While watching The End of Time, I wondered how that conversation between the Doctor and Geoffrey Noble went. So I started to write it. And as I wrote, this format just sort of happened. And this story, the connection between two dying men, evolved between the words.
How are you supposed to react? When a man with eyes as deep and dark as a night without stars grabs you from your routine and tells you that you will be dead before your daughter marries, what do you say?
You can't doubt him. The heaviness of truth burdens his words.
You can't hate him. He hates himself already. He says he's sorry, so sorry, and you just nod, numb.
Who are you? you ask.
Just a friend. Of Donna's. Or I was.
He chokes on the words and falls silent.
But your shock is receding into anger. What kind of a friend are you, going around telling people that they're going to die? What exactly do you want?
The man smiles, and it looks like it's killing him. You sound like Donna.
He shoves his hands into his pockets and looks around as if searching for the right words.
I…I want to give her a wedding present. But I've got no money. And I thought…I thought you might want to give her a wedding present too.
You blink back tears as you realize what he is offering you. I've got my chequebook. How much do you think they'll need? Your voice breaks.
He lays a hand on your shoulder. I just need a quid. He smiles sadly. Trust me.
How can you not?
You fish out the coin and hand it to him. Resting in his hand, it seems such an insignificant gift to a future you will never reach. Will you tell Donna it's from me?
His expression is grim. I can't.
But I'll tell Sylvia, he cuts you off.
Tell her to have it on me. Your old joke sends a single tear down your face, and you quickly brush it away.
You stand in silence for a moment, two men and the shadow of death.
You won't explain this to me. It is a statement, not a question. Somehow you understand.
No, he says. His expression unreadable, his eyes drowning in sorrow, he opens his mouth to say more, stops, swallows, and continues.
You should know…your daughter is brilliant. Just brilliant. Your whole family is really –
The look on your face stops him.
– You already know that.
And there is nothing more to say.
He walks away, and you stand there in the midst of the swirling crowd of people, feeling strangely like life is flowing around you.
But your family is waiting for you, the groceries they need in the bag hanging from your hand. You have more of your life left to live.
The man in the brown coat does not. His death surrounds him. He is so terribly alone.
He turns, his eyes begging you not to ask questions he cannot answer.
Thank you. From the bottom of your heart.
He nods his acknowledgement. He cannot speak through the pain in his eyes.
And I'm sorry. You meet his eyes with compassion and grief. You hold out your hand.
He reaches out impulsively and grips your hand with both of his in a firm shake. For a moment you are united against impending death.
Thank you, Geoffrey Noble.
I just popped back in time, borrowed a quid off a really lovely man.
Geoffrey Noble his name was.