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Gallifreyan Productions

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The day outside was far too bright for Donna’s delicate sensitivities. She scrunched her eyes shut as the early morning rays got her right in the eyeballs once she entered the kitchen; shuffling about in her nightdress and dressing gown.

Days off are supposed to go better than this, even when they are enforced days off. Her previous temp job had finished the day before and she was left idling; waiting for the call from the temping agency. Already her mother had begun the accompanying litany about her getting a permanent position with the promise of a mortgage and future grandchildren; as if the two were linked. Donna huffed a sigh as she thought about the latest ear-battering she had received, the night before. Just what she needed. Not.

She took a sip of her first coffee of the day in a vain attempt to rally her spirits. Alas, it didn’t work. But a mini miracle happened; the phone rang.

“Hello. Donna Noble speaking. How can I help you?” she immediately broke into her well-rehearsed spiel.

“Hello, Donna,” came a smooth female voice she instantly recognised. “Patty here from the agency. Sorry this one’s a bit late, but we’ve just had a call requiring your services.”

“Ooh! Where?”

“Gallifrey Productions, in Wembley Road. They need a secretary to cover some maternity leave for at least six weeks,” Patty replied. “Do you think you could get there as soon as possible? They’re a little bit desperate by the sound of it. Report to reception there and they’ll give you all the details. You know the ropes.”

“Will do. Thanks, Patty,” Donna confidently answered, and then politely ended the call.

As soon as possible, eh? She’d have to get her bum in gear and get dressed pretty sharpish, she realised. Donna rushed upstairs and surveyed her wardrobe for a suitable clean outfit.

Best to play it cool and go classical, she decided, and chose a simple white blouse and dark pencil skirt combo that would look the part. Secretaries were her forte after all, and she could learn the logistics of a new office in less than two hours; the office hierarchy in a similar time.

Grabbing up a pair of power dressing stiletto court shoes to take with her, she ran down the stairs to pick up her coat; and only then remembered that her usual wool coat was currently in the washing machine, having had some annoying brat of a kid on the bus drop their ice cream down the side of it the previous day. Damn! She would probably have to go with her parka, her old grey faithful Puffa coat, and dress better when the opportunity arose. Anyway, who bothered to look at the coat? Especially if she was hidden at the back of an office full of jobsworths. People who automatically judge you, a little voice in her head unhelpfully pointed out. But she had to ignore it because there was no other option unless she wanted to go without anything and risk getting soaking wet.

She opened the front door and peeped out. The miserable drizzle from a shower of rain had already begun, and things could go either way. Yep, best not to chance it, she decided, and made a grab for the Puffa and defiantly shrugged it on along with her comfy wellington boots. Sod ‘em if they wanted to deem her unfit! She’d be there to help with their paperwork, not swan up and down in a fashion parade. Anyone who criticised her choice of clothing would get the sarcastic retort she’d been saving up for such an occasion.

A few seconds later she was striding confidently down the road towards the nearest bus stop to catch the number 111 going to Hounslow, and greet her new commute for the next six weeks.

~o0o~

A quick search on her phone soon told her the basics of Gallifrey Productions and what it got up to. Apparently it produced specialist film effects as part of a whole package; science fiction being its main speciality. The website she viewed reeled off the names of several high profile films she had heard of and/or seen. It was impressive reading as her journey chugged on.

By the time the bus made its way passed the railway station and entered Wembley Road, most of the seats on the bus were completely empty and there as only one other person sitting on the bottom deck. They must have easily covered half of the route that bus normally took; travelling against the rush hour and further out towards the M25. Four hundred yards along the road, Donna’s destination loomed large and she frantically pressed the bell before the driver could ignore her bus stop and continue along the route. She didn’t want to have to walk too far when there was a deluge of rain teeming down

It didn’t look too bad so far; she consoled herself from beneath her hood. A large modern building that could have fitted in perfectly in Milton Keynes and the numerous business headquarters that were located there. This particular place had the name ‘Gallifrey Productions’ written across it in large blue neon letters. Very classy. The designer brickwork and huge tinted windows finished it off a treat.

Stepping into the building, the whole place reeked of money. Several photos of well-known actors, directors and writers tastefully adorned the walls as she flip-flopped across the marble flooring towards the reception desk and the air stewardess standard receptionist standing behind it. Apparently they weren’t allowed to actually sit at such desks anymore; it upset the aesthetic.

All style and no content, Donna thought as she got nearer. Or as her elderly great aunt used to declare: all top coat and no knickers. The stray thought made her want to giggle, but she managed to hold it in. It wouldn’t do to start her stint here as a temp on the wrong foot. Now sore feet, she considered as she eyed the impressively high heels that the receptionist wore, were a different matter entirely. Having done the job in the past, her full sympathies went out to the woman.

“Hello, I believe you are expecting me. My name is Noble. Donna Noble,” she supplied once she reached the desk.

There was an answering nod of acknowledgement after a generalised greeting accompanied by a waft of strong perfume. It was everything she had expected it to be; but the glossiness of the office reception failed to intimidate Donna as she stood awaiting further instructions about her latest assignment. All she had so far was an address and a name, and a can-do attitude.

The woman on reception scrolled her well-manicured finger down a list on her clipboard and then grinned encouragingly. “Ah yes, Miss Noble. You are to go John Smith’s office.”

“Can you tell me where I can find him, please?” Donna politely requested.

According to her name badge, it was Marianne who was assisting her. She pleasantly smiled and pointed towards somewhere behind her left ear. “Down the corridor, through the double doors and then third door on the right. Large brass plaque on the door. You can’t miss it.”

At that precise moment a dark suited figure swept up to the side of Donna, ignoring her presence in front of the desk as he picked up a clipboard from the topmost surface to tick something off and then asked the receptionist, “Did anything come in for me today?”

“No,” Marianne answered. “But…,” she began to add futilely, pointing meaningfully towards Donna in front of her.

But he wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he turned his head and strode purposefully away from them without looking back before she could explain further.

“That’s him,” Marianne hastily whispered to Donna. “Quick! Follow him.”

So she did.

Now normally someone would be acutely aware they were being followed; and in an office situation you’d expect them to turn and joke about you possibly doing so on purpose. In light of that, Donna was expecting him to turn to look at her and make some sort of enquiry.

Well, he turned his head. But he did little more than sniff dismissively and walk faster as though she was a bad smell. Not that she could complain that he smelt bad. Not in the slightest. In fact his after shave was rather delightful as it wafted down the corridor in his wake. She liked it. So much so that part of her was tempted to stop him and ask what brand it was. Once he’d sneered at her though she quickly changed her mind. He could keep his after shave and shove it where the sun don’t shine! Gramps would be getting something completely different for Christmas.

When he didn’t even hold the swing door open for her, she started to see red. How dare he? What an arse! By the time she entered the third door and the correct office with the plaque that told her she was entering serious boss territory, she was plotting how to poison his morning coffee. Or his tea, if that was his preference. It didn’t matter; she was adaptable.

The room she entered was light and airy, filled with a modern décor that included a desk, filing cabinets, and several cupboards. It led off to unknown rooms via two other doors, and one corner had a kitchenette. But her attention was grabbed by the man she had followed.

Perhaps it would be better if she didn’t think of grabbing in that moment. Mainly because he was bent low over the desk, as though he had forgotten his glasses or something, peering intently at an image on a computer monitor and raking his fingers through his artfully spikey brown hair. ‘Nice bum’ momentarily flitted through her mind; as did making a joke about recognising his face. Best not to do that sort of thing just yet either.

“I don’t have time to see you,” he testily stated without looking up. “My secretary isn’t here which means I’m having to cope on my own. Everything is frustratingly messed up, so you’ll have to email me or phone later for an appointment.”

It was only then that he bothered to look up.

What he saw was the woman in the saggy grey coat who had followed him down from main reception. Like one of those Potty Time characters that used to be on the television when he was a small child, all he could see was the huge decrepit coat, booted feet, and a nose peeping out from under the enormous hood.

Obviously he recognised her as the person who had followed him in the corridor, because it flickered across his face for a brief moment.

He only knew it was a woman because she had spoken a sarcastic “thanks” behind him when he had made his way to his office. Her footwear could have belonged to anyone. Well, anyone who tended to stomp the streets all day long in shapeless boots. More than part of him was at the ready to dismiss her from his sight as soon as she made her plea for a donation of some sort.

He then glared at her in silence, daring her to stay and further annoy him.

“I’ve already got my appointment, thank you,” she announced and set her bag down on the nearest chair. “Where do you want me to sit?”

His nostrils flared as he bit down on the response he oh so badly wanted to give about where she could sit in that precise second. “Did you not just hear me?” he spat out.

“Yes,” she drawled, dragging out the syllable to underline her sarcasm. “That’s why I’m here.”

He watched her unbutton her coat, with increasing contempt. “May I ask who exactly you are?”

As if him going all mean and nasty on her would put her off! What a div.

“I’m Donna,” she forced herself to brightly trill, taking down the hood off her coat and looking around for somewhere to hang it. She chose the back of a chair for now. “Donna Noble, your replacement secretary, Mr Smith. The agency said it will be at least a month’s worth of work, possibly two, but they only told me this morning, so I couldn’t get here any earlier.”

As she spoke, she brought out from her bag a pair of stilettos, toed off her boots and proceeded to put the shoes on. She then removed her coat, adjusted the fall of her long ginger hair to make sure it wasn’t in her face, smoothed down her skirt over her wide hips and turned to face him properly; pasting on a confident smile.

What! He stood gawping at her and he really shouldn’t have done; but he was caught totally off guard by the vision before him. It was like one of those transformations they do on daytime television. A touch of the “And tonight Matthew, I’m going to be….,” about it. And like with such shows, the resulting transformation was stunning.

A couple of his fingers flailed through the air. “This will be your desk,” he feebly informed her, placing a hand on said desk as though there was a choice in the room. “I tend to be through there,” he continued with a nod of his head towards a nearby door. “I’ve no idea where Susan keeps things out here but you’ll soon work things out and find your way around. There’s a small kitchen right behind you.”

She’d guessed as much, having swept her gaze expertly around the office space. It was a little bit daunting though, just him and her in there and no sign of anybody else to talk to during the day. On the other hand, IF she had to end up poisoning him there’d be no witnesses, she joked to herself.

Chapter Text

“Right then,” Donna declared, looking at him expectantly. “I’ll make us some tea or coffee, and you can get me up to speed with what I need to know. Is that alright?” She smiled her brightest smile. “I assume you want me to do all that in your office.”

Now thoroughly disarmed, John stammered, “Yes, that’s erm… that’s fine. In... in my office, through there. I take my tea with milk but no sugar. Okay… maybe one sugar, but don’t tell anyone if they ask.”

Why would anyone care, she wondered. Unless his wife was on the warpath about his health. It couldn’t be because he needed to lose some weight. There was hardly anything of him as it was. Perhaps he was diabetic or something? Could explain the bad mood earlier. Yes, it was probably something like that, she decided. Best that she don’t kill off her new boss with sugar. Not yet, anyway; not until she had learned whether he deserved it or not.

“I’ll be right with you,” she assured him. “You go sit yourself down and let me take care of you.”

That’s what I’m worried about
, he thought as he gulped and adjusted his suddenly tight collar.

“One cup of tea coming right up,” Donna confidently announced, and bustled about with tea bags once she had located a small fridge that held the last remnants of a bottle of milk. Just enough to provide two cups, she noted; mentally adding a fresh bottle to her midday shopping trip to buy lunch later on.

Unbeknown to her, John had retreated to the doorway of his office and took the opportunity to watch her without guard in order to assess whether he’d like her or not.

Hmm. He saw a woman of similar age to himself; no ring on her finger that tied her to a particular man. Might mean she’s divorced, he pondered. Not bad looking, all considered; not too thin, fairly busty but not too much, and wide hips that weren’t the fashionable boyish ones every woman in his experience was dying to achieve. Childbearing hips, is how they used to describe such an hour glass figure. If he hadn’t been freshly dumped by his newly formed ex-girlfriend he might have been interested; but all he wanted now was friendship and a decent working relationship.

Besides, it wasn’t even allowed to consider a relationship that meant more. Could never ever happen, he sternly told himself. The policy he insistently thrust upon himself and his co-workers was no workplace romances. They killed the atmosphere when things went inevitably wrong. It was best to avoid all that sort of thing. Still... It was a shame she would go to waste, he thought.

“Blimey, real proper cups and not mugs. It’s a bit posh in your office, isn’t it? That’s what comes from working for a higher up. Here you go,” she said as she walked over and handed him his tea. Then to his horror, she commented, “Why don’t you take a picture, it’d last longer.”

“Pardon?” he blurted out, taking the offered cup whilst avoiding making physical contact with her hand. That would have been a big ‘no no’ in the circumstances.

She gazed directly into his eyes, as though she could see into his soul. “I said: take a picture. You were staring at me.”

“Was I?” He pinked up, right to the tips of his ears. “I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

“That’s alright,” she reassured him. “Stands to reason you’d do that, what with it being only me and you in here without anything else to look at, and this is the first time you’ve seen me without my disguise.” She indicated her head towards her coat still slung over the back of a chair. “Mum says I look like one those cat ladies, about to go exploring in the Antarctic. It’s enough to put people off their dinner or gawp at me when they see ginger hair suddenly appear.”

His eyes inevitably strayed to the top of her head. “It’s erm... very lovely. You have lovely ginger hair,” he spluttered, and then tried to cover his embarrassment by taking a hasty sip of his tea.

“Thanks,” she trilled, mentally adjusting her opinion of him. She’d allow him that compliment seeing as they were new to each other. Perhaps he wasn’t so bad after all and was merely shy rather than aloof. So far he had responded well to a spot of good natured teasing, and he could certainly do with a sandwich or two, judging by how skinny he was; so she made a mental note to take in some homemade goodies to help feed him up at the first opportunity. “I’ll find a notepad and then perhaps you could fill me in on all the stuff I’ll need to know while I'm here.”

“Excellent idea,” he replied, smiling with relief. It always unsettled him when there was a change in staff. And although he had known for a while that Susan would go on maternity leave, the suddenness of her being forced to take it earlier than anticipated had rather thrown him for a loop. “Hopefully your next six weeks or so with us will soon fly by.”

“Already wishing I was going, huh?” Donna teased him. “I can see I’m going to have to watch you.”

