Look who managed to produce a new chapter in less than a month! Oh yeah!
No, seriously, I'm so sorry that chapters for this have been taking so long. On the plus side, it's (finally) getting to a more exciting point for over-arching plots, and since I'm INCREDIBLY blocked on another story, I've been trying to do literally anything else but write that, which means more of this and Ashes. Enjoy!
Thanks as always for all the wonderful reviews and things!
(I've also been soooo excited for the cameo in this chapter, I can't even tell you.)
"Ah, there we are," the Doctor said as he led the way out of the TARDIS.
"That's beautiful," Donna breathed, taking in the enormous glass dome in the middle of the square. Buildings and shops lined the square, all sporting colorful advertisements in the windows and on the walls, but this was clearly the focal point. There appeared to be some sort of immense forest inside it, but one more colorful than Donna had ever seen, even in photographs of the rainforests in Brazil. Twinkling lights hovered and danced through the various leaves and petals.
"Mmm, isn't it, though?" Rose said, grinning happily. "Only place in the universe it exists. It's got-how many species, Doctor?"
"Six thousand and forty two," the Doctor supplied.
"Six thousand and forty-two types of vegetation, from all across the galaxy, living in perfect balance inside a closed ecosystem."
"So you've been here before?" Donna asked, mentally kicking herself for asking such an obvious question.
"Loads of times," Rose said. "This is sort of the Doctor's go to planet for hardware. He's 'got a guy'," she added, rolling her eyes. "Personally, I prefer the planet we went to with Martha."
"That place is only really good if you're not sure what you want," the Doctor said dismissively. "Ultimate venue for the window shopper, with a bit of everything. Kazak's best for the discerning customer."
"Come off it," Rose snorted. "You just like Kazak because you like to show off the ecoglobe...and because Rigger knows you never carry any money, but always manages to find something worth trading in those overloaded pockets of yours."
"That is...a bonus," the Doctor admitted slowly, smiling when she laughed.
"Oh, come on then," she said. "Let's go turn out your pockets for a temporal capacitor. Coming, Donna?"
"No, you go ahead," Donna said. The couple paused uncertainly, glancing at each other and back at her. "Really, it's fine. You deserve some...you know, married time alone, without me tagging after you."
"It's not like that," Rose said with a frown. "You're our friend."
"I know," Donna assured her. "All the same. Think I don't get tired of watching you two be all gooey all the time?" she added, making a face at Rose, who smiled a little sheepishly. "Nah, think I'll just have a romance free wander, thanks, since this place seems relatively safe. It is safe, right?"
"Oh, yeah," the Doctor said, his brows furrowing as he looked around and nodded. "Relatively. You sure you're alright on your own?"
"Yeah," she said. "Think I'll check out some more of this 'ecoglobe' of yours."
"Alright," the Doctor agreed reluctantly. "We'll meet you back here in an hour or so? Then we'll get something to eat."
"Brilliant," Donna said, smiling at them.
"Don't get into any trouble," the Doctor said, wagging a finger at her.
"Should be simple enough," she said thoughtfully. "If I'm not sure about something, I'll just ask myself, 'what would the Doctor do?'...then do the opposite. Fool proof method for staying out of trouble."
"I resent that," the Doctor pouted.
"I think the word you were looking for is 'resemble'," she said, letting her gaze wander to the side as she tilted her head.
"Oh, alright, I give," Rose said, taking the Doctor's hand and pulling him away before he could say anything else. "Alone time and not listening to you two bicker like five year old siblings, I'm all for. See you in an hour, Donna!"
Donna laughed and waved as the Doctor sputtered defences, Rose smiling cheekily up at him before looking back at Donna with a wink. As soon as the couple was out of sight, however, the smile melted from Donna's face. She turned to the ecoglobe, leaning on a railing and staring despondently at the multicolored flora.
It never seemed to phase them, the amazing things they did. Turning back time to bring back the dead, jumping universes, saving planets and creatures that Donna couldn't have even imagined before she'd met them, all in a day's work. They were heros, and for a little while, she thought maybe she could be too, against all odds. But all she could manage was to keep up, and maybe get lucky enough to ask the right question once in a while. They probably wouldn't have even bothered with her if she hadn't practically begged like a kid asking for a sweet.
