HEY SO THIS IS STILL A THING. Sorry that it's been...you know...months since I've updated. Life and other distractions have taken place. Most of it is due to Peter Capaldi's Doctor, who I have mixed feelings about, but who reignited my already pretty detrimental obsession with The Thick of It. So there's a lot of other stories on AO3 and tumblr that have to do with Malcolm Tucker in some incarnation or other smooshing faces with Rose...as well as a few Eighth Doctor ones cause damn. So...there's that. I'll try to not leave you guys hanging so long before the next update. I keep telling myself that I just have to get through this adventure before things really get interesting, but my muse is apparently...kind of a bitch.
Thanks to everyone who's stuck with me so far. You guys are fab.
The Doctor set to work examining the ATMOS device with Rose's help, and Donna wandered away after a few minutes, claiming to need coffee and promising not to get into any trouble. Twenty minutes later, Mace and Martha came back to see what progress they'd made.
"Ionising nano-membrane carbon dioxide converter," the Doctor explained, still bent over the device.
"So it works," Rose went on with a small shrug, leaning on the table beside him. "Does what it's supposed to, filtering the CO2 emissions at a molecular level."
"We know about that," Mace said impatiently as he stepped closer to the Doctor. "What's its origin? Is it alien?"
"No," the Doctor said with confidence. "But it's decades ahead of its time." He paused, shooting an irritated glance at Mace. "Look, do you mind? Could you stand back a bit?"
"Sorry, have I done something wrong?" Mace asked, casting a confused glance around.
"You're carrying a gun," the Doctor snapped. "I don't like people with guns hanging around me, all right?"
"If you insist," Mace said, exchanging a glance with Martha before leaving the room again. Martha gave the Doctor a look as Rose put a hand on the his shoulder.
"Tetchy," Martha said.
"Well, it's true," he replied with a shrug, not lifting his eyes from the device.
"He's a good man," Martha insisted.
"People with guns are usually the enemy in my books," he said, with a telling glance at Rose. He looked up at Martha to see her face soften slightly, and he coughed awkwardly as he returned his attention to his task, pulling out his sonic screwdriver. "You seem quite at home."
"If anyone got me used to fighting, it's you," Martha reminded him, and he immediately stiffened.
"Oh right, so it's my fault," he snapped.
"Well, you got me the job," she shot back.
"Oh my god, will you both just stop?" Rose cut in irritably, and they both looked at her. "Blimey, bad enough with you and Donna always arguing like adolescent siblings. Doctor, look at her," she ordered, and the Doctor reluctantly switched off the sonic to turn to Martha. "Has she got a gun?"
"Suppose not," he allowed.
"And you," Rose went on, turning back to Martha. "You know better than some why he hates guns, why he's got every reason in the universe to be suspicious of people who rely on them."
"Yeah, guess so," Martha admitted, then sighed. "It's all right for you. You can just come and go, but some of us have got to stay behind. So I've got to work from the inside and by staying inside, maybe I stand a chance of making them better."
The Doctor studied her for a moment. "Yeah?" She nodded a little, and he grinned at her. "That's more like Martha Jones."
"I learnt from the best," she replied with an answering smile.
"Well…" Rose rolled her eyes as he drew out the word in faux modesty.
"Best way to stop any argument with the Doctor," she remarked, flashing a teasing grin. "Appeal to his ego."
He sputtered a little, and Martha and Rose exchanged a smile as Donna returned, looking triumphant.
"Oi, you lot! All your storm troopers and your sonics-rubbish! Shoulda come with me."
"Where have you been?" the Doctor asked, turning to her as Mace rejoined them.
"Personnel," Donna explained. "That's where the weird stuff's happening - in the paperwork. 'Cause I spent years working as a temp, I can find my way around an office blindfolded, and the first thing I noticed is an empty file."
"And what's supposed to be there?" Rose asked.
"An account of sick days," she said, opening the file. "Only there aren't any. There aren't any. Hundred of people working here, and no one's sick. Not one hangover, man flu, sneaky little shopping trip. Nothing. Not ever. They don't get ill."
