"hallowed, like ground"
Genre: Drama, Friendship
Time Frame: Season Four
Characters: Donna Noble, The Doctor (Ten)
Summary: "Come on then, I'll make you a cup of tea and find you something to eat – and I don't mean haggis and whatever else you have lying around the kitchen. It's dangerous looking there." After a day gone wrong that hit close to home, Donna plays the caretaker.
Notes: So, I recently got my hands on the book of poems called Crush, by the amazing poet Richard Siken, and when I read the poem 'Saying Your Names' I immediately this fic poured from my fingers. It was a lot of fun to write, and I hope that you enjoy it.
A good majority of the italics are taken or paraphrased from that poem – which is seriously up there with my top ten favorite poems of all time. You should check him out if you haven't already heard of him.
Disclaimer: Nothing is mine but for the words (minus the words that aren't).
The planet Sarvios had very red sunsets.
All encompassing, scarlet on crimson to form a sanguine sight for the eyes, the triple suns glowed like white embers at the center of the evening sky, coating everything in a thick and tangible light. The planet gave one Donna Noble a bad case of the wiles from the start. Even before she knew what lied under the citizen's carefully sightless white eyes and and twinkling, water like voices.
The city was like the Emerald one from the children's movie that had given her nightmares growing up. Only . . . not so emerald. Obviously, whoever had designed the planet had mixed the Emerald City with ruby slippers, and that right there didn't sit well with her from the stop. When her opinions were voiced, the Doctor simply mentioned that there were no flying monkeys – so there was no reason to be worried.
Afterward, she thinks that she would have preferred the monkeys.
"The peoples of Sarvios see without sight. The red light renders them blind, but on the mental level their psyches are off the chart when it comes to facts and figures. They have a touch of the telepath in them – the strongest of their Seers can even see your Time as it bends around you. Back, oh, I don't know – at least three centuries – is the last time I met a Sarvion. The blasted bugger saw the whole of my Time – and what do you know? He was right about everything, too." The Doctor's sing-song voice and quick steps seemed out of place amongst the carefully still planet. Not even the wind blew through the charcoal colored trees. It was as if the whole of the world was frozen, lost to time and her influences.
Ahead of her, ridiculous blue coat glinting in the sordid light, and eyes twinkling, the Doctor had beckoned for her to follow.
And she did.
And now they were walking back the way they came. Only, she was the one leading. And the man behind her was most certainly not jumping. If anything, he held his centuries in his steps, heavy and devoid of feeling or any of the wry whipwire sort of grace that she had come to attribute to him.
She led with determined strides, anxious adrenaline in her veins for a foe she couldn't face. She didn't know how his words had struck to go about repairing the wound that they had inflicted.
"Well, he was a right sort of a whack job if you ask me," she said onto the empty air, her voice just the right parts scorn and spite with ginger thrown in to twine it together.
Not a blink. Not a nod.
"Seer," she scoffed the title out, "I've seen more accurate readings from fortune cookies."
Not a twitch. Not a grin.
And bugger it all, if there was a reason that she chose to travel with a hyper alien who could jump more than quicksilver; then she very well couldn't let him sulk. Not for too long, anyway.
"Alright," she turned on her heel, stopping the Doctor's path with her own. "Obviously something he told you struck close to home. I've got that."
"Oh, Doctor, don't you hear them all when the lights go out? When you fold your hands with bedtime prayers like a child. Ignorant and innocent. Do you chant them . . . do you remember . . . Chemical names, and winged names, names of fire and flight and snow, baby names, countrymen names . . . delicate names like bones in the body. Did you give them Rumpelstiltskin names that are always changing . . .names that no one's ever able to figure out?"
"But you've said yourself that he just sees bits and pieces . . ."
"Names of spells and names of hexes, names cursed quietly under the breath, or called out loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again, calling you home . . ."
" . . . and I, for one, couldn't understand a word of what he was saying."
"Nicknames and pet names, and baroque French monikers, written in shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined
For the first, the Doctor met her eyes with a hollow sort of smile. "They weren't meant for you . . . you shouldn't have to understand them. Not ever."
She frowned, her hands heavy at her sides. Where her fists were balled, her fingers twitched; aching to do something.
"What did they say to you?" she asked, peering at him, genuine concern in her gaze.
His eyes seemed so very old. When he lifted to corner of his lips, the small motion seemed to have taken all of his effort from him. "This and that," he muttered.
