The fuel had been dumped. The engines came back online, and the ship finally, finally pushed away from the living sun that had been trying to swallow it. The two crewman with her were cheering, and Martha was glad to be alive but she had another worry.
"Doctor," she breathed. She jumped to her feet and ran from the compartment, back out into the corridors looking for the Doctor. The entity in the sun had been controlling him. Had it left him now? Had it worked? Was he safe? If he wasn't, none of them were…
She found him, climbing unsteadily to his feet several compartments away, and his eyes were no longer glowing the bright orange of the star outside. He was himself again.
Martha practically ran into him, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding on tight.
"Oh! Martha?" he grunted. It sounded like a question.
"It's all right; we did it. We're safe." She was babbling a bit. She didn't care. Everything was all right now; they were alive, they could get to the Tardis…
The Doctor returned her embrace then, but for some reason it seemed more desperate than happy or relieved. His breath came short and heavy against her neck, and he still sounded afraid. "Martha! Martha, I—I think—"
"Shh. It's all right. It's gone, isn't it? You'll be okay…"
"No! Not that. It's—I can't—"
He cut off, and Martha came back down on her heels and looked up at him. He still held onto her, though, as if he were afraid to let go. "What is it? What's wro…?"
The question stuck in her throat. "Doctor?"
His eyes darted back and forth, not finding anything to focus on. "I can't see," he said, unnecessarily. One of his hands came up to find her face, and he squinted.
"Anything?" Martha asked anxiously.
He shook his head in frustration. "No."
Remain calm. Remain calm…
"It may just be temporary. Just…overload. That thing was burning through your eyes, but it was more spectral, or something, I guess, than real. I mean I know it could generate real heat, or it couldn't have killed those people when it took over the others, but that wasn't what was coming through your eyes. You'd be dead if it was. It'd have just burned you up. But you're here, aren't you? Just give it some time."
The Doctor was nodding with her. "Right. Right. You're probably right. Blimey, I'm tired…"
Martha laughed weakly. "Yeah. Me too. Can't believe we haven't been here an hour." The Doctor laughed with her, just a little. She let out a breath and took his arm. "Come on. We'll get you back to the Tardis and have a look at you, yeah? Probably nothing to worry about."
The Doctor walked with her, and he straightened as they went and seemed himself again. "I'm a Time Lord, after all. We're good at the bouncing back bit," he grinned.
But they waited, and he didn't bounce back.
Donna wasn't sure she'd ever expected her ridiculous plan to actually work, but it had. She'd been investigating the strange and likely extra-terrestrial in the London area for months waiting for the Doctor to appear again, and now it paid off.
She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but the Doctor was already with someone. It was the girl she'd seen first—a young black woman peering through the opposite window of the office at Adipose Industries she was spying into herself. Then the moment they'd seen each other the Doctor had popped up beside her, just as shocked as she was.
Then again, she'd told him to find someone. He'd only taken her advice. It didn't bother her; it was just that it was a little jarring, having three of them running about the building once they'd joined forces. It certainly didn't bother her that they seemed to always be holding hands, seeing as she would never think of the skinny alien that way, but it was a little strange. Especially after the way he'd talked about that other girl, Rose. The one he lost. He'd seemed so smitten with her. Broken up.
But Donna was fine with it. The thing was, it only got stranger. All of them confronted with the Adiposian nanny and her entourage in the cubicles, and the Doctor used his sonic screwdriver and the woman's stolen sonic pen held to each other to set off a racket that distracted long enough for them to make a run for it. It was brilliant, really. Only he didn't free his hand to do it. It was his idea, but the girl, Martha, followed in an instant. When he pulled out the sonic screwdriver, she reached over into his jacket at the same time with her own free hand, grabbed the pen and activated it against the screwdriver.
They were like a well-oiled machine. Donna didn't know what sort of machine or why, but it was the only word for it she could think of. When the Doctor did have to release Martha's hand in the basement—when they found the guts of the controls for the Adipose computer system and the pendants—the young woman laid her hand across the back of his neck instead.
Donna was relatively sure Martha was making certain she touched skin, and she was looking intently at the controls and wires the Doctor was working with, as well. Once or twice Martha looked away, when Donna asked her something; the Doctor barked her name when she did, and she looked back down at the wires. When the Doctor needed another of the pendants to take over the system Martha was the one who noticed Donna was holding one out. The Doctor didn't seem to notice she'd even moved until Martha looked at her and thankfully took it for him.
There was no time to stop and ask questions until they were on the roof waving at the tiny Adipose children being lifted into the sky to their parents' ship.
"I'm wavin' at fat," Donna marveled. She didn't know how she felt about that.
"I think they're cute," Martha answered.
"Easy for you to say; you're almost a skinny as 'im!" Donna motioned to the Doctor between them. She half expected him to raise a mock-offended eyebrow at her pointed finger, but again…he didn't even seem to notice it. She focused on him and frowned. "Oi. You all right?"
