Actions

Work Header

Let's Forget We're Running (Out of Time)

Work Text:

Donna first notices him among the shoes. He’s watching her browse, a thin man in a brown suit. Funny hair. He looks a little familiar and she wonders if she’s seen him before. At the office, or maybe at the new pub Veena’s been dragging her to. Somewhere.

She sees him again two days later as she’s walking across Trafalgar Square. Same suit and so obviously watching her. She turns ninety degrees as a test. He follows a short distance behind, stops when she stops.

Great. The last thing she needs is a stalker.

“You,” she yells. She points at him and starts walking in his direction.

He stops short, his eyes wide. His pointy hair just completes the surprised look. He points at his own chest and mouths “me?”

“Yeah,” she shouts. “You. Wait a minute.”

He looks like he might bolt, make a run for the nearest statue, something. In the end he just stands there with a daft expression on his face.

She catches up with him and looks him up and down. He’s tall and skinny, with a suit that’s too tight and looks off, a little too feminine, like he purchased it in the ladies’ department. She frowns and pokes at his chest. “I saw you watching me in Henrik’s, and now here you are again. You’re following me.”

“I was just shopping,” he says. “Christmas shopping.”

She scoffs. “Right. No bags. And it’s August.” She’s seen him before, she knows she has. Before Henrik’s. How long has he been following her? She pokes him again, hard, and watches as he makes a face and rubs at the spot where she poked his girl suit. He’s tiny and she’s been taking Tae Kwon Do with Veena every Thursday. He also looks terrified of her. Anyway, they’re in public. All she has to do is shout.

“Window shopping,” he clarifies. “I like to start early.

“I’ve seen you before,” she says. She’s sure of it.

“You haven’t,” he says immediately. Too quickly.

She squints at him. He refuses to look her in the eye. He looks down at his trainers, possibly realizing they’re a little too casual for the rest of his buttoned up look. And then she remembers.

“Wait, I know you. I met you in my living room. Right after that whole thing with the planet moving. Why are you following me? What are you trying to sell?”

“I’m not – I’m not selling anything,” he stutters at her. “And I’m not following you – I mean, I was. I was following you. But only because I thought I recognized you. We met in your living room, you say? That must be it then. I couldn’t place you and I was trying to figure it out – so yes. I was following you. I’m – yeah. Sorry. I’ll be off then.”

“Oi,” she calls after him, grabs at his arm. He flinches a little at her touch and turns back to look at her. “What did you say your name was? Last time, you told me your name.”

“John Smith,” he says. “John.”

“That’s a bit boring, isn’t it?” she asks. She’s not a complete moron. If someone wanted to give her a phony name, John Smith’s the exact sort of thing they’d come up with.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “I suppose it is.”

He stares at her, his face blank. She thinks he’s a nutter, bonkers, clearly off his rocker. A skinny twig of a man in a woman’s suit. And then he shakes his head and says, “Are you hungry?”

She shrugs and says “God knows you could use a good meal,” and is following him across the square before she even has time to think about it. And when she does she thinks that maybe she’s the one that’s a bit bonkers.

**

As they sit down at the table, John – or whatever his name is – still looks completely conflicted. Scared, really.

“You don’t ask strange women to lunch a lot, do you?” she asks. He’s not her type. He’s not her type at all, but maybe if he was (and if he wasn’t a lying stalker), this would be kind of cute. Endearing.

“This isn’t a date,” John clarifies immediately, eyebrows raised. “This is just lunch.”

Gay, then. That explains a lot. Well, it explains the suit at least.

“Yeah,” Donna agrees. “I wouldn’t be here if it was.”

He nods like he expected as much and pulls a pair of battered glasses out of his pocket, slides them on and opens his menu. He’s antsy and tries to make small talk. He’s not very good at it. She’s starting to wonder if there is anything that he is good at.

“Do you eat roast beef?” he asks. “I love roast beef.”

“Sometimes,” she says, and orders fish. John, shockingly, orders a roast beef sandwich.

He tries to talk about the weather, about the rain that just finally stopped the week before, then mentions something about the planet being kidnapped, then stops himself short and just says “Well.” The longer they sit there, the more anxious he seems to become. Their food arrives and he begins pulling the roast beef out from the bread with his fingers. He notices that she’s watching and switches to a fork.

She decides to take pity on the weirdo.

“What do you do?” she asks.

“I – well, I travel,” he says.

She nods and waits for him to continue. When it becomes obvious that that’s it, that she’s failed to start a conversation, she frowns and sets down her utensils.

“That’s it? You just travel?”

“No,” he says.

“Like as part of a traveling circus?” she prompts. “Are you a trapeze artist or a lion tamer or, I don’t know, the bearded lady?”

John rubs his chin and says “Of course not. I travel for work – for the – for a company. I mean, for a company that banks. The bank. I travel for the bank. That I work for.”

She nods. A gay man who lies about his name and his job asks her out in Trafalgar Square and she says yes. Yes. It sounds like the start of a joke and here she is waiting for the punch line. She must be bonkers.

“I would have said airline pilot,” she suggests.

“Yeah,” he sighs and finishes his drink.

“How do you know my family?”

“Your family?”

“We met in my living room. You must have been there for a reason.”

His mouth opens and then closes. He’s at a loss for words.

“It wasn’t that long ago,” she prompts. “A few months?”

“I know,” he says. “I know your – I know Wilf. We share a common interest. The stars. I’d met him before on the hill. He invited me in for tea after – well, after everything. It was a rough day.”

She eyes him. If it’s a lie, it’s better than the rest of the lies he’s told her.

“How about you?” he asks, clearly trying to steer the conversation away from him. “How are you?”

She shrugs. “I’m good. I’m a secretary –“

“Super temp,” he cuts in.

They’re her words, her personal joke. She stares at him and thinks that maybe agreeing to this lunch was a mistake. He smiles at her, oblivious, and shovels a fork full of roast beef into his mouth.

“How did you - I’m not a temp,” she clarifies, watches as the crinkles around his eyes fade with his smile.

“You’re not?” he says.

“I was. I work for this travel agency now. I just started a few weeks ago actually.”

”Oh,” John says.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s not much, this job, but I enjoy it and I’ll work my way up, become an agent, and there are discounts, you know? I’m going to go to Japan, maybe Egypt. I’m hoping to take my granddad.”

“Good for you, Donna Noble,” John’s smile is back, complete with eye crinkles, as though working at a travel agency for the perks is the most amazing thing anyone could ever do. It’s not like she told him she’s a doctor or out there doing something to save the world, yet here he is, smiling at her like she’s something special.

“I started taking Japanese classes last week.” She’s not sure why she’s still talking. Why she’s telling him more than he needs to know. “With my mother, of all people. I’m taking language classes with my mother. Still, I always wanted to learn another language. Japanese though,” she laughs. “Should have started easy. We’ll be lucky if we learn to say ‘where’s the loo?’”

He laughs, and then babbles something which she supposes is probably ‘where’s the loo?’ in Japanese.

“So how long have you been stalking me?” she asks.

“I swear I’m not stalking you,” he says, the smile leaving his eyes so he appears open and earnest. He’s getting a little better at lying, she’ll give him that.

He orders banana pudding for dessert and then afterward, he realizes that he’s left his wallet in his hotel room, or wherever. At this point, Donna’s not all that surprised.

“You’re an awful date, you know?” Donna asks.

They stand outside the restaurant, awkwardly. His hands are stuffed in his pockets and he’s staring at his trainers again.

“I guess I’ll see you around,” Donna says.

“Maybe,” John agrees and looks up for the first time. He looks like he wants to run again. She guesses lunch with her was maybe not all that he imagined it to be. He doesn’t thank her for paying the bill and when she reaches out to shake his hand his arms are already open to return the hug.

“Oh,” she says, at the same time that he realizes and starts to try to shake her hand instead. It ends with a strange handshake/half hug with him patting her awkwardly on the back. And then they turn and walk in opposite directions along the pavement. She can feel him turn to look at her twice. She doesn’t turn around. She thinks that if she ever sees him again she might call the police. She pulls her mobile from her bag and dials Veena.

“You’re never going to believe the day I’m having,” she says, as soon as Veena answers.

**

She finds herself glancing over her shoulder during the days that follow their lunchtime encounter, checking to see if he’s still following her. She feels eyes on her at the office and turns, expecting to see him but there’s no one there, just her boss Larry, her co-worker Susan. She hears someone say her name at the supermarket and turns to find the aisle empty, children laughing in the aisle next to hers.

“He was so familiar,” Donna says for what must be the fourth time by now. “You know, he’s probably been following me for months and I just didn’t notice.”

“Nutter,” Veena agrees. “I can’t believe you caught a bloke following you and instead of turning him in, you buy him lunch.”

Donna still can’t believe it either.

“He forgot his wallet,” she says, somewhat sheepishly.

“The roast beef isn’t the point,” Veena prods. “You agreed to eat lunch with him in the first place. The man’s probably got pictures of you plastered all over his walls. He’s plotting your death as we speak and you’re going along like it’s nothing out of the ordinary. You don’t watch enough movies. That’s your problem. Life lessons, Donna. You need to study up.”

“He wasn’t – really, Veena. He’s not a serial killer. He’s just a lonely awkward man. He’s harmless,” she insists, not sure why she’s defending him. And when she asks her mother about him, suddenly she isn’t so sure that he deserves her defense.

“John?” her mother repeats in the car on their way to their language class.

“Yeah,” Donna says. “Remember? Scrawny? Kind of jumpy? He was here right after that whole planet thing. John Smith. He says he knows Granddad.”

“John Smith?” her mother repeats once more, and then there’s a spark of recognition in her eyes and her lips press into a tight line. “What about him?” Sometimes Donna wonders about her mother. Wonders if something has happened to her that she just isn’t telling anyone. There’s something different and Donna just can’t put a finger on it.

“I had lunch with him,” Donna says. “Last week.”

“You what?” her mother gasps. “Donna, you stay away from that man. He’s no good for you. He’s not good for anyone.”

“But who is he? John Smith? It’s not even his real name, is it?”

“Never you mind,” she insists, refusing to elaborate on the subject.

“Says he works for a bank,” Donna continues. “Travels a lot or something. John Smith. I think he’s making it up.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sylvia insists. “It’s just a name. Trouble follows that man everywhere. You don’t tell your granddad about this. It’d give him a heart attack if he knew. Do you want to give an old man a heart attack?”

