Crack!Fic: Inter-Universe Travel Incorporated III b (Doctor Who)
As I said in the first part of this: "I can give no acceptable explanation or apologise enough. Originally I said in my defence that I present this as a warning to future writers in that one should never let the plot bunnies afflicted with myxomatosis breed. Never. Shoot them on sight. Unfortunately not only did they breed but they also mutated and then bred again. That's Cap'n Jack's influence for you. I'm sorry, so so sorry (at last – I reached the fandom I can use that in!)."
This is the other thread of that Torchwood Crossover. It covers what happened to Polly while Mal was drinking coffee in the rift and how the TARDIS got them both home.
Summary: It's just a jump to the left. A little step to the right. With your hands on your hips, and your characters in a dimension jump fic. Let's do the Time Warp again!
Pairings: Discworld: Polly/Mal established, Doctor Who: No pairings
Warnings: Readers unfamiliar with Discworld might want to read the introductory paragraphs in the first crossover before continuing. Begs the question though, why are you unfamiliar with the best fantasy series around? Go read! This oddity of a tale takes place before "Children of Earth" because a) I started writing it not too long after "Journey's End" then it had to wait until I'd beaten the Firefly one into some kind of shape before posting and then it died a death for a while b) I still haven't seen "Children of Earth" yet as I was stuck in Ireland and have since been distracted. Otherwise nothing really, but it is crack!fic so insanity and forced Narativium inhalation do occur. Oh, and angst, quite a lot of angst actually.
Disclaimer: Author owns nothing and does not intend to profit from the work. Characters from Monstrous Regiment belong to Terry Pratchett and those from Torchwood/Doctor Who belong to the BBC, who can have my as yet unborn children upon request.
Take The Second Star On The Right And Straight On Till Morning…
They were travelling quite peacefully towards Nononanette when it happened. Of course Donna would have to admit her definition of "quite peacefully" had expanded since she'd met the Doctor to include bumps, jolts and the occasional detour to the Jurassic period. However, to all intents and purposes the TARDIS (and therefore the Doctor) had not a care in the world. He was even humming cheerfully under his breath, some 29th century ditty about flying across the stars if she was any judge. It was still a disappointment to the latest companion that songwriters hadn't altered across the ages. Mind you, she thought charitably as he ventured into the eighth verse, there weren't really that many things you could rhyme with moon.
Donna (Noble, best temp in Chiswick, 100 words a minute and as worthy of respect as any skinny spaceman she'd thank you not to forget it) sat there on that inauspicious morning, watching the Doctor fiddle with his beloved TARDIS and letting her mind wander where it willed. She had just decided that they should move the exceedingly anatomically correct sculpture out of the library to make way for the painting she'd picked up at pSotherbys when an annoying alarm began to blare. The TARDIS shuddered like an ocean liner coming into contact with a rude and persistent iceberg. They fell out of the time vortex and away across space, spinning gently in an unpleasant fashion that threatened to re-introduce Donna to her last meal. She held on, swallowing spasmodically as the Doctor rushed around, pushing buttons and hauling on levers until at last it seemed seemed they had levelled out. There was a worrying grinding noise coming from somewhere overhead, but as it didn't seem to bother him much she let it go for another time. Another time that was when her breakfast wasn't trying to leave her body through her nose.
There was a shaky period of silence. Donna took a cautiously careful breath. Nothing happened. She took another and then, having decided that her stomach would obey her rather than the other way around, she gathered enough air to say "what the hell was that?"
He didn't reply being too busy fighting a persistent steam leak to acknowledge her. Donna took the opportunity to cast an eye over the controls. A screen was bleeping. The warning swirls displayed weren't ones that she recognised despite their recent "interesting" adventures. There seemed to be some kind of interference affecting the display, the spirals stuttering in interrupted loops. At least it wasn't the one that sounded like a kitten crying. That (and its connected outcome) had haunted her dreams for a while.
"Oh no. Not again!" The Doctor, glancing over her shoulder at the cryptic swirls swore in Galifreyian under his breath and yanked on the closest lever. Everything went abruptly sideways. By the feel of it he had just pulled the TARDIS into a U-turn. Donna grabbed on and once again made a mental note to buy the boy racer a "How's My Driving" sticker. It would serve the idiot right to get phone calls from the 32nd century about his lack of overtaking skills.
The Doctor was clambering from console to console around the central column, pushing buttons furiously. Donna only just caught the muttered "what is he doing here?" as she swung past, her hold proving less secure than previously indicated. But when she shouted "who?" over the ear shattering racket the Doctor only ignored her. Before she had a chance to take issue with his secrecy they landed. As a veteran of planetside arrivals by now (both bad and good) Donna classified this one as a squelch. A solid earthy sort of squelch. Not desert or ocean then. She didn't let go immediately. Planets could be tricky, especially with regard to spaceships and un-cushioned landings. She'd never known a planet could hold a grudge until that time on Morosus. Mind you, she hadn't known a planet could shrug either and the resulting seismic shudder that had knocked them off into space had been very educational in any number of fields.
"Where are we?" She had asked mere as a conversational opener, preparing the way for the more difficult questions to come but the Doctor continued to ignore her input completely.
"Stay inside Donna" he ordered breathlessly and snatched up his coat as he hurried round the console. Fighting with an obstinate sleeve he attempted to turn on the security systems with one foot at the same time.
"Now hang on a minute." She grabbed his arm as he passed. "You can't tell me where we are, you won't enlighten me as to what that insane bleeping noise is and you won't let me come with you? Hold your Pegasi, Spaceboy! Donna Noble is nobody's stay-at-home, twisted-ankle, scream-and-fall-over sidekick!"
He sighed frustratedly. "I can't tell you where we are because I don't know."
"Oh." She let go of his arm. "And all the clever machines with maps and incomprehensible swirly writing?"
"Are saying things that are completely impossible."
"Really?" She looked from him to the flashing screens.
"Donna. I'm not messing about, I promise. The TARDIS is worried. Please, just listen to me this time, ok?"
"And you're just going to go out there. Into whatever it is. Without knowing a single thing about what might be waiting."
"Oh yes!" The grin split his face into a million excited wrinkles and faced with such enthusiasm she could only sigh and shake her head.
Taking her lack of protest as permission granted, the Doctor opened the outer door a crack and stuck his head out to survey the immediate surroundings. Unfortunately this intelligence gathering sortie was foiled by impenetrable darkness and Donna, craning over his shoulder took in the nothing quickly. Another cellar, cavern or sealed storeroom then. She felt the movement as unconsciously he reached for his sonic screwdriver, and smiled. It was virtually hopeless as a defensive weapon (the list of things it couldn't do that hung on her wardrobe door was lengthy) but he still felt better with it in his hand. He fiddled with it for a moment, running through the settings. Ignoring him Donna kept scanning the small sliver of nothing she could see and as her eyes adjusted to the gloom she realised they'd merely landed during the hours of darkness. Up above the faint twinkling of unfamiliar stars showed here and there through the clouds.
Squinting up she leant too far out and was brought back to earth by the Doctors insistent arm across her chest pushing her back inside. Drawing back for an essential second to shoot her a repressive look he reiterated his command for her to stay put and slipped through the door. Slipped being quite the apposite word as he almost immediately lost his footing on the muddy ground. Windmilling his arms, he wavered for a moment before catching his balance again. She grinned but wiped the amusement from her face when he glanced back. His emphatic gesture was very clear and reluctantly she obeyed and closed the door. It locked automatically behind her but by then she was already halfway across the console room and scrambling around to the one screen that displayed the feed coming in from the outside world. She'd been impressed when he'd first shown her that (a time machine with CCTV!) but it had quickly become just another tool. As she watched the vague figure on the screen took a cautious step, testing the ground. Finding a solid spot he stood for a moment, probably stretching his back and allowing his eyes to further adjust to the darkness as he cast about for any sign of life. He appeared to be an open area that ran away from him in all directions until it vanished into the gloom. There was a low mound over to his left that looked like it held some potential and as she watched he turned carefully, keeping his footing with difficulty. Facing the right direction at last he raised a hand to his eyes, squinting into the darkness, trying to make out any signs of life. It was at this auspicious moment that something shot out of nowhere and tackling him around the knees brought him to the ground with a bump.
Actually, Donna thought randomly as the two figures struggled together, it was probably more of a squelch - what with the ground conditions. The next moments were rather confusing with figures boiling out of nowhere but when the screen cleared it was to show a stage empty of anyone. The Doctor had gone.
 Sand, sea, sun and possible coup d'etat involving cockroaches.