"Hmm? What? Me?" He inclined his head in her direction, but he wasn't quite looking at her. "Yeah. I'm always okay. Besides, just saved all of London and an entire generation of aliens, didn't we?" he grinned. "Come on."
He and Martha turned for the stairs, hands clasped between them as always. Donna was going to follow them, but then she stopped. She'd had enough.
"All right, what is going on?"
She had one idea. One insane, awful idea. Because now that she really thought about it, even though he seemed genuinely glad to see her the Doctor had not really looked directly at her even once since she'd run into these two. Martha had, and the Doctor had come close but somehow he'd just never quite done it. Donna didn't know what other sort of abilities Time Lords had besides having ships that were bigger on the inside that could go anywhere in time and space, but her gramps had watched enough science fiction in her day…
God, she hoped she was wrong.
Martha and the Doctor stopped short of the stairwell and turned around. Donna paid attention this time; it was Martha looking at her. The Doctor wasn't really looking at anything.
She wasn't wrong.
Donna swallowed and walked right up to him. Martha opened her mouth as if to protest. She squeezed closer to him, protectively, but he shook his head a little in her direction and she took a step back to where she'd been. Donna looked into the Doctor's eyes, and now she saw what she hadn't wanted to see the last hour or so. That they weren't looking back.
She touched his arm. "You can't see me, can you?"
"Not with my own eyes, no," he answered honestly. He held up his and Martha's clasped hands. "Martha sees for me now."
Donna looked back and forth between their hands and their faces. "But…how can you do that? How does that work?"
"Time Lords do have quite a few mental abilities, and we're more telepathically sensitive than, say, humans, but we're not exactly telepathic in the strictest sense unless it's between ourselves. Sometimes. If we want to connect that way to any other species there has to be physical contact. And still it's not an exact science, but…anyway."
He nodded to Martha. "I've been around humans a long while; I can connect with them easily enough. I've got it worked so I can use someone's eyes this way. As long as there's some sort of skin-to-skin contact. It'd be easier if the contact wasn't constantly necessary, but it's what I've got. " He let out a breath. "And Martha's been…wonderful. Just wonderful. Not sure what I'd do without her," he smiled.
"But what happened?" Donna questioned.
"An accident. And I'm fine, Donna, really. It's been…an adjustment—that much is certainly true—but I'm all right."
She hugged him. She hadn't done that once last time she'd met him. She'd wanted to, maybe. She'd felt for him. But she'd never just done it, and she had to now. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.
She noticed he let go of Martha's hand to really hug her in her return.
So this was Donna Noble. Her attitude had certainly changed, from what Martha had heard of the one time the Doctor had met her before. Now, it seemed, Donna did want to see more. She'd made it clear from moment one tonight that they'd run into her here because she'd been following the strange trying to find the Doctor.
Martha should have been jealous. Maybe she would have been, a few months ago. She wasn't anymore. She cared about the Doctor and she always would, but she wasn't jealous. Instead, she saw an opportunity for all three of them to have what they needed.
They made their way out of the building and back to the alley where the Tardis sat, and Donna immediately gaped. "That's my car! The only car here in the alley! With the Tardis! That's like…like destiny."
The Doctor smiled a little, and Martha looked at the car and Donna so he could see it all—her enthusiasm. "You gonna ask her to come with us, or aren't you?"
"Technically I already asked her," he shrugged. "A year ago for her. Seems her mind's made up, anyway. Seemed it was made up as soon as we ran into her."
"Don't you want her to?"
"Do you want her to?" the Doctor asked probingly.
Martha squeezed his hand. "Let me talk to her."
He nodded a little. "All right. I'll be inside." He let go, retrieved his key from his jacket, and disappeared inside the Tardis.
"Doctor?" Donna called after him, but then looked back in confusion when she realized Martha was still out here.
Martha leaned against the hood of Donna's car and beckoned her over. "Can we talk?"
The redhead wandered over warily and crossed her arms. "What? If you don't want me commin' you could just say so."
"No, it's not that. He'd love for you to come, and so would I. The thing is…I need to know if you think you could handle it on your own."
"Helping him," Martha said gently. "Without me."
"What are you talking about? Why would you leave?"
"My family needs me. Something's happened recently…an enemy of the Doctor's got hold of my family. They're safe now, but…well you need to know that, too. That it's not always safe."
Donna made a face. "Yeah…that's what I thought. What happened?"
"A lot happened. A lot of bad things happened before it was over, and my family needs me. I'd have stayed with them before, but I couldn't just leave him. Not like that. Without someone to see for him he'd be grounded. He couldn't fly the Tardis. He'd be stuck in one place, trying to figure out life on his own, and I couldn't bear that. I really think it'd kill him."
Donna studied her. "You care. A lot. But you want to go home."
"I do. I need to go home. But I can't leave him unless I know he'll have someone else. Could you do that? I know you don't know me, but if not for me, would you do it for him?"
