Disclaimer: I own nothing. Just some angst which I will gladly share.
"I wish to remain nameless
And live without shame
'Cause what's in a name, Oh
I still remain the same." – Florence and the Machine, "Remain Nameless."
Hearing the scream of a child's cry, Donna bolted awake. With a gasp, she lurched up in bed, looking frantically around her, searching for the source of the sound, when it all came back to her.
She was Donna Noble. In the TARDIS. With the Doctor.
She was not a wife, not a mother, not in the library.
But that didn't make the little faces that haunted her sleep disappear, or make the tightness of panic in her chest feel any less real. Throwing back the blankets, she climbed out of bed and slid her feet into waiting slippers. Tugging her robe on over her pajamas, she quietly slipped out of her bedroom into the hall. She knew she wasn't going to get any sleep, not any time soon, and she didn't feel like being alone with her thoughts right now.
She meandered down the corridors of the TARDIS until she came to the console room. Just as she thought, the Doctor sat on the jump seat, staring at the fluorescent green column of the rotor and listening to the hum of his ship as she kept them safely suspended in the vortex.
"Doctor?" she asked softly, as not to startle him. He jumped anyways, pulled out of his thoughts by her voice. Donna dipped her head in apology. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize," The Doctor waved her off, dragging his hands over his face, rubbing at his eyes. "Thought you were sleeping. It's only been a few hours since you went to bed."
"Yeah, well," Donna shrugged, making her way around the console so she could sit next to him. She gently poked him in his skinny ribs and he budged over a bit to make more room for her. "Can't sleep."
"No?" he glanced sidelong at her. "After tea you said you were exhausted. Everything all right?"
She shrugged again and played with the belt of her robe. "Yeah. It will be…" She wasn't quite ready to talk about the imaginary children that haunted her dreams. Not just yet, not with the pain still too near. When she looked back up at him, the Doctor seemed distracted, aloof. Like he wasn't completely there, like his mind was somewhere far, far away. "What about you? You okay?"
"I'm always okay. You know that."
"I know that's Time Lord bullshit," she snorted, "and you say that because you think it'll make me worry less, when it actually makes me worry even more."
The Doctor rolled his eyes. "You're insufferable, Donna Noble."
"Thank you. Same to you," she poked him again. "Now spill."
But, like a stubborn child at a loss for words, the Doctor sighed deeply and opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking a bit like a guppy.
"Hey," Donna said softly, reaching for his hand. "It's okay."
The Doctor shook his head, as if he couldn't quite believe her, or didn't want to believe her. It had been a while since she'd seen him like this. Not since Jenny, she thought, remembering the pain she had seen in his eyes that night, and how similar it was to the hurt she saw in them now.
"Come on, spaceman," she said gently. "What's wrong? You can talk to me."
"It's just… I don't… I can't, Donna. I…" The Doctor sighed heavily and let go of her hand long enough to run his hands through his hair – making it even more of an unruly mess than it already was – before folding his arms across his chest, tucking his hands under his armpits. He stared off at something for a long time, the space between them going silent again.
Donna just waited, knowing he'd come around to it in his own time. Whatever was plaguing him was weighing heavily on his hearts, and it couldn't be rushed. She recognized that. Unable to hold his hand anymore, she wrapped one arm around him and leaned a bit more into his side, letting him know that he wasn't alone in this. He wasn't the only one who had been scarred by their time in the library. He let her hold him like that for a bit, and she decided that the fact that didn't pull away from her had to be some sort of positive. They stayed that way for some time, her thumb idly rubbing his arm, his face still masked by grief, until she tried once more to engage him in conversation.
"Is this about what happened earlier? With River Song?"
He nodded a little and swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat as he fought to control his emotions. Her heart broke a little for him, so lost and confused by what had happened today. His idea of a relaxing trip to the library had turned out to be anything but. Instead of indulging in works of fiction, he'd been all but literally smacked in the face by the reality of his future.
She didn't know exactly what had happened down there in the servers and she wasn't sure she wanted to know all the details. It had taken her three hours to find him down there in the bowels of the library, and when she did, he was still handcuffed to a metal girder. He'd looked as despondent as she'd ever seen him and it was no surprise that he hadn't wanted to talk about it.
