I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Dare You to Move
As the weeks passed, Donna found that when she was not sleeping well her preferred destination was to be curled up in the library, the safety of good memories protecting her fragile state of mind. That was where she was when the Doctor returned from his final trip to Bruwst.
She let out a breath of relief to see him: he never seemed to be very far from her nowadays. Wherever she shuffled to in the TARDIS in her soft slippers, cocooned in her fluffy robe, he was usually there in a few minutes, walking alongside her, asking her if she needed anything, or just sitting together with her in comfortable silence.
And now he stood in front of her, his hands in his pockets, scuffing his shoes on the carpet.
"Is it done?" she asked finally, unable to bear the tension in the room anymore.
"I gave them a chance. They didn't take it." His tone was clipped.
"They are gone now." There was cold flint in his eyes as he spoke: a look she had seen only a few times before.
Silence fell between them and neither moved, eventually he spoke again, his body rigid.
"I can tell you the details, if you think it will help?" His voice was very controlled and his eyes were dark, he didn't quite look at her.
"No, I don't think it would really." She shuddered.
He nodded, and scratched his head.
Donna swallowed and looked away, overwhelmed. In truth she did want to know, needed to know, but not yet, she couldn't handle seeing the Doctor in that role right now.
She jumped a little when he suddenly clapped his hands together and bounced on the balls of his feet.
"Oh, but you should see it now, Donna! Or well…'now' as in decades later, relatively speaking. Gorgeous place, back to growing only native crops, people happy and thriving, starting up trade on their own terms."
She wondered which one of them he was trying to cheer up with his sudden burst of energy and strained cheerfulness.
"The factory?" she asked quietly, hoping that his exhortation for her to see the place was merely a figure of speech.
"Tore it down, built a bird sanctuary there, you wouldn't even recognize it."
She nodded. "And my friends? The women that helped me?" She could hear her voice start to shake, part of her was terrified to know their fates.
"All home, and safe, every last person who was held there."
She sighed in relief, and guilt. "I should have helped you."
"No, no Donna, it is because of you they are alive at all. They are going to be okay, and in the best of hands for medical care, I saw to it."
The Doctor sat down abruptly on the rug in front of the divan that she was perched on. He looked at her for a minute as if he was going to say something, but then suddenly found great interest in pulling at a loose thread in the couch and nervously cleared his throat.
"Donna, I want to take you to dinner." The words came out so fast she was not even sure if she heard them correctly.
That was not what she expected. The idea of leaving the TARDIS brought fear crashing down on her and all the insecurities and visions of doom she kept banished to the dark came flooding to the forefront of her mind.
He placed his hand besides hers, not quite touching her. "Donna, it's time to go out. I promise it will be safe, it will just be dinner."
She looked at him and could feel tears pricking at her eyes. She knew he was right but the idea of leaving the safety of the TARDIS was almost unthinkable.
"Please, Donna. I won't let anything happen to you."
She bit the inside of her cheek, looked down at her dressing down, and frowned. "I don't have anything to wear, everything looks ridiculous on me now."
"It doesn't matter, Donna. I'll take you to the pajama planet, if that will make you feel comfortable, you look lovely. Please." He moved his face closer to hers, catching her eyes.
She grasped at the opening to make light of things and narrowed her eyes at him. "There's no pajama planet, you're having me on!"
"Would I do that?" He widened his eyes in affected indignation. "Seriously, Donna, planet PJs! You have to see it!"
"I suppose they walk around in their fluffy slippers?"
"Fluffy ibunny/I slippers!" He waggled his eyebrows now.
She socked him very lightly in the arm. "Alright, I'll put some clothes on, but I still don't believe you," she replied with mock gruffness.
He grinned and she couldn't resist smiling back at him.
She cast her eyes about the fancy restaurant as another cheer went up from the crowd in the center of the room, then slid lower in her seat.
"Donna, is the noise bothering you?" The Doctor leaned closer to her.