"Well…I mean, can I even do what you do for him?"
"Yeah. It might take a bit for him to optimize the connection with someone else, but even right now you could do it. Anyone could. It's just it'll be easier for you both the longer you're with him."
Donna sat down heavily on the hood of the car besides her. "Bit more than I bargained for when I went lookin' for him. Lot more, actually, even though I knew it'd be a lot…if I went with him…"
The other woman shrugged. "Oh, I'll do it. Course I will. How could I not? He saved my life. And I want to see what's out there." Donna looked at her. "And you stayed with him, since it happened. You cared enough to do that. For that I guess you deserve to go home. Do what you need to do and all that."
Everything was different in the dark, but in the Tardis that didn't bother him. The Tardis was home for the Doctor, and in her familiar hum and the gentle vibrating beneath his feet he could never be lost. He knew her by heart.
The bigger on the inside was sometimes so big though. Sometimes, when Martha was sleeping, if he needed to get somewhere that he didn't necessarily always go, or quite remember…the Tardis guided him. Soft beeps, from the panels in the walls, leading him to the right junctions—pointing him in the right direction. She took care of him, too.
And it wouldn't last forever. He knew that. The next time he regenerated his sight would return. But he'd be a different person then, and he wasn't ready for that. He wasn't through with this life…not nearly through.
He heard the Tardis door open, and picked up his head from the console he'd been aimlessly poking at. "So! Where to?" he asked brightly. "Three of now; this'l be interesting." No. Wait. Just one set of footsteps.
"Just me," Martha said. "Donna's coming, but she's still outside for now. I uhm…I need to talk to you."
"All about the talking tonight, you are." His brow furrowed. "What is it?"
She came to him and took his hands so he knew she was right there, in front of him. But they both knew he wouldn't be looking through her eyes just now. He didn't initiate the connection; there'd be no point in just looking back at himself.
"Donna's going to come with you. But now you have her, I…I need to go home, Doctor. My family needs me."
His mouth opened and closed once or twice before anything came out. "Right. Right…I mean, of course."
"I had to stay until there was someone else. I wouldn't have left you."
"I know that, Martha. Then again, you'd have had every right to. Everything that happened, to you and your family…" He smiled gratefully. "But you stayed. I can never thank you enough for that. You helped me get my life back."
"And you'll be able to teach Donna everything we worked out. You'll be fine."
"Yeah, yeah, 'course…"
He said it, but his chest tightened. She was right; he'd be fine. If Donna was willing to come with him on her own, even though he was like this, well…they'd work it out. But it was Martha he'd been through all of it with. It was Martha who'd been there from the beginning, helping him to figure out life like this.
The Doctor hoped none of that was on his face, but that was when she threw her arms around his neck and he supposed maybe some of it had been.
"Really. You'll be all right. You're you," she said near his ear.
He swallowed. "And you will be the best doctor London's seen in a while, I'm sure. Off to get that certification, I hope?"
"Yes indeed. That too." She stood back a bit and pressed something cold and rectangular into his hand, and it took him a moment to realize what it was. "Keep my phone, so I can get to you. Doesn't have to be goodbye, after all. Besides, what if there's trouble here?"
"I usually find it anyway," he shrugged.
"Yeah," she laughed. She hugged him again, and when she let him go the Doctor slipped the phone into his jacket. "I'll get Donna. Guess we'd better help her with her stuff, too. She's kind of got a lot of it."
"Oh yeah. Come on, then! We'll load you up. Make yourself useful."
"Oh, shut up," he scoffed. He took her hand, let the connection lead him to her eyes to see through, and went with her outside again.
The Doctor and Martha helped her move the bags from the trunk of the car into a bedroom in the Tardis.
"I've been using it, but I won't need it now," Martha told her. "Might well just turn it over. The Doctor says it's sometimes hard to find more; things tend to move around sometimes if they're not used…"
"What, rooms in the Tardis?"
"She sort of has a mind of her own. This whole inside is in another dimension; doesn't seem so strange things can move differently here."
Donna shrugged. "Oh, well, when you put it that way…"
The room was the second door in a hallway, and first one—one on the other side of the corridor—seemed firmly locked. "You think that was hers?" Donna whispered once, quiet even though the Doctor had gone back to the control room. She noticed he didn't need any help in here, in the Tardis. She supposed that made sense. "Rose?"
"Yeah…yeah, probably," Martha sighed. They dropped off their last load of luggage on the bed in the room, and Martha moved to the closet and removed one small bag she threw over a shoulder. "Anyway. I guess that's it then." The younger woman sighed. "Thank you, Donna. You're doing a lot for both of us."
"You can't really want to leave, do you?"
"No. Not exactly. But it's time for me to move on. Things with the Doctor and me are…complicated. Or they were before he got hurt. Really complicated. It was easier to ignore after what happened, cause we had that to focus on, but it never really went away."
