A blue box. Always this stupid blue box calling to her. Drawing her in. She runs to it, but never gets closer. Something is behind her. A flash. Screams. Don't turn around. Just keep running. A door in the blue box opens and a slim figure leans out. His hand is stretched out. So close, she plunges forward. Why can't she see his face? It's blurry, but she feels it. She knows with every fiber of her body she needs to reach the box. A white flash blinds her.
Donna woke up with a scream.
"Are you all right, sweetie?" Wilf poked his head through the door.
Donna sat up with a start and waved him in. "Yeah, I'm fine, Gramps."
"Another bad dream?" He came over and sat down on her bed.
Donna nodded feebly. Her head felt like it was exploding any moment.
"That's every night now, isn't it?" Wilf kneaded his hands.
"You know?" Donna laid her hand over his.
He nodded. "Your screams rang through the whole house. Have no idea how your mum doesn't hear them."
Donna squeezed his hand. "It's better so."
He grinned in agreement. "What are you dreaming about?"
"Oh, nothing. It's probably just the food."
"But every night?" Her granddad didn't sound convinced.
She shrugged. "It's something silly. There's a blue box and I'm running towards it."
Wilf's face whitened. "And?" He leant a bit closer.
"Each time, I see a bit more," Donna rubbed her temple. "Today a man stepped out."
"A man?" Wilf gasped.
"Yeah, how pathetic is that?" Donna laughed humorless. "And he's super skinny. Just bones."
"Not your type at all," Wilf laughed, relieved.
"Not at all," Donna grinned. "Can't see his face though, but it feels like I know him." She stared into the air.
"And do you?" Wilf held his breath, dreading the answer.
"Nah, don't know any skinny men." Donna said and gave him a hug. "Let's go back to sleep, gramps."
His worry lines deepened as he studied her, then he placed a kiss on her cheek. "Goodnight, sweetie."
Somewhere at the other end of the universe a couple of red lights flickered to life on a console of a blue box. Their light pulsed in a steady beat, slowly getting faster as a man ran past the console and through an open door.
Donna got up and grabbed a cup of tea before leaving the house. Mechanically, she walked to the bus stop, got swept onto and off the bus with the other commuters. She hurried into an office building with her co-workers, all dressed similarly, all in a hurry. She slipped into a cubicle, put on a headset and logged onto her computer.
Across the galaxy, the Doctor hop-scotched with a group of three-legged creatures. Their purple fur shone like velvet in the afternoon light of three moons as he lunged over the imaginary finish line. Rippled with laughter, he slammed onto the grass.
"I," he said between their hooting sounds, "really have to go – now."
He jumped up and shook many paws before strolling over to the TARDIS. At the door, he turned around one more time and waved goodbye to his new friends. With a big smile he stepped into his ship and threw his coat over the closest column. Once he reached the console his smile turned into a frown. He leant closer, fumbled for his glasses. Two red lights blinked rapidly.
"Mmmh." He adjusted a dial, twisted a lever, but the red lights remained steady.
Donna got up, grabbed a cup of tea and left the house. She ran to the bus stop, got on the bus and off at her work. She walked to her cubicle, put on a headset and logged onto her computer.
The Doctor crawled out from under the console and flipped a few switches. The red lights blinked even faster. His frown deepened as he turned to the screen.
Outside her windowless office, the sun climbed high into the sky and back down again. Donna turned off her computer and left for the city. She drifted with the masses as they pushed her past the brightly lit shops. With a fixed stare out of unseeing eyes, she maneuvered around the people and avoided collisions with oncoming pedestrians until she reached the Thames. With a sigh, she leant against the stoned wall and her eyes followed the flow of the river as it swept past her. Every now and then, she frowned as if trying hard to remember something.
The Doctor adjusted a dial and the image on the screen zoomed in. Gently, he stroked the outline on the screen.
Donna bent over the wall as if to listen to what the river told her. A man bumped into her and she shook out of her musings, turned back to a bus stop and rode home.
The screen went blank as the Doctor fell back into the railing with a grim face. No Comvids close to Donna's home. Too suburban, he thought, biting his lower lip. But I need to know! He flipped a few levers, pumped a handle and the TARDIS set off in flight mode. Destination: Earth – Chiswick – a year after he left Donna with her family.
The two red lights flashed hastily.
Donna went out of the house, not looking left or right as she walked past the blue box hiding in the alley. As soon as her bus left, the Doctor stepped out and knocked at the front door of the Noble residence.
"Forgot something, sweetheart?" Wilf called as he opened the door. Surprise washed over his face and he glanced worriedly past the Doctor down the street.
"She's gone," the Doctor said and Wilf turned to him with a big smile.
