Brilliant Without You
by Amy L. Hull
Expanded from a ficlet for Lydiabell. Thanks to Merlin Missy for the beta.
"Ow! What was that for?" The Doctor staggered, hand to the reddening warmth of his face.
There was an orange blur as someone stepped between them. "Hello. I'm Amy Pond. You've met him already, I see?" Amy's thumb jerked toward him.
"Met him? Oh, I've met him all right." The woman looked Amy up and down, turned on the Doctor. "You wanker! You had to go find a younger, thinner, newer ginger model, did you?"
That voice. Loud, brash. Her. Someone else he'd failed. Another of his regrets.
"Donna? You... I mean..." The Doctor massaged his stinging cheek. "But...how?"
"How do I know, you mean? You really thought that I could be you and not ever remember?" She rolled her eyes. "Sarah Jane said you were thick like that, even way back."
Donna turned to the "new model." Sarah Jane had said something like that, come to think of it, when she'd met Rose.
"Is he like this a lot now?" Donna asked. "Stammering about?"
Amy, who'd been watching with a pursed-lips grin, eyes twinkling, said, "Now that you mention it..."
"Still missing the obvious?"
He opened his mouth. Closed it again. Stared. His hand was still to his face, and he couldn't manage to pull it away.
"Thrill-seeking to avoid having to slow down or think for even a minute?" Donna looked back at him and tipped her head.
Watching them was worse than keeping track of anti-gravity table tennis. He should say something, get back in control of the situation. Yes. He'd jump in and the conversation would right itself.
"And still gapes like a beached fish when anyone else does the talking."
Amy leaned in, nodded, and lowered her voice into her "serious" register. "Definitely."
"Bless." Donna clucked. "Should I put him out of his misery?"
Amy scrunched her face, looked at him, looked back at Donna. "I don't know. He's kind of amusing when he's all at loose ends."
"But...you're not dead!" the Doctor blurted.
Donna's face went very still.
The Doctor took an unconscious step back.
"Not dead." Donna looked up, then pinned him with a familiar and terrifying glare. "That's what every girl just loves to hear. I look that good, do I?"
His tongue felt too large and words wouldn't form and then everything was upside-down and Donna and Amy were falling about each other laughing.
The Doctor frowned. Donna had done that with Martha. And Rose with Sarah Jane. The women he travelled with so often laughed with no apparent cause. Perhaps he really was missing something.
"Oh, that was priceless, that was. Come here, you!" Donna's arms went around him and he could breathe even less. There was an instant where she held him and was entirely still and, almost too quiet for even his ears, carried on a single, soft exhale, she breathed, "I miss you...it...every moment." Then she was turning him, linking arms with him and Amy and frowning. "You let him wear a bow tie?"
He opened his mouth as Amy spoke. They did keep doing this to him.
"Let? The only thing I'm able to get off him are the dreadful hats."
"Hats? He's trying to choose hats now?" Donna shook her head. "And he's still skinny as a rail, even after changing."
"Oi! I'm right here."
Amy leaned across Donna. "Well, you are skinny. I don't know why he always argues with people who're so often right."
"Right, now," he spluttered, "I'm the one who's-"
Donna tucked her arm against his and dragged him along. "Come on. We'll get you a proper tea-with cake, skinny boy-and have a talk about what happens when you re-boot the universe. Rather like an office computer. Re-boot and lots of the bugs get worked out."
"You mean...was it...?"
"Well, that's what Sarah Jane and I figure it must have been. That enormous, pompous computer of hers said the 'residual meta-crisis energy was the only ripple in the rebooted space-time continuum of sufficient power to destabilize...' something or other, so the reboot undid the Time Lord knowledge."
"Undid...the Time Lord...just that part, eh?"
"Yep. Simple as that." Donna grinned. "Don't know why you didn't think of it."
He thought he ought to be offended, but he was still too confused. "And...you know Sarah?"
"Sarah Jane? Oh, yes. Martha and I kept in touch. And I see that Captain Harkness a couple of times a month." She grinned and twitched her eyebrows. "He fancies my gorgeous husband just as much as he does me, you know. Sometimes he even brings that pretty Jones boy around. All the good-looking ones really are gay or taken. Or both."
He smiled weakly. "Oh. So...everything's going well, then?"
Amy was trying to smother giggles with one hand.
"No thanks to you, but everything's brilliant, yes." He hadn't thought Donna's grin could be any cheekier than when she'd mentioned her rendez-vous.
Amy pulled away. "Be right back. I've got to rescue Rory." She jogged toward where her husband was being questioned by a policeman with a glowering elderly woman beside him.
"And," Donna continued, "Thanks to you, we've got a fantastic house with a gatehouse for Granddad-"
"I don't know what you're talking about." He adjusted his bow tie.
Donna punched him in the arm. "Seriously? Winning lottery ticket on my wedding day? Who else would it have come from?"
He looked away, cleared his throat and squirmed. "So. Tea, you said?" His voice too bright, even to his ears.
"We're almost to the best shop around." Donna glanced at Amy, who was skipping back with a rather subdued Rory, then nudged the Doctor's arm. "So. Is she going to stay with you forever, too?"
He felt he couldn't breathe again and looked away. They took a few steps in silence, a rare thing with Donna Noble. He could hear Amy and Rory laughing, hear their steps bounce off the paving stones and they ran toward the shop. They sounded so young.
Just before they reached the café door, Donna whispered, "We all plan to, you know."