"Everyone gets ill sometimes," Rose said with a frown.
"That can't be right," Mace said, taking the file from Donna and peering at it, as if it were some sort of trick.
"You've been checking out the buildings," Donna said, crossing her arms. "Should've been checking out the workforce."
"I can see why they like you," Martha observed with a smile. "You are good."
"Super Temp," Donna replied, wiggling her fingers a little as Rose laughed and shook her head before turning to Martha.
"Right, probably a good idea to check them out then," Rose said decisively. "Think that falls in your department, Doctor Jones."
"Miss Tyler, I think you'll find that I'm still in charge here," Mace cut in stiffly, and she raised her eyebrows at him.
"Go on then," she said with a nod, and the Doctor smirked a little when the colonel cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Dr Jones, set up a medical post, start examining the workers," he ordered, and the Doctor exchanged an amused look with Rose. "I'll get them sent through."
"I'll...get right on that," Martha replied, barely holding back a smile herself. "Come on, Donna, give me a hand."
Mace nodded at the door, and the Doctor and Rose glanced at each other before following him.
"I really don't like him," Rose muttered.
"You don't have to like him," the Doctor replied. "But at least we can be fairly certain he's not the bad guy, so let's try to play nice, shall we?"
"Bit rich, coming from you," she said, giving him a sideways glance and a tongue touched smile.
"Haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," he said smoothly, turning his attention quickly back to the colonel as she snorted. "So, this, this ATMOS thing, where'd it come from?"
"Luke Rattigan himself," Mace answered.
"And himself would be?"
"I'll show you."
Mace lead them out of the factory and back to the field base while the Doctor cast dark glances at the soldiers herding around workers, guns at the ready. Rose's hand slipped into his and gave it a squeeze, sending warmth and reassurance flooding through him. He glanced down at her, nodding almost imperceptibly and stroking his thumb over hers before releasing her hand and ushering her through the door before him.
Mace pulled up a character profile when they reached the computers, and the face of a young man, late teens or early twenties, was shown to them alongside some personal details.
"Luke Rattigan himself," Mace repeated, gesturing at the screen. "Child genius. Invented the Fountain 6 search engine when he was 12 years old. Millionaire overnight. Now runs the Rattigan Academy. A private school educating students handpicked from all over the world."
"A hothouse for geniuses-wouldn't mind going there," the Doctor mused.
"Oh, please," Rose said, rolling her eyes.
The Doctor looked down at her with a frown. "What?"
"You wouldn't last five minutes there," she said, arching a brow at him. "Not before you'd shown them all up and got bored, or ended up on the wrong end of some little adolescent Dr. No's doomsday device completely on accident."
The Doctor looked back at the screen, shaking his head slightly. "You never know. That could...not happen."
"Yeah...you might start playing nice with others," she said, smirking up at him, and his lips twitched a little.
"Anyway," he said, nodding at the screen. "Still want to talk to himself over here. Might give us a clue where he got ATMOS from. It might not be alien, but it didn't come from an eighteen year old boy's head, genius or not. Come on."
In another part of the factory, Donna set out a chair as Martha sifted through forms to find what she needed for the exams. A thought had been niggling at her for a while now, centered around the ATMOS sticker on her mum's car. Beside the worry, she was struck by a sudden wave of homesickness, which was barmy, 'cause she hadn't even been gone that long...but so much had happened since the night Granddad had waved to her from the hill, she almost felt like it had been years instead of a couple of weeks.
"Do you think I should call my mum?" she asked Martha, voicing the less mental of her concerns. "About the ATMOS in her car?"
"Better safe than sorry," Martha said with a shrug, heading for the door to the factory floor.
"I'll give her a call."
She started to make her way to the other door in the office that led to the hall, but paused when Martha called her name.
"Do they know where you are?" the young doctor asked. "Your family-I mean, that you're travelling with the Doctor?"
"Not really," Donna replied. "Although... my granddad sorta waved us off. I didn't have time to explain."
"You just...left him behind?"