The delighted blush on his cheeks and the way his eyes lit up in merriment was all the answer she wanted. Yes, she could cope with this position. Should be a piece of cake.

~o0o~

Her first day hadn’t gone at all badly, once John Smith had lightened up a little bit and partial removed that stick up his butt. Of course she hadn’t told her mother that it could be considered as a remarkably cute posterior; it didn’t pay to advertise that sort of thinking since it invited far too many questions. It was a well-known fact that Sylvia Noble liked to know the ins and outs of a cat’s behind about most topics of conversation, but where potential son-in-laws were concerned, she had all the viciousness of an overprotective spitting cobra.

In light of that, Donna had kept it brief when describing her new boss. A blank, “He seemed nice enough,” and that was it.

“Surely there’s someone there you could be interested in,” Sylvia had quizzed her daughter. “You’re obviously not looking hard enough.”

It was a conversation that threatened to come back and haunt her during her second day at Gallifreyan Productions. Mainly because that requested interest turned up in smart designer clothing the following morning.

“Hello, you’re through to John Smith’s office. How may I help you?” Donna answered the phone using her best professional voice. After listening for a moment, she continued, “I’m sorry, he’s unavailable at the moment. Can I take a message?”

As she jotted down what was being said, the sound of the outer office door being opened could be heard, followed by soft footsteps on the carpeted floor.

“Is he in?” a male voice to her side asked.

Replacing the telephone receiver, she turned to the visitor to answer, “He’s...”

Oh my good gawd! She didn’t get to say any more than that one word because, looking up, she saw what she would probably have described as a cross between her new boss and the most gorgeous bloke she had ever laid eyes on.

There was a delicious waft of expensive cologne as he got nearer, and she could make out every aspect of his hazel eyes, neatly coiffured brown hair and close-styled beard. The wide grin he aimed at her was dazzling. And his expensively cut dark clothing moulded beautifully to his slim build. He could easily grace any designer’s catwalk. Yep, 100% gorgeous, she decided.

“You must be the new fill in for Susan,” the man said, in a voice that perfectly matched John Smith’s. “He should be expecting me, so I’ll go straight in.”

“No,” she declared, remembering the instructions she had been given. “You can’t.”

“I assure you I can,” he confidently replied, gripping the inner door handle to open it without hesitation. “Hello John. You been telling the staff to keep me out again?” he greeted the man inside the office.

“Andy!” John called out in delight, and hastily dropped his pen to get up and personally meet his visitor. “I wasn’t expecting you back until Tuesday.”

“Things went better than expected in Prague, so I took the opportunity to catch an earlier flight home,” Andy explained. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” He nodded with meaning towards Donna.

“Oh, right. Donna is my new personal assistant.” John guilty spoke directly to her, “This is my brother Andrew. He deals with the more artistic side of things.”

“You’ve probably noticed he deals with the more practical side,” Andy commented about his brother.

It was as if they had spoken with the same voice. Thank goodness one was bearded and the other clean-shaven otherwise she would have had problems telling them apart. Their resemblance was uncanny.

“And which one of you is the evil twin?” she mischievously asked.

Andy laughed the loudest. “Depends on your viewpoint; but he’s the oldest so I’m the cutest.”

“Do you have to tell everyone that?” John complained, in what was obviously a long running argument.

Seeing John startled by Andy’s words made her day. This job might be loads of fun after all, if this version of Russell Brand was going to stick around.

“Admit it, you just can’t take the competition,” Andy retorted. “Don’t worry, the ladies still love you.” He added in a conspiratorial wink towards Donna, and then instantly thought better of it. Wouldn’t do to upset her when, as far as he knew, she had only been there a short time. “But in a totally platonic sort of way, just as you like it.”

Exasperated, John changed the subject and beckoned Andy into his office to discuss business; leaving Donna to consider how much she had learned about her boss in a few straight minutes.

~o0o~

It didn’t surprise her in the slightest when they later announced they were going out to lunch to continue their discussion. They strode passed Donna’s desk, talking animatedly without hardly pausing for breath.

Pulling out his car keys from his trouser pocket in readiness, John asked, “Where do you fancy going?”

“Erm. I quite fancy The Manor Lodge,” Andy replied, causing his brother to shudder to a halt.

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps somewhere else,” John hesitated.

“Look, if you’re worried about running into whatshername, we could take Donna here with us. Make it into a proper business luncheon.” Andy smiled to entice his brother. “Go on, I haven’t been there in ages, and I’m starting to really fancy their roast lamb.”

John set his pleading look on Donna, as though he was begging her to rescue him. “Alright,” he reluctantly agreed, dragging out the word to include every possible syllable. “But you are paying. What do you say, Donna?”

“Fine by me,” she cheerily stated, and stood to grab her coat.

“Can I just ask…” John stepped nearer to momentarily stopped her movements. “…your coat. Can we leave it here? I promise I’ll buy you a replacement one if need be, but no. Just no.”

Ah, the offending padded coat. She hadn’t been able to get her woollen coat washed and dried in time, so she had had to wear the same coat as yesterday. “A bit posh is it, this eatery?” she wondered.

“Very,” Andy supplied, almost bouncing on the spot in anticipation. “Don’t worry if you get cold, I’ll make sure he buys you that brand new coat.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” she trilled, grabbing up her bag and letting Andy escort her out of the door.

Oh yes. Things were seriously looking up.

~o0o~

Well, she’d sat through more exciting dinners, it had to be said. The place was okay, the standard of the meal was high, the view out of the window they’d been sat next to was stunning with the proximity to boating craft along the Thames; but getting to actually eat the food she had ordered was proving to be awkward. All they’d done was go on about figures; progress charts and that sort of thing. Which would have been fine if she had been aux fait with whatever they were going on about, but she wasn’t. Not yet. This was still only her second day there, after all. At least some of it was interesting; especially when they started discussing locations, designs and special effects.

They talked with insight, speed and passion, but Donna was pleased that she easily kept up with her notes, using her shorthand skills despite being a little bit rusty with it. Her previous job had been more of a typing gig.

“John, for goodness sake give Donna a chance to eat her lunch,” Andy eventually moaned at him. “She can’t do that if all you do is talk.”

“Sorry,” John apologised to her, laying down the cutlery he’d been waving about in sync with his words. “I get a bit carried away when I’m discussing things with Andy.”

“So I’ve noticed,” she replied, not unkindly. “It’s okay, this is what you pay me for; and fortunately it doesn’t matter if my salad gets cold.”

To her surprise, John placed a comforting hand over the top of hers where it lay on the crisp white tablecloth. “Thank you. I appreciate you being here,” he murmured.

At that precise moment a woman approached them and glared at John; causing him to hastily whip away his hand. If a catwalk model actually lived and breathed amongst us, this is what one of them would look like, Donna commented to herself. Certainly the sort of perfect woman you want to trip up and ladder her tights every now and then. This particular one was dressed in a cream designer shift dress with matching shoes and jewellery; and she was continuously holding back a long curl of black hair that framed her elfin face perfectly. In any other situation Donna would not have been keen on her, but in this instance it was hate at first sight.

It was Andy who solved the mystery of who the elegant woman was.

“Hello Amanda. How nice of you to come over and meet me like this,” Andy suavely greeted her.

“Oh. Hello Andrew,” she replied, as though she had only just noticed him sitting there. “I didn’t know you were back in the country.”

“Evidently not,” he drily commented. “So,.... Amanda, what can we do for you?”

“Am I interrupting something?” she coolly wondered, now turning her interested gaze on to Donna, seated as she was between the two men.

“Merely a family reunion,” John calmly stated, “Nothing for you to worry about.”

“It looked cosier than that,” Amanda observed.

“Cosy?” John questioned. “I suppose so, since we are celebrating Andy and Donna being here.”

This was her cue to make a stance. “I’m Donna, by the way,” she piped up, “since you didn’t ask when you invited yourself over to our table.”

Chapter Text

From one side of her, John stiffened in readiness for a fight to break out, whilst on the other side of Donna, Andy stifled the need to giggle in amusement. Oh he had been sort of expecting this; okay, he had longed for it, and couldn’t wait for it to happen.

Amanda visibly jerked in surprise at being chastised before recomposing herself. “I’m John’s special friend,” she haughtily stated

Ex special friend,” Andy helpfully pointed out. “In fact, so ex, it is no longer her business what John gets up to anymore.”

She flashed a fake smile at him. “You always did like to tease me in front of the help.”

“Help?!” Donna angrily gasped. “I’ll have you know that I ....”

John’s hand suddenly landed back on top of hers again. “...am far more to me than that. But I suspect that is the reason why you came over; to find out the gossip about Donna. Our relationship has reached that important stage.”

“I wouldn’t have come home early for anything less,” Andy added when Amanda peered at him to assess his reaction.

It was with a sour expression on her face that she noted, “There’s no ring on her finger. Perhaps she isn’t what you say she is.”

“Who’s ‘she’? The cat’s mother?!” Donna protested.

But John calmed her down by patting her hand. “No ring yet, but that is just a formality.” He smiled sweetly at the woman in front of them.

“I see,” Amanda seethed. “Well, I wish you both all the best.” She then turned to make a show of nonchalantly sauntering off back to her own table.

“Yes, lovely to catch up with you like this,” Andy sarcastically called out after her. “Remind me about doing this again.”

“Who the hell does she think she is?!” Donna spat out as quietly as she could as her hand escaped from John to throttle the napkin laying on her lap.

“I’m so sorry, Donna,” John apologised. “It wasn’t my intention to use you like that.”

She did her level best not to be furious or lash out. “But you did anyway. I assume that was your ex-girlfriend.”

“Very ex after dumping him,” Andy helpfully confirmed. “Sorry John but she has always been a bitch; you just never saw it.”

“And yet you continually felt the need to point it out,” John drily stated.

Donna cast her questioning gaze between the two men. “So are we supposed to hate her or not? I’m confused.”

“Go ahead and hate her, Donna. It’ll be better that way,” Andy commented, leaning back in his chair with satisfaction. “Save yourself hours of unnecessary goodwill.”

But John didn’t look so cheerful. “I’m not so sure,” Donna admitted, hedging her bets. “If John is still stuck on her then I’ll have to learn to build suitable bridges and ignore my first impression.”

“I’m alright,” John murmured, not meeting her gaze; but she didn’t believe him for a second.

“Look,” she began, placing a tender hand on his forearm to gain his attention, “if it helps you in some way to have a pretend relationship, then that’s okay with me. It’d only be for a few weeks at the most and then you never need see me ever again.”

“Thank you,” he sincerely replied. “It was a silly reactive idea of mine to seeing Amanda here of all places.”

“Why here in particular?” she asked, remembering John’s initial reluctance to dine at The Manor Lodge.

“She owns half the place,” Andy supplied. “Shame really because the food is excellent. Good enough to die for.”

“Good enough to yearn for when you are in Prague,” John added, in an obvious conversation change of topic.

“Nothing but the best for me,” Andy agreed, lifting up his glass of red wine in salute. Having taken a sip, he turned his attention onto Donna. “So tell me, do you have any such romantic skeletons in the cupboards? Is a long lost boyfriend of yours likely to suddenly turn up and accuse us of whisking you away?”

She laughed, and took a hasty gulp of her own drink. “No such luck, I’m afraid. My love life is as temporary as my work, except no man has appreciated my 100 wpm typing skills outside an office.”

“Do you hear that, John? You might be onto a winner here,” Andy teased. “Our Donna has very skilled fingers. It might turn out to be the best pretend relationship you’ve ever had.”

So she swatted his arm. “Oi! Watch it, you! Or my hand will apply to your face another of my skills.”

“Hey! Is that any way to treat your new boss?” Andy good-naturedly grumbled.

“Ah, but you aren’t my new boss. John is.” She smirked at him in satisfaction.

Failing to find a cheeky comeback, something else occurred to Andy. “There is one major problem with that if you two are going to have a pretend relationship.”

“What’s that?” John asked before she could.

“Your strict policy forbidding workplace relationships. Draconian, really,” Andy pointed out. “One of you will have to change jobs if it got out.”

“Oh.” John sat frowning.

He hadn’t thought of that. He had never needed to before. It was bad enough he had contemplated a fake relationship with his new secretary; incredibly embarrassing, in fact. Almost a Freudian slip.

“Is it too late to pretend I’m your cousin instead?” Donna pondered, causing them both to laugh; thus breaking the tension at the table.

Of course it was Andy who leaned in close to her and whispered, “It could have its merits. Kissing cousins sounds rather tempting to me.”

Yes, she’d definitely have to watch both him and her reaction to him. It was going to be a long six weeks.

~o0o~

“Good morning! How’s my favourite future sister-in-law today?”

Donna looked up from typing her notes to see Andy Smith standing there by her desk, grinning cheekily at her.

“Hello,” she cheerily greeted him. Oh no! The facial fuzz had gone. “What happened to the beard?” she forlornly questioned.

He smoothed a hand down his face, rubbing lightly over his chin. “It had to go.”

“Why?” she blurted out. “I rather liked it on you.”

“You did?” he wondered with delight. “Mother claimed I looked like a tramp.”

Your mother ought to be shot! “Oh no; definitely not. It really suited you,” Donna insisted, nodding her head. “Plus, beards are very fashionable right now. I’ll miss seeing you with it.”

“Perhaps I’ll re-grow it, just for you,” he offered, leaning in closer.

She pushed him away. “Flatterer!” she chided him “You’ll be demanding tea off me next when you go in to speak to your brother.”

“It’s like you can read me like a book,” he mocked, and grinned disarmingly.

Instead of answering him, she pressed the intercom button on her phone. Speaking into it, she said, “Your brother is here to see you, Mr Smith.”

Andy threw her a confused look. “A bit formal,” he commented as he headed for the inner door.

“That’s the sort of relationship we have,” she stated as she watched him enter. Once he had gone in, she got up from her seat and headed for the kitchen area to rustle up some cups of tea.

Shit shit shit, she silently repeated to herself. It had been miles easier to fancy him when he had the beard; but now that the two brothers looked almost exactly alike, it made differentiating between them more than a bit tricky. Instead, it had become downright dangerous.

I do NOT fancy my boss, she tried repeating instead.

Except, I do, a traitorous inner voice insisted; and she was powerless to deny it any longer.

~o0o~

On the other side of the door, Andy stared at John. “What’s going on?” he softly demanded to know. “Have you been upsetting Donna or something?”