They shook hands enthusiastically.
"Come in, please, come in." Wilf ushered him inside. "Sylvia is gone too," Wilf explained the mess in the kitchen. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Love it." The Doctor smiled.
They remained silent as Wilf busied himself with the kettle and tea bags.
"How is she?" the Doctor finally asked quietly as Wilf handed him a cup.
The old man's face fell. "All right, I guess—"
"But?" the Doctor blew at the steam to cool the tea.
Wilf shrugged. "She's just so sad. Like a candle gone out."
The Doctor's eyes indicated he should go on, peeking over his mug.
"You know, the fire in her. It's burned out and she goes through the motions." Wilf waved aimlessly around. "She got a good job, goes out for drinks with friends, the whole spiel, but her smile never reaches her eyes any more."
"What do you mean?" The Doctor frowned.
"It's just when she's alone and thinks nobody sees her." Wilf motioned apologetically. "She stares at the stars. So lost, so alone. Like her life now is just a role she's playing for us."
The Doctor put the mug down. "That's not good. NOT GOOD!"
"She lost her spirit, Doctor." Wilf stepped closer, pleading. "And the headaches never really go away."
"Headaches?" the Doctor sounded alarmed. "She shouldn't have any."
"I know," Wilf fiddled with his mug. "She tries to hide them from us."
"That's bad." The Doctor strode around the kitchen, unable to contain his worries. "Something must have gone wrong – breaking down the memory wipe. Oh, that Timelord – Human Metacrisis! It's just too strong, but I couldn't go deeper, I might have damaged her other memories," the Doctor muttered to himself.
"What can we do, Doctor?" Wilf pulled him back to reality. "It's getting worse. She's having nightmares."
"Nightmares?" The Doctor's eyes snapped opened, horrified.
Wilf nodded seriously and related the latest one as the Doctor's frown deepened with every detail. Wilf watched him, scared. Pacing, the Doctor pulled his hair.
"The Timelord consciousness is too strong. It's leaking through."
"But you can fix it," Wilf said, but at the Doctor's grim expression, he added in a whisper, "Can't you?"
The Doctor stared at him, lost in thought.
Suddenly, Wilf strode over and poked the Doctor briskly in the chest. "You have to!"
Astonishment washed over the Doctor's face, but he didn't defend himself against Wilf's attack.
Exhausted, the old man let his hands sink down. "This is my little girl we're talking about."
The Doctor looked at him, eyes sad. "I've done all I could."
Wilf held his gaze. "She said you never give up. That's what she admired most in you!"
"She did?" The Doctor's old smugness slipped back in to his voice. He tilted his head as if to think it over, then he smacked his hands together, making Wilf jump a little.
"She's right!" the Doctor shouted and gave Wilf a grim grin. "I'll think of something." He shook Wilf's hands eagerly before storming out of the house.
"But Doctor?" Wilf called after him.
"I'll find something," the Doctor yelled over his shoulder. "Don't you worry!" and he rounded the corner to the alley. He slipped through the TARDIS door and leant heavily against it. All his bravado drained from his face. The Doctor stared at the console, scared. Utterly scared, for he knew he hadn't had a clue. A Timelord Human Metacrisis was so new. There was nobody to ask for help.
The red lights caused an eerie shadow. Slowly, he pushed off the door and dragged his feet over towards the console. His gaze fell on the Agatha Christie book Donna had been reading.
"Always have to clean up after my companions," he said aloud as he picked it up.
"A book," he muttered. "A book." He weighed it in his hand. "Books!"
His eyes shone as the idea formed in his mind.
"Books! The Library!" Excited he jumped to the console, flipped a few switches and dialed a few settings.
"Oh, I am good!" he shouted as he rushed around the console to the screen. Carefully, he adjusted the time and pulled the lever.
The TARDIS roared, throwing him back as he laughed hysterically.
"Oh, YES! I'm a genius!"
The TARDIS tilted to the right throwing him off balance, but he held on to the console in the last second.
"I know you're against it." He stroked the console. "BUT WE'RE GOING!"
A satisfied grin spread over his face. The TARDIS bolted to the left, but the Doctor stood firm. "If you want to or not! I know it's risky, but I need a powerful distraction for Donna." He leant onto the console. "And oh, she will love this one!" His smile nearly reached his ears as the TARDIS halted mid-flight.
"What?" the Doctor shot around and checked the controls. "Why did you stop?"
The TARDIS hovered, lights indicating flight status. The Doctor swung around the console, pushing more switches. "Frozen in time. Can't be!" He pulled his ear. "All systems work. Why did you trap us in time?"
