Disclaimer: I do not own "Doctor Who" or any characters within, and am unfortunately making no money whatsoever from my dabbling in the BBC's world.
It had been three months since the fiasco of the Egypt trip, and the last thing Donna wanted was another "Exciting Foreign Adventure", but when she was offered a week in California, she could hardly refuse. San Francisco was, after all, no prepackaged cruise, and she at least she spoke the language—or near enough. She hadn't even asked for this trip; one of Sylvia's coworkers had won the ticket in a raffle, then promptly fallen down two flights of stairs and broken her leg in three places. She had offered the ticket to Sylvia in one of the rare moments when her pain-killer fogged brain was capable of lucid thought, and Sylvia, desperate to get a once more unemployed Donna off her hands, had passed it on to her daughter.
Donna leaned back in her cramped airline seat, and wished there had been two tickets so her Granddad could have come as well. He'd put on a brave face, but Donna could tell Wilf hadn't wanted her to leave again so soon. Now London was behind her, and Donna almost felt guilty about how good it felt to leave it all--Sylvia's sniping, Donna's mercurial fair-weather friends, the dull ache of lost opportunities, it was all in the past. Oh, it would all be waiting for her when she returned, Donna had no illusions about that, but for now it didn't matter, none of it mattered. She turned up the volume on her headset, and closed her eyes. She had the oddest feeling, like something wonderful was going to happen in San Francisco. Donna hoped her intuition was right. It would be nice to have something turn out to be wonderful.
By the time she got to her hotel, later that night and some hours before she left by the clock, Donna was jetlagged, exhausted, and firmly pessimistic. The traffic had been terrible leaving the airport, and one of Donna's check-in bags had been lost at some point during the flight. The friendly woman at baggage claim had said it would probably turn up and they'd give her a call when it did, but Donna was sure that it had been deliberately chucked out when they where over the Atlantic. The hotel turned out to be a small room in a large cheap chain, not the posh suite Donna had been imagining, but in her present state she didn't even care. She pulled the curtains, dropped into bed, and promptly fell asleep.
It was a little before midnight when she woke. Donna slipped her shoes on and padded down the hall to the empty main office. She was starving and thirsty, but there wasn't even a drinks machine in the lobby. There was a neon sign across the road though, a fast-food joint whose basic entrée would probably blow Donna's weight loss plan for a month. She didn't waste much time in deliberation; her growling stomach made up her mind for her, and she crossed the street at a half-run.
The night air was crisp and surprisingly clear for the city. There was a strange noise somewhere in the distance, and Donna froze for a second, then realized it was the wail of a far off foghorn, and shook herself. Being alone in a strange city was certainly enough to put your nerves on edge.
The restaurant was empty except for the cute young man behind the counter who looked as tired as Donna felt. She didn't eat there; instead she walked for a while on the streets near the hotel. Everything was quiet and muffled, and only a few cars passed Donna on the road. Apart from a few sleeping figures in doorways, Donna was alone. Donna felt like she was in a dream, wandering through a strange landscape frozen in time. It was all so surreal that Donna didn't even notice the woman until she spoke.
"Would you believe that right here, nine years ago, the world was almost destroyed?" The woman was about Donna's age, with red hair a shade lighter then Donna's, and blue eyes a shade darker. She was staring a perfectly ordinary stretch of alley wall like she was trying to read something etched in the concrete. Apart from that, she didn't seem to crazy, so Donna tried to humor her.
The woman seemed to see Donna properly for the first time. "Sorry, you must think I'm nuts. I come out here every so often, and it always makes me a bit nostalgic. My name's Grace, Grace Holloway."
"Donna Noble." Donna jerked her head at the alley behind them. "So what was that about the world almost ending?"
Grace shook her head. "It was… nothing. You'd never believe me anyway."
Donna could very clearly remember being a woman who believed very little, and cared even less. Since last Christmas though, she'd found herself changing. It was like she'd been stuck in an orbit of resentment and trivialities, and in one day she'd been knocked free of it.
She smiled at Grace. "Oh, come on, tell me! I'll try to believe you."
Grace sighed. It was just before New Year's, 1999. I was working as a cardiologist—I'm a doctor—and I met this man, this wonderful man with a big blue box…"
Donna gaped. "Really, a blue box?"
Now Grace was looking at her funny. "…Yes…"
"Says 'police'? 'Call box'? Bigger on the inside?"
"You've met him?"
"I'm starting to think I have. Did yours have a name?"
"He just called himself 'the Doctor'."
Donna let out a whoop of laughter that could probably be heard across the bay. "It is! I don't believe it! He does get around."
Grace smiled. "I can't tell you how nice it is to have somebody believe me. You've really met him?"
"Yeah! Christmas, last year. He kidnapped me during my wedding, but it was OK, because my fiancé was working for a giant alien spider who wanted to eat the planet."
"I think I saw something about that on the news. The star-shaped UFO?"