Who'm I kidding? she thought glumly. Just a temp from Chiswick. All I'm ever gonna be.
"Luminous chemomorphs," a voice said nearby. "Commonly referred to as lumkeys. Instectoid organisms similar to the firefly on Earth. Ingenius creatures, only non-plantlife allowed in the ecoglobe. Their exoskeleton is covered in a viscous substance that allows them to detect the levels of elements in the environment around them, and adapt to metabolize any element in excess, and convert it into any element that might be lacking. Fascinating. Or, rather, they would be, were one actually looking at them rather than simply staring sorrowfully into the distance."
Donna rolled her eyes at the sheer injustice that, in all the universe, she managed to find two people who could lecture on anything.
"Sorry, d'you mind?" she snapped, barely glancing at the tall man standing next to her. "Prefer to stare off in the distance on my own, thanks."
"I prefer my view of the ecoglobe not to be hindered by misery," the man said. "So one of us is going to be disappointed. Jelly baby?"
Donna looked down at the proffered bag of sweets, then back up to the man's face. "You're not going to go away are you?"
"Probably not," he said, still looking at the twinkling forest. He shook the bag a little, and she let out a small chuckle before reaching in and taking a few jelly babies, popping one in her mouth. "So what heavy thoughts are keeping you from taking in the wonder of the sights before you?"
"Doesn't matter," Donna said with a shrug.
"Humor me," the man said, finally turning to face her.
"Why do you care?"
"Because it's something I don't know," he said. "And I'm insatiably curious. And, one would assume, you'll feel better for telling me. Everyone wins."
Donna hesitated, still unsure of this strange man, but he simply buried his hands in his pockets and watched her expectantly. The mannerism struck her as vaguely familiar, but she couldn't pinpoint where from. She sighed and gave up.
"It's my friends," she said with a shrug.
"Not very good friends if they've upset you," the man remarked.
"No, it's not like that," she said, shaking her head. "They didn't do it on purpose or anything. It's just…" She trailed off, then sighed. ""It's just...they're brilliant, the pair of them," Donna said, looking back out at the forest. "They've saved each other, and whole worlds, even the universe a time or two. I dunno what they want with me. I'm just some human from Chiswick."
"Oh, I doubt that very much," the man said. "There's no such thing as just human, you see."
"Now you sound like him," Donna said with a sigh. "Look, if you're just gonna patronize me-"
"Patronize you?" he asked, frowning. "Of course not. It's the truth. Oh, humans are small and dull and foolish-"
"Oh, thanks for that," Donna muttered.
"-but capable of so many extraordinary deeds," he continued, ignoring her annoyed tone. "You lot, you're so much bigger on the inside, and the beautiful thing about you, the wondrous thing, is that you're so convinced that you have it all figured out that you don't even know how much more you're really capable of until you try."
"You talk like you're an expert," she said, eyeing him suspiciously. "Not human then, are you?"
"Me? Good lord no," he said, aghast. "But I've had several acquaintances from your species, and always found them brilliant...after a fashion...and coming from me, that's a superlative compliment, given my own intellect. And, come to that, if I sound like your...friend, your companion, then he must be quite the brain himself."
"He wouldn't argue with you there," she said, arching an eyebrow.
"Then perhaps you should trust him," the man said quietly. "If he's such a genius, he'd hardly waste his time on someone who wasn't worthwhile."
"His wife talked him into it," Donna sighed. "Dunno if he would have taken me at all without her persuading him."
"But you've said she's more than capable herself," the man said, raising one hand to push his hat back a little. "I think, madam, that the only one certain of your insignificance...is you."
Donna looked away, not quite sure how to answer this. True, the Doctor himself had said she was brilliant, for talking him into saving that family in Pompeii. But still…her own mother thought she was a waste of...everything most of the time. It made no sense why two people so extraordinary on their own would bother with her.
"Still don't know why they'd need me," she said with a shrug.
The man hesitated, then glanced back at the enclosed ecosystem. "Take this ecoglobe for example, and our twinkling lumkeys. The reason it remains in such a near perfect state is because of the nature of the flora; each plant has a sort of biological twin, so that whatever they produce, there's another to metabolize it, and vice versa. But even the most perfect pair can fall out of sync, and that's where our friends come in, restoring the balance." He turned back to Donna with a shrug. "Perhaps your friends need you more than you are aware."