 Don't ask.
Donna had been forced to stop pacing as she had quickly discovered it was disturbing the TARDIS. She'd settled for an uncomfortable perch on the edge of the padded seat instead. The screens were still showing their cryptic warnings, all but one which presented nothing but dark murk since the Doctor had been dragged out of sight. They could have been doing anything to him. She reached out to retune the signal for the 14th time.
"Great." Donna stared at the grainy picture but could make out nothing more than a vague bump off to the left. "All the technology in the world and he can't get a better resolution than this" she grumbled. The screen flickered and went blank. In the midst of apologising to the TARDIS (something she had stopped feeling foolish about doing a good six months back) she found the lose connection and with a precisely targeted thump got the thing working again. She could just make out three vague forms moving in her general direction. The middle one couldn't be anyone other than the Doctor and though the picture was indistinct it appeared he still had all his arms and legs attached.
"Not Daleks then" she joked patting the console under her hand and felt an answering sense of relief from the TARDIS. Donna was just leaning in to squint at the strangely familiar figure on the left when all three vanished from view and she heard the Doctor's key in the door.
"Here we are!" He bustled in cheerfully holding wide the door. "Come along in, we'll have your Lieutenant back in two shakes of a lambs tail."
"You're sure we can get there and back in time?" He'd found a woman anyway. Typical. Only been on the planet a quarter of an hour and already got a woman interested in his TARDIS. Donna sighed. She couldn't take him anywhere. This one at least seemed polite and considerate, Donna could hear her scraping the mud from her shoes before entering.
"I did explain about having to find the right narrative dimension?" Donna's mind threw up an image of a competent woman of mature years who wouldn't suffer fools gladly.
"Oh yes, she can do it." The Doctor was bouncing in anticipation. Poor Doctor. Poor foolish Doctor.
"She?" The owner of the voice stepped over the threshold at last.
Donna frowned. She was shorter than her voice indicated, younger as well though deep lines etched into a tired face thwarted any attempts to guess her age. She walked straight-backed, her head held high and wore her uniform authority that belied her years. However, innate dignity (even in bucket-loads such as she had it) couldn't disguise the tattered state of her filthy breeches and sometime green jacket or the ingrained dirt that had invaded every centimetre of exposed skin. Feeling the gaze on her their guest drew herself up taller, straightening a crumpled collar and pulling down the tails of her jacket. There were faded stripes of rank on the sleeve of that jacket, possibly shiny gold braid at one time, sewn on with pride, sewn tightly to outlast all circumstances. Now only the bedraggled evidence remained, dangling untidily, torn out in some dark and desperate struggle. Donna shook her head, banishing the images that invaded her mind, the stumbling feet, the panting breath, the confinement of the tunnel – dank walls closing in, no room to draw a sword. She shut the door on them firmly as she'd been so carefully taught and cast a quick worried eye at the Doctor. Whatever was going on out there didn't seem to have affected him. He was talking again, more interested in showing off his treasure than any psychic disturbance.
"The TARDIS!" He gestured expansively. "Time And Relative Dimension In Space!"
Rotating on the spot their guest gazed up and around, taking in the majesty. "Nice"
"It is bigger on the inside you know." He seemed somewhat slighted and the third member of the party, following on behind, chuckled to himself. Donna had been all ready to give the Doctor a piece of her mind for getting kidnapped and ruining his suit but the words fled when she saw who was accompanying him.
"Jack!" She ran forward, all thoughts of their guest drowned in the joy of seeing him again.
"Donna!" The tall captain swept her off her feet, spinning her around as though she weighed no more than a feather before placing her gently back down. "How's my favourite red headed beauty? You managing to keep this perpetual loose cannon under control?"
"I try, I really do, but I'm not not sure I'm having any effect. Some days I swear he doesn't even hear a word I say." She grinned, raising an eyebrow in the direction of the individual they were maligning.
"You poor thing." Jack slipped a comforting arm around her. "You know that there's a place for you at Torchwood any time you feel the need to escape this drudgery."
He moved his hand a little lower.
"Oi!" Donna slapped the hand away taking a step back and emphasising the space between them. "Very nice that would be with you attempting to cop a feel every five minutes and Ianto shooting me daggers across the rift and very likely poisoning my coffee the minute I turned my back."
Jack looked hurt and was about to deny such scurrilous charges when she pinned him with a glare and he had to shrug and grudgingly admit she might be right. She came back to him for another hug, surreptitiously checking him for bruises scrapes or any other damages. There were ways to make even an immortal man uncomfortable. She knew this in great detail because he'd told her one night when her memory had still been flickeringly uncertain. He'd had too much to drink and thinking she'd never remember had sat on beside her, his quiet voice outlining ways and means, unable to stop once the floodgates were opened. She'd thought she wouldn't remember, had almost hoped it for the first time since the fingers of fire had rekindled her memories of that forgotten year. But she had remembered though she'd never told him that she did. Some secrets need to be told but only in the security of knowing that such things will never be mentioned again. He wasn't the only one, the others had shared things with her too, unburdening themselves as though at the confessional none would ever be able to approach again. She had listened and some she had remembered. But she had never, ever, told.
Releasing Jack at last Donna turned her attention back to the Doctor and the woman hovering nearby watching all this with accepting but tired eyes. Now they were only a few feet apart Donna could see the dark circles that smudged over thin cheeks and the general air of exhaustion that clung around the woman. As though reading her thoughts the woman stretched, sticking two fists into her back and rotating out her shoulders. The cracking noises that ensued brought answering winces from Jack and the Doctor and their torturer smiled apologetically as she massaged the back of her neck.
"Sorry, sleeping on the floor may be good for the back, but it plays merry hell with my neck. Always takes a while to loosen up in the morning."
Left to break the awkward silence Donna came forward, a friendly smile expanding across her face and her hand outstretched. "Welcome aboard." She glanced at the Doctor for introductions but he stared back at her blank-faced causing her to roll her eyes in exasperation. It was Jack that stepped forward instead.
"Donna, this is Captain Perks, Light Infantry. Captain Perks this is Donna Noble, faithful companion to that idiot over there and fabulous individual in her own right."
"Polly" said the introduced Captain Perks and shook hands. The Doctor, determined not to be entirely ignored pushed Donna aside to shake Polly's hand as well, somewhat tardily adding his voice to the welcome. Over his shoulder Donna acknowledged Captain Perk's amused glance of apology with a resigned shrug of her own. Their visitor had worked the Doctor out remarkably quickly and Donna couldn't help but look forward to her further acquaintance. She opened her mouth the say something polite and conversational but the Doctor, his ability to stand still exhausted, was already bouncing back to the console, eagerly flicking switches and spinning dials.
"Let's get started shall we?" He pulled down a long lever, frowned as it grated against something unseen and then swung his full weight on it to force it into position.
Donna shook her head, collected Captain Perks and brought her up to the centre console. She smiled reassuringly and indicating the padded areas advised her to hold onto something. The incorrigible Jack stepped forward to offer his services but was politely and firmly turned down. He acquiesced with good grace piquing Donna's interest as to what exactly had gone on before the Doctor had snatched him away.
Captain Perks watched the frantic goings on, a pillar of calm in the centre of the storm, not asking questions or distracting the Doctor at vital moments as some visitors were prone to do. She seemed perfectly happy to stay out of the way, balancing herself against the jolts and sways with her feet firmly planted on the gratings. Suppressing her intrinsic nosiness Donna dragged her eyes away from that silent figure. However, she couldn't help noticing that Jack kept glancing over his shoulder at their guest, a hint of a concern creasing his brow. Working her way carefully around the various sharp protrusions Donna arrived at Jack's side of the console (the Doctor was currently flying from lever to lever and dial to dial and had butted her out of the way twice already).
"What's going on?" Her murmured words wouldn't carry over the noise the TARDIS was making as she hunted between dimensions for the way home. "Did you mess up? Did he mess up?" The worry was starting to pool in her stomach now. "Jack, I swear if there's trouble and you don't tell me I'll be forced to remove something that you won't be able to grow back."
"Donna." A distracted glance accompanied the reproof. "You imagine too much."
"Do you blame me?" Her hissed whisper drew the attention of Captain Perks and they both smiled reassuringly before returning to their pretence of helping. "Some idiot decides that wiping my mind is the only way to solve a relatively minor problem, a whole GROUP of other idiots just stand back and allow him to get on with it and if it hadn't been for the efforts of one person who shall remain nameless in this place I'd still be drooling in front of Britain's Got Talent!"
"How is Sarah Jane anyway?"