Yet from what she had been able to piece together, it seemed that River had somehow sacrificed herself to save everyone in the library, giving her life to stop the Doctor from losing his. Though he'd only just met River, Donna knew that the loss of her affected him deeply, that just her very presence had shaken him. He was always telling her that it was dangerous to know the future, especially your own, and now he knew a piece of it – a very important piece if this River Song were to be trusted.
After several minutes, he sighed again and stood, placing his hands on his hips as he impatiently paced around the console. He checked a few switches and screens, before leaning back against the console and crossing his arms over his chest again.
"I told her my name, Donna," he said at last. "My name. There's only one time I would tell someone my name."
"So you've said," Donna nodded, remembering a conversation they'd had not too long after she'd arrived on the TARDIS, questioning him about his lack of a proper name.
"I don't understand. What's the big secret?"
"Donna, no. Please. It's just… it's something sacred."
"But why? What's the point in having a name that isn't to be spoken?"
"Naming has a different meaning to Gallifreyans and Time Lords. We pick and choose what we want to be called, but true names are known only to parents and to spouses. That's it. End of story."
"So there's no one that knows your name? No one in the whole universe?" She'd been so sad for him, that he had yet another secret to shoulder all on his own.
"No," he'd admitted, his eyes downcast.
"Well," she'd said, trying to bring some levity back to the conversation. "You never know. You might yet find a wife. There might be someone out there who'd be willing to put up with you."
Her comment had provoked a smile, but it had been a sad one, filled with a longing that spanned universes and dimensions. "There was a time… I thought once that maybe… just maybe I might have had another chance – that the universe had been kind to me, even after all I'd done, but… We both know that's impossible now, don't we?"
"Then you know how wrong it is that she knows it!" he spluttered, bringing her back into the present.
Donna blinked away her previous thoughts and refocused herself on the Doctor in front of her, and the look on his face. He looked absolutely miserable. She wanted nothing but to help him feel all right again.
"But if she's from your future, Doctor," Donna began, "it's possible that there's a very good reason that you told her."
"No," he protested, shaking his head vehemently. "No. That would never happen. N-not with her! Did you see her, Donna?! I would never…"
"What? Be interested in her? Don't think I didn't see how you looked at her," she teased gently, bumping his shoulder with hers to show she was just teasing. "There was definitely something going on there."
The Doctor's eyes widened and he fixed her with a look. "No. Absolutely not."
"Well, obviously, yes." She didn't want to sound too pushy, but some things were impossible to ignore, even for him. "I mean, she is from your future."
"I know!" he burst out, incredulity all over his face. "But to her? Married…?"
"Would that really be so horrible? Married to an archaeologist?"
The Doctor looked away and stiffened. "It's not the archaeologist part that bothers me."
"Then what is it? The being married part? Too domestic for you to even think about?"
"No," he said softly. "It's the her not being Rose part."
Ohh. Donna felt all the breath escape her lungs as the weight of his comment hung in the air between them. She'd never even stopped to consider that Rose was the reason that he was so upset about this River Song. How could she have been so blind? Donna flicked her eyes up to his face, only to see that tears had once again gathered in his eyes. She was reminded of that first day she'd seen him, when he'd held out his arms to her and told her to jump into the TARDIS, that Rose had trusted and loved him and she was so alive, and he was so alone.
"It's fine," he said, sniffing once and scratching the back of his neck. "It's silly, really…"
"No, it's not," Donna reached for his hand again. "I never even thought about that."
The Doctor gave a strangled chuckle. "It doesn't make sense… that that would be the first thing I think of, does it. But seeing her there in the library, having her tell me my name, knowing that I would only tell it to her for one reason and one reason only – all I could think was, She's not Rose."
His voice cracked when he said her name aloud and Donna instinctively squeezed his hand in support. The times when he opened up like this were extremely rare, and she did as she had done in the past – held his hand and let him talk, get everything out into the open.
"Even after all this time, I still love her so much, Donna. I can't even fathom a time when I won't miss her, when I won't feel this ache in my bones, this need to be with her, to tell her all the things I was too much of a coward to tell her."
"She knew, Doctor. She must have known."
"I know that. But I just wish that I could have told her. I have ten lifetimes of regrets," he breathed softly. "And never saying those words to her is among those at the top."
