Hide and Seek

"Ollie ollie oxen freeeee!" the Doctor's gleeful voice bounced down the corridor.

Donna's step quickened and she grimaced in annoyance. She was tempted to turn around and shout back that he was cheating, that there was no way on earth or Gallifrey that he'd counted to one hundred that fast, but that would have given away her position. She hadn't even managed to find a hiding place yet! "Bloody stupid game," she grumbled as she considered the first doorway that she'd come to. She dashed inside without looking what room it was while her mind drifted back to how she'd wound up playing Hide and Seek with the Doctor in the first place.

Two Hours Earlier...
The TARDIS doors flew open and the Doctor came dashing inside followed by his red-headed companion. Purple slime dripped off of them as they slipped up the ramp and clutched the control console to catch their breaths. After a moment, they looked at each other, smiles on their faces.

"Donna, the next time an alien species tells us that we must complete their ceremonial bathing ritual before meeting their leader, you make sure that I clarify what the ritual entails before I consent," the Doctor said.

"You think?" Donna huffed, then added "Slime, Doctor! They covered us in slime and it smells like...like..." she sniffed. "Vegemite!"

"There's worse things to smell like than Vegemite," the Doctor replied with nonchalance. He started flipping switches and throwing levers, sending them into the vortex. "Now!" he proclaimed, slapping his hands together in anticipation. Drops of slime flew everywhere and Donna ducked.

"Oi, watch it, Spaceman!"

"Whoops, sorry," the Doctor apologized. "So what do you say we both have nice showers and then meet up afterward in the kitchen for tea? It's way past our teatime. Is there any banana bread left, do you think?"

"No, you ate it all yesterday, you pig," Donna replied. "And a shower is exactly what I need."

"Great! See you soon!" the Doctor shot her a grin and bounced down the corridor ahead of her. Donna followed, slipping and sliding from the purple stuff on her shoes. The Doctor disappeared down a side corridor that lead to his room and Donna stopped outside the door to hers.

At least, she thought it was her room. She opened the door and a wall of greenery met her eyes. The smell of hundreds of exotic blooms hit her nose and she sighed in irritation. She'd wound up in the garden again. The TARDIS seemed to be fond of hiding her room from her when she was especially smelly. It was a sick game that the ship liked to play with her and Donna suspected it was out of boredom. "Cut it out, you," she grumbled at the ship and closed the door. The slime was starting to dry and make her feel stiff, but still sticky.

She headed back down the corridor and the next three rooms turned out to be a film studio complete with green screen, a sauna (Donna made a note of its location), and a room with a giant loom and spinning wheel. Donna shut the door of the last one, shaking her head. "That's enough," she told the ship. "I'd really like a bath now, thanks!"

Donna stomped down the corridor and tried one more door. It was the laundry room. "Oh, ha ha ha!" she called out to the TARDIS. "Guess you expect me to just climb on into the washer, eh? Not bloody likely, you infernal ancient machine."

She slammed the door and continued down the hall. She wandered for several minutes, growing more and more nervous as doorways failed to appear. Donna wondered if she'd really pissed off the TARDIS this time with her moaning and complaining. Just as she was about to start to panic, a doorway appeared and she pushed it open and almost shouted with relief.

It was the kitchen. The Doctor was washed and dressed in his brown pinstripe suit, carefully arranging Jammie Dodgers on a plate at the long rectangular wooden table in the center of the room. "Oh, there you...Donna?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in confusion when he saw her state. "Why haven't you showered?"

"Because the TARDIS won't let me!" she declared. "She keeps leading me to every room but my own!"

The Doctor could see that Donna was irritated and a little scared. He smiled before saying,"Aw, she's just having a bit of fun with you is all. She likes you."

"Well I don't like her!" Donna replied with vehemence, causing the Doctor to take a step backwards. "Not when I'm covered in alien goo and all I want to do is bathe!"

"Ok, ok," the Doctor said, attempting to placate her. He cast his gaze upwards and reached out a hand to touch the coral colored wall of the kitchen. "Playtime's over. Let Donna have her shower now, please?" he crooned in a low voice. It was Donna's turn to raise an eyebrow as she watched his languid fingers gently stroke the wall. She swallowed as a strange feeling settled in the pit of her stomach. His touch on the ship was the touch of a lover and she wondered if the TARDIS requited the Doctor's obvious love. Donna then wondered if the Doctor would ever even consider touching her the way he touched his ship and immediately squashed the thought, her face flushing with embarrassment. She and the Doctor were pals, best mates, that's all. Nothing more. It could never be anything more than that.

The Doctor nodded in satisfaction. "You shouldn't have any problems now...Donna are you ok?" he asked, seeing the blush on her face.

