The cafe on Zebulon Nine is brilliant. Donna has never had such tasty little appetizers before. And the liquor being served is fabulous; just the thing for celebrating a brush with death.
The Doctor doesn't drink much alcohol as a rule, not having the head for it. He drinks the local version of water with a twist of lemon, and appears perfectly happy with that.
Jack is capable of ingesting huge amounts of alcohol, and Donna is pleased to see that it loosens his tongue a bit. A relaxed Captain Jack says and does things that he wouldn't normally do, like challenge the Doctor just a bit.
"So Rose stayed behind," Jack says after his second glass of something alarmingly yellow. "Seems I'm always asking you where she is when we meet these days."
The Doctor stifles a sigh. Jack is entitled to a better answer than what he's already told him about Rose.
"She stayed behind," the Doctor says. "Back with her family."
"Okay," Jack says slowly. He's clearly thinking this one through, although why he feels he needs to do that the Doctor can't quite understand.
"Rose is safe," the Doctor reminds him. "No more darkness coming through. The parallel world is fine."
"Okay. She's safe and she's happy, then. Right?"
The Doctor shrugs uncomfortably. "It's been about a year since we stopped Davros. That means that two or three years have passed for them."
"So either she's happy or she's miserable," Jack concludes, and then smiles apologetically at the look the Doctor gives him. "Sorry."
"Rose will be happy wherever she is. I gave her a choice and she made it." What he has to say next is very hard to get out, but he manages. "He loves her. It will be all right."
"He does," Donna says suddenly. "He loves Rose with all his heart and he'll do anything to make her happy." She's sipping a blue drink through a straw, and all of a sudden comes to the end of her drink. "Oi!" she calls to a waiter. "Can I have another one of these?" She turns back to her companions.
"He's human now, and he loves Rose, and if they're not happy it won't be his fault, yeah? I saw the way he was looking at her."
"How was he looking at her?" the Doctor demands without thinking.
"How?" she repeats. "Well, just like you used to look at her, I bet. Only more so, probably. If I had to guess, which I do, 'cos I never really saw you two back when you were together and happy and together."
Jack takes the new drink away from the waiter before she can take it. "I think you've had enough," he comments, starting to take a sip of it himself.
"I don't think so!" Donna snaps, and snatches it back. Blue liquid sloshes all over the table. "And don't change the subject if it's one I'm enjoying."
"Oh, I wasn't changing the subject," Jack says easily. "I agree with you. The way the Doctor used to look at Rose when he thought I wasn't looking...I could tell you stories."
"Yeah?" she asks interestedly, and the Doctor breaks in on this charming train of thought.
"Sorry to interrupt, but we can consider this topic closed now. Permanently."
"Are you okay with that?" Jack asks, disregarding his request. "I mean, he was you and you were him, to a point."
"Captain, you know what it's like to live forever. How many friends have you lost, just since you came to Torchwood? How many loved ones have you said goodbye to?"
Jack stares out the window, a slight frown on his face. "Too many."
"Too many," the Doctor echoes. "Too, too many. And how many more will you have to say goodbye to?"
Jack looks at him sharply, and the Doctor knows he's just hit a raw nerve.
"I wasn't going to go through that with Rose," the Doctor says. "She deserves more. Better to lose her than to have that happen."
"You've always loved her." Jack states this as a long-accepted fact. "Knew it from the minute she introduced us. Never stopped believing it."
The Doctor nods. "It's better this way, Jack."
"Yeah." But Jack doesn't sound like he's quite convinced. He looks around for his coat. "How about you bring me back now? My team is probably waiting for me."
Donna laughs softly into her glass. "Better hope you get there within the correct year."
Jack grins. "Been there, done that."
Jack pauses just inside the TARDIS doors. "Sure you don't want to come in for some tea?" he asks.
"We should get going," the Doctor says.
"Don't be a stranger," Jack says to him.
"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it," the Doctor assures him.
They both know he's lying.
"Hang on," Donna says suddenly, peering at Jack. "Never thought ol' Captain Jack would be so eager to leave the TARDIS. Is there something going on at Torchwood you don't want us to know about?"