“No,” John replied, now confused. “As far as I know everything is alright. Perhaps it was you who upset her.”

Andy snorted his scorn. “I very much doubt it. Just look at me; I’m gorgeous!” He carefully posed himself on the chair in front of the desk.

“And so modest too,” John mocked. “What did she say?” he anxiously queried.

“Told me I should regrow the beard because it suits me so much.”

“Not about your beard, you imbecile,” John chided, as he made a mental note to possibly try out wearing a beard at a later date, should he want to impress her.

Noting his brother’s thoughtful expression, Andy couldn’t resist asking, “Are you falling for her? You are!” He gasped in glee. “I approve if it means the end of the ghastly Amanda in our lives, but it really is remiss of you old man if you let it show. No wonder Donna is acting a bit off. Who could blame her for avoiding your attentions.”

John gaped at him. “I’m not…,” he tried to deny. “I would never… I haven’t even done anything, I assure you. Well, not beyond yesterday’s little escapade; and I profusely apologised for that. Although I still need to give her the money for a new coat.”

“Thank you for clarifying my suspicion,” Andy calmly replied before bursting into a fit of the giggles.

“Stop it,” John warned.

“Shan’t,” Andy retorted. “This is too good to ignore. Who would have thought it? The great John Smith properly falling for an Earth girl.”

“I am not joking,” John threatened, “and you are totally wrong. Donna and I merely work together. We make a good team.”

“You want to make sweet music, you mean,” Andy deliberately muttered.

John suitably glared at him. “Says he who has been flirting with her at every opportunity,” he responded. “I suspect you are projecting your own interest onto me. And since you have not been linked with anyone for quite some time, I fear you are getting a little desperate.”

“Deflection projection, I know what you are doing,” Andy admonished him. “But this time I’ll let you get away with it. Now onto this animatronic for Bath…”

~o0o~

That Friday as Donna entered the building she noticed several young girls looking nervous whilst accompanied by a member of staff. A bit hard to miss, really.

“What’s going on?” she cheerily asked Marianne on the front desk. “A special school visit or something?”

“It’s bring your daughter to work day,” Marianne eagerly supplied. “I’d have brought our Emma but she’s doing her mock French oral today.”

Suppressing the joke that sprung to her mind, Donna pleasantly said, “I hope she’s done well.”

Marianne shrugged. “I do hope so. These exams will be the death of me. You’re lucky that you don’t have all of this to cope with.”

“Yeah,” Donna sighed. “See you later.”

What wouldn’t she do at times to have exactly the same problem. But alas it looked as though she would never have her own child to fuss over and motivate.

Bending to tick the appropriate box on a form to confirm she was in the building, she then gathered up any post for John and made her way to their office. Weird how she’d begun to think of her office space in that way, but it was a close and intense working relationship. The following week she would be accompanying him out on location; staying in a hotel and everything. It was the most glamorous thing to have ever happened to her.

With her mind mulling over which film stars and celebrities she might be rubbing shoulders with very soon, she hummed her way through the main office door and was brought up short when she spotted a young blonde teenage girl sitting in her chair, looking utterly bored as she swivelled around. Ah, teenage angst. It was easy to spot a mile off, but the pout on the girl’s face underlined the fact.

“Hello. Are you here for the daughter’s day thing?” Donna asked her. She made a play of bustling about, taking her new coat off and changing into her stilettos.

The girl barely looked up from the phone clasped tightly within her hands. “Yeah,” she mumbled.

“Don’t you think you ought to go and find your mum now?” Donna pointedly asked, nodding her head sideways in a polite ‘bugger off’ motion. “Because I have to get on and do some work now.”

“Can’t,” the girl petulantly answered. “She’s dead.”

“Oh my god! I am so sorry,” Donna hastily apologised. “Why don’t I make you a coffee while you’re here.”

“Thanks.” The girl stopped gawping at her phone and actually smiled. “It’s alright about Mum. I hardly remember her.” She got up and sauntered over to where Donna stood by the kettle, and peer curiously into the white box she’d plonked down on the counter. “Are those doughnuts? Can I have one with my coffee?”

“They’re meant for our coffee break later on so you’ll have to wait.”

“Oh go on,” the girl pleaded. “Please! I promise not to tell Dad you mentioned Mum if I can have one now.”

You had to give her points for trying, you must admit. “Erm..” Donna made a show of acting as though she was deeply thinking it over, bringing her fingertip to rest on her lower lip. “No. I refuse to be blackmailed.”

“Spoilsport!” the girl whined, just as the inner door opened.

“Jenny, are you stopping Donna from working? What did I tell you?”

John stood regarding them, a frown on his face.

The girl now identified as Jenny rolled her eyes in exasperation. “Alright Dad, keep your hair on. I was only asking for a doughnut with my coffee.”

His face lit up at the news. “Ooh, you brought doughnuts, Donna. Good. I look forward to having one later on.”

“See! They’re not for now,” Donna smirked playfully at Jenny, fighting hard not to laugh. “Play your cards right and I’ll show you where the staplers are kept.”

“Why would she want to know that?!” John wondered. “A little boring at the best of times.”

“That is rather my point,” Donna stated. “Do you want your coffee out here or in your office?” She stood with the filled cup in her hand, expectantly waiting for an answer.

“In there,” he decided, and let her follow him in.

She made a point of gently shutting the door first before approaching his desk and placing the cup down in front of him. “Why didn’t you tell me you had a daughter?” she quietly asked.

“Didn’t I?” he feigned ignorance. “I thought I had.”

“No,” she insisted. “I was treated to the ex with the hex, but not information about your children. So what’s the situation?” When he looked hesitant to say anything, she stood patiently waiting for him to say something further. “I’ll stand here all day if I have to.”

“Alright,” he sighed. “What do you want to know? All you need to know for now is that I only have the one child. Not that I see it as any of your business beyond the...” Then something twigged in his head. “You just want to make sure I don’t make an idiot of myself or you, don’t you?”

She nodded her agreement. “Took the words right out of my mouth. It will help me not to put my foot in it again if I know what’s going on. Is Jenny Amanda’s daughter?”

Chapter Text

“Good grief no!” John spluttered, clearly appalled at the thought of Amanda having direct access. “Dread the thought. Jenny doesn’t have a mother; she died long ago when Jenny was small and I inherited her. One of those instant ‘we had a drunken one night stand once - this is your daughter - now get on with it’ sort of things.”

“So the mother just turned up on your doorstep one day?” Donna wondered.

“No,” he said, “a social worker did. There’d been a fatal car accident. Black ice.”

Donna winced compassionately. “Bit of a shock. Instant dad-dom.”

“Tell me about it,” he sighed. “Of course I wanted to do the right thing and look after my daughter. Unfortunately, that meant letting my mother get involved.”

“Mothers, eh,” she sympathised, thinking of her own prime example. “So, you live with your mother?”

His face twisted in disgust. “Only when I have to. My mother looks after Jenny during the holidays or when I’m working away. Not that I approve of a lot of the attitudes she tries to pass on.” He then eyed the door very carefully. “Can we discuss that particular matter another time? There was a lot of fuss about this taking your daughter to work thing today; and Jenny’s school term doesn’t start properly until next week.”

“See. That didn’t kill you to tell me,” Donna commented to praise him and encourage further revelations. “And who volunteered me to babysit her today?”

“Ah,” he guiltily murmured. “It just sort of happened.”

“Like a lot of things around you seem to do,” she noted. “Don’t worry, I’ll find something to do with her; but please note: I expect to be treated to lunch as compensation. Maybe even dinner if you push your luck too far.”

Sounds like you want to spend mealtimes with me. He grinned with delight. “You’ll get to have lunch with me all next week too.”

“Don’t remind me,” she retorted. What a tart! “This is getting perilously close to Happy Families.”

“Sorry.” His expression turned contrite. “Before you go back to your desk, I want to run an idea passed you: I’m thinking of hiring Jenny a companion. What do you think?”

“I didn’t know I work for Merchant Ivory,” she joked. “Careful or they'll be going off to Italy for the summer and end up watching young men skinny dipping.”

“Yes, very droll,” he commented. “You could have just said that you don’t approve.”

“And lose my chance to take the mick? I think not,” she triumphantly informed him. “If you could stop treating her like a young child but rather as a potentially responsible adult then maybe you’d laugh, but I can see my time is wasted here. I’d better get back to my babysitting duties.” She half turned to walk away.

“Donna, I really do appreciate you keeping her entertained for a few hours,” he sincerely began to say. “I’d do it myself but...” He waved vaguely at his desk to denote how much work he still needed to achieve for their coming week.

“But you’re a bloke,” she finished for him. “I understand. Having these…” She thrust her hands onto her boobs in demonstration. “…qualifies me instantly without any training. Fortunately for you, I’ve got previous. On the babysitting front and not the boob related crimes or otherwise, before you ask.” Walking over to the door, she deliberately opened it and called out to Jenny, “How do you fancy helping me spend some of your dad’s money? I’ve got some things like hotels that I need to book and special clothes to buy for our trip.”

The groan of frustration behind her was as satisfying as she had expected it to be.

Along with the groan, John’s mind still kept flitting back to image of Donna clasping her breasts. Watching the door close behind her, he wondered what sort of whirlwind was blowing through his life, and if he would be able to cope once she had left him. Part of him suddenly didn’t want to find out.

~o0o~

Three people stood on the pavement outside a popular eatery on the nearest high street, regarding it with varying degrees of interest.

“A McDonald’s,” John stressed, wringing out every single ounce of disgust in his being, “You’ve made me bring you to a McDonald’s.”

“Dad, you promised,” Jenny countered, now feeling as though her anticipated treat was slipping away.

“Look at it,” John complained, peering in through the window at the noisy interior filled with young families and teenagers as part of the lunchtime rush. “It’s loud, full of people, greasy and probably unhygienic.”

“Come on,” Donna tried to chivvy him. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

He glared at her. “It went to find a better place to eat; just like we are going to do.”

To be honest, Donna couldn’t really imagine him sitting inside the restaurant in his expensive suit; but she hated to see Jenny so disappointed when all she had wanted was a normal teenage experience. “We could always try the drive through,” she suggested, but she knew it was futile.

His shoulders were set in a determined fashion and he strode away.

A good ten minutes later they were sat at a table for three in a different class of restaurant altogether, and John was encouraging Jenny to try some upmarket burgers.

“I could have had this in McDonald’s,” she grumbled in true teenage fashion.

“But not as well cooked,” he insisted under his breath.

Holding up the menu to cover her face, Donna had gone beyond wishing she had never blackmailed him into taking them out for lunch. It was proving to be disastrous so far. And the prices in this new place were astronomical! It made her feel very uncomfortable to have him pay for all this. She was brought hurriedly out of her thoughts by the gentle touch of his hand as it brushed against hers. “Hmm?” she innocently questioned, lowering the menu.

“I asked what you are having,” he repeated. “And please don’t do the ‘I’m not very hungry’ thing.”

“Why would I do that if I’m starving?” she queried; and caught Jenny’s amused look. “I take it that that’s what a certain ex used to do. Well us normal people don’t bother playing silly buggers like that, especially when your boss has been kind enough to take you out to eat.”

He blustered slightly, “It was the least I could do.”

“No, the least you could have done was slap a twenty pound note down on the desk and demand I go out and buy sandwiches.”

“Told you,” Jenny victoriously aimed at him.

“Yes... well… I did consider doing that,” he admitted, “but this is a special day.”

“It’s not your birthday, is it?!” Donna gasped out in horror.

“No,” he quickly answered before chuckling in amusement. “Not yet. I’ll give you fair warning, I promise.”

“To have the fire brigade on standby in case all those birthday candles cause a fire hazard,” she pretended to surmise with a nod of her head. “Makes sense.”

The sight of him openly laughing was extremely satisfying. Enough to make her mentally polish her finger nails on her top.

“I wish we could eat every meal with you,” Jenny later whispered to her as they giggled together in the office; filling her heart with pride and sadness that the girl seemed to have little merriment in her home life.

~o0o~

Trundling her full wheeled suitcase out to John’s car the following Monday morning was rather exciting, it must be said. Heaving it onto and then off a bus again had not been. Next time, Donna vowed, she would take up his offer to collect her from home, and thus risk the wrath of her mother as she evaded any possible questions aimed in their direction. The poor bloke wouldn’t deserve it, but losing the power in your arms from straining a muscle was not something worth endangering yourself for. Especially when you were expected to make notes and arm yourself with a clipboard.

John beckoned her over to a large black vehicle she hadn’t seen before. “I brought the Land Rover this time,” he informed her, “thought it might be better for travelling across the odd field or two.”

“Aw, and I was hoping for a Rolls Royce rather than a Chelsea tractor,” she joked as he swung her suitcase up and into the boot.

“It can be arranged,” he jovially replied. “Once you’ve earned us a million pound contract.” He then looked thoughtfully down at her shoes. “Talking of fields, are you going to be okay in those?”

“I’ve brought my boots,” she assured him, “since I know how much you love them.”

He grimaced. “Yes, absolutely. Let’s be off.”

They were going to be visiting various film locations throughout the week, to check on production standards, budgets, health and safety, and a myriad of other things that could be worried about. Andy would join them later to go through the special effects stuff; for the company’s pride and joy was providing science fiction projects with realistic aliens.

“How’s Jenny?” Donna opened the conversation with as the car pulled away from its designated spot outside Gallifreyan Productions.

“Not keen to go back to school, as you can well imagine,” he supplied. “But she’ll be fine once her friends get her chatting. Thank you for looking after her so well on Friday.”

It hadn’t exactly been a hardship. “You’re welcome.”

Using the indicator at that point to leave a roundabout, he commented, “We certainly heard a lot about you over the weekend.”

That caught her interest. “Oh? What sort of thing?” she asked, leaning in towards him.

He briefly glanced directly at her, and got to view some unexpected cleavage along with a hint of her thigh beneath her skirt. Oh my! “Well…. This and that. When Mother insisted Jenny changed out of her jeans and into a dress, we got ‘Donna says a woman should dress only for herself and not just to please other people’,” he quoted.

“Sorry about that,” she mumbled apologetically.

“No, don’t be sorry,” he insisted, and stretched out a hand to pat her on the knee in comfort. Realising at the last moment that he shouldn’t do so, he hastily retreated it and returned his hand to the steering wheel in front of him. “It’s refreshing to hear Jenny talk that way, and Mother was deeply impressed despite herself.”