**

He turns up again two weeks later unannounced at her office, surprising her coworker Susan as they’re locking up at the end of the day. Susan shrieks and kicks him hard in the shin, starts rummaging in her purse. John shouts and limps, rubs his leg.

“Give us a heart attack, why don’t you,” Donna snaps and slaps his arm. All her promises to herself that she would call the authorities if he started following again seem stupid now. Look at him. He’s hardly dangerous.

“You know him?” Susan asks, face red, eyes narrowed into slits as though she’s trying to be intimidating. She’s pulled a can from her purse and has it pointed at John.

“Yes, yes, he’s that nutter I told you about. John,” Donna says. “John, this is Susan. Susan, John.”

John manages a smile for Susan. “Susan,” he repeats, still holding his shin. “Lovely name.”

Donna looks over Susan’s shoulder at the can she’s holding and rolls her eyes. “Pepper spray? Susan, put that away. Where did you get that?”

Susan shrugs. “The internet.” She drops the can back into her purse and then looks John up and down. “You didn’t mention that he was so fit.”

John’s smile gets wider and he stops slouching. “I like her,” he says.

Donna thinks Susan might wink at him. It’s a little bit disgusting and John’s smile seems to fade a bit with the gesture.

“You should come by more often,” Susan continues. “We could get you an amazing travel package.”

Donna rolls her eyes.

“Yeah,” John agrees. “Maybe I will.” He sets a hand on Donna’s arm, lowers his voice and says, “Can I talk to you for a moment? Alone?”

“Why?”

“Please?”

She gives in, tells Susan that she’ll see her in the morning, assures her that they don’t need a chaperone, that she’s certain that she’ll be safe alone with her crazy stalker friend. Once they’re alone, John says, “Susan’s not human?”

“Oh, come on. Not you too,” Donna says.

“What?”

“Not human? Everyone in this city is so obsessed with aliens.”

“She blinked at me! Sideways!”

“She was flirting,” Donna reasons. “You’re her type. Gangly and thinking you’re all clever. She loves that.”

“Literally sideways,” he says again.

“Well,” Donna shrugs. “She hasn’t been feeling well.”

John seems to consider this. “Maybe,” he concedes and lets it drop, but not before a grumbled. “I am all clever.” Then he adds, louder, “Let me take you to dinner. Make up for lunch the other day.”

“No,” Donna says.

“Did you already eat?” His face falls and she wonders again how he could possibly be any danger to her.

“Well, all right,” she agrees. “Someplace crowded, in case I have to scream for help.”

He blinks at her, confused.

“Never mind,” she mumbles and starts walking toward a popular curry place a few streets over. He grins and bumps into her and she can’t tell if it’s supposed to be some kind of nudge or if he just can’t walk straight.

**

They start getting together whenever he’s ‘in town’. She wonders if ‘in town’ isn’t just some sort of code that means when he’s not busy stalking someone else. There’s always something he wants to do; coffee, a play, a concert event. His suggestions always bring them to very public locations and she wonders if it’s on purpose, if he’s trying to ease her apprehensions about their first meeting. It’s a strange friendship. She can’t believe half of what he says, never knows when he’ll turn up, and she can’t contact him, yet she’s always happy to see him when he appears. And somehow he still always knows where to find her.

“Because he’s a stalker,” Veena says. “That’s what stalkers do. That’s why when you have a stalker you call the police.”

“He’s harmless,” Donna insists. Most of the time she’s still sure that’s true.

Sometimes she sees him twice in one week, sometimes it’s longer.

“Where have you been?” she asks when she leaves her office and sees him sitting on a bench a few shops down. It’s been weeks since their last encounter.

“Oh, you know,” he muses and shoves his hands into the pockets of that same brown suit. “Here and there. Visited King Arthur then popped into the 51st century for a bit.”

She’s had a headache all morning, listening to Susan ramble on and on, this time about some fantasy planet called Fersh where everything is wonderful and fabulous all the time and people prance around barefoot and don’t have to worry about things like stalkers and moving planets. Most of the time Donna likes Susan, but once in a while Susan will go off on one of her talking sprees, refusing to stop the chit chat until Donna’s head is aching and she has to step outside just to get some air. The headache gets worse now and she presses her fingers to her forehead. King Arthur and the 51st Century. She’s heard so much nonsense today. She’s starting to think that maybe John and Susan are perfect for one another.

“You could have just said it’s none of my business,” Donna says.

“Not as much fun,” he reasons. He’s watching her, concerned.

“Sorry,” she says. “It’s nothing. Headache.” She reaches for his hand and pulls him up off the bench. She thinks that it shouldn’t be this easy, being friendly with a man like John Smith.

**

“Is that some kind of uniform or something?” she asks him as they wait outside of the theatre. She’s never heard of the play, but he swears that she’ll love it.

“What?” he asks. “Do you think I should have worn a tuxedo?”

No one wears a tuxedo to the theatre, but the question sounds serious. She ignores it.

“You’re always wearing that same suit. Is it a uniform? For your job? What do you do, anyway?”

John looks down at his suit, tries to smooth out a few wrinkles. “What do I – I work for the bank,” he says. “Remember?”

The bank,” Donna repeats. “Of course. How could I forget.”

John gives her a look. “It’s just a bank,” he says. “You don’t like this suit? I have a tuxedo. It’s a bit unlucky, but I could –”

She returns the look and his voice trails off. It starts to drizzle and the crowd outside the theatre squishes in under the awning. John grins at her as though getting to the theatre forty minutes early is loads of fun. When she doesn’t grin back, he asks her about the office.

“The agency’s been crazy lately. Everyone’s booking holidays for next spring, you know? Honeymoons and things. Susan’s been out with some sort of flu,” Donna says. “Poor girl. She asks about you though, even bedridden with fever. Told you she fancied you, all scrawny and self important. My boss though, Larry. Every night he’s trying to convince me to go out for drinks, go dancing.”

John makes a face when she mentions dancing.

“What was that?” she jokes and mimics the face. “You don’t dance? Or are you jealous?”

“Of course not,” he says and leans against the wall of the theatre. “Just don’t get too serious.”

“Serious? The man is older than my mother and has dandruff like you’ve never seen. Serious. What do you care anyway?”

“I don’t,” he says. “But – I was going to - I have this friend. A friend. He’s thinking about moving to London. If he does, I thought I’d introduce you.”

Donna laughs. “You’re playing matchmaker now?”

“Well,” he says. “My friend doesn’t know anyone in London. I thought you could show him around.”

The doors to the theatre open and the crowd starts pushing through at once in an attempt to get out of the rain. John’s grinning again as they get jostled around a bit in the crowd. He hands a doorman the tickets and once they’re inside he offers to check Donna’s coat, before they settle into their seats.

“When is this friend coming?” she asks, flipping absently through the program.

“I’m not sure,” he admits. He pulls his glasses from his pocket. “It’s all just an idea right now.”

“I guess I’ll make sure not to get serious with my old boss then.”

“I guess you better,” John agrees. He looks down at himself and brushes some lint from his knee before turning to her. “What’s wrong with this suit?”

**

He kisses her one night at a pub in Chiswick. She’s surprised, but she’s had three martinis and when his thin lips press against hers, she grabs his jacket and pulls him closer. It’s been a while since she’s done this. It seems like it’s been a while for him too. He’s not a bad kisser. He’s better at this than he is at a lot of other things.

“Doesn’t take much to get you to swing the other way,” Donna laughs and kisses him again. She’s already decided not to tell Veena about this.

“The other way?” John asks. His thumb is tracing circles in the bare skin of her arm.

“You’re gay, yeah?” She asks. “It’s okay. I mean, I guessed a while back.”

“Oh,” John says. “Okay.” He finishes the rest of his drink.

It happens again outside. She’s telling him about Japan, about the plans for her trip. She booked her tickets the day before and her granddad is so excited and then she isn’t talking, she’s kissing, being kissed, and her back is pressed to the brick wall and his hand cups her face as his tongue tastes her mouth.

“Get a room,” someone shouts, and she giggles against his lips, thinks the two of them are probably a pretty funny sight.

“We must look like an odd couple,” Donna says, closes her eyes when he doesn’t stop right away, when he leans in to taste the warm skin of her neck.

“Okay, sweet cheeks,” she laughs. “I think you’ve had enough to drink tonight. Let’s get you home.”

She has no idea where home is and so he walks her to her home instead.

“We’re here,” she says, though John’s been there before and surely remembers.

They stand there in the street for a moment until Donna breaks the silence.

“I’d say you could come in, but well –“ she gestures toward the house. She’s pretty sure she wouldn’t have asked him to come in even if she wasn’t still living with her mother. It just seems like the thing to say.

“Of course,” John says, as though he’s snapping out of a stupor. He leans in and kisses her one more time, just a quick press of lips. It’s awkward now and she thinks the alcohol must be wearing off for both of them. He presses a hand to her shoulder and then turns and begins walking back down the street.

Donna waits until he’s disappeared around the corner and then slips inside and is greeted by her mother who has rather obviously been peering out at the window.

“Who was that? Who were you with?” she asks.

“It was Veena,” Donna lies. She hopes her mother hasn’t been watching for long.

It’s the following afternoon before she remembers that John had been ordering Cokes the entire night.

**

It’s been three weeks since the nonsense at the pub. She’s seen him twice since then, waited for him to say something, do something, but he seems perfectly content to pretend that he was drunk enough that he’s forgotten the entire thing. Finally, she sets down her fork and says, “What is this?”

“What’s what?” he asks. He’s been talking about broccoli for the last ten minutes.

“Us,” Donna clarifies. She gestures toward the table, the restaurant, “this.”

John’s mouth drops open and then he shrugs and says, “We’re friends – companions. I don’t know. Does it have to be something?”

“Yes,” she says, and then changes her mind. “No. But it’s strange, you know? I mean, you do know that, right? That this is strange?”

“People meet in all sorts of strange ways,” he says.

“John, I’m thirty six years old and I’m afraid to tell my family that I still see you. And I don’t know why. Should I be? You show up and you hardly talk and when you do half of what you say is lies and the rest is nonsense and I still feel like I’ve known you for ages. You kiss me in a pub and then I don’t hear from you for days and when I do you pretend we were drunk, but you had nothing to drink. I worry about you. Should I?” She sighs and downs the rest of her glass of wine. “Sometimes you scare me. You make me feel like I’m going insane.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. He reaches out and rests a hand on her arm.

