Author Notes: In all versions of reality I am hugely grateful to time_converges for the beta, and to eriknannie4evr for looking it over an earlier version.
Her husband grabbed her around the waist, grinning from ear to ear. "I'm so glad you like the new house, love, it will be a good place for the kids here, right near a nice playground."
Then his smile started to fade as he noticed her reaction. She was looking at his arms and pulling away from him, wearing a slight frown.
"What is it, Donna? Everything okay?"
She nodded slowly. "I just, I dunno, that feels strange."
"The way you are holding me. It almost makes me nervous, isn't that crazy?"
She laughed a little, and stepped back out of his embrace. Bemused, her husband ran his hand through his unruly spiky hair and cocked his head.
Shrugging off her momentary discomfort, Donna turned at the sound of the babies stirring in their crib. Then she felt his hand warm on her shoulder.
"It's okay, love, I'll go to them, why don't you put your feet up?"
His tall lanky frame disappeared into the next room and she flopped down on the couch in a living room surrounded with moving boxes. Sounds of his cooing and silly baby talk drifted in to her as she lay back in the cushions and closed her eyes with a peaceful smile playing on her lips. Donna knew one thing; she loved this man with all her heart.
She blinked. She was in the park across from their house. Hadn't there been a woman she had been talking to? A woman dressed in black, she thought. She turned around and her husband was suddenly there, they were putting the kids in the car, going out to dinner. 'Hmmm, that will be nice,' she thought, feeling distracted, but she couldn't remember why. Then her children started to squabble with each other and she had to intervene, all thoughts of the woman in black going out of her head.
Later that night she was tucking the kids in when her husband came up behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders and dropping a kiss on her cheek. She shivered as his hips brushed against hers. Saying a final goodnight to their children, he ran his hand down her arm and their fingers curled together.
Donna closed her eyes, the familiarity of holding his hand like this coming over her like a warm blanket. She squeezed his fingers and he squeezed back gently.
She startled a little when he closed the curtains firmly and turned to face her. Donna had been too preoccupied to notice him coming up behind her as she stared out the window, at the lone figure standing in the dark on the rain-slicked suburban street.
"No more, Donna. She's just some crazy old lady, don't let her get to you."
"Know, I shouldn't, but I dunno, there's something about her." She stepped away from him, her eyes drawn irresistibly back to the now covered window.
"Come to bed," he spoke more gently now, reaching for her. Her stomach dropped at his words. She looked down at his hands, now touching her, and then his face, so familiar, and yet… should they be doing this? Who was this man? Who was he to her?
She stepped back again, covering her mouth with her hands and fighting back tears.
"Sometimes it's like… I don't even know your name!"
Dr. Moon's couch was soft, comforting. Her husband was sitting beside her, holding her hand between both of his. They were talking about Donna's inexplicable fear of intimacy. And where could this have come from, she must have been all right before; I mean, they had kids for goodness sake!
Donna frowned. She couldn't even remember having Josh and Ella, and that thought frightened her to her very core. She leaned over on the couch into an almost fetal position, and then Dr. Moon was down in front of her, looking into her eyes.
"It alright Donna, you forgot for a moment there didn't you? And then you remembered."
She nodded, feeling much better, and turned to her husband. She placed her hand on his arm; he looked so distraught.
"I want to fix this darling. I'll do whatever it takes." She put her arms around him and he held her securely. She felt so safe, she didn't understand why when things became sexual between them it suddenly felt like such new territory.
The next thing she knew she was back in her kitchen at home. It seemed like almost no time at all had passed since their therapy visit that afternoon. She mused to herself that someone had said something like that to her recently, maybe one of the other moms at the park?
"Penny for them?"
She smiled at her husband as her came into the kitchen, closing the door behind him.
"You look lost in thought. And, you look beautiful." He approached her carefully, kissing her chastely on the forehead, watching her eyes. She knew what he was looking for – signs that she was going to flip out on him again. Donna was determined she would be stronger than that. She loved this man, and she wasn't going to lose him just because being with him physically felt so strange. She would just get past it.
"The kids are finally down for the night." His voice was tentative, and his unspoken question hung in the air between them.
She smiled at him, closing the distance between them she reached up to run her hands through his hair, capturing his lips with her own.
When she finally broke their kiss they were in their bedroom. His fingers were fumbling with the buttons on her blouse and she swallowed as her heart began to race. He stilled his hands and met her eyes, waiting.
She gazed into his deep brown eyes, so full of concern, and love, and unmistakable desire. She mentally shook herself. He was so handsome and yet she felt like she was just now allowing herself to see him that way for the first time.
"How are you feeling right now?" His voice was low.
She smiled sheepishly. "I'm embarrassed – you're going to see my body."
"Oh, Donna." He looked devastated.
She looked down, for a moment. "Pretty silly, huh? I mean, you were right by my side when I gave birth to our children, it's not like we haven't seen each other naked before right?"
She knew he had been there at the birth; she had photographs.
"Donna, Dr. Moon said we should try to find ways to make this easier on you. What can I do to make you feel comfortable?"