When she placed a hand on his shoulder, he was unbelievably taut; every muscle in his body tight. He tensed under her touch, and she drew her hand away. Just slightly.
"You know I'm here to listen, right?" she said gently. "And to more than just your absurd ramblings."
The twitch of his lips seemed easier. Slightly. "They're not absurd," he defended.
"Oh? Try listening to yourself for a change."
He shook his head, his shoulders still tight beneath her touch.
"Come on then," she started walking, sure that he would follow. "I'll make you a cup of tea and find you something to eat – and I don't mean haggis and whatever else you have lying around the kitchen. It's dangerous looking there."
"More dangerous than Donna Nobel set loose on the pantry?"
"Hey, don't mock what you haven't tried, space-man," she returned, fond annoyance in her tone.
"And you are ready to prove me wrong?"
"I can heat up a mean microwave dinner," she said, eyes sparkling.
He shook his head fondly, and this time the motion came almost easily. He looked at her oddly, as if trying to figure something out – a riddle or a conundrum, or a bad part of the crossword that came in the newspaper that wouldn't fall into place.
A moment later, he shook whatever thought he had away, and fell into step next to her.
"Besides, what have you got against the defenseless haggis?"
"If you are asking me that, then you have not a leg to stand on when mocking my cooking."
He shrugged. "Fair enough."
She shook her head, and when the TARDIS welcomed them, she allowed herself to take a deep breath of the sweetly alien air within. The ship hummed in greeting, the blue and green tones soothing after the harsh red of the planet they left behind. Far behind, if she had anything to say about it.
In the end, she didn't have to say anything.
The Doctor's touch on the controls was gentle; a contrast to the normal chaos that piloting was. The ship mourned with him, it seemed.
Donna watched for a moment before following through on her promise of scrapping together something for them. At her thoughts, the halls morphed before her, showing her a way through the unending labyrinth of the timeship. The kitchen was much as they left it that morning – coffee mugs sitting next to whatever gizmo or gadget the Doctor had been tinkering with, and her latest Nicholas Sparks novel propped open next to her breakfast plate. (The Doctor had mocked her for her choice in literature, but had let her slide after she had promised never to read Twilight in his presence. After a run-in with Vlad Teppes, she was inclined to understand his distaste there. Kinda, anyway.)
After putting on the kettle for tea, she moved to the fridge to see what she could piece together.
Automatically, she pushed the jello shots that Jack had left to the back and ignored Martha's store of Panriio noodle bowls. (The woman was generally laid back, but some lines were not meant to be crossed.) Truffles from Zillor – hers. ( And the Doctor was not to touch them on the pain of death.) Some rather revolting green herb drink from Toiop's moons that the Doctor liked to drink . . . Leftover pizza from a impromptu run comparing slices from Chicago, New York, and Naples itself all within twenty minutes (never let it said that they didn't find creative ways to put the TARDIS to use) and the infamous haggis . . .
There was a container of condensed soup in the cupboard from the eighty-first century. The ingredients list took up most of the label, and not a word sounded like anything that should be in chicken noodle soup.
"Methlychlorocalsulfatone bisulfate?" she pronounced gingerly. "It sounds like it can survive a nuclear explosion."
"Actually, it did," the Doctor said softly as he entered the kitchen. "I saved the world with that can there."
She raised a brow, but didn't bother to ask or object. She had learned better by now.
The pantry was well stocked, even though the Doctor never baked. She wondered who before her had . . . Inspiration hit her as she grabbed this and that, knowing the perfect comfort food and companion for tea . . .
"What are you making?" the Doctor asked.
She shrugged. "For you to know," she said playfully as she mixed her ingredients together. Oats . . . butter . . . brown sugar and honey . . . chocolates for hers. The perfect comfort food for a not so good, almost flat out awful day.
He peered over at the concoction she had going before moving to the table. The low slung piece of furniture was from Hioray, and she didn't recognize the characters carved into the wood. But the Doctor knew their stories – apparently, an old acquaintance, long gone now, crafted it out of the stories that had sprang from his adventures there. The Doctor slumped down into a cushioned chair with a narrowly pointed and tall back – the sort that a villain in a fairy-tale would have before the fireplace. It was all red velvet and dark wood with gold to accent – completely out of place amongst the alieness of the ship, but the Doctor liked it, and in a way, it fit.
When he settled back, he took out a small leather journal – one who had clearly seen some wear and tear. The brown was faded and tired, but content, in that way that old books were. The pages were worn and yellowed – waterstained, with rings from tea cups and dogears from late night perusing. From her spot at the counter, she could smell the scent of age from the pages.
