Doctor Who: The Journal

By Marisha

"What are you reading?"

"Mmph."

"Must be pretty exciting."

"Mmhmm."

"Can I have a look?" His hand reached out, but Donna swatted the leather book away.

"I am very good at over-the-shoulder-reading," he leant in, breathing into her ear. "Or, thinking of it, I can even read books upside down. "

Donna sighed, not looking up. "Can you do it quickly, too?"

"Oh yeah!" he bobbed his head emphatically and Donna laughed.

"Okay, Spaceman – have a look."

"Thank you," he slid onto the TARDIS bench beside her. Scanning the pages, he sneaked his finger under the next page, trying to flip it.

Donna smacked his finger. "We read it at my speed."

"Oh—," he mumbled, sucking his finger. Donna rolled her eyes and continued reading.

The Doctor tapped his foot, re-reading the same two pages for what seemed like the sixth time. "Can I have a peek – PLEASE?"

Donna gave him a stern look, but nonetheless flicked the page.

"Where did you get this journal?" Forgetting their agreement, he flipped through the rest, sneaking the book out of Donna's hands. She watched him, amused.

"Can I have it back now?"

"Oh, sorry – sure," the Doctor returned the leather-clad book.

"It's pretty amazing stuff—," he started, but Donna held up her hand.

"No spoilers!"

"Ah-yep," he shut his mouth with an apologetic smile.

"You know, a cuppa would be nice right about now," Donna said reading on. "Could you make us one?"

"Sure, sure," he dashed off.

With a sigh, Donna snuggled into the bench to enjoy some peaceful reading, but she hadn't even turned the next page when the Doctor bounced back with their tea.

"Honestly, where did you find it?"

"I'm still reading," she replied not looking up as she took the offered cup.

"Right," he stretched the vowels. "I'll just—," he nicked his head towards the console. "You know, maintenance stuff." He strode off.

"You do that," Donna said absentmindedly.

He circled the console twice before bobbing up in front of Donna eyeing her expectantly. She turned the page slowly before looking up. "Couldn't find a thing?"

"Nope, all's running perfectly," he patted the console proudly.

Donna's gaze returned to the page. "I thought a ship this old has always something to repair." She muttered.

"Oi!" he shouted, hurt. "She can hear you, you know."

"Ah," Donna kept reading.

He plunged down into the space beside her. "Are you already where he—?"

Donna looked up sharply.

"Sorry," he held up his hands.

"What makes you think the storyteller is a HE?" She eyed him interested.

"Don't ya think?" he grabbed the book excitedly. "Here on this page—," he flipped through the journal and stopped two pages after where Donna had last read.

"Spoilers," she said with a raised eyebrow and he gave her the book back. He crossed his long legs at the ankles and stared into space. Donna smirked and continued reading, but a page later she gave up. "Okay – tell me the end."

"Good," he jumped up, bounding across the room to the console. "Where did you find it?"

Donna crossed her arms, the book on her lap. "First I want to know how it ends."

"It doesn't." he said flipping to the end.

"What? Why?" Donna looked at him incredulously and took the book from his hands. "You must have read it too fast."

"Nope," he leant into the console. "Just stops. It looks like the writer had all intentions of continuing, but didn't have a chance."

"Oh, but that's so sad," Donna brushed over the pages. "I wonder what happened to her."

"Why her?" the Doctor looked at her surprised. "The author is a humanoid male, fairly young."

"And since you didn't let me finish it," Donna said mimicking his tone. "I have no way to verify your claim."

The Doctor observed her, a smile twitching at the corner of his lips. "We could always make a trip to find out."

"We could," Donna answered with a grin.

The Doctor sprang up.

"But how will you find the owner of the journal?"

"Oh," he sat down again. "It didn't say, did it?"

"Nope," Donna watched him fret for a moment, then nudged him gently. "We could always look in the wooden box for clues."

"What wooden box?" His eyebrows arched up.

"The one down there, beside the suitcase you found the Agatha Christie novel in."

"Why didn't I see it last time?" He leapt up and hauled the guardrail upwards. He threw random things outwards behind him before diving down. "Don't see a wooden box," his muffled voice came out of the compartment.

"Of course not," Donna looked at her nails.

"What?" his head shot out again. "Donna?" he eyed her suspicious.

Donna tilted her head to the end of the bench. His eyes followed her gaze and he frowned. "What is it doing there?"

"I didn't have a chance to put it back yet," she said innocently.

"Why didn't you tell me?" He exclaimed indignantly, pulling the guard downwards and brushing off his pants.

"If you had let me finish—," Donna made cow eyes at him, blinking rapidly.

The Doctor looked at her sternly, then broke into a wild grin. "Fair enough."

"I thought it was a time capsule, when I first opened it." Donna leant over as he opened the lid.

"A what?"

"You know, kids do it a lot. You pick a pretty container put all your valuables inside, sometimes a note," Donna fell back with a smile. "Sarita and I did that – thinking we were great poets. The rubbish we wrote!" She laughed and looked at the Doctor. "And then you bury it."

The Doctor grinned. "A time-endurer. The Master and I did that, too. Before—," he fell silent.

Donna smiled understandingly. "Before he turned into a world-killing psychopath? Martha told me about him." She put a hand on his arm. "Wasn't your fault."

"The Untempered Schism, they forced us to look into," he replied darkly. She squeezed his arm in comfort. The Doctor simply looked at her sadly. "Just wished I had a chance to help him."

"Who knows? You still might." Donna said with a smile. "So, does the box tell us something about its owner?"

"Let's take a closer look," he twisted his head with a wild grin as he fished out his glasses. Donna's smile widened and she bent over. Most items, he chucked away without inspection onto the bench, where Donna picked them up. Holding a matchbox car, a whistle, and a slingshot, she admitted to herself that the Doctor was right and the owner was a boy. Fiddlesticks, she had been so sure the writer was a girl.

"Ah-ha!" the Doctor exclaimed, and pulled out a candy wrapper.

Donna raised her eyebrows expectantly before they sank downwards in disgust when he licked the paper. "Ugh. Who knows where that's been."

"England, 1916. Sweetmeats."

"What?"

"Candy. Homemade, Good quality," he poked his tongue into his cheek. "Made in a country kitchen of a big estate."

"How can you possibly know that?" Donna pursed her lips.

"You can taste it," he held out the wrapper to her.

"No, thank you." Donna wrinkled her nose. "I'll take your word for it."

The Doctor grinned, satisfied. "Let's check out 1916."

"Still a bit vague, isn't it?" Donna burst his bubble.

"Um – well, there's still this," he held up a rusty sign. The letters were pretty corroded by time, but Donna could make out the words 'Wiltshire Manor'.

"Now we have a clue." she said, but the Doctor had already jumped to the console, punching in the coordinates.

"To Wiltshire Manor we go!"

"Huh, this is, um, well…quaint." Donna said, waddling around the mud puddles in the rough country road.

"Marvelous, isn't it?" the Doctor strode carelessly ahead of her.

"Yeah, and such fresh air." She wrinkled her nose.

"Isn't it?" He beamed. "No smog or pollution."

"Just fresh manure." Donna replied dryly.

"Come on!' The Doctor called over his shoulder.

"What's the rush?" Donna pulled the hem of her long, layered period dress higher, balancing over a piece of wood.

"Well, you wanted to meet the owner of the journal, didn't you?"

"You know, I do, but he wouldn't just disappear," Donna avoided a wheel track full of muddy green water. Her pointed booties were not meant for walking and secretly she was glad she didn't insist on wearing the wide-rimed era hat with the flopping feather.

"So, you've finally accepted that the writer is male?" He waited for her reply with a wide grin.

Making a big leap, Donna reached him. "Well, the style still sounds like a girl to me, but the stuff from the time capsule make it seem like it's a boy."

"Just what I'm saying," the Doctor took her hand to help her over a big puddle. "Thing is though, I ran a few things through the Vortex Scan," the Doctor rubbed his nose.

"Like what, a time scan?" Donna looked surprised.

The Doctor nodded. "And the thing is, their time line, and I assume the owners' timeline as well, ended around 1912. Just vanished."

Donna wrinkled her brows. "But you have the journal and toys in your ship, we can see them! How can their timeline just end?"

"You're in stasis in the TARDIS," the Doctor explained, his hands forming a bubble.

"Oh," Donna's frown deepened. "Me too?"

The Doctor nodded seriously.

"So, somewhere in time my timeline ends, too?" Donna's eyes widened with realization, and the Doctor nodded again – slowly this time.