As she realized what Martha was saying, Donna sat on the edge of what little of the bed wasn't covered in bags. "You love him."
Martha let out a breath. "Yeah. And he'll never see me that way."
Donna got back up, and hugged her too. "Just hugging everybody tonight, aren't I? Not usually my style, but here I am."
"The Doctor'll do that…bring out the best in you."
"I think I noticed."
Martha squeezed her shoulder briefly, to keep her attention. "But he'll need you, Donna…to remind him about the best in him."
"Well I'm the one who made him promise to find someone, aren't I?"
"Good advice, too. Thanks for that. Might have gone on on his own without me otherwise. Might not have been easy, but I wouldn't have missed this for anything."
"There you are!" the Doctor called, when they made it back to the control room. "Martha? Need us to take you home?"
"It's all right; I've already called my mum to pick me up here."
"Oh…right." Donna thought he seemed more than a little disappointed at that. Martha went to him and hugged him one more time.
"See you around. Don't just disappear; you hear me?"
"Of course not," the Doctor assured her. "Got the phone."
He held onto her for a long time, and when she stared to go he called after her. "Wait! Uhm…" He twisted in place, as if looking for something and then remembering he couldn't. "Donna? Would you mind…?"
He held out a hand, and Donna realized what he wanted. "Oh. No, sure. Go ahead." She took his hand, and blinked for a moment because it was strange. He wasn't quite in her head—not in her thoughts or memories or anything; he was politely avoiding those—but she could sort of feel it, that he was using her eyes now.
She came in close to his side and looked at Martha, because she knew that was what he wanted. He couldn't have really seen her in a while, after all. Not if it was her eyes he'd been using.
Martha smiled unevenly and took the few steps back to him. "You're old and sentimental, you know that?"
"Well…I'm sentimental. Sometimes." He grinned. "Hello."
"Hi." She stood up on her toes, and kissed his cheek. "Bye for now."
Donna let the Doctor keep her hand as they went with Martha to the doors. When they opened there was another car at the end of the alley, and as Martha reached it an older woman climbed out and her pulled her into her arms. Before they got into the car both of them waved. The Doctor waved back. Donna tried to remember to keep watching them instead of him until he'd closed the doors.
"Thank you," he said quietly. He let go of her hand and scrubbed at his face tiredly as he leaned back against the door.
"You all right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm always—"
Donna crossed her arms and hoped the stance translated in her voice. "I'm gonna tell you right now that won't work with me."
The Doctor's eyebrows went up. "Don't have to be so cheeky about it." He stopped and thought about that for a second or two. "Yeah, you do."
"I do happen to be myself."
They both had a laugh at that, and the Doctor straightened and bounded up the ramp back to the console. "So where do you want to go, Donna Noble?"
"I know exactly where. But how is this going to work?"
"Give me your hand back, for starters."
"Gee thanks. I'm not that much of a dunce." She gave it to him, and she told him where she wanted to go. The Doctor liked it quite a bit.
"Should be fun! Now, push that lever over there."
He pointed, and she did as he asked and then looked back at him. When she did he could see the part of the console he was standing at himself, and with his free hand he went at the controls. Occasionally he asked her to do something else if she was the closer to it.
"All right! All set. Flyby pattern plotted, and…off we go!" He shoved one last lever down, and they both grabbed onto the console as the Tardis began to fly.
"We did it! Is that how you two did it?"
"Sometimes. Doesn't matter. Got to make it our own now, don't we?"
Donna had to smile because he was smiling. It was infectious, that smile. The eyes didn't help as much as they used to, unfocused as they were, but they were still as beautiful as they'd always been. She could appreciate that much, even if he was still far too skinny.
"Go on, hurry up! Get to the door." The Doctor went with her, but released her hand and leaned casually on the railing when they got there instead of keeping it. He let her have her moment. "Just tell me when to wave."
Donna pulled the doors open, and there it was coming up—the hill, and the shed. And there was Gramps, staring into his telescope as always.
"Hi!" She yelled it once before she realized he'd never hear her. So she just waved and jumped and waved. "Oh, wave," she said over her shoulder. But he already was.
"Yeah, got that. Made enough noise, have you?"
As the Tardis finally spun away, Donna was left with the image of her grandfather waving back and dancing.
The Doctor insisted that she should sleep before they really set off somewhere. When he said it Donna discovered that she really was, in fact, quite tired. It wasn't every day she was running from aliens.
"Just about every day's gonna be like this now though, isn't it?"
"Probably. Brilliant, isn't it?"
Well, she was glad to see what had happened to him hadn't changed him much. He was just as hyperactive as before, if not more so.
"Right. Well I'm going to bed." She looked around again. "Oh my god; I'm going to bed in the Tardis!"
Still, it wasn't hard to sleep. She really was exhausted. First she had to pile the suitcases in the closet so she could get to the bed, and that didn't help, either.