The Doctor looked up as realization hit him. "Oh." He sank onto the bench. "Stuck in time. You think I'm breaking time law."
The TARDIS hummed quietly.
"You accuse me of being too preoccupied with the humans to forget the basic laws?" He stared at the console. "Have I been so much out of touch?"
The TARDIS kept hovering.
"NO!" He slammed his hand hard on the bench. "We're not talking about a fixed point in time. I can change the timeline, for it has already been changed once. Show me the implications." He sprang up and studied the screen where Gallifreyan symbols flashed in rapid succession.
"It's just bending the laws a bit – just a tiny weeny bit. It's wibbly, wobbly territory. So it's not breaking the time laws. It became a flexible point in time. I can do it." The Doctor rubbed his chin, then less confident. "Show me Donna's timeline and its adjusted consequences." Quietly, the Doctor studied the data, frowned, and readjusted it a bit, evaluating.
"Hah!" He leant back. "See no major time ripples or tears – I'm still that good!" He grinned widely. "Now keep on moving!"
The TARDIS flared up and they jumped forward in time.
"Thank you." Satisfied, he strode around the console. The TARDIS landed with a thud and shook violently.
"I know you're doing this on purpose," the Doctor said strictly, grabbing his coat. "But you're not stopping me."
He opened the door and peeked through. North Corridor to the main hall.
A smile formed on his face as he stepped out and pulled the door shut behind him. Carefully, he slipped into the great hall as Donna stepped out of the computer transport and hugged his old-self. A sting shot through his hearts at seeing his self so happy to have Donna back. He slid behind a bookshelf making sure to stand clear of the shadows. From this distance, he couldn't hear what they said, but he knew Donna had just told him about the man with the stutter. She shrugged and they left.
Now. The Doctor hastened towards the group. How was he supposed to find this man? Was he even real? Doubts sneaked into his hearts. Maybe this was just a stupid idea.
A man stumbled out of the group. "Do- Do- Do-nna."
The Doctor beamed and grabbed his arm. "Hello there." The Doctor shook his hand energetically. "I'm the Doctor. You must be Donna's husband—?"
"Lll-ee-ee." The other looked at him with round eyes.
"Lee, so nice to meet you." The Doctor let go his hand. "If you'll just follow me?" Gently, he took Lee by his arm and led him towards the TARDIS.
"Wh-wh-where's Donna?" Lee looked over his shoulder.
The Doctor turned around. "I can take you to her, but it's complicated. And we must hurry. The library is sealing itself off."
Lee scrutinized the Doctor, who grinned his most charming smile.
"Honestly, I'll take you to her. And I'll explain all – in my ship." He pointed at the TARDIS. "And if you don't want to, I'll take you to your home planet. I promise."
Lee remained silent, but then he nodded and followed the Doctor.
"All right, here we are then." The Doctor stepped through the door, but Lee halted. He eyed the blue box suspiciously as the Doctor leant out again.
"Come on in. There's room for both of us."
Lee popped his head through and his mouth fell open.
"It's bigger on the inside." The Doctor grinned before strolling over to the console. "Just close the door behind you, if you don't mind." He was already adjusting the dials and put the TARDIS into flight mode.
Lee stood rooted in the spot. "I've seen ships, but—"
"Different, isn't it?" The Doctor looked up. "Grab a hold. Take Off is a bit rough."
The Doctor buried himself with adjusting random controls and settings. None were really absolutely necessary. Meanwhile Lee held on tight as he took in the interior. Finally, his gaze settled on the Doctor, who took a deep breath. No point in putting it off any longer, the Doctor thought and flipped on the in-flight stabilizer.
"So, you and Donna were happy in there—." The Doctor looked up from the screen and pointed vaguely into space.
Lee nodded eagerly. "Best wooo-man a mmm-man could find." He grinned sheepishly. "Think we had kids, but they were just an illusion. The computer said it was – a simulation?"
The Doctor nodded. "They explained it with the download, did they?"
Lee nodded sadly. "All just a dream – my Dooonna was not real."
"But she could be," the Doctor said softly.
Lee opened his eyes wide. "How? Ssshe doesn't know me."
"Not yet," admitted the Doctor. "Knowing Donna that might complicate things, but we work it out."
Lee looked hopefully at him and the Doctor turned serious. "But first things first. Would you give up everything for Donna? Your life as you know it?"
Lee weighed his words before answering. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me."
"Is that a yes?" The Doctor raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Lee swallowed before nodding slowly. "Yes."
"Good!" the Doctor grinned wide. "Oh, and you would always treat her with love, respect and the whole shebang!" His eyes turned hard as he closed the distance between them. The other man swallowed hard again, but held the Doctor's stare.