Donna opened her mouth to respond, but stopped when she heard Rose calling.
"Over here," she called back, looking past the man at her friend. "Thought you were enjoying alone time?"
"Well, I was," Rose said with an eyeroll as she approached. "But then he seemed more excited about alone time with a decrepit junker. Sorry, 'classic'," she corrected herself with air quotes.
"Good to know some things are the same across species," Donna said with a laugh, surprised to find that she did actually feel much better after talking the scarfed man. "Oh, Rose, this is...oh, sorry, I never did ask your name."
"The Doctor," he said, turning to greet Rose.
Rose froze and stared at the man, while Donna looked at him in confusion. "No, you're not."
"I believe I know my own name," he said slowly, frowning at Rose. "A few centuries has a habit of ingraining that sort of thing. Is this one of your...friends?"
"Uh, yeah, this is Rose Tyler," Donna said. "But wait, hold on, cause I know the Doctor, he's-"
"Right in front of you," Rose interrupted, still staring at the man with wide eyes. "That's the Doctor. Oh, blimey, he is not gonna like this."
"But how can this be the Doctor?" Donna asked. "Or, hold on, cause he's a time traveller, are you...dunno...his dad or something? Is the title passed down?"
"No, only me," the man said, then smiled slowly. "Rose Tyler. I'd ask if we've met, but I can only assume you'll answer something like 'not yet'."
"Yeah, something like that," she agreed. "Although, in your timeline, it's all gone a bit...wonky. Still...oh, I've wanted to meet you. Where are you? Sarah Jane-"
"On earth, with Harry," apparently-the-Doctor said. "She claimed that having normal, Earth tea was necessary once in a while."
"And you got bored," Rose said, smiling back at him now as she moved closer.
"It's not my fault," he said defensively. "Honestly, 'normal, Earth tea' is one of the dullest affairs in the galaxy. So I took Alistair for a...field trip."
Rose started laughing. "Was the Brig aware that he would be going on this...field trip?"
"Not as such," the Doctor admitted with a grin. "He did walk away in a bit of a huff when we landed."
"Oi!" Donna shouted suddenly, and they both turned to look at her. "I'm glad you two are having fun playing catch up, but someone had better explain this to me really soon, or I'll go off and look for the actual Doctor myself."
"I am the Doctor," the man insisted, frowning again.
"It's...complicated," Rose said, making vague hand gestures. "There's this...thing the Doctor can do, a trick the Time Lords have for cheating death. When they're hurt, near dying, they change...everything. He becomes a whole new man. So this is the Doctor...just before you met him, before he looked like he does now."
"And before I apparently bonded with a human," he added, looking down at Rose again with an odd expression. "Temporal reverberation is the oddest sensation; though not, in this case, entirely unpleasant," he added with a smile when Rose looked up at him. "Rose Tyler. Well, at least I can say with reasonable assurance that my future self will have impeccable taste."
"Not even the half of it," Rose replied, grinning and reaching up to steal his hat.
"And tell that wife of yours I'm sorry," Rigger said, handing the Doctor a bulky package.
"For showing you that junkheap in the first place," the purple mechanic said, long dreadlocks sweeping from side to side as he shook his head. "She'll never let you come back."
"Nah," the Doctor said. "Sure she just wandered off with Donna. Although...I should probably find her and apologize myself. Thanks again," he called over his shoulder as he left the shop, holding up the package and waving it vaguely.
He was aware he'd made a bit of a mess out of what was supposed to be their 'alone time', but Rose hadn't seemed overly put out. Still, he was sure neither woman would argue with an especially appetizing meal.
"Doctor?" a startled and familiar voice said nearby, and the Doctor turned to find Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart staring at him in confusion.
"Brigadier!" the Doctor cried happily, reaching forward to shake the Brig's hand. "Hello! Lovely to see you! No, hold on," he said suddenly, his grin dropping into a frown in an instant. "You shouldn't be here. If you're here-"
"You're making a habit of this, Doctor," Alistair said with a sigh. "Can I assume that you've already been to 1969?"