"Will you shut up!" It was his turn to receive the glare. "He still doesn't know and I'm letting him believe that it just started all by itself with Torchwood forced to step in to avoid a greater scandal."
"You're still covering for us?"
"Not for you." She frowned at his obvious pleasure at the thought of her lying for him. "You and your bunch of incompetents should be able to handle any official backlash by now, but Martha and Tom don't deserve that kind of trouble. Aside from everything she did officially they put me up when even I didn't really know who I was and I'm not going to turn them in for that. Besides Tom makes the most heavenly Mojito and I couldn't bear to be denied those for the rest of my life."
"Donna Noble. You're something else, you know that right?" He smiled and she smiled back, able at last to receive the compliment gracefully rather than look beneath for the sting hidden in the honey.
Their moment of harmony didn't last and the next few minutes were rather uncomfortable as the TARDIS found a faint trail and began to hoist herself back across the dimensions, getting herself across the rough terrain the best that she was able. Donna didn't have time to do more than cast a quick glance in the direction of Captain Perks and nod approvingly at the woman's sturdy grip on the guard rails as they tossed and jumbled their way across the equations.
"Aaaaand we're done."
The Doctor took his hands off, twiddled a last few dials and patting the console settled back against it, his attention once again given over to his passengers.
"We're here?" Captain Perks stepped forward, a faint look of hope on her face.
"No, we'll be a while yet. But she's into the Vortex and she can fly herself from her. She knows where she's going now. You left quite a trail" he added, glaring at Jack. The annoyance was already tightening his shoulders.
Donna released the very important lever she always got left with and stretched her fingers. It looked like they would be some time. Her wrists cracked and as she rubbed them she couldn't help but recall the flicker of pain that had crossed their guest's face when she had stretched and cracked her shoulders. Donna had an idea.
"I don't think Captain Perks wants to spend the whole journey perched on these cold gratings. I'm going to take our visitor somewhere more comfortable if that's OK with you boys." She turned to their guest with an encouraging smile.
Polly acquiesced willingly enough. Her carefully blank expression still hadn't yet slipped and she didn't even give the strange centre console more than a passing glance as she squeezed past to follow Donna.
"Show her everything! Let her see exactly how bigger it is on the inside!" Bless him, the Doctor didn't quickly forget any perceived slight to his beloved method of transportation. Satisfied that his guest would soon be converted to the true way he turned to Jack with an ominous "Now. You."
Turning her back on them Donna left the skinny idiot to test his impotent scolding skills against that unapologetic solidity leant her weight on the hatch leading into the main living area. As the door swung shut behind them the quiet of the TARDIS reached out to them and Donna felt the woman relax.
"We'll just do the essentials so you can tell him when he asks that you've seen the best bits and then I vote for a cup of tea. That sound good?" Polly nodded, more than willing to be a co-conspirator against her host.
Thus encouraged Donna continued with the tour guide schpeil, touching on the infinite internal dimension possibilities. "Through here is the main the living area including the rooms we use day to day. However, I have to warn you that they do move about a little. Bless her, the TARDIS does have a sense of mischief about these things and as his Lordship is loathe to bring her to task about it we just have to make do." As she waited for Captain Perks to slip through the door she was currently holding open Donna wondered where the ornamental garden had got to today. It was then that she remembered where she'd seen the tight lines on Polly's face before. He got it sometimes when he was reading the ancient books in the library, an exhaustion almost too heavy to bear. She'd come in a couple of times to find him wrapped in a tired sorrow, drowning in memories that bore down too heavily on him.
Donna turned and saw the question in her eyes. Everyone reacted differently to their first time, Donna had seen awe, confusion, denial (though you couldn't deny the existence of something as annoying as a timelord for long, heavens knew she'd tried), and in one case house-proud disgust. But Captain Perks, up till now unfazed by the flexible dimensions of the TARDIS, surprised her.
"Does he mean what he said? That he can get me to... to where I need to go?" She addressed Donna as the one sane voice in an confusing madhouse.
"There and back again before anyone even notices you're gone." But her words didn't reassure as much as she'd thought they would.
"Exactly the same time?"
"So when we get back it'll still be the night before the 1st of July. Still Friday?"
Donna nodded again. She wasn't sure exactly what day it was in TARDIS time, but it was a good bet that if it had been Friday when Captain Perks had left it would be Friday when she got back. The Doctor seemed able to control the TARDIS with regard to everyone's time-line except her own.
"And stuff that's going to happen, still has to happen." Polly reached into her collar to wrap thin fingers around a talisman that hung there. Against the quiet noises of the TARDIS steering them across the dimensions her voice ached with painful realisation.
"Yes." Donna couldn't help but wonder what the morrow offered this woman as Captain Perk's mask settled even more firmly into place. Lines traced well worn paths as the woman drew in on herself and eyes designed to sparkle with laughter retired behind dull shields. Donna was loath to breach those walls but she had to ask.
"Is there something we can do?"
"What? No, it's nothing. I'm just tired. Your friend landed on the foot of my pallet in the middle of the night you see. Disturbed my sleep rather." She tried to fake a yawn but was caught halfway through by a real one that threatened to crack her jaw. She stumbled, her exhaustion betraying that there was at least some truth in her words and Donna sat down casually in a nearby alcove seat that hadn't been there yesterday. The captain fell into it beside her gratefully, resting a heavy head back against the fabric covered wall.
"Sleep... it seems such a simple word. To sleep, perchance to dream..." Polly was talking to herself and Donna had to strain to hear the low voice. "...It all started with Mal. They dream so vividly, vampires. Everything so real... touch, taste, smell. I was there - we didn't mean to, but when you sleep so close things can leak out. And then it spread to my dreams too, which was weird and if you've ever had a running commentary on the bizarre aspects of your dreams by a supercilious vampire you'll know what I mean." A faint reminiscent smile drifted across her features before vanishing and leaving only the tired lines in its place as she opened her eyes to meet Donna's sympathetic gaze. "Since Dobrudzha it's been hard to tell waking from dreaming any more. The nightmares are all real now and real life seems nothing more than a dream."
"I'm sorry." It sounded so inadequate.
Polly produced an encouraging smile that didn't reach her eyes. "It's only a small squabble between two minuscule countries that you would hardly be able to pick out on a map. It doesn't really matter. Besides we're going to win, everyone says so." She drew up a knee and clasped it in thin arms. The talisman, released from the confines of her shirt swung out to glint in the soft light. The icon etched there wasn't anything Donna could recognise, a female figure holding something aloft but the metal was possibly even more interesting. It shone, the only thing remotely clean about her person.
Polly licked her thumb and rubbed at a speck of dirt on her boots. All her attention seemed focussed on that one spot. Her thumb moved slower and slower and and she suddenly heaved a great sigh. "Do you know, I forgot to bring her boots. It was night. We were... everyone was sleeping. Mal loved those boots." She stopped, hugging her knees tightly as though the thought of an army lieutenant out there without boots simply too much to bear. "She's not even got her jacket."
"Torchwood are good folk, no matter what impression you might get from Jack. They'll take good care of her, I promise." Donna felt the urge to reach out and comfort this isolated figure. Thinking quickly she added "besides, if there's one thing the TARDIS is fond of hoarding it's clothes, I'm sure we can find enough around here somewhere to outfit the both of you."
"Do you have shirts with ruffles?" Captain Perks was keeping her head down, the lank hair falling forward to hide her face. "Mal likes ruffles, especially around the cuffs. We've been suffering the most terrible ruffle shortage for almost a year now. It's disgraceful, Mal says." Her voice, which had been trembling at the start grew stronger as she went on. "We were eventually reduced to sending harshly worded missives to the powers that be, but as yet we've had no reply. It's devastating for morale amongst the lower ranks. As Mal explained in the letter, an officer without properly ruffled sleeves simply can't inspire the men."
Donna couldn't help it. She chuckled at the image Polly's words produced prompting a shaky laugh from behind that shield of hair. Hopeful that the unsteady land had been navigated safely Donna continued rambling.
"I'm sure the TARDIS has enough ruffled shirts to satisfy even the most discerning of dressers. She does tend to lean towards the more "artistic" style of dress and will probably enjoy finding something for your friend."
"You talk about the ship as though she's real." Captain Perks stood a little straighter, tucking the wayward strands of hair back behind a grubby ear.
"She is." Donna smiled affectionately as she smoothed the wall of the passageway with her hand. "The Timelords, his people, made sentient ships back in the day. She has all the control, all the power. It's the TARDIS that moves us through the time vortex and the time vortex through us. The Doctor can only ask nicely and hope."