She thought she would sleep all night...into the next day. She was sure she'd wake up with the Doctor pounding on her door. He seemed like that type. Instead she woke up in what her phone told her was still the middle of the night. She'd barely slept a few hours.
Something had woken her, but what?
She padded out into the control room in pajamas, a robe, and slippers. The lights were dimmed and no one was there, but she knew she'd heard something. Or felt something. Donna wondered a bit, and finally she heard something new and followed it to what seemed to be a kitchen. She found the Doctor there, making tea.
"Ow!" He started when she called to him, missing the cup and spilling the hot water over his hand.
Donna hurried inside, grabbed his arm and dragged him to what looked like a sink. She figured out which one was the cold water, turned it on and stuck the hand under it. "There. Blimey, what are you doing?"
"Hey, I can usually do that just fine by myself, thanks. You startled me."
"It's fine. Ah…" He made a face in the general downward direction of the sink, and pulled his hand out after a moment.
"It looks okay. Don't think it was on there long enough for any real burns."
He flexed the hand a moment. "Yeah I think so too. Thanks."
"No problem. No go sit down, you dumbo. I'll get the tea. Could use some myself, actually."
"You sit down; I'll get it."
"Oi, don't get all don't-want-help on me now, spaceman. Sit down. D'you want some ice or something for that hand? Do you even have ice?"
The Doctor rolled his eyes and went to the small table to sit. "Yes, there's ice. It's in the thing that looks like a freezer that's on top of the thing that looks like an icebox; where else would it be?"
By the time Donna made it back to the table with two cups of tea and a cloth she'd found to wrap around some ice the Doctor didn't seem quite so cheerful anymore. She set one of the cups by his unburned hand and he didn't touch it. He barely flinched when she set the folded cloth with the ice over the reddened hand on the table.
She sat across from him and sipped at her tea, letting him be adrift in his thoughts. She thought maybe he needed that.
It was when he let out a heavy breath that sounded suspiciously like tears were in there somewhere that she decided to get his attention. "Doctor?" She pulled the tea away from his hand and shook his arm. "Doctor…"
He blinked and started a little. "Sorry…" He shook his head as he picked it up a little more. "I know you're here. I know that, and thank you. So much. It's only…" The head shaking again. "I just can't help but feel a bit…lost."
"I get it," Donna told him gently. "It's all right."
"Is it? I'm not what you thought you were looking for, am I? Not anymore. Tell me the truth, Donna. If you don't want to do this, I'll bring you home. I can…figure this out on my own…or find somewhere to settle, maybe. I don't know. But don't feel obligated."
"Oi, stop it. I want to see the universe, remember? If I need to help you see it too, what's the difference? It's still better than tempin' any day." She pushed the cup she'd moved back against his hand. "Drink your tea."
The Doctor and Donna trudged wearily back into the Tardis, still filthy and covered in ash. Behind them they left the only surviving family of Pompeii on the hills above the city.
"Thank you," Donna said quietly.
"Yeah," the Doctor sighed. He let go of her hand and went to the console alone. "You were right," he said after a moment. "Sometimes I need someone." He made a face. "Especially now, it seems. I think…sometimes it's harder, now."
"I guess you have a reason to be angry…"
"Oh, but I shouldn't be. It's not an excuse. Just because I can't see…I'm not the only one, am I? And I've got more than a human in my place would. I had Martha. I have you. I can see, of a fashion. I have no excuse." He swallowed and shoved his hands in his pockets. "I told myself…all these months…I wasn't letting it get to me. But maybe it has."
Donna took a step or two closer as she answered. "Well maybe that's why I'm here then."
The corner of his mouth quirked up, just a little. "Welcome aboard."
"Yeah," she smiled. He heard her closing the distance between them, because he pulled a hand from his pockets and took hers. "Time to go?"
"Time to go," he agreed.
Though they'd only done it once or twice, working together at the controls with one pair of eyes between them didn't seem hard anymore, to Donna.
"We're getting this down quick, aren't we?" the Doctor called. He pushed the last lever, and off the Tardis went. They both grinned, but the Doctor's smile quickly disappeared. "Wait…"
"What?" Donna asked.
The Doctor started to turn his hands over and over in front of him, and because he was doing that she looked at them for him.
Wait. Hands plural.
"I'm not holding your hand," he said.
"Well have it back then," she huffed, and held one out.
"N-No, I mean I'm still seeing through you, but I'm not holding your hand."
Donna quickly looked down at her own free hands, and realized he was right. At some point during setting the Tardis to flight, they'd let go and not even noticed.
"See? There's yours."
"I don't understand," Donna ventured warily.
"Neither do I. That shouldn't be possible; you're human…"
The Doctor reached for her hand again. "Okay…so it's sharper when I've got your hand, but…" He let ago again, and blinked. "Still there again." Suddenly he was grinning. "Donna, it's still there! I don't have to be touching you. This is brilliant!"
"But I thought you said you had to!"