She shrugged. "Um…"
She fidgeted under the intensity of his gaze. "I guess we could try something."
"What? I'll try anything Donna, just tell me?"
"How would it be if we kinda pretended like this was the first time for us?"
She looked up at him shyly through her lashes, afraid he would laugh at her. After all, they'd been married for years now. He was nodding slowly.
"Okay. That's a good idea."
She smiled in relief, and he smiled back.
"We'll just go slowly alright? If you want to stop, you just say."
She nodded, feeling so grateful he was being so understanding and gentle with her. He leaned in again and she closed her eyes as his lips met hers.
Her head was on his chest, his breath gently ruffling her hair. She thought he was asleep when he suddenly rolled over, and she was under him. Her eyes widened as she realized they were in bed together, and neither of them were wearing any clothes.
"Thank you, love." He murmured sleepily, then rolled back on his pillow, closing his eyes. Donna lay there, confused, but happy that he seemed to be so relaxed. She looked over at him but he was already asleep. Had they…
Back in the TARDIS the Doctor was making her tea as she sat at the kitchen table, processing everything from the day.
"So this husband – did the library computer just construct him from its memory banks? Or did it use a template you would recognize?"
Donna wanted to squirm in her chair.
"Um, oh it was nobody really. Just some guy I guess, that it thought I would like."
The Doctor sat down at the table, passing her mug across to her.
"What was his name?"
She avoided his eyes, and said the first name that popped into her mind. "Uh…Lee. His name was Lee."
"What was he like? Was he any good?"
Donna felt distinctly perturbed, and the Doctor was looking more and more intrigued by her reactions.
"Your husband. Was he a nice guy? Did he do the dishes?"
"Um… I don't really remember. Yeah, I 'spose."
"Hmm?" She gulped down some tea, still looking anywhere but at him.
"Why are you blushing?"
"I'm not blushing!"
"Oh shut it, you," she mumbled, hoping to derail him with gruffness. "I just misunderstood what you meant that's all."
He looked at her blankly.
"When you asked if my husband was any good," she clarified, blushing ever harder and hoping he would accept her deflection from the full reason why she was so flushed. What would he do if he knew she had been living with him as her husband all those years? Well, hours, she mentally corrected herself, with a pang of loss.
"Oh." The Doctor thought about that for a second, before adding, "Oh!"
Donna took another long swallow of tea.
It was over a month later when the Doctor brought the subject up again. She had hoped he had forgotten it but she should have known better. He was like a dog with a bone when it came to understanding her and making sure she was okay. Still, she was grateful he had waited until the rawness of their losses suffered in the Library that day had faded.
They had just returned from rescuing a family of Ursidae children from some owlish nightmare in the woods, and he'd been watching her like a hawk all evening. So it was no surprise when he finally sat her down in front of a glowing fire with a steaming mug of tea and warily asked her if she thought about her children from the Library planet.
Donna took a deep breath. "Sometimes," she said, and was pleased at how calm she sounded. Maybe it would feel good to acknowledge the family she had lost and never really had, rather than keeping silent like they were some awful secret.
He reached across the couch and held her hand as she talked. His thumb brushed over her palm as she told him everything she could remember about Joshua and Ella.
He laughed with her when she recounted the trouble they had caused her as toddlers when for months they would trawl the house for mobiles, telephones, keys, wallets and remote controls, collecting them and depositing them efficiently in the nappy genie.
Or how "Lee" had eventually bought one of those locator things where you tagged all your valuables so they would beep when you pressed the locator handset and how that had worked only as long as it had taken them to lose the locator handset in the rubbish bin too.
He listened patiently to tales of their wild birthday parties and playdates, and wordlessly moved to put his arm around her, handing her his handkerchief, when she teared up talking about the last day she remembered spending with them, how sweet they had looked dressed up for their first day at a new school, hand in hand in the driveway while their father took a hundred pictures.
Donna was feeling a great deal better just having someone listen to her reminisce. Most of all she loved that he never pointed out that they weren't real, that none of it had ever happened.
"I mean, who calls their kids Joshua and Ella?" Sniffling, Donna tried to steer the conversation back to lighter topics. "Well, everybody I guess, but that's the point. Shoulda been a clue really, those names have been in the top ten most common babynames for years! I never wanted my kids to be one of half a dozen with the same name in school, you know?"
He nodded, and she loved how fast his mind worked that no matter how quickly she rambled he never needed a second to catch up.
"Donna, any child of yours will always be unique, I wouldn't worry about that. And Joshua and Ella are beautiful names."
She looked down and he moved closer, tilting her chin up with a soft, "Hey."
When she didn't answer, he continued, "Are you all right? I didn't mean to make you sad."
She shrugged a little, and attempted to keep the conversation upbeat.
"Yeah, I think my daughter would be more of a Mathilde Florence Knickerbocker anyway."
His mouth quirked. "Or Jemima… no, Jesemine Lulubelle Beesbottom."
She grinned. "What about the boys?"
"Oh definitely a Reginald. Reginald Tasman Pumpkineater." He grinned back, looking a little relieved.