“Good, because I was trying to promote body positivity.”

“So you should,” he commented, and flashed her one of his smiles.

One of the ones she had presumed were rare when she had started working with him the week before, but which were steadily increasing in frequency.

“Your body is very...” Oops! He wasn’t supposed to say anything about her body, especially if it could be misconstrued as sexual harassment. “...I mean it’s erm very positive,” he finished on an embarrassed cough.

“Yeah.” She eyed him suspiciously. What had all that been about? Was he thinking and failing to come up with a suitable insult about her looks? Well sod him for even trying! She could do without THAT sort of thing. Hadn’t her ex, Lance, done enough of all that? The lying, two faced piece of shit…

Sensing rather than properly seeing her downturn in mood, John suggested she find the radio station of her choice for them to listen to in the car. How could he amuse her? Right at that second something occurred to him. “I also need to tell you; and you’ll laugh at this when you hear it, but one of her school friends saw us on Friday and thought you were Jenny’s mother.”

“No!” Donna denied, silently pleased.

“Yes!” he stressed, and chuckled. “Jenny was highly amused and went on about it all Saturday night. Anyone would think she liked you.” Almost as much as me.

She merely snorted in reply. It was best that she say nothing. Never mind; but at least her mood had lifted and they good naturedly squabbled over the merits of various stations and their music choices for the rest of their journey. All the time she daydreamed that it could be like this permanently.

Two and a half hours after they had begun their journey, they pulled into the car park of Acorn Tree House, where one of the company’s latest features was being recorded. Parked alongside them were several trailers, each labelled with a different actor or department.

“Oooh,” Donna murmured, casting her eyes with interest at the name signs. One of them she’d heard of and she wasn’t keen on him, but the others could turn out to be endless delights. “Do you get to play the monster as you are, or will they insist on toning your look down with makeup?” she teased John as he appeared by her side.

“Ha,” he silently laughed back. “Be careful with that tongue, it might cut your lip,” he retorted.

“Oh wouldn’t you like to know how my tongue feels,” she responded without thinking it through. “Oh!” she exclaimed when his eyes went wide in shock. “I didn’t mean like that, you prawn,” she chastised him, adding in a feeble swat to his arm. Except I do mean like that, she hastily shut herself up as she did so.

“Yes. Well,” he near whimpered, not knowing how else to answer her denial. For a second there it had certainly felt as though she had meant it. Perhaps it was his imagination creating that little scenario? For now he would have to pretend it was. “Us monsters have to get to the special effects department in order to change the public’s awareness about aliens.”

She frowned. “What’s wrong with the current public view of them?”

Using the motion to breath in her scent up close, he leaned close to whisper, “That you see aliens as monsters, for a start.”

It gave her some food for thought as they made their way towards their destination. Did she automatically assume aliens were monsters? And why was he on such a mission? Perhaps it was just a bought of possessiveness where their creations were concerned.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

The rest of Monday did not go so well. The alien model was not working properly; it looked as though it was breakdancing rather than moving effortlessly across the floor. John was not pleased, and spent most of the day in a foul mood that refused to be lifted until well after they had left the film set and headed for their hotel. It had taken all of Donna’s skills to keep things smooth between him and the onset technicians; a task which was partially helped by his anger being directed at himself rather than them. But it had been tricky there for a few hours.

She couldn’t wait for Andy to turn up and help him on the Tuesday. John really hadn’t been in the mood to share a meal with the producer at lunchtime. Shame that they had gone, in light of that. It had been a bit stilted at lunch; so they had opted to have their evening meal in the hotel restaurant when given the choice to have company or not.

At least them not going out for another meal with the producer or any crew meant that she hadn’t had to dress up fancy. But it did mean having to fill the awkward silences as John sat engrossed in his own thoughts. Never mind; she could cope.

“Did you remember to phone Jenny?” she asked John as a conversation opener at their dining table within the hotel restaurant.

Startled, he answered, “What? No, I didn’t.”

“Feel free to call her now, if you like. I don’t mind,” she offered.

“If you really don’t…?” he queried, bringing up his phone to use. “Then I’ll give her a quick call.”

It worked, because he instantly brightened when the call was answered.

“Hello darling. How are you? I’m fine. Just sitting eating dinner with Donna. She’s okay. Pardon! Oh, did you want to speak to her? Hang on…” He turned sheepishly to Donna. “She wants to talk to you.”

No, who’d have guessed, she sarcastically wanted to say. “Give it here then.” She amiably took the phone from his hand, trying not to note how soft his palm was as they briefly touched. “Hello Jenny. How are things? I’m fine but your dad isn’t happy. Oh, the usual, things aren’t going right so he’s being a little ray of sunshine, but no doubt your uncle will come and fix things tomorrow.”

“Oi!” John grumbled. “I heard that.”

She smiled whimsically at him, pleased that the ploy had worked and his mood had improved a great deal. Handing him back his phone, she took the opportunity to watch him end his call, noting how his lips moved, the way his Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat, and the crinkles that lined his eyes when he smiled.

“Now who needs to take a picture?” he questioned her, causing an embarrassed flush to appear on her cheeks. “Or am I the only one who can get told off for staring?”

Ooh, he loved the startled look in her eyes; it meant he was affecting her.

“I wasn’t…,” she spluttered, and then thumped him on the arm. “I’m onto you, Sci-Fi boy! You think you are so clever.”

It was as he opened his mouth to suggest that they get someone to take a photo of them both that he realised he was falling into a trap. A ginger haired, voluptuously shaped trap that had him almost thoroughly ensnared. “Not always,” he quietly voiced, unable to wrench his gaze away from hers.

If she willed him enough, he’d lean in, Donna told herself. Failing that, she was liable to grab him by the collar and drag him close.

“Was your meal okay?” a passing waitress suddenly asked them.

It threw John completely out of his trance. “Yes, lovely, thank you.”

The waitress began to collect their used plates. “Will you and your wife be wanting anything else, sir?”

“A divorce lawyer at this rate,” Donna joked. “It’s okay, I’m not his wife.”

The woman looked horrified. “I am so sorry,” she blustered.

“It really is okay,” John assured her. “We work together, nothing more, and I’m not married so no harm done.”

Now deeply ashamed, the waitress practically ran away, leaving them peering at each other with mixed emotions. So near, for one second and yet so far.

“Time we retired for the night,” John suggested, beckoning to Donna to get up and leave the table with him.

Minutes later they were in the lift heading for their rooms. They exchanged banalities whilst trying not to mention what had just passed between them.

To do so would be stupid; and yet Donna suddenly felt a little daring once the doors opened and they were walking down the corridor, all alone. Blame it on the wine they had drunk.

“Weird how our fake relationship disappeared as quickly as it appeared,” she noted. “Both times in a crowded restaurant.”

“Donna,” he softly began as they halted outside her room, “I don’t know what to say. Perhaps in different circumstances…”

“Yeah, I know,” she acknowledged, averting her gaze by fiddling with the key card to open her door. You smug bastard. “Never mind, you’ll be free of me soon.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder to stop her moving away. “That’s not what I meant,” he insisted.

Her eyes lifted to his, in disbelief. “Oh yeah? ‘We work together, nothing more’,” she precisely quoted him. “Maybe you ought to remember that.”

As expected, his hand dropped away, freeing her to escape from his presence; and she swished into the room having bid him goodnight. What she didn’t know was that his hand had risen to knock on her door, to beg her to let him in; and yet he couldn’t do it.

What was wrong with him? Did he like playing with fire? Shit shit shit!

~o0o~

“Hello. How’s my favourite future sister-in-law enjoying her first jaunt out of the office?”

Donna turned slowly from her task, to see Andy sidling up to her side. “Hello. Not too bad, thanks. Good to see you and the beard again,” she replied. “And so full too.”

She eyed the thick hairy mass on his chin with delight. She was officially back on the Andy fancying train. Yippee!

“It grows pretty fast,” he admitted, rubbing a protective hand over his beard. “But it’s easier to cope with then shaving all the time like John does. He must be out to impress someone.”

Her heart clenched within her chest as a cold pit seemed to appear in her stomach. “Who do you think it might be?” she risked asking, hoping there’d be no definite answer.

Instead, Andy cheekily winked at her. “I don’t, love. Could be anyone. Even you.”

As if! She snorted her scorn. “I very much doubt it. I’m only a temp.”

Moving nearer, he briefly placed a hand on her arm. “Hey, don’t put yourself down like that,” he schmoozed. “A pretty woman like you will always be in with a chance.”

“Says you,” she disparaged.

So he leaned into her personal space to whisper, “I could show you right now, if you want. There’s bound to be an empty trailer somewhere we could commandeer for half an hour or so.”

“Yes, very funny,” she forced herself to mock him; but he carried on looking sincere with those puppy dog eyes of his. “What, are you for real?”

“As I said,” he carefully enunciated, causing goose bumps to form on her neck where his breath touched, “always. Just think about it.”

Surely he couldn’t mean it, she reasoned. “What about all this workplace romance ban of your brother’s, if I was tempted?”

He smirked. “Who said John needed to know? I’m sure we could be very discreet.”

Oh no! “No, I don’t like the idea of secrecy,” she insisted, shaking her head. “If a man is genuinely interested in me then he should be proud to be seen with me, not scuttling away like a frightened mouse. So you can stop this silly pretend flirting as soon as you like.”

“Oh Donna,” he sighed, moving closer still. “Flirting is something I don’t do lightly. I had rather hoped you’d realised that.”

She nervously laughed. “What, this is all serious and not you having a game with me?”

“I went against Mother’s express wishes to regrow this beard, just for you. If that isn’t serious, I don’t know what is.”

What kind of woman was this mother of theirs? Her fears instantly rose up for Jenny. “Surely not just for me,” she blustered, reasoning it out. “You did it because you look rather tasty with it. There must be a flock of women interested in you.”

“Perhaps,” he allowed. “It certainly gets me noticed and gains me better treatment.” By now his lips had eased forward, now millimetres away from hers. “Especially by you. So what do you say? Do you fancy tasting my delights?”

That cheeky gleam was back in his eyes. The one she couldn’t resist, so when his mouth touched her lips, she readily accepted the gift. He was so soft and warm against her flesh, offering a heady cocktail of romance, acceptance and passion.

Before she was even conscious of the action, her arms had risen to weave a hold around his shoulders, bringing all of him closer. The cologne he wore tantalised her senses, adding to the spell he was casting. If anyone had asked why she clung to him so, she would have claimed he had wafted a love potion in her direction.

But it had to stop. This was supposed to be a work situation, not a romantic jolly. Still, she could now claim he was a good kisser; that was for sure. And she’d like to try out those lips again; just not in some corner of a workshop as though it was a sleazy encounter.

It was a good job she had pushed him away with the word, “Later,” because John had come stumbling into the special effects trailer holding several boxes of electronic components.

Andy had managed to turn from looking goofy to efficient in milliseconds. “Need a hand with all that?” he asked his brother.

“Just a bit,” John admitted, pushing the boxes bodily onto the nearest flat surface before they could all tumble to the floor.

Relieved he wasn’t shouting blue murder at her, Donna picked up her check list and continued working through the maintenance items to be dealt with, not seeing behind her the look that had passed between the two men.

It was one of knowledge, and Andy gulped anxiously despite his previously brave words. John had seen and he would have done anything to spare him that.

~o0o~

“Donna, any chance of some coffee?” John had distractedly asked her as he twiddled with the innards of the animatronic creature in front of him. The thing jerked about on the workbench for a bit.

Any closer and he’d trap his nose in the wiring, she thought as she turned her attention from compiling an email. The fact that a similar question hadn’t been fired from the other person in the workshop rather forced her eyes to seek out Andy.

He hadn’t said anything to her since John had appeared. There had been no communication beyond a meaningful guilty glance in John’s direction. Did this mean Andy was too frightened of his brother to show any reaction or had she been dumped before she had even drawn breath, let alone tried out the official title of ‘girlfriend’? Whatever the situation was, and she seriously thought it was the latter; John had accidentally provided her with a way to escape for a while and metaphorically lick her wounds. Not that she had dismissed the notion of confronting Andy, because she hadn’t. No siree.

“I suppose so,” she allowed in answer to John’s query. “They should have some fresh stuff ready by now. Did you want some coffee too, Andy?”

From the other end of the fur-covered contraption, Andy popped up his head to answer, “Yes please. And if you can find a pastry or biscuit to go with it, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Will do!” she managed to cheerily call out, and promptly left the room.

Immediately, Andy came away from his task and stood contemplating John. “Okay, you’ve got rid of Donna. Now you can say to me what you need to.”

John slowly put down his tools and set his features into a stern expression. “Would you care to explain your little exhibition earlier?” He then immediately took in a deep gasp of air, and launched into a tirade. “No, don’t bother because I already know what pathetic excuse you will come up with. It has always been the same with you. Some new shiny thing to distract your attention and off you go, treading on everyone and everything else. What amazes me is that you still think I’m stupid enough not to notice!”

“So I don’t get the chance to say anything in my defence, do I?” Andy pondered. “Typical! Bloody typical!”

Using one menacing step, John moved towards his brother. “It’s always all about you! Do you even care about her? Or is she just your latest plaything?”

“Of course I care,” Andy growled. “What do you take me for? And since you’re not going to make a proper move on her, I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

“Proper move?” John disdainfully repeated. “You can’t even describe it in attractive terms. All you care about is gaining a sexual conquest.”

“Well excuse me for being human!” Andy raged. “That IS the object of the exercise, after all.”

“What!” John spluttered. “Can you hear yourself? I really thought you were better than that.”

“Perhaps I ought to go out and have a one night stand just like you did, instead,” Andy spitefully retorted. “At least I am honest about my intentions.”

“Not to her face, I bet,” John spat in disgust. “Donna is not that sort of woman. She doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

“Oh yeah? Then how should she be treated?” Andy demanded to know, relishing the feeling of goading him.

“With kindness, tolerance and respect,” John answered sincerely, “but also as someone who is a long term commitment.”

Now the truth was coming out. “You’ve really thought about this,” Andy quietly noted.

“Certainly more than you have,” John angrily replied.

And now in for the kill. Andy decisively stated, “Anyone would think you are desperately in love with her.”