“Maybe we should stop this,” she says. She brushes his hand away and presses her fingers to her temples. Her head aches. John reaches out and pulls her hands away, folds them on the table and rubs them gently with his own.

He’s quiet, just sitting there holding her hands, and eventually Donna sighs and says, “Veena thinks you’re a government spy.”

“Really?” John smiles. “Must be a pretty exciting life I lead, yeah? What do you think?”

“I think you’re just a strange lonely man.”

John looks down but doesn’t disagree.

“When will you start telling me the truth?” she asks.

“Donna,” John starts. “I wish –“

He trails off and she knows the answer is never.

“I think you should stop following me,” she says. “Stop coming to see me. I can’t – we don’t work together.”

“We could,” he says, quietly. “Work together. We could work together wonderfully, I think. If we try.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want to try.”

John nods and places a hand on her shoulder before leaving the restaurant.

**

Her headaches are getting worse. She sits at her desk and listens to Susan talk about the planet moving, about how they all survived the Daleks. Dalek. It’s such a nonsense word to Donna. Sometimes she thinks everyone is hallucinating but her.

“I don’t know how you could have missed it,” Susan laughs, now. It doesn’t sound like she was laughing six months ago when fifteen or however many planets suddenly appeared in the sky.

Donna doesn’t know how she missed it either, how she always seems to miss these things. She tries not to think about it too much. It makes her headaches worse.

She stays home a few days with the blinds drawn and the lights off. Her granddad makes her beans on toast and talks about the things they’ll see in Japan. He’s looking older. She worries about him. He doesn’t talk to her about aliens anymore, refuses to talk about it, but he still goes up to that hill every night, sits and stares at the stars.

She joins him sometimes, asks what he’s looking for. “Shooting stars,” he says and smiles at her. “Just shooting stars.”

It starts raining again. It rains for three days and Granddad is convinced it won’t stop for another month. On the third night of rain Donna looks out her window and sees John standing outside in the dark. Her stalker. She thinks again that if she was smart she’d call the police, but he’s not staring up at her, and something about the lone figure stops her from reaching for the telephone. He looks scared and completely lost standing there in the rain. She walks quietly down the stairs and opens the back door.

“Get inside,” she says. “You’ll catch your death.”

She’s rehearsed a list of things that she planned to say the next time they met. Plans to turn him away, stop this entire nonsense once and for all. Somehow she didn’t doubt that they would meet again. She didn’t really think for a moment that that restaurant would be the last time she saw him.

John’s clearly at least a little bit insane, and her mother seems terrified of him. This relationship, whatever it is, won’t end in anything good, no matter how much it feels otherwise sometimes when she’s with him. She has a script, but he looks so dejected and she forgets the words instantly. Instead she hugs him as though they’ve known each other for ages.

“What happened to you?” she asks. It could be anything.

She leaves him dripping in a chair and goes to fetch a cloth. She hands it to him and watches him press it to his face.

“I’ll make tea,” she offers and fills the kettle. She sets it on the stove and sits in the chair beside him.

“What is it?” she asks again.

“Sorry,” he says. He sighs and bunches the cloth in his damp lap. “I know – you think I’m strange and – I shouldn’t be here. I really shouldn’t.”

“Don’t worry about that now.”

“Rough day at work, you know?”

“At the bank?” she says. He seems genuinely upset and it doesn’t seem like the time to pry, to find cracks in the lies.

“Have you ever met someone and known exactly how things were going to end, exactly how it would go and you want to run, want to just stop it all before any of it happens, but you can’t. You can’t stop any of it.”

She’s not sure she does know how that feels. Looking back she thinks that she should have known how things would end with Lance, but she never felt that at the start. She never realized she was pushing too hard until it was much too late and he was gone.

“I don’t think so,” Donna says, honestly.

John nods.

“You met someone?” she asks. For a moment, half of a half of a second, she wonders if he’s talking about her. He isn’t, she knows. This is something else entirely.

“I was looking for someone else,” John explains. “I didn’t think – it’s a big universe, you know? Same century, yeah, but I didn’t think, not even for a second that I’d see her. I’m not ready for her.”

He isn’t making much sense and she reaches out and presses the back of her palm to his forehead. She expects him to be feverish, but his skin feels cool. He jumps a little at her touch, reaches out to take her hand, holding it in his own.

“John,” she says. He looks like he wants to tell her something and she leans in closer, crouched on the floor beside his chair.

He closes his eyes and then the distance between them and they’re kissing. His kisses are tentative, unsure, as though he thinks she might haul off and smack him at any moment. His hands still hold hers. Her free hand moves to his shoulder, grips his damp sleeve. She kisses him back and he makes a noise in his throat and moves closer when he realizes she doesn’t plan to pull away.

Eventually he releases her, their noses bumping a little as he turns his head from hers.

“You must be freezing,” she says. “You should stay. Dry off.”

“Your family –“ he protests, but he stands when she pulls at his arm and lets her guide him up the stairs. The house is quiet, asleep except for the two of them. She’ll have to smuggle him out in the morning, but they can cross that bridge when the time comes.

She pushes his damp jacket off his shoulders and hangs it on a chair.

“Thank you,” he says and it sounds like the most sincere thing he’s ever said to her. He hugs her, tight, as though he’s afraid she’ll disappear if he lets go. His body is cool and damp.

“I haven’t done anything, really,” she says.

He kisses her once, twice, and then releases her and turns away, apologizes, wipes a hand across his face and sighs.

“I shouldn’t be here,” he says again. “This isn’t fair to you.”

Donna smiles. “I’m a big girl,” she says. “I can look after myself.”

He doesn’t look like he believes her. His hair, usually sticking out everywhere, is damp and looks soft. She reaches out and touches it.

“Donna,” he says, and even her name on his lips is more familiar than their few encounters should warrant. “I think I’ve always needed you more than you needed me.”

“We hardly even know each other,” she says, but saying the words out loud doesn’t seem to stop her. She thinks it might, but there she is, only moments later, reaching for him and she’s the one doing the kissing now. He pushes at her clothes, removes her shirt and presses his mouth to the tops of her exposed breasts.

She knows this is a bad idea. She thinks about what the Donna who stood in Trafalgar Square shouting at a man in a suit would think if she could see herself now. She doesn’t think she cares. People meet in all sorts of strange ways and anyway, she’s thirty six and she’s been playing it safe her entire life. Where has safe got her? Resolved, she stops thinking about what she should do and concentrates on the moment instead, concentrates on John’s mouth, John’s hands, the taste of salt on John’s skin. His fingers fumble with her bra and she helps him, slides it off and lets it drop to the floor.

She unbuttons his trousers and pushes them down past his slim hips, wonders again about that suit. She’d been so sure that this was something that would never happen with them, something that neither of them could ever want and as he kisses her and pushes her toward her bed, she just can’t help but laugh at it all.

John grunts. It’s a question.

“Who would’ve thought we’d end up here,” she laughs.

John just smiles and slides her cotton pants to her ankles. She kicks then off her feet.

He seems to know exactly how she likes to be touched, exactly what to do to make her gasp, choke back the sounds that she doesn’t dare make with her mother sleeping right down the hall. She feels like a teenager again, sneaking Billy Davis in through the bedroom window. John smiles down at her and then bites his lip and thrusts deeper and her mouth opens in a silent groan. He clings to her, tries to memorize her, the sound of her voice, the smell of her hair, her skin. She grips his back, kisses his shoulder, the base of his neck as he moves above her. He stops then and shudders, collapses on her for just a moment. She presses her face to his damp hair.

“Did you -?” he asks and then trails off. His heart is beating so fast that it almost feels like two heartbeats pounding simultaneously. He pulls her closer. Three heartbeats now, she thinks.

He looks up at her and she shakes her head, says “that’s okay.”

He kisses her mouth, a languid kiss, slow, exploratory. His hand slips down between her legs and she gasps into his mouth.

“Donna,” he says, his lips forming the word against her skin, his fingers knowing exactly what to do. It isn’t long before she is holding back a cry, her back arching up against him in release. He kisses her once more, his body pressed against hers and there it is again, his heart. It’s slower now, and she still –

She presses a hand to his chest.

“What are you doing?” he asks.

“Your heart,” Donna says. Her head aches and she closes her eyes. These stupid migraines.

“Stop,” he says. He pulls her hand away and kisses her palm.

Her head is starting to pound and all she wants to do is sleep. “You can stay here,” she says. “When I was in school, there was this boy. Billy. He used to – there’s this tree outside and - have you ever snuck out a window?”

**

She doesn’t expect anything to change. She’s relieved when she wakes up the next morning and discovers that he’s already gone. And she’s not really surprised when one month passes, two, and she hears nothing from John Smith.

“You aren’t still seeing that man, I hope,” her mother occasionally frowns at her over breakfast. She never believed for a second that Donna was standing out in the street that night kissing Veena.

Donna’s mostly stopped thinking about him after the first month. She’s busy with work and her classes, her plans for Japan. The migraines have been getting worse. The pills her doctor gave her don’t seem to be helping.

Then two months after that night in the rain he walks up to her outside the Tae Kwon Do class she’s been taking with Veena. On this particular evening, Donna is there alone. John looks nervous and has an even more nervous looking man in tow.

“Donna,” John says. He reaches for her, to hug her, but she’s having none of that.

“Right,” he says, his arms flopping back to his sides. “You remember that bloke I told you about? My friend moving to London? This is – This is Lee McAvoy.”

Lee is tall and broad and looks enormous next to John Smith. He’s dressed like a normal human being, jeans and a soft looking shirt and he smiles at her and extends a hand. When he says her name he stutters.

“Welcome to London,” Donna says. He’s smiling at her and she thinks she could just stand there and watch him smile forever, but John clears his throat and she looks away from Lee McAvoy. “Well? Where have you been hiding?”

“I’ve been helping Lee here settle in,” John explains.

“For two months?”

“It was a – uh, a big move,” John suggests.

She turns back to Lee. “Where are you from?” She notices that she’s touching his arm and wonders when she started. She was right. His shirt is soft and she can feel the muscle of his arm underneath. She sees John eyeing her and pulls her hand away.