"What? Oh yes...yes, I'm fine," she stammered and took a step back into the hall. "Yeah, thanks, Doctor. I'll..um...I'll see you soon."

"Are you sure you're ok?" He took his hand off the wall and reached towards Donna. She stared briefly at his approaching hand, then let out an uncharacteristic squeak and dashed off down the hall.

The Doctor shrugged and went back to arranging Jammie Dodgers on the plate. After a moment, he said, "You know, you ought not to play games with Donna. I have to bear the brunt of her wrath every time and that's not really fair."

He swore he briefly heard female laughter echoing in the back of his mind.

It was almost an hour later when Donna reappeared in the kitchen and lowered herself into a chair at the kitchen table. Her red hair hung in damp wispy curls around her face. She wore grey pajama pants and a t-shirt that read, "Well behaved women rarely make history." The Doctor was sitting at the table drinking a cup of tea, reading Steven Hawking's The Illustrated Brief History of Time and giggling every few moments. He looked over the top of his glasses as she sat down. "Better?" he asked.

"Much better, thanks." Donna snagged the teapot and tugged the multicolored cozy off. The Doctor had told her once that a former companion had knit it for him in honor of a certain crazy scarf that his fourth incarnation had been rather fond of. She poured herself a cup of tea and dumped in lots of sugar and milk. "Oh, that's lovely," she murmured after taking a sip.

The Doctor put down his book and leaned his elbow on the table, propping his chin up in his palm. He was beaming broadly at her and Donna eyed him with suspicion. She knew that grin. It meant that he was going to drag her off to some planet where they'd get chased or imprisoned, possibly worse. His brown eyes sparkled merrily as she regarded him. She loved having adventures with him, but right now she was too tired to go gallivanting off to another world, at least not without eight solid hours of sleep behind her.

"Doctor, what are you thinking?" she asked before shoving a Jammie Dodger into her mouth.

"Your troubles with the TARDIS made me think that we should play Hide and Seek."

"Excuse me, what?" she mumbled around the cookie.

"Hide and Seek," he repeated. "You should hide and I'll try to find you. Looking for a hiding place might help you learn her layout better."

"I don't have any problems with her layout," Donna replied. "I never get lost, only when I'm filthy and she thinks it's bloody hilarious to hide my bedroom from me."

The Doctor leaned back, crossing his arms. The smirk was still on his face. "Oh, ok. I see. You know the ship well enough, then. I mean, playing Hide and Seek with a human wouldn't exactly be a challenge for me, would it? After all, this is my ship and I know it better than anyone. As clever as you are, I highly doubt that you could hide from me long."

Donna narrowed her eyes. She knew the Doctor was goading her, but she didn't really care and took the bait. "Oh, really?" she asked, cocking her head to one side. "You have no idea that I was a Hide and Seek champion when I was kid, yeah? Gramps never once found me. I can hide better than anyone, you just wait and see." She slurped her tea down and slammed both hands down on the table, making the dishes rattle and the Doctor jumped in surprise. "You're on, Spaceman."

"Great!" He jumped up and grabbed her hand, pulling her out of her chair. "I'll count to one hundred and then come find you." He hid his face in his arms against the wall and started counting. Donna blinked in surprise, then spun on her foot and raced out the door. And that's what led her to...

Donna looked around the room and blinked in surprise. She was in the Doctor's bedroom. It had to be. Her bare feet sank into a plush royal blue carpet that covered the floor. There was a doorway in the opposite wall and Donna assumed it was his bathroom. A long, narrow bureau that hugged the curves of the coral walls stood on one wall with a matching wardrobe next to it. The bureau was covered in tons of little gadgets and doodads that the Doctor always seemed to pick up on his travels. There was an enormous fireplace with an actual burning fire inside and Donna vaguely wondered where the smoke went. A gorgeous red velvet chaise lounge and matching armchair sat at opposing angles in front of the fireplace. A humongous king-sized Queen Anne canopy bed carved in an alien wood, something between cherry and mahogany, sat against the far wall. The headboard bore the circular language of Gallifrey that Donna could not read and the TARDIS would not translate. Heavy blue velvet curtains backed in satin hung from the canopy. A blue duvet with silver swirls covered the bed. It looked so plush and comfortable that Donna resisted the urge to take a flying leap onto the bed and bounce on it like a little kid.

The Doctor's bedroom. She absolutely shouldn't haven been there and she swallowed nervously. Donna turned to scurry out of the room when the Doctor's giddy voice sang down the hall, "Donna, where are yoooou? I'm coming find you!" He was very, very near and was enjoying this far too much, in Donna's opinion.

