It was an expression that never failed to shake him. She was so bright, so full of life. She was also quite beautiful, causing certain emotions to stir that hadn't for some time. He'd no reason to dismiss them. Not any more. He was no longer governed by Peacekeeper regulations, seeing as they thought he was dead and he hadn't seen fit to correct them of that misunderstanding. Unfortunately, the freedom to express himself meant he'd done so rather bluntly, and caused something of a division between him and Donna.
Bialar sighed. He'd been bullishly stupid. A result of her pulling away every time he got close, despite being as attracted to him as he was her. He'd known why. He'd been woken by her terror too many nights, held her too many times to remain unaware of the wounds she carried. It was selfish and really rather ridiculous to expect more from her than she was willing to give, yet he couldn't help but feel slighted.
He'd pushed almost too far. Had almost lost her. The memory of her fury still tasted of the panic he'd felt on Talyn. But Donna had a bigger heart and had forgiven him. It had been her to edge them past that breaking point, had returned them to safer ground. Now they'd come to a little commerce planet in the middle of nowhere, Donna having traded his taking her to a new world for the promise of finally telling him what was troubling her.
Bialar knew some of it. The interface that had joined her mind to Talyn's awareness had taken the alien consciousness from her, both saving her life but allowing him to glimpse snatches of her time with a man she called the Doctor.
Only snatches, but enough to make him wonder if he truly wanted to know more.
It seemed Donna was wondering if she wanted to tell him, because her smile slipped and she gave a soft sigh. “Right, then, Spaceman. Let's get this over with.”
She got up from the co-pilot's seat and went to the hatch, her pace brisk. Bialar rose slower. “If you do not wish to tell me–”
“We had a deal.” She sounded firm, but he caught the slight quiver beneath her tone. She didn't look back at him. “And I want to. Sort of. I think... I think it's time you knew everything.”
There was no arguing with her when she was in that sort of mood, so he didn't even try. The hatch opened on a blast of hot, dry air. He shrugged off his jacket and followed her out. She walked across the landing area in a determined fashion that made it seem she knew where she was going. Bialar knew she didn't, but kept his mouth shut. Donna had a temper that, though he'd hardly seen it, matched his own and he didn't want to fight.
He never wanted to fight with her again.
A shudder wracked him at the recall of their altercation on Talyn. He'd been stupid and let his libido do the talking, and hurt her in the process. Not that she hadn't managed a few well-aimed barbs in return. That she could prick his pride was indicative of how deep his feelings towards her already ran. Perhaps that's what happened when a woman literally fell into one's arms.
Beyond the landing zone, the city was a chaotic mix of towering metal structures and little wooden hovels. The divide between rich and poor was palpable, and Bialar hated how it reminded him of his own homeworld. He didn't like to think of that, of what he'd been forced to leave. Even now, after all these cycles, the forced recruitment rankled.
Donna was threading through the crowd some way ahead. He jogged to catch up, then procured her hand and tucked it in the crook of his elbow. She arched an eyebrow, though amusement twitched her lips. Her gaze returned to the buildings around them, then she must have spotted whatever she was looking for, as she dragged him over to one side.
It was a two-storey affair with a glass front and an awning stretched over a fenced-off area. This was dotted with rickety looking chairs. Donna stepped through the open gate and settled down at one of the round tables. Her glance was expectorant. He sighed and sat opposite her. A waiter appeared, notebook in hand.
“Your most alcoholic beverage, please,” she ordered, her tone flat. Bialar added a hot drink for himself to the order, then propped on elbow on the table. Watching her, he saw a guarded tension settle over her face, and that she avoided looking at him. The subdued silence was very different to her usual energy.
“I met a man.” Her tone was monotone and her expression blank. This was not Donna. Not the Donna he knew. “His name was Lance. We worked at the same place. He... bought me coffee. I thought he liked me. I thought... We had this headlong romance, got engaged, were going to get married. Back then that was everything I wanted. All that I thought I could achieve. I mean, I was just a temp. Nothing special.”
She sounded so sad, and Bialar hated that as much as her words. He wanted to tell her how she wasn't “just” anything to him, that she was special, but forced himself to hold his tongue. She was not finished.
“Then on the day of our wedding, me in my dress and walking down the aisle, I got swept up into the Doctor's world. I–”
Donna's voice cracked. As she gathered herself, the waiter returned with their drinks. She grabbed her glass and downed a third of the drink. She gasped, blinked hard, then gave a short laugh. “Whoa, that's the stuff. Okay, where was I? The Doctor. Yeah. I wasn't meant to have beamed up or whatever I did. Those coffees Lance had been getting me, they were... poisoned, sort of, and... well, I guess that's not very important. You see, he'd never loved me. I was just someone he could use to get what he wanted. He only asked me to marry him so I'd stick around. And I was so desperate, so stupid, that I fell for him.”