"I die," Donna said in a whisper.

"Everything ends," the Doctor added quietly. "But not today!" he added firmly, tugging her hand into his. "Come on! Let's solve us a mystery!"

"But how can my timeline end and I am still here?" Donna still fiddled with the concept.

"The same way it's possible for you to visit 1912 even though you weren't born yet," the Doctor explained patiently.

"Or five billion years into the future."

He smiled.

"I'm in stasis, too!" Donna exclaimed, grinning widely.

"And ready to explore 1912," the Doctor beamed, squeezing her hand a little.

"Let's hove it then, Spaceman!" Donna sprinted forward, pulling him behind her.

The Doctor threw his head back and laughed.

"But you said the timeline ends?" she stopped dead suddenly, breaking off his laughter. "So, that's the same as vanished? Did he die?"

The Doctor shrugged. "Let's find out."

"Yeah, let's!" Donna grinned excited.

They only had to walk a few more steps before they reached a withered metal gate of Wiltshire Manor. Once beautiful with the initials 'WM' embellished in the middle, the gate looked rather neglected. The Doctor pulled out his screwdriver.

"So, taking the us through the gardener's entrance, are you?" Donna said with a delighted laugh. "Always wanted to go through one of these side doors."

"Now you can, Madame." The Doctor bowed, and Donna strolled excitedly through the gate.

"Intruders – stop right there!" A young voice suddenly reverberated from the trees around them.

"Or what?" Donna shouted back as the Doctor sneaked up behind her.

"Um, Donna," he whispered.

"Oh, come on, you could at least show yourself," Donna put her hands on her hips.

"Not a good idea, Donna." The Doctor pulled her back, but she wriggled out of his grip.

"Who are you, then?" Donna stared into the tree crowns, "Keeper of the garden?"

"Yep, that would be me," the voice said proudly. "And I'm armed."

"Oh, now I'm scared," Donna raised her hands halfway.

"Donna," the Doctor took her arm, eyeing the trees.

"Or not!" Donna let her hands sink down.

A pebble swished past her ear.

"Oi!" Donna exclaimed. "Watch it. You could hurt somebody."

"If I wanted to hurt you, I'd be hitting my mark," the voice said pompously.

"Just a friendly warning, then?" the Doctor shuffled in front of Donna.

"You got my point."

"You know, we're just travelers passing through," the Doctor said holding up his hands wiggling them. "We're not armed."

"And I should believe you? Sneaking into the garden through the old servant's entrance?"

"Servant's entrance?' Donna elbowed the Doctor. "You said it was the gardener's."

The voice laughed. "We haven't had a gardener in ages."

Donna looked around. "Now that you mention it, this place could use some trimming."

"Are you applying?" the voice chuckled and Donna snorted.

"We don't need to," the Doctor said cheerfully as he slowly dipped his hand into his inside pocket and produced the psychic paper. "Her Majesty's Garden Inspector Dr. John Smith and Assistant Donna Noble." He held up the paper and slowly swung it around.

"Why didn't you take the front gate?" the voice asked suspiciously.

"Unannounced inspection," the Doctor pocketed the psychic paper. "And from what I see, it was very fitting to come this way. This side of the garden needs some work."

"I know," the voice suddenly sounded sad. "But Uncle would never allow it."

"Why not?" Donna looked around. "Couldn't you commission it?"

"As if anybody would come and work for us."

"And why is that?" the Doctor stepped forward, intrigued.

"You're not from around here, are you?" the voice stated, amused. "Considering the strange attire you wear."

"What's wrong with my coat?" the Doctor asked indignantly.

"Oi, mind your manners," Donna stepped beside the Doctor. She still hadn't forgiven the pebble. "So your neglected garden will lead us to a neglected household, then?"

"Who said that?" the voice demanded angrily. "Hannah is trying her best, but she isn't as young as she used to be."

"How old is she?" Donna asked carefully.

"Oh, old very old – about your age."

Donna opened her mouth to protest, but the Doctor shushed her. "You mean white hair old?"

"Not quite, but close," the voice admitted. "And she only has Tom to help, but he has rheumatism and can't lift as well anymore."

"That's tough," the Doctor nodded understandingly. "Especially with such a big estate."

"Over 30 rooms," the voice said proudly. "But we only use a few." It added, quieter this time.

"So, why doesn't your uncle hire more staff?" Donna asked surprised.

"The Wiltshire curse," the voice said gloomily. "Everybody disappears after some time, and I'm next."

"A bit dramatic, don't you think?" Donna said aloud while exchanging a quick glance with the Doctor. His eyes were alight with excitement while he fished for his sonic.

"But true," the voice said, and the Doctor tilted his head to signal Donna to keep talking.

"You have to leave."

The Doctor pointed the screwdriver behind his back towards the trees. Its hum whistled loudly, breaking the previous silence.

"Tell your uncle to take you away." Donna added quickly.

"Where to? My uncle is my only relative."

"Oh, I don't know," Donna said, distractedly watching the Doctor. "Friends maybe?"

The voice laughed. "My uncle has no friends."

The sonic beeped and the Doctor gave Donna a quick nod.

Donna turned to the tree. "There must be someone you can talk to."

The voice laughed cheerlessly. "As if my uncle would listen to me."

"Well, we're here," Donna, said and the Doctor nodded vigorously beside her.

"Always an open ear for a story." He grinned widely.

"So, why don't you come out of your hiding?" Donna asked softly.

After a moment's hesitation, the leaves in the oak tree rippled and a figure toppled into the bushes.

"You okay?" Donna asked, stepping forward, but the Doctor laid a hand on her arm.

The bushes parted, exposing a girl with curly blonde hair sticking out from under a boy's cap. Her knickerbockers were patched and her baggy shirt fell loosely over her slim form.

Donna gave the Doctor a triumphant look. "He's a she."

"In disguise," he added excitedly, ignoring his false prediction. "Nice to meet you!" He extended his hand and the girl shook it hesitantly.

"So, what's the Wiltshire curse?" Donna asked, shaking the girl's had as well.

The girl shrugged her shoulders. "Everybody disappears."

"How?" The Doctor asked as he pointed out a couple of stone benches nearly hidden under the bushes for them to sit on.

"And why do you think you're next?" Donna brushed off the remaining branches and sat down.

"Because I've seen the glow," the girl said, plunking down into the seat. "Everybody who sees it disappears."

"Where do you see it?" the Doctor asked intently, leaning. The girl twisted backwards until Donna tugged the Doctor's sleeve and he sat down on the second bench.

The girl pulled a lock out from under her cap and twisted it around her finger. "The west attic, but—," she hesitated and flashed them a grin. "I'm not really allowed up there."

Donna raised her eyebrows knowingly. "Done a bit of sleuthing yourself?"

The girl nodded. "Don't tell my uncle."

"Never." Donna swung her fingers over her heart, "Cross my heart and hope to die."

The Doctor gave her a horrified look. Donna shrugged. "Solemn Earth oath."

The Doctor shook his head. "So, what's your name?"

He leant forward and the girl looked startled for a moment.

"Emily Wiltshire."

"So does the curse only affect the Wiltshire family?"

Emily looked at him, surprised. "No, just anyone who enters the west attic is affected. It started eleven years ago, shortly after I first arrived." Emily's gaze fell on the house. "There was this big storm and lightning struck the roof on the west end."

The Doctor and Donna looked at each other with an aha-expression.

"So it started when your uncle got the roof repaired?" Donna followed Emily's gaze.

"Ever since the servants refused to go into it." Emily looked back at them.

"Because of the lights," the Doctor added, and Emily's eyes became round with shock.

"How did you know?"

"What happened then?" the Doctor went on, staring at her with keen interest.

"I bet your servants disappeared when they had to put stuff there or get something," Donna said biting her lip, lost in speculation.

Emily's eyes lit up. "Yes. They never came back, and finally everybody was so scared, they left. Since then, the attic has been off limits."

"Apart from Hannah and Tom," the Doctor sneaked Donna a look and she nodded with a knowing smile.

"Hannah and Tom would never leave me," Emily smacked her hand on the bench. "They've been with me since I was born, I think."

"Did you see the lights?" The Doctor asked, a smile twitching in the corner of his mouth.

Emily looked to the ground, embarrassed.

"Done a bit off-limits exploring, have you?" Donna leant in with a grin. Emily peeked up from under her thick eyelashes.

"I might have."

Donna winked. "I would have, too."

Emily looked up, surprised. "You? A proper lady?"