"Nah, makes a change from all those tiny quiet places you've been taking me, with no other customers, it's almost like you are afraid to be seen out with me!" She smiled at him to show him she was joking but his hand moved over hers and concern crinkled the corners of his eyes.
"You know that's not why," he said quietly. "This is normally a very serene place too, but I didn't know they were hosting the local team's celebration dinner tonight. Are you certain you don't want to come back tomorrow? We could just jump in the TARDIS…"
She squeezed his hand and shook her head. "I'm fine."
He nodded towards her plate. "Then why haven't you touched your dinner?"
Donna looked down at her meal then hunched down further in her seat as another convivial roar went up from the sports team, echoing through the dining room. She swallowed convulsively, her hand gripping the Doctor's harder than she meant to.
For a moment she couldn't think straight, all these people, it fractured her mind and she could no longer hold everything together. It was just a moment but it was enough to start her heart hammering in her chest. She felt like every one was watching her, and that paralyzing feeling that she would be dragged away from the Doctor crept over her. It was a recurrent nightmare she had both when she was awake and asleep.
"Okay?" he asked softly.
Both his hands were caressing hers now. She watched as his eyes slid over her shoulder to the doors beyond.
"Come on, let's go outside, get some air." He stood up and came to her side, blocking her view of the other people.
For a second she didn't move, she didn't want him to keep feeling like he had to rush her back home at the slightest thing. The first time he had taken her to dinner the overly helpful maître d' had tried to take her jacket from her shoulders and she had jumped away from him before she could stop herself. The Doctor had turned them right around and escorted her straight back to the TARDIS without batting an eye, not making a fuss, just saying it was too soon.
She had to show him she was better now, she had to do something to get him to calm down. "I don't need to go home," she started.
He took her hand in his. "Let's go the balcony then, it's nice and private."
He led her outside, keeping himself between her and the other people. He was right about it being peaceful, he closed the doors behind them and they stood side by side under a cavalcade of stars. Another quiet night on a quiet planet in a quiet time period: the only kind of place he had taken her since he had rescued her.
Not that she was complaining, mind you, she needed the quiet right now, just the two of them. The serenity of the night seeped into her mind and she felt herself relaxing, her heart rate slowing, her fragmented self-control regaining coherence. It was so much easier when they were alone.
He slid an arm around her shoulders as they leant on a railing and looked out at a magnificent vista, the stars reflected in an almost glassy lake beneath the tiny restaurant. Rainbow-hued fireflies buzzed in tiny glowing haloes of multi-colored luminescence around the vaguely tree-shaped foliage that circled the lake, but otherwise the night was still. And quiet.
She nestled against him and he turned to her, his eyes searching hers. Donna had the distinct impression that he was going to kiss her. She shivered in anticipation, wanting nothing more in the world than the feeling of his lips against hers right then. Again. His lips on hers, warm, gentle and yet wanting, exciting her and comforting her at the same time, something familiar… and yet as far as she knew there was no 'again' – the only time she had kissed him was in the kitchen in the 1920s, to save his life.
So why did it feel like something that she missed so much? Something that was missing in their closeness these past few weeks as he nursed her back to health.
He didn't kiss her. He just hugged her close and turned back to looking at the water. Donna pouted a little. Was she imagining it, this thing between them that remained unspoken? This was the sixth posh restaurant he had brought her to in as many days…
Yet she could not believe that he could feel like that towards her. With her ill-fitting clothes and too thin body she felt old and tired, even these simple trips to eat dinner would wear her out, although she did her best to hide her fatigue from the Doctor. He watched over her like a hawk and she hated to see the worry in his eyes. She knew he was glad to have her back but the intensity of his gaze startled her sometimes, and made her wonder if she was as much his lifeline as he was hers.
Taking a deep breath she finally blurted out what was on her mind. "What's this about then? Are you trying to fatten me up, Doctor, or woo me?"
He grinned and dropped her an affable wink. "Both."
Then he ruffled his hair and looked away. Donna looked at him speculatively. Was he serious? Was he blushing?