"I'd carry her on my hands for all my life."
A smile spread over the Doctor's face. "Excellent!"
He stepped forward, pulling a small object like an Easter egg with spikes out of his pocket. "Just have to make a quick time scan," he explained at Lee's worried expression. "Won't hurt. Well, at least not on me. Don't know on humans…"
The Doctor waved the instrument in front of Lee and it started to blink at the ends of the spikes while humming softly. After a few seconds it died down.
"Oi," the Doctor shook it and tapped its shell. The power rushed back and it blinked rapidly. "Better." He held it against Lee's chest and it hummed louder, exploding into an array of rainbow colors. They all flashed brightly and then turned orange.
"Mmph." The Doctor pocketed the object, kind of satisfied with the result.
"What for?" Lee asked.
"Oh, just checking your timeline, point and flexibility. All's swell," he said. "But I'm forgetting my manners. Have a seat. Fancy a cup of tea?"
Nursing a cup, the Doctor told Lee about Donna being from a different timeline and planet. When he mentioned how she spoke fondly of Lee and their dream reality, Lee blushed happily.
"However, though," the Doctor pulled his ear lobe, wiggling in his seat. "There have been some slight complications, well more events—"
"Donna's okay?" Lee leant forward cautiously.
"Oh yes! Splendid!" The Doctor said waving his mug around and Lee sank back into the bench and took a sip from his now cold tea.
"Well, kind of. Not really actually," the Doctor added almost apologetically.
Lee's mug sank down as he stared at the Doctor.
"She's alive and back in her own time, but she forgot all about the time traveling, meeting, well, marrying you."
Lee's face fell.
"And it has to stay that way," the Doctor added with emphasis.
"Her life depends on it," and he explained about Donna absorbing a Timelord's consciousness and its overloading her human brain, hence the memory loss. Lee stared at the Doctor, hanging on every word.
"Unfortunately, the memory wipe was not strong enough. Images, events, and feelings are seeping through. Donna's brain is attacked by her own mind."
"How is that even possible?" Lee asked, twisting his mug in his hands.
The Doctor looked serious. "Nightmares. My consciousness is so much stronger than a human's and it's fighting its way back to the surface – wanting to create a new race." He paused, tilted his head. "And so much better a race it would be," he added in a sad afterthought. "But human brains are not evolved enough for it – not yet." He pulled himself up and put the mug down.
"I don't understand." Lee got up too. "What do you need me for?"
"AHA!" the Doctor swung around. "Exactly where you fit in. Donna needs a distraction – a strong one, I mean." He grinned. "Something occupying the human brain so much it pushes my consciousness back into the sub-consciousness."
"Me?" Lee raised an eyebrow, not convinced.
"Don't you see?" The Doctor stepped closer and laid a hand on his shoulder. "That's your role – your big part. You win her heart, can't be too hard since you've done it before." The Doctor winked and Lee opened his mouth to protest, but the Doctor just went on. "It's easy, peezy, lemon squeezy – mhm, I said that before," he paused distracted, then looked back at Lee. "Once you have occupied her heart, it'll take over her mind. Her happiness will fill the void my memory is trying to leak into." The Doctor licked his lips expectantly while Lee stared opened-mouthed at him.
"You – you – you want me to move to an alien planet—"
"It's still Earth," the Doctor waved off his concern. "Just a different timezone."
He tilted his head at his own joke, but Lee squeezed his eyes together to get the jumbled thoughts out. "In a different time and without telling Donna anything?"
"Sums it up," the Doctor grinned. "Oh, and there is just one more minor thing…"
"Just another one?" Lee asked with a smirk and it dawned on the Doctor why Donna liked him.
"Yep. Nothing big—" he strolled over to the console busying himself with the controls. A set of red lights burned solid.
"Oh, yes," he looked over his shoulder. "I have to wipe your memory, too."
For a long time, Lee said nothing. Just stared at the Doctor, then at the surroundings, then back at the Doctor.
Slowly, the Doctor was getting worried he had asked too much of the human, when Lee sucked in a deep breath and said, "I'll do it!"
"I knew it!" The Doctor jumped over to him and shook his hand enthusiastically. "I knew Donna would only choose the best."
He ran back to the console and sat the controls for Earth, present day.
"But if you wipe my memory, how do I recognize Donna?" Lee asked suddenly.
"Mmmh," the Doctor turned back to him. "We'll think of something – make it up as we go."
"Why can't I keep my memories?" Lee walked up beside him.
"Well, you know," the Doctor pulled his ear lobe. "You might accidentally spill your knowledge."
Lee wanted to protest, but the Doctor held up his hand. "Just accidentally or in anger. It's not something you could take back, apologize for – once done, once Donna remembers, her brain will burn up."