Donna had never told the Doctor that she'd kept memories from the meta-crisis but faint though they were she would never forget the raw loss of that vanished war they'd shared in that short time. Living his past like that, if only for a moment she was able at last to understand his quiet withdrawal, to recognise that the exuberant face he presented to the world would never be everything he was. They'd grown closer since she'd clawed her way back aboard and they'd finally sorted out the repercussions from the whole "wiping your memories" thing. Yes he loved to travel, yes the excitement of new places and new situations thrilled him anew every-time he opened that scruffy blue door. But now he allowed her to see the other times as well. The times when the weight of being the last hung heavy on him. The times when the knowledge of the decision he'd made ate away at him from within and no reasoning could ease his guilt. She'd never been able to get him to talk about it but she had found a quiet smile and a cup of tea when he'd sat in the dark over-long with the book open and unread on his lap helped a little.
There was at least one thing she could do for Polly and Donna turned to her guest with an encouraging smile on her face as she indicated the corridor that seemed to stretch on to infinity from where they stood.
"She wants me to show you something else."
Polly stood up, rubbing a discrete back of a hand over her face. "Lead on Donna Noble. Let's not keep the sentient carriage that keeps us safe waiting."
"This is my bedroom."
"Right." Polly smiled a private smile. "This is what the TARDIS wanted you to show me?"
"Not quite." She crossed the room. "This is my bathroom." She swung wide the door and heard Captain Perk's longing intake of breath.
"It's so big..." The woman hovered in the doorway, afraid that if she came in the entire room would vanish under her feet.
"The TARDIS provides," Donna explained with a smile. "The shower came as standard but I asked for the bath after some unpleasant encounters with the Polydora ligni. They live underground as their sun is deadly in large doses. It took about six dunkings for the last of the smell to go."
"You have a bath." It was a hushed whisper such as one might use in church and Polly stepped around the deep fluffy rug to run a covetous finger along the lip of porcelain. "We haven't seen hide nor hair of a bath on the line for months. A cup of cold groundwater and a cloth just aren't the same."
Taking in the entranced look on her face Donna sent a quick message of thanks to the ship for providing the fresh towels. No woman deserved to have to feel like that about something as simple as washing. She sat on the edge of the item in question and reached out to cover those longing fingers with her own, cleaner digits.
"Let me run you a bath. It won't take long, this old tub fills up incredibly quickly and we've got no problem with hot water."
"I couldn't." Polly drew back but Donna wouldn't let go and tethered by the hand the captain could only dither gently at arms length.
"I couldn't send you back out there without one." Donna stated matter of fact, tactfully ignoring the shamed bush that tinged the pale cheeks under the lashes of downcast eyes. "Admit it, you'll feel so much better after a good long soak, or even a quick splash. I'll lend you some clothes while we get yours clean."
"You really wouldn't mind?"
"I really wouldn't mind." She had begun to run the bath as she spoke, her fingers dancing amongst the collection of bath oils and soothing unguents before selecting a precious bottle. "This one is my favourite find." She smiled reminiscently at the bottle. "No day ever seems so bad when you're lying in a bath of this." She poured in a hefty dollop and then another. Getting no result she sniffed cautiously at the bottle and then squinting down inside she muttered something derogatory, upended it and thumped it hard on the bottom until a single drop inched out to land in the water below. A wonderful smell blossomed out of the swirling water, reminiscent of lazy Sunday mornings, fresh coffee and for some reason honeysuckle.
Polly gasped and glancing up Donna caught such an expression of grief on her face that she turned away quickly to avoid invading her privacy further. The bath was run and she stood up to leave. As she had her hand on the door she said without turning back, "throw your clothes out and I'll stick them in the wash. Do they need any special settings? The TARDIS can wash pretty much anything."
Behind her she heard Polly's rusty laugh, short and quickly dying as though she'd not used it in ages. "I don't think anything can harm these any further. They'll probably fall apart as soon as they touch water, I think it's only the dirt holding them together at the moment."
"The TARDIS will come up with something I'm sure. I'll leave you to it then." Donna turned back at last to see Polly still stood against the sink, her arms folded defensively across her chest. "I'll come back in a few minutes and pick up the stuff from outside the door. The towels on top of the cabinet are fresh, clean robe on the back of the door. Enjoy your bath." She smiled and backed out, pulling the door closed behind her.
Left behind in the quiet Polly stayed standing against the sink for a moment, watching the aromatic steam rising from the water. Then slowly crossing the floor as though drawn by an irresistible force she drifted up against the edge of the bath and halted, gently dipping the tip of a single finger into the water. she stood like that for a long moment, a single finger dragging patterns in the left over swirls from when the bath had been filled. Then she straightened sensibly, crossed to the indicated cabinet and selected some towels. She brought them over to the bath and after searching around for a moment placed them on the handy little towel rack she found placed at the head of the bath. She seemed confused as to what to do next and glanced around as though inspiration might be found in the toothbrush standing beside the sink.
Eventually she sat on the rim of the bath and pulled off her boots and socks. Standing them up on one side of the colourful rug she rested for a moment, curling her toes in the deep pile under her feet. The jacket was next, eased down over stiff shoulders and dropped in a heap. She gazed it it lying there for a while and then slowly her hand moved to the buttons on her shirt and she fumblingly undid enough to allow her to pull the ragged garment off over her head. She pulled the tails of her under-shirt out of her tattered breeches but then paused, unable to go any further. In the silence that rang loud against the muffled noises seeping in from the outer room a faint sniff could be heard and the thin figure perched on the edge of the bath knuckled at unaccountably damp eyes.
On the other side of the door Donna looked around the mess that was her room and sighed. It was undeniably a tip and she could hear her mother's scolding tones in the back of her mind even as she began to fold the more readily available garments. She could never understand why it was that her room always ended up in this condition. They'd been busy yes, but that wasn't really a good enough reason for why she had a pile of pine-cones beside the bed from Borealis. Muttering to herself whilst straightening the objects on her dressing table (an origami jumping frog? Really?) Donna knew the undercurrent of her mood wasn't just because of the state of her room, but linked intrinsically to the woebegone figure she'd left in her bathroom. But the TARDIS whispered reassurance into the back of her mind and she slipped into the massive walk in wardrobe to hang up some of the most crumpled items.
Polly, warmed by the rising steam at her back, drew herself together on a trembling breath and hauled the under-shirt over her head in one swift motion dropping it onto the pile with the others. This hurdle overcome it was only a moment to undo her breeches, slide them down over thin flanks and step out of the tattered remains. Those breeches had once been her pride and joy, a gift in tailoring that clung in all the right places and brought a sparkle to Mal's eye whenever Polly paraded in them. Now they hung loose about her figure and it was only thanks to the braces that they held up at all. Her under-shorts had long ago gone to a better place (three better places if you counted the pair that she'd donated for bandages) and so it was in her own scrawny skin that she gathered the small pathetic pile of together to drop outside the door. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror surprised by her hip bones and ribs and the betraying tracks of tears that lay on her cheeks. Standing there with her entire worldly possessions clasped in both arms she felt again the hot sting of moisture behind her eyes but managed to hold the emotion at a distance until she'd dropped her burden and closed the door again against the outside world.
Standing silently behind the door she heard Donna come back in to pick up her tattered belongings and a moment later the faint sound of the bedroom door closing. Finally alone she stepped away from the door, her tightly held shoulders drooping a little in the steam. The water called to her and Polly could resist it no longer as stepping over the rim she slid gratefully into its welcoming embrace. She surrendered then, permitting the tears to come at last and wept silently into her knees, arms wrapped tightly around her shins.
Donna closed the bedroom door quietly behind her and almost walked into Jack.
"He's finished with you then?" She spoke in a low tone to avoid disturbing their guest, though sound probably wouldn't reach through the two doors separating them.
In answer she got only a rueful grin but he reached to unburden her of heap of clothes in her arms. She let him take it, accepting his apology. Realising what he had in his hands he raised an enquiring eyebrow but she urged him away up the corridor with a jerk of her head before answering his question. He allowed her to drag him away and they wandered along in perfect harmony fpr a few strides before he asked again.
"She's having a bath." She stopped, a hand at his elbow. "What happened back there Jack?" He looked for a second if he would turn her enquiry aside with a jest again but looking again at the bundle of tattered clothes he held against his chest he decided to be truthful.
"They're having some kind of a war. Not a very technologically advanced species." A cloud drifted over his usually cloudless face as he remembered the young faces staring at him in the gloom, dead-eyed, patiently awaiting the inevitable.
"Did they say anything about tomorrow?"