"What the Seer said," the Doctor said softly. "They are all right here."
Her interest was piqued as she spooned her concoction out into a baking tray. Already the TARDIS had preheated the oven-ish thing for her, and she slipped the tray in with a mental look at the time. Her small creation set, she moved to the table, pulling up a bubbly white chair that felt like a cloud (from Igo's moons) up next to the Doctor's.
He passed her the journal in the same manner that one would hand a prized family heirloom to a stranger. His eyes were dark and blank, and while his fingers did not shake, the ship around them had quieted. The hum was soft and far away, as if it was waiting as well.
Raising a brow, Donna looked at him curiously – he was acting very queerly, after all – before turning her attention to the pages of the book.
The book was not from Earth. As soon as she touched the pages, they shimmered with an alien force – a sort of natural awareness that the TARDIS thrived with. Sentient, but not. Here, memories lived as the pages shimmered with far off images and scenes – all seen from his eyes, it would seem. Pressed into the paper for the years to come . . .
Each page bore a name.
Understanding set in, cold and hard. "What are these?" she asked, tracing a finger over the names with something like awe in her eyes. The pages reverberated with time's weight, as if each forgotten soul was alive and whole through their inscribed names. Some names were accompanied by sketches done in ink beneath the moving pictures – smiling eyes and gentle smiles (or frowns). He carried their memories through the centuries, even when they passed on – mortal, and so incredibly human that sometimes she was surprised that he didn't sink with the weight of it.
Sometimes, his humanity only was skin deep. It was a fact she had always known, but not truly dwelt upon, if she was honest with herself.
The Doctor looked carefully at her, weighing her reaction. Instead of answering, he quoted softly in an old and tired voice: "Names of poisons, names of cures, names of places we've been together, names of people we'd be together. Names of endurance, names of devotion, street names and place names and all the names of our dark heavens crackling in their havens."
She narrowed her eyes. "That is what he called them."
"And he was close enough," the Doctor muttered. "These came before you Donna – some grew tired of traveling with me, some moved on, some didn't. For some I made the choice for them, and for some there simply was no choice."
The pictures cut off abruptly on some; her fingers could feel the echo of a scream on those pages. Katrina, Sara, Adric, Astrid . . .
The first pages were a dark haired girl, and an older couple . . . Susan, Ian and Barbara . . .
These memories were so very old . . .
"These are people who traveled with you?" she asked gently.
A weight settled in her throat, tight and raw. He was a man who bounced from time to time as if chased, he never struck her as the sort to look back . . . to mourn. If he ever started, he wouldn't be able to stop . . .
"It's not mourning, so much as remembering," the Doctor said softly. "The only thing worse than remembering is forgetting . . . and I owe them too much to not do that."
She nodded, and let the name ghost over her mind's eye . . .
Polly . . . Jamie . . . Zoe . . . Liz . . . Jo . . . Sarah Jane . . . (both of her) . . .
Harry . . . Leela . . . Adric . . . Nyssa . . . Tegan . . . and Romana
Peri, and Ace, and Grace . . .
Some names were not companions, but people he had met on his travels – everyone from Shakespeare and Jane Austen, to Rodin and Beethoven. He had once helped Marie Antoinette from a race of silk spinning aliens, and he had stood by Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo (the rain that decided the fate of that battle had been all his fault, in a sort) He had passed Benjamin Franklin a pen to sign the Declaration, and he had marched with Richard the Lionheart on his way back from the holy land. He had caused the Zeppelin to fall from the sky (quite by accident, mind you); and saved a single family from the wreck of the Titanic. The fifty third Minister of Daaaid had profited from his advice, and the conductor of the Choral of Chimes on Rastal III composed his neverending symphony in honor of him . . .There were other names . . . Names that meant nothing to her, and everything to him.
The next page had only one name, a simple name. A girl's name, tight and short and too frilly for her tastes. Rose, like the flower. And when she touched it, the Seer's words snaked through her head like miasma.
"Names called out across the water, names I called you behind your back, sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable,the names of flowers that open only once, shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops, or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep, or caught in the throat like a lump of meat."
She blinked, and withdrew her fingers from the name. It echoed with a different power than the other names – something that almost tasted golden and potent to her senses. Like time and lightning. Halos, even, as irrational as the comparison sounded.
Next, she recognized Martha's and Jack's pages with a smile, and then she turned . . .