Remembering what he'd said about the game not being a challenge for him, Donna stepped back into the room and closed the door with determination. They'd only just begun playing and here he was already finding her. She raced across the room and threw herself to the ground, rolling under the high bed just as the door opened.

Donna watched cream colored Converse trainers step in the room and took a deep breath, praying that he wouldn't hear her heart thudding in her chest. "Donna?" she heard his voice call out and then he let out an amused chuckle. "I'm being ridiculous. This is the absolute last place she'd hide." She watched the pinstripe trousers and trainers disappear back to the hall and the door shut with a click. Donna let her breath out and smiled to herself. The last place he thought she'd hide, eh? Well, she was going to jolly well stay right here, then!

The carpet was very comfortable and Donna didn't mind staying there, hiding under his bed. She waited a few minutes, then slipped out to grab a red throw pillow and blanket that she'd spotted resting on the chaise lounge. She was exhausted after their day running from aliens and getting covered in goo. A nice kip sounded heavenly right now and she doubted the Doctor was going to find her anytime soon. She crawled back under the bed, plumped up the pillow, and curled up under the blanket. It smelled like him and she wondered how often he sat on that chaise lounge in front of the fire. The thought of him by himself made her sad for some reason and that was her last thought as she drifted off into a light slumber.

The Doctor was positive that he'd find Donna quickly and then they could both get some rest. He hadn't realized how tired he was after their long day, but then that's how it always was with him. He needed so little sleep that the urge to rest always hit him hard. He stifled a yawn as he checked under the bougainvillea bushes in the garden. It had been over an hour since the game had started and he still hadn't found her yet. For the first time, the Doctor's confidence began to slip. A small thread of worry worked its way into his mind. The ship was infinitely large and Donna could be anywhere. She was better at this than he thought.

He tried reassuring himself that Donna couldn't get into any real harm on his ship. That is...if she didn't go into the attic. There were some rather unpleasant—and dangerous—relics stored away in the attic. Or she accidentally stepped into the Eye of Harmony room. His pace quickened and he resisted the urge to run as he headed for the control room. What if that slime they'd been covered with was somehow toxic to humans? He kicked himself for not analyzing it first, making sure it was harmless. Donna could be passed out somewhere and he didn't know where to find her.

The Doctor grabbed the back of his neck in panic as he gave in and raced to the control room. He leapt onto the platform and looked around for bits of slime that they'd trailed in. Maybe there was still some left to analyze. The TARDIS had already cleaned it up, though, and he frowned. He grabbed the monitor and ran an internal sensor sweep of the ship, asking the old girl to find Donna for him. The monitor swirled for a moment and then a picture of the layout of the ship appeared, with a red dot indicating Donna's whereabouts.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. What the devil was she doing there? He'd checked there! She must have gotten in there after he'd stuck his head in. The Doctor laughed out loud, shaking his head. The last place he thought she'd hide turned out to be exactly where Donna had gone. He strolled down the corridor to his room and entered.

"Donna?" he called. There weren't a lot of places in here for her to hide. He looked in the wardrobe, expecting to find her sitting inside. Nope. He tried the bathroom, looking inside the massive blue-tiled shower. No Donna. He stepped back into the bedroom wondering if the TARDIS' sensors were malfunctioning or if she was playing with him now. That's when his ears picked up the light snoring. The Doctor ambled over to his bed. He knelt down and looked under, where he spotted his red-headed companion fast asleep. The Doctor chuckled and reached out a hand to shake her. Donna grumbled a little and her eyes opened to look at him. "Found you," he said.

Donna started to sit up, but then remembered where she was. "So you did," she conceded. He moved out of the way so she could scoot out from under his bed. "Guess you won after all."

"Nope, I didn't." The Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets and shifted his weight back and forth. "Had to use the sensors to find you. I think that means you won, fair and square!"

"I did?" Donna blinked and then grinned. "Ha! I told you I was a Hide and Seek champion!"

"Yeah," the Doctor agreed.

"It wasn't that hard," Donna went on. "This bed's so high, it's the perfect place to hide." Her mouth quirked at the corners as she commented as she looked at the bed. "It is an awfully nice bed."

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and he followed her gaze. "Blimey, do you really think so? I think it's an absolute monstrosity. Would you like to have a go on it?"

"What?" Donna cried, turning to glare at him.

The Doctor's hands came up in a defensive gesture and his eyes went wide. Where had that come from? "That's not what I meant!" he squeaked. "I meant, would you like to sit on it? It's the best bed in the TARDIS, very comfortable."