"No." He frowned, sifting through his memories again. "I wasn't there for long, only a few minutes before you lot turned up. Why?"
"She seemed to think it important somehow."
"He'll get her back for it." The reassurance dropped from him easily and he began to walk on, his mind soothed by solving her problem. But her next words brought him to an abrupt halt.
"I think that might be what she's afraid of."
Jack leant back against the slightly curved wall and Donna drifted alongside and settled against his side like a ship finding a long sought harbour. He shifted his burden so that he could slip an arm around her shoulder and she let her head drop against his shoulder with a sigh.
"We could always skip past it." The suggestion was made lightly without much conviction and she didn't even lift her head to answer him. Ah. One of those guests then. It wasn't always sweetness travelling with the Doctor, for every time when they could fix things with a single nudge there were so many more when the only thing they could offer was just to be there. He felt a flush of pride as he looked down at that auburn head resting against his shoulder, at this woman who took everything the universe could throw at her and still remembered the soul restoring potential of clean clothes. And now you mentioned clothes...
"Come on." He gave her an extra squeeze and then hoisted himself away from the wall. "Let's get these clothes cleaned anyway." He reached back for her with a helping hand but she brushed it aside disdainfully, her very stance protesting that she wasn't going to touch that, who knew where it had been? He grinned. She was solid was his Donna, solid through and through. She stalked past him and the strength of her practical common-sense surged through him as she swept by.
"Were you planning on standing there all day with that foolish grin plastered across your face?" She was already waiting for him at the door to the side passage that led down to the laundry room. "I've got to get these going and find our guest some clothes to wear while they're being washed not to mention look in on himself and make sure we've not accidentally detoured to Barcelona again." She gave Jack the imperious eyebrow and chastened he hurried to catch up. Quick to forgive, Donna took his arm companionably as they walked down the corridor. "What is it with him and dogs? Cats I could understand, but dogs?"
It was a decent period of time later that Donna knocked lightly at her bedroom door. Waiting only for the low voiced "come in" she twisted the handle one handed and manoeuvred her burden inside. Polly stood before the dressing table, bundled up in the over-large dimensions of Donna's second best robe with her hair wrapped in a towel. She was looking at a small picture tucked into the frame of the mirror.
"I brought you some clothes, one of the previous companion left in a bit of a hurry so the TARDIS has been storing her things until she can come back and collect them." She put the pile of clothes onto the bed and wandered over to see what Polly was looking at. "Oh that's my granddad. He always believed there was something out there, he was always watching his stars." She smiled in memory.
"I didn't mean to pry." Polly stepped back a faint blush coating her cheeks. "I was looking for a comb."
"It's fine. I keep him there to remind me." Donna encouraged her to sit down on the low stool before the dressing table. "Did you find everything you needed?"
"I like your fluffy towels." Polly's voice was muffled as she was rubbing at her tumbled locks. "Very thick, good tog rating, Mal would approve. I had to buy Shufti new towels one Hogswatch just to shut her up, Mal that is, not Shufti." The busy hands paused while the tale teller searched for her original point and then gave it up as a lost cause.
"I'm glad you approve" Donna digested this new information without comment and reached down to open the top drawer and fish out a comb. When Polly at last put the towel to one side and sat up straighter in front of the mirror to run her fingers through tangled curls Donna indicated the comb and asked "can I?"
Polly nodded. Donna, taking extra care, began to drag the comb through the snarls, thanking heaven for wash in conditioner. The woman seemed calmer now, more able to face whatever it was that had previously daunted her in her future. She also seemed a little sleepy. The comb caught but Polly didn't seem to notice any inadvertent tugs, her hands wandering over the dressing table aimlessly, fingers drifting from this item to that. Suddenly they halted, hovering over something but not quite touching. Glancing over her shoulder Donna frowned. It was only Nery's old lighter, the crappy plastic one she happened to be using the day Sarah Jane Smith had sat down at their table and announced flatly "This has gone on long enough." It was pink and cracked, all the fuel long evaporated but she'd kept it to remember a good friend by. She opened her mouth to explain and then, glancing in the mirror, swallowed her words. This small insignificant item obviously meant something entirely different to Polly. Donna dropped her attention to easing the comb through feathery tips of gold, not looking at anything but the hair under her hands, especially not at that suddenly open face.
"Thank you for the bath."
Donna looked up, nodded and bent her head to her work again. The comb was starting to slide through more easily now, only the rare snag against an unseen knot that needed to be carefully unravelled with gentle fingers.
"How long since you've had this done then?" Donna dropped her soft question into the silence to keep the conversation going.
"Hairdressers are a bit thin on the line. They tend not to like to visit us." She smiled at Donna's reflection in the mirror. "We all got our hair done at Vasser after the siege but it's been a bit touch and go since then."
"It's beautiful hair." Donna stretched it out, marvelling at the length. "I always wanted a natural curl."
"It's a bugger to do anything with." Polly shook it forward and then combed it back with brisk fingers. "It's OK when we're out and about, a tie at the back is generally acceptable, but whenever we have to go anywhere posh it takes hours to put up and Mal tends to get a little irritable. She's not the most patient of escorts," she added as an afterthought
"You try trying to stall a stick-thin ball of nervous energy who only has to throw on a suit to look fantastic." Donna continued over her shoulder as she started shaking out the clothes she'd found and laying them out on the bed. "Does he understand about the careful application of foundation and the vital importance of blending eye-shadow? Does he heck as like." The tracksuit bottoms would probably hang loose on Polly, but there was a pull string. It would have to do. The top would probably go round their guest twice, but under the hooded sweatshirt no one would see and that at least was designed to be worn baggy. She turned to find Polly watching her with a look of slight confusion and realised she'd been babbling again.
"I'll leave you to dress. If you just wander along to the kitchen when you're ready we'll see if we can't get you some breakfast."
"Won't she have moved it?" Polly's eyes had brightened at the mention of breakfast.
"Nah, she likes you remember?" Donna collected the towels and left, closing the door firmly behind her.
She found Jack in the kitchen hunting through the cupboards for something to eat and pushed him to one side as she hauled out anything and everything she thought a humanoid might like to eat. He hung about under her feet as usual and before long they were once again arguing cheerfully about nothing in particular. She was just thinking that she'd forgotten how much she missed him, even with his terrible taste in innuendos when he lapsed into silence, standing there like dolt and blocking her access to the drawer she wanted. She nudged him aside and they had a small tussle for the tea-towel which he eventually won by trapping her up against the sink and pinning her arms to her sides.
"Why did I never manage to get you into bed, Ms Noble?"
"Because you're an intergalactic space whore and I have my standards."
She was laughing with him but they both knew there was another truth behind her words. She knew him through and through, had seen the knots and tangles of past and future that made up this changeling of a man. He didn't grate on her like he did on the Doctor because she was more used to putting together two incongruous facts and making a whole. But she knew him, all of him, and because of that she would never let him any closer than the friendship they had.
He was staring, pierced on that unafraid gaze when the polite cough came from behind them. He smiled at her and let her go, turning to greet their guest with an easy apology. The words died in his throat. She stood there in Rose's clothes, Rose's blond hair falling to her shoulders and it was a moment before he could see through the memory to the real woman. A sharp nudge from Donna helped shorten the period of adjustment however and he was able hurry forward and draw the woman in before his gaping became impolite. He even managed to rub his ribs tenderly as he pulled out a chair for Polly, shooting a hurt look at Donna over her head. She of course ignored him, merely taking the tea-towel from his hand and turning to hang it back up. Sliding into his own chair Jack indicated the spread with an inviting sweep of the hand.
"I wasn't sure what you would feel like eating so I've got everything out. Jack thinks I'm overdoing it and I think he's a rude idiot." Donna was leaning back against the sink, fiddled with fiddling with the washing up pad, wiping up drips that weren't really there.
Polly looked at the table groaning under the weight of bread, butter, a collection of preserves, cold meats, a variety of cheeses and nestled somewhere in the middle a tea-pot under a brightly knitted cosy. Her eyes lit up. Donna, following her gaze, reached for a decent sized mug and asked "milk or sugar?"
"Milk and two please." Polly watched the steaming liquid as it was poured over the milk and then the heaped spoons added. There was complete silence except for the clink of the spoon against the rim and then she accepted the gift in willing hands, drawing it up to her face to inhale the steam before taking a single careful sip.
The sigh she released was more revealing than a thousand words.
"All right?" Donna didn't really have to ask but inbred English courtesy overruled her.
"Perfect." Polly smiled at her over the steam. "Tea was another one of those things that went for a Burton after St Piotrburg. We've been drinking boiled mud or something like it for the past month."