Donna swung back in satisfaction and gave the Doctor a 'see-who-knows-my-true-nature' look. He shook his head with a grin.

"But where is your hat?" Emily asked, scrutinizing Donna. "No lady leaves the house without one."

Donna's smile slipped and the Doctor looked to the sky quickly.

"Never mind, but you know, the Doctor and me do a bit of exploring ourselves – not just in the gardens," Donna brushed off a bit of dirt from her skirt. "So could you lead us to this 'west attic'?"

Emily bit her lip and looked at the Doctor, who added 'please' enthusiastically.

"I guess—."

"Perfect," the Doctor jumped up and held out his hand for Donna. She took it and nearly fell off the bench, startled by a gong resonating.

"Tea time," Emily explained, pulling off her cap and stuffing it into a trouser pocket. "I can't show you now. My uncle insists on punctuality."

"I'd love a good tea time chat with your uncle." the Doctor grinned wide and Donna nodded. "We could just join your uncle as 'garden inspectors'."

Emily pulled out her skirt and let it fall over her knickerbockers.

"Nice dress," Donna remarked, impressed.

Emily blushed. "Thanks, but it's not a good idea. My uncle detests guests and never entertains."

"Oh," the Doctor's face fell.

"Not even inspectors?" Donna brushed off her dress.

Emily's eyes widened. "Especially not those, but I could sneak you into the kitchen."

"And we visit with Hannah and Tom," the Doctor turned to the house. "Brilliant idea!"

The gong sounded a second time.

"Better hurry now," Emily said, sprinting across the lawn.

The Doctor was right at her heels, but Donna stumbled over her long dress.

"Come on, Donna!" the Doctor called excitedly over his shoulder.

Donna mumbled under her breath and Emily fell back.

"Pick up your hem and you can run faster."

"Not very ladylike," Donna huffed and Emily rolled her eyes.

"My uncle always sends his anger to Hell-ifax."

"As in Canada?" Donna asked, eyebrows raised.

"As in end of the world," Emily replied with a grin.

Donna grinned back.

When she saw Donna still struggling, Emily grabbed the hem and handed it to Donna. "This way."

"Thanks."

A few minutes later, they burst through a side door into a mudroom, which led to a cavernous kitchen.

"Whoa," breathed Donna. "My mum would love one like this."

"Impressive, isn't it?" The cook turned around with a smile on her chubby face.

"Hannah, these are some—," Emily started, looking back at the Doctor.

"Inspectors," the Doctor fished out his psychic paper and shoved it under the surprised cook's nose.

"Don't mind us!" Donna added quickly.

The cook shrugged and stirred the fire pit, giving Emily a quick side-glance.

"You better wash up, young lady and spurt. His lordship won't be pleased if you're late again."

A horrified expression flashed over Emily's face and she dashed off.

"He's not gonna spank her, is he?" Donna asked jokingly, but the cook pressed her lips together.

"It's 1912," the Doctor whispered in her ear before she protested loudly.

"So, you and Tom are looking after Emily?" the Doctor poked his nose over the pot and the cook shooed him away.

"Since she was just an infant," she filled the soup into a giant saucer. "Why?" she inquired as she carried it over to the table.

"Just curious." The Doctor eyed the pot and turned to the cook. A smirk flashed over his face and Donna shook her head, as he was about to tap his finger into the soup.

Quick as lightning, Hannah was at his side and slapped his hand hard. Donna cringed, expecting an outburst, but the Doctor just smirked apologetically and Hannah gave him a small bowl.

"Not a gentleman, is he?"

Donna grinned widely at his indignant face. "Hardly qualifies." The Doctor shot her a dark look.

"Would your lady like some soup, too?" Hannah asked him with raised eyebrows, and Donna stifled a laugh behind her hand. Mumbling something inaudible, he passed his bowl over to Donna. She accepted it with a curtsy and sat down.

"Must be hard to housekeep the mansion without help." Donna said between scoops of soup. "Mmmm, delicious!"

Hannah smiled modestly.

Suddenly, a man stomped through the door. "We have company?"

The Doctor sent him a huge smile and jumped up. "You must be Tom. So pleased to meet you!"

The man looked disconcertedly at his wife, then carefully took the Doctor's hand into his.

"Emily brought them in." Hannah explained, presenting him with a bowl and adding some bread to the table. The Doctor plunged back into his chair, and Tom washed his hands before he sat down opposite of them.

Donna watched the two in amazement. She had heard of dogs and their owners starting to look alike, but husband and wife? These two looked like identical twins: same height and chubby stature. She looked over to the Doctor, who shoveled his soup down as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Noticing her intent staring, he looked up and wrinkled his nose, mouthing 'What?'.

Donna rolled her eyes, returning to her soup.

"So how do you like Earth?" the Doctor said conversationally and Hannah nearly dropped her saucer.

"Excuse me?" Both said, their eyebrows ceased.

"In comparison to your home planet." the Doctor grabbed a piece of bread. "Quite a sharp adjustment, I would think," he crumbled the bread into his soup.

Donna stared at him open-mouthed. So much for subtle investigation.

Tom shoved his chair back so hard it tumbled to the ground. Now standing side-by-side, their resemblance was even more obvious. They stood so close their shoulders melted together.

"What?" Donna's eyes turned round and the Doctor leant back complacently.

"Donna, meet a Padrivolian – most of them are shapeshifters." The Doctor looked even more pleased with himself as he swung his chair back and forth.

Hannah and Tom's shifted form towered threateningly over them.

"Oh, no," the Doctor jumped up, and Donna's head ducked just in time as a tentacle swished past her.

"We're friends!" The Doctor waved his arms wildly, ducking at a second attack. More tentacles shot out of Hannah/Tom, moving over to Donna.

"We're here to help you!" A tentacle wrapped around the Doctor's body and lifted him up.

"Honestly." he said exasperatedly. "Does anyone ever listen to me?" He wiggled in its grasp.

"Doctor!" Donna came up from behind the table, swinging a chair.

"No, Donna don't!" He cringed as the chair made contact with Hannah/Tom. Their eyes turned to angry slits and a tentacle shot out, hitting Donna straight in the chest and sending her flying across the room.

"Donna! Are you okay?" the Doctor wiggled harder as Donna shook her dazed head. "Okay, that's enough!" The Doctor fished his sonic screwdriver from his pocket. A high pitch resonated through the kitchen, and Donna covered her ears quickly. Hannah/Tom howled in pain, dropping the Doctor.

"So, now," he turned the screwdriver off. "Can we talk? Please?" He eyed Hannah/Tom and they nodded slowly.

"Good!" The Doctor went to Donna and helped her up. "We're not here to blow your cover, but we might be able to get you home."

"How?" Tom's voice rumbled like grinding stones.

Suddenly, the door opened with a bang, and Emily flew in. "What's going on?"

Instantly, Hannah/Tom changed back into their human form.

"Do you need something, sweetie?" Hannah brushed back her hair.

"You didn't bring dessert," Emily said apologetically. "And Uncle was livid."

"Oh, dear," Hannah grabbed a pair of oven mitts and pulled out a soufflé. "Can you hold the doors open for me, sweetie?"

"Of course," Emily grabbed the handle and both left the kitchen.

"So, Emily doesn't know that she's the lost Child Princess of Padrivole Regency Nine?" the Doctor asked, eying Tom.

"How did you know?" Tom growled, closing in on him, and Donna stepped closer to the Doctor.

"Oh, I travel a lot, you know, and she looks out of place." The Doctor said, tracing the floor pattern with his foot. "And only a royal member of Padrivole Regency Nine would get guardians." He shrugged with a smile. "From there, it's just simple logic. The Child Princess went missing with her guardians some time ago, supposedly murdered by a Plasmavore."

"So, Emily doesn't know who she is?" Donna asked, her hands on her hips.

The Doctor nodded. Tom bit his lip in a scowl.

"And they're also responsible for the disappearing people?" Donna's eyes widened. "Don't tell me they ate them!"

"Of course not!" spat Tom.

"It's the transport mat from the crashed safety pod." The Doctor turned to Donna. "It's somehow still working."

"And sending humans happily over to their home planet?" Donna's face lit up with a smile.

"Exactly." the Doctor beamed.

"What happens to them there?" Donna turned to Tom.

"How should I know?" Tom growled. "I've been stuck here for eleven human years."

The Doctor leant towards Donna. "That equals an eternity on Padrivole Regency Nine."

"You can say that!" Tom sat down with a heavy sigh.

