Doctor Who; the Doctor, Donna
PG, 600 words
Summary: "So," she says. "So," he agrees.
Notes: A coda to Forest of the Dead; spoilers.
"Doctor," says Donna, as he walks into the TARDIS. "You did it? You saved her?"
He nods, and his smile is so happy and fragile that it nearly breaks her heart (probably would break her, if it weren't for the weight of loss that's already in her bones; it doesn't matter if none of it was real, because she felt it, and she understands why it is that parents never recover from the loss of their children, not really).
"So," she says.
"So," he agrees.
Usually, he'd be bustling with life and new adventures by now, telling her in bright and brittle tones about the next magnificent place he's got lined up for her, racing around his console like a kid on Christmas Day. Today, after this, he doesn't.
"Doctor," she says again, and then it's all coming out, a burst of thought and feeling, and she's not sure whether she's saying it to get him to talk to her or for her own catharsis. "Everyone I've met, everyone I've heard about who knew you, they--" Rose was trapped somewhere she was never supposed to be; Martha, a soldier fighting for what her family were almost killed for; Professor Song, who loved him so much that she gave her life just so she could meet him; Jenny, his own daughter that died before she'd even lived. A shiver runs through her, and Donna says, quietly, "They're not the same, not after they've met you."
The Doctor looks at her silently, and she struggles not to back away, because suddenly she sees it, the heartache in his eyes, the innumerable people he's already seen leave him, centuries before she met him.
"Oh God," she murmurs. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't--"
He shakes his head. "No, no they're not the same. But you're all so . . . so finite, limited, trapped in your own world, your own time, and I'm able to take you out of that, show you all the universe. Change you, maybe, for the better. And I can't . . ." he falters.
"Do this alone," Donna finishes. "I know. I really do know."
He falls back into silence, and starts pulling leavers and twirling dials. She leans back against the TARDIS wall, doing her best not to become utterly lost in her own head, the way she has been for years (or so it feels). The quiet is odd, because she can't actually remember a time both of them have stopped talking for this long before. And in the emptiness, the spaces, there are other voices. I'll find you, I'll find you . . . Who are you? . . . Spoilers . . .
Donna blinks, barely noticing that the TARDIS has already touched down.
"Come on," the Doctor says.
He takes her hand, and they slowly step out onto a new world. It's night, but the sky is full of blinding light. Stars shoot across the panorama, white and blue and silver, forming criss-cross patterns as they fall, as they fly. She squeezes his hand a little tighter, awed and a little in love with the beauty he's laid out for her.
Donna folds herself into his grasp, head titled back to catch the starlight, her heart lightening in her chest. "It's--" she starts, and then realises there's nothing else she can say save, "thank you."
The Doctor turns to her. "Donna Noble," he says, little above a whisper, "I will never let anything happen to you, I swear."
She smiles, exultant and alive in the cold night air, and she wishes she could believe him.