John’s eyes went wide in shock. “Erm…”

Chapter Text

Nothing but panic flashed through John’s mind. He couldn’t be giving out the impression he was in love, could he? He could not! I mean, in love with Donna? Pft! The very idea... Why, it went completely against the grain to fall in love with an employee.

“Don’t talk daft,” John chided his brother. “Desperately in love,” he scoffed. “Of course that isn’t the case. Plus, it would be totally wrong to contemplate anything at all with Donna; you know that.”

“Do I?” Andy verbally prodded. “You’ve just been balling me out for having that very notion. Who’s to say that she isn’t the love of my love and we end up happily ever after.”

“Because,” John blustered, now trying desperately to think of any answer that would stop this latest madness, “she is unsuitable for you.” His mind trailed through a mental list of the various attributes of Andy’s previous girlfriends. “It would be completely out of the question for you to even consider her. She is much older than normal, not even remotely stick thin, and to top it all, she is ginger.”

Oh shit! Andy groaned in horror as Donna walked passed the window at that precise moment, heading for the nearest door. She was bound to have heard that last bit.

Yes, she had; and she paused outside before entering the workshop in order to regain her composure. So John didn’t like her physically, eh? Well sod him! She could justify biasedness due to the company’s fraternisation policy but what had just been spouted from his mouth was out and out prejudice.

John had caught Andy’s frustrated gaze and only then noticed Donna walking by the trailer window. Oh for the love of God, no! Why was the universe hell bent on embarrassing him? And at the cost of losing any good favour he was held in. This could not be borne.

Rushing to the door to try and make amends, he quickly greeted her with cheery words, “Hello Donna. Do you want some help with those drinks?”

She shoved the small cardboard tray she’d been carrying into his hands and stormed into the trailer once he had stepped politely out of the way. “Thanks. Obviously, losing my Zimmer frame on the way made things a bit awkward for a moment or two. I got you both an almond croissant to go with your coffee. I hope that was alright.”

“That’s lovely. Thank you,” Andy gushed whilst shooting his brother daggered looks behind her back. “Didn’t you get yourself something to eat?”

Nothing would have made her admit she had already snagged a bun and eaten it on the way back. Instead, she strained out, “I can’t risk eating stuff like that as I apparently need to lose a lot of weight.”

“You’re fine as you are,” Andy protested. “Don’t you think so, John?” Don’t balls this up; please don’t. And make her feel better, you stupid arse.

“Of course,” John hesitantly answered; causing Andy to want to kick him. “You are…” The words ‘beautiful’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘stunning’, ‘voluptuous’ and ‘tempting’ all flittered through his mind and were quickly dismissed as inappropriate in this situation. He gulped nervously. “… just right as you are,” he landed on.

Andy almost smacked a hand onto his forehead in disbelief. “Well I think you are superb,” he insisted.

He was saying what?! She gawped at him. “What’s going on? Is there a camera in here filming a prank, or have I stepped into the Twilight Zone?”

“Just trying to say the truth, Donna,” Andy tried to appease her; but he knew it wouldn’t work as soon as the words left his mouth.

Using an irate digit, she pointed at him. “You. Me. Outside. NOW.”

“But…”

“Now,” she repeated, leaving no room for negotiations. You’d better follow me, she thought as she stormed out.

Andy shrugged at his brother and slowly followed her out of the workshop. He soon had to quicken his pace.

She had stomped almost all the way over to the car park before he managed to catch her up.

“Look, I can explain,” he began when she halted to frown at him.

“Oh this I have got to hear,” she raged, “because I have plenty of questions at the ready.”

“I bet you do,” he half muttered under his breath. “Let’s start at the beginning. The kiss; I meant that before you try and deny that I did. But… and there is a ‘but’… I realise that we can’t be an item at the moment, if ever at all.”

The glare she threw him almost squashed him into the ground. “Can’t?” she echoed in question.

“When I say ‘can’t’, I have to agree with John that it would be foolish to push things forward between us while you are working for us,” he quickly stated. “That is why I am going to suggest that we wait a while, to see if this attraction between us is more than a passing fancy.”

“That has to be the most convoluted, round the houses way of being dumped that I have ever had the misfortune to be on the end of,” she seethed. “Did you also forget to run it passed your mother yet? Seeing as she holds so much sway over your life.”

“Now that is unfair,” he protested. “I’m trying to do the greater good here.”

“So the world will end if you follow up the promise that kissing me made? Now I’ve heard it all.” She rolled her eyes in exasperation; and threw up her hands in defeat. “Let’s just forget the whole thing. I got the message, loud and clear: I am only good enough to run your lives at work but not be anything else.”

“Where did you get that idea?!” he demanded.

“From that little conversation I’ve just overheard,” she supplied. “It made it crystal clear how both of you feel. Do you want to know what really makes me mad right now? My mother said that you two were only using me for practice, and do you know what, she was bloody right! I cannot believe how messed up that is.”

“Donna,” he called after her as she tried to walk as far away from him as possible. “Please don’t go.”

“Follow me and I shall slap you so hard you’ll end up in next week, eating hospital food,” she threatened him. “Keep well away from me.”

“But…”

She raised her hand to demonstrate that her threat wasn’t an idle one. “Just stop playing silly buggers.”

If he lost her now, he’d never hear the end of it or be able to forgive himself. “We need you,” he pathetically appealed to her. “Please.”

It seemed to calm her anger down a little. She still had a job to do; one that she actually liked, and she wasn’t going to let him or his brother mess that up any further. So what if she fancied them? It didn’t matter. It wouldn’t stop her working and making the most of this gig. They didn’t fancy her back so that made life easier. There couldn’t be any complications to get in the way and she was used to unrequited love. As for Andy kissing her, it was merely a curiosity thing, obviously. She could justify it like that. And now that her own curiosity had been satisfied, she could get back to the more serious business of earning some decent money for a change.

One supportive little voice in her head whispered, he couldn’t help it if you are so alluring he had to kiss you. Men are just made that way.

Not that she completely believed the voice, but she liked the sentiment. She liked it rather a lot. Her as some sort of Siren was rather hard to believe though. The kiss had merely been a bit of flirting that had accidentally gone too far. She knew that now. It didn’t help that she had wanted that kiss, but there you go. Case closed.

Huffing slightly, she informed Andy, “I’ll be back once I’ve finished my coffee break.”

He nodded in agreement, knowing it was the best outcome he could hope for in the circumstances. At least she hadn’t demanded to go home. “See you later,” he cried in her wake. Please come back and let me apologise properly.

Despondently, he turned and trudged back to the mobile workshop with several questions running through his head. Why had he kissed her? Why had he prodded his brother into reacting like that? Why couldn’t he just keep his big mouth shut? All he’d done was try to make a sacrifice for his brother’s sake and ended up making things worse.

He had completely blown things with her if John wasn’t interested enough to follow through. Shit shit shit!

~o0o~

Andy’s demeanour told John everything he needed to know about his budding relationship going pear-shaped. It didn’t merit any more words said to him in anger, so John had given his brother a consoling pat on the shoulder and they’d carried on sorting out the animatronic as a well-oiled team in their customary style. They were famous for it.

By the time Donna later returned to the workshop, they were deeply involved in their task and barely noticed her returned. Or so they pretended. It was best that way. Let the whole incident blow over.

Grateful that they hadn’t brought up her earlier shame, Donna returned to her emails, sorting out the following week’s tasks and plans.

She could do this, she told herself, be in the same room and not act as though it mattered. One more month to go and she would then be working somewhere else entirely, looking back on this job with some nostalgia.

It had taken donning a cloak of indifference to walk back into the workshop as though nothing had happened, picked up the task sheet, and logged into her computer. And all without looking at either of them. That has been the hardest part.

Even then, she was aware of John motioning to Andy. “What’s going on?” he silently worded.

“You can talk directly to me, you know,” Donna casually announced. “At this rate you’ll be passing each other hastily scribbled notes.”

“Sorry Donna,” John carefully worded. “Are you okay?”

“Fine, thanks,” she breezily declared. “Working away like the good employee I am.” She looked up to find John standing over her, concern written all over his face. “Honestly, I’m fine, so you can stop worrying.”

He shrugged to acknowledge his acceptance of her words. “I erm… I was thinking of trying somewhere different for dinner tonight. Do you fancy Italian?” he hesitantly offered.

“Yeah, why not,” she replied; thinking how sweet he looked standing there offering her the best consolation he could think of. Even if it implied he was trying to fatten her up and completely place her outside the realms of being considered in a romantic way.

He beamed back. “Good. There’s a place just down the high street. I thought it looked interesting.”

“A bit posh,” she commented, remembering having seen the place.

Then again, everything he had offered her so far was a bit posh. He tended to like things that way. Probably the true reason why he discriminated against her, now that she thought about it.

“A chance for you to dress up a little bit,” he considered. “You can wear your finest.”

She laughed. “You really don’t have to pretend it’s for my benefit, you know. If you’ve seen a nice waitress you fancy, then point her out and I’ll help you talk to her.”

“Oh I don’t…,” John immediately spluttered in denial.

“If he’s sitting at a restaurant table it wouldn’t be the waitress who catches his eye,” Andy confidently announced.

“Got a thing for the chef instead, has he?” Donna teased.

“Not really,” Andy laughed. “Our John would rather entertain someone completely different.”

“Do you mind?!” John grouched. “I’m trying to arrange dinner tonight, and all you two can do is mess about.”

It was good to play like this with them again; it was what she had been missing.

~o0o~

Now that Donna had talked some sense into herself, with the aid of a bathroom mirror, and gotten over the thought Andy could genuinely fancy her, she was able to relax more with the two Smiths and just enjoy any crumb of flirtation sent in her direction. Yes, she may still want to grab them by the lapels, drag them close, and snog the living daylights out of them, but it wasn’t going to happen. Not without a heavy dosage of alcohol and Christmas cheer. Instead, she was able to sit back and wallow in her unrequited feelings; let all that happiness wash over her for a while. It was harmless fun as long as she stopped herself acting upon it.

In light of that, the Italian meal went quite well. If she’d have believed their attentions were sincere it would have come across as quite a romantic meal. It had all the trappings of one. And both Andy and John seemed hell-bent on giving her small compliments and winning smiles. All false, of course. They were merely trying to cheer her up after that dismissive conversation she had overheard in the workshop. At least they cared enough about her friendship to attempt to make it up to her for any emotional damage they might had caused.

Plus, it was rather nice being the centre of their attention. After a glass or two of rather excellent Italian wine, she could easily pretend they’d had romantic intentions for choosing a place with crisp white tablecloths, crystal glasses, silver cutlery and pretty flower arrangements in small vases on the tables. All in all, it was impressively romantic; and the nearest she would ever get to the real thing.

When Andy nipped off to use the loo after the main course, she was left all alone with John, and felt it best if she kept to work subjects. In particular, the accommodation she had arranged for them to use the following week.

“You’ve stayed at the Old Lion Hotel before. What’s it like? Is there anything to do there that’s interesting?” she asked conversationally.

“Lots of rolling countryside, peace and quiet. A great place to get away from it all.” When she didn’t look suitably impressed, he desperately thought through the list of amenities he knew it had. “Ah, I know what you’d like since you said you’ve been diving in the past,” he purred, leaning in towards her. “They have a beautiful indoor swimming pool you’d adore. You must try it out.”

“A pool,” she repeated, liking the idea a great deal. “Might take my cossie in that case. Haven’t swum in ages.”

“Why not make it a skimpy bikini,” he suggested, loving the mental image it conjured up. “Or better still, go skinny dipping.”

She jovially laughed. “Cheeky sod! Skinny dipping is definitely not on the cards. Nor is a bikini for that matter. You’ve obviously drank too much. Me, in a bikini, indeed,” she scoffed. “As if.”

“No no no no,” he protested. “Honest, you’d look good in one.” Fantastic and sexy.

“No way would I ever let anyone see me in just three small triangles of fabric,” she insisted. “God forbid. Wouldn’t be fair on your eyesight.”

“I assure you my eyesight would be fine.” The rest of him would be rather willing to get a look in too. “I shall have to use my powers of persuasion on you because that pool is definitely worth visiting.”

“Good luck with that one, mate,” she dismissively commented.

But her thoughts rather liked the idea of getting the chance to swim again. Especially if it was in a modest one-piece swimming costume rather than the fantasy model he was suggesting.

Chapter Text

“Did you miss me?” Andy asked as he retook his seat at the table with them. He was pleased to note that John instantly moved his head away from being next to Donna’s, although he wasn’t so sure if he was more delighted he had shifted away or the fact it had been there in the first place. “I don’t know about you but I’m ready for dessert now.”

“Where do you put it all?” Donna wondered in amazement at his appetite.

“Me?” He patted his hands on the side of his torso in demonstration. “I’m a growing lad so I need my food.”

“It probably ends up growing that beard of yours,” she fondly commented. “It certainly doesn’t make a difference to your waistline.”

“True,” Andy agreed with a nod of his head. “We’re naturally thin. Women have always hated us for it.”

“Well,” she pondered, drawing out the syllable, “I’m envious you can eat what you like without worrying about it, but ‘hate’ is a strong word. Then again, thin women is rather your thing, isn’t it John?” she aimed teasingly at him. Revenge is sweet.

“Oh!” he guiltily exclaimed, going bright red. “I erm... I... I wouldn’t necessarily say that. A winning smile and a twinkle in your eye is more important to me.”

He said what?! She snorted her evident disbelief. “Of course it is, as long as it is wrapped up in nothing bigger than a size 10 body. Or one of those American size zeros you hear about in films.”

“That’s not true,” John sulkily protested into his opened dessert menu. To say any more to prove his point would rather be counterproductive. So he pouted in defeat at no one in particular and let Andy take over the conversation again. It was best that way.

“You’re quiet,” Andy noted about him some minutes later. “You okay?”

“I’m just thinking,” John replied. “I might go back to my room and go Skype with Jenny in a moment. She should have finished her prep by now. I’ll see you both tomorrow.”

“Say hallo to her for me,” Donna requested as he stood to go.

They exchanged nods of farewell, and then Donna and Andy were left on their own to finish their meal.

“Not quite alone at last,” she noted, finishing off the last spoonful her dessert.

He gave her a wan smile. “I’m sure we can be adults about it and enjoy each other’s company without a chaperone.” Taking a deep breath, he continued, “All that business this afternoon, I’m really sorry about it. I shouldn’t have given in to my impulse to kiss you because all it did was end up hurting you.”