To see herself.
The images were familiar to her as her own memories – her dressed in white against a spider queen, and her gazing up at a sky full of Adipose with him . . . Pompeii, wasps and authors . . . library's of the dead and a planet made of sapphire and diamond. . .
The images played on repeat, full and fond.
"And what will the end of this one be?" she asked curiously.
He shrugged, still watching her. "Half the fun is finding out," he said with the start of a smile on his lips.
"I guess so," she said softly, her fingers still resting on the page. The rest of the book was blank, waiting for the ones who would come after her . . .
She took in a deep breath against the thought, and -
The timer went off.
Both were silent for a moment.
"You don't want those to burn," the Doctor pointed out with a small smile. "They're already dangerous enough entities without charred edges."
She rolled her eyes. "Hush, you," she ordered as she pushed away from the table.
Her eyes were on the journal as she took the flapjacks from the oven and cut them into squares. For best effect, it was best to let them settle, but she never did have the patience for that kind of thing. Besides, she liked them gooey. There was more of a mess that way – as she had adored pointing out to her mum after cooking with her grandfather.
The memory hit her harder than it normally would have, and she shook it away as she would a shiver.
She came back to the table with her platter of treats, and two mugs of tea.
The Doctor took the tea with a nod of thanks, before looking suspiciously at the flapjack-like things that her efforts had produced.
"Oh, they won't bite," she said, cross.
"Are you sure?" he poked at one with a careful finger.
To prove her point, she picked one up and took a bite with defiant eyes. "See?"
"Yes, I see, but that doesn't mean -"
"- oh, stop your whinging, and just take one."
She was holding the tray right under his nose. He glared at her in amusement, and where he any more human he looked as if he would stick his tongue out at her. Instead he took one, and gave it a cautious bite.
"It isn't completely horrid," he finally gave.
"The tea helps it immensely."
"Sure," she said as she sat back down.
The Doctor took another.
And Donna picked up the book again.
She started at the beginning again, and eventually she was able to wheedle a story or two from the Doctor's memories. Days saved, worlds liberated, silly stories about run-ins on silly planets . . . A part of her wondered when she'd be nothing but a story on his lips to someone after her . . . and the thought was as painful as she tried to keep it short and to the back of her mind.
Some pages he carefully avoided speaking of – some memories were hard to carry, she knew. And some pages he had much to say on . . .
She wasn't quite sure how long they sat there. But soon the tea was cold, and the plate of flapjacks were merely crumbs. (thankyouverymuch!) The TARDIS hummed as she did when she cycled through the day's rise and fall as a courtesy to her human passengers, and the Doctor actually looked tired for a change . . . She had never seen the man sleep before, and for a long time she simply though that he didn't – fresh air and determination seemed to sustain his rants just fine most of the time.
She fought the urge to take pictures when the Time Lord started to nod off, but she didn't. See how very benevolent she was?
Instead she took one last look at the book, and turned out of curiosity to the very back page. Inscribed on the leather that held the book together was:
"Names like pain cries, names like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented, names forbidden or overused. Your name like a song I sing to myself, your name like a box where I keep my remembered ones."
Exactly the Seer's words, syllable for syllable.
Her eyes narrowed at it as she put the book down next to the Doctor, and then she stood to tidy up the small mess they made.
She placed the almost empty tea cups on the empty platter, and gathered the crumbs into her hand to sprinkle over the top. When she straightened from her task, she felt something crumble in the pockets of her sweater. Curious, she pulled out a folded piece of silver paper from her pocket. The edges were frayed, as if the message had been waiting for her. The letters formed themselves from a scrawled, quick hand, too caught in the grip of an idea to care about grace and clarity within the characters.
"Here is my hand, my heart, my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated cities at the center of me, and here is the center of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we can drink from. Here I am for you to see; and through my travels do I see as well. . . Set you up to take me down, around and around; remember that what is remembered is a treasured thought. The only thing worse is the nothingness of forgot."The Seer had left a message for her as well.
She blinked at it, something cold settling in behind her chest, before she crumpled the paper back up again. With a careless flick of her wrist, she threw the paper and its empty too true words into the tea cup. The silver was destroyed by the remnants of the tea, the shine lost to the tepid liquid.
Without another glance, she picked up the tray, and moved to the sink.
Behind her, one eye lazily cracked open, the Doctor watched her with something low and thoughtful, not quite unlike the beginnings of a smile, in his eyes.