Donna Noble stood at the window and looked out at the stars. Once upon a time she believed they were constant. Now she knew they were anything but. The stars could change, could be changed.
They could be wiped from existence.
She shuddered and folded her arms. Hugged herself tight. Regaining her memories made them fresher, as if the events had happened recently rather than over a year ago. It also made for unpleasant nightmares, which was why she was awake.
Sighing, she turned away from the window and took in the room. Hers, though it didn't feel like that yet. Oh, it was clean and neat, complete with basic amenities, but that was the problem – it was basic. The grey walls were cold and hard, all military straight lines that lacked personality and needed a woman's touch. Much like the captain, she thought with a smirk.
A soft hiss of air startled her. She looked up as the door slid open, glared at the man on the threshold.
"I thought the controls were calibrated just to me," she said in a flat voice.
Bialar Crais shrugged a shoulder. "Talyn told me you were awake. I believed there was something wrong."
Her irritation evaporated in the face of his concern. She unfolded her arms and dropped to sit on the edge of the bed.
"Not everything I remember is a good memory." She hitched her own shoulders. "Bad memories are keeping me up. It's not a big deal."
"Large enough, if it's keeping you awake."
He walked into the room, his gaze shifting over the few changes she'd managed to make. It didn't surprise her that he'd noticed them; Bialar was not a man to miss even the subtlest of alterations. His expression gave no indication of what he thought and Donna found herself with the urge to excuse what she'd done, even though he'd given her permission to make changes.
It was his presence, she realised; the powerful aura of command that had silenced a pub full of people and drawn her like a magnet. She wasn't sure if it was down to his military training or a more natural part of his personality, but either way the result was the same. He still made the hairs stand up along her arms, still made her shiver by mere proximity.
"You don't need to worry about me," she told him as he plonked himself down next to her. "I'm alright."
"Of course you are. There's nothing abnormal at all about not being able to sleep."
His sarcasm startled her. It hinted at a wry humour she'd not been aware of him having. Apparently the stringent military training had missed a few rough spots. She smirked at the thought, but her amusement faded as she considered his statement.
"Okay, so it is. That doesn't mean I want you to worry about it."
She regretted the words the second they were out of her mouth. Bialar's expression hardened and he shrugged.
"Then I won't," he said and stood up. She grabbed his hand.
"Don't." She rested her forehead against the back of his hand, absorbing the warmth of his skin. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that, I... Oh, I don't know what I meant. I'm just pissy and taking it out on you and I'm sorry."
She closed her eyes to hold the tears back. She was so damned tired, so damned sick of feeling at odds with everything. Leaving Earth was supposed to stop her feeling that way. It hadn't and she wanted to know what would.
A soft touch brushed over her hair. She gripped his hand tighter, holding onto the one thing that could ground her. She gave a muted moan of distress.
Bialar drew her to her feet and into a much needed embrace.
Tears thickened her throat. She buried her face into the crook of his neck. "I don't even know why I'm crying," she complained plaintively. "I'm not sad! I wanted to come."
"Coming with me meant leaving... everything you knew. Even though you wanted it, that doesn't make the choice any easier."
"That's not fair."
"Life isn't, I'm afraid."
A subtle reminder that he knew what he was talking about, that he understood her confliction because he'd been there, done that. She hugged him tighter, comforting as much as sought comfort.
"No," she murmured. "It bloody sucks."
"Sometimes." His hand trailed over her hair again. "But not always."
His voice carried a distinct undercurrent. Donna pulled back and looked at him. He smiled back and the warmth in his eyes made her stomach fizz pleasantly. She bit her lip and fiddled with the neckline of his top.
"Not always," she allowed. Pulling herself together with a sniff, she tossed her head and met his gaze again. "Okay, I'm done. No more moping. So did you want anything other to check whether I was alright?"
"Actually, I did. I want to show you something."
She let him lead her across the room, back to the window. Amongst the stars floated a small, yellow planet. She broke from the arm draped across her shoulders and stared out, entranced.
The TARDIS had disappeared in one place to appear in another. It had rarely hovered in space above an alien world and Donna realised that she'd missed a fair bit by arriving directly. She'd missed the sight of a sunrise from space, the turn of the planet as it spun on its axis, the ability to look down and admire from a distance.
"What do you think?"
"That's... that's the one I chose?"
"Absolutely. Talyn's picked up some planetary communications from the central city, which appears to be called Dalara."
She glanced at him and smiled. "When are we going down, then?"
"Now, if you'd like." He tilted his head. "Unless you'd rather sleep."
"Oh, yes, because I'm going to be able to with an alien world outside my window!" She laughed and took his arm. "Come on. I want to see it!"
Bialar glanced over at Donna as he piloted the transport pod through the planet's atmosphere. Her flushed cheeks and wide eyes revealed the depth of her excitement and he smiled, finding it somewhat contagious.