“I’m fine,” she assured him far too quickly.

“No you’re not,” he argued, placing his hand over hers in comfort, “and that’s my fault. You need to know that I’ve promised John that I won’t try to be anything more than a friend to you while you work for us as a temp.”

“That’s very gallant of you,” she sarkily commented.

“It means a lot to him,” Andy explained. “So… if you will allow me to, I’d like to ask you out in a month’s time, Donna.”

Could she wait a month for her chance to kiss him again? “I’ll think it over,” she answered.

~o0o~

Later, when Andy escorted her along the hotel corridor to her room, he quietly insisted, “John really didn’t mean that comment about your weight in the way that you took it, you know.”

“Oh? Then what exactly did he mean? Because I am eager to know,” she snapped back.

Andy leant nonchalantly against her door frame as he considered how to answer that. Speaking slowly, he stated, “He was rather saying that I’m the one with the penchant for the company of skinny women, not him. Which, to be fair, has been true in the past; back when I chased meaningless relationships to look cool. All that business you overheard was him listing the things he actually likes about you, surprising as that may seem.”

“Yeah, look at how I’m laughing with delight,” she sarcastically pointed out. “He was listing what he doesn’t like.”

“You’ve got it wrong about him,” Andy insisted. “You don’t know him like I do. He’d rather shoot himself in the foot then own up to something that could be seen to be against his own staunch moral code. It’s been drummed into us, I'm afraid. And the risk to Jenny is always uppermost in his mind. That’s why he let Amanda dump him. I’m sure of it.”

“What do you mean he let her?”

He bobbed his head to look down the corridor for any possible eavesdroppers before answering; leaning in to whisper, “Inevitably, Amanda couldn’t stand Jenny getting in her way of completely possessing John.”

“Did she hurt Jenny?” Donna quickly asked, accidentally interrupting him but hating the thought of the girl being caused any pain by the stupid clotheshorse of a woman she’d seen. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt. You were saying?”

“That’s okay. As far as I know Amanda didn’t lay a finger on Jenny otherwise I’d have stepped in; don’t worry. Probably why she isn’t so keen on me,” he pondered, “but Amanda wanted sole ownership of John. She wanted things to get much more serious between them. You should have heard her talk endlessly about where they should live, what they would do, and all that stuff. So when she let slip that she intended to send Jenny to boarding school rather than stay at the day placement she has at the moment, John rather panicked. He’s never been keen to miss out on time spent with his daughter. Used to bring her out on location with us whenever he could. That’s the true reason why he won’t be in work tomorrow despite whatever story he’s given you.”

“That’s nice,” she agreed; loving the thought of John as a protective father. “He told me there’s some open day thing he has to attend.”

“Some day off thing, more like it,” Andy joked. “Could be partially true, knowing him, but also an excellent excuse.”

“Why do that, though? Lie about it, I mean?” she argued. “I would never judge him for wanting to spend time with his own daughter, for goodness sake, after being forced to spend nights away from her like this.”

“Because that’s what he used to: people criticising him for it. Rather sexist when you think about it. I mean, if Jenny was your child you’d gain criticism for not wanting to spend every possible moment with her,” he reasoned. “As it is, all he gets is why can’t he hire someone to look after her.”

“Like a companion,” she added, remembering that conversation on the day she’d met Jenny for the first time. “Okay, I’ll try and give him the benefit of the doubt but if he messes up when I see him on Monday I won’t be so charitable.”

“You won’t regret it,” he confidently replied. Placing a tender kiss on her cheek, he murmured, “Good night, Donna.”

She responded with her own good wishes as he strolled away and entered her room with lots of things to ponder. Like why Andy was suddenly pushing her away and towards John.

~o0o~

Feeling quite chipper and a fluttering of excitement in the pit of his stomach, John walked through the main door into his office, only to be met by no one except a wiggling bottom on the other side of Donna’s desk. “Morning!” he called out to the person the charcoal coloured piece of material covered.

“Hello John! Did you have a nice weekend? I hope the parents’ open day thing at the school went well. The files on your desk are... Wow!” she exclaimed in shock as she emerged from beneath the desk where she’d retrieved a dropped pen that rolled out of reach, and finally caught a proper glimpse of the man standing a few feet away. To say he had changed since she last saw him would be an understatement.

“Do you like it?” he cautiously asked her, running a hand over the mini forest that had started to sprout on his chin. “I thought I’d try it out for a while.”

Oh God! Now she was in trouble. It was official. How would she ever cope with working so close to him now? The fledgling beard was too damn sexy for his own good. Or hers; the outright loser in this contest was yet to be decided. “It looks nice,” she feebly answered; suddenly finding that her voice had tried to escape. “How did your mum react to it?”

I won’t allowed her to react until the weekend. “Mother hasn’t seen it yet,” he airily replied, striding towards his office before Donna could quiz him further. “But Jenny approved.”

“Good,” Donna commented, faithfully following in his wake as he made his way across the carpet to sit in his chair. “She’s the main one you need to impress.”

He cheekily smiled at her. “Who else would be on that list?”

“Your brother,” she instantly responded.

He nodded his agreement. “It was sort of his idea. But he’s a big boy now and can cope with a little competition.”

Competition? Her brow furrowed as she seriously considered the possible outcome of such a thing. “Whoever she is, I hope she’s worth it.”

“Worth what?” he wondered.

What a div! “You possibly falling out with Andy.”

“We disagree at times but we never have those sorts of problems,” John pondered. Even arguing over Donna hadn’t broken their sibling bond. “We just aren’t built that way. So these files on my desk,” he neatly changed the topic of conversation by saying. “What were you going to tell me when I walked in?”

“Oh them!” Donna quickly gathered her thoughts. “I sorted out those location problems,” she explained, pointing to each folder in turn, “so this week’s trips should be fairly straightforward.”

“Careful, Donna. Famous last words,” he teasingly warned her. “I was thinking we’d set off as soon after lunch as possible so that we can settle into the hotel by dinner time. How does that sound?”

“Fine by me,” she eagerly replied. This going out to troubleshoot was fast becoming an addictive pleasure. “We’ll have you tucked up with teddy in bed before midnight,” she teased in return.

But she wasn’t prepared for his response.

“Is that what we are you calling you these days, teddy? Or were you merely offering me a place in your bed?” he cheekily proposed.

Mmmmm. It did all sorts of things to her. Things she was not willing to own up to.

“You cheeky sod!” she gasped out on a laugh. “No cocoa for you at bedtime, mister.”

“But I’m allowed some tea right now, aren’t I?” he asked, directing those puppy dog eyes at her. The ones she was powerless to resist.

“Okay,” she drew out on an exasperated fond sigh. “Just don’t expect special treatment from me all the time.” If only I could show you some very special treatment in my bed…..

After that, she quickly left his office before she could indulge in even more banter. It was much safer that way. Even if it meant that her bed would remain a man-free zone that night; and every other night. Shame.

~o0o~

The thought of going for a swim kept on enticing her, so when John had casually mentioned that their hotel had a pool as part of its amenities, her appetite had been whetted. Or should that be wetted? Nevertheless, it had been a long time since she had gone properly swimming, and she found she ached for the days when she used to scuba dive on a regular basis.

They weren’t meeting up for breakfast until 8.30am. That was plenty of time to sneak down to the pool area and try it out. Of course, she had gone investigating the night before and already knew where to find everything. She wasn’t completely daft. It had looked gorgeous lit by tiny LED lights and flanked by several huge exotic plants. She couldn’t wait to dip her toes in.

Unlike most pools, which were normally rectangular and less than half the size of a public swimming pool, this particular one was a large kidney shape. One end was shallow with lots of steps and the other was obviously meant for diving in. The best of both worlds. And in the centre of the kidney shape, a waterfall cascaded down into the main pool section.

She couldn’t wait!

It was only when she put on her costume from the suitcase that she realised that she hadn’t picked up her own swimming cap to pack but had gained her mother’s one. Oh the shame! And she couldn’t risk going without a cap because they had breakfast meetings to attend. She couldn’t let them hang about for hours while she teased her hair out of the tight curls it would naturally form, and into something much straighter and manageable. Damn! She would have to wear the offensive pink rubber cap with its ludicrous glued on flowers. Very retro, apparently. It shrieked the 1960s. No doubt that was when her mother had originally bought the flipping thing; and she refused point blank to spend good money on a new one.

Typical!

Cautiously entering the pool room, Donna was pleased to see that she was the only one there. Good! Nobody could see her atrocious hat.

Throwing off the hotel cotton robe she had grabbed from the en suite bathroom, and the largest towel she had been able to find, onto a poolside chair, she brought up the hat she had been carrying tightly within her grasp so that no one could see it; and efficiently put it on. So far so good.

The next step was to enter the enticing water. After the initial shock of entering the cool depths by jumping in, she surfaced and took stock of her surroundings as all her worries melted away.

This was heavenly, she declared.

With hardly any effort, she swam about, testing her lost skills, and then relaxed completely into the experience, swimming several lengths of the longest stretch of the pool.

She had just dived down and surfaced below the waterfall when she became aware of someone else. Another person had entered the pool room, and she keenly felt the invasion. Which was a bit daft, when you thought about it, because they were just as entitled to use the place as she had done. They’d paid for it all too.

Trying to be more charitable towards the interloper, she came out from under the waterfall to see who it was. The result shocked her in several ways.

First, it was John standing there by the edge of the pool removing his own cotton hotel robe; to reveal a pair of swimming trunks. The rising sun backlit him beautifully.

Second, it was John in a semi-naked condition. Her boss, John. She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to know what he looked like with his kit off; but she had a flipping good idea now, for there he stood in all his glory.

And third, all his glory included him wearing a pair of designer sunglasses – normally her sexual kryptonite where blokes were concerned, because the allure did things to her libido that verged on the criminal – but he also had an extremely well-toned body, with abs and everything rather than the skinny bits of string she had been expecting him to have. Not that she had deeply considered what he looked like under that tailored suit of his, of course. Had never crossed her mind…

Chapter Text

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manip by develish1

Donna cowered in the water, trying desperately not to be seen by John. At least, not yet. She still had plenty to consider after the shock of seeing him strip off by the side of the pool; and she’d rather do it while remaining anonymous, thank you very much.

Anyway… she thought with a sigh. The upshot of all this was that not only was it her boss standing there considering entering the swimming pool, but also this sexy Adonis. Yes: John Smith. Adonis. He needed to come with a health warning, he was that hot. Well, in her eyes he was.

Who would have thought?!

Certainly not her, that was for sure. And she tried to dip lower in the water as the thought threatened to overwhelm her.

Thank goodness John slowly walked into the pool water via the steps at the shallow end, because it stopped her looking at his long hairy lean legs that led up to a very interesting package… I mean… body. All muscly and begging to be touched.

Naturally he had noticed her treading water in the same spot near the man-made waterfall. The pink horror of a hat was a dead giveaway. With the practised ease of a catwalk model, he raised his arm and removed his sunglasses. “Hello Donna. Fancy seeing you here,” he pleasantly remarked. Thank god she had taken the bait.

“Yeah,” she pathetically responded and then swallowed to try and regain moisture in her suddenly dry mouth. What must he think? “I erm… I thought I’d come and have a swim before breakfast.”

He nodded his approval. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely lovely,” she answered, trying to wrench her gaze away from his chest and that smattering of dark hair that enticingly covered his muscles. “Irresistible once I knew it was here.”

To her consternation, he then lowered his body and swan towards her, almost gliding along the surface.

“What’s the deal with the hat?” he asked once he reached her, pointing at her head with a wet hand.

“Hat?” she feebly queried before she realised what he was going on about. “Oh, the hat. It’s my mum’s. I accidentally brought hers instead of my own. Need to keep my hair dry, you see.”

He had edged closer, causing her to stumble over her words a bit. Not that his bare nearness was affecting her or anything.

“Nothing wrong with getting your hair wet,” he commented, and bobbed his head under the water in demonstration; using the action to push himself forward. “It’s part of the fun.”

No, he does not look adorable all wet and big eyes
, she chided herself. “It isn’t if your hair is on a mission to turn into corkscrews at the first chance it gets,” she retorted. “It takes ages to straighten all that out.”

His eyes rose longingly to her hat. “I’d love to see you with curly hair,” he mused.

“Maybe I can provide that one day,” she heard herself say, much to her internal disgust. What are you doing promising that?!! “Anyway, it’s time I got back to my room. We have a long day ahead for me to get ready for.”

She had to get away from him or she was liable to do something really stupid. Okay, there was a list of things she’d like to do.

“Wait!” he cried as she eased away towards the steps. He followed and caught hold of her shoulders as she got to the part of the pool where it was possible to stand with the water at waist height. “You don’t have to leave on my account. Stay and have some fun with me,” he offered. “What do you say?”

Not bloody likely! She daren’t stay, she really shouldn’t. If she did, she was liable to grab him and offer an experience not many men would refuse. She knew a couple of women who might have been interested too.

“No, I can’t. Sorry. Another time, maybe,” she tried to console him, knowing that if he begged, she’d cave in.

“Okay,” he reluctantly replied. “But first, before you go, can I see you without that monstrosity?”

As she opened her mouth to query what exactly was the monstrosity, his hand rose from her shoulder and tugged off the swimming cap, letting her long ginger hair cascade down onto her shoulders.

Oh yes, she thought, as he gawped at her. The power of the hair. Works best with a crash helmet, according to the telly, but this was workable.

“I’ll see you later, mister,” she practically purred at him, and turned to do her best sashay out of the pool, swinging her hips to show off her figure.

Her focus was on making a dramatic exit so she hadn’t been aware of him following at a fast rate of knots. All she was aware of was when he spun her around and into his arms, stopping when their noses were merely millimetres apart.

“Forgive me,” he whispered, right before he edged closer still, near enough to feel his puffs of breath on her cheeks.

It was also near enough to feel other parts of his body.

Kiss me. “Nothing to forgive,” she huskily murmured. “Unless you don’t do it, of course.”

That was the signal that gave him permission to carry out the next action of meeting her lips with his own. Except he hadn’t needed to seek her consent in the end, because she had given in to her own impulse and wrapped her arms around his neck to drag him down to meet her mouth.

