Characters/Pairings- Doctor/Donna, mostly platonic
Summary- Or A Rough Guide To The Doctor's Past. Trying to help the Doctor overcome his grief for his daughter, Donna urges him to tell her of his family, and the home he lost. Set after The Doctor's Daughter.
A/N- It always bugs me that, though Donna understood the Doctor better than any New Who companion (maybe ANY companion), she knew less about him than any New Who companion. Therefore, a little scene that potentially could have happened, giving Donna information about the Doctor's past, because she deserves it, and because he needs someone, as she so rightly said, who understands.
"I'll never tell you the secret I'm holding,
I know these things must bore you,
but I can't find another way,
I'll never tell you the secrets I'm holding,
I love this leash that holds me,
when I try to run away."
A rather drastic incident in ancient Peru had resulted in some pretty nasty damage to the TARDIS' hyperdrive circuitry, so until the primary converter cooled sufficiently to be worked on, they were grounded. The Doctor had tried to coerce Donna into returning to their original purpose- that is, seeing the tropical rainforest before the loggers got ahold of it- but she had rebuffed his efforts, pointing out that with the creepy viper-alien infestation they had just dealt with, she'd had quite enough tropical wildlife, thank you very much.
So there they were, sitting in the doorway of the TARDIS (conveniently parked at the top of Huayna Picchu, overlooking the city that would one day become famous ruins), watching the scarlet sunset. Donna studied the Doctor out of the corner of her eye. His face was bathed in sunlight, and it was one of those occasions when she could see clearly just how much he was hurting from losing Jenny. All nine hundred and four years were written clearly in his eyes. She'd seen him look like this before, but it came around more frequently ever since their unfortunate trip to Messaline.
Not for the first time, she wondered what had happened to dig that well of sadness in the first place. However, there was something about the quiet of this place, so high above the rest of the world, that gave her the courage to ask.
"Doctor?" she said tentatively.
He glanced at her, humming in acknowledgement.
"What were they like? Your people, I mean. Your family."
He shrugged. "They were... well, in their own way they were like any other family in the universe. Not really much to tell."
It was an obvious cop-out, and Donna had made it her personal mission to prevent him from using such easy escapes. "Doctor," she said gently, "I see it. You can pretend you're fine and whirl us off to whichever mad adventure pops into your head next, but sometimes you get this look in your eyes and... you're not as alright as you'd like people to think. Now, I might not know much about what happened to you, but I know that sometimes, even with the very worst things, talking about it helps."
The Doctor looked at her and there was an unexpectedly soft smile on his face. She wondered what he was thinking.
Then he turned away from her and looked out across the Andes. "I was born into the House of Lungbarrow," he said. "I was a natural birth, which was extraordinarily rare on Gallifrey- most of the race was sterile, you see. Long story. In any case, most Gallifreyans were grown on... well, we called them Looms, and it's rather an apt description. But every once in awhile, there would be a pair who were fertile and genetically compatible enough to conceive naturally. My Cousins used to make such fun of me for being the odd one out in the family..."
Donna noted the rueful smile on his face as he shook his head.
"From a pretty early age I was groomed to be the next Lord President of Gallifrey. The House of Lungbarrow was... oh, it's hard to put in human terms, but I guess you could've called us the Gallifreyan equivalent of nobility. And I manifested my time sense pretty young, even for a budding Time Lord, so it was just assumed..." He sighed. "But of course, I turned out to be an incredible disappointment. Ran away during my initiation ceremony, lowest marks you could receive and still graduate from the Academy... never even passed my TARDIS exam."
"Now there's a surprise," Donna muttered, and he elbowed her in the side playfully.
"Anyway, I did my time at the Academy and then I was just... lost. My best friend had gotten himself a Type 60 and vanished. I didn't really know what to do with myself. I mean, a hundred years I spent learning everything a proper Time Lord should know, and what good did it actually do me? No TARDIS, so it was just me trapped on Gallifrey. Not that that was a bad thing, mind. Gallifrey was beautiful. I wish you could've seen it, Donna. The sky was burnt orange- about the same shade as your hair, actually- and every morning the suns would rise over the mountains and the whole world would just shine. Everything red and gold and sparkling...
"But even then I had wanderlust. I wanted to see the worlds I'd read about in the Academy. I wanted to come to Earth and see all you funny little people in person. But without a TARDIS, I was stuck. So I did what every stupid kid just out of school does- I found myself a girl. Alara, her name was. She was a holy terror- at least, by Time Lord standards- and she didn't mind that I was such a failure. We were young and stupid, and we got married spur-of-the-moment, on the slopes of Mount Perdition, on land that belonged to my best friend's father.
"We did the expected things- we settled down just outside the Citadel, we contributed genetic material and Loomed a few children. Two sons and a daughter."
Donna caught the way his voice cracked just a little on the word 'daughter.'
"They grew up, went to the Academy and then, one day, out of nowhere, this girl, barely even fourteen, turned up in the Citadel. They did a bio-scan to determine who she belonged to and it turned out she belonged to me. A grandchild. But her DNA showed no indication that she was any relation of Alara's. That was... confusing. No one knew what to make of her. Alara and I... well, we argued over it. It eventually got to be too much, and I snapped. I found an Type 40 that had been decommissioned and stole it. She didn't fly too well, so I fixed her up a little bit and got ready to leave before the other Time Lords could catch me. But Susan- that was what she said her name was, Susan."