"Oh...yes," the Doctor said. "Bugger. I need to get Rose and Donna out of here before they can cause anymore trouble."
"Ah, yes, your wife," Alistair remarked, following the Doctor as he hurried away. "Still having some trouble wrapping my mind around that one."
"You seemed pretty at ease about it last time we met," the Doctor replied distractedly. "Mind you, you'd had a few decades to adjust then. Oh, that...that's just...perfect," the Doctor spat as they emerged into the square to find Rose and Donna laughing and chatting with his past self. Rose was even wearing his hat, and he wasn't at all alright with the way his past self was watching her.
"Well, I'd say your plans for leaving before there was trouble have been successfully thwarted," Alistair said, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, thank you," the Doctor snapped sarcastically. "She's flirting with him," he added, frowning when he caught a particularly wide smile from his other self. "And he's flirting back!"
"Well, she is his wife," Alistair pointed out calmly.
"Not yet, she's not," the Doctor said, then looked at the Brigadier suspiciously. "Hold on...you're enjoying this."
"It's not often that I get to see you this uncomfortable, Doctor," the Brig said unashamedly as they drew closer. "Also, this will likely be another incident that my version of you will have no memory of, giving me another advantage."
"Advantage for what?" the Doctor demanded.
"Advantage in general," the Brig said with a shrug. "You seem to take perverse pleasure in being elusive and enigmatic, so you'll forgive me if I enjoy knowing a few things about you that you don't…at least, that version of you."
"Brigadier," Four called when he finally managed to tear his eyes from the Doctor's wife and caught sight of them. "I've just met two of the most extraordinary women, and apparently one of them is my future wife."
"Brigadier!" Rose shouted happily, running over and throwing her arms around Alistair, who looked perplexed but not unhappy about the embrace. "Oh, it's so good to see you."
"And you, Mrs Tyler," Alistair said, his lips twitching as he pulled away.
"You've met?" Four asked in confusion.
"Don't ask," the Doctor advised, sending a warning glance toward the Brigadier, whose grin only widened. "You're like a magnet," he added to Rose.
"Oi, don't look at me," she said, skipping to his side and wrapping an arm around his free one. "Found him talking to Donna."
The Doctor looked up at Donna in surprise. "What about?"
"Oh, it...doesn't matter," she said evasively. "But really, he's you?"
"Oh, yes," the Doctor said, eyeing his other self. "From some time ago."
"Sarah's having tea with Harry on Earth," Rose informed him. "You and domestics."
His lips twitched at her long-suffering sigh, and he winked down at her before looking back up at Four with a sigh.
"You know what you'll have to do," he said.
"Yes, of course, I expect I'll have to suppress all of this," Four said, watching Rose again, a little wistfully. The Doctor took her hand and raised an eyebrow meaningfully, and Four nodded. "Still, nice to have a little foreshadowing that's not terrible for once."
The Doctor hummed in agreement. "Time for us to go, I think."
"Yes, very probably us as well," Four agreed. "Oh, and Donna?" Donna paused and turned back to him. "What I said is only more true now. I look forward to witnessing all your brilliance."
Donna opened her mouth, but couldn't seem to form a reply. She nodded and turned back to the Doctor, who was stunned to see her blushing.
"Probably the only time I'll ever have rendered you speechless," he said. "And it wasn't even this body. That's just not fair."
"You'll live," Rose assured him. "Oh, and Brigadier?" She skipped over to the Brigadier and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
"For what?" he asked.
"You'll see," Rose said. "Just remember, if you see us again out of order, mum's the word until we give an indication otherwise."
"Of course," he said, nodding in acknowledgement.
"Rose," the Doctor said as she turned again, and she looked at him in question. "The hat," he reminded her, nodding at her head.
"Oh, right!" She darted back over to Four, who leaned down for her to fit the hat back over his curls, tilting it rakishly over one eye. "It's been a pleasure, Doctor."
"Always, I'm sure," he said, grinning down at her and holding his arms out for a hug. She obliged happily, and the Doctor rolled his eyes in irritation as Four picked her off her feet while she giggled.
"He's you," Donna reminded him quietly.
"Not even close," the Doctor said stubbornly. "Not yet. He hasn't fought for her, died for her yet."