"No tea?" Donna could hardly imagine such a thing.
"No tea." Polly shrugged, calmly acknowledging the horror of the thing. "Plenty of coffee but no tea." She took a another, larger, sip and then her thirst quenched for the moment looked again more closely at the banquet arrayed before her eyes.
Jack, never one to pass over a free meal was already starting to build himself a large complicated sandwich and at her hungry look cut her a thick slice of the bread. He had hardly placed it on her plate when thin hands shot out and tore off a generous piece that disappeared almost without chewing. She ate urgently and seriously, like a wild animal that knew it's place in the food chain and wanted to get as much as possible into it's belly before the bigger predators came along.
Donna and Jack's eyes met over her head. The thin wrists that were sticking out of the sleeves of that hoodie came up as a dominant point in the silent conversation that flowed between them in that single glance.
"Oi, not so fast. You'll make yourself sick" Donna reached over the table to hunt amongst the cereal packets for the one she wanted. "Aha!" The small box she reached for displayed a picture of a lazy youth standing in a field of oats that he should really have been halfway through harvesting. "This now, should slip down a treat." She poured the ready mixed dry porridge into a bowl, added the milk and slipped it into the microwave. Turning round she met Polly's curious look and made an attempt to explain the concept of ready meals. Luckily the microwave pinged from behind her before she had to answer any difficult questions about long wavelength radiation. She stirred in the syrup and placed the steaming bowl in front of their guest.
"Careful. It's hot."
Polly dug in with a will, burnt her tongue, blew urgently on the spoonful for a moment and then tried again. Her eyes opened wide at the sweetness and she looked up to mumble a quick "thank you" before filling the spoon once more.
Jack replied for them both with an accepting "you're welcome" as he attempted to get his mouth round his too optimistic sandwich. Donna thought that was nice of him considering he hadn't helped at all in the preparation of the breakfast table and was now rudely filling his face thereby leaving it to her to make the polite conversation which was lacking. Luckily he quickly swallowed the gigantic mouthful and catching Donna's eye took his rest of meal in a more decorous fashion, enabling him to keep up a stream of light chatter as their guest made steady progress through her bowl of porridge.
It was when he was attempting to tell Polly about the time they'd all first met on Outer-Space-Facebook and Donna was contradicting him cheerfully that they noticed Polly's spoon moving more and more slowly. He felt a hand on his arm and stopped in the middle of his tale. In the quiet they watched as Polly's head drooped lower and lower. Jack reached out to remove to bowl at the last minute and the blond curls came to rest on the table. Polly was fast asleep.
"Shh." Donna put a hand on Jacks shoulder and he spun round silently raising an indignant eyebrow as though to ask her what she thought he might do? She indicated the sleeping woman across the table and whispered "we should put her somewhere more comfortable."
"Where?" He murmured his question rather than whispering, taking the softer option to avoid waking their sleeping guest. Donna cast a quick eye around the kitchen/diner/sitting room and drew his attention to a deep armchair by the old range that the TARDIS persisted in keeping in the kitchen despite all the Doctor's attempts to modernise. Donna wasn't sure that had been there yesterday either but it was there now and it would suit their purpose admirably. He nodded and silently lifted his chair back to avoid even the smallest scrape against the floor.
When Jack lifted her he almost swore at how lightly she came to him. He'd seen she was thin, but he hadn't realised she was this thin. As he shifted position to better cradle her in his arms she stirred and murmured "Mal?" reaching out with a questing hand. He soothed her softly and she settled back against his chest, her hand grasping his lapel like a trusting child. Once again his eyes met Donna's over her head and he saw the realisation there that mirrored his own.
They put her gently into the armchair and she curled up into it, resting her cheek against the worn leather as though it were an old friend. Leaving her there they hovered quietly for a moment but as it appeared she was now deeply asleep Jack couldn't see any reason not to go back to his meal. After he'd accidentally dropped his knife a couple of times against his plate and the clatter hadn't woken her they concluded that there was no need to creep around like mice. After forcing Jack to help her wash up Donna slipped out to collect the now clean washing and brought it back to fold it where she could keep an eye on their guest. The TARDIS had made a good job of the washing anyway, everything that could shine with cleanliness did just that. Unfortunately even a sentient washing machine couldn't do anything about the various rips and tears that still remained.
Surprisingly Jack offered his services in the mending, producing a small sewing kit from the recesses of his clothing and setting to with a quiet efficiency. His stitches were small and discrete, delicate almost from such large hands. He worked with skill, turning the tattered fabric this way and that to find the most invisible line for his repairs. She purposely didn't comment but looking up he caught her curious gaze and explained shortly and simply "you learn how to when there isn't anyone else." She didn't question further, respectful of his privacy and they sat in companionable quiet either side of the washing basket, she reading the latest biography she'd picked up on Saltykov-Shchedrin and he plying his needle in calm content.
It was thus that the Doctor disturbed them, clattering in through the door to inform them that they were close now, probably another 20 minutes and could he have someone to help him with the landing part. He caught sight of Polly still curled up in the armchair and frowned at what she was wearing. Donna rolled her eyes. "There was nothing else to put her in, it's not like she'd fit anything of mine." She refused to excuse herself any further and only just managed to keep back the additional "it's been over a year, get some perspective, Martian boy."
He left without speaking and Jack followed after, turning back at the door to acknowledge the task left her and to check she could manage. She nodded and sent him on his way with a jerk of the head. He winked at her encouragingly and closed the door behind him, leaving her in the new quiet. Polly slumbered on uninterrupted, her sleep thankfully still dreamless. This one had much potential to dream, bad more than good, and Donna sent a quick breath of thanks to the TARDIS for keeping her sleep empty and calm for this too short period. Kneeling beside the chair she placed a gentle hand on the arm that lay relaxed across that curled up lap and called Polly's name softly. The woman stirred instantly and reached out in the half second before she reached full consciousness.
"No it's me, Donna." She watched those eyes clear to full understanding and then Polly retreated from her, back behind the customary mask. There was however a hint of apology in her gaze this time as she drew the walls back up around her. "We're coming in to land, I thought you might want to change." Donna sat back on her heels and indicating the basket of neatly folded clothes she added "Jack even put a shine on your boots."
That brought a smile and Polly stretched out for the boots that stood so proudly beside the basket. She tilted them to the light, watching the reflections play along the surface. "Mal would like that. She always had a thing about Boots Making The Man." The smile reached her eyes and sat there for short shining moment before being swallowed up by a new air of purpose. Putting the boots back on the floor she shifted to the edge of the chair and hauled herself to her feet. Donna rose also and lifting the basket of clothes she met her guest's eyes over the prosaic heap between them.
"Thank you." It was for more than just the clean shirt and Donna nodded. She said nothing however, still unsure exactly how willing this self-sufficient woman would be to accept anything other than the bare necessities. Polly recognised her restraint with a grateful nod of her own and left silently.
When Captain Perks walked into the central console room it was to present to them all a shining example of a well dressed officer in the Borogravian Light Infantry. Her hair was smoothed back, her shirt beautifully pressed and the points on her jacket collar sharp and pointed enough to use as a weapon should no other prove available. The stripes on her sleeve shone once more, straight and parallel against the green. Donna and Jack looked on their work and felt a well deserved glow of pride.
The Doctor looked, blinked, looked again and then was luckily distracted by a last minute eddy in the vortex that threw him against a protruding lever in a most unfortunate fashion. He spent the last minutes of their landing fighting for his breath and in the end it was Jack who cast an eye over the screens and announced that they had landed. There was a note of excited anticipation in his voice and he had the outer doors open without a minute's further delay had Donna not grabbed his sleeve and insisted on a proper goodbye. This gave Polly just enough time to smooth a suddenly nervous hand over her hair.
Donna, released from Jack's "interesting" version of a polite farewell caught the end of the anxious action and smiled reassuringly. "Jack will show you the way and make sure that everything is fine. We'll be here waiting when you come back. Promise." She cast a warning glare at the Doctor but he was too busy counting his ribs to pay her any attention. Comfortable in her ability to keep him on the ground for at least fifteen minutes she switched her focus back to Polly urging the woman out of the door.
"Come on then." Jack the impatient was already outside, an arm holding the door wide to let Polly through. "Let's go give them the bad news that they've not managed to get rid of me this time." And he took her hand and tucked it into his elbow as he led the way across the Plas.
Donna waited to see if he would turn back and wave but somehow knew he wouldn't. That wasn't Jack's way. She stayed though, leaning against the door frame, treasuring the feel of the weak autumn sun on her face. There were so many planets out there that were almost like Earth. So many planets with similar seasons, similar geology and climatic zones. But none of them Home.