"That's pretty," Donna said, smiling. "I like the name Susan. Doesn't exactly sound Time Lord-y, does it?"
The Doctor grinned. "No, it's not. That was half her mystery. Genetically speaking, she was all Time Lord, but in her hearts, she was an Earth Girl. Anyway, Susan wouldn't let me go alone; she insisted on coming along. I told her it was a bad idea; even if she was an oddity, the Time Lords would still take good care of her. I didn't want her saddled with her grandfather, on the run from our own people for the rest of her life. But she was a stubborn kid, she wouldn't take no for an answer."
"Good that you had somebody to keep you in line," she smirked.
He chuckled. "I suppose," he grudgingly allowed. "Anyway, Susan eventually left the TARDIS, to find her own place in the universe, and I kept meeting new people and going about. It all caught up to me once or twice, though. The other Time Lords didn't take kindly to my general interference in anything or everything I found myself in the middle of. It was one of the most important laws on Gallifrey, you see- do not interfere. Watch and learn, yes, but never, ever interfere with the natural progression of Time."
"I can't imagine you just standing by and watching," Donna commented. "If nothing else, you're too curious for your own good!"
The Doctor let out another short laugh. "I suppose so."
"So..." Donna swallowed, working up the nerve to ask the next question. "The Time War?"
All traces of merriment disappeared from his eyes. "All the Time Lords across the universe were called back to Gallifrey to fight a race called the Daleks, who would have slaughtered every other life form in the universe, given half a chance. Xenophobia at its most vicious." He shook his head. "They wanted make me a general, they wanted me to lead half the damn army. Apparently my academic failure and general rebellion against the laws of Gallifrey meant I'd be perfect for the job." His voice was bitter.
"The worst of it is, if I'd been less of a rebel, the Time War might not even have happened. I was the reason the Daleks learned there was more out there beyond their radiation-blasted little planet. My curiosity got the better of me and the Daleks learned of life beyond Skaro. And later, when I had a chance to destroy them all... I didn't. The one time I should have messed with Time was the one I didn't bother.
"And so the Time War went on. It was... I've seen some things in my life, Donna, things you can't begin to imagine, but the horrors of the Time War..." He shuddered involuntarily.
Donna put a comforting arm around his shoulders and he looked at her with surprise and gratitude, leaning into her half-embrace.
"I saw them all die, Donna. I hadn't seen Alara in a good 500 years, and the day I saw her again was the day her TARDIS was shot down by the Daleks. My sons, my daughter, my grandchildren... Susan died right before my eyes, singlehandedly trying to stop the Dalek Emperor from taking the Cruciform." He closed his eyes and took a steadying breath. "It was hell. Everything burning, and the Citadel was in ruins, and Skaro had been shattered to bits... But it was going wrong. The Time Lords... I don't know. War is hard on any species, but for one so essentially pacifistic as the Time Lords, it destroyed them. I never knew the details, but at the very end, something was wrong. They were planning something horrible. Romana never told me what- Romana was a friend of mine, you see. Traveled with me for about sixty years or so, then went on to become the Lady President. Ironic, isn't it? The outcast and the president, the best of friends. Anyway, she was injured. She came to me to warn me that the others were planning an atrocity, and warned me to get away. The last thing she did was seal the War inside a time lock to prevent anyone from altering the events from the outside. And I..."
He closed his eyes, taking a breath to steady his shaking voice. "I was a coward. I ran away and set my home on fire to end it all. I set ten million Dalek ships to burn, and Gallifrey with them. It was the only way to end the war, but I..."
Donna tightened her grip on him, reassuring him in the only way she knew how. "Shh," she said softly.
The Doctor sighed and leaned his head on her shoulder. "War is hell, Donna. It changes you. Maybe it destroys you."
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "You should never have had to make that choice."
"Someone had to," he pointed out.
"That doesn't make it okay."
They sat in silence for a long time, until the sun had finally slipped out of sight behind the Andes. Then, softly, Donna said, "You're a lot stronger than me, Spaceman."
She shrugged. "After all that... you still go on. I don't know if I could. I don't think I could keep going with all that weighing me down.*"
The Doctor shook his head. "I think you're tougher than you give yourself credit for."
"That's not my point,"she said.
"I know. But that's just it- when I've got friends like you, how can I possibly not keep going? You make me strong, Donna. The memories of my old friends keep me going, and the friends I've still got keep me strong. I'm learning how to get better. Maybe someday I'll be more like the man I used to be. Oh, you should've seen me Donna, when I was young... oh, I was a marvel, if I do say so myself."
Donna poked him in the side, grinning. "Now, Doctor, that's what you need me for. None of this I-keep-you-going nonsense; you really need me to keep your head from swelling up to the size of a mellon!"
The Doctor glowered at her, but it was half-hearted as a smile kept threatening to break through.
*The ironic thing is that, out of all the companions through all the years, Donna would probably have best-borne surviving the Doctor's life. She's strong. We saw that so clearly in Turn Left. At least the Doctor always had the opportunity to hop into his TARDIS and escape to Somewhere Else. Donna lived through horrific events and had no quick exit button... and yet, after years of hell on earth, she was still strong enough to keep fighting, still determined to do the best thing for everyone.
All hail the DoctorDonna! (Or, alternately, review...)