"But he's you," Donna insisted. "So of course she adores him. Because she loves you, apparently no matter what face you wear."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow and glanced down at her, then let out a breath in a huff. "Don't...don't bring logic into this."
"Yes, Doctor," she said, and he glanced down again to see her fighting a smile as Rose ran back to them.
"Done flirting then?" he asked petulantly.
"Yep," she said, leaning up to kiss his cheek. "With that version of you, anyway. Time to go?"
"Time to go," he replied. He snapped off a lazy salute to the Brigadier, and nodded at his past self. "Take care of my past, Doctor."
"Of course," Four replied. "I'll sleep easier with my future in such safe hands."
It wasn't until they were back in the TARDIS, spinning away into the Vortex, that the memory suddenly slotted into place for the Doctor. He stared into the middle distance, his lips moving a little as the newly remembered conversation played in his mind.
"Doctor?" Rose asked uncertainly.
"Hmm?" he asked, focusing again on the present.
"We were just wondering if we had time for a film while you installed the capacitor," she said, glancing at Donna. "And whatever else you managed to take off Rigger's hands," she added with a little smile.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Rose Tyler," he said in an affronted tone, pushing the package further under the console with his toe. "But yes, I expect you've got time for a film."
"Or three," Donna added, pulling Rose down the corridor.
"Oh, Donna, could I talk to you for a moment first?" the Doctor asked.
"I...yeah, alright," she said warily. Rose gave him a questioning glance, and gave her a small nod to stay before returning his attention to Donna.
"About that...conversation you had with my past self," he said slowly, watching her carefully. Her defenses immediately went up, her back stiffening as her face became impassive.
"Well, I expect it was just something nice you said to someone you didn't know, wasn't it?" she asked. "It's fine. I understand. I mean, I'd like to stay, if that's alright-"
"Why would you leave?" Rose asked, frowning.
"Because she's not worth our time," the Doctor said.
"Hold on," Donna said, anger coming to bolster her defenses. "You know, I might just be a temp from Chiswick, I might be nothing back there on Earth-"
"There it is," he said quietly. "All that anger, shouting at the world 'cause nobody's listening."
"Stop it," she snapped.
"No, but Donna, that's not true," Rose said, touching the other woman's arm. "You're so special."
"I'm not," Donna said, backing away.
"Yes, you are," the Doctor said. "Look at what you've done, Donna. You helped save Earth a couple of times now, you saved a family that didn't have a chance, you helped free an entire species-"
"You did all that," Donna said.
"You helped," the Doctor said, stepping closer and putting his hands on her arms. "Listen to me. Donna Noble, you are important, because you're you. The only you there is. I dunno who or what has tried to beat that out of you, but it stops, right now. You're here because we want you here, because you're worthwhile and important and, more than that, you want to be. You want to help people, even if you're not a genius or more than human or whatever else, but just because you can. And that...that's amazing."
"You're a hero," Rose added, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
Donna blinked a few times, and looked down as she swallowed hard. Rose rubbed her arm lightly as the Doctor released her, stepping back a pace. When she did look up again, her eyes were suspiciously bright, but she scoffed.
"Well, you two certainly know how to lay it on thick when you've got a mind, haven't you?" she asked in an exasperated tone. "Of course I'm special. I'm not just a temp in Chiswick. I'm the best temp in Chiswick."
"Yes you are," Rose said with a laugh.
"C'mon," she said, stepping away from Rose, but then turning to hook her arm through the blonde's. "Let's go watch something ridiculous. I think we need it after that husband of yours decided to get all sappy."
"Sound's good," Rose said, winking at the Doctor.
"Oh, and Doctor," Donna said, pausing and touching his arm lightly. "Thank you. Both of you."
"Anytime," he said, giving her a small smile.
They wandered away, debating which film to watch and which snacks to procure. The Doctor watched them for a moment, leaning against the console and smiling a little. Once they were out of sight, he turned back to the console, only to spin around again when Rose came running back into the console room.
"I almost forgot," she said, holding out her hand. "A present from days past."
Perplexed, he took the bag she held out and tipped it into his hand, letting out a long laugh as jelly babies spilled out.
"Rose Tyler, would you like a jelly baby?"