Ooooh yes, he internally groaned; although it might have been externally too. He didn’t care in that moment. Time tried to stand still as they memorised every sense and touch; moving with soft presses and tender sweeps. The kiss was everything they could have wished for. A sweet, succulent kiss that was over far too quickly.

Breaking for a breath, both of them were visibly stunned before realisation set in and he gallantly pushed her away.

What had he done?! Everything’s ruined! “I am so sorry,” he blustered, gradually releasing his hold of her body. “I don’t know what came over me. I don’t usually act like that, forcing myself upon a beautiful woman.”

Didn’t manage it this time either, an inner voice sniped. Instead of saying it out loud, she held up a hand to stop his apologetic tirade. “It doesn’t matter, honest it doesn’t. We’ve all done it, got caught up in the moment. I’ll leave you to deal with that…” She glanced down meaningfully. “…and I’ll meet you for breakfast, as planned.”

“So, we’re erm…. we’re okay, me and you?” he cautiously wondered.

“Yeah,” she answered. “We’re fine. See you later.”

Having uttered that, she kept her attention on donning her hotel robe and slippers, placing the towel around her neck before walking away; wiggle included.

Still got it, both of them coincidentally thought.

~o0o~

“Good morning, campers,” Andy cheerily greeted them at their breakfast table. “Did we sleep well?”

“You really don’t have to ask my permission to do that,” Donna joked, and gained the answering smirk she wanted. “But just for the sake of conversation, I slept well, thanks.”

“Good to hear. May I say how lovely you look this morning? Your hair is quite fetching, being slightly curled like that,” he continued to compliment her, adjusting his place setting to just how he liked it. “Did you do anything special to it?”

“Merely got it a bit wet,” she answered, briefly glancing towards a guilty John, “quite by accident, but it’s dried out like this and I didn’t have time to use the straighteners.”

“Can’t say that I’m disappointed.” The waitress turned up to bring him a pot of tea, so he fiddled about with it for a moment, stirring the contents to quicken the brewing process. “You’re quiet this morning, John,” he noted. “Is everything alright?”

“I erm…,” John distractedly replied, and toyed with the napkin by his butter plate. “I’m fine. Just thinking about those servos we need to replace.”

Contemplating the mood at the table, Andy poured himself out a cup of tea. “So I didn’t interrupt a heart to heart conversation between you two when I turned up? Feel free to tell me.”

As Donna said “No,” John responded, “What would we need to have such a conversation together for?”

He merely raised his eyebrows briefly. “If I need to tell you then you are in serious trouble,” Andy commented. “Or in denial. I suppose that could be said.”

“Perhaps we were discussing you,” Donna proposed. “I could have been saying all sorts of things.”

“Ooh, like what?” he leaned towards her to ask. “Go on; tell me how gorgeous you find me.”

“Well,” she began, “I’d obviously start with your naturally modest personality.” He nodded. “And then I’d continue with all the self-deprecating stuff you spout.”

“Don’t encourage him,” John begged as Andy laughed with delight. “You’ll never get rid of him now. He’ll follow you about like a devoted puppy.”

So of course Andy fluttered his eyes at her and then stuck his tongue out to pant in mock eager puppy style. “I have many winning qualities.”

“I’m beginning to realise that,” she laughed.

She was not ready for what he did next.

“Okay, that’s me dealt with,” he stated decisively. “Now on to John. How would you describe his qualities.”

The sod! She glared at Andy for putting her on the spot, before tentatively turning her gaze on to John, who was trying not to show his interest in her answer. “Naturally, as my temporary boss, I find John to be all things lovely and delightful,” she cautiously replied.

“No.” Andy shook his head at her. “I don’t want the fawning version, thank you very much. We know your job is safe for the time being, so be honest. Tell me he isn’t as gorgeous as me.”

That gave her leeway to lark about again and skim around her true feelings. “Alright. John is at first sight a snarling bear when really he is a sweetheart. But don’t tell him I said that.”

“Oi! I am sitting here,” John pretended to gripe. “Very well said, Donna. Yes, you may keep your job. Which brings me nicely onto a pressing matter.”

“Oh?” she questioned; and caught Andy trying desperately not to look at her as he drank the last dregs of his tea although there was an air of suppressed glee about him. “What’s going on?”

“The thing is,” John started to say, partially reaching out across the tablecloth towards her, “we have been talking amongst ourselves and we have been impressed with your work so far. You’ve quickly become a boon to us; so we would like to offer you a more permanent position.”

With you. Please make it with you, her heart instantly begged to be told. But she knew he would want his normal secretary back with him, so she steeled herself to hear where exactly in the company she would end up. At least it was an offer though. Not many of them genuinely came her way.

“What department would I be working?” she asked.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Andy wondered.

Both men chuckled when she shook her head to denote that it wasn’t.

“We want you to carry on doing this; organising us on location visits. It will mean a lot of living out of a suitcase but it would utilise your temping skills perfectly,” John supplied. “We thought you could offer us your services as a freelance consultant. That way you’d be free to choose your own employment status and conditions. So what do you say? Do you fancy giving us a proper go?”

If there was a TV camera on us this is the point at which I’d look into it
, she thought. “Yeah, why not,” she tried to nonchalantly say.

“A toast, to working with us,” Andy proposed, picking up his glass of orange juice.

“To us!” And all three clinked glasses, followed by a sip in celebration.

“We will celebrate in style tonight,” John promised.

I’m doomed, totally doomed, to spend my life without him properly. “Tonight,” she echoed. “I can hardly wait.”

~o0o~

Their breakfast meeting with the main members of the production team at Cherrywood Films went quite well, ironing out several issues, and promises were made to make certain things happen in the near future.

Having resolved a problem or two, the Smith brothers could happily return to devising a brand new alien to be included in the film shoot.

As they sat eating their hastily gathered lunch in a different workshop, taking a much needed breather after all their frantic activity, Donna thought to point out, “You take rather a lot of consideration when you create an alien, don’t you?”

“Doesn’t everyone take pride in their work?” John modestly dismissed her praise.

“No, that isn’t what I meant,” she clarified. “I mean, you really care how people perceive each creature, that it isn’t just a sort of puppet but a plausible being.”

“Well,” he allowed with a nod of his head, “we want people to see them as real rather than caricatures. It’s far too easy to do that. And we have a great deal of respect for other species.”

“You talk as though they aren’t make-believe,” Donna commented, now intrigued. “Does that mean you believe aliens actually exist?”

Both John and Andy froze.

“Logic says that they do,” Andy carefully said. “All our creations are based on living creatures we have seen.”

“I suppose so,” Donna thoughtfully replied. “And there are some really weird animals that live in the hidden depths of the oceans. Far too many variations for us to dismiss or still discover.”

Relief spread on the Smiths’ faces.

“Very true,” John agreed. “Who knows what new species will be discovered in the future.”

“I merely take a little bit of this and a little bit of that in my creature designs,” Andy informed her, dancing about in demonstration. “Do you like this one?” He pointed to his latest creation sitting on the workbench.

It was a round, squat, pale little being.

“I do,” she assured him. “It’s cute. What did you decide you were calling it?”

“An Adipose. A creature made almost entirely of fat.” He picked it up and held the small creature lovingly on the palm of his hand. “Now the popular misconception is that all aliens are evil, but this one is one of the good guys.”

She peered closer. “In what way?”

“It feeds on unwanted human body fat,” he announced.

Her smile brightened. “I could use one of them as a pet.”

Andy gasped in horror. “Oh no, we don’t approve of caging any alien you happen to find.”

John added his agreement. “That would be unthinkable.”

“So you want to let them roam free on their home planet?” Donna considered.

“Yes, that sort of thing is ideal,” Andy replied. “They are only here having a look around, finding out information about us in much the same way we’d go to somewhere else like, say, Mars.”

“But there’s only that poor lonely Mars Rover on Mars,” Donna remembered. “The one that apparently sings itself ‘Happy birthday’. It makes me think of Wall-E.”

Her bottom lip pouted in sympathy so Andy nudged John. “Do you feel sorry for Wall-E?” he wondered.

“How could you not?” she demanded. “All those emotions of his, going to waste as he dreams of fulfilling his fantasy. Finding love, someone to dance with and share the things he likes. It’s very relatable, you must admit.”

Andy looked straight at John. “No, I can’t say that I know what you mean. What do you think, John-E?”

“Oi!” They all laughed when John did a perfect impersonation by clutching his hands together, lowering his brows and sighing, “Ohhhh.”

~o0o~

Chapter Text

It had gone passed lunchtime on a productive Thursday with mere hours to go. The Gallifreyan Productions trio were looking forward to a Friday spent back in the office, to charge personal batteries and Donna in particular was eager to gain a sense of home again, away from the eternal indifference of hotel rooms. This lifestyle was still new to her, after all.

Suddenly a loud bleep rung out to indicate a message had been received by one of them. Inevitably all three pulled out their phones to look to see if it was for them but only one had a result.

John scowled at the text message on his phone. “Oh hell!” he exclaimed in frustration.

“What’s the matter? Bad news?” Andy immediately asked in concern.

“It’s Jenny. She has a match after school and I’d forgotten I’d promised to watch it. Sorry Donna, we will have to leave extra earlier if I’m going to drive you home first and then get back to the school in time for her match,” John explained.

What about Andy? She gazed questioningly towards him to see if he was willing to volunteer himself, but he was frantically averting his eyes. I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then.

The suggestion that she could ride home with Andy instead was obviously something John was not willing to contemplate; underlined by the fact that Andy himself wasn’t mentioning it. Little did she know that Andy was chanting to himself to remember the vow he had made to John not to be alone with her again in a compromising situation.

“Or,” she began to offer, “I could come with you to the match and save you all that frantic driving about.”

Oh yes! “Are you sure?” John cautiously sought to confirm; pleased that this opportunity was presenting itself.

“Of course,” she said. “It’ll mean I get to spend some time with Jenny again too. And see this posh school of hers I’ve heard about. Never been to a private school before so it should be quite an eye opener.”

“It will be for somebody,” Andy muttered within earshot of his brother. “What was your comprehensive school like, Donna?”

“Did you ever manage to watch Grange Hill when it was on telly?” she asked. “Well it was something like that.”

“Mixed classes then,” Andy pondered. He then twirled a finger between himself and John. “We were boys only at our school. Made learning to talk to girls pretty daunting, I can tell you.”

“You’d have never have guessed,” she teased. “Anyway, I thought you lot were supposed to meet your future wives at the tennis club or the Young Conservatives.”

“It would be if you’re interested in that sort of thing. But we never were,” Andy admitted. “So we never got the chance to practise any chat up lines.”

“Don’t give me that! There would have been girls on at least some of your courses when you went to university,” Donna argued. “You can’t have avoided any female interaction while you were there.”

“Well…,” Andy commented, “you could say that. There were certainly lots of nerdy conversations, distant pining, and unprovoked attention.”

“Oh?”

“He’s referring to Jenny’s mother. I had been persuaded to go along to a night club one Christmas by my course mates, and she singled me out.” John blushed at the memory, ashamed of his part in it. “Being the centre of attention of a beautiful mature woman…”

“How much older than him?” Donna quietly asked Andy.

“A good five or so years,” he supplied.

“As I was saying,” John continued, “it was all pretty new to me; and erm...”

To spare him his blushes, Donna provided, “You ended up in her bed.”

“It was only a one night stand; I thought nothing more would come of it when she later told me to bugger off.”

“He’d asked her out afterwards, you see,” Andy gleefully provided, “but she turned him down flat.”

Trying to ignore him, John added, “So I was more than surprised to find out I’d been a daddy donor.”

“Like you would,” Andy put in.

John huffed in exasperation at his brother. “You know, Andy, you gain far too much entertainment from my predicament.”

“I get life lessons too,” he answered. “Like, don’t get involved with crazy bitches who own half a restaurant.”

“That’s another dig at Amanda, isn’t it?” John seethed. “Sometimes I wonder if you secretly fancied her yourself.”

“No chance!” Andy emphatically retorted. “Choosing someone merely because they’ve set their sights on you is not the way to go. Not if you don’t want to end up with a bunny boiler. No, what you need is a woman who’d look after you and Jenny.”

“Easier said than done,” John calmly stated. “And there is the little matter of Jenny not being used to sharing me.”

“Good grief! Listen to yourself moping about. Jenny is capable of being spoken to as an adult, you know. Just talk to her and explain the situation,” Donna advised, “when you actually meet the right woman. I’m sure she’ll be very understanding.”

“You think so?” John hesitantly wondered.

“I know so,” Donna adamantly stated. “I might not know much but I do remember how adolescent girls think.”

Andy gave John the thumbs up gesture behind Donna’s back. “Further proof why we need you in our lives,” he pleasantly complimented her. “At this rate we won’t be able to survive without you.”

“Geroff!” she blustered in delight; especially because John was nodding his agreement.

If only she could have kissed him in gratitude. Although which ‘he’ that was in her mind at any given moment was rather undefined, but she was okay with that for the time being...

~o0o~

Having waited for Donna to finish off her work and leave them to freshen up before going home, Andy grabbed the chance to ask the question burning in his mind. “Okay John, what’s the secret smiling all about?”

“What secret smiling?” he protested. “All I’m doing is sitting here minding my own business.” Shut up and leave me alone to enjoy this.

“Come off it, John. I know something is up.” Andy leaned closer and deliberately peered into his brother’s eyes. “Guilty happiness, that’s what I’m getting from you, and I’m not convinced it’s about leaving me here to finish up on my own. I’m determined to find out before Donna comes back.” There was a slight jerky reaction from his brother. “It has to be about Donna,” he reasoned out. “How are things between you two?”

“The normal,” John insisted. “Employer and employee, for the time being. Soon to be colleagues; but you know that already.”

“I do but…” Andy got closer to interrogate him. “You are emphasising your work status in order to make me overlook something else. Something that might not be for my own personal benefit.”

John’s eyes flashed with anger. “I would never do anything to deliberately hurt you.”

“I know,” Andy quietly assured him. “But does that extend to hurting her?”

“Of course,” John murmured as Donna joined them.

“Aren’t you ready yet?” she wondered as she picked up her remaining valuables. “Come on, or we’ll be late.”

“Go on. Run along like a good little boy,” Andy teased his brother. “And give Jenny my love.”

John merely waved at him in response, but the grin on his face as he followed Donna out was nothing but triumphant.