"Why didn't you send for help?" Donna asked looking from Tom to the Doctor. "Through the transmat, I mean. You know a little note: Help! Stuck on Earth. 3rd planet in solar system." Her fingers mimicked quotation marks.

"The Empire was in an uproar when we left with the Princess, on the brink of revolution." Tom said, rubbing his face. "My mission was to keep her safe. A message could have fallen into the wrong hands."

"No good giving your enemy your location." The Doctor said merrily.

"So, you just plan to live out your natural lives as humans?"

"What choice do I have?" Tom looked at her with tired eyes.

The Doctor's ears perked up and he fished out his screwdriver, using it to scan Tom. "You're at the end of your life circle."

Tom shrank back as if the Doctor had hit him. "How did you know?"

"Oh, just a little scan and a brilliantly mind-blowing calculation." The Doctor said, putting the screwdriver back.

"And for the not-so-brilliant among us?" Donna asked sarcastically.

He looked at her surprised, but swallowed his who? at her raised eyebrows.

"Well, they wouldn't send somebody young and inexperienced to guard their heir, so Hannah/Tom were probably well into their mid-cycle when they set off. Adjusting to Earth costs a few years."

Tom nodded vigorously.

"Plus Emily's human age equals the end of Tom/Hannah's lifecycle in—."

"We don't need to know that exact," Donna stopped him horrified. "Long enough to see the Princess home?"

The Doctor studied her, then his face lit up. "You thinking what I'm thinking?"

Donna grinned. "You hijack the coordinates from the transport mat."

His smiled widened. "You've really picked up lots."

Donna shrugged. "Traveling with you rubs off."

He puffed out his chest and whiggled his head with a wild grin.

"So, you can do that?"

"Of course—." The Doctor stuck out his chin.

Donna pulled out a chair and sat down. "Good, then we punch in the data and off we go."

"Brilliant!" The Doctor clapped wildly.

"You can take us home?" Tom said in a voice rough with emotion.

The Doctor and Donna nodded in unison.

"And the revolution?"

"Long over," the Doctor pulled a chair close and flipped it around. "What do you say? Should we head off?" He sat down and leant into its back.

"Maybe we should ask Emily first," Donna cautioned. "After all, this world is all she knows."

"Ask me what?" Emily strode through the kitchen door followed by Hannah, carrying the remains of dinner.

"Caught her eavesdropping," Hannah said sternly. "No need to explain to her. She knows."

Emily grinned wide. "You have a spaceship? You travel between stars? Not a garden inspectors, eh? Never believed you anyway. Can we go now? What do I pack? Do we need space suits? You know like swimsuits with a big helmet?"

"Your race must be related to the Doctor's," Donna piped up and he shot her an unreadable expression. "The way you can talk."

"Brilliant, isn't she?" The Doctor turned to Emily. "Yes. Yes. Well, no. Maybe. Dunno and no. Hope that answers all your questions."

Emily hopped over to the table, eyes gleaming with excitement. "Hannah and Tom are coming, too?"

"Sure, the more the merrier," the Doctor said, bathing in her excitement.

She beamed back at him. "I always felt different…now I know why. And I won't be alone? There will be more like me, won't there?" Worry crept into her voice.

"Thousands," the Doctor assured her. "And your parents will be very happy to see you again."

"My parents?" Emily's eyes turned as large as saucers.

"The rulers of Padrivole Regency Nine," the Doctor said proudly. "They'll be delighted to have you back."

Donna looked over to Tom and saw him throwing Hannah a triumphant look. "You must be very happy to go back."

Caught, Hannah smiled quickly. "Of course, it's been such a long time."

Emily turned to them, suddenly angry. "You lied to me!" Her eyes filled with tears.

"It was for your own good, love," Hannah walked over to her, but Emily shrank back. "I trusted you!"

"There was no safe way back," Tom added, wringing his big hands. "Even if we could have used the transport mat, we might have landed right in the hands of the rebels."

"That would have been your death sentence," Hannah opened her arms. "We had no means of knowing if your parents were still alive or slaughtered."

Emily bit her lip, but soon accepted the hug. "No more lies from now on." She mumbled into Hannah's big bosom.

"Promised," Hannah and Tom said at once.

"But Uncle," Emily pulled back, "he will never let me leave."

"He doesn't have to know, does he?" the Doctor interjected. "You smuggle us up to the attic. We do a quick scan and off we go." He leaned back with a big smile.

Emily looked at Hannah, who nodded. "Okay, but we have to be very quiet. We have to pass Uncle's quarters before we can reach the west wing."

The Doctor tilted his head, apprehensive.

"There must be an outside entrance," Donna said, but Tom shook his head.

"The Master sealed them all off after the servants disappeared."

"Wise man," the Doctor agreed. "To avoid rumors from spreading."

"For all the good it did him," Hannah added, bitterly.

"Shall we go, then?" The Doctor had already strode to the door.

The procession, headed by Emily, marched out of the kitchen and up to the main floor.

"Nice," whistled Donna as they came out of a wood-paneled door into a huge reception hall. The reflection of the blind chandelier in the marble floor still told a story of better times.

Emily crossed the hall, heading for the main staircase.

"I bet mum's house would fit in this hall." Donna whispered turning around with big eyes. The Doctor caught her as she stumbled over the carpet and gently led her up the stairs.

"Now we enter Uncle's floor," Emily said in a low voice. "Thread lightly because he has hearing like a lynx."

The dirty windows only let in half-light as they tiptoed on thick carpet down the hall lined with sinister portraits.

"Ugh," Donna moved closer to the Doctor. "Those pictures give me the creeps. They're watching us."

"Just an optical illusion," he whispered over his shoulder, squeezing her hand. They had made it halfway down the hallway when a door to their right sprang open.

"What is going on here?" boomed a rasping voice, and Emily stopped dead in her tracks.

"Um, hello, Uncle," she said in a small voice.

"How dare you enter this floor!" He stepped menacingly towards Emily.

Emily cringed, but stood her ground.

"That would be my fault." The Doctor said cheerily as he stepped out of the shadows. "John Smith, roof inspector," he held up his psychic paper. "Just need a quick peek at the shingles."

The uncle's demeanor changed and he shook the Doctor's hand. "Nice to meet you, but unfortunately the west wing is not safe to enter."

The Doctor raised his eyebrows as he stuffed the paper away.

"Oldest part of the building, totally in ruin now." Uncle brushed over his sleek moustache. "One man can not maintain an estate this size properly by himself. So, sorry to have wasted your time."

"Oh, not at all," the Doctor said fiddling with his glasses now. "But unfortunately, I have to inspect it for myself," He shifted his glasses on his nose and studied the uncle closely. "Rules and regulations, you know."

The uncle sighed theatrically. "I'm so sorry, but I cannot allow that – especially not with ladies and children present."

"Oh, no worries at all," the Doctor said, all smiles, "I totally understand your point, especially considering that you brought their ship down in the first place."

Uncle's face turned into an ambiguous mask. "I see. In that case." He dropped his hand into his housecoat pocket, "I have no choice—," and pulled out a revolver.

"Not again," Donna mumbled and the Doctor sneaked forward, shielding her.

"I'm sure we can talk about this." The Doctor moved his hands up slowly. "Oh, come on." He whined. "What are you gonna lose if you tell us? You'll kill us anyway."

"If it eases your passing," Uncle twisted the end of his moustache, observing the Doctor. "I am under strict orders to keep the Princess away from Padrivole Regency Nine."

The Doctor cocked an eyebrow. "And your reward? Honor and glory for a lifetime?

"Your skills of deduction are impeccable," Uncle said with a smirk. "Too bad. The world will miss you."

"Oh, it will." The Doctor said with confidence. "But you really should re-think this."

"I don't think so," Uncle put pressure on the trigger.

The Doctor felt a shove from behind as a vase flew past him.

"Take that," Donna rubbed her hands together as the Doctor scrambled to his feet. Uncle lay flat on his back, sporting a huge lump on his forehead.

"What did you do that for?" The Doctor rubbed his shoulder blades.

"A simple thank you works just fine, thank you very much," Donna shot back, grinning.

"But I had it all under control—."

"To get shot. Yep." Donna brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "Just saved your skinny a—."

Hannah cleared her throat.

"Backside." Donna finished and winked at Emily.

"I'll kill him," Tom rumbled, advancing on the unconscious man, but the Doctor stepped in his way.

"No need. We just put him on ice." He peered over at Donna.

"You've finally learned your Earth phrases, spaceman." She nodded approvingly.

