AN: Starring the Tenth Doctor, post Journeys End but before the specials. And also starring Tobias, main character of The Accidental Princess, original story of mine. Just a fun little one shot. :)
The voice kept her up for the better part of a week.
She knew they were having a conversation. She could hear snippets of his voice and she knew it instantly, as well as the strangely distorted tones of her own voice. It was impossible, them conversing the way they were. At least, it should have been impossible. If there was anyone who lived in open defiance of commonly accepted notions of 'possible' and 'impossible,' it was the Doctor.
She'd been seventeen the last time she'd even spoken to him, and now, it seemed, she was having a full-on conversation with him.
Or, would be.
She'd fallen asleep with her arms folded on the desk in front of her and at the sound of his voice, rough and harsher than she'd remembered, she jerked awake. Running her hands through her ever-uncooperative chocolate brown strands, she turned in her seat and found him standing in the middle of her room. He was wearing a brown pinstripe suit, white trainers, and a long brown trenchcoat, his hands jammed deep into his pockets.
"God, you haven't changed a bit..."
She turned fully towards the Doctor, her smile freezing on her face at the sight of his expression. There was a hardness to it she'd never seen before, a jagged pain holding the corners of his mouth tight, his brown eyes intense. "... what's happened?"
He smiled now, a faint tug of his lips that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You've grown."
"It's been nearly five years since I saw you last. How long has it been for you?" Tobias turned her chair until she was facing the Doctor more fully, leaning back in her seat and regarding him intently. She wondered what he saw now. The last time he'd seen her, she'd been a teenager, so set on what she was doing but still so impossibly lost.
"Three... Jus' about three years." He stared at her intently, hardly blinking. He was studying her, though what he was possibly looking for she couldn't imagine. She tilted her head to look past him. There was someone missing.
"Where's Rose? You look like you're in the middle of trouble, which means she's not far.. behind..."
The anguish on his face. It nearly took her breath away and for a moment she could only stare at him, aghast. "Doctor?" she prompted, pushing herself to her feet. "Doctor, has something..."
"She's fine," he said abruptly, his voice thick. Still, the honesty in his voice and the pain that thrummed along with it left Toby confused. She knew Rose - there was no way the blonde woman would have left her time traveller, especially not in such a short span of time. But there was more to this story than he was telling her.
Toby reached for the dusty Tome on the corner of the desk, but before her hand had even brushed the cover, the Doctor's hand was on her wrist. His dark brown eyes bored into hers, twin storms burning with a fierce light. She froze.
"Don't," he commanded, then let her wrist go.
Toby straightened up, tucking her hands under her arms. "All right. You've obviously figured out a way to somehow slip through the walls that keep our worlds separate - which, by your own words is both impossible and incredibly dangerous - just to show up in my study at a god-awful hour of the night as a total wreck, I might add, and you don't want me to know what's going on?" She narrowed her green eyes at him, flecks of gold gleaming in the light from the single lamp in the room. "What do you want, Doctor?"
Her ire deflated him slightly - just enough for her to see the Doctor - her Doctor - the way she remembered him.
"I.. have a friend. I was hoping you could help her."
Tobias stepped towards him, pressing one hand to his shoulder. "You know I'd do anything I could to help you. All you have to do is ask."
The Doctor reached into his pockets, pulling out a book that was far too large to have fit comfortably in his tiny suit pockets. Bigger on the inside, then, she thought, her mind going back to a familiar blue box that was oddly missing from this picture. She didn't press. The Doctor had come to her with a mission and she would pick the pieces of the story as she went. She was good at piecing together tales that other people weren't exactly forthcoming with. It was a job skill.
"Her name was - is - Donna. She travelled with me, and along the way, she gained all of the knowledge of a Timelord, all the information my people ever gathered together. But... a human brain can't handle that much knowledge. It threatened to burn her alive, from the inside out."
His eyes dropped to the book he held. It was a plain book, with smooth pages that seemed as if they hadn't even been touched. It was bound in a familiar shade of blue, and his fingers ran across it as tenderly as his tone had become.
