It was a bit of a lark, really. The Doctor had just dragged me off to Barcelona the planet, then Middle Ages Barcelona the city. Then, just to shake things up, I asked him where and when he wanted to go. He considered for about a minute, checked his watch and then announced exactly when he wanted to be next.
Chiswick, London, UK, December 24, 2012. 2:57 p.m. GMT.
I had to admit it gave me pause. It even made me laugh for a minute. Then, because it would be stupid to ask why, I asked the next best thing.
"Awfully specific, aren't you?"
"I suppose," he said. "But it'll be a good show and I've even got an invite, plus-one."
"A real invite?" I challenged. "None of that psychic nonsense?"
"Only if they ask for IDs."
It sounded like a joke, but I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be funny about it. Well, unless of course he was uncomfortable with an ID that said he was older than dirt and getting worse all the time.
"So, what am I plus-oneing to?" I asked as he fiddled with one of the instruments. "A coronation? Gala event?"
"Oi," he called cheerfully. "Stop prying and find something swanky to wear, will you?"
"Oh, of course," I drawled. "Only, could we swing by my flat? I left my Chanel evening dress in the closet."
He gave me an unamused look and jerked his floppy hair in the direction of the wardrobe. "Go on, then," he commanded. "Not much variety, but you're about the same size as Rose."
He wasn't kidding. Half the stuff in there seemed to have been castoffs when his companions were a bit bustier and favored purple, but I finally found a nice black backless number with a halter neck and not too many sequins. I didn't know about aliens' definitions of swanky, but he probably understood the meaning of black tie.
Sure enough, when I headed back to the console room, I found he'd opted for yet another thing with a bowtie—a tuxedo. He made it look pretty good, too.
"So, 2012," I said as a conversation starter. "Been there much?"
"Loads of times," the Doctor said as the TARDIS began wheezing again, "but not like this."
"And it's Christmas and black tie," I added. "It's not another alien invasion, is it?"
He looked evasive or maybe just thoughtful as if he wasn't sure how to answer that. "Probably not," he tried to assure me at last. "Well, not other than…if you don't count…no," he finished. "Probably not."
"Ah!" I pointed an accusatory finger in his direction. "You know something, don't you? I remember the RMS Titanic. It's not the Lusitania next, is it?"
"Goodness, no," the Doctor said quickly. "That design never really caught on. Here we go!"
And he refused to say anything else until we'd made touchdown.
"Let me see the invite, then," I requested, snapping my fingers as he finished shutting down. "I want to know what's so important you traveled five hundred years to make it."
He obligingly handed over a wedding invitation, of all things.
"We're going to a wedding?" I asked in disbelief. "Who gets married on Christmas?"
He grinned. "Just what I asked her. Some things never change."
"Donna Noble and Lee Cartwright," I read off. "And they sent you an invite?"
"Well, neither of them did, really," he confessed, "but her grandfather made sure it got to me."
"How? Stuck it in the TARDIS door, did he?"
He chuckled and straightened his bowtie. "We have a drop point, you might say. Any time I'm in London, I check behind this one phone box in Covent Garden. Just before I met you, I found this invitation there. He thought I'd like to know."
"Well, I'd like to know who Donna and Lee are. Friends of yours? One of them an alien? The local Martian, maybe?"
"I'll explain later," he promised. "For now, we don't want to be late."
A short walk later, we were shown to the bride's side of St. Mary's and took our seats behind a woman with a quite feathery hat. The man next to her, a grizzled older chap, turned around immediately and greeted the Doctor like an old friend. I guessed he was the one who had invited us, but before I could introduce myself, he headed for the back of the church. The woman doing a good impression of a blonde flamingo gave us both a cursory glance, but said nothing. A few minutes later, the organ started up and we turned to see a striking redhead gliding down the aisle on the arm of old grizzly. The Doctor sighed quietly, but watched her intently. Almost intently as Mr. Handsome at the end of the aisle. Excuse me, Doctor Handsome, according to the invite.
Ah, so the Doctor had to be a good friend of this Donna. Or maybe an ex-paramour. Perhaps it was better not to ask for details, since the way he was goggling her suggested she was the one who got away. On the other hand, if this reception had an open bar, I could probably get the whole story out of him. And probably more information than I ever wanted to know. On second thought, I'd probably better keep him away from the daiquiris.
The wedding itself was short—my favorite kind—and before you could say Vera Wang, we were applauding Dr. and Mrs. Cartwright. There was another hour before the reception was going to start at a nearby hotel and we weren't likely to double-park the TARDIS, so the Doctor offered me his arm and we took a quick turn in the church's tiny garden.
He didn't say anything else. It was a nice night and he seemed more interested in crowd-watching than gut-spilling. I put up with it for another minute, then tried again.
"Yes!" He seemed to snap out of his reverie and flashed a brilliant smile at the scenery in general. "Good old Donna."
"Old flame of yours, is she?"
At that, he let out a short, barking laugh. "Oh, the number of times we got asked that," he recalled. "And by the number of species. Human, Ood, even Agatha."
"Agatha?" It didn't sound like an alien race to me.
"Christie," he said dismissively. "No, we were never together." He sighed again the way he had at the church and his smile tightened up a bit. "Good old Donna."
She was sounding more like an alien with each passing moment, but she had a perfectly ordinary name. Cover story, maybe?
"But she is a friend," I pressed.
"Might be the best mate I've ever had," the Doctor reflected. "Your predecessor, actually."
All of a sudden, things started to click. "She's the one who left half her wardrobe in the TARDIS?" I guessed.
"Including the hat box."
"Including the hat box," I echoed. "What, was she in that much of a hurry to leave?"
And then his grin disappeared entirely. Damn, I'd gone and blown it. I wanted to apologize, but I had no idea what for. He looked back at the church steps, where Donna and Dr. Cartwright were looking blissfully happy for a photographer.
"I had to let her go," he murmured unhappily. "Wiped her memory and left her with her Mum and Grandad just when she'd saved the universe."
"What, the whole thing?"
The Doctor nodded. "Few years ago, the sky looked very different for a little while. Do you remember?"
"Who doesn't?" I chuckled. "All those moons and planets right on top of us and then, all of a sudden, they vanished."
He nodded again. "Couldn't have done it without Donna. She was brilliant."
Great, like seeing my puny place in the universe hadn't done enough for my inferiority complex. Now I was the replacement for the girl who saved that universe.
"And you just let her go?"
If saving the universe got her fired, I had no chance of doing this long-term. No chance at all. I couldn't even keep a houseplant alive.
"I had to," he reiterated. "All that overloaded her brain and she would have died. Nearly did. Only way to keep her alive was to make her forget that it ever happened."
"Wow." All right, so maybe he did have a good reason. "You'll have to tell me that story sometime."
"Sometime," the Doctor agreed, "but not today."
At least he was smiling again. Misery didn't suit him. "So her Grandad is the one who made sure you got an invite."
"He did. Probably didn't expect me to turn up, anyway. I do so much traveling."
"And you turning up won't overload her brain?"
"Not at all," he confirmed. "I've changed a bit since then. But for all that I wiped off her memory, sometimes I think she still remembers me."
"Oh yeah?" Well, he was pretty unforgettable. "How do you figure that?"
"Well, for one thing, she married a Doctor."
What girl wouldn't want to? Sure, the hours were hell, but there was something special about a man who saved lives.
"And that's it?" I challenged.
He nodded towards the bride, who was digging around in the folds of her dress. Eventually, from God-knows-where, she produced a mobile and flipped it open.