"Yeah," Donna breathed, realizing part of why she might feel so homesick. It's one thing when you're in Egypt with a set return date and about as much peril as a trip on the tube-less, depending where you're going-but it's another when you take off with some mad alien in a box destined for other worlds with who knew what sort of civil war or natural disaster or criminal business men waiting for you.
Martha was nodding sympathetically. "I didn't tell my family. Kept it all so secret...and it almost destroyed them."
"In what way?" Donna asked uneasily.
"They ended up imprisoned," Martha explained with a faraway look. "They were tortured-my mum, my dad, my sister... It wasn't the Doctor's fault, he had his own problems, with what happened to Rose-"
"She died," Donna said quietly, and Martha flashed a look at her before nodding.
"But that's sort of my point," she continued. "You need to be careful. Even Rose has had her share of losses, even though she doesn't really talk about it." She shrugged a little, helplessly. "You know the Doctor, he's wonderful, he's brilliant, but he's like fire-stand too close, and people get burned."
Donna nodded, suddenly wondering if a phone call would be enough.
"You are not coming with us," the Doctor told Mace as the trio strode through the docking bay. "I want to talk to this Luke Rattigan, not point a gun at him."
"It's ten miles outside London," Mace reminded him. "How are you going to get there?"
"Then get me a Jeep!" he shouted, rolling his eyes in exasperation.
"According to the records, you travel by TARDIS."
The Doctor looked at Rose, but she only held her hands up in surrender, and he shook his head. "Yeah, but, if there is a danger of hostile aliens, I think it best to keep a super-duper time travel machine away from the front lines."
"I see," Mace said. "Then you do have weapons but you choose to keep them hidden."
"Almost like they should be a last resort instead of a first thought," Rose said lightly, picking at a nonexistent piece of lint on her jacket. "But then, what's he know? Only saved the world a few dozen times now."
"Sir," interrupted one of soldiers before Mace could reply. "I'd be happy to transport the Doctor and his wife wherever they need to go."
Mace looked between him and the couple, then let out a breath in a huff. "Fine. Jenkins, you will accompany the Doctor and Miss Tyler and take orders from them."
"I don't do orders," the Doctor cut in.
"Any sign of trouble get Jenkins to declare a Code Red," Mace said, ignoring him completely. "And good luck, sir."
He saluted, and the Doctor shook his head as he looked away. "I said no salutes."
"Now you're giving orders," Mace pointed out before walking away.
"A bit cheeky, you are," the Doctor muttered at his retreating back, and Jenkins smiled.
"Hold on," Rose said, looking the soldier over with narrowed eyes. "Do I know you?"
"Possibly, ma'am," he replied, shifting guiltily. "Ross Jenkins. I was the driver when Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart picked you up a few months back. Glad to see you're doing well."
"I-thanks," she said lamely, glancing at the Doctor. The Doctor tilted his head a little as he studied Ross, then held a hand out.
"Good enough for the Brigadier, good enough for me," he said, shaking the soldier's hand. Donna called his name as Ross turned away to ready a jeep, and the Doctor whirled around to her, grabbing her hand and hauling her toward the jeep. "Oh, just in time. Come on! We're going to the country. Fresh air, geniuses, what more could you ask?"
But Donna stopped, pulling her hand from his. "I'm not coming with you." The Doctor and Rose both turned to stare at her. "I've been thinking. I'm sorry... I'm going home."
"Really?" the Doctor asked, looking a bit crestfallen.
"I've got to," she said, shrugging a little.
"Well...if that's what you want," he said slowly. "I mean, it's a bit soon. I had so many places I wanted to take you. The Fifteenth Broken Moon of the Medusa Cascade-"
"Doctor," Rose cut in gently, lips twitching at Donna, but he ignored her.
"-the lightening skies of Cotter Palluni's World-"
"Doctor," Rose sing songed this time.
"-the diamond coral reefs of Kaata Flo Ko…" He stopped, smiling at her. "Thank you. Thank you, Donna Noble. It's been brilliant-"
"Doctor, please stop," Rose groaned, putting a hand over her eyes.