"I took it from her, to save her. I took all that she'd learned, all that she'd encountered, everything that had even the slightest touch of me and my world on it. I left her nothing." His voice caught. She squeezed his shoulder but he continued on as if he hadn't even noticed the proffered support. Something had changed in him. There was something harder, something lonelier. Grieving, perhaps, for this Donna. She was important to him, Toby could tell that much.
"What can I do?" she asked softly.
"I still have it. All of her, all of who she'd become, what she'd done. Up here." He reached up and tapped his temple, his gaze on hers. "I want you to take it all, and I want you to make a book, for her. So that everything she is and was will never be lost."
Toby studied his face intently, then nodded. "Of course. Shouldn't be hard. Just close your eyes and let her Story to the front of your mind. It'll make it easier for me to find it."
He dipped his head, closing his eyes, and she reached up, her fingers framing either side of his face. She let her conscious slip forward, let the Story swell through her, and opened his mind carefully. He spread out in front of her fingertips, a glittering gold epic, stretching through the ages with verse after verse spreading out before her, touching every corner of the Story around him. She pulled herself back, allowing her to gently fold him out of the way, in search of the one he called Donna.
There she was. He'd kept her separate from the rest of his own memories and thoughts, as only a being like he could. With anyone else, everything that had made Donna who she was would have been instantly absorbed and assimiliated, until there was no way Toby could have extricated her without taking much of the other person.
But the Doctor was no human, and there Donna was, perfectly untouched and glowing.
Toby took the volumes and pulled them from the Doctor's mind. She could feel the Story beneath her hands, how full and strong and determined it was, the fire of her passion and the brilliant glow of her stinging Toby's fingertips. She was careful, though, taking only the bits that belonged to the redhead and collecting them carefully into the book in the Doctor's hands.
It would never be a normal book. To the unsuspecting human, it would seem only a meaningless jumble. But anyone who knew what it was, how to access it, would be able to open up a world that had previously only been reserved for one miss Donna Noble. To read the book would be to know her in her entirety. To experience things the way she'd experienced them and to know all the great and small things she'd come to know.
It was, in essence, a living piece of the human that the Doctor so obviously and deeply cared about.
When she was done, Toby stepped back, leaving the still warm and humming book in the Doctor's hands. He was crying, tears slowly slipping down his cheeks, his head bowed as he stared down at the small rectangle in front of him. She turned away and let him have his grief, his privacy, as she knew he'd want.
Finally, he raised his head to regard her. "Thank you," he said in a soft, rough voice.
"She was a wonderful person," Toby managed, her voice tender and full of regret. How she would have liked to know that woman, that wonderful, strong, courageous woman. To know she had lost that piece of her was terrible, indeed. "Don't lose it, all right?"
The Doctor smiled them. "Course not," he replied, a trace of his lightness coming back into his voice. "Well, I'll leave you to it, then. Don't want your boyfriend coming in and trying to turn me into so much ash. NIghty-night."
He paused at the sound of her voice, turning to look back at her. She was sitting in her chair once more, and it was her turn to stare at him intently.
"You didn't come here for that. Any decent empath or basic telepath could have done what I just did, and I know you know plenty of those." She tapped the side of her head in a reminder that once upon a time she'd seen his Story - seen all of it. "You certainly didn't have to risk both of our worlds' continued existence just to make sure that little piece of Donna was stored safely."
He said nothing, but the look on his face told her all she needed to know. She leaned forward, propping her elbows up on her knees.
"You came to see if I'd still be sane."
His expression was dangerous. The Oncoming Storm, she'd heard him called. Seeing the darkness broiling in that gaze of his, she knew well where the name had come from. The cold bite of his pain warring with the heat of his fury, and from both came the maelstrom that was the Doctor at his best... or, worst, depending on whose side one was on.
But she was the Storyteller, more powerful than even he could begin to imagine, and she was no fledgling teenager anymore. She'd come into the strength of it, and she knew just what she was capable of.
