Author Note: Whilst watching the flying visit of DT to the SJA on 29th and 30th October 2009 I got the smatterings of an inkling that I might be able to bend certain moments to the rantish fic I started to sketch out after Journey's End. If you didn't see the SJA ep, no matter. All you need to know is that at the end of the episode the TARDIS was parked inside the attic The kids had had their look around and been ejected and SJ and DW were having a comfortable conversation about this and that.
When You Don't Think…
Rating: PG for swearing and some reference to violence.
Summary: The Doctor has to face the consequences of an action he took in Journey's End.
Disclaimer: The characters from Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures belong in their entirety to the BBC and no ownership is implied by the author.
"Donna's mum had to section her again." Sarah Jane dropped the pin-less grenade into the smooth progress of their conversation without a blink. "I sent Clyde and Rani to visit her, she seems to like them and they're better for her than some of her other friends. It's brave of them to walk into that place and face what she's become."
Her unspoken criticism rang in his ears.
He knew from past experience that she considered it a matter of honour never to mention the fact he'd not seen Donna since that awful day. But despite that her opinion of his character came through loud and clear, mingled grubbily through the snippets of information she dropped here and there. She knew he hated what he'd had to do back then, but for some reason ever since Martha had told her of the events of that evening she'd never shown him any sympathy, never cared for how it had broken his heart. She'd merely frowned when she'd seen him, refused to talk about it and spent the next month carefully following Donna around and gleaning as much information about her life as she could.
"You should never have taken such a drastic step." How did she find the effrontery to scold him like he was Luke? "What on earth were you thinking? I should," she paused, swallowed and turned away for a moment to regain her composure. "I'm sorry. We weren't going to talk about it." She managed to find a brave smile. "We'll keep an eye on her for you, don't worry. I should be getting back to the kids. Goodness knows what they'll get up to without my supervision."
She didn't avoid the hug he bestowed on her and appeared to wave him off with a kind look. However he wasn't there to see her face harden as the last echoes of the TARDIS engine left the loft.
"Dratted Timelords. No sense of responsibility." She turned to the smartly pointed stone fireplace. "Mr Smith, I need you."
It was Dan who became the catalyst for it all. Most of Donna's friends thought nothing of it that she shouldn't remember a good chunk of her life. They were like that. Their attitude and the calming buffer of her mother and grandfather who worked very hard to make sure that she shouldn't pay any attention to any niggling worries about amnesia carried her over those first difficult months without stumbling. Until one night she met Dan, no one special, just a friend of a friend but surprise-surprise, they got on like a house on fire. Picky Donna found his dry humour and gentlemanly manners a nice change (though from what she couldn't remember) and he, well – he thought she was brilliant and that was always nice to hear. One thing led to another, as they do and before you could say Space Invaders they were well on their way to becoming most luvied up couple of the year.
He was the one that listened to her tale of a lost year and instead of laughing and saying something about "daft old Donna" suggested that she see a doctor about it. Conditioned by the months her family had put in downplaying the problem whenever it raised a difficult head she at first resisted. But he was insistent and after promising to hold her hand throughout the whole ordeal Donna eventually gave in and went to put the "embarrassing" problem before her GP. After listening carefully the GP sent her to a neurologist and so the volley of tests started. Dan was as good as his word, ferrying her back and forth from appointment to appointment, keeping her spirits up in one interminable waiting room after another and holding her hand in a tight clasp as she lay in the MRI scanner and tried not to think of coffins.
They took pictures of her brain and then after casting a quick glance over the results sent her straight back in and took the same pictures all over again. It was only when the third set of images showed everything the first had that they sat her down and had the quiet conversation.