"Hmmm. I was thinking more Stanley Bertrude Hislop."
"Archibald Percival Scallop."
"Roderick Basil Pinkerton… Oooh! Basil! I like that, it means King you know." Donna put on her most contemplative face.
"Of course, half your home planet would think your baby boy was a herb…"
"How come you know so much about baby names, anyway, Donna?"
"Just magazines, I guess." She shifted a little under his arm.
"Oh, uh… sorry, too close?" He sat back, his arm dropping from her shoulders. Donna was surprised when she felt its absence.
"Do they even have baby names where you're from then? Did you just get titled 'The Doctor' right from birth or was it cause you wanted the girls in the playground to play nurse all the time?"
She smirked up at him but this time he didn't return the smile. Instead he looked at her, his eyes dark, and she could tell he wasn't sure about what he was going to say.
"You do that a lot. Hide behind humor, teasing me when you want me to back off. Was I making you uncomfortable, Donna?"
"What? No! No, of course not. Why would you think that?"
"Because ever since the Library you have been different around me."
Her throat went dry.
"What do you mean?" she asked faintly, although she had a fairly good idea what he was talking about.
"Do you still consider yourself married? Is that why you resist coming close to me?"
"No." Donna paused. Instinctually she wanted to deny her discomfort around him but then deciding if she could be honest with anyone, it was the Doctor. Well, mostly honest.
"No, it's not that." She looked at her hands and fiddled with the handkerchief before continuing. "But I guess it is related."
"To your husband?"
She glanced up at him through her eyelashes.
"It was difficult, with him, it jumped around so much, one minute we were on a first date, then the next we were on a honeymoon. I never really got used to having someone, um, being intimate with me."
The Doctor's expression darkened. He leaned forward and folded his fingers together deliberately. It was a gesture she knew to mean he was trying to hold back.
"Go on," he encouraged her softly.
"Well, I explained how things were in pieces, like, jumpy, like a show on the telly?"
"So, sometimes he would come up behind me and very casually touch me, and I began to think there was something wrong with me that it made me nervous… I mean, the hand-holding and stuff, that was wonderful. I was used to that but now I know it was just that the rest of it was all so new, but I believed we'd been together for years."
She risked a glance at the Doctor and was surprised by how concerned he looked.
"He didn't hurt me or anything, Doctor, he was… he was lovely," she supplied, feeling somewhere between daring and just plain crazy to be even talking about this with him.
The Doctor's posture visibly relaxed. "You miss him." He spoke gently.
"I do, yeah. Which doesn't even make any sense, cause… well, yeah. I miss him."
There was silence for a moment as he regarded her and she looked anywhere but back at him.
"You're blushing again," he stated, his voice full of curiosity.
"Am not." She stood up abruptly and pantomimed a yawn.
"I think I'm beginning to have a hunch as to why, Donna."
She frowned. This was not going well all of a sudden. He couldn't possibly have guessed?
"All the talking, you've finally got me to run my gob so much I'm tired out! 'Night, Doctor."
He stood too, and stepped close to her, blocking the way to the door. "Answer me one more question before you go."
Donna drew her bottom lip between her teeth for a moment. "I need to go to bed, Doctor." She tried again to get past him and again he moved into her path.
She raised her voice. "You know, I could probably bowl you right over Skinnymalinks, move!"
"Is that so?" He planted his feet and spread out his arms, his palms up, one teasing eyebrow raised in challenge.
Donna eyed him up and down and swallowed. Since when had the Doctor become so damn… attractive? His eyebrow went even higher as if he could see right into her mind and hoo boy but he was giving her a right 'come hither' look if ever she'd seen one.
She blew out a breath. "Okay. One question."
"Your husband was skinny?"
"Yes." She felt flushed.
"Tall." He moved closer.
"You said one question!" she tried to sound indignant as opposed to just terrified.
"That wasn't a question."
"There are plenty of tall, skinny husbands out there you know!" she squeaked. She took a small step back as he advanced again.
"And how many of them look like me, Donna?"
Donna made a noise so high-pitched it wasn't even audible to her own ears. Slowly, the Doctor smiled.
"Why didn't you tell me? It makes sense, we arrived together, we're obviously close. The computer would naturally assume a relationship."
Yes. Blame the computer, Donna thought, but was unable to form any actual words as he reached out to take her hands.
"And I didn't hurt you?"
She shook her head quickly.
"But I scared you."
"No," she breathed. "Just… it felt strange, I guess because you and I…" she ran out of air for talking.
"You and I?" he echoed quietly. He was watching her intensely, firelight dancing in his eyes. "Miss Evangelista, she told you the world was wrong."
Donna nodded, and licked dry lips. It felt like the room was spinning and only the Doctor was staying still, so she focused on him. On his face. His gentle smile. The crinkles of his eyes. His mouth that was inching ever closer to her own.
"Does it feel right now?"
Donna drew a long shaky breath, and tugged him closer.
His arms came carefully around her, drawing their bodies together.
"How about now, Donna?"
"Mmm, better," she mumbled. Then she put her arms around his neck and drew his mouth to hers.