“I’m – the Sterling Sphere –“

“Liverpool,” John interjects.

“He doesn’t sound like he’s from Liverpool,” Donna notes.

“He’s moved around a lot,” John adds.

Lee smiles and Donna doesn’t care where he’s from. He asks her for her phone number, which is more than John has ever done. He gives her the address of his flat and promises to phone her and kisses her on the cheek before she leaves.

She sees what John’s doing. He’s running. It’s typical, male, and he’s giving her Lee as some strange consolation prize. Still, when Lee calls her she’s excited to hear his voice over the phone, and when he asks her to dinner she says yes immediately.

“You don’t have to spend time with me, you know,” she says when he shows up on her doorstep.

“Why wouldn’t I want to spend time with you?” He’s nervous and he stutters a bit on the first word. It’s sort of adorable, this huge broad man who has trouble just talking to her.

“You’re smooth, aren’t you,” Donna says, and Lee laughs.

Donna knows that her mother is watching from behind the curtains in the front window, spying, just as she has since Donna was 15. Usually Donna ushers her dates off in a rush. This time she lingers on the walk until she’s sure her mother has had a good look.

They go to see a film, Donna’s choice because Lee hasn’t heard of anything that’s playing.

“Did you live under a rock in Liverpool?” Donna asks.

Lee shrugs and says something about not having a television, but he’s staring at her mouth. He kisses her afterward, completely ignores her questions about the film, covers her lips with his instead. Donna’s stomach is full of butterflies and her toes tingle and she thinks she should probably thank that coward of a man, John Smith.

**

She doesn’t want to compare. The last thing that she wants to do is compare. She’s in a relationship with Lee and what she had with John was just – whatever that was. Still, she hasn’t had many others to compare with since Lance, and she finds the comparisons sneaking in no matter how much she tries not to let it happen.

Thing is, she can’t really compare at all. It’s completely different with Lee. He comes over for dinner and he sits on the hill with her granddad staring at the stars and talking for hours. Donna has no idea how they can possibly have so much to talk about. He’s awkward around Donna’s mother, but flirts just enough to charm her despite herself.

And then there’s the sex. Lee has sex as though he’s been starving, as though he’s been waiting for her for years and now that he has her, he can’t help himself. She’s in his kitchen and his hands find their way under her shirt, his mouth on her neck. He sucks at her skin, marks her, pulls at her clothes. It isn’t long before they’ve shagged in every room of Lee’s small flat and in a few rooms of Donna’s home (when her mother and granddad are out, of course) as well.

She worries at first, their first time. It’s desperate, clinging, Lee thrusting inside before either of them are even fully undressed, taking her as though he will die if they wait any longer. It’s intense and it’s rough and it’s over quickly and afterward they lie there breathing heavily, a tangle of half-clothed limbs.

“I guess it’s been a while,” Donna laughs, her mouth pressed against the warm skin of his chest.

She loves it, that first time, but she worries a little until Lee grunts in response and begins pulling off her clothes, kisses her skin as it’s exposed to his fingers, his lips.

“It’s been too long,” Lee agrees, and laughs when she pushes his hands from her, reaches out to push his opened trousers down off his gorgeous backside.

Sex with John felt like a prolonged goodbye kiss, a study in memorization, a single moment to savor. Sex with Lee feels like a beginning.

**

They spend entire days in bed, learning one another - or she spends entire days learning Lee. Lee, bless him, is a quick study and seems to know everything there is to know about Donna Noble. He lovingly presses his fingers to the mole on her right breast that she’s always hated, kisses it as though he’s being reunited with an old friend.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“I love this mark,” Lee admits and kisses it again, then moves to the two large freckles on her left hip. “And these.”

With Lee, it’s like he’s known her for ten years. It was like that with John too, at times. That feeling that they were more familiar than the amount of time they’d known each other should warrant. With John it is sometimes unsettling, but with Lee the feeling is a comfort. Lee’s gorgeous and sweet and safe. There is something about him, the feel of him beside her, the way that he smells, that feels like home to her. She thinks she could love him. She thinks it’s all too good to be true.

Donna’s trying not to push too hard, too fast, for once in her life. She’s seen what can happen.

**

Lee isn’t entirely perfect. There’s the stuttering, of course, which is adorable to Donna, but a constant source of annoyance for Lee. He gets frustrated with simple tasks. He can’t work a coffee maker and doesn’t understand why irons still exist. He says things that don’t make sense, things that immediately make Donna think of John. They’re so similar at times, and so completely different at others.

Driving stumps Lee.

“You don’t really need a car,” Donna points out after he returns from his first lesson.

“When do they invent the teleport?” he asks, after recapping the events of the lesson, during the first five minutes of which Lee reversed into a large flower planter. He shakes his head, rests it against Donna’s shoulder and lets her pet the short hairs at the back of his neck.

“You’ll get the hang of it,” Donna assures him. “These things just take time.”

“I’ve done all of this before,” Lee mumbles. “With you. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

Half the time she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “What do you mean with me?”

“Nevermind,” he says. He sits back and smiles at her.

“Sometimes I think the whole world is a part of this big joke and I’m the only one not in on it.”

Lee’s smile disappears for a moment and he stares at her for a little too long before he laughs and kisses her forehead.

**

John stays away mostly, but he does pop in occasionally, showing up at her work just to talk or at Lee’s flat where he stands around awkwardly until someone offers him a cup of coffee. Sometimes they don’t see him for weeks, and that’s when Susan will start up, asking where he is, what he’s up to, and invariably the talk leads back to planets disappearing and Daleks and Donna goes home early with a headache.

“Who is John Smith?” Donna asks Lee one afternoon after Susan has driven her out of the office. “Who is he really?”

Lee shrugs and brushes Donna’s hair from her forehead. “Just a person, I guess. He’s no one special.”

“How did you meet him?”

Lee frowns and then sits down beside her on the couch. “At a pub. In Liverpool.”

Lee leans in and kisses her and she knows he thinks she should just relax, that John Smith is a conversation that can potentially get her worked up and certainly won’t help her headache. Donna kisses Lee back for a while, thinks about how lucky she is to have found him. She hasn’t properly thanked John for introducing them, honestly doesn’t know if she wants to give John the satisfaction, but one day she knows that she will.

“You know he’s lying, right?” Donna asks. “About his name and his job and where he is when he isn’t here.”

“Yeah,” Lee agrees. “I know. But you can tell that his intentions are good. That’s what’s important, yeah?”

“I suppose.” It’s true that even though she is aware that he’ll probably never let her in, probably never let her truly be his friend, even though she knows these things, she can’t help but care about John Smith despite them.

Lee is frowning at her.

“What?” she asks.

“Were you two – you and um, you and John – were you – together?” he says, finally spitting out the words.

Donna laughs and kisses Lee’s cheek. “God no,” she assures him, and then thinks about the lie. “Well, once, yes. But we were never a couple. Just friends. Sort of.”

Lee takes this in and then nods.

“Thinking about Mr. Smith gives me a headache,” Donna notes.

“Let’s think about us then,” Lee suggests.

She kisses his mouth, the end of his nose. He’s perfect for her. He’s everything she’s ever hoped for in a man. She keeps waiting for the down side. It’s almost like John knew how they’d fit together.

“Veena thinks he’s a government spy,” Donna laughs. “Or her newest theory – tax collector.”

Lee smiles. “I thought we were done talking about Mr. Smith.”

His smile is wide and gorgeous and Donna has to look away. She nudges his arm and continues. “Susan,” Donna says. “Susan keeps going on about how he’s an alien time traveler who lives in a box.”

“A what?” Lee asks suddenly, pulling away from her.

“A blue box,” Donna repeats. “I don’t know. She reads a lot of science fiction, you know? I usually just smile and nod.”

Lee stands and turns to the right, checks his pockets, looks down at Donna.

“What did I say?” she asks.

“I have to – I’ve – I need to go,” Lee explains.

“This is your flat,” Donna points out.

“I know,” he says. “You can stay. There’s food and uh, there’s a television.”

He grabs his mobile off a table near the kitchen and disappears out the door.

**

It’s another rainy afternoon when John and Lee storm into the travel agency. Lee has been on edge all week, staring at his mobile as though waiting for a call, but when Donna asks, he denies that he’s waiting for anything. Donna’s beginning to worry, beginning to think that she was right, that Lee really is too good to be true. She doesn’t think he would be seeing someone else behind her back, but as soon as she thinks the thought long enough to dispel it, it’s there again, nagging in the back of her brain, a sliver of doubt. She remembers Lance, how hurt she was when he left her for someone younger, thinner. She remembers Lance and thinks about how much better Lee is, a better man by far, and she suddenly isn’t sure she deserves him at all.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Veena assures her. “Of course you deserve him. The one good thing to come out of that crazy stalker of yours.”

Susan tries to be supportive as well, but Susan’s version of support usually includes a lot of talk of nonsense that has Donna’s head pounding in no time. She’s even got Larry in on it, talking about aliens all the time, trying to get her to remember the whole planet thing, as though it’s something she’s just blocked out of her head, as though it was something she’d want to remember even if she had.

And then, after panicking for a week, Lee and John burst into the agency on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

“What are you doing here?” Donna asks, standing from her desk. It’s been a while since they’ve seen John at all.

“Let’s go somewhere,” Lee suggests. “For lunch.” He has a hard time with the ‘L’ in lunch, but he manages to get out the rest all right. He grabs her hand and tries to pull her away from her desk.

“It’s three in the afternoon,” Donna protests. “I’ve already eaten.”

“Donna,” John growls, frustrated. “Go.” He’s glowering at Susan.

“No,” she snaps. “What are you doing here? We’re trying to work.”

“What’s going on?” Susan asks, standing from her desk. She’s glowering too, and then as Donna watches, Susan blinks. Sideways.

“Susan?” Donna asks, and then Larry is there and Susan and Larry are shouting at her, all of that alien crap again, and Lee is pulling at her arm, pleading with her to leave with him.

John is yelling too now, he’s standing between then, apparently trying to shield Donna from her boss and her coworker, but Susan and Larry ignore John and continue their shouting.

Donna doesn’t understand a word coming out of anyone’s mouth. Doctor. Tardis. Gefershguard. Fersh Planet. Time Lord. John is shouting something about a library, about Lee, and Susan and Larry are shouting right back, shouting words like Gefersh Fergen Tower and Dalek, Shadow Proclamation and Medusa Cascade.