Donna watched him for a moment and he seemed just as alarmed as her. "Well," she said after a long moment. "Sure. I guess. If it is the best." She turned to regard the bed. It was very tall, higher than her waist, and she didn't see any step-stool to help her up. She let out an audible gasp as she suddenly felt the Doctor's hands on her waist, turning her around and lifting her before she could protest. He sat her on the bed, then let go and crossed his arms, grinning at her.

"Well?" he asked.

Donna bit her lip, then bounced up and down a little. It was very squishy. On impulse, she threw herself backwards and stared up at the canopy. More Gallifreyan was carved on the underside of the canopy and was painted over in silver, only visible if you were laying on the bed. "It's nice." The mattress was the most comfortable bed she'd ever laid on. It was firm and supportive, yet yielded softly to her body weight. She let out a low moan of happiness and the Doctor laughed at her reaction. Blushing, she sat up and looked at him. He was still grinning at her and seemed very pleased and that made her feel giddy and nervous. Trying to distract herself, she pointed to the canopy. "What's that writing say, Doctor?"

"Do you know that I've quite forgotten?" he replied. "Let's take a look." To her surprise, he walked around the bed and hoisted himself up, laying down a few feet away to look up at the carving.

"What do you mean you've forgotten?" she asked. "Don't you look at it all the time?"

"No," he replied, his eyes flickering over the circular characters of his native language. "I sleep on the chaise, when I sleep at all." He shrugged. "This bed is a little too...um...grandiose for me. My eighth incarnation was something of a romantic soul, had a little bit of Byron or Shelley in him, I think. He had this thing carved. Do you know," he continued, turning onto his side and propping himself up on his elbow to look at her. "I think it's been at least two hundred years since I last slept in this bed?"

"That's a long time, Doctor." Donna leaned back on her hands to half recline on the bed and her eyes gazed upwards to study the four massive twisted posts supporting the canopy.

"What are you looking at?" he asked.

Feeling a bit of a daring streak flare up inside her, she flashed him a grin and said, "Notches."


"On your bedposts. You said Mr. Eight was quite the romantic and everyone knows what Byron was up to!"

"Oi!" the Doctor shot up straight and stared at her in shock. "That is..well, that is not a lie. Byron really was as twisted as the stories say, but I don't have any notches on my bedposts!" his voice squeaked a little.

"Oh calm down! I was just teasing you," Donna replied, laughing.

He shook his head at her, settling back down onto the bed, but then he sat up again, his eyes bright. "Oh! I know what your reward should be!"

"My reward?"

"For besting me at Hide and Seek," he explained. "You should get to sleep in the best bed in the TARDIS!"

"But...but it's your bed," Donna sputtered in shock.

"Yes, but I don't sleep here," he replied. "The chaise, remember? You can sleep here tonight!"

"Oh Doctor, I couldn't..." she demurred, starting to shift off the mattress.

"But why not?" He seemed genuinely confused at her refusal to sleep in the bed.

"It...it wouldn't be right."

Understanding dawned on his face and he gazed at her. "Donna, you know I wouldn't try anything. You're perfectly safe here."

"I know, silly," she said defensively. "It's just..."

"Just what?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in anticipation of her rebuttal.

But Donna couldn't think of anything to say. It was a generous offer and the bed felt so comfortable. "Nothing. Never mind. Ok, Spaceman, I'll sleep here tonight."

"Great!" The Doctor flopped onto his back again, happy that she had agreed.

Donna hesitated, then lay back on the bed next to him. They lay there in silence for several long minutes, the firelight playing over their faces and casting dancing shadows on the walls. After a while, the Doctor slid his hand across the duvet to rest on top of Donna's. She jerked a little in surprise, but didn't pull away. Donna turned her hand over and tangled her fingers with his. "So what's it say?" she asked, breaking the silence.

The Doctor looked back up at the carved letters over their heads, glinting in the dim light. "It's a story," he said. "Something of a Gallifreyan legend and some of my people like to carve or paint it onto their beds. Like I said, my eighth incarnation was a bit of a romantic."

"Tell it to me?" she asked, yawning a little.

The Doctor sat up and pulled back the covers, silently inviting her to slide underneath. She gave him the briefest of scared looks before stifling it and crawling under the blankets. She tugged the covers up to her chin and looked at him, her eyes wide. She looked so nervous and the Doctor suppressed the urge to reach out and stroke her hair to comfort her. He was scared that if he tried to touch her, she'd jump out of the bed and run away. He decided to tell her the story, as she requested.