This time, he couldn't help it – he took her hand, gripped it tight. “You are not stupid.”
~I see it~
Talyn's sudden thought jolted Bialar. He focused his mind on the link. “What do you mean?”
A huge room that looked industrial, with a huge hole in the floor. A creature almost as large, blood red, with eight legs and the head of a woman. A dark-skinned man with a sneer on his face.
The vision/memory came with a sense of betrayal, and hurt so great his own eyes smarted.
But I love you... That's what made it easy.
Donna hadn't noticed his distraction. “I was, though,” she continued in that soft, sad voice. “I never amounted to much. Never thought beyond myself. The best thing I could achieve was to get married, have kids. I didn't think there could be more.” She looked up then, her eyes damp. “Not until I met the Doctor.”
“Who then wiped your mind.” It wasn't a question – he knew the alien had done exactly that.
She nodded, but didn't comment on it. “It took me nearly a year to get over what Lance had done,” she said. “In that time, I also came to realise how little I'd been willing to settle for. So when I got the chance to travel through time and space...” She smiled, her eyes foggy with memory. “It was... terrifying and wonderful. I never wanted it to end. But it did, and yeah, he did.”
Bialar frowned down at his cup. “Then how is he so wonderful? You talk about him as if he is so special, but he betrayed you, Donna. Betrayed and then abandoned you.”
Her bottom lip quivered and she tugged her hand free from his. He realised that in his anger, he'd said something that had hurt her. Again. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.”
Donna sighed. “It's true, though, isn't it? But he didn't do it to hurt me. He did what he believed was right, what would save my life.” She took a drink, then sat there with the glass cupped in her hands. “It was the wrong thing, but that doesn't make everything we did together bad. You can understand that, yeah?”
Not everything he'd done whilst a Peacekeeper had been bad. “I can. I do. I know that this has been very hard on you, Donna.”
“It's so strange,” she said, frowning. “I know what happened between me and Lance was over two years ago, but... I remember it all so clearly it seems like days. I'd dealt with it once, then I forgot. I mean, I knew something was missing. Everything felt off. I can't explain how really.” She chased a droplet of condensation down the side of her glass. “Now it's all back in my head, and it's like just days have passed, and I'm having to deal with it again. That's why...”
Bialar put a hand over hers. “I realise that now. I am sorry. You must be so confused, and then I did not help by pushing so hard.”
“You deserved to know what was going on.” Her smile was pained. “I really haven't meant to tease you, Bialar. Just... everything's changed. I need to sort myself out before–” Colour flushed her face. “You'd think I would have learnt about jumping into things, wouldn't you?”
“I am glad you have not. It would be a shame for your heart to be so guarded.” Now he understood her occasional reticence towards him, he would ensure that he did not make her feel pressurised or afraid again. It seemed a true quirk of fate for someone in need of gentle care to have ended up with a man who knew next to nothing about such things. “Perhaps you could have fallen into better company, but as this is what you have, then I can only promise that I will never intentionally hurt you. I am willing to be guided by you, to go at your pace.”
Her smile lit her eyes. “You're perfect company,” she told him, shifting her hand so that her fingers linked his. “I couldn't have done better.”
“I sincerely doubt that.”
“Oi.” The word was hard but the squeeze of his hand was gentle. “I don't. You saved my life, because you're used to thinking quickly. I can't think of anyone else who could have done that, Bialar. Not even the Doctor.”
He snorted at that. “Then perhaps you could stop comparing the two of us. I am not him. I would never abandon you.”
“Good,” she retorted with a toss of her head. “Because I've no intention of getting left behind. I made my choice and I haven't changed my mind.” She paused and looked at him. “I can't imagine that I ever will.”
Bialar held her gaze. There was so much in her eyes, he found himself unable to speak. He settled for laying his other hand over their joined ones. He'd no idea why she liked him, but he was very glad that she did. He cleared his throat.
“Good,” he managed, his voice a little rough. “So what now?”
Donna grinned, and the last of the shadow left her eyes. “Now? We're in an alien city, Spaceman, so I reckon we ought to sample the ambience. And by ambience, I mean I need to do some shopping.”
She slipped her hand free of his and bounced out of her seat, already looking beyond the café to the sights and sounds of the rest of the city. He chuckled, relieved at the return of her usual cheery nature. While she still had to get over the recollection of her memories, and the pain that came with them, he knew she won't allow them to effect her enjoyment. Her spirit was as large as her heart, and just as wonderful.
He determined that nothing and no one would quash either again.