By this time she'd started to notice other things. The way she'd retreat from certain words or situations in fear, without knowing why. The way her hands knew their way around certain tasks with a dexterity she couldn't remember learning, the odd times her feet carried her without thinking down certain streets, the frustration of feeling a thought pop into her head but being unable to grasp it, unable to see what it was she was trying to think about. She got cranky with Dan, blaming him for starting all this, for somehow hypnotising her into thinking she was broken. She screamed at him that he was sending her mad and begged him just to let her know why, why he was doing this to her, what was it that she had done?
They tried her on all sorts of drugs. Some of them put her to sleep, some of them sent her walking the streets for hours, closed off from slumber, unable to stop the churning in her mind. They said it was difficult as there were so many parts of her mind affected, they showed her the bright coloured areas on her scans, tried to explain that chemicals that could help in one region would only aggravate the problem elsewhere.
One of the drugs made her paranoid and it was only the lucky arrival of her grandfather in the nick of time that prevented her from seriously wounding Dan. That was the first time they sectioned her and she was more than willing to go, frightened beyond comprehension at what she had become. That was also the first and only time Sarah Jane had spoken to him about what he had done. She'd caught him on a tail end of a disaster in London – grabbed his arm and broken into an irate tirade about the selfishly brainy who refused to take a moment to think about the consequences of their actions and went swanning around the universe without an atom of common sense. He'd been too raw still and shaking his arm free had sought sanctuary in the TARDIS. Then there'd been another call, a cry for help across the galaxy and he'd had to go. She'd sent him a couple of angry text messages, which he'd deleted and then nothing. Until now.
He went to the hospital were they were holding Donna and found her records. She'd been having nightmares, screamingly vivid images of fire and destruction. In her aim to gain some control over her thoughts she'd volunteered for a severe course of mood stabilising drugs. It had backfired and in the despair that followed she'd become suicidal. Calm detailed notes filled four pages of her file, describing the many attempts she'd made. She was really rather inventive. Her therapist had been going back over her life, trying to find anything that might have triggered her mental collapse, but there was nothing there to help them. Donna was adrift in a sea of memories that tempted and teased from just below the horizon. His barriers were still holding, but the landscape around them was crumbling away.
He gently replaced the file in the cabinet and returned to the TARDIS he'd parked in the corner of the room. Closing the door silently behind him he unhurriedly approached the central column and began to flip through the current list of possible destinations. It wasn't difficult to find one where he was needed urgently, a small planet far away where the time-stream cried out for the catalyst presence of a Time Lord. The ship seemed unwilling to obey but he overruled her. He was The Doctor after all, he was the one who made the decisions. His TARDIS rocked and bumped a little more than usual as they spun away across the universe but he paid her no attention.
It was some time later that he received the terse phone call from Dr Martha Jones (though he'd been back to ancient Greece and sideways to visit the Ocapi and was now rotating slowly around a newborn star so who knew how long it had actually been?). She seemed out of humour about something but refused to answer his polite enquiry, merely ordering him back to the hub and requesting he make the trip as quickly as possible. As he flew back in, he had the TARDIS scan all the recent news reports, but nothing tickled his time-sense.
Jack met him on the Plaza and held him back for a moment as they approached the tourist office.
"Careful Doctor. There's a Jones in there ready to kill you and even the new kid has that look in her eye."
The ex-time agent led him to the railings over looking the bay and settled himself comfortably on his elbows. Unsure as to whether they had the time for a quiet conversation The Doctor enquired with a thread of anger running through his polite words as to the nature of the urgent emergency that had dragged him all this way across the universe to watch small boats pulling lobster pots out of the Welsh sea.
"Donna's here." Jack ignored the intake of breath at his shoulder. "Martha's looking after her."
A furious tide rose up and The Doctor rode it gratefully over the niggling rocks of guilt. "You can't do that! You know what will happen to her if she merely catches a glimpse of Torchwood. How dare you?"
"How dare we? How dare you, Doctor? You swan around making your decisions and enforcing your edicts from on high while the rest of us just have to learn to live with the consequences, is that how it works?"