"Oh, yeah! Traveling with you—," he jumped sideways to avoid her slap.

"Let's tie him up quickly," Hannah stepped up to the curtain and gave it a sharp tug. A cord came sailing down.

"Good thinking." The Doctor rolled Uncle over and bound his hands and feet. "Someone should guard him."

"I'll do that," Tom said, but the Doctor shook his head.

"I'd rather have Hannah stay with Emily."

"But you need me to show you the attic," protested Emily.

The Doctor laid his hand on her shoulder. "Tom can do that."

Emily's mouth turned into a pout.

"Sorry, it's safer."

"Pooh," Emily exclaimed, "adults always say that." But then her face lit up. "He's too big. He doesn't fit through the stairs!"

Tom looked guilty. "She's right. That's why we never made it back."

"Oh, all right then," the Doctor sighed dramatically, but winked at Donna. "Come along, Emily. Tom and Hannah, grab Uncle and make sure nothing happens to him, we might need him later."

"What for?" Tom growled, his caterpillar eyebrows nearly touching.

The Doctor shrugged. "You never know when he might come in handy."

"Go to Hel— ," Donna puffed a few minutes later as they squeezed up a tight staircase, "—ifax."

"What for?" the Doctor asked, perplexed, but Emily grinned. "Nice one!"

"Thank you," Donna said with a grin, trying to regain her posture.

The Doctor looked from Donna to Emily in confusion as he wiggled through the small attic opening without a problem, but decided against asking.

"Here we are then." He spread his arms as if presenting a piece of art.

"Hah-choo," Donna held her nose. "It's a bit dusty in here." But in his excitement, the Doctor ignored her, and scanned the attic.

"Aha!" He jumped into the furthest corner.

Donna eyed the centuries-old spider webs, tucked her head between her shoulders, and tiptoed behind him.

"You found something?" Emily dashed after the Doctor, bubbling with excitement.

The Doctor's arm shot out and he caught her, making sure she didn't fall forwards, as the floorboards underneath them were shimmering green. Her eyes widened as an oh escaped her mouth.

"That would be the transport mat." The Doctor let out a breath. "And I promised Hannah/Tom to not let you slip through."

"That wasn't my plan," Emily piped up. "I'd rather travel with you."

"Us too." Donna had reached them and wrapped an arm around Emily's shoulder. The Doctor flashed her a 'thank you' and bent down to examine the floor. Shoving his glasses on, he leant closer and licked the floorboards. The green light flared up again, but at a much lesser intensity.

"Urgh!" Donna and Emily exclaimed, shaking themselves. "Did you have to lick it?"

Lost in his studies, the Doctor scanned the transmat, pursed his lips, held the sonic to his ear, shook it a bit, and then scanned again. A satisfied grin crept onto his face.

"Yep!" He jumped up. "Let's go home!"

In the TARDIS, Donna, Emily, and Hannah/Tom gathered around the console as the Doctor transferred the data. Uncle had been dumped unceremoniously behind the bench. He fought against his binds, mumbling insults.

"Oh, shut up, will you?" Donna threw him a stern look. "Don't be such a sore loser. You kept Emily from returning home all her life and does she complain?"

"At least she's still alive." Uncle spat back.

Donna frowned. "What are you saying?"

"Traitor's talk." Hannah shoved herself between them. "Don't give him the satisfaction of listening." Emily turned away.

Donna gave her an encouraging smile. "So…this is all pretty scary and new for you, I guess…are you okay?"

Emily swallowed and looked up. "What if they've forgotten me? My parents probably have lots of other children."

"But you were their first," Donna laid her arm around Emily's shoulders. "And parents never forget that." She squeezed her shoulder.

Emily grimaced a smile and trailed the railing with her fingers. Her gaze fell onto the bench. "My journal!" Emily exclaimed and rounded the bench, grabbing the book.

"How did it get here?" She opened it carefully, as if checking if all the pages were still intact.

"We—um—packed it for you!" Donna said, crossing her fingers behind her back and hoping she was not destroying some time-space-continuum.

"Thank you so much!" Emily hugged the journal to her chest. "I felt bad about leaving it behind."

"You have quite a talent for storytelling." Donna said excitedly. "It made me feel like I was right there with you and going through all the things that happened to you." She babbled on until the Doctor cleared his throat behind her, and she finally saw the shocked expression on Emily's face.

Donna's face fell guiltily, but the Doctor nudged her with a grin and said to Emily. "Don't worry, we just scanned it a bit to make sure it was really yours."

Emily let out a relieved breath.

"Yeah," Donna found her spirit again. "To make sure it was not your daft ole uncle's one."

Emily grinned widely.

"Donna is right, though." The Doctor pulled his earlobe. "You have a gift. You should keep on writing."

Emily beamed at him. "I will!"

"Well, then—we should land in four…" he checked the monitor, "Three," adjusted a dial "Two…one…LAND!"

The TARDIS shuddered violently and threw them off balance. "Don't worry, it always does that." Donna said, ignoring the Doctor's outraged look as Emily shuddered in her embrace.

The Doctor raced around the controls, flipping switches and levers. One last thud, and the TARDIS had landed at their destination. The Doctor gave them a triumphant smile.

"Step out of these doors and you're on Padrivole Regency Nine." He watched them expectantly, but nobody moved. "I could always take us back…" A wild grin flashed over his face.

Donna rolled her eyes.

"Off we go then!" He grabbed his coat as Tom hauled Uncle off the ground.

"You will regret this." Uncle grabbed the Doctor's arm. "Listen to me." His eyes pleaded silently with the Doctor, but Tom shoved him away. "Shut it!"

The Doctor wrinkled his nose in a frown. "Let's hear what the man has to say."

Uncle maneuvered himself out of Tom's hold. "I can't say it in front of the Princess."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. "I bet Emily would be very interested to hear what you have to say."

"Yeah, go on." Donna added for good measure.

"I can't, physically. I can't speak in front of the Princess." Uncle wrung his tied hands. "My voice was bound to never tell her the truth."

"You're talking quite fluently now." Donna crossed her arms.

"Don't listen to him." Tom nudged him hard.

"He is trying to distract us to avoid prosecution." Hannah added, crossing her arms.

The Doctor rubbed the bridge of his nose, observing Hannah and Tom's eagerness to disregard Uncle's remarks. "I'll tell you what. Donna, you go out with Emily and make sure she is reunited with her family." He smiled turning around to everybody. "And I stay behind with Uncle and listen to his story."

"You sure?" Donna hesitated, eyeing him uneasily.

"Absolutely!" the Doctor stepped up to her. "Here, take this." He handed her his sonic screwdriver, looking deep into her eyes.

"Okay, I guess." She took it gingerly. "But you'll be right behind us, yeah?"

"Of course! Off you go now." He shooed them towards the door.

"Emily can't—," Uncle croaked, swallowing hard and licking his lips, "go back…" He grasped his throat and collapsed. The Doctor ran to his side. He fished out his glasses and bent over the man's mouth.

"Don't let her—," He turned blue, and his eyes rolled back.

"Is he… you know…" Donna asked, wide-eyed.

The Doctor leant over him. "Nah, just unconscious." He bit his lips. "Wonder what he was trying to say."

"Nothing a traitor says is important," hissed Hannah, towering over Uncle.

The Doctor turned to look at her as if he had seen her for the first time. Tapping his long fingers on his lips, he stared at Hannah.

"Doctor?" Donna hesitated at the door, her arm around Emily's shoulders.

He jumped up. "We shouldn't let Emily's parents wait any longer."

Hannah and Tom stepped beside Uncle's lifeless form. "He needs to face his judgment."

The Doctor stared searchingly into their faces, hesitating again.

"Guess he has to."

Tom pulled Uncle up and threw him over his shoulder.

As they all left the TARDIS, Donna pulled the Doctor aside at the door. "You all right?"

His hand rested on the door handle. "Something is off." He pulled the door shut.

"I know. My stomach is in knots," Donna whispered, searching his eyes. "It feels wrong."

He held her gaze. "Expect the unexpected."

Donna smiled lopsidedly. "Don't we always?"

"Exactly!" He bounced with delight, taking her hand. They followed the others down a marble hallway. "But this time, we stay alert!" Donna squeezed his hand.

"Are you coming?" Emily called, hopping up and down excitedly. "I can't wait to meet them!"

"Yeah coming!" Donna handed the Doctor his screwdriver back, and he nodded encouragingly.