Jack rolls his eyes. "I couldn't keep a secret from him if I tried."
"No, it's true," the Doctor says, smiling modestly.
Donna is running through the conversation they had at the restaurant. Granted, she was in an alcohol fog for much of it, but she remembers some stuff.
"Don't be afraid, Jack," she says. "Even though you may lose them. Don't be afraid to live in the moment and love them right now."
Jack looks startled and maybe a little bit spooked. "What are you talking about?"
The flash of insight is gone as quickly as it came. Donna shrugs.
"Dunno. Take care, yeah?"
"Yeah." Jack starts to say something more, then stops. He glances at the doors, where Torchwood is waiting for him.
"See you around, Doctor," he says, and heads out to his people.
"What are you going on about?" the Doctor asks the moment the doors are closed again. "Why are you going all fortune teller on poor Jack?"
Donna shrugs. "It just seemed like there was something he wasn't saying. All that talk about watching people outlive you and leave you, it looked like he took it personally."
For once the Doctor has nothing to say. Jack's life is not something he's ever thought about. He's never thought about how Jack got off of the Game Station, or what life at Torchwood was like for him, or who he may have loved and lost these past 150-odd years.
He feels very, very bad at that realization. Has he really gotten so used to companions coming and going that he can be so callous?
Donna's voice breaks him out of his thoughts.
"You gonna start this thing, or are we gonna park at The Hub from now on?"
"Starting her now," the Doctor says.
"It's you and me, spaceman." Donna smiles. "All back to normal." They're in the Time Vortex, and she's feeling happier than she has in a long while now.
"Are you sure?" He's examined her several times, never quite convinced that she is, in fact, back to normal. Better than normal, actually. The Chameleon Arch turned her back to fully human, the memory regulator removed the Time Lord knowledge, and yet there is something different about Donna. She has a glow in her eyes and a calmness she didn't have before.
"I'm sure. I've seen things, Doctor. I know I don't remember them, and of course it's worth it to, you know, be able to keep breathing, but I know what's possible now. I get to stay with you."
"That's a good thing?" Okay, maybe he's fishing for compliments now, but that's not a bad thing, is it?
"Oh, it's a very good thing," she assures him. "An absolutely brilliant thing!"
He smiles at her, rather pleased to hear her say so. "Good."
"You know what I want to do?" Donna asks him. "Right now, what I want to do this minute?"
"What?" the Doctor asks, bracing himself for a request to visit a beauty spa or a pleasure planet with a water park.
"I want to go someplace that I've never been before. Someplace amazing."
He nods cautiously. "As it happens, there is this city on the top of a mountain in the Andromeda Galaxy. Every year the twin suns revolve around the planet and exchange orbits. North and south to east and west. Massive celebrations."
"Well, that sounds perfect, then!" Donna settles in the chair. "We just need to make a quick stop home."
"A stop home? What for?" he protests.
"Well, to see my mum and granddad, you dumbo! I haven't seen them since before all the madness happened."
"I'm sure they're fine," the Doctor mutters, just like a pouting child.
"Well, I need to see them," she says firmly. "And then we can go."
It's quite a long time before the residual effects from Donna's brief reign as a Time Lady are known. Being the first product of a Time Lord - human genetic meta-crisis, there's no level of normal for her to follow. She doesn't know what's normal and what isn't. Once those memories were gone, she assumed that was all there was to it. Apart from feeling sad that she would never get to see Gallifrey, Donna adjusted quite well.
There were more travels to complete. Wrongs to right, upheavals to calm. They were imprisoned once or twice, and their lives were threatened more than several times.
They ran into Jack and his Torchwood team now and again, back on Earth when he brought Donna home to visit her family.
Time passed on the TARDIS without either one really noticing. Donna was having the time of her life, and the Doctor was, too.
And then Wilf passed away. Donna's grief was tempered by the knowledge that he'd lived a full life, and that he'd been so proud of her for following her dreams at last. Visits home were made more often, certainly more often than the Doctor would have liked.