A few tears escaped the corners of his eyes then, falling even as he tried to furiously blink them away. He looked away and sniffed, as if that could retract them, but Donna reached over and gently thumbed the moisture off his cheek, her hand gently turning his face towards her.
"Look at me, Doctor," she spoke gently, waiting to continue until he dragged his watery eyes up to hers. "I know that you still hurt for her, but you can't keep beating yourself up. You can't. It's not healthy and, even though I never met her, I know Rose wouldn't want to see you like this."
The Doctor nodded and swallowed thickly. "I know," he whispered, hoarsely. "I just… I don't want to lose her, to forget Rose. And today, faced with the thought that I've moved on – that I've gotten over her…"
"It's not wrong to move on," Donna continued. "That's what happens, in time. And Rose would want you to be happy. To move on with your life and enjoy it rather than spending your life miserable like this. Isn't that what you want for her?"
"But I don't want to forget her!" he exclaimed, perhaps a bit louder than he meant to. "Sometimes I feel like I'm losing her, like she's disappearing from my memory as well. I forget the exact color of her hair, the shade of her eyes. I'll forget the smell of her shampoo, the weight of her hand in mine. I feel like I lose her a little bit more each day."
"I felt the same way when my dad died," Donna said softly. "I used to do the strangest things. Mum thought I was going mental. Perhaps I was. I remember this one time, when she was packing up all of his things, I snuck in and took one of his old sweatshirts. It was his favorite, from university. I kept it in a box in the back corner of my closet and when I'd had a bad day or something, I'd pull it out, wear it to bed, just so I could remember him, to try to feel close to him again. I still have it… buried somewhere."
"I used to fall asleep in her room," he confessed quietly. "Just after I lost her, after I met you but before Martha… sometimes even after Martha had come aboard… I'd wander the halls of the TARDIS but always end up at her door. It hurt so much to go in there, to see everything just the way she'd left it, but I couldn't stay away. I'd go in and close the door and just be surrounded by Rose. I would lie down in her bed and fall asleep with the smell of her still on the pillows." He sighed deeply, then screwed his face up in a sudden thought as he turned to Donna and asked, "Does that make me seem like some sort of depraved creep?"
She laughed, the look on his face and the absurdity of the question taking her aback. "A bit, yes. But under the circumstances… no."
He shrugged a little and the corner of his mouth quirked in a sort of self-deprecating smile as rolled his eyes. Donna smiled. She was pleased that his sense of humor was coming back. It was a sign that he was pulling out of this most recent bout of melancholy.
"I've lost so many people, Donna," he said, but his voice sounded lighter, if that were possible with such a heavy statement. "I don't want to lose her too."
"I don't think that's possible. Call it fate or soul mates or cosmic coincidence, but I believe that there are people who come into our lives for a reason, each for a purpose and a time. They make us better people, make us into the people we need to be. And they stay with us forever, no matter what, because they've become a part of who we are."
He leaned back a bit and regarded her with a curious look on his face, a smirk that fell somewhere between astonishment and what looked like indigestion. Donna narrowed her eyes and looked at him.
"What? What did I say?"
"Nothing. Just you – Donna Noble, time-traveling philosopher. Brilliant."
"Oh, please," she scoffed, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. "I didn't say anything extraordinary."
"But you said exactly the ordinary things that I needed to hear," he smiled at her. "Exactly the things a best mate should say."
Donna ducked her head and shrugged. "I try my best."
"And you are. The very best," he tugged on her arm and pulled her into a hug.
Donna wrapped her arms around him in turn and relaxed into his embrace, relieved that she had been able to help him in this way, which seemed so small in the scope of all that he'd done for her. Often, she felt like she'd never be able to repay him for everything, but then at times like this she felt like his equal, like she helped him just as much as he'd helped her, that together they could face whatever the universe could throw their way.
"So," she said, squeezing him tight one last time before pulling away, "Where're we off to next? I don't know about you, but all I want is to put my feet up and relax."
He stepped back and gave her that wide, slightly-maniacal grin that she had come to know so well. "Then you're in luck, Donna Noble, because I happen to know just the place." He fiddled with some knobs on the console and flipped a blue switch. "Have I ever told you about the resort planet Midnight?"