"I'd kill her?" Lee asked, horrified.
The Doctor nodded solemnly. "And I can't risk that."
"Why did you choose me?" Lee blinked, still fighting his dismay.
"Because Donna taught me about second chances," the Doctor said quietly. "And I believe you two should have one."
The TARDIS materialized in the alley behind the Noble residence. The Doctor had tucked the unconscious Lee safely on the bench and locked the door as Wilf greeted him already. "Sylvia is home. Maybe you could come back a different time?"
"Actually, I need to talk to both of you," the Doctor said with a firm voice.
"It's about Donna, isn't it?" Worry crept over Wilf's face. "The nightmares?"
The Doctor nodded. "But I can help if you let me; you two have to agree." Gently, he took Wilf's arm and led him to the house.
"What do YOU want?" Sylvia appeared in the door.
"Let him in," Wilf waggled his hand at her to unblock the entrance. "It's about Donna."
Sylvia stepped aside, her lips a thin line as Wilf led the Doctor into the living room.
"This is never gonna work," Sylvia said half an hour later. "You're just dumping another drifter in our responsibility. And now when Donna finally has stable work."
"Sylvia," Wilf protested feebly. "Don't you see – he's trying to help!"
"Without him Donna wouldn't need help in the first place." Sylvia crossed her arms as she leant heavy into the sofa.
The Doctor winced, but he stifled Wilf's protest. "She is right—," Sylvia nodded triumphantly, but the Doctor continued. "Let's not argue over spilled orange juice."
"Milk!" Sylvia hissed under her breath, but the Doctor turned to Wilf.
"What do you think?"
"I THINK she deserves to be happy," he said, then added defiantly, "as happy as she was with you."
"She was a better person with him," Wilf insisted.
The Doctor smiled sadly and took a deep breath. "Anyway, Lee's good with computers, so it won't be a problem to find him a job."
Sylvia just raised an eyebrow and remained silent.
"Look, we should at least try it." The Doctor held her glare. "You understand why a powerful distraction is necessary?"
"Otherwise, her brain will blow up," Sylvia sneered.
"Whose brain is gonna blow up?" Donna poked her head through the door.
The Doctor jumped up. "OH, just a funny story." He winked as he extended his hand. "John Smith."
Donna tilted her head trying to place him. "Donna."
"Oh, we met," the Doctor shook her hand passionately and a bit too long.
Donna pulled her hand back with an amused smile. "The day with the funny 'the sky moved' stories. My friends kept going on and on about it. But that's nothing compared to your frying brain story." Donna sat on the armrest expectantly.
"Oh, well," the Doctor pulled his earlobe. "It's just a… well." He looked at Wilf for help.
"Just a joke, sweetie, just a joke." Wilf hurried to explain.
"Oh," Donna got up. "Well, then – nice meeting you again."
She turned to leave when the Doctor called her back. "You know, I actually came to ask you a favor."
Donna swung back, intrigued.
"I have this friend," the Doctor said. "He's quite shy, doesn't talk much because of a stutter." The Doctor rowed his arms to underline his words while he pattered from foot to foot for inspiration. "Well, and I'm kind of in a hurry."
Donna's eyebrows raised amused.
"So, I was wondering." The Doctor gave her a smile that could melt stone-hearts. "Was hoping you'd show him around a bit."
Donna groaned. "How much fun is that?"
"Just for a couple of days," the Doctor added quickly.
"And only while he's staying with us," Wilf piped in.
"He IS?" Donna looked at her mother who nodded sourly.
"You wouldn't mind, would you?" The Doctor got up. "I'm just gonna fetch him from the TAR-aehm-car."
Donna shrugged. "Well, oh why not. I didn't have any plans for the weekend anyway."
"Great! Super!" The Doctor wiggled past her through the door. "Be right back."
"Wait—," Donna called after him. "What's he like?"
But the Doctor was already out on the street and waved happily.
Donna went back into the living room. "A bit odd, this Smith guy, don't ya think?" She looked at Wilf. "What are you so smug about?"
His smile froze. "Nothing, I like the chap. He's never boring."
Donna sat down. "So you know him?"
"Just in passing," Sylvia interrupted before Wilf could say more.
The front door banged.
"We're back!" the Doctor called, pushing a man in front of him. "This is Lee! Lee, meet the Noble family!"
Lee smiled shyly. "Nnnnice to mmmeeet you."
Donna titled her head taking in the newcomer. "Have we met? Sorry … Donna." She extended her hand and Lee shook it.
"Doonnn't think so. I'm not from around here."