The Doctor protested, but to no avail. Jack just kept on going. "She walked into the clinic, Tom's clinic, blood streaming from her head." Realising he'd shocked his listener into silence Jack continued in a quieter tone. "She'd stuck a screwdriver in her ear to get the pictures out. She told the nurses she couldn't bear it any more, she just wanted the pain and fire to leave her alone. We've done what we can, kept her doped up so she hasn't seen any of us. But she's not happy Doc, and that's an understatement."
He shifted his weight on the railings, uncomfortable with applying such censure when his own past was not what one could describe as squeaky clean.
"I'm not one to chew a friend out over things long done, but you should really read up on how human memory works. Martha's been explaining some of the more complicated stuff for me. You might have closed off her official memory store but her subconscious still remembered. Humans are weird like that, they don't just remember things with their memory, the paths and groves are written into everything they do. The dreams were driving her mad, not to mention the panic she threw herself into every time something weird happened. Sarah Jane was telling me she kept catching herself walking with familiarity through places she knew she'd never been."
When Jack glanced over at that there was no kindness in his gaze, but he managed to swallow whatever it was he was going to say, returning his attention to the low swell before them instead.
"Martha did a full physical." He waited in case there was any response before continuing. "She's got brain cancer. Terminal. Whatever you did to her it really messed up her brain chemistry, there was no way she could have fought it."
The Doctor protested feebly that it could have been the drugs they'd been feeding her, but from Jack's expression quickly discovered there was no excuse for him there.
"You really don't know what to do with humans do you?" The ex-time agent shook his head in disappointment. "We called you here so that you could make it right. If you don't want to do that..." Jack's face showed what he thought of timelords and their courage, "then I'll do it for you."
"I don't know what to do."
"You take her somewhere beautiful and you talk. Show her everything you promised her. Then at the end, you hold her safe and do what you should have done back then. You let her go." Jack turned to more practical matters. "We can slow the burn. You have three days. Go and say goodbye."
The sounds of the swell breaking against the wall at his feet were all that filled the painful silence between them and then the The Doctor nodded. Jack, his piece said, put a comforting hand on his arm and walked him over to the office. They travelled down in without talking, The Doctor unable to find any words in the spiralling fear that clamped around his heart and Jack perfectly satisfied with the words he'd already shovelled all over the man. The Doctor walked into the hub in a daze, not waiting for the airlock to fully revolve back before striding out across the open space to the med lab. The filthy looks he received didn't deter him. Jack hurried after him, calling out to Martha as he leapt over the uneven grating at the base of the rift column.
"He's here! Are we ready?"
She looked up from the examination table and catching sight of that familiar figure hovering at the top of the stairs didn't break into her usual bright smile. In fact The Doctor was struck by how much she looked like she wanted to kill him. It was an odd expression on her face and one he wasn't used to seeing there. He wavered, but she didn't speak, instead (professional to the last) she returned her attention to the woman under her care. He couldn't see the patient at first, her head was shielded behind Martha's white coat while the rest was covered in some sort of hospital blanket. It didn't seem cold enough to warrant such attention as Jack kept the hub at a balmy 20 degrees, but The Doctor had to assume Martha knew what she was doing. He could hear her talking softly and could make out someone making drowsy responses to her gentle questions. At last, throwing a final glare in his direction she stepped aside, revealing Donna to him in all her painful glory.
She was emaciated, her previously shining long locks of burnished red mere thin remains cropped close to the scalp in the effect of some last ditch chemotherapy effort. He'd been turning words over and over in his mind all the way down through the hub, but at the sight of her his voice stuck in his throat. Finally face to face with what he'd done The Doctor managed to drag in half a breath, enough to form the greeting he'd practised again and again since that terrible day.
The fire dazed eyes travelled painfully slowly around the walls until they settled on that thin nervous figure. For a long moment there was no response but then recognition fired at last and the cloudy gaze cleared to reveal the original blue.