Loud voices made them look up. A group of guards had stopped Hannah and Tom, and a heated exchange followed until Hannah dropped her human form to morph with Tom. The guards' mouths dropped open.

"Let us through," Hannah barked with Tom's voice. "We are expected."

"They are?" Donna looked at the Doctor, but he just shrugged his shoulders.

"Must have a transmitter device."

The Captain of the guard nodded and motioned for them to follow him. The other guards stepped aside and walked past the group till they were flanked on both sides. They were escorted into a hall the size of a spaceship hanger. The galleries were filled with humanoids and life forms resembling Hannah/Tom. The crowd stared silently down at them as the small procession made its way through. Emily hovered closer to Donna, who smiled down at the girl.

"Is it true?" A female voice called out. "You're bringing her back?" A humanoid woman with slanted green eyes ran towards them.

"Your Highness," Hannah/Tom bowed, but she ignored them, kneeling in front of Emily. "Oh my—." Her words were stuck in her throat. Large, emerald green tears dripped from her eyes to fall onto the ground. "My child." She opened her arms wide and Emily stepped carefully into her embrace.

Unsure, Emily patted her on the back and the Empress pulled back.

"Of course, you don't remember me." She said with a sad smile. "But now we will have so much time to get to know each other."

"I'd really like that," Emily said with a curtsey.

"Let's find your father." The Empress extended her hand. "He will be delighted to have you back."

The crowds cheered when Emily took her mother's hand shyly. Together, they walked down the hall and the Doctor followed with Donna at a respectful distance.

The Emperor remained seated on his throne as he watched them approaching. His face was ashen. He held on to the armrest so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

The Doctor followed the Emperor's gaze in surprise, which rested on Hannah/Tom, who stood proudly in front of the throne after dumping Uncle before the Emperor.

"Is he…" the Emperor motioned to the lifeless form.

"Just knocked out, your Highness." Hannah/Tom bowed. "He tried to speak and the fail switch kicked in."

The Emperor nodded, his lips tight.

"What? What fail switch?" The Doctor bounded forward. The Emperor turned to him with an ambiguous face. "Sorry to bump in. I'm the Doctor and this is Donna Noble."

Donna waved.

"They saved me." Emily piped up and for the first time, the Emperor looked at her. A sad smile flashed over his face.

"My little one." He exhaled as he slid out of the chair and fell to his knees. "You're as beautiful as I imagined you." A single tear slipped down his cheek as he opened his arms, and Emily buried herself in them. Hugging her tightly, he looked at Hannah/Tom. Standing proud, they stared back with a sly grin. The Doctor frowned and threw Donna a glance, but she was busy watching the Emperor and Emily with a happy smile.

Uncle stirred, rubbing his throat and glancing swiftly around. As he realized where he was, he sat up with a start and tried to stand, but Hannah/Tom held him down. The Emperor released Emily and pushed her gently towards the Empress.

"Let him be."

Hannah/Tom released Uncle with a growl, and he rose onto his knees. For a moment, he and the Emperor locked eyes until Uncle lowered his head.

"I failed."

"You know your punishment." The Emperor looked far over his head. "You will be exiled for life with no parole."

The crowed cheered, but the Emperor suddenly looked very old and sad as he turned to the Doctor.

"We would be very grateful if you could take him with you and dump him on any planet you find suitable."

Uncle shuddered and sank to the ground.

"His exile begins now!" The Emperor proclaimed.

"What? No banquet for Emily's return?" The Doctor asked in mock hurt.

"It gives one the impression that you didn't want her back." Donna added, and the Doctor nodded seriously.

"I was so looking forward to a good party."

"Of course, we are ecstatic to have her back!" The Empress said, outraged as she laid her hands on Emily's shoulders.

The Emperor turned to his wife and smiled. "We are." He scooped up Emily and the crowd went wild. "I always hoped I would see you again before I die."

"Now, now, you still have many years in front of you." Donna said encouragingly, but she threw the Doctor a quick look for confirmation. He nodded slightly, but kept eyeing the Emperor with a frown. The Emperor released Emily, smiling at her before addressing the Doctor. "I am very grateful," he took the Doctor's hand and shook it vigorously. "After all, my wish came true and I saw my daughter once more again." He looked the Doctor straight in the eyes. "But for your own best interest, it would be advisable for you to leave immediately."

The Doctor held his gaze, then nodded slowly.

"Time to say goodbye, Donna." He stepped back and placed his hand firmly on Donna's arm. Surprised, she studied his face for any explanation, but it remained expressionless. She looked at Emily. "Are you happy?"

Emily nodded and flew into Donna's arms. "Of course! Thank you! This is the happiest day in my life!"

"Well, then." Donna mumbled in Emily's hair. "Keep writing."

Emily pulled back and smiled as she took her parent's hands.

The Doctor grabbed Donna's hand and gave it a slight tug. She smiled once more at Emily and followed the Doctor.

Uncle stood waiting. He mouthed 'I'm sorry', and with slumped shoulders, he fell in beside them without protest. They had walked only a couple of steps when Uncle halted and let his eyes wander over everything.

"Taking it all in?" the Doctor asked quietly.

The other man looked at him with empty eyes and nodded.

"Better make it a fast goodbye or it'll hurt more." Donna offered with an understanding smile.

He looked at her. "It will hurt for the rest of my life." His eyes were dark and filled with tears, but he turned his head quickly to the ground.

As they left the hall, the guards escorted them back to the TARDIS and they entered in silence. The Doctor closed the door when Donna turned around.

"We forgot to ask about the humans!"

The Doctor shook his head. "They never made it here, or the Emperor would have mentioned them."

Donna swallowed. "So, they're all—?"

The Doctor took her hand and led her to the console. "Their atoms are scattered across the universe, I'm afraid." He fiddled with the dials.

"Where to?" Donna asked quietly, shuddering over the images of scattered souls.

"Could we see Padrivole Regency Nine from orbit?" Uncle spoke up and the Doctor looked at him in surprise. "You know, for one last glance?"

The Doctor grinned widely. "Of course! We're not hard-hearted."

"Don't see the harm in it." Donna added with a smile. "He is leaving his world behind forever."

Uncle shrank back as if she had hit him.

Donna stepped forward apologetically. "Oh… I'm really sorry."

"It's all right." He smiled sadly. "You can't know how it feels."

Donna laid her hand on his arm. "Must be horrible to never be able to go back."

She gulped and looked at the Doctor. His fine features were contorted with pain and sadness.

"Sorry", she mouthed and he shuddered to life, striding purposefully around the console, and flipping switches.

The TARDIS quivered into the moment, humming softly. With a careless fling of his arm, the Doctor pulled a lever and walked to the door. He opened it with a mock bow, and Uncle's mouth dropped open. He made a tentative step towards the door, hesitated, and looked at the Doctor.

"Be my guest."

"The TARDIS is protected by a force field," Donna said, stepping beside him. "You can't fall out."

"Oh…it is beautiful," breathed Uncle, holding on to the doorframe.

"Knocked me out of my knickers, the first time I saw my home planet like that." Donna chuckled at the memory.

The Doctor joined them at the door. "Brilliant, isn't it?"

Donna sneaked her hand in the Doctors', squeezing it gently.

Uncle stared at the planet, his lips mumbling soundless words.

"Should we—?" the Doctor turned to face them and the planet exploded behind him.

The shockwave rippled over the TARDIS like a Tsunami.

"WHAT?" The Doctor grabbed Donna and pulled her back.

Debris larger than the TARDIS, blasted past them, shoving the ship off course. Donna screamed and grabbed a column. Loose objects soared around their heads as the TARDIS turned upside-down. The Doctor lunged forward, seized the console, and heaved himself up to hit the stabilizer. Slowly, the TARDIS righted herself, still rocking like a dingy on a rough sea.

"What happened?" Donna stared at the Doctor, still clinging to the column in a death grip.

The Doctor pulled at his hair, and ran a couple of scans before looking up with a hollow expression. "Emily's timeline vanished."

The Doctor closed the door gently and led Uncle to the bench.

"I don't think you need these any more." The Doctor removed Uncle's ropes with his screwdriver. Uncle's free hands shook violently as he buried his face in them.

Donna slid down the column, shell-shocked, not able to look at either of them.

"You knew, didn't you?" The Doctor placed a hand on Uncle's shoulder.

The other man shook in silent sobs, taking a deep breath and pulling himself together, nodding.

Donna jumped up. "You knew?" she shouted, advancing violently on Uncle before the Doctor grabbed her into a tight embrace before she could reach the other man.

