A/N: THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE GUYS. The reasons it took me so long to get this chapter out are many and varied, but bascially, I got sick, work turned into a nightmare for a while, and then I wrote and rewrote this chapter three times before I finally came up with something that I liked. Which is this. So, on to the next chapter! I should be resuming normal posting (once a week every sunday) for the foreseeable future. :D Enjoy!
The TARDIS was on nightcycle, Her version of sleep, and Donna was tucked safely in her room and asleep, and so was Rose, curled up next to the Doctor, who was not asleep. This was not unusual. As a Time Lord he needed far less sleep than a human and less even than a TARDIS. He could go for months without needing more than an hour or two every other night, and two weeks without sleeping at all, though afterward he would sleep like the dead for twelve hours straight.
It wasn't biology keeping him awake, though. Over and over again he heard Carmen's words. He covered his ears and closed his eyes but he couldn't keep them out. Even the sound of Rose's heartbeat, the gentle press of her back against him as she inhaled and exhaled couldn't drive them away.
Your song is ending. It is returning. He will knock four times.
The problem with prophecies—and ooh, nice bit of alliteration there—is that they were all so bloody vague. Once, just once in his life he'd like to see a seer or an oracle jut come out and say what they mean without all the mumbo-jumbo. It scared the ignorant or the gullible, but not him. And if he just kept telling himself that last bit maybe he'd believe it.
Because there was a tingle at the base of his skull building, an itch he never could quite scratch that made the hair on his arms and the back of his neck stand straight up. It was a warning: a storm is coming.
He blinked. Rose rolled over, eyes half-open, hair a riot as it always was when she woke. With conscious effort he relaxed his hold on her. Waking her was the last thing he wanted. She was too perceptive, Rose—she saw too much.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," he replied in a voice that didn't convince himself, much less her. "Nothing at all, just fancied a bit of a wander, actually, was about to get up."
She was silent for a moment. "Lights low."
The TARDIS did as Rose asked, of course, She nearly always did and sometimes it would be nice if She was on his side, for once, but the TARDIS seemed to think he was being exceptionally silly and wasn't afraid to let him know it. The lights came on gently, allowing their eyes time to adjust (well, Rose's eyes—his were much quicker on the uptake). She sat up, pulling the duvet with her and he'd forgotten that part, that she was naked. Of course she was naked; they'd come back and had a celebratory hooray-we-didn't-die shag and after that Rose always slept naked. It was just—distracting—now that he was meant to be hiding something from her. (Because he doesn't know what your song is ending means but he can guess)
"What's this about, then?" she asks after a long, searching look.
He rolled his eyes. "Really, Rose, it was nothing, just a brief bout or restlessness brought on by the fact that you humans sleep so much. Honestly, you don't even need eight hours a night! Your biology would be fine with six, but you like sleeping." The Doctor sniffed. "Do you know how much more you could do with an extra two hours in the day?"
Rose was unconvinced. Her lips turned down into a frown and her brow furrowed. "I thought we were past this," she said with a sigh as she leaned back against the headboard.
He blinked. "Past what?"
She gave him a tight, lopsided smile. "Past you babbling at me in the hopes that the sheer volume of words coming out of that gob of yours would distract me from whatever it is that's bothering you."
It was involuntary, the way he rubbed the back of his neck and tugged on his ear and that was why he didn't play poker—he was a terrible liar this time around. "You know me too well," he said at last, with a self-depreciating huff.
"Was it Carmen?"
He paused. "What makes you think that?"
Rose pulls her knees up and rests her crossed arms on them. "I saw her on the viewscreen. She said something to you, I couldn't hear what, an' you looked—scared, I guess. I wanted to bring it up earlier, but, well—" she gave him the smile he loved so much, the tip of her tongue caught between her teeth. "We were a bit busy then.
He grinned in response. It was reflexive; when Rose Tyler smiled, so did he. "We were busy. Could be busy again in a moment."
She held up a hand. "Not until you tell me."
"Your song is ending," the Doctor says quickly, because maybe if he gets it out fast enough he won't have to think about what it might mean.
Rose frowned. "The Ood said that. Remember? The one with the Greek letter."
"Ood Sigma," he acknowledged. "I remember."
She worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "What does it mean?"
"It could mean anything," he admitted as he shifted so that he was sitting beside her, his back against the headboard and he long legs stretched out beside hers. "Or it could mean nothing at all, just a coincidence."
"Like 'Bad Wolf' was?" Rose asked with a sidelong look.
