In A Blue Box

The noise has been bothering him for what seemed like weeks. At first, it had just been an occasional annoyance but, lately, it was driving him insane. The TARDIS was hardly the smoothest of rides most of the time, but it had never rattled like this.

The Doctor leans against the console chair and tries not to think about the last time the TARDIS had run with complete efficiency. Interesting word that. Complete. Whole. Much as he had been, back in the days before the stars started going out, before he committed one of the worst deeds of his long life. After Rose's departure, her absence had been a constant ache. He had missed her so badly that he had become reckless to a degree unusual even for him. And then Donna saved him from his own folly. Irritating, persistent, stubborn, brilliant Donna. He had missed Rose, but the loss of Donna is like a knife in the chest every single day. His best friend. Gone.

"Let's not do that, thank you," he tells himself sternly. "Now, where to go? Raxacoricofallapatorius to check on Blon? Nah, can't be bothered filling out the immigration cards. Even I don't have that much time." He steps lightly around the console, tapping random rhythms on the instruments. "How about nipping over to New Earth to see if the Brannigans have named the kids? Kittens? Kiddens? Or no, Planet of the Hats..."

He stops, because that hadn't sounded like him, it had sounded like Donna. Her hat box is still in a room of the TARDIS somewhere because the ship had decided to keep some of Donna's things, despite most of her clothes having been surreptitiously delivered to Wilf to ensure that Donna wouldn't miss them. Of course, a lot of stuff had to stay on board. Donna had taken full advantages of the TARDIS's peculiar dimensional properties and picked up souvenirs at every destination. It had become a game, which one of them could find the most tasteless and useless artefact. Of course, the Doctor being who and what he was, almost everything had a use but he had to stretch himself with some of the junk Donna found. She had challenged him every day.

The Doctor rubs his hand over his face, trying to scrub the memories out of his brain. He knows that his actions had saved Donna's life but he can still see her pleading with him. Please don't make me go back. Part of her would rather have burned than lose everything they had done, but he could never have stood there and watched it happen. So he did what he had to, returned her clothes to her family and the TARDIS locked away any other evidence that Donna Noble had ever existed. He had wiped all trace of himself out of her mind, but nothing could return the favour.

"I murdered her," he says suddenly. The TARDIS is uncharacteristically silent, a confessional. It is the first time that the Doctor has admitted such a thing, either to himself or aloud. He has come close many times but his mind has always skittered away from the truth. He had said it to her family that day. That version of Donna is dead. The confidence, the open mind, the intelligence, the fire. The brilliant woman who, standing in a soaking wedding dress, had saved his life. And a hundred more times since then, keeping him stable while opening up his world.

"I murdered my best friend," the Doctor says, and it is the catalyst for a wave of grief. Responding, the TARDIS pitches abruptly, throwing him off balance. He takes a couple of awkward lurching steps, then he manages to step on his shoelace and falls painfully to the floor. His subconscious mind can hear Donna laughing at him.

And that's when he hears it again. rattlerattlerattle. Closer this time. The Doctor stretches out on the floor of the TARDIS and peers through the grid, wondering if he can see what's causing the trouble. The ship cooperates, tilting gently. This time, the rattle is accompanied by the sight of something small rolling across the space under the floor. The Doctor lifts up the grid and retrieves the object.

At first, he thinks it's just an ordinary pencil, and is briefly furious that such an insignificant thing has caused him such irritation lately. But then there is a flash of memory.

"Forget it, spaceman! If we're going to a party I'm not going out there without full slap on."

Donna, attempting to get ready, makeup bag balanced precariously on the console. The less-than-soft landing of the TARDIS. The bag spilling its contents, bits and pieces rolling everywhere. Donna's ripe collection of swear words. Everything retrieved, but for one half-used eyeliner.

"Never mind, we'd better get going. Party! I can't wait... Hang on, that's a dinosaur. That's a bloody dinosaur!"

Thoughtfully, the Doctor pulls off his shoes and unthreads one of the laces. Then he ties the eyeliner pencil to the edge of the TARDIS console, cocooning it in the lace so it lies smoothly against the metal. He can hardly see it, but will be there every time he steers the ship. A memory, a guide. A rudder.

Author's Note: Written as a gift fic for gina_r_snape on LJ, who requested a 10th Doctor story with prompt objects of an eyeliner and a pair of shoelaces. Technically, I only used one shoelace!