Donna held on to his hand as she studied him, then realizing it, she dropped it quickly and pointed around. "My mom Sylvia and Gramps Wilf."
Lee shook hands with both, mumbling a greeting. The Doctor stayed in the door and watched them with great delight. Then silence fell over the room as Lee stood awkwardly in the middle. Wilf looked uneasily at the Doctor while Sylvia leant deeper into the couch.
"Tea? How about a good cup of tea?" the Doctor suggested.
Donna shot him a 'thank you' glance as she squeezed past him into the kitchen.
"Tea for five, then."
"Oh, not for me," the Doctor said quickly. "Love to, but gotta run."
Donna grabbed his sleeve and pulled him into the kitchen. "Not so fast, Mister."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, but grinned as he followed her.
"So what am I supposed to do with HIM?" Donna hissed as soon as they were out of earshot. "He doesn't TALK."
The Doctor's grin widened. "Makes him a good listener, though."
He quickly ducked out of Donna's reach and her slap hit only thin air.
"That's not a bad thing in a hum—," the Doctor fumbled for words. "Well, man."
Donna rubbed her chin. "You don't find that trait in men so often."
"Exactly. Brilliant," the Doctor said as he edged closer to the door. "You'll have a great time."
But Donna remained transfixed in the kitchen, staring into space.
The Doctor halted. "Donna?"
She turned her head slowly to him and her look of being utterly lost broke his hearts.
"What if I have nothing to say any more?"
With two strides, he was at her side. "But you're full of stories."
She gave him a weak smile. "But they're just that – stories. Old wives' tales."
"Oh, no, Donna," the Doctor gently lay a hand on her arm. "Under all these sassy words and witty stories, you have so much more to say and Lee might just be the right person to listen."
Donna looked at him, hope rising in her eyes, but then a shadow clouded them. "Nah, you're just saying that to be nice." She turned her back to him busing herself with the tea water.
"Donna," the Doctor said quietly. "Donna, look at me."
She glanced over her shoulder, tears welling up in her eyes.
"You're so special!" He said softly, his eyes so sad. "Argh!" He spun around on the spot. "I wish I could show you!" He pulled his hair. "Prove it to you! Make you see!" He flung his arms in the air as he bounced to her side, resting hard on the countertop. "OH, you're so extraordinary, such a brilliant important woman. Donna Noble!"
Donna watched him, amused, out of the corner of her eye. He poked his tongue to his palate and winked. "But that technology hasn't been discovered yet."
"Technology?" Donna laughed. "Like a character value chronometer?"
"See?" The Doctor slammed his hand onto the counter making the cups dance.
"Brilliant! What a great idea. I'd never come up with that."
"You could measure people and predict crazies like Saxon," Donna said warming up to the thought.
"Or serial killers," the Doctor added.
"Help gay people came out of the closet or better there won't be any closet because they are already measured into the open," Donna said, bursting into laughter.
"See?" The Doctor leant in conspiratorially. "You have lots to say and," he shrugged, "Lee might have a few ideas himself. If you give him a chance to speak up." He winked and Donna slapped his arm.
The Doctor flew into the TARDIS, closed the door on a run and flung the levers down. The familiar sound of the TARDIS firing up filled the air and the Doctor's hand hovered over the switch. The red lights blinked slowly. He stared at them, all his energy and thrill dispersed, and suddenly he felt just very tired. Heavily, he leant onto the console. Had he gone too far? Did he break a timelaw?
The TARDIS purred patiently in mid-flight. He squeezed his eyes shut as he massaged his temple. His mind raced through the calculations again, rechecked the predictions, and evaluated the consequences.
"No!" His eyes popped open. "I was right!" he nearly shouted. "But a little check-up wouldn't hurt." He flipped the switch and the TARDIS jumped ahead in time.
Seconds later, the Doctor took a deep breath and stepped out of the door. Briskly, he walked around a corner and slid through the oak doors of a small church. The glass-stained windows filled the interior in colored half-light and it was easy for the Doctor to blend into the shadows behind the pillars.
For a moment he listened, his head slightly tilted, then the old man leading the bride to the altar turned, spotted the Doctor and gave him a thumbs-up. A big smile illuminated the Doctor's face as he nodded a greeting. Silently, he fell back into the shadows and left the church. Hands in deep in his pockets, the Doctor strolled back to the TARDIS.
"See, it's all good. Molto Bene," he shouted from the door before he peeled out of his coat and threw it over the closest column. The TARDIS greeted him with silence.
"No need to pout," he stroke the console. "Your input was valued."
The TARDIS remained silent, not even the screen flickered.
The Doctor circled the console, his hands trailing its soft curves.