He landed the pod in a flurry of dust. She was out of her seat almost before the engines finished powering down. Chuckling at her eagerness, he activated the hatch and it slid upwards. A gust of heated air blew into the compartment, making him glad that he'd forgone his jacket.
His hand dropped to his pulse pistol. "What?"
"The sky is purple!"
A laugh escaped him and he released his grip on the pistol. Going into the rear section, he saw that Donna had already descended the steps, which was a little disconcerting.
"Didn't you think to wait? It could have been dangerous out here."
She pointed up. "The sky is purple."
He looked. The cloudless arch above was indeed a pale blue-pink.
"Well, yes. It's a result of the sun's gamma radiation on certain particles in the upper atmosphere."
Donna screwed her face up. "Ugh, I should have known you'd be a science geek. Just what I need – someone getting clever in..." She frowned. "What language do you speak anyway?"
"So that's what species you are?"
"Yes." He descended the steps and gave her a curious look. "Anything else you'd like to know?"
"Oh, lots." She grinned at him. "I'm spreading them out though. I rather like the mystery."
He laughed at that. She smirked impishly and procured his left hand. It still felt curious to be so linked, though the gesture wasn't as foreign as Donna probably thought it was. He knew that he'd not shared much of his past previous to the Peacekeepers, but oddly it was easier to tell her about those cycles. Possibly because there was little emotional attachment to them. Opening his heart about his family was harder, even though he trusted her.
As they walked down the incline to the city below, Bialar considered the curiosity of how Donna had already gained a place in his life. Had from the moment he'd seen her in the... pub, she'd called it. He couldn't put a finger on why, just that there was something about her, something he'd recognised.
He believed that she'd recognised the same something in him.
"What was your initial impression of me?" he asked her, curiosity getting the better of him.
She glanced at him, an amused smile playing about her lips. "Why d'you ask?"
"Well, it must have been reasonable. After all, you did come after me. I presume you wouldn't have followed me if you'd been afraid."
"Why ever would I have been afraid of you? You saved my life." She shook her head, but her eyes were smoky with memory. "The first thing you did was to pull me back, then stand between me and those... bug things. I was scared to death, but somehow I knew I'd be okay, that you wouldn't let them hurt me."
"I told you that," he reminded her and she nodded.
"I know, and I believed you. That's why..." She took a breath and released it as a soft sigh. "Mum was scared, because she didn't understand you when I did. I guess she realised that I'd still got the TARDIS in my head and it was translating. She wanted to get me away, from the situation. From you, probably, but then she had spent a year trying to stop my head imploding."
"Yes, I imagine that would have been stressful." Bialar frowned, less than impressed at her being abandoned in such a state. Perhaps their path would cross the Doctor's one day. He hoped so; he had a few choice words that he wanted to say to the Time Lord. "But you... were curious?"
"About you? No, why on Earth would I be curious about a tall, dark, handsome alien that charged into the pub like he was John Wayne, saved my life and then disappeared into the crowd? I should have written it down and made a million on the movie rights."
He'd heard one thing. "You think I'm handsome?"
Donna blinked. Her mouth opened and shut a few times and then her cheeks went pink. "I... um, well, um, you're not bad. I suppose." Her expression turned indignant. "That was not why I followed you!"
"I didn't say that it was." He tried not to grin at her. Failed. She rolled her eyes and hit his arm. He swallowed the somewhat giddy feeling and sobered. "So you were curious. But about where I came from and not... any other reason."
"You seemed to know what had happened and I... I wanted to know why I'd be singled out. When you mentioned hearing a song I almost remembered, like when you see a face and almost recall the name. When I followed you, I knew it was dangerous, that I was risking more than I realised."
Bialar nodded. "There were... defences, for want of a better word, in your mind. I believe they were designed to put you off from investigating anything that would have triggered the memories."
"I didn't care. I was so sick and tired of everyone treating me like something fragile, of living half a life. Then I did start to remember and my head hurt so much and I-I didn't want to die."
Hearing her side of the story made Bialar remember how pale she'd been, soaked to the skin by the rain, staring at him with eye eyes as she'd begged him to help her. He shuddered and pulled her abruptly to him, hugging her tightly to reassure himself that she was okay.
"I'd never have allowed that," he murmured. "Never."
She'd stiffened at his touch, but now she relaxed, put her arms around his shoulders. Then she pulled back and looked at him.
"I never thanked you for that," she said. "And I should have done. You saved my life."
"I was honoured to," he replied and she blushed again. Then she leaned in and kissed his cheek gently. He jolted and she smiled at him.
"Thank you, Bialar."
He worked his mouth, then managed, "You're most welcome." Her smile broadened and he was assaulted by several thoughts that were not particularly helpful. He coughed and disengaged himself from her. "Ah, shall we go? We still have the city to look at."
She took his hand. He noted that since she'd come round, they had been in almost continuous physical contact in one form or another. When he considered that the only relationship he'd had that came close in terms of time was his affair with Darinta Larell, he thought the fact should bother him.