Donna’s head is pounding and she plugs her ears just as Larry spits the word ‘rose’ and Donna watches as flowers cause John to wince as though slapped. She can’t stand it and she presses her hands harder to the sides of her head but it doesn’t help. She watches John pull some small phallic contraption out of his pocket. He points it at Susan and even with her ears covered Donna can’t escape the scream of the blue light that bursts from the tip. She squeezes her eyes shut and shouts for them all to stop. She shouts and then she falls and Lee’s there with her, holding her, easing her onto the floor, and then she sees the look on John’s face, the fear for her but mostly the fury, that anger. It’s a look she’s never seen, and at the same time it’s an expression she’s seen on that face many times before. She can’t stop it. Her head is going to burst or burn, she isn’t sure which, but she knows, she remembers, and there’s nothing she can do to stop them now.

She looks up into Lee’s worried face, tries to smile for him, and then the Doctor is shouting for her and the room goes dark.

**

For a few hours she’s back on the TARDIS, listening to the Doctor talk about Fersh Planet.

“First Planet?” Donna repeats. “What? Does everyone there have a lisp?”

“Fersh,” the Doctor corrects her. “The planet of Fersh. Sh.”

Fersh is a planet that is apparently so wonderful that the only punishment the inhabitants can conceive of to inflict on their own people is to exile them from the planet forever. The exiled spend the rest of their lives desperately fighting to get back. It’s a punishment thought to be so heinous that Fersh has the lowest crime rate of any planet in its system.

“Are we going?” Donna asks the Doctor.

“Of course we’re going,” the Doctor says, as though it’s an entirely idiotic question.

Donna remembers Fersh, remembers the fresh clean smell of the air, the soft feel of the tall grass beneath her bare feet (“Footwear is forbidden on Fersh,” the Doctor says, shucking his trainers with glee.). For a while, Donna thinks that the Doctor has finally found a planet where he can have a perfectly wonderful and relaxing time without the threat of any of the usual sort of dangers that he seems to attract.

The inhabitants of the planet appear to blink in and out of existence, sometimes solid, sometimes just voices that float and sing through the air. The Doctor tells her about the Gefershguard, about their shapeshifting capabilities, about how they’re one of only six species of alien the Doctor has met who blink sideways. He shows her the capital city of Gefersh, the famous Gefersh Fergen Tower. They taste the local cuisine (which all just looks like colored foam to Donna), and then during a pleasant walk through Fersh’s fragrant fields, several miles from the capital city, they stumble upon the canyon. Donna isn’t surprised. They haven’t found a planet yet where the Doctor hasn’t managed to dig up some sort of trouble.

**

Donna wakes up in a hospital bed, head still intact. She stares up at the ceiling and tries to collect her thoughts, both sets of them. John and the Doctor. Donna Noble travel agent and Donna Noble time traveler. She hears shuffling about the room and squeezes her eyes shut, hopes that no one noticed that she was awake, but she hears Lee gasp and then he’s at her side.

“Donna,” Lee says, and the stutter is back and just as endearing as ever. He takes her hand in both of his, leans in to kiss her forehead. “You’re awake. We weren’t sure –“

“I’m okay,” she says, smiles up at him. She can hardly believe he’s here at all now that she knows who he is. She was so sure she’d made him up. He looks down at her now with such warmth and Donna remembers their family, everything that they’ve shared, and the way that they were torn apart.

“I love you,” she says. It’s the first time she’s said it as this version of herself. “It’s so good to see you.”

Lee’s smile is so wide that it threatens to break his face and then he turns to glance behind him at the Doctor.

“But what happened?” Donna asks. She looks toward the Doctor for the answers that she’s pretty sure she already knows.

“I think,” the Doctor starts slowly, visibly trying not to launch immediately into his usual alien babble. “I mean, what I gather is that the Gefershguard – aliens, that is - possessed your friends and were trying to use you to gain enough energy to become corporeal on this planet. At least that’s what they claimed. I suspect it was only a step in their attempt to get back to their home planet, from which they’d been exiled.”

“What?” Donna asks.

“Back to First,” Lee repeats.

“Fersh,” the Doctor says. “Nevermind. It doesn’t matter now.”

She thinks she understands anyway. Donna remembers everything.

She remembers Fersh, and the canyon. She remembers how she and the Doctor weren’t there for one whole day before they’d stumbled upon some sort of underground Gefershguard crime ring. A group of Fershians who’d made a name for themselves selling chunks of their wonderful planet to the other crap planets in the system for an exorbitant fee, promising that if chunks of Fersh were allowed to seed and grow, every planet could be such a wonderland.

Donna remembers now that selling the planet has been a problem for Fersh before, and was therefore strictly forbidden. She remembers getting kidnapped, being nearly dropped into a glittering canyon of sharp rock, not conducive at all to a planet that forbids footwear. She remembers spending tedious days dealing with the Fershian government, and she remembers the two Gerfershguard’s faces that last day when they were condemned to spend the rest of their lives in exile.

More importantly, much more importantly, Donna remembers past Fersh. She remembers the Daleks and Rose and her Lee and the Library. She remembers the planets disappearing and that creepy hand bubbling in a jar of liquid. Donna remembers what they thought might happen if she stayed the way that she was, part Donna – part Doctor.

Then there was Susan, sitting there at her desk, eyeing Donna and constantly talking about all the things that she knew would set Donna’s head pounding, set her teeth on edge. Susan and Larry, sitting there waiting for her to explode, to burn up, something, hiring her right away, hardly even looking at her resume as soon as they heard her name. She’d thought it was great luck at the time, but perhaps there it was, everything done in revenge for an exile from the wonderful shoeless planet of Fersh. And John Smith there too, moving things right along.

Well,” Donna sighs after several minutes of silence. She grips Lee’s hand a little tighter. “Didn’t quite work out for them, did it?”

“Not quite,” the Doctor agrees. “Too strong for them, I’d guess.”

She wants to tell them. Tell them that she remembers it all. She wants to kiss Lee, hold him and never let him go, and she wants to punch the Doctor and hug him and punch him again. But she remembers the look on the Doctor’s face the first time, his fingers pressed to her temples, and she can’t be sure that she isn’t in danger still. She doesn’t feel it this time, she can’t feel it coming. She’s pretty sure there’s no Doctor left in her, but it might still be there. And she won’t lose them again.

“What about Susan? Larry?” Donna inquires. She’s having a hard time looking either of them in the eye.

“Old fashioned exorcism took care of it,” the Doctor promises. “They’re fine. The Gefershguard went back to Fersh. Susan and Larry won’t remember a thing about them.”

Donna’s mouth twitches at the sentence and the Doctor stares at her, frowns.

“How did you know what to do?” Donna asks.

The Doctor opens his mouth to answer and then pauses, contemplates the words before saying – “I looked into it after Susan winked at me. Remember that? Apparently the entities of Fersh blink sideways.”

“Where on earth do you go to research aliens?” Donna asks. She should stop this, she knows. She should let it go.

“Your headaches should stop now,” Lee assures her, probably also in an attempt to change the subject.

Donna stares at him for a moment, shakes her head and smiles, just a little. “Aliens,” she says, with a bit of disbelief. “I don’t know if I can believe it.”

Lee smiles back, says, “Everyone else on this planet has had a run-in with aliens. You were bound to see one sooner or later, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Donna agrees. “It’s too bad Larry won’t remember.”

“Why?”

“Well, some compensation would be in order, don’t you think? I mean, your boss tries to blow off your head, the least he can do is pay you a little more, right?”

Lee laughs and leans in to kiss her. As he pulls away Donna watches the Doctor nod, apparently very satisfied with himself, and step out of the room.

Lee forces her to spend a full night in the hospital and she in turn forces him to leave for a while, go get something to eat. And it’s then, when she’s alone, that she lets herself cry.

**

The next morning Lee takes her back to his flat in a taxi – he still hasn’t mastered driving. She lets him fawn over her for two days, making her questionable meals and curling beside her on the couch, his nose pressed into her hair. They talk about how it will be when she goes back to work and the few months left before her planned trip to Japan and Lee, finally, agrees to go with them.

“I love you too, you know,” Lee says, responding to her earlier declaration.

“I know,” Donna says, and then, curled in against Lee’s neck, she decides to tell him. “I remember.”

“Remember what?” Lee asks.

“Us. The Library,” Donna says. It’s the simplest answer.

Lee kisses the top of her head and is quiet for a while. Eventually Donna uncurls herself and looks up at him.

“We should tell John,” Lee says and then corrects himself. “The Doctor.”

“I will,” Donna agrees. “Once I’m sure I’m okay.”

“Donna,” Lee protests. He stands and looks down at her. “He told me what could happen. He – he said you’d die, burn up. He said you could never remember this ever or it would be your undoing – he –“

“I know all that,” Donna interrupts. “But something is different. I think I beat it somehow. Human-Time Lord metawhatever – somehow I escaped.”

“How?”

“I don’t know,” Donna says, and then she smiles. “Maybe the Doctor was wrong. Or maybe I’m just special.”

“Of course you are,” Lee sighs. He’s still upset, but he’s done arguing, resigned. He knows her, he knows that she won’t be persuaded, and he sits back down and slides an arm around her waist.

“If we tell him,” Donna says. “He might take everything away from me again.”

“John –“ Lee starts, and then pauses. Lee’s known the Doctor as John almost as long as he’s known the Doctor at all. “He was trying to save you.”

“He did,” Donna agrees. “But I won’t lose everything. Not again.” She’s okay. She can feel that she’s okay. She’s herself, entirely.

“We’d find you,” Lee whispers, kisses the skin behind her ear. “He’d help me find you.”

**

Lee tells her everything, how he saw her just as he was teleported out of the Library, how he tried to call for her and couldn’t get the words out. He tells her about going home to the Sterling Sphere, about how it didn’t feel the same anymore, like his heart didn’t belong there. He tells her about all of things he tried to do to move on, tells her that he thought he had moved on, finally, and then one morning he left his home to find the Doctor staring at his front door. He thought the Doctor was a nutter at first (“I don’t doubt that he is,” Donna interjects.), refused to listen to a word he had to say, but eventually the Doctor convinced him. He convinced Lee that all that he had to do was uproot his entire life and enter the ridiculous blue box and he would be transported through time and reunited with Donna, albeit a Donna who would not remember him and who could not ever be allowed to remember him no matter what.