"Touché," he admitted and then made a face. "Oh, don't let me say that again. That was just—no. But, Rose—" he laced his fingers through hers. "Time is always changing and Carmen was on the edge of her talents, which had been augmented by the radiation from San Helios's suns. It was fading. Whatever she saw was indistinct at best. They're just words, in the end, and they only have the power that we give them."
She let him kiss her then, apparently satisfied with his answer. He tried to push the foreboding out of his mind, to lose himself in her but the itch in his skull remained.
A storm was coming.
Five corridors and three doors down Donna Noble wasn't sleeping. By all rights she should have been; the clock on her nightstand proclaimed the time to be just past six in the morning and she and Rose had at least one thing in common: they were not early risers. She rolled onto her side, letting her left arm hang off the bed and curling her right hand beneath her chin. She tried sleeping on her back, on her stomach, with her head beneath the pillow—nothing helped. Sleep would not come, and the reason for that sat next to her clock on her night stand in a small, velvet covered box.
Six months of doing the dating thing, of getting to know each other all over again and also for the first time. Six months of going to the movies, and out to eat, and for coffee, and once or twice to the pub. Six months of Cardiff and Chiswick and Lee having tea with her mum and gramps and Rose giving her that look every time she walked through the TARDIS doors again. Six wonderful months that seemed like so much longer. Six wonderful months that might be ending soon.
It wasn't like Donna knew he was going to ask her to marry him, properly this time, in a church instead of a giant computer. If he'd pushed her about it at all she would have said no, and maybe he knew her better than she thought, because he didn't. He just pressed the ring, still in the box, into her hands and asked her to think about.
And boy, was she thinking about it. What would it be like, living in a flat on Earth, in one time on one country be like? Stifling, if she was back with her mum (even with gramps as a buffer). But Lee—it might be nice, living with him. Seeing him every day instead of once a week, being able to fall asleep and know that he'll be there when she wakes up.
Still, no need to rush into anything. She tried that once with Lance and look how that turned out.
Eventually Donna drifted off to sleep, only to wake a few hours later when the TARDIS shuddered and tipped around her. Knick-knacks scattered from the top of her dresser and the shelves beside it; thankfully the thick carpet cushioned them and even the more delicate souvenirs didn't break, but she hardly noticed that. She was off like a shot, pausing only briefly to grab her dressing gown before she dashed out into the corridor and towards the console room.
The ship shook violently and nearly tossed her through the doorway and into the wall; only a desperate grab for one of the curving support columns saved her from at least a nasty bruising. Rose and the Doctor danced around the console, pushing buttons and pulling levers and hanging on for dear life. He called out instructions and Rose relayed readings from the viewscreen. For a long moment the shaking intensified and Donna wondered in horror if the TARDIS was going to rip apart at the seams and cast them all out into the Vortex—and then it stopped. Everything stopped, the shaking, the shuddering, the pitch and roll. Inertia carried her into the wall as she finally lost her grip and Donna winced. Oh, that one was going to bruise.
"What's going on?" she demanded. "Are we being attacked?"
"That's impossible!" the Doctor exclaimed, his eyes fixed to the viewscreen as the circular characters of his native language scrolled across.
"No, Donna," Rose replied though she did not look away. "We're trying to get to Sarah Jane."
"Well what's the problem, then?" Donna asked as she picked herself up off the floor. "She lives on Earth; don't you know her address?"
"It's like—she's in a state of flux," the Doctor said and pulled out his specs, sliding them into place. "But that's impossible! She's a human, not a time-thing, not like the TARDIS."
"What do you mean, state of flux?" Rose demanded. She was worried, but then she and Sarah Jane were friends, if Donna remembered right. There had definitely been an easy camaraderie between them the last time they'd been together.
The Doctor's face hardened. "Remember Shan Shen? That beetle that changed the timelines, built that parallel world all around Donna? There's something like that happening now, but it's centered around Sarah Jane."
Rose worried her bottom lip with her teeth. "D'you think it's the Trickster again?"
The Doctor's lips pulled into a thin, tight line as he glanced at her. "Could be. He and Sarah Jane have a history."
"Can you get through whatever it is that's keeping the TARDIS out?" Donna asked.
He nodded. "Should be able to, but it'll be dicey for a bit—rocky."
"Good. Just give me a mo."
He blinked. "Why?"
Donna stared at him. "Because I'm not helping you save your friend in my dressing gown, you bleeding alien! Blimey, sometimes I think you really are from Mars!"