Donna was looking the other way, out over the harbour, when Polly emerged from the small tourism office hand in hand with another figure. The sight of them surprised her when her eyes finally wandered back in that direction, she had been expecting the formalities to take much longer. But then Donna remembered the look of purpose that had been hauled over that exhausted face and realised that Polly would be unable to do anything that might be considered time wasting when that future loomed large over them. She frowned and half turned to go back inside, wanting to talk to the Doctor, needing suddenly to see him, to let him take at least some of this burden from her. But she couldn't, not now, they were coming, taking the direct route across the Plas virtually empty now that a chill wind had sprung up. The two distant figures strode out briskly, ignoring the few passers-by that crossed their path but stopped after a few steps to huddle close. As they got closer Donna realised why, the second figure clasped so tightly within Polly's arm was dressed in only a light under-shirt above thin breeches. She would have to have words with that Ianto, sending her out without a coat. Really!
Watching their steady approach she called over her shoulder to the Doctor that they were coming. She heard him drop what he was doing with a clatter as he hurried to stick his head over her shoulder.
"Oh, is this the young man?"
Donna smirked to herself and waited as the two figures came closer. He never was any good at reading the things that people didn't say. She heard the quiet "oh" as he finally got it and slipped a hand through his arm to drag him forward, a wide smile of welcome on her face.
Polly brought the woman up to them and introduced her in all formality as "Maladict, my Lieutenant." The introduced gave a dignified bow.
"Donna," Donna said and offered a hand. "And this is the Doctor, owner of this flying machine and bane of my life" He shook hands babbling a little about vampires and the amazing possibilities of gained tolerance through repeated exposure to sources of energy.
"Shall we go?" Polly interrupted.
"Yes. Yes. Go. Good idea. Come in! Come and see the old girl."
Lieutenant Maladict followed his (her?) captain in without a qualm, totally trusting. Once inside she looked up and then all around. "Nice" she said, unaware she was echoing her companions exact words.
"It's bigger on the inside" the Doctor protested.
"Well yes, obviously." Mal turned to him with an apologetic smile. "It's really very well done."
Polly, smiling quietly to herself ranged herself alongside this walking disappointment, the pair of them fitting so neatly together they were almost one unit. Donna thought suddenly that it would be almost an art form to see them fight, so sure of each other were they. But Polly was talking.
"Sorry Doctor, this is an amazing place I'm sure, but we have seen some odd things in the course of our varied and occasionally interesting lives. Unfortunately its nothing on some of the places we've seen. No massive clock with a pendulum slicing off the seconds of real time to start with.
"What?" Mal turned abruptly within that arm to stare at her, disconcerted. "When did you see that?"
Polly shrugged. "You know that time I had the arm thing?"
"The septicaemia? Yes, I remember it very clearly. I was there."
"Well, amongst all the delirium and painful oozing and cold desert under foreign stars some bint turns up with the scythe, robe and little white pony and says she owes you a favour." Mal looked like she would have interrupted if she could think of anything to say. Polly waited patiently but realising that nothing would be forthcoming she continued. "She explained briefly and very concisely that these things always take forever and I might as well wait somewhere interesting and then we were riding off on the horse to the weird house that I mentioned earlier."
There was a long pregnant pause, Mal's mind working overtime behind a purposefully blank face.
"I didn't mention it because it didn't seem important and I anyway I'd pretty much forgotten when I woke up, it only came back to me later."
"Pol, I swear, I didn't do anything." Mal had reached for her hand and was now holding it tightly, the other sliding through that carefully déshabillé hair style, messing it further until it stood up in little spikes every-which-way. "She was drunk, too drunk to stay on the horse, so I said I'd see her home. I didn't realise it was all the way out there. I would never..."
"I never thought you did anything." Polly's quiet statement drew Mal up short and she stood, staring. Her mouth would have dropped open if it hadn't been under the last smidgeon of control she could hold onto.
"You never thought...?"
"She's still pissed off at you." Polly grinned and after a second an echoing expression split across Mal's face, carried on an underlying wave of relief.
The Doctor coughed quietly, still confused and Donna, not wanting to have to explain it to him dragged the visitors away for a short version of the tour. But as she went she threw him a look over her shoulder. She was getting better at those looks, not quite telepathy but a paragraph where previously she'd only been able to send him a phrase. This one urged him to get on with flying these two home but not too quickly, to keep himself out of the way and leave it to her but also to be around shortly as she needed to talk to him. It even had a affectionate "spaceman" tacked on the end for old times sake.
The tour didn't take long, she only showed them the main rooms. She did slip inside her room as they passed to snatch up the hooded sweatshirt. Mal took it from her gracefully and it was quickly donned, though the woman paused for a minute with a material over her head, as though catching a familiar scent. Donna carefully didn't notice how the vampire wrapped a casual arm around Polly after that, though she did adjust her pace to ensure the pair didn't need to pull apart too often.
They finished the tour at the kitchen. Donna had skipped the bathroom as Mal seemed not to need it, her appearance oddly clean when compared to the state her captain had arrived in. There was a moment when a large (meta-crisis expanded) brain puzzled at that, wondering if vampires could lick themselves clean like cats but the chiding nudge it received from the TARDIS led to the thought being sensibly put away for another time. Turning to more pragmatic matters Donna glanced around the small (though exceedingly well stocked) kitchen and wondered aloud if they had anything vampires could eat.
"Thank you, but I don't eat."
"Drink then?" Donna casting a quick eye over slender legs sheathed in breeches that swung revealingly loose thought that she might not eat but she'd been lacking sustenance of some kind or other as long as her captain had.
"Not drink, no. Not any more." She smiled her refusal and then, responding to a sharp nudge, added "unless you have coffee?"
"Coffee we do indeed have." Donna took the request and placed it silently alongside a previous remark about lots of coffee and no tea and pondered them. "Dark roast, medium roast or deathly?"
"The stronger the better please, no milk." Mal turned to Polly and demanded "Did you eat?"
"Of course I did!"
Donna had to hide a smile in the cupboard she'd just opened to find the requisite mug. She took out two mugs and made Polly another cup of tea while Mal's coffee was infusing. It was taken from her gratefully though Polly seemed distracted, her eyes constantly flicking to where Mal stood leaning against the counter, her fingers lightly tapping on the hard surface. As Donna turned to push down the plunger on the cafetière Mal lifted her eyes from where she'd been concentrating on her percussive cadenza and caught one of those sneaky glances. An odd expression came over her face but was wiped away as she smiled and shook her head at her captain.
"The lovely gentleman called Ianto made me two delightful cups of coffee while I was away. Two very nice cups of coffee. I'm OK Polly. Really. This" she reached past Donna and picked up the freshly poured mug "is merely window dressing." Winding her spare arm around Polly and holding the mug out in front of them, she indicated the dark liquid, seemingly bottomless in its silence. "See? No tremors." Polly dropped her head to that shoulder for a moment and then stepped away, Mal's arm dropping away regretfully.
"Would you like to go back and watch the Doctor flying her?" Donna had cast around to come up with something innocuous and thought this not a bad idea. It did after all give her a chance to lead the way and thereby not notice anything this pair might need to get up to behind her back in the way of holding hands. Mal seemed to have picked up on the fact that Donna was all for hand-holding in the TARDIS but Polly it seemed was going to need a little bit more persuading.
As she led the way through the awkward door into the centre of the TARDIS Donna was pleased to see that the ship was settled in space again, travelling pretty much under her own direction and thus the Doctor was available for conversation. He looked up with a pleased smile to see them back so soon and was quickly showing both guests around the levers and buttons, explaining this and making up that (Donna could tell so easily now thanks to the Meta-crisis). Eventually, his enthusiasm shared he settled back against one of the consoles and asked cheerily "so, where are we going then?"
"We have to go back." Polly's voice was firm but between their bodies Donna saw how that hand felt around blindly before being caught and held comfortingly by its twin.
"We could go anywhere." The Doctor seemed disappointed. "There's got to be something you've wanted to see, some star way out in the night sky?"
Mal, that tight clasp of the hand telling her something though as yet she couldn't translate it, turned to her companion and asked gently "Polly?"
"It's still Friday." She said no more but the look that passed between them carried a whole mountain of meaning.
"So be it." Mal reached out and tucked a wayward curl behind an ear. "No Regrets, Pol. Remember?"