"I felt something was off." The Doctor whispered in her ear, and she pulled back. His eyes were so sad as he bit his lip, "but I couldn't quite put my finger on it."

Donna hugged him, but he stiffened and jumped back to pull his hair. "I am so old! With such a dumb head!" He raged around the console like a madman, his anger forcing Uncle to look up. "I don't believe it! I didn't see it coming!" The Doctor paced on the spot, arms flying in all directions.

"Why did they let you live?" Donna asked softly.

Uncle looked at her. "Isn't the worst punishment to be the sole survivor?"

Donna peeked worriedly at the Doctor as he stopped dead on the spot. His arms fell to his sides.

"It's a double punishment," Uncle said bitterly and Donna looked at him, confused. "How's that?"

"Imagine you were the only one able to stop it and to know you have failed." Uncle said, staring at his hands. The Doctor's shoulders slumped as Donna exhaled a long, "Ohhhh."

"Who knew about it?" The Doctor looked up, steeling himself for the answer.

"The Emperor and myself." Uncle held his gaze. "And, well, the rebels. Hannah/Tom."

"No way!" Donna stared from Uncle to the Doctor. "They were protecting Emily from you!"

"That's what they wanted you to think." Uncle said, shrugging with a sad smile. "I'm a fully trained Padriolon, the highest rank in the Emperor's service. A Guardian trained for special missions—."

"But not for children." Donna finished for him and he nodded.

"My approach to Emily's upbringing was a bit military."

"And jolly Hannah/Tom was so much easier to love." Donna looked at him. "I'm sorry… I totally fell for them. Emily seemed so conformable with them." She looked over to the Doctor, but he was staring blankly into space, leaning against the console.

"But I still don't get it – what just happened? Could one of you explain, please?" Donna rubbed her temples. The Doctor remained silent, so she stared at Uncle.

"The rebels were nearly defeated by the Emperor's Padriolons, but what nobody suspected was that they had built a planet bomb and transported it into the lava streams, taking it as close to the planets core as they possibly could. There it sat for years – dormant, forgotten by all but a few." Uncle folded his hands and stared at them.

"But what has that to do with Emily?" Donna shook her head.

"In the final battle, the Princess, just an infant, was kidnapped and injected with a trigger code which would set the bomb off should she reach the age of 11." Uncle stopped kneading his hands and just stared at the ground. "The Emperor learned of this through the capture of the rebel chief. I was present as the Emperor's detail when the rebel chief gloated about the bomb and Emily being the trigger." Uncle sighed heavily and rubbed his brow. "The Emperor decided to exile Emily while she was still little for he feared he would not be able to do it when she turned 11. I was sent as Emily's protection while the Emperor tried to find a way to defuse the bomb."

"But your ship was shot out of the sky before you could reach your destination?" The Doctor suddenly interjected and Donna's gaze flickered to him. Her heart cringed. He looked as dejected as the day he lost his daughter.

"The rebel ship followed us and we crashed on Earth—."

"Into Wiltshire Manor." Donna said, putting the pieces together.

"The inhabitants had just died and we 'inherited' the place." Uncle looked at her.

"So, the transmat is from your ship." Donna smacked her lips together.

"I assume that shortly after you crashed, Hannah and Tom arrived?" The Doctor finally looked up and Uncle nodded.

"Servants had gone missing through the transmat. I didn't have the knowledge to turn it off."

"Or the willpower to cut the last connection to your home world," The Doctor added quietly and Uncle stared at him.

"I couldn't keep personnel." He laughed bitterly. "I was so relieved they wanted to stay. It took me a couple of years to realize who they were, but by then they had already dosed me with the 'Truth Inhibitor' and befriended the Princess."

"You didn't recognize them as fellow Padrivolians?" Donna asked disbelievingly. "I thought you were a highly trained Padriphanz."

"It's Padriolon." Uncle straightened his shoulders. "And why should I? In order to take our ship down – the highest and most protected in its class – the rebels had to use up all their power."

"And so?" Donna crossed her arms.

"They dropped out of the sky like a stone," The Doctor explained.

"But you never made sure?" Donna tilted her head.

Uncle held her stare. "I was young and proud."

"You mean a buffon?" Donna shook her head.

"I had my hands full with the Princess." He shrugged defensively. "Trying to raise an infant without females."

Donna snorted, but the Doctor nodded understandingly.

"So if they did land," Donna thought aloud, "why didn't they just take the Princess and run?"

Uncle gave her a weak grin. "I was right. Their ship was destroyed and they barely survived. It was months after our crash that they arrived at my doorstep."

"And the inhibitor thing," Donna tapped her lips. "That's what happened in the TARDIS?"

"I tried to fight it, but it was stronger. And—," he halted rubbing his eyes. "Emily will never know that I was only protecting her." He slumped back. "It doesn't matter anymore now, does it?"

Donna looked at the Doctor.

"And we never even asked your name," the Doctor said quietly.

Uncle gave him a weak smile. "Uncle is just fine. That's what Emily used to call me," he shrugged slightly. "My name lost its meaning when my home exploded."

The Doctor cringed and turned to the console. "Where do you want us to drop you off?"

Uncle looked around, lost, until his gaze rested on the Doctor's back.

"What about Earth?" Donna suggested, "The manor still belongs to you, doesn't it?"

"Good as any place. I have nowhere else to go." Uncle gave her a weak smile.

The Doctor flipped the switches without a word and the TARDIS shuddered, adjusting to the new course direction.

Soon after landing, the Doctor opened the doors and stepped out. The portal of Wiltshire Manor loomed over them as Uncle and Donna followed.

"I guess this is it." Uncle said as he looked at the huge house.

The Doctor turned around and for the first time since Padrivole Regency Nine exploded, he looked directly at Uncle. "I still have to seal the portal."

"Right, follow me." Uncle opened the massive door and they walked through the silent halls.

"You know," Donna started, examining the surroundings, "you should really do something with this place."

"Like what?" Uncle asked, surprised.

Donna shrugged, uncertain. "Something to populate these empty rooms. You have funds, don't you?"

"Lots." Uncle said, leading them up the stairs. "I could finance an army to upkeep this place."

"Well, with the portal gone, servants will come back." Donna said, tapping her finger on her temple. "Then you could open an orphanage or home for the poor."

The Doctor looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"What? Why not?" Donna warmed to the idea. "In memory of Emily and your home planet – make it a home for the unfortunate."

Uncle glanced over his shoulder. "You're serious? I just told you I was a complete failure with Emily's upbringing."

"So?" Donna jogged beside him. "Never too late to start fresh. You just have to try harder and hire a couple of nannies."

"Brilliant idea," the Doctor beamed at Donna. "With all these empty rooms, it would be perfect and—." He dropped his voice, "it wouldn't be so lonely."

"But they're not my people," Uncle objected, looking at them to make his point.

"Pah," the Doctor waved his hand through the air. "Never stopped me. You gotta love them, these humans, stupid and brutal—"

"Oi!" Donna nudged him in the back and he threw Uncle a 'Ya see' look. "Anyway, they're brilliant, ingenious people."

Donna raised her arms in a triumphant gesture.

"I'll think about it," Uncle said, unconvinced.

"Oh, it'll be fine," Donna called as they squeezed up the tight staircase.

"You think you can close it?" Uncle walked over to where the Doctor knelt.

"Of course." He bit his lip. "Can't have more people disappearing into the limbo."

"So they just…you know…" Donna gestured vaguely.

"Disintegrated?" The Doctor asked, distracted, and Donna winced.

"Too much information." She hugged herself. "Can you reverse it or catch their essence to put them to rest?" She shivered at the thought of having her atoms spilled over the universe forever.

The Doctor swung the screwdriver one more time over the ground, leaving a green shimmer behind and frowned.

"What is it?" Donna leant closer, but Uncle grabbed her.

"The field is unstable. We can't know where it's expanding to."

Donna's lips formed an 'Oh' and she stepped back.

The Doctor didn't seem concerned, leaning close to the ground as he fished his glasses out. His nose nearly touched the ground.

"Careful!" Donna called out from the back. "I don't want to lose you to the limbo, too." She said with a high-pitched laugh. "Would that be a Timelord metacollapsis? You'd probably take all of time with you and split it into timeless atoms." She rambled on nervously watching the Doctor. He scanned the portal again and gaped at the readings on his screwdriver.

"Or reverse time, taking it all with you," Donna went on, ignoring being ignored.

"What?" The Doctor jumped up and Donna grabbed at her heart in surprise. "What did you just say?" He stared down his nose and Donna gestured a "Huh?"