~o0o~

A cold breeze had picked up by the time they climbed out of the car and eyed the grounds of the school Jenny attended. Woodcroft School, it was called. Donna cast her curious gaze about the secluded area, trying to drink in and assess the lie of the land, as it were.

Dotted around the grounds were several recreation areas. Tennis, hockey, football, and netball were all obviously provided for, and no doubt other sports like badminton, squash, cricket and lacrosse were too. John had told her there was a new swimming pool block newly built on the other side of the main school buildings; and there was the potential to go sailing on a nearby lake.

Blimey, it was all a bit daunting. The humble comprehensive she had attended was nothing like this. For a start, her old school hadn’t had its own acres of woodland, nor a long drive up a private road before you reached any of the buildings.

They were there to watch a netball match, she was pleased to discover. Now netball was a game she was very familiar with, and had almost made it onto the school team back when she was in her teens. Supporting this game would be a doddle. Once she had warmed up a bit more, of course. And that would require some hot drinks. Luckily she had suggested to John that they stop at some services on the way to buy some coffees, and he had been able to keep them hot thanks to some well-designed heated cup holders in his car. Thank goodness the Germans thought to provide such gadgets she thought as she headed back to the car to retrieve their drinks. Unfortunately, they had forgotten to take the drinks with them when they’d stepped out of his car; he’d been too eager to prove to Jenny he’d turned up in time. So Donna had volunteered to fetch their coffees.

Pity they hadn’t brought some brandy to add, she thought as she tried not to jog in order to warm herself up.

At least going back to the car had given her a much needed chance to observe this new situation and see John and his kind in one of his natural environments, as it were. It reminded her of one of those Prof Robert Winston or David Attenborough programmes. ‘And here we have the Sloane Rangers protecting their offspring and showing off their yummy mummy status…’ sort of thing. She could feel their judgemental eyes boring into her back as she walked to the car park.

Around the school pitch, stood on the grass verge, were several mothers who, although aware of John’s presence and apparently not afraid of him, didn’t exactly welcome him there either. They stood huddled together, exchanging gossip and occasionally glancing his way with interest. A lone male parent always incited interest for some reason; but he was sure his appearance this time gained their attention for a completely different reason.

That reason tottered across the patch of grass in her stiletto heels, taking great care not to walk too fast and sink into the mud. Spotting her slow progress toward him, John had held out a steady hand to aid her movements. To say he felt relieved when Donna returned from the car holding their mugs of coffee was an understatement. One of the benefits of owning an expensive car was drinks that stayed warm, he found. But he was also glad to have her company in this school landscape; to have Donna act as his buffer against suspicious parents.

“Hello fake fiancé,” she cheerily greeted him, holding out one of the cups in offering.

“Hello fake fiancée. You’re not going to let me forget that favour, are you?” he wondered, taking the proffered coffee.

“Not if I can tease you endlessly with it I’m not,” she admitted as she properly reached his side.

All the other women there were eyeing her with class-ridden disdain. Evidently you aren’t supposed to turn up to a netball match in a tailored suit paired with power stiletto shoes. It rather made them in their designer green wellies and gilets look dowdy in comparison. So Donna deliberately made a play of swiping off any offending stray hairs from the shoulders of John’s jacket. Not that he seemed to mind when he apparently caught on, and brought a hand up to rest on her lower back, keeping her close to his body for a moment or two.

“Is this part of the aforementioned teasing?” he pondered.

“Could be,” she allowed, loving the way his eyes crinkled in merriment. “Or it could still be part of the favour.”

He opened his mouth to answer, and then spotted Jenny. “There she is!”

“DAD!” Jenny yelled out as she ran over to greet him. “Donna!” she equally squealed, giving her a crushing hug too. “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Your dad couldn’t keep me away once I knew you had a match to support you through.” Donna smiled encouragingly. “Am I allowed to shout and cheer like at West Ham?”

“I’m not sure they’d be very pleased,” Jenny admitted, “but I would be.”

“Smith! Get back over here!” a PE teacher shouted at the girl.

Jenny turned her head to view the gathering teams. “Have to go. Ms Cromwell is calling me. I’ll see you both later.”

“Good luck!” John called out after her in encouragement.

~o0o~

To his amusement, Donna called out numerous encouraging things to Jenny as the match progressed, and filled him in on any rules he didn’t quite understand. It had been the first time he had ever shared the experience with someone, and he found that he rather liked it.

“Why don’t you come and have dinner with us?” he nonchalantly asked her when the match finished and they were left to wait for Jenny to appear from the changing rooms. “I could easily run you home afterwards.”

Seeing his bright and eager expression, it was no hardship to agree. “Okay, but I’ll have to warn my mum first that I won’t be home yet. Where were you thinking of eating?”

“Erm,” he faltered. “Since I have coerced you into this, I’ll let you decide.”

“You might live to regret that,” she joked.

He certainly did when he pulled up outside a McDonald’s; much to Jenny’s glee. “You want to eat here?!” he spat out. When his companions nodded in conformation, he added, “I told you that I refuse to sit in such a place.”

“Then go through the drive-through,” Donna insisted. “That won’t kill you, and we can eat at your house.”

“But it will stink out the car,” he protested.

“Oh give over!” she derided him. “Ever heard of opening a window? There must be a button in this fancy car of yours that gets rid of smells. How far do you live from here? It probably won’t have a chance to permanently leave a whiff.”

“Too far.” Defeated, he moaned, “Alright, we’ll eat here, but we’ll stay in the car. Sometimes I wonder why I let you talk me into things.”

“Because I’m Supertemp,” she smirked as he drove into the drive-through lane.

His scowl was totally worth the merry grin on Jenny’s face.

“Can I have a big Mac meal and a strawberry milkshake, Dad?” Jenny eager asked as he neared the kiosk window.

The groan of disgust he wheezed out and Donna’s answering laugh were completely involuntary. “Just think,” she consoled him, “you might not have to ever do this again.”

“I very much doubt that,” he grumbled; but secretly delighted in the happy smiles he gained.

~o0o~

“So how was your first experience of a normal family meal?” Donna asked John as he drove them towards her home.

“You call that normal?” he wondered in disbelief.

“Well, normal as an occasional treat,” she amended. “And Jenny liked it.”

“I did,” Jenny readily agreed from the back seat. “Can we do that again some time, Dad?”

“I knew you’d ask that,” he complained. “I blame you,” he aimed towards Donna.

“Surely you don’t expect me to feel guilty,” she nonchalantly replied, “because it ain’t going to happen. I warned you about letting me decide.”

From behind them, Jenny giggled in amusement. But moments later she shrieked in fright when there was a sudden flash of lightning followed by a thunderclap.

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” John tried to sooth her, “Just a bit of rain. It’ll soon be over.”

“Are you sure?” Donna questioned when the rain outside turned from gentle droplets to thrashing raindrops. “It looks pretty mean out there.”

“That isn’t our only problem,” he commented as he slowed the car down to a halt.

Peering out through the windscreen it was soon evident what had caught his attention. The road ahead was flooded, and coming towards them was a Land Rover delicately making a path through it, throwing up a plume of gallons of water in its wake.

“I suppose your car can’t do that,” Donna considered.

“It definitely can’t,” he agreed. “And this is the only road out.”

“What are you going to do, Dad?” a worried Jenny asked.

He turned in his seat and gave her knee a comforting pat. “No problem; it’s okay. We’ll turn around and try again later. The water is bound to recede in a few hours.”

“Of course the downside to this is that you’ll get more of me for the next few hours,” Donna added. “You poor thing.”

That brightened her mood. “I don’t mind,” Jenny responded. “You can come back to our house and I can show you my room.”

“There you go.” Donna smiled encouragingly at her. “There’s always a silver lining to everything.”

There certainly is. “Think you can put up with me for a few extra hours?” John queried as he executed a three point turn, and then drove along the road they had just journeyed.

“I’m sure I can, if I try hard enough.” Thank you, God!

~o0o~

Chapter Text

“Wow! Is this really your house?” Donna gasped in awe when they pulled into the driveway of a good –sized place within the stockbroker belt, somewhere to the south west of London, but deep in the countryside. “It must have cost a fortune! Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry or anything but…. I am seriously impressed.”

Talk about a posh house. It was the sort of place that would cost at least a million if not two or more to buy. He must be minted. With its Tudor style walls and things like ivy and wisteria growing up passed the top windows, it was a county residence that was almost too romantic for its own good.

“It’s comfortable,” John bashfully responded, delighted with her reaction.

“And the rest,” Donna murmured as they climbed out of the car. The scent of various flower shrubs immediately captured her senses. “Compared to where I live this is like being on holiday every day of the week.”

It took every ounce of his being not to wrap her up in an elated hug. “Why don’t you come inside and see if it lives up your expectations,” he leaned close to suggest. They all stepped into the bright hallway; just as the phone rang. “Jenny will start showing you around while I get that,” he declared.

A bouncy Jenny immediately led the way up the ornate staircase. “We’ll start with my bedroom, if that’s alright,” she chattered on as they climbed. “I chose everything myself, even the curtains. Dad says I have excellent taste.”

“No doubt you do,” an amused Donna responded.

Jenny’s bedroom wasn’t quite what Donna had expected, which was pink frilly stuff and horsey things. Okay there was still a fair amount of hints of pink and horse in the large open room, but the predominant theme was space and astronomy.

“What do you think of it?” Jenny eagerly asked as Donna stood on the predominant rug and tried to take everything in.

“Blimey! You’re certainly into your space stuff, aren’t you,” she commented. “There’s so much to see in here. Which bit is your favourite bit?”

The girl immediately bound over to a star chart that filled half a wall. “This is my favourite constellation,” she stated, moving things out of the way for Donna to see it better. “Particularly this bit.” She pointed to a small cluster of stars. “It’s called Kasterborous.”

“I don’t know that one,” Donna admitted, peering intently at the image. “I’ll have to ask Gramps if he knows it. He’s bound to know.” When Jenny’s eyes widened in interest, she added, “Gramps is my grandfather. He goes up the hill to look at the stars most nights, and belongs to the local amateur astronomers’ society. You’d get on well with him; like a house on fire. I used to go with him for a while. Okay, more than a while, right up until recently when I had to stop.”

“Why can’t you go anymore?” Jenny wondered.

“It’s this job, you see,” Donna explained with a sigh. “Being away most of the week means that I can’t go with him as often as I’d like. Not that I can stay all night, as a rule. I tend to stay until just after midnight and then leave him to enjoy on his own. It’s easier for him to stay up longer because he’s retired and can please himself.”

“We’ve got a mini observatory here,” Jenny quietly confessed, as though it was a huge secret. “Dad loves to look at the stars as well.”

“Does he? That’s marvellous for you to both do together. Going up the hill with Gramps brought us closer; we talked about everything as we gazed up,” Donna revealed. “Especially when my dad was still alive and I was allowed to sneak up with them. They both loved it. I almost envy you getting all that. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Despite her smiling her most encouraging smile at Jenny, the girl’s face saddened. “I wish my dad was here so that we could go stargazing together, but…”

“I know, love,” Donna sympathised, placing a comforting arm around Jenny’s shoulders. It caught her unawares when the girl suddenly turned and hugged her tight; causing tears to well up in her eyes. Oh my gawd! Is doing this alright? “It seems like all he does is work at the moment,” she whispered, “but I promise that he hates being away from you and does nothing but talk about the plans he has for things you and him are going to do.”

“Then why isn’t he home more?” Jenny sobbed. “If he cared he would be.”

“Come on, you know that he cares,” Donna chided. “If he didn’t he’d have dumped you somewhere and you wouldn’t see him from one end of the year to the next. You should have seen how he rushed to get to your match this afternoon. No ordinary bloke would do that.” She delicately wiped a tear away from Jenny’s cheek. “Your dad is special. Look at how he ditched that Amanda woman when he needn’t’ve.”

To her relief, Jenny nodded. “She hated me,” she breathily revealed. “She wanted Dad all to herself and me out of the way, so I’m glad I was unpleasant with her.”

Oh? “What sort of thing did you do?” Donna couldn’t help asking.

“I er…” Jenny gulped guiltily. “I deliberately made her tea wrong, would try and sit between them, and wrinkled up my nose as though she smelt bad.”

You go, girl! Suppressing a laugh, Donna released her hold and offered a tissue from a box she found on the lush nearby dressing table. “Aw, don’t feel bad. It was all very understandable for a young girl like yourself, and nowhere as mean as you could have been. Certainly not ‘send you away to boarding school’ sort of mean.”

“You heard about that?” Jenny queried in amazement.

Donna nodded. “Your Uncle Andy told me, not your dad. He has too much pride to admit such a thing.”

“I suppose so,” Jenny hesitantly agreed. “So you don’t hate me for what I did?”

“Of course not! Whatever made you think such a thing?” Donna assured her. “Now how about you go wash your face, and then we can make some tea together. From what I hear, I might have to watch you,” she teased, giving Jenny’s shoulder a friendly nudged.

“I would never do that to you,” Jenny vowed. “You’re my friend as well as dad’s.”

“Too right I am,” Donna agreed as she followed the girl out of the bedroom. “Us girls have to stick together, through thick and thin.”

“My friends asked me if you are Dad’s new girlfriend,” Jenny shyly confessed as they descended the stairs. “Are you?”

“No,” Donna hastily denied. “We’re friends, so you don’t have to worry about that. I think it is time for a nice cup of tea.”

The appreciative smile she gained was worth its weight in gold.

~o0o~

After fighting a strong streak of kitchen-envy when they entered the sleek, modern kitchen, Jenny set to making a fresh pot of tea, and Donna gamely supervised. Well, not knowing where anything was tends to be a major handicap when helping out. But she did admire every appliance she encountered; to Jenny’s evident amusement.

“Where are you, Dad?” Jenny called out once they had three steaming cups of tea poured out and ready to be drunk.

“I’m in here, in the sitting room,” he loudly replied.

“I’ll take your dad’s cup if you bring those biscuits you promised me,” Donna proposed.

She then followed her nose to try and find where he was sat, listening to something on the television. It was one of those televisions that got shut away in its own cabinet most of the time when not in use. He was on the end cushion of a settee so she chose the armchair next to him.

Handing John his tea, she asked, “Any more news about the flooding?”

He took the cup and sighed. “Yes. Andy phoned to say that he had difficulties getting home, and the local news channel on the internet wasn’t very optimistic. They’ve just said in