“And you agreed?” Donna asks. “Just like that?”

“Well,” Lee smiles. “I thought he was lying and insane, didn’t I? He took me on a test trip, took me to some planet called Mars, just to show me that he could. I don’t know why he chose there. That planet is desolate, but it worked and eventually I agreed, but still I was convinced that he was out to steal everything that I had and planned to abandon me somewhere to die alone. I suppose I figured that it was worth the risk, as long as he didn’t decide to leave me on Mars.”

“Yeah,” Donna says. “He’s never been great with people.”

“And I was worried about you,” Lee admits. “He kept telling me that I couldn’t do anything that would remind you of anything that might have happened to you before, that I couldn’t mention the Library, the TARDIS, any of it. I was concerned that I was being selfish, that none of this would be safe for you, but the Doctor said that he’d been with you, that he saw how strong you were, how resilient, and that he was quite sure that you’d be safe with me.”

Donna smiles.

“There must have been something wrong with the TARDIS, because it took us three tries to get here to the right place at the right time. John kept hitting the console with a hammer made of rubber and cursing it and running around and the entire time I’m sitting there wondering if you’d even want to get to know me now, if you’d be the same you at all. John was trying to teach me this entire history about growing up in a city called Liverpool, meeting John through coworkers, deciding to move to London on a whim, and I couldn’t listen to any of it, could only think about how hard it was going to be not to kiss you as soon as I saw you. And then he introduced us and you were more beautiful than I remembered, funnier, lovelier, and I knew I’d never be able to thank him enough.”

“Funnier, lovelier. You think I’m going to let you have your way with me after this story ends, don’t you,” Donna accuses. “You’re just trying to butter me up.”

“Always,” Lee agrees.

**

The Doctor shows up again two weeks after Donna comes home from the hospital and he’s wearing a blue suit. Not the same blue suit, the one that went to live in that alternate world, some of Donna going along for the ride. This is a new suit, a little darker, and this time paired with a ridiculous bright green pair of trainers.

“You went shopping,” Donna observes. “Did the bank order new uniforms?”

The Doctor looks down at himself and sniffs, smoothes out the jacket. “I thought you’d like it,” he says.

“Oh, I do,” Donna says, only a partial lie. She does like the suit. The green tie and matching trainers are a bit much, but the suit is nice.

She wants to hug him, hold on and question him for hours about where he’s been, the trouble he’s undoubtedly been getting himself into. She holds her tongue, instead says. “I missed you.”

He frowns at her. “How long has it been?”

Donna shrugs and then she does hug him, holds him close and feels his two hearts beating against her chest.

“Did something happen?” the Doctor asks, but he’s holding her too and she thinks she feels his mouth press briefly to her shoulder.

“Yeah,” Donna says. “Something did, but it’s fine. Everything’s fine.”

“Why don’t you just tell him?” Lee asks her, later, after an evening of pretending nothing has changed.

“I will,” Donna says. “I’m going to.”

She wants to, she does. At first she held off because she was afraid she’d start yelling at him. She knows she would have started yelling at him, and while she’s not entirely sure that he doesn’t deserve it, she can’t bring herself to do it. She understands. The Doctor left Rose in that alternate world because he loved her. He did the same thing to Donna Noble.

The second reason is John Smith, of all people. She understands John now too. A rainy night with John Smith can be remembered fondly, and together they can move on. But a night with the Doctor is different, more complicated. Now that she knows what she did, what they did, remembers the things the Doctor said, she’s afraid of how the Doctor might react when he finds out. They’ve always had a good thing between them. A good solid platonic friendship and it’s worked for them, Donna had rarely if ever wanted anything more. She still doesn’t. She has Lee. Lee’s presence, even more than a few kisses in a bar and that one night together, confirms that in the TARDIS she was loved, that the Doctor tried to do things right by her, that sometimes - even when doing the most un-human of things - sometimes in some ways the Doctor was only human.

As it stands now, the Doctor thinks that they are safe. He thinks that they can all move forward, forming a new bond to replace the one that they lost when the Daleks returned and the planets began to disappear. He can leave and he can get into the sort of trouble he always manages to get himself into and he’ll know that he can come back to Earth and when he does, Donna and Lee will be there to offer a cup of tea to their strange friend who lies about his job and his life.

If the Doctor knows that Donna knows, knows now about how much the Doctor has actually needed her, he’ll run, she’s sure of it.

In the end, Donna just isn’t sure what she wants more, to try to go back to what they had before or to move forward with this new thing, this new understanding.

“I’m going to tell him,” Donna says, and it isn’t a lie. She will tell him. She’s just not sure when.

**

Susan is much quieter at work now. She’s cordial and friendly and they talk about their lives and the places that they want to go, the things they’ve always wanted to do. Donna no longer has migraines and Susan has become someone who Donna can honestly say she considers a friend. Larry is still a giant wanker, but Donna guesses she can’t have it all.

Her job is more tedious than she remembers it being back when she couldn’t remember anything else. Sometimes she catches herself staring at her computer, remembering the places that she’s seen, the things that she’s experienced and she wonders how a job in a small travel agency will ever be enough now. She wonders how planning other people’s weekend holidays to Paris can ever compare to standing in the snow on the Ood-Sphere or visiting a still thriving Pompeii.

And then she returns home and Lee is there, fighting with the stove or the television remote, and his face lights up when he sees her and she thinks she’s the luckiest woman alive and she has the Doctor to thank for that.

**

“I guess I should find a job,” Lee says one night, his body wrapped warmly around hers.

“How have you been paying for your flat?” Donna asks, thinking about it for perhaps the first time. He’d told her that he was taking an extended holiday, that he’d worked himself into the ground for years and felt that he deserved a bit of a break, was living off savings and would find a job in London at his leisure. She’d thought at the time that it sounded irresponsible and a little worrisome, that if she wasn’t so taken with everything else about him, it would be a real problem.

Lee shrugs against her.

“He’s been giving you money, hasn’t he,” Donna asks, and then answers herself. “He never has any money. Oh, you idiots. You two have been stealing money, haven’t you?”

“What? Of course not,” Lee says. “We sold my home in the Sterling Sphere. Emptied my account and then went to some planet – the name escapes me – that specializes in currency exchange. I guess things are more expensive in the 51st century than they are here in the 21st. Inflation, right?”

Donna is quiet for a minute letting this sink in, letting it push out the entire backstory she’s already thought up about Lee and the Doctor robbing banks in order to rent a flat in London.

“So you’re rich, is what you’re saying.”

Lee shrugs again.

“You’re kidding. Why in the world would you want to get a job?” Donna asks.

“What else am I doing to do?”

“How rich are we talking here? I could quit my job,” Donna offers. “We can extend our trip to Japan, really make a holiday out of it.”

“Do you miss it?” Lee asks her.

“Miss what?” Donna asks.

“Traveling,” Lee clarifies. “With John.”

“The Doctor? I’ve only just remembered it all a few weeks ago,” Donna says. “It’s too soon to know if I miss it, isn’t it?”

“But you will,” Lee concludes. “Miss it.”

“I missed you,” Donna says.

“We’ll go to Japan,” Lee says. “And then I’ll get a job. And then I’m going to ask you to marry me.”

“Oh really?”

Lee smiles. “I’m telling you now so that you’ll be prepared.”

“You already know what I’m going to say,” Donna says.

“It’s a safe bet, since we’ve sort of done this before, isn’t it?” Lee says and leans in to kiss her.

Donna kisses him back and says, “You’re bloody rich. I don’t believe it.”

Lee laughs and Donna pulls his arms tighter around her. “Sometimes I don’t think you can be real,” Donna says.

It’s not until the next morning over breakfast that Lee looks up from his coffee and says, “You know, you could tell him. If you wanted to, we could travel together, the three of us.”

“Is that what you want?” Donna asks.

“I already found what I want,” Lee says, simply. “It’s what you want that I’m concerned about now.”

“What I want has already found me,” Donna says with a shrug.

**

The Doctor shows up at her office, looking exhausted both physically and mentally. He glances at Susan and then comes to stand in front of Donna’s desk.

“What’s the matter?” Donna asks, knowing that he probably won’t tell her anyway.

The Doctor smiles at her, sits in the chair in front of her desk and says, “Nothing. Everything’s fine.”

Donna nods. “Did we have a lunch date?”

“No,” the Doctor says, looking distracted. “No, I don’t think so.” He glances over at Susan, smiles, and then starts playing with a cup of paperclips on Donna’s desk.

“Are you here to book a travel package?” Donna prompts.

“Sure,” the Doctor says with a sigh. “What have you got?”

“I’m not actually an agent,” Donna points out. “I’m the receptionist. You’d have to talk to Susan or Larry.”

Susan is eyeing the Doctor expectantly. It appears that her crush didn’t fade with the exorcism. The Doctor glances at Susan again quickly and then turns back to Donna and says, “It just hasn’t been a great day. At work.”

Eventually Donna convinces him to go to Lee’s flat, hang out there for a while, stay for dinner even, but when she gets home from work she finds Lee alone, sitting on the couch and chewing on his fingernails.

“Is John here?” Donna asks, in case he’s standing in the other room.

Lee shakes his head, but doesn’t stand up.

“What’s wrong?” Donna asks.

“I think I may have botched things up,” Lee admits, looking up at her.

“How?” Donna asks. She assumes that he meant that he melted the carpet with the iron again, something like that.

“I might have let it slip that – I might have accidentally. John – I’m sorry, the Doctor was here,” Lee tries to explain. “And I might have mentioned that, well, that you’ve remembered everything since –“

Donna’s mouth falls open and she forces herself to close it. “You didn’t,” she says. “Where is he now?”

“I didn’t mean to,” Lee says. “He was acting strangely, upset about something, said he’d just been to your office. I thought that you’d already told him and – I don’t know where he is.”

“He didn’t take it well?” Donna asks.

Lee shrugs. “He seemed happy enough, I guess. And then he started talking about shoes and before I could convince him to stay he was out the door and gone. It was weird.”