He lay back down and lifted a hand towards the canopy, his long fingers moving in intricate patterns as he traced the circular characters. "It's about a woman named Pelora. She lived beyond the Mountains of Solace and Solitude, in a crystal palace that sat on an island at the conjunction of seven rivers. Pelora was infinitely lonely, but extremely wise in the ways of love. It's said that she and Rassilon were once lovers, before he founded Time Lord Society. Men and women came from all over Gallifrey to seek her counsel, which Pelora freely gave. She could not help but wonder, however, why she was destined to be alone when others had their mates.

"Pelora had a sister named Nelia, who frequently visited her. On one such visit, Pelora confided her sadness to her sister. While Pelora was skilled in matters of the heart, Nelia was skilled in matters of the head. There's a rare tree that grows...grew...on Gallifey called an epimut tree. It was said that if a couple touches the wood of epimut, they will stay together forever. Out of love for her sister, Nelia scoured the surface of the planet looking for enough epimut trees to build a simple bed. It took her years, but she finally completed her task and brought the bed to her sister's home.

"Nelia told Pelora to sleep every night in that bed. If a man slept one night in the bed, he would be bonded to her forever. Pelora thanked her sister and waited for the right man to come to her seeking counsel. She waited and waited, but the right one never seemed to come. All of the men who graced her home sought only counsel for their own mates. No one came seeking love for themselves. Pelora began to despair until one day, a man appeared on her doorstep. Pelora was struck by his sweet countenance and gentle words and her heart ached with sorrow, knowing that she could never have a man like him for herself. The man told her that his name was Werstrem and he had heard of Pelora's wisdom and beauty. He had been unlucky in love himself and wanted to see if the stories of the wise woman were true. Curiosity and nothing more had brought him to her doorstep. He told her that he saw the stories were indeed true and asked Pelora to counsel him in matter of the heart. Pelora responded that she knew not the answer for one who had no mate. It was late and it was the custom of our people at the time to offer respite for travelers. Pelora offered him the guest bed and also her own, but warned him that the bed was made of epimut. Werstrem understood the implication and told Pelora that nothing would honor him more than to sleep in the bed of Pelora the Wise. They were married soon after and Pelora was lonely no longer."

"Proper happy ending and all. That's a lovely story, Doctor," Donna mumbled. Her eyes were closed and the Doctor could tell she was nearly asleep.

"It is," he murmured, entranced by the sight of his companion resting in his bed. "I'm fond of happy endings."

"Me too. Stay?" she asked, cracking one eye open a little to look at him.

He cocked his head to the side. "Are...are you sure? I mean, I can...the chaise..."

"Don't you get the moral of that story?" she asked, stifling a yawn.

"What?" he asked, confused.

"That stuff about Pelora finding her man. The moral is that no one should be alone, Doctor. Even you. Anyway," she babbled. "It's been two hundred years since this bed's been slept in. It's your bed and it's only proper that you break its dry spell, not me."

The Doctor pressed his lips together. "Well..." he said slowly. "I suppose. If you're ok with that."

A soft smile formed on her tired face. "I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't ok with it, silly."

"All right, then." The Doctor slid off the bed to pull off his coat, shoes, and tie. He kept his shirt and trousers on for propriety's sake. Donna watched him through sleepy eyes as he slid under the covers with her, keeping his eyes on hers. "No funny stuff," he promised.

"Yeah, yeah. You're the embodiment of the perfect gentleman." Donna suddenly yawned and stretched, too tired to talk anymore. "Good night, Doctor."

"Good night, Donna."

He watched her as she drifted off to sleep, the firelight causing her hair to blaze against the dark blue fabric of the pillow. The Doctor turned onto his back and looked up again at the legend. He hadn't told her why his people carved the story on their beds. It was for luck and the belief that Pelora's happiness would continue to bless their unions. His eighth incarnation had held out for the hope that he'd possibly find a mate again, someone to share his adventures with. That's why he had created the bed, that lonely, romantic version of himself. But then the Time War had come and he'd been forced to destroy his own people. After the war, the Doctor couldn't bring himself to sleep in that bed again, not after what he'd done. Not after what he'd lost. All hope of finding a mate was gone forever.

He'd considered getting rid of the bed, but couldn't bring himself to do it. He'd wound up keeping it, for some twisted reason. Now he was glad that he hadn't done it, for now Donna lay in the bed with him.

The Doctor turned on his side towards her and he slowly reached across the bed and touched her cheek with his hand. In her sleep, Donna made a contented sound and snuggled into his caress. The Doctor's breath hitched and he began to shake. He quickly moved his hand away for fear of waking her and squeezed his eyes shut as dual sparks of fear and hope suddenly ignited inside his soul.

Maybe that eighth incarnation had been right along. And maybe it wasn't too late for him after all.

The Doctor had tried to hide, but love had sought him and found him anyhow.