Sylvia grew older, met a nice older gentleman and happily lived in sin, as she put it, for quite a few years, much to Donna's horror and embarrassment and the Doctor's absolute glee.
"I can't believe it!" Donna wails, throwing herself on the couch and covering her face with a blanket.
"Aw, what's the big deal?" the Doctor asks, amusement in his voice. "Aren't you happy for your mum?"
"She's got a friend," he continues. "She seems much happier. More...I don't know, relaxed."
She sits up and throws a pillow at him, knocking him on the head.
"Don't you talk about my mother and relaxation in the same breath!"
"She's certainly been friendlier to me, is all I'm saying." The Doctor leans back in one of Sylvia's special company chairs. He shoves his hands in his trouser pockets and smiles happily. "A happy Sylvia is not a nagging Sylvia. I haven't been slapped or threatened in ages."
"It's not like he asked you to call him dad or anything." The Doctor really can't help himself. Not that he's trying.
"Stop it!" Donna shrieks.
Sylvia and her friend never do get married, but continue to shack up, as Donna persists in calling it, until Sylvia's friend passes away from a heart attack.
Sylvia passes away soon after, and it's at that point that Donna and the Doctor face what they've never really addressed before.
Time is passing, but Donna looks the same as the day her original memories were restored. Living on the TARDIS has dulled her awareness of the passage of time, but now it can't be ignored any longer.
"Do I look older to you?" she asks one morning. The Doctor is in the TARDIS kitchen, eating toast and jam and hot tea.
He looks up, swallows slowly, and frowns.
"This a trick?"
"Seriously." Donna sits down across from him. "How do I look?"
He takes in her hairstyle, loose around her shoulders as always. "You look very nice," he offers. "Er...is that top new?"
"Never mind my clothes," she says sternly. "How do I look? Do I look the same? Older?"
He puts his glasses on and appears to be studying her closely.
"You know, you don't," he says in surprise. "How long have we been together now?"
She really doesn't want to face the answer. "Twenty years," she admits.
"Twenty years," the Doctor murmurs. "And you don't look a day over-" He stops suddenly and takes a swig of his tea. "You don't look any different," he states.
"I knew my granddad was getting older," Donna murmurs. "And when Mum and Harry died...well, that's normal, isn't it? Your parents die before you do." She frowns and takes a bite of the Doctor's toast. "And Gwen started having kids, and they've been getting older. I noticed, but I didn't notice. I mean, Jack still looks the same!"
"If you're holding up Jack as some sort of proof, you're in the totally wrong alley," the Doctor informs her. "He's immortal, remember? He'll never look any different."
"I don't either, though do I?" she asks. "No wrinkles, no grey hairs."
The Doctor nods admiringly at this. Her hair is still as lovely and thick and ginger as the first day they met.
"No sagging skin," she continues. "Or weight gain. Even my boobs are still nice and tight." She glances down at her chest and bounces slightly on her heels, making the Doctor blush furiously. Not that he's noticed anything like that, of course.
"What am I?" she whispers. "Doctor, what happened to me? I didn't look into the heart of the TARDIS. No one brought me back from the dead. What happened?"
"I don't know." The Doctor frowns thoughtfully. "You seem to be remaining the same."
"I'm not immortal. I'm not a Time Lord. But I'm not getting any older. So what happened?"
The Doctor tries to look for an explanation and comes up with...nothing. "I don't know. We can try and find out."
Donna thinks about this. There are tests that could be done, of course. Experiments. Inquiries. There may be a reason why this has happened to her. There might be a way to fix it. Cure her. Reverse the process.
Bring her up to her normal, proper age. With accompanying wrinkles, grey hair, weight gain and sagging bust.
Good grief, she thinks.
"You know what?" she asks, standing up. "I think we're fine for now. No reason to get carried away, is there? Lots of time to look into things later on. Shall we go over to that planet Mondavi now? That price on our heads ought to be expired by now."
There are a hundred reasons why they should try and find out what's happened to her. The wise thing would be to start looking into it right now.
The Doctor stands up and smiles, throwing caution and wisdom to the winds.
"Let's go. Mondavi's lovely this time of year."