"Oh-kay?" He stopped in front of the screen. "Where should we go now?"
Instantly, the screen came to life. Gallifreyan symbols flashed by.
The Doctor suppressed a smile. "So you're talking to me again. The future – mmh." He leant closer. "Why do you want to do a sequence of 10 year stops?" He leant back, frowned before squinting at the screen again. "And always the same location? Oh. Ah!" He slapped his forehead. "Of course. Set course—," he pumped the handle, twisted a couple of knobs. "Go!"
The TARDIS materialized 10 years into the future.
The Doctor grabbed his coat and stepped out. It was a sunny fall day and the TARDIS had landed beside a park entrance. The Doctor spun around. A constant flow of people flocked through the gates and the Doctor decided to follow them.
A fair with rides, vending booths and live animals stretched out in front of him and the Doctor allowed himself to be swept away with the flow. Grinning wide, he took it all in until he reached a carousel and spotted what he was looking for.
Hiding in the crowd, he edged closer into earshot.
"Can you see them?" Donna asked, popping a camera up and down.
"There! And there." She snapped a couple of pictures while waving wildly.
Lee stood beside her waving, too. "Mooore pictures? Must have a 1000 now." He laid his arm around her shoulders.
Donna smiled. "They grow up so fast. Here they come again. Juhu!"
The Doctor followed her wave and made out two mini versions of Donna and Lee waving back frantically. He indulged in watching them a bit longer, but suddenly Donna turned her head and looked straight at him. The Doctor smiled before vanishing in the crowd.
Back in the TARDIS, the two lights had turned green as he dialed the next stop. Another 10 years into the future and he stepped out onto a busy downtown street. Scanning left and right, he tried to figure out what he was supposed to look for.
A bright purple heart, with a color change growing from the inside out till it reached pink, caught his eyes. 'Traveling with 2 Hearts' read the sign beside it.
The Doctor gulped and looked around quickly, but nobody seemed to have noticed his reaction. Hands in his pockets, he wandered towards the business. It was packed with people and in the middle of it stood Donna with Lee at her side, beaming. The Doctor sneaked in and hid behind a huge fake palm tree.
"Thank you all for coming." Donna raised her champagne glass and clicked it with Lee's before kissing him. The audience applauded at Lee's satisfied expression and Donna turned to them. "That's what 'Traveling with 2 Hearts' is all about. We specialize in get-a-ways for 2. Need a night away from the wee ones? Or prefer a romantic journey for the mature couple? From romantic to adventures, all tailored to your wishes."
The people applauded again and Donna invited them to have a closer look at the displays and brochures. She squeezed Lee's hand and he kissed her before pushing her gently towards her potential clients.
The Doctor grinned wide as Donna engaged the closest couple in a lively discussion about amorous adventures.
Leave it to Donna, he thought as he slipped back through the door.
"Still clinging to the shadows?" A well-dressed silver-haired lady peeked up at him.
She put her weight onto her cane, so she could pull up to her full height.
"Sylvia Noble," The Doctor smiled and the stern look on her face softened.
"You still recognize me," She brushed back her neatly set hair.
"Of course I do." The Doctor beamed. "How are you doing?"
"Getting old," Sylvia said dryly. "So, you're still watching out for her – just as Dad said."
The Doctor's smile faded and he nodded. "She seems happy—," he let the sentence trail off.
Sylvia smiled. "Lee was the best thing happening to her. Now I have two grown-up grandchildren."
"And she opened her own business." The Doctor nodded to the travel agency.
Sylvia rolled her eyes. "One of her fancy ideas, but there seems to be a demand for it."
"Good for her!" The Doctor looked back through the window.
"And you?" Sylvia asked. He turned back to her, eyebrows raised.
"Still traveling alone?"
He nodded slightly and looked at his shoes.
Sylvia leant on her cane and stood on her toes to give him peck on the cheek. Surprised, he caught her, for she nearly tumbled out balanced.
"What was that for?"
"For all you have done for her." Sylvia pulled her jacket straight.
The Doctor buried his hands deep into his pockets. "Thank you."
"Will you visit her before it's—," Sylvia tried to get him to look at her. After a moment he glanced up and Sylvia caught his eyes. "Her time to go?"
His eyes widened, but he caught himself quickly. "Nah, never do that. Too sad," He tried to smile, but Sylvia laid a hand on his arm.
"It would mean so much to her, don't you think?" She searched his eyes. "You can show her the best of both lives. Dad would've been so happy."
The Doctor squirmed under her gaze. "I don't know. It would fry her brain. Might cause her pain."
"But it's her time," Sylvia insisted. "Does it matter how she dies when she does?"
The Doctor stepped back and her hand sank to her side.