"I once told you, long ago, that most of the Storytellers before me went insane with the knowledge. They burned from the inside out, just like your Donna. You came to see if it'd happened to me, too." She looked down at her hands as she spoke, but her voice was calm, steady. Even. "Because if you were right, if I'd gone insane... well, that'd be undeniable proof that you'd done the right thing, made the right choice in taking from Donna everything that she held most dear.
"You didn't need me to do some low-end telepathy. You needed to assuage your conscience."
She looked up at him, then, green eyes taking in the way his eyes had emptied of rage and pain and instead taken on a stricken expression. Guilt. He felt guilty over what he'd done. He'd toppled countless empires, taken on the universe's greatest enemies time and time again, and been responsible for more victories and losses than perhaps any other being in his universe could take credit for... and he felt guilty. Wracked right to the soul.
"It's not just Donna, either. It's Rose, too." He flinched at the name and Toby's hands tightened into two little fists.
She pushed to her feet, crossing the room to him. "Ask me if I'd give it all up. Everything that I know - everything in the universe. Ask me if I'd give it up, even for one second."
"You wouldn't," he replied in his soft, tortured voice. "No one would. That much knowledge, that much understanding. How could anyone turn away from that? It's... beyond words."
"You're right. Now hop in your little box, go back about... eight? Nine? years. To a fourteen year old Tobias. Ask her. Ask her if she'd be willing to trade her sanity, her peace of mind, for all the knowledge in all the worlds in all of reality. Because I know what any sane, any normal person would say - no way. No. Flippin'. Way."
A ghost of a smile hovered on his lips. "I hardly think those are the words you'd use..."
"Yeah, well, I was a little shit back then. Still, ignorance is safe, Doctor. It's warm, it's easy, and it's not scary at all. Maybe you shouldn't have taken it from her, I don't know. I've made some hard decisions and that seems like one that you can't win. I do know that if you thought you had no choice - either take that bit of her or let her burn - you did what you thought was best for her. She's alive because of it. And maybe she's ignorant, maybe she's blinded to all that she once knew... but she's also safe, Doctor. She's alive. And she can get some of what she lost back. It's not much, but it's something."
He pulled her into a rough hug, then, folding his arms around her and gripping her tightly like she was an anchor against the grief that raged around him. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you so very, very much."
"Any time." She paused, then, and laughed. "Well. No. Not any time. Preferrably next time during the day when normal people are awake, okay?"
"Blimey, so full of demands..." He chuckled as he stepped back, gripping the book in both of his hands. "I really best be going, though... Sort of channeling the gravitation pull of a super nova just to keep the little crack in the walls open and stable."
"Just... one more thing." Toby hesitated, twisting the end of her sleeve in her hand. "Doctor... Is she... alive?"
The Doctor's face tightened, then, as if with a conscious act of willpower, softened into a slight smile. "Yes, Tobias. Quite so, in fact. And hopefully, soon, she'll be happy, too. As happy as she's always deserved to be."
Toby smiled. "I'm glad."
"Goodnight, Time Lord."
With that and the book held close to his chest, he turned on his heel and strode from the room. Toby watched, and, just before the last of him rounded the corner out of her sight, she reached out and touched the ancient Tome sitting on the corner of her desk, ever within reach as it always was these days.
The Story slammed into her mind and left her reeling. Finally, when it'd ebbed, she pressed her hands to her face and sobbed softly, for the Doctor, for the wonderful Doctor Donna, for Rose who'd been lost and come back, and for all that he'd both lost and let go. As she did so, she could hear the familiar humming throb of the TARDIS's engines, then, silence.
Finally, she dried the tears from her cheeks and closed the Tome, setting it on its holder in the center of the desk. Rising, she leaned over and clicked the light off, leaving the room and closing the door quietly behind her. It was late and Theodore would worry if she didn't get enough sleep, especially with the World Peace Summit coming up and the annual Summer Jousting tournament in the lands of Believe, and all that that would entail. She had to be at the top of her game and that required rest.
But first, she wanted to see the stars.