to shove it back in his pocket.
# # # # #
She pressed at the door. Locked. She snorted. Silly. All this was silly and stupid and she couldn't remember why she'd walked all this way. Her mother was going to flip. She looked at her watch. Almost three. She should have been home almost forty minutes ago. She turned and walked away, reaching for her mobile again.
Pulling it out, she let out a cuss. Battery was dead. She huffed.
"People carryin' mobiles because there's never a telephone box around when they need one," she mumbled, and then smiled, turning to look at the telephone box. She smiled, and snapped her fingers. "Just what the doctor ordered," she chuckled, and the blue door to the police box swung open just a crack.
# # # # #
"I'm sorry, Doctor. I'm sorry for making you come all the way out here. I was just…"
The Doctor gave him an indulgent smile. "I know, you were worried. It's alright, it's perfectly fine. If I weren't me and I didn't know utterly and completely that this meant nothing, I'd worry too," he reached for the old man's shoulder, squeezing it sympathetically.
# # # # #
She cocked her head. "Well that's odd," she said aloud, and approached the door. She could smell that smell again, and she reached for the door, oblivious to the glittery golden fume that seemed to be seeking her stretched out fingers. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes, and felt like someone backhanded her across the face. She stumbled back, twisting her ankle in her favorite heeled boots.
She closed her eyes and shook off the feeling, suddenly tingly and excited and extremely exhausted all at the same time. She huffed, shaking her whole body, trying to get rid of the weird feeling.
"Must not have slept well last night. I feel so…strange," she said to no one. Pivoting, careful of her twisted ankle, she shifted her purse up higher on her shoulder, and headed for home.
# # # # #
Wilf pulled his coat tighter, and headed the other way, leaving the station and heading for home.
# # # # #
The Doctor got back to his TARDIS, and the door was open just a crack. He looked around, mildly worried, but self-assured that if anyone had managed to jimmy the lock, hoping to find something particular, all they'd see inside was an empty police box and a disconnected telephone. She never let anyone see her if she didn't want to. And if she'd wanted to, he would have known it.
He slipped inside the door, closing it behind him, shedding his coat, and heading towards the console.
# # # # #
Wilf heard the sound of the blue box departing, that familiar 'vooorp!' noise that he'd stored away in his mind – the sound of the Doctor.
# # # # #
Donna tilted her head, hearing a strange sound, turning her head quickly to pinpoint the direction it came from.
"Wonder what that noise is? Funny," she said to herself, and kept walking for home. She felt like she needed to run all the way, like she was going to suffocate, like she needed to run in order to breathe. She stopped, and shifted her purse, clenching her teeth as, one at a time, she bent her ankles over her knees where she stood, and snapped off the heels of her favorite boots without a second thought. She tossed the discarded heels and, standing flatly again, tightened her elbow against her ribs, and looked at the long stretch of unoccupied sidewalk in front of her.
She smiled, and took off running.
# # # # #
When Wilf arrived home, he took off his red knit hat and tucked it into the sleeve of his winter coat.
"Where's Donna?" he asked.
"She got here about fifteen minutes ago, all a'tizzy, and said she was going to bed," Sylvia said with a look on her face that indicated she clearly thought her daughter was bonkers.
Wilf narrowed his eyes. "It's not even four o'clock!"
Sylvia shrugged. "Said she was exhausted, so I let her go. If she's hungry, she'll come down for breakfast."
Wilf looked up the stairs, resting his hand on the banister. "Yeah. Yeah, I suppose she will."
# # # # #
At two a.m., Donna Noble sat straight up in bed. She felt groggy like she'd been asleep far too long, felt damp from the sweat that soaked her sheets. She flung back the sheet, and quickly took off her clothes, reaching for her bathrobe. She had to get clean, had to scrub all this sweat off, had to wash her hair.
Emerging from the hot shower into the cramped bathroom, she reached for the fogged over mirror, clearing a bit so she could see her own face. She looked at herself for a good three minutes without moving.