"With Martha I did! But I thought it was easier with you, from the first moment. Didn't have to work for the connection. It was clear from the beginning. I thought that was weird, but I wrote it off as all the practice with Martha. I never thought…ha!" He laughed once and pulled her into a sudden embrace she wasn't quite prepared for. She'd been half spun around and set down again before she was ready.
"Woah! Wait a minute, wait a minute! You said you didn't know how! Shouldn't we be worried?"
"Course not! I said not possible, but that's not really true. There's a possibility or two, and all of them harmless. You could just have a few suppressed genes—some ancestors with more telepathic sensitivity than most humans—something like that. Nothing to worry about. I just never thought we'd get that lucky."
He was still smiling, and with the reassurance Donna grinned too. "Oh my god. Oh my god!"
The Doctor laughed and spun her around again.
"Oi! Okay, enough of that."
"Sorry." So he just hugged her, long and hard and still laughing. It went on long enough Donna purposefully listened for the change in tone, and then it came. One of his breaths caught, and then he was silent and just holding on.
She pushed gently until he finally pulled away enough that she could see his face. There were tear tracks on both smooth cheeks, made more obvious than they would have been otherwise by the ash they were smeared in.
"Sorry. Sorry, I just uhm…" He scrubbed at his face. "Right, uhm, I don't usually do this…"
The Doctor released pent-up air and straightened. "It'll be so much easier now. As close to normal as I could ever be again…in this body, anyway. But I never thought…even this…" He hugged her again. "Oh, Donna, thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much…"
"Well I didn't do anything. Besides, is it really that big of a difference?"
"Course it is! When you've had to hold someone's hand for as long as…it was almost two years for Martha and me. Timey-wimey and all that. More happened for us than for you in the year it seemed to you I was gone. And it's been more than I could have hoped for, but this?"
When he pulled back this time he was grinning again. "Donna Noble, you are brilliant. You just are."
Donna let herself laugh again now. "Ha! Great team we're gonna make!"
A year later, they stood on a dark wrecked street on Earth. Unfamiliar planets loomed above. They looked back and forth as one. Donna, because she was the one who could see and could sense where he wanted to look—he, because he'd never kicked the old movement habits.
"It's like a ghost town," Donna whispered.
"Sara Jane said they were taking the people. What for?" He turned to her. "Think, Donna, when you met Rose in that parallel world, what did she say?"
"Just…the darkness is coming."
The Doctor was seeing his own face, looking at her, questioning. But then Donna looked up and over his shoulder…and he saw the figure at the end of the road. He would know that shape anywhere. Somehow Donna knew, too.
"Why don't you ask her yourself?"
He couldn't see her face, but he knew Donna had to be smiling. He spun around, and she came to his shoulder to keep his vision clear of the road beyond and the figure coming toward them.
"Oh god. Oh god; she doesn't know," he murmured.
Donna shoved his shoulder a bit. "Go on; I'll be right behind you."
So when Rose began to run, he did. He was watching himself, running away, but after so much practice it was more than enough to dodge the debris in the road. And Donna followed, so he could see Rose more clearly as she came closer. Donna was nearly as fast as he was; as she promised, she wasn't far behind.
Rose saw something first, and her mouth opened in warning. A split second after, Donna behind him saw it, so he did. The Dalek. There was scarcely time to try to stop.
The beam caught him in the shoulder, spun him around and dropped him. It was close enough to his left heart that one stopped on the spot, and he lost the connection with Donna almost immediately. He was blind.
The Dalek…? The Doctor heard a vortex manipulator. He heard the shot, and the Dalek exploding. He couldn't see who it was, but if he had one guess it would be Jack Harkness.
Everything hurt. Only one heart beating, and it probably wouldn't for much longer. The only thing that interrupted that thought was Rose's voice as she dropped to the pavement beside him and lifted his head from the ground.
"I've got you. I missed you. Look, it's me."
I can't look.
"Rose…" It was still Rose. She was here. She was holding him. But he couldn't see her, and he sobbed once. "Long time no see." He managed to lift a hand enough to find her face, tried to focus in the right direction. Maybe she wouldn't notice.
He heard running footsteps. Donna, he hoped. Maybe if he could touch her he could find the connection…
"Oh god, what did it do? Can you see me?" Rose asked anxiously.
Well. Caught, then.
The Doctor shook his head weakly, at the same moment he heard Donna, out of breath, reach them and kneel by his head.
Rose sounded desperate now. "Donna, he can't—"
"I know. He's blind, sweetheart; has been for a while. I'm sorry."
"Donna!" He could feel the one heart that still beat weakening. There wasn't much time. She caught his hand.
"Is it working?"
He tried. He tried hard, but there was nothing. Only darkness. He was injured too badly. "No," he sobbed.
"What?" Rose asked. "What are you talking about?"
"He could use my eyes. Weird telepathic thing," Donna explained sadly. "Doesn't matter now; it's not working now he's hurt."