"Time reversal stuff, something or other, I think." She shrugged, staring at him.

"That's it," the Doctor smacked his head. "Idiot! Idiot! Don't move! I'll be right back." He stormed past them, rumbling down the stairs, and was gone.

"Well…" Donna's hands sank down.

Uncle looked at her. "You think he found something?"

"Oh, yeah." Donna said with a big smile. "When he acts like this, he's either on the verge of a breakthrough. Or a breakdown."

"I heard that." The Doctor stomped up the stairs and Donna gave him a big smile.

"Enlighten us, will ya?"

"Time reversal." The Doctor knelt down and emptied his pockets. He wired something that looked suspiciously like a Rubik's cube to a transparent orb and let the wires dangle over the transport mat.

"And?" Donna probed after making sure Uncle hadn't a clue either.

"If the signal is strong enough," the Doctor explained, assembling a mini-satellite dish and adding it to his construction, "then I can reverse the transport data and—."

"Bring them back!" Donna exclaimed, nearly hugging Uncle in joy.

"The humans, you're saying." Uncle looked at her with sad eyes.

"Guess so." The Doctor said, the euphoric smile sliding off of Donna's face. The Doctor paused a moment to look over his shoulder. "Only the beings that used the transport mat last."

Uncle nodded and turned away. "You don't need me for that, do you?"

Donna laid a hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry. But at least we're able to save somebody."

"Humans that is." Uncle pulled his arm back. "My people are still dead."

Donna peeked at the Doctor, who nodded slightly.

"Yeah, but these people were innocent. They had nothing to do with your war." Uncle looked hard at her, but Donna didn't flinch.

"This is your chance to give back."

He raised his eyebrow in a silent question. "These people were employed by you. They supported their families with that income." Donna continued, and the Doctor went back to building his machine. "Keep them employed, hire more people get this place back to its shining origin." Realization appeared on Uncle's face and, encouraged, Donna went on. "Then you could dedicate yourself to taking in the helpless."

"Ha!" The Doctor jumped up, and Donna and Uncle turned to look at him.

"Ready to go!" He held a switch in his hand. "Please stand back."

One by one, five maids stepped out of the transport mat, all a bit dazed. Blushing wildly at seeing their master and guests standing in the attic, they curtsied and tried to exit quickly down the stairs, but Uncle held them back.

"Did you meet anybody?"

The maids looked confused at each other until one found the courage to answer. "Sorry, sir. But I just went up to fetch something. Sorry it took so long."

The others nodded and watched him nervously.

Uncle smiled to hide his disappointment. "It's fine. Please meet me in half an hour in the Blue Salon."

The maids curtsied and scurried out.

"Was that all of them?" The Doctor watched the portal's readings. Its light flickered unsteadily in the semi-darkness of the attic.

"I'm not sure." Uncle rubbed his brow. "There should still be a butler and the housekeeper. I sent them after the maids."

A voice was cleared, and the Doctor turned around. "Oh, hello there. Welcome back."

The butler stepped towards Uncle. "I am sorry, to inform you, sir," he straightened a bit more, "but the maids are not to be found."

"It's all right, Jenkins." Uncle said, looking unsurely at the Doctor, but Donna jumped in.

"Don't worry, the ladies have reappeared."

The butler looked at her, not showing any sign of surprise, and bowed.

"Please meet me in the Blue Salon in half an hour's time, and you, too Ms. Hunter."

A matron with grey hair arranged in a neat bun had joined them quietly.

"You will have to come up with quite the story." The Doctor said when they left.

"How much time did they spend in limbo?" Donna asked.

"Years. I have to find out about their families and explain why Emily is gone." Uncle sighed, but he pulled himself together quickly as a young voice called out, outraged.

"Where did Emily go? She promised me a reward, if I dared to go up to the haunted attic."

"Yea – me too," a tiny voice said, noisily sniffing up his snot.

The adults turned around to find two very dirty village boys standing on the transport mat.

"You're the Thompson boys?" Uncle asked with raised eyebrows.

The elder one straightened. "Yessir! And Emily gave us permission to enter."

"We no nick nutting. Us no thieves," said a girl holding a toddler by the hand.

"We promised a meal, if we go to attic." Her gipsy armband giggled as the little one hid behind her.

The Doctor looked at Uncle. "I can't close it until I know nobody was left behind."

Uncle shrugged. "I had no idea about the children. Emily must have smuggled them past me."

Donna looked the children over. "And they weren't missed too much either."

With all the attention upon them, they shuffled their feet uneasily.

"Tell you what," Donna said with a smile. "How about you all go down to the kitchen and let the maids give you some food."

Big smiles appeared on the children's faces, and with a 'Thank you, Miss' , they ran down the stairs.

Uncle watched them with amazement. "How could I not have noticed?"

Three more youngsters appeared on the mat.

"Let me guess." The Doctor said with a grin.

"Emily dared you, too?" Uncle finished the sentence.

The oldest nodded, quickly removing his cap and smacking those of the two younger ones off their heads.

With mumbled protest, they removed their caps and stared at their feet.

"We didn't mean to intrude sir." The oldest said. "We were passing through to the orphanage in Whittle."

Uncle studied him closely. "We have met before."

"Thomas Stuart." The oldest bowed. "And these are my brothers, Jeremy and Lucas."

"Of course." Uncle said rubbing his chin. "I heard about your parent's accident and your inheritance problems."

Thomas looked up, defiantly. "Once I come of age, I'll fight my mother's family. She wouldn't have wanted us penniless in an asylum."

The little one suppressed a sob and Thomas put an arm around his shoulder.

Donna gave Uncle a big look as he fiddled with his coat. "I assume you're not in a hurry to get to the asylum," Uncle cleared his throat.

The middle brother snickered. "Not like we're expected."

"Well, how about you stay here for while?"

The younger boys' eyes lit up.

"That is a kind offer, sir, but we can't accept pittance." Thomas said pushing the younger ones in front of him.

Uncle looked helplessly to Donna, who looked to the Doctor, but he busied himself quickly with the transmat after watching the exchange, amused.

Donna sighed. "Well, how about you work for your room and board to begin with, and when you have proven yourselves dependable, you can negotiate 'monetary enumerations'."

Uncle nodded in relief and held out his hand to Thomas. "Agreed?"

Thomas observed the outstretched hand for a moment, and then accepted it.

"Perfect!" Donna clasped her hands. "How about food? Go down to the kitchen."

She didn't have to say it twice. The three raced down the stairs quickly after her words.

"Well, it looks like you have already candidates to fill your house." Donna said contently.

"It appears so," Uncle said with the first smile on his lips since they met. "If you'll excuse me, I'd better inform the servants."

When he left, Donna stepped next to the Doctor. "What do you think? More?"

The Doctor swung his sonic over the transmat and the green light shimmered brightly before disappearing.

He stood up and stuffed the screwdriver into his pocket. "No, I checked. Those were all."

"I thought you—," Donna started, but stopped herself at his big grin. "You just said that."

"Yep!" the Doctor whipped up on his feet. "Thought it might help him accept the kids better."

"Oh, come on." Donna gave him a hug and his arms held her tight.

"Time to say good-bye?"

He nodded.

Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor threw his coat over a beam as Donna strolled in behind him. Swinging the ship back into in-flight mode, he turned to look at Donna. She sat on the bench lost in thought with the journal in her hands. He flipped on a random flight pattern, strolled over, and sat down beside her.

"I couldn't have changed it." He said quietly.

"Was it a fixed point?" Donna asked, still looking at the journal.

"No, but we could have crossed our timelines in order to bring them back or changed the future entirely."

"I see."

They remained silent for a moment.

"Not your fault." Donna looked at him, but he wouldn't meet her eyes.

"I wouldn't have suggested going, if I had known."

Donna nudged him gently. "Getting hard of hearing, spaceman?"

He peeked up with a shy smile.

"Sad, though." Donna returned his smile before glancing at the journal. "How did you get it, anyway?"

He shrugged, ruffling his hair as he leant back. "Dunno. My other selves collected all sorts of weird things over the years."

"And YOU were never curious?" Donna searched his face with mock disbelief.

He rubbed his neck. "The first time I saw it was when you dug it out."

Donna tilted her head, observing him. "Do you have a pen? A normal pen to write with in one of your pockets?"

He raised his eyebrows, but leant deep into his pocket and presented her a pen with a flourishing motion.

She smiled and opened the journal and started to write.

The End