"Why?" he demanded, looking offended. "You're the one who wanted her to come, the least you could do is-" He stopped when Rose lowered her hand and raised her eyebrows, then he turned back to Donna. "You're... You're-you're just popping home for a visit. That's what you mean."
Donna shook her head and sighed. "You dumbo."
"And then you're coming back."
"Do you know what you are?" Donna asked. "A great, big, outer-space dunce."
"I did try to stop you," Rose said with a laugh.
"Ready when you are, sir," Ross called from next to the jeep, saving the Doctor from any further embarrassment.
"What's more, you can give me a lift," Donna said, tugging him by the arm toward the jeep. "Come on."
"Yeah, I don't think I'm going," Rose said slowly, and the Doctor turned back to her with an exasperated expression.
"Don't you start!"
"No," she laughed as he stepped closer to her. "Nah, I just thought maybe someone should stay behind and help Martha out. We still don't know the connection between the factory and whatever created ATMOS, so I don't really fancy leaving her on her own. Besides, I've sort of had my fill of condescending males for the day. Don't really feel like getting talked down to by a teenage genius, yeah?"
The Doctor hesitated, then nodded. "Alright. But be careful."
Rose waved a hand with a dismissive noise. "Always careful, me."
"Right," the Doctor replied, arching an eyebrow, then reached up to cup her cheek as he leaned in to kiss her. "See you later."
"Not if I see you first." Rose grinned up at him, then looked past him at Donna. "Say hi to your granddad for me."
"Will do," Donna promised with a smile as the Doctor kissed Rose again quickly before turning away.
Rose waved them off as they got into the jeep with Ross, with Donna sandwiched between the two men. She looked past the Doctor to watch Rose turn back into the factory from the side mirror as they drove away.
"I wonder, do you two ever get bored of being ridiculously in love?" she asked, looking back at the Doctor, who smirked and shook his head.
"Nope," he replied, popping the p for effect.
"It's nice to see," Ross put in, and Donna turned to him with interest. "After...how she was. Before."
The smirk dropped from the Doctor's face as he looked straight ahead, not even glancing at Donna when she looked at him.
"What'd you mean?" Donna asked Ross instead. "How was she before?"
"Doesn't matter," the Doctor said in a definite tone, one that even Donna knew better than to argue with.
He's like fire-stand too close and people get burned.
The Doctor asked a few questions about UNIT and people that Donna'd never heard of as they drove to Cheswick, and thankfully the tension eased during the travel. She was still grateful when she saw her street come into view, and told the driver to stop.
"I'll walk the rest of the way," she told the Doctor as he gave her a hand out. "I'll see you back at the factory, yeah?"
"Bye!" the Doctor said quickly as he got back in the jeep.
"And you be careful!" she shouted after him, and he stuck a hand out in a wave as the jeep drove off.
Donna shook her head and started walking slowly down the street, marvelling at the sheer normality of it all. People milled around, taking out the trash, working on cars, pushing trolleys, blissfully content in their human lives.
"Haven't seen you for days," a voice said, and Donna looked up to see one of her neighbors walking along the pavement.
"Yeah," Donna said weakly. "Been away."
Not even sure how long, she realized with a start. She'd already been beating herself up for feeling homesick after a few weeks...people here might not even have had a chance to miss her. If something had happened...they'd never know. It'd be ages before they even thought to ask.
She spotted a young boy playing with a football, and had a flash of haunting recall of the little boy in Pompeii that had been doomed to die. It started a cascade of memories, of hanging off the Adipose building, of the screaming stone priestess of the Sibylline, and the Ood song of captivity. When she saw her grandfather in her drive taking out the trash, she barely choked back a sob. He started waving excitedly as soon as he saw her, and she ran towards him, wrapping her arms around him as soon as she reached him.
"Oh, my darling girl," he said softly, one of his hands stroking her hair. "What's happened?"
"Impossible things," she choked out.
Her grandfather didn't ask anything else-he didn't need to. He only hugged her tighter.