The Doctor let go of Donna and reached for Rose again. She caught his hand and held it to her face and kissed it. "Oh god. Oh god, don't die."
He was going to die. Maybe he'd regenerate. But he'd never see her again. Not as the man he was now.
"Rose, I'm sorry…"
The other set of running footsteps reached them. "Get him into the Tardis! Quick! Move!" That was definitely Jack Harkness then.
That was the last that was clear for a minute or two. He gagged as the pain took over, and the next the Doctor knew he was on the grated floor of the Tardis. Rose and Donna were crying and everything hurt. It hurt so much…he was twisting on the floor under their hands, and he could feel the regeneration building but there was nothing he could do.
Jack and Donna were arguing in the background. Of course they were.
"Not now. I came all this way," Rose cried.
"It's starting," the Doctor gasped. He couldn't see it this time but he knew it.
He heard running, Rose being pulled away. Jack's voice. "Here we go! Good luck, Doctor."
I don't want luck. I don't want to do it.
He reached out blindly to find the console, to pull himself up. It hurt.
"Will someone please tell me what is going on!" Donna shouted.
Rose was the one to answer, unevenly. "We he's dying, his uh, his body, it repairs itself. It changes." The last was directed at him. "But you can't!"
I don't want to.
"I'm sorry. It's too late. I'm regenerating…"
Then it happened.
It didn't end the way they were saying it would. The Doctor's body was suddenly energy—gold bursting, blinding, but then it seemed to go somewhere else…into that ridiculous spare hand of all places, and then it stopped. The Doctor stumbled back, and he still had the same face. He was fine.
"Now. Where were…we…" He trailed off mid-sentence and blinked furiously.
Rose and Jack were staring. Donna was too, but not for the same reason. They were probably more confused by the fact that he hadn't…changed, or whatever they'd been saying. But seeing as she didn't particularly know anything about that, Donna was only staring because the Doctor was looking at them.
He was looking at them.
He laughed once. Donna had never seen so much joy on his face. "Right! Of course! Hello!"
Donna wasn't the least bit ashamed of the girlish scream she sent up as she ran to him and threw her arms around him.
"Wait. You can see now?" Jack was asking.
"Yep!" The Doctor spun Donna about, completely forgetting she didn't really like that. Right now she didn't care anyway, so it didn't matter. He set her down and looked in her face, and after all this time there couldn't have been a better reward than to see him smiling like that. Looking at her.
"Oh, you're beautiful. So beautiful. All of you. All three of you. Four of you," he corrected, patting the Tardis console. As he let Donna go he was laughing again, spinning in place and looking at everything he could. "God, it's been so long."
"But how?" Donna asked.
"You see? Used the regeneration energy to heal myself, but as soon as that was done I didn't need to change. I didn't want to; why would I? Look at me. SO, to stop the energy going all the way, I siphoned off the rest into a handy bio-matching receptacle, namely my hand. My hand there. My handy spare hand."
After explaining that to all of them in quick-fire fashion, the Doctor took a tentative step toward Rose. "Remember? Christmas day? Sycorax? Lost my hand in a swordfight? That's my hand. What do you think?"
"You're still you?" she ventured.
Donna backed off again to where this Jack Harkness stood. The Doctor was smiling at Rose, and though the joy was still there he looked like he might cry now. "I'm still me. And I can see you now." He let out a breath almost in disbelief, and reached for her. "I can see you—"
He hadn't finished the sentence before Rose was in his arms.
When it was all over, they were alone again. The Daleks destroyed, everyone else gone home. Even Rose was gone, back in her own universe now with her family and the part human copy of the Doctor Donna had accidently helped to create. He'd saved them all though, really. With her help.
Because Donna wasn't just Donna anymore, either.
There was so much in her head now. So much to know, to see. So much. And now it was just them again, and the Doctor had his eyes again, and everything could be perfect. Just perfect…
"You think that was why it was always so easy for you to connect to me? To see? Because this was in our future? The other you said somethin' about that heartbeat I kept hearin' being him, echoing back, all that converging stuff. Think the telepathic bit could have been the same thing?"
She went on for a while. Felspoon and Charlie Chaplain and Charlie Brown and Chameleon Circuits, and she really wasn't sure what she was saying. It was just words after a while, and then she couldn't stop. She gasped and found herself bent over the console. Her head hurt.
She knew what was happening.
"Oh my god…"
"Do you know what's happening?"
Slowly Donna straightened. She didn't want to know. "Yeah."
"There's never been a human Time Lord metacrisis before now," the Doctor said quietly. "And you know why." It wasn't a question.
"Because there can't be." She shook her head and pulled away from him. "I want to stay. You can see now. Properly see. It's what you've wanted forever. And I've got…all this, and we—we—"
"Look at me. Donna, look at me."
She was so happy for him, that he had his eyes back now. If she had to have a sending off present she supposed that was the best it could have been…but it meant she didn't even have the excuse of the biggest fear she'd had the last year. The fear of something happening to her. Or being too far away from him at all. Not just for her own sake, but because he needed her.