"That's right." Donna was grinning, and Grace was looking happier then Donna had seen her so far.
"So he's alright?" Grace seemed genuinely worried.
"He was when he left. A bit lonely, a bit sad, but I think he was going to be fine."
"Good." Grace shivered. "Come on, let's talk somewhere warm."
They went back to the restaurant and ordered coffees. All Donna could think about was the enormous feeling of relief that someone else had had the same experiences as her, that she could talk to someone about everything that had happened and they wouldn't think she was lying or crazy. She suspected that Grace felt the same way.
"So it's been nine years and you haven't talked to anyone about it?" Donna asked Grace as they nursed their paper cups of hot coffee.
"Pretty much. I've got this friend, Lee. He was there for the whole thing. We've stayed in touch. What about you? Does anyone know?"
"No, not really…" Donna swirled the foam on her coffee with a straw. "My mum met him, but just briefly. She'd have me sectioned if I told her everything!"
They talked like old friends even though they knew nothing about each other. The shared meeting of one eccentric alien was enough for kinship. Their conversation didn't last for too long. Donna was exhausted and jetlagged, and Grace had to be at work early. As they left the restaurant Donna asked the question she'd wanted to ask since she meet Grace. It came out faster then she intended, like it couldn't wait to become reality after all the time forming in her mind. "Did he ask you to go with him?"
"Sorry," Donna backpedaled. "I was just curious."
"He did ask." Grace said. "I turned him down."
"Yeah, so did I."
Grace said nothing.
"And I keep thinking about it," Donna went on. "I keep thinking, did I do right? It's just—it was so wild, so impossible, and I didn't think there was any way I could keep up with him. But now… every day I think about that, and feel I should have gone with him. That I made a terrible mistake."
"I thought that too, at first." Grace said slowly. "I kept thinking, 'I'll look for him, I'll see if he'll still have me along', but I never did, not until it was too late. I guess I thought he come back, that he'd ask me again, and I'd get a second chance, but he never did. It would never have happened anyway. I'd gone on with my life, and he with his. It never would have worked."
"I think it's different for you though." Grace was looking at Donna very hard, like she wanted to get as clear a picture of her as possible.
Donna felt her heart leap. "You think I should look for him?"
"Yes. Do what I couldn't. You've got a chance, Donna, and it is wild and impossible, but isn't that what makes it amazing?"
"What if I never find the Doctor again? What if I look and look, and end up with nothing but a broken heart?"
Grace didn't answer immediately. " But you would have tried." She finally said. "Sometimes that's all you need."
"I will look.." Donna said, and she was surprised with how right it felt to say it. "Where would you start?"
Grace grinned. "What's the most noticeable thing about him?"
Donna smiled too. "Trouble."
"Look for the conspiracies, the bug-eyed monsters, the mysterious disappearances, and I bet you'll find him, sooner or later."
On impulse, Donna gave Grace a quick hug. " Thank you." Donna told her.
Grace laughed. "For what?"
"I know what I need to do now, and I'm gonna find him Grace. I'm gonna find him."
"Good luck." Grace watched as Donna waved, and headed back to the motel. Donna was almost at the door when Grace called out to here. "When you find him, will you—will you give him my love?" It was an odd, old-fashioned phrase, but the Doctor that Grace had known was odd and old fashioned.
"Of course." Donna called back. "I'll see you Grace… sometime." She pushed the door open and vanished inside.
Grace stood on the pavement for a moment. It was odd, right now everything felt like it would all be fine. She started walking back to her apartment. The night air was cool and she could smell the sea on the air. Somewhere across the city she heard a siren, but it was oddly peaceful. As she passed the empty alleyway where once the TARDIS had parked Grace paused. There was the echo of an unearthly noise here, the wheezing and groaning of ancient engines that she had longed to hear for nine years. She froze, listening fiercely for something, anything. There was nothing there though, and she knew it. The alley was silent and as empty as ever. She walked on, and didn't look back.
Back in her hotel room, Donna couldn't sleep. She pulled out her laptop and started searching for odd news stories, wild tales of alien encounters, anything. She didn't know how long it would take. She'd have to come up with something that could pass as an excuse for her odd behavior with Silvia. She could do it though. She would find him. She had promised Grace.
"Wait for me, Doctor." She murmered as a clock in the lobby struck five. "I'm coming."
Author's Note: I recently saw the Paul McGann TV movie for the first time, and one of the things that struck me the most was the symmetry between Donna Noble and Grace Holloway. Individual attitudes aside, they're not that different. They're both professional women dissatisfied with their lives and stuck in a dead-end relationship (literally, in Donna's case). I've read that Grace did meet up with the Doctor again in one of the comics, but since I haven't read it and don't know the details, I decided to ignore that here. For once, I'm going strictly by TV canon. This is my first published story here. I've written others, but they seem to become long and unfinished, and I don't want to post chapter one of a nine part story that might never be completed. If this gets a good response, it should give me the motivation to sit down and actually finish a few. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it.