Polly made a strangled noise and grabbed for her and they clung tightly together under the high roof of the TARDIS's heart. Feeling completely surplus to requirements and not a little like a snooper Donna quickly turned away but in doing so caught the raw look on The Doctor's face. It seemed he had been able to read that silent conversation in all its awful detail. As he struggled with his memories and Donna struggled with where exactly to look in this decided non British display of emotion the instigators stood alone in their circle of silence, Mal running soothing circles over Polly's back until she had recovered some semblance of stability. Eventually Polly stepped back, surreptitiously wiping damp eyes and took a deep trembling breath. They turned, hand in hand again and it was Mal this time who said "take us back."
"I can take you anywhere, anywhere in the world. Just say the word and we go." There was a tight edge to his voice, he was only just managing to keep himself from begging them to let him save them.
"No thank you." Polly sighed but her eyes were clear and her stance calm, her hand clasped tightly in the one waiting for hers without ever needing to be asked. "We've got things we have to do."
"Are you sure?"
She glanced quickly at Mal along her shoulder and then nodded. "We're sure."
He sighed and his shoulders dropped but he nodded in turn and began to call up the destination. No one saw Donna quietly cross the floor and stand beside him offering in her presence everything she could not provide and no one would be able to provide for him ever again. She put her hand on his arm and though he jumped at her touch he didn't shrug her away. She stayed beside him as he hunted through the co-ordinates and put a steady hand over his as he hovered at the last minute of selection. They decided she murmured into his mind. Give them the dignity of at least choosing their fate. His mind stuttered against hers, knowing exactly to what she referred and it was both their hands together that finally pressed the button. The TARDIS spun up slowly, an echo of their sorrow in her rising chant but also a thread of agreement that was some comfort to him. He leant over the screen a long time though and Donna left him there with a final touch between the shoulder blades, a promise of her return when she had done this last thing for their guests.
She took them to the TARDIS garden. For her it had always been something of a park, structured ornamental gardens and scruffy grass where she could take off her shoes and just sit, the illusion of sun on her face and quiet birdsong overhead. The TARDIS had even provided the faint noises of traffic in the distance which amused the Doctor no end but which he had been smart enough not to comment on ever since the time she'd rolled him down the slope and got grass-stains all over his shiny suit.
It wasn't a park tonight. It was a smaller, more personal place, with the feel of a private garden. It was evening and the soft light made long shadows of the hedges that led the way into the secluded centre where a single bench was placed, curved for easy of sitting and just right for two. Donna left them there, not looking back to see how they wandered slowly from flower to flower, feasting on beauty after too long a drought. She left them there and hurried back to the Doctor. He had understood her message short though it had been, she could hear the steady hum of the TARDIS in her slowest gear. They could have made Borogravia in minutes but a little time – just a little few hours of time – would be more precious here than a whole year of days somewhere else. It was all they could give and it was in that knowledge that she was hurrying back to him, needing him now and knowing he would be looking for her. She carried the scent of honeysuckle with her, and a stem of flowers that had been caught in her hair as she'd ducked under the final arch.
At the last minute, as she left, Donna placed a hand on the wall at the entrance and whispered a request to the TARDIS. The answer came instantaneously and she felt the link dwindle between her and the garden leaving only a blank space in her awareness.
Many things might be spoken of in that quiet place that it was not their right to know. The war had taken much from them without permission and she would will not take more. She left and behind her, private in all that listening space they talked. Besides all the small and silly things that there had been too little time to say there were deeper subjects that needed to be discussed between these two. An offer was made that had been made many times before but never in as much seriousness as this night. That offer was refused, gently at first and then more firmly. The quiet declaration echoed forward and back across the years and after that they sat in silence for a long while.
When Donna found them, some time later, Polly was curled up in Mal's arms and they were reminiscing about happier times, homecoming parties in The Duchess, intricate involved games of imagination with the children, the saving of princesses in the spinney behind the hostelry. She sat with them there in that garden for a while and they told her stories, tall tales and small tales, funny tales and tales that ached. Tales of unpleasant surprises, of skirmishes won or lost. And tales of family, laughter filled summer evenings under the stars with a pint of Paul's special home-brew to hand. Donna listened, making a space in her memory where these tales would live on forever interwoven with all the others the TARDIS had collected over her long lifetime. But even as she did so the terrible ache over her heart grew and twisted its sharp hooks into her as though it would never leave.
She had brought them food a picnic in a large basket that brightened Polly's eyes and even Mal was persuaded to try some. While they ate Donna returned the favour with tales of her own youth, trips out with her grandfather and the nights spent learning about the stars. She even told them some of the few things she remembered about her father, freely handing over the precious images she had always held onto so tightly. They finished off with the all important coffee, brewed in advance and kept warm in a highly advanced Thermos contraption. Mal, sipping delicately from the small cup looked up and around suddenly as though to fix this moment, this precise minute of time in her memory for ever more. Her gaze dropped to the golden head resting trustingly against her shoulder and Donna caught her breath at the expression so starkly displayed. Of course, she had forgotten. Vampires were immortal.
The Doctor's voice interrupted their picnic by intercom to announce that they were about to arrive. Polly's trembling intake of breath was the only answer this bland statement received and Donna hurriedly scrambled to her feet to leave them to say their goodbyes alone.
Polite to the last the visitors didn't keep their hosts waiting long, arriving side by side and hand in hand, no longer hiding their connection. Donna squeezed the Doctors hand where she had been holding it tightly in an embarrassingly sweaty grip and crossed to meet them. Mal had pulled the hooded sweatshirt over her head and was holding it out. She spoke her thanks graciously and Donna accepted the garment but then stood uncertain, at a loss for what to do, the fabric soft in her hands. Mal's hand had found Polly's again and they stood together before her now, both thanking her silently for everything and trying to reassure her as that they had accepted the future and looked forward without fear so she need not feel such sorrow on their behalf. Behind her Donna heard the descending note of the TARDIS and knew before the Doctor's quiet words that they had arrived.
This was it then. She dimly heard the quiet goodbyes, felt the Doctor at her shoulder shaking hands, saw Mal's hand outstretched to hers and suddenly knew that this couldn't be the end. She couldn't let them just go. Not like this.
"Wait here!". She was running, racing along corridors and the TARDIS, knowing what she wanted had the cupboard door open waiting for her when she arrived. She grabbed, thought, grabbed again and then she was running back, clambering through the door, clattering down the grated walkway to the tableau she'd left behind her.
She held out her gifts without a word. A bag of coffee beans and a large re-sealable bag of tea-bags.
Mal reached out for the coffee automatically but Polly's hand was slower, reaching for the tea-bags and then retreating uncertain.
"We might not need those."
"You will. No-one should have to drink boiled mud." Donna proffered them again, pressing them into a hand that was still unwilling to hope but desperately wanted to non-the-less. "These should last you through until the next supply train." She stepped back leaving Polly clutching the bag to her chest, her eyes glued to it as though it were more precious than the holy grail.
"Remember us when you drink them. Your inter-dimensional, inter-galactic tea delivery service. Always a good cup of tea." She smiled and reached out for the Doctor's hand, grabbing it so tightly she fully expected to hear a pained yelp in her ear. But he said nothing, just clung back as they smiled and waved and smiled again until the door closed behind those two and left only the empty silence of the dormant TARDIS around them.
Then Donna wrapped desperate arms around the Doctor, burying her face in his shoulder. He held her, letting her use him as her anchor point, sure that whenever he turned to her she would willingly return the favour.
"They will be OK, won't they?" He only half heard the question and he wasn't sure for a moment whether she even wanted him to answer it but in the end he said truthfully "I don't know."
He felt the suggestion as it began to form in her mind and turned his chin to accommodate her more comfortably, running soothing fingers over that incongruously bold hair. Sometimes we just can't, he murmured into her mind and felt the pain of her understanding. She had always been better at that than him, quicker to see all the smaller, more hidden ripples that came from a single act. He supposed she had him to thank for that.
Can we go somewhere loud? She drifted the suggestion across to him and he took a moment to search through his memory for something that would fit. It was the TARDIS that eventually decided it for them, offering an image of a jumping party planet where the incessant beat drove even the palm trees to sway in time. He'd been forced there for diplomatic reasons long ago for an eardrum-destroying week in the hunt for the younger scion of a royal house. It was utterly unbearable and perfect and he sent the requisite request to the ship, leaving the journey in her capable hands as he led Donna away. Not to the library, or the garden, not even to her room. Instead he took her far away, along long winding corridors and up echoing metal staircases to the open emptiness of the observation chamber. He led her away from the memories of those two brave women and the fate he had abandoned them to and let her look at the stars.