"I gotta go," the Doctor said as he pointed his head vaguely to the right. "Really great to see you again, but I really gotta go."
He took two steps away from Sylvia.
"Think about it, I won't make you promise, but just think about it," Sylvia said and the Doctor nodded before he strode off in big steps.
Back in the TARDIS, he paused, motionless, beside the console for a long time before looking up Earth Death Registrations with a determined face. He set the coordinates, hands hovering over the lever.
"Oh, no!" He pushed off the console. "Why am I doing this?" he screamed rounding the centerpiece with big steps.
"I AM NOT!" He flipped on the spot and paced the console counterclockwise muttering under his breath. In passing, he smacked a handle and with a loud clank it fell off. He kicked it in frustration sending it to skitter across the floor. The TARDIS lights flickered for a moment and he looked up.
"Sorry," he caressed the console and went to pick up the handle. It had come to a halt right beside the bench with the Agatha Christie novel. The Doctor froze and stared at the book. Then he bent down, snatched up the handle and walked back. He screwed it on, went to the other side and flipped the lever.
He stepped out into a well-maintained park; old trees shaded the extensive grass areas surrounded by lush flowers. A mansion flanked by evergreens overlooked the compound like a guardian angel. Surprised, the Doctor whistled, but then he noticed the people in the park. Most of them were in wheelchairs or leaning heavily on canes.
A nurse walked by. "You're visiting?"
The Doctor shot around. "Yes, I'm looking for an old friend."
The nurse raised an eyebrow amused. "We have a few of them."
The Doctor grinned. "Donna Noble, but that's just her maiden name." He shrugged apologetically.
"Oh, Donna – of course," the nurse pointed towards a wheelchair under a big elm tree.
"The creek is her favorite spot," the nurse said with a smile. "Says it reminds her of time flowing by."
The Doctor thanked her with a big smile and slowly approached his friend.
"Hello, Donna," the Doctor said softly.
"Talking to me, sunshine? You need to speak up – these," she pointed at her ears, "aren't working so well any more."
"I said," the Doctor took a deep breath, "HELLO, DONNA."
"Oi, not that loud," she said. Her lined face twisted into a mischievous smile.
The Doctor knelt down beside her and winked at her. "You always did."
She leant in closer, vivid eyes examining him, then a slow smile formed on her lips. "You're that Smith guy."
"That's me," the Doctor said. He beamed at her as he gently put his hand on her arm.
"How are you?"
Donna shrugged. "Getting old – unlike you." She scrutinized him. "My, what are you using? With that moisturizer, you could get rich."
"What?" the Doctor raised his eyebrows, confused.
Donna chuckled. "Doesn't improve your thinking abilities though, does it?"
The Doctor shook his head as he joined her laughter.
She padded his hand fondly. "So it was you."
The Doctor's smile faded.
"Gramps always said a being from the stars watches over me—"
His eyes turned serious, their deepness not revealing anything.
Donna's lips twisted into a grin. "Just didn't think HE was so skinny."
The Doctor threw up his hands in surrender. "You never liked that."
"Nah," Donna said as she gazed over him. "My Lee was nice and … well, compact. Been gone for years now."
"I'm sorry," The Doctor took her hand.
"Don't be," she said with a sad smile. "We had a good life. Our children turned out decent. I even have five grandchildren now."
"Well, look at you," the Doctor said. "And your own business."
Donna nodded. "Took off like a rocket despite mother's catcalls."
The Doctor tilted his head. "She was a strict woman."
"Oh yeah." Donna's head bobbed with each syllable. "So whom will you watch over when I am gone? Do you get assigned a new person?"
"No, you were my special assignment." The Doctor's voice was thick and he swallowed hard.
Donna cupped his cheek. "Don't be sad. I had a great life and it's my time to move on."
The Doctor leant into her touch fighting the sadness welling up as his left heart shattered a bit more.
"Donna, do you want to know why you were so special? Why I was watching over you all these years?"
Her blue eyes searched his brown ones.
"I could show you, but it would kill you," he offered, but his eyes pleaded the opposite.
Donna frowned. She had looked into deep eyes like his before – a feeling of falling through time washed over her and she touched his temple.
The Doctor sucked in a deep breath – the connection was instant. Donna's eyes gleamed golden and a smile played on her lips. He closed his eyes to steady himself before gently guiding her.
"The TARDIS – DoctorDonna traveling forever," she said tenderly and he opened his eyes. Her face was alive and full of joy. "Thank you!" she whispered.
Her hand slid off his temple and the Doctor caught her lifeless body. Holding her tight he rocked her gently as he let his tears fall free.
In the TARDIS, two green lights died.