Lee apologizes again and Donna shakes her head and kisses his forehead, tells him that she’s glad it’s out in the open, glad they no longer have to pretend. Lee offers to help her look for the Doctor. It’s probably useless, she knows, he’s probably not in the same universe at all anymore, they’ll probably never see him again, but they leave the flat heading in opposite directions and Donna is only two blocks away when she looks down a side street and sees the TARDIS standing between two trash bins.

She stops and stares for a moment, then takes a deep breath and rushes toward it, knocking at the door and calling the Doctor’s name.

After a full minute of knocking, the Doctor lets her in.

**

The TARDIS is exactly how she remembers, even smells the same, old and a little musty like a museum. The Doctor shoves his hands into the pockets of his trousers and steps aside to let her pass. She walks around, touching the familiar console, the rips in the seat cushions where the foam insides peak out. Finally, she turns to the Doctor and says, “I thought you’d left.”

“Nope,” the Doctor says. “Still here.”

Donna nods, says, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” the Doctor asks.

“I meant to tell you,” Donna says. “I did.”

“I understand,” the Doctor says, and his shoulders are hunched a little like he’s folding in on himself, like he wants to disappear, but with Donna in the TARDIS he can’t, he’s stuck.

“It’s River Song, isn’t it?” Donna asks. “You’ve met her again.”

“Yeah,” the Doctor says, simply.

Donna closes the space between them and pulls the Doctor into a hug. Eventually the Doctor removes his hands from his pockets and hugs her back.

“But this is fantastic news, Donna,” he says, not releasing her. “Fantastic news.”

Donna laughs, wipes a traitor tear from the corner of her eye and says, “No help from you, though, was there? ‘Oh, Donna, you can never remember any of this or see me ever again. Oh hello! I’m John Smith with my two hearts and a bad habit for lying. Let’s see how long it takes for your head to explode, shall we?’”

“About that,” the Doctor starts.

“Just couldn’t stay away?” Donna asks.

“Well,” the Doctor says, but doesn’t continue right away. Instead he pulls out the sonic screwdriver and points it at Donna, apparently scanning to make sure she’s actually all right. Donna rolls her eyes and pushes it away.

“Well?” she prompts.

The Doctor stares at her for a moment, mouth hanging open slightly in thought, tongue pressed against the back of his teeth. She raises her eyebrows and waits.

Finally, the Doctor seems satisfied that she’s herself. He closes his mouth with a click of teeth and then says, “Now, let’s be fair. I had to make sure you didn’t get yourself into trouble, didn’t I? Like say, by getting yourself employed by two entrepreneurial revenge-seeking Gefershguard.”

“The Gefershguard,” Donna repeats. “You said they went back to Fersh. How?”

“I brought them,” the Doctor states, matter of fact.

”But they were exiled,” Donna says.

“They were,” the Doctor agrees. “And I’m pretty sure that the next time I try to return to the Fersh Planet, I’ll find I’m no longer a welcome guest. Still, it seemed the best solution.”

“I thought you might have - I don’t know, killed them or something. Worse.”

The Doctor just shrugs.

“How long has it been for you?” she asks. “You’ve been alone this whole –“

“I haven’t been alone,” the Doctor says. “I’ve had you.”

Donna nods, though it isn’t the same thing at all. She’d always said he needed someone, and it was so true, is still so true, but the real truth is that she’d always needed him just as much.

There’s a knock on the TARDIS door and Donna jumps at the unexpected noise.

“It’s probably Lee,” the Doctor guesses. “We’ve been in here a while.”

“Lee. Oh God,” Donna gasps. “I haven’t thanked you. I have to – for Lee. I can’t believe you were able to find him, I can’t believe you tried to find him. I wasn’t even sure he was real.”

The Doctor tries to wave this aside, says, “It was nothing” when it was so far from nothing.

Donna shakes her head and looks away, almost can’t handle him brushing this aside. “It isn’t nothing,” she says, and then closes the space between them, kisses his cheek.

“All right, all right,” the Doctor says, gives her a slight shove toward the door. “I felt I owed you. You’re welcome. Meanwhile your boyfriend is standing out there in the cold.”

Donna laughs and goes to open the TARDIS door for Lee.

**

“It’s funny,” Lee says, later when the Doctor is gone. “I thought sure he’d ask you to go with him again.”

“He’s moved on,” Donna says. “We’ve moved on.” One thing that she’s learned in all of this is that no one can travel with the Doctor forever. As it is, the Doctor’s departure is awkward enough, full of stilted sentences and promises to be in touch that soon give way to hugs and a few tears on Donna’s part, though she likes to think that the Doctor’s eyes looked a bit damp as well.

She goes back to work, listens to Susan complain about her mortgage. She gets together with her family for dinner and afterward she follows her grandfather up to his hill and together they stare up at the stars.

“I knew that Doctor would find a way to bring all of you back,” her Granddad says, and Donna hugs his arm and rests her head on his shoulder and doesn’t tell him that the Doctor didn’t have a whole lot to do with that part at all.

Donna lets Lee drag her out on hikes outside of the city, fishing in some lake he’d found recommended on the internet. She takes him sightseeing around London, and one weekend she takes him to the sea. Lee still talks about getting a job and Donna still talks about quitting hers.

She moves into his flat permanently and her mum says “It’s about time,” and for once Donna agrees.

Donna thinks she’s adjusting rather well to her new life, her new old awareness. A month passes with no sign of the Doctor and she tells herself that he’s busy, that he’s met River Song, and he won’t be back. Then one evening she comes home from work and Lee kisses her and says, “The Doctor was here.”

“What do you mean, he was here?”

“I mean, I was out buying groceries and when I got back to the flat the Doctor was standing in the kitchen,” Lee says. “Scared me, too. I thought he was a burglar.”

“Well, where is he now?” Donna asks. “What did he say?”

“He didn’t really say anything,” Lee says. “He watched me put away the groceries and spent an hour going on about the history of the turnip. I told him you’d be home soon, that he should stay, and he said that he was on a schedule and couldn’t possibly.”

“A schedule,” Donna snorts.

It happens again a few weeks later, only this time Lee doesn’t wait until she gets home, rings her up in the middle of the afternoon instead.

“He just left,” Lee says.

“He just left?” Donna repeats. “What, did he drop by to tell you all about courgettes this time?”

“He asked about you, actually,” Lee says. “I offered to call you, told him he should stop by the agency, but he said he didn’t have time. He’s a time traveler. I would have guessed he had all the time in the world.”

**

Donna fumes for a few days, tries to call the number that Lee has programmed into his mobile under John Smith, but no one answers. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this. Donna is being avoided, and not only is she being avoided, she’s being avoided in a way so that the Doctor is sure that she knows she’s being avoided. Of all the immature, childish –

“Donna,” the Doctor says, surprising her on the steps outside of Lee’s flat after work, It’s dark and she thought she was alone and when he suddenly appears behind her, she turns and slaps his arm.

“You idiot,” Donna says. “You scared me to death! What were you thinking?”

“Sorry,” the Doctor says. “Sorry.”

“What are you even doing here?” Donna accuses. “Didn’t expect me home so soon?”

“No, I’ve been waiting for you.”

“What for? Have you tired of avoiding me already? Oh, Doctor,” Donna reproaches, “I thought you, of all people, would have more stamina.”

“Donna,” the Doctor sighs, exasperated with her. He takes her arm and pulls her along so that they’re walking together along the pavement. Donna yanks her arm away, but continues to walk beside him.

“Why are you running from me now?” Donna asks, though it’s not a question she really expects the Doctor to answer. The Doctor never seems to want to talk about anything important, at least not directly, if he has the choice.

“I’m not running from anyone,” the Doctor lies.

“Ha,” Donna laughs in his face. “That’s all you do. You run and you dance circles around everything that’s important and then you run some more.”

“It’s what I do?” The Doctor repeats. “Well, once again, you and I are the same, Donna Noble.”

“Excuse me?” Donna asks.

“We’re the same,” the Doctor says, slower this time, infuriating her further. “I seem to recall having to hear that someone regained their memory several weeks after it happened from said someone’s boyfriend. A ha!” He stops and turns so that he’s standing in front of her, pointing a finger at her chest as though he’s caught her in some unspeakable act.

“Oh,” Donna says. “That’s what this is about? You want to know why I didn’t tell you?”

The Doctor seems to consider this for a moment and then says, “You know, I’m not actually sure I do want to know, thanks.”

“I didn’t tell you because I was afraid that you wouldn’t be able to handle knowing that you allowed yourself to get too close to someone who actually knows you. I didn’t tell you because I was afraid I’d never see you again. You’re like a silly child sometimes.”

The Doctor stares at her for a moment and then his solemn expression cracks into a smile. “Child?” he repeats.

“Yes,” Donna says, though she’s smiling a little now too. “Child. And look at that, I was right! It must kill you to have finally found someone more clever than you!” She’s just poking at bruises now. She doesn’t even believe half of what she’s saying.

“You’re actually not right at all, you know,” the Doctor says, crossing his arms across his chest with a smirk.

“I’m not?” Donna challenges. “How so?”

“Well, I was perfectly fine with what happened between us,” the Doctor says. “I’m glad that it happened.”

“Really?” Donna says.

“Of course,” the Doctor says and Donna watches as his smirk stretches into a grin. “It was wonderful.”

“Oh,” Donna says, and suddenly she’s the one who feels awkward about the whole thing. She’d planned to poke at him more, saying that she should have known, that he’d been trying to get her into bed from the beginning, and in the end all he had to do was erase her memory and she was his, but it isn’t true and it doesn’t feel appropriate, not now, and instead she says, “You weren’t so bad yourself.”

The Doctor is still smiling, nods. “Thank you, Donna.”

“But then what is it?” Donna asks and watches the smile finally slip from the Doctor’s face.

“You’re trying to move on. You don’t want to travel with me anymore,” the Doctor says, shrugs. “You thought I’d be hurt, and maybe I was a little, but I understand. No one ever stays forever.”

“You’d want me to come with you again?”

“I loved having you with me,” the Doctor says. “Lee would come too, of course.”

“I – I don’t know,” Donna says. She thought she was over it all. She thought she’d be fine with Lee and her job at the agency, and she would be. She’d be perfectly happy and safe and she’d marry Lee and have children and they’d grow old together. If they go with the Doctor, who knows what might happen. But how can she not go with the Doctor again given the chance? She’s turned him down before and she’s regretted it.

