Summary: As his song approaches its end, the Doctor pays his respects to his best-friend-no-longer, finds a curious young man (in tweed, really?), and wonders if it's wrong to hope. Post-JE, Pre-EoT. Spoilers for the Big Bang. Oneshot.
He figures, it's the least he can do for his best friend, even if he's not her best friend, not as far as she knows.
Yesterday (or as yesterday as yesterday ever gets for him) he'd gone and named a galaxy Alison. There was a story behind it, a funny little tale, but that wasn't the point. He wished he could have told her that story. He wished he could have heard her laugh at him and insult him and point out what a mad spaceman he is, but he can't, couldn't, won't.
It strikes him that Donna Noble, as he knew her, is truly dead.
And so he's gone and done that silly thing where he wears a black suit. As much as he'd love to wear his blue one, she deserves better than that. Donna deserves a proper goodbye from him, a real one.
He stands a bit away from the site, watching solemnly as the coffin is lowered into the ground. He can see she had a family. Her husband is alive, a proper grandfather, holding the hand of his granddaughter and standing at his son's side with a tearful smile. Donna Temple-Noble died of old age, and it won't be long until he follows, that much is clear.
The Doctor is glad for her. He smiles slightly, and doesn't particularly take notice when the rain starts to fall in droplets, then in sheets.
He's soaked to the bone, but his eyes are fixed on the grave, and he can't be bothered to move.
"Now don't go and catch a cold on me," a voice says, notched with just a hint of amusement and pricked with a prickle of childish glee. The Doctor turns to find a young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, dressed rather like an old professor, or something equally out of place with his very youthful face. The man holds a plain white umbrella over both of their heads.
"Thank you. Nice umbrella."
"I rather like it myself, though sadly I lost my old one, a while back. This one does the trick, but it's not quite the same, is it?"
The Doctor is slightly flabbergasted, and looks a bit closer at the young man, curious.
He blurts it before he can help himself. "Tweed?"
The young man smiles cheerfully. "What, not going to comment on the bowtie?"
"It's a bit odd, but it works with the outfit, at least," the Doctor says honestly.
The young man nods, adjusting said bowtie. "Bowties are cool."
"Bowties haven't been cool since the eighties."
"Oh, right. Those eighties." A pause. "No, still cool."
"No, they're not cool anymore. They're more distinguished than cool." The young man seems pleased enough with this. The Doctor rambles on, or tries to. "You know, the bowtie has a funny history. Used to be-"
"Yes, yes, Croatian mercenaries and all that. You do have a gob, don't you?"
The Doctor beams at him. "So I've been told!"
"I'll bet." The young man smiles, and the smile doesn't reach his eyes. "There's no need to be so cheerful, you know?"
"What? There's always-"
"No, there really isn't. It's a funeral." The man claps a warm hand over the Doctor's shoulder, and gestures strangely with the other hand as he speaks. "You're at funeral, so you really shouldn't be cheerful at all. Even people with a sunny disposition like you and me, we ought to tone it down a bit, because Donna needs to rest in peace. So," the man says, and he leans forward, as if imparting a great secret, and brings a finger up to his lips. "Shh. Hush."
The Doctor blinks.
"Yes, that's better. Now be quiet and relax. You're a lot of work, actually, and I'd prefer it if just once you wouldn't be."
"Do I know you?"
"Not yet, you don't, but you will. Perhaps." The young man beams.
That explains a lot.
There's a bit of silence.
"How did you know Donna?" the Doctor asks, gazing back through the rain at the grim crowd.
"She was a friend. Most stubborn friend I've had."
"You could be her grandson," the Doctor argues.
"Who says I'm not?"
"You just said you were a friend."
"I could be both her friend and her grandson."
"And you say I'm annoying?"
The young man shrugs. "I never said you owned the trait exclusively. No, she was a friend, no matter what age, what time, what place. What situation, what setting." The man smiles distantly. "Ooh, she slapped me first time I met her. I deserved it. Plucky to the last, Donna Temple-Noble, former temp from Chiswick."
"Sounds like her." A strangled note enters the Doctor's voice. He can't help it. He misses her. A lot.
Again, there is a strange silence. The Doctor doesn't know who this young man is, but supposes that in time, somehow, he will. And they both knew Donna Noble. Good enough for him.
A couple of the people surrounding the grave trail off, leaving. Some stay. Neither the Doctor nor the young man move from beneath the umbrella.
"She died happier than you think," the young man says after a while. "Completely herself. She was my best friend, longer than I expected her to be my best friend, at that. Tried to leave her once, for her own good. She found her way back, safe and sound once she remembered how to find me, and reamed me a good one. Gave Amy the giggles for weeks, and how that girl can giggle... Donna was brilliant like that."
The Doctor doesn't really want to talk about Donna right now. "Who's Amy? A girlfriend?"
"Do I look like a girlfriend kind of person?" He sounds amused and slightly outraged. "I know I look young, but really, me?"
He glances at the young man's apparel again, and quirks an eyebrow. "Suppose not." And let him take that however he likes.
The man just shakes his head. "Amy's married, anyway. Still, me, honestly?"
"Alright, alright, I get the point. What, are you married then?"
"Goodness, no. Well, at least I don't think I am. Still trying to work that out, actually. Could be. I think I asked her to marry me, but I'm not entirely certain…"
"You're not sure of your own marital status!"
"Spoilers," the young man teases, sounding one part bitter, three parts amused. It sounds like a familiar word, but the Doctor can't quite place it at the moment.
"Aren't we all? Don't answer that." The man grins. "I'm just here to say goodbye, same as you. But I'm sure you'll meet her again, someday."
"Maybe. But she won't meet me again."
"Oh, I don't know about that. Nothing's ever really forgotten. There are always little traces, and a woman as big and important and wonderful as Donna's bound to have left traces all over. It's not difficult to remember things. Particularly if those things are just stories, not memories. But then, every memory is a story."
The Doctor isn't sure what to make of the young man's words. And yet…
As if sensing his confusion (and he doesn't dare to say hope), the man adjusts his bowtie again, and turns to the Doctor, smiling. He looks older now, all of a sudden. Young, and old, at the same time. "Donna found her happily ever after. Now, go find yours. Things get tough, they do, but just keep on, mate. It'll all get better. Everything good ends, but everything bad does, too, and someday you might actually understand that."
The young man can't be older than twenty-eight, and is most likely younger even than that. But at that moment, the Doctor feels small, and like a child, and this young man is a teacher, a guide, a professor, the adult who knows what it's like to live already, and is willing to help him through it.
It's a sobering, unfamiliar feeling, and not altogether bad.
"Rain's going," the young man says. And indeed, the short shower is stopping now. The blades of grass are still slick with water, and the soil has turned to mud, coating the edges of his trainers. But the rain's all gone.
The man the Doctor doesn't know pulls the umbrella back into place, and walks off jauntily, turning around only once. He looks the Doctor in the eye, and smiles. Then he looks back towards the grave of Donna Temple-Noble, and pulls off a casual salute. "Goodbye, Donna."
And then he's gone.
The Doctor sticks around a bit, thinking a bit more about Donna, and pondering a bit more about the young man, and wondering if the four knocks are coming closer. He figures they probably are.
He doesn't want to leave.
He has to.
So eventually, he squeezes his eyes shut in pain, and releases them. When he opens his eyes again, his eyesight isn't as blurry. He puts his hands in the pockets of a Janis Joplin given coat, and walks off, his shoes squelching when they hit the pavement.
There is a creaking, other-worldly sound, and a blue 1950's police box disappears from the cemetery at Chiswick.
Five minutes later, the other one disappears too.