Now he didn't.
"Don't think that."
He heard? Stupid telepathy. It'd only gotten stronger since the beginning…
"Don't think, if this hadn't happened…if you didn't have to go…that I wouldn't still need you. I do need you. You're my best friend, Donna. You've helped me…so, so much. You can't know how much everything you've done means to me."
"But I can," she sobbed. "Everything in your head…it's in mine now. How can I leave now? Just when we could start again? You get to start again…same life, new eyes…so…new life, sort of. I wanted…I want to be there for that. I want to be the one with you. I want—"
"And I'd never have had it at all, without you."
Donna swallowed. "I was gonna be with you. Forever. I'd have stayed forever even if you hadn't—"
The Doctor blinked back the damp in his eyes and nodded. "I know."
"Rest of my life. Traveling. In the Tardis. The Doctor Donna…" She shook her head again. She tried to back away, but he had her arms. "But I can't go back! Don't make me go back. Doctor, please, don't make me go back…"
Do something. Something else. Her mind was pulling itself apart and she could feel the end coming, but she didn't want to go. There had to be an answer other than losing everything.
"Donna. Oh, Donna Noble. I am so sorry." He tried to smile. Didn't quite make it. "But we had the best of times. The best."
It was really over then. At least she could look him in the eyes. And…
And she'd done good, hadn't she? She'd done so much, just in this year. Maybe it would still mean something. Maybe…
"Goodbye," the Doctor whispered.
Sometimes it seemed like another life, when there was always someone there. When he couldn't see who was. In one way, it had been.
He was alone now. He thought he needed to be. But one last time, the Doctor let himself go to Martha. He told himself after everything she'd done for him, she deserved it.
"Hi!" The flat's door opened and she was there, hugging him, looking him in the eyes and smiling. "Oh, those eyes. Those big, wonderful eyes. It's so good to see them working again!" She looked over his shoulder in confusion. "Where's Donna?"
He told her everything.
"Oh my god…I'm so sorry. You're alone, then?"
"You should find someone."
The Doctor shook his head quickly. "No. Not again. Not after what happened to Donna. And you. And Rose. And everyone else. I won't ruin someone else's life."
"What happened to Rose?"
Then he had to tell her that, too.
"But she's happy. She has exactly what she wanted, I'm sure. I know it's not easy to hear it, but she does. She's happy. I know that's why you did it anyway."
"Of course it was."
"Then what are you on about?
"Donna," he repeated. And his voice broke. "She died, Martha. She basically died. And what happened to your family? You can't tell me you've completely forgiven me for that."
"If I hadn't I wouldn't have stayed with you after the Master was dead," she snapped back. "But I didn't leave you alone, did I?"
"That was pity and you know it."
"Fine! Maybe some of it was, but I stayed because I wanted to. I cared about you. I still do."
"And what did I ever do for you?" he asked painfully. "What did I do? You, and Donna; you were there. You helped me for so long, and what did I do for you?"
Martha sighed a little, and reached across the table for his hand. "You showed us the universe. You made us better. You saved our planet more than once too, for starters. Idiot."
She shook her head at him. "Listen. Maybe Donna can never remember who she was, but we can remember for her. And we're not the only ones. There are all those people out there…people she helped. People both of you helped. Other times, other places…Donna will never really be gone. You know that, right?"
He was staring at the table, at their hands, at nothing. He wanted to accept what she was saying. He wanted to let it comfort him, but he hurt too much.
The Doctor felt her pulling him up, out of his chair. "Come on. Up you get. Come on." She dragged him out to the balcony, where the sun was beginning to set in blazing colors. "You see that sunset?"
"And yes. Yes you do."
He leaned on the railing and blinked at her for moment, until he got it. When he did it was like a punch in the gut. He had to look away then, before she saw his face. But she slipped an arm around his shoulders and held on.
After a moment he tugged her into his arms, and she went willingly into his embrace. "You're right," he murmured. "Oh…you're right."
"Told you," she answered quietly.
When he stood back again she brushed off his jacket and straightened his coat—the way she'd done in the old days when he couldn't quite check them himself—and she smiled, a little bit wistfully. "There. Now go out there and help more people. Do everything you can. That's all you can do, right?"
Now he could smile. "Yeah." He took her hand for a moment, and they watched the sunset for a while longer.
"Does it seem a little brighter to you now?" she asked.
"You know, I think it does."
The Doctor turned to her once more. "Martha…I know you've got….a life, and everything else, to get back to…but would you fancy a run round the block? I mean really just that this time. Just…you know…quick round the solar system…"
Martha raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms at him. "Do I have to say 'not over any galactic divides,' or are we past The Santa Claus references?"
"No, I think we're good."
"Okay then. Tardis?"
He chucked a thumb over his shoulder. "Just outside."
The Doctor grinned and dragged her from the flat by a hand. "Allons-y!"