When it comes down to it, Donna needs the Doctor just as much as he needs her, just as much as she needs Lee.

“I’m taking Granddad to Japan,” Donna says.

“You can still do that,” the Doctor says. “You can still go to Japan with your family.”

“You could come too,” she says, and then thinks of the terrible trouble her family would end up in if he takes her up on the offer.

“Maybe,” the Doctor says, and the maybe reads more like a probably not, and Donna finds herself a little relieved. “Do you want to know why I’m here?”

“Why?” Donna asks.

“I came to tell you about the Yalto Belt.”

“The Yalto Belt?” Donna repeats.

“I was hoping it’d convince you to come with me,” the Doctor admits.

“You were going to try to seduce me with your fancy space words,” Donna translates.

“Would it work?” the Doctor asks.

Donna shrugs and links her arm with the Doctor’s. “Let’s find out. You can try it on Lee.”

**

“The Yalto Belt,” Lee says, eyeing Donna warily.

“Have you heard of it?” Donna asks.

“He hasn’t heard of it,” the Doctor says. “They haven’t traveled quite that far yet as of the 51st century. Four planets of unparalleled beauty. Yalto 1 boasts the healing waters of Yestoon, sparkling under a never setting sun.”

“Sounds hot,” Lee says.

The Doctor shakes his head at Donna and continues, “The planet of Yalto 2 is blanketed by the incandescent Yalta flower, softer than feathers and -

“Not very creative with names in the Yalto Belt, are they?” Donna interrupts, unable to help herself.

“Is it anything like Mars?” Lee asks, doubtfully.

“Oh, come on, Lee. I didn’t actually mean to take you to Mars,” the Doctor admits. “I was trying to take you to a lovely little planet called Mirz. With a ‘Z’. You would have loved Mirz. It’s spectacular.”

Lee shrugs, understandably skeptical of the Doctor’s navigational skills.
“The thing is,” Lee says. “Your friend River Song never met Donna, did she? So who is to say that this is what is supposed to happen? If we go to the Yalton, who –“

“The Yalto Belt,” the Doctor corrects.

“The Yalto Belt,” Lee repeats. “If we were to go with you, who is to say it won’t be the last place we ever visit? Who is to say that Donna will make it back again at all?”

“Lee,” Donna says. It hadn’t occurred to her that this would be a concern, but now that he’s said it, it seems so obvious to her that he should worry. The thing is, Lee has never been a traveler. The Lee that Donna knew for all of those years (hours, really) in a hard drive is a home body, would be happier with a quiet weekend of fishing than a blow out holiday in Japan.

The Doctor’s failing miserably in his space seduction. She’s starting to see that Lee won’t be convinced.

“Donna’s time line is not fixed,” the Doctor says. “It’s been manipulated and she was set on a course made not entirely of our own choices, but that’s over. Dalek Caan is gone and Donna’s life is her own. It there’s anything that’s to be learned in all of this, it’s that Donna Noble will succeed in setting her own course.”

“How about the spectacular Yalto 3, then?” Donna asks.

The Doctor nods and goes on, talking up Yalto 3, the Yaltan cuisine, the quality of the pillows made from the Yalta flower, the relaxation found in the spas on Yalto 1. Lee pays attention for less than a minute before turning to meet Donna’s gaze, his expression one that Donna can’t quite read. Donna silently implores him to let her in on his thoughts. If Lee would rather stay, than so be it, Donna will stay, and she thinks that she will probably be no less happy. Eventually the Doctor will become caught up in his adventures again, in his own extraordinary life and he’ll stop needing her. He’ll find someone else to save him, someone else with whom he’ll share the whole of space and time.

Soon he’ll stop coming back to Earth, stop popping in on them unannounced. They’ll see him the next time an alien crisis occurs and they’ll start to associate him with disasters and distress. Donna and Lee will take her family to Japan and they’ll marry and they’ll raise a family together. Planets like Yalto will seem dim when compared to her future here on Earth.

Donna stares back at Lee and sees them both with graying hair, a beloved family dog curled up by Lee’s feet. Because when it comes down to it, Donna knows that Yalto won’t be the fabulous vacation that the Doctor anticipates. Donna has been around long enough to know that there is some sort of trouble brewing on one of the Yaltos and if there is trouble, then the Doctor is certain to find it. Lee isn’t stupid. He knows this too. And there is that chance, that slim possibility that something really might happen to her, or worse to Lee, to the Doctor himself. There’s always that chance.

Donna trusts the Doctor with her life, but Lee can’t be expected to do the same. Lee is still watching her, searching her face for something that he can’t seem to find. Donna thinks she knows what that something might be – permission to turn the Doctor down. And that is when Donna makes up her mind. She’d planned to travel forever, helping the Doctor, saving people, but life rarely turns out as planned and Donna’s life, first unavoidably and now by choice, has found a new path.

Donna is about to give voice to her thoughts when Lee suddenly turns away from her, looks toward the Doctor instead.

“What was that last bit again?” Lee asks. “The bit about the fish and the waterfalls?”

“The pools of Yastoo,” the Doctor says. “The best fishing pools in the galaxy, full of the hard to catch, but rare and beautiful Yastoofish, a local delicacy? That bit?”

Lee is smiling now. He turns back to Donna. “That bit doesn’t sound so bad,” he admits.

“Really?” Donna asks, and the certainty of her decision melts away and is replaced with the excited butterflies of impending time travel. “Are you sure?”

“You’re coming with me then?” the Doctor asks and his face lights up in a way that makes Donna regret that she’d almost opened her mouth to turn him down.

“Why not?” Lee says, his voice sounding more sure now, his words steady. “What do people say? You only live once, right?”

“Well,” the Doctor says. “I suppose you do, yes.”

Donna reaches over to squeeze Lee’s arm and he smiles and places his hand over hers.

“If it doesn’t work out we can come back to Earth,” Donna assures him. “We can come back here whenever you want.” She is happy with his agreement, but the last thing she wants is for him to feel like he’s been coerced.

“Of course,” the Doctor agrees. “Of course.” He’s already standing, more than ready to get moving, get back to the TARDIS. He’s all smiles now though, grinning down at them stupidly.

“I guess we should pack,” Lee says, unsure of what the next step is now that he’s agreed to life as a time traveler, at least for a little while. He stands from the couch, following the Doctor’s lead.

“No need for packing,” the Doctor says. His hand is on Lee’s arm as soon as Lee stands, guiding Lee toward the door of the flat. He leans in and says "Wait until you see my wardrobe."

Out on the street Donna and Lee rush to keep up with the Doctor, and Lee says "am I supposed to be impressed by a wardrobe?"

Donna laughs and Lee raises his voice so that it catches up with the Doctor, says, "I'm not sure we're the same size, you know."

The Doctor turns and responds, but he disappears around a corner before they can catch what it is that he says.

"He's always like this, isn't he," Lee says, as though he thought the Doctor might mellow out as soon as the entire Donna business was resolved once and for all.

Donna smiles as they turn the corner and nearly walk right into the side of the TARDIS, one of the doors standing open just a crack. Donna touches the blue wood of the door frame.

"He'll win you over," she says, and then pushes the door to step inside.

**

“Welcome back, Donna Noble,” the Doctor grins, standing aside for Donna and Lee to enter the TARDIS. Donna expects him to already be at the controls when they enter, firing things up, ready to leave Earth behind. Understandable when one considers that the Doctor has probably spent more time on the planet in the last eight months than he has in years. She jumps a little when she pushes open the door only to find him standing there waiting to greet them instead.

Donna takes a deep breath, almost can't believe that she's back, and steps past the Doctor and into the TARDIS. Lee follows, claps the Doctor on the back, a friendly gesture, but a little too rough so that the Doctor loses his balance for just a moment.

“Lee,” the Doctor says, adding him to the welcome.

Lee looms over the console, staring at the buttons and levers. For a few hours Donna knew those buttons as well as the Doctor. Now she only remembers the purpose of one or two of them, a lever here, a button there.

“So you’ve fixed it then?” Lee asks, reaching out to touch the edge.

The Doctor slaps his hand away and says, “Fixed what?”

“The TARDIS,” Lee says, waving a hand to encompass the room in his statement.

The Doctor turns to Donna for help, mouth hanging open just a little.

“Lee doesn’t think much of your navigational skills,” Donna explains. "I think he's hoping it was a fault in the - something."

“Doesn’t think much of my – how many times must I apologize for Mars?”

Lee crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against the edge of the console. He keeps his mouth set in a line, but Donna can see the twitch of a smile trying to emerge. He’s having fun with this. “How do we know we won’t end up on the inhospitable planet of Yanta or someplace equally as bad?”

“Because there is no planet called Yanta,” the Doctor says.

Lee shrugs. “Just an example.”

“My navigational skills are fine,” the Doctor sniffs. “And what the TARDIS lacks in accuracy, she makes up for in the – in the blind pursuit of adventure. Where's your sense of adventure, Lee?" he asks, looking Lee up and down as though he thinks Lee might have just forgotten it back at the flat.

The Doctor is reacting as though Lee has insulted his manhood and then Donna pauses and realizes that that’s exactly what Lee is trying to do. Donna rolls her eyes. Here she thought that maybe Lee had forgotten her admission weeks ago, months, to a night spent with the Doctor. Forgotten, or was perhaps a big enough man that he wouldn't let it bother him, could let it go and move on. Apparently not without having a little fun first.

“Oh, no way, you two. This TARDIS is not large enough. No fighting. I'm not going to be able to stand the two of you together if it's all going to be fighting,” Donna says, putting her foot down. The last thing she wants to deal with is two grown men bickering through time and space.

Lee snorts. He's unable to keep his straight face any longer and breaks into a smile. He looks down, tries to hide it, and shakes his head.

The Doctor looks from Lee to Donna and then hits a lever. He’s smiling now too and he punches a button, holding on as the TARDIS lurches forward and the room is filled with that familiar hum that sounds exactly like ‘welcome home’ to Donna's ears. Donna grips the rail and Lee, unprepared, stumbles, nearly falls before the Doctor reaches out to steady him.

“Thanks,” Lee says, and holds the edge of the console, watches as the Doctor presses more buttons, turns a dial, and runs his fingers across the display screen.

The Doctor turns to look at Donna over Lee’s shoulder and then he scoffs at her and says, “Fighting. You wish.”