The feeling, the first time it hits, completely blindsides you, makes you stagger under its weight. You aren’t doing anything special, just relaxing in the TARDIS after toppling yet another dictatorship on yet another alien planet. You’re working on the console, and Donna is sitting on the jumpseat, keeping you company. Your back to her, you ask her where she wants to go next. When no reply comes, you turn to ask her what’s wrong. And your words get stuck in your throat.
She’s asleep, apparently tired out from running all day. Her magnificent red hair was splayed out on the seat, framing her face and making her look absolutely breathtaking. A wave of…something washes over you, and you had to stop yourself from touching her, stroking her hair and caressing her face.
The feeling, whatever it is, scares the crap out of you. So you spent the next few days trying to reason it away. A few times you think you’ve succeeded, and then she goes and does something brilliant and makes you fall for her all over again. Every time she laughs in delight, or gasp in wonder, you feel your hearts clench and you swear to yourself that you will do whatever it takes to make her feel that way again.
Then you remind yourself that this is a bad idea, a very bad idea. When you asked her along, you said you only wanted a mate, and you meant it. You wanted someone you can laugh with, and cry with, and to lean on when everything gets to be too much. Well, she’s proved to be the best mate you’ve ever had, and you don’t want to ruin that. Romance only complicates things, hurts the people involved.
So you shove your feelings down, down, down, until you’re sure she won’t see it, and takes her on adventure after adventure. And if you search out her hand every time you run, it’s only to make sure she keeps up; and if you hold her too close every time she hugs you, it’s only because you’ve never been good with personal boundaries. You almost get yourself to believe it, too.
But then Midnight happens, and it breaks down every single one of your defenses. When she hugs you just after you step off the bus, you cling to her like she’s the only thing keeping you from falling apart. She must have sensed it, because she never lets go of your hand, not once, until you’re safely inside the TARDIS again. That night she never lets you out of her sight, and you’re pathetically grateful for it, because you don’t think you can stomach being alone.
And then, then you understand. This isn’t romance. It’s nothing like romance. You’re not joking about “dancing” or talking about chips and first dates on another planet. This is just love and affection, condensed to its very basic form. This is about how she understands things about you that no one has in centuries.
When she sees you, she doesn’t just see your physical form, the superficial things that change with every regeneration, but instead sees your mind and your soul, the things that make up who you are. You’re utterly convinced that if you regenerate tomorrow, she’ll take about five minutes to get over the weirdness and then go back to treating you just the same.
That’s the thing you admire most about her. She sees you, all the broken, jagged pieces of you, and she loves you not in spite of them, but because of them. And she does love you, you know that. She’s told you as much. She’s just not in love with you, not in the way you desperately want her to be. But that’s all right. You’re her best friend, and she’s yours. Even if that is all that you’ll ever be, it’s enough, more than enough, for you to be happy.
Sometimes, just sometimes, though, when you’re alone with your thoughts and you remember that someday, somehow, you’re going to lose her, you can’t help but wonder if this is what it feels like to love someone so very much, and to have them see right through you.
And so it goes.