"Well, maybe we should get on with it then, before I get so fat eating in all these five star restaurants that you can't squeeze me through the TARDIS door!"
He smiled down at her and moved his hand to her side, lightly running his fingers under her cardigan so briefly it was as if she had imagined it.
"I'll have no more talk of you getting fat, Earthgirl; I can still count your ribs. There are many, many more gourmet eating places in your future if that's what it takes to put some meat on your bones, you'd better get used to it."
She stuck her tongue out at him, feeling the need to shrug off his mother hen attitude, and also feeling frustrated that he was deliberately ignoring her invitation to talk about any romantic motivation to his actions.
Out with it then, Donna, she decided.
"Why do I want to snog you right now?"
He froze for a moment, then extricated himself from their embrace, his mouth working but no sounds coming out.
He stumbled back a step and just looked at her helplessly. Donna went on, feeling embarrassed but wanting to solve this mystery.
"Only, ever since we've been together again, it almost feels like something's missing, and my mind's all clouded about how things were before I was taken, and I have all these…"
ithoughts, feelings, sensations like out of a cheesy romance novel, a good Berotic/B romance novel …/i
"…images, in my head," she finished weakly, running out of steam and hoping she hadn't said too much. If this was all in her imagination and nothing else…
He drew himself up to his full height and his tongue curved to the roof of his mouth as he looked at her.
"You sure you want to talk about this?" he asked finally, his eyebrows high.
She nodded firmly, all out of words.
"Alright." He exhaled in a rush. "Alright. But I want you to know one thing, okay?"
"Okay," she whispered, her stomach doing somersaults.
"There are no expectations. No pressure. Nothing like that. Nothing at all. You are only just barely getting back on your feet and I wouldn't—that is, I wouldn't, weeelllllll…"
"Not just in my head then?" she asked faintly, feeling slightly dizzy all of a sudden.
"No, not in your head, no."
He'd stopped touching her, she noticed, and was keeping a respectful few feet between them now.
"Donna, maybe we should sit down."
She gulped as he led her across the balcony to a bench under a canopy of what looked like cherry blossoms. She sat down abruptly before the dizziness became too much and then stared fixedly at the ground until her equilibrium came back. A soft breeze dusted occasional flower petals over them as they sat together. But not too together, he was maintaining a careful distance and watching her with that dark look back in his eyes, and she knew he was torturing himself with remembrances of what had happened to her.
"You really can't remember?" he began hesitantly.
"Sometimes it seems real, like as if I just came up and touched you and kissed you it would be the most natural thing in the world, something we did all the time…"
She could feel heat rise in her face and did her best to ignore it.
"…And then other times it feels unreal, like I'm only remembering snatches of a dream."
He was still staring at her, his eyes intense. "It wasn't a dream. It's real, Donna, you and I were very much together."
His eyes were trained on her and she knew he was gauging her reaction.
"You mean, with the kissing… and everything?" she squeaked.
Donna swallowed and let silence fall between them, trying to process something she had known in her heart to be true but had not dared believe it. She turned to him, he was unmoving, as if holding his breath. She managed what was supposed to be a reassuring smile but came out more of an impish grin.
"Blimey," she said again.
He nodded, and smiled at her a little shyly, his adam's apple bobbing nervously in his throat.
"Doctor, how come I don't remember that?"
"You don't, not at all?" He reached out to her and she looked at him for a moment before realizing he wanted to hold her hand but didn't want to be so presumptuous as to take it.
"I…well, if I do it feels like I dreamt it?" She slipped her hand into his waiting palm.
"You have what humans call psychogenic amnesia. A combination of retrograde and anterograde amnesia following a traumatic event or head injury—"
He stopped when she lifted her eyebrows, then went on, "…which just means you can't recall things before and after the kidnapping, not just the event itself, the continuity of memory is broken."
She nodded, looking down. She wasn't comfortable dwelling on what happened to her, and she squirmed when he talked about her like she was a mental patient.
He took a breath and continued, "Who you are, and what happened to you, and the world you perceived around you, if they are in conflict and your mind cannot reconcile the normally well-integrated elements of reality then incompatible or unacceptable emotion and knowledge becomes dissociated, compartmentalized even."
She wrinkled her nose. "You sound like a textbook."
He tapped the side of his head. "Perils of encyclopedic knowledge, I'm afraid."
Donna looked down at their entwined hands and thought about what he was telling her. When she didn't say anything for a while he tilted his head to catch her eye and she squeezed his hand, fighting for words.
"Makes sense though, I suppose. Like if you and I became… well, whatever, not long before I was gone, then my mind just tucked that away, cause it was inconsistent with nearly all of our friendship before that."
iAnd all btoo/b consistent with many months of dreaming and fantasizing about shacking up with you,/i she didn't add, not ready for him to know that; being in a relationship with him might be new for her, however, wanting to be in one with him was anything but.
She looked up at him. "But it really did happen?"
"So you and I… how? How did we… how did it happen?"
"Well, it wasn't just one time… there was this cramped jail cell, then a particularly cold one, and the time you and Martha with the… thing that you did, in the hotel room, to distract the uh, bachelor party…"
His ears went pink at that memory. He rushed on, his words tumbling over themselves as he pulled at his bangs.
"Then the palace with only one free bedroom with only one bed, and the Fulalieegengk rites of passage, and the panda bear, which wasn't a panda bear, and the Poosh handfasting which wasn't even really a wedding except, well… and more holding cells, and the time when we pretended to be married to Jack in order to…"
He trailed off when Donna started laughing, she couldn't help it, the tension between them tonight was in some ways exquisite, but also a lot for her to take right now, and he just looked so earnest as he tried to trace the development of their relationship through their adventures.
"Yes, Doctor, I fully remember all those times, what I mean is, how did we, you know, how did we actually get beyond all that?"
He looked lost for a second and she realized that for all his encyclopedic knowledge he probably couldn't wrap his head around what she meant.
"I don't know how to quantify the tipping point," he admitted, fidgeting.
She scooched closer to him on the bench until her body was pressed up against his, which didn't seem to help him think any more clearly if his wide eyes were anything to go by.
"Doctor, how about you just tell me about the first time we kissed, properly I mean."
"It wasn't anything like those adventures," he said simply. "You just showed up one morning in the console room to tell me off for waking you with my banging around with the mallet."
His eyes unfocused slightly and a smile curved on his lips. "You were in your robe with your hair all crazy beautiful and no make up or anything and you were giving me a hard time and I just—"
He broke off for a moment and rubbed the back of his neck, a far away look on his face. Donna held her breath, even the fireflies seemed suspended in time, waiting for him to continue.
"I just came over to you and kissed you. I don't really know what came over me but I couldn't help myself any longer. I just… I looked at you and I knew I loved you so much." He took her hand and looked in her eyes.
"I love you, Donna Noble. I love you when you grumble at me, I love you when you are scared and trying to hide it, I love you when you overcook the eggs, and when you fly the TARDIS into nebulae and meteor showers. I love you when you are brave and when you are happy and when you are tired and when you drive me mad putting yourself at risk to rescue baby panda bears and when you sing in the shower."
He had to stop when she placed her fingers over his mouth, shaking her head, tears in her eyes, overcome with the depth of emotion in his voice.
"I love you," he whispered into her fingers. She let her hand fall away again. Somehow, she found the strength to echo those words back to him and then she fell into his arms.
After a while of sitting quietly, neither of them saying anything, the Doctor rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.
She mumbled something incoherent in reply.
"Donna, I need you to know that us talking about this doesn't mean anything has to change. I don't want you to feel any pressure to relate to me any differently, okay? Now is not the time for that, you need space, time to heal, you need a friend, and I can still be that for you, you don't have to think of me as… anything else…"
She pulled herself up to look at him, something in her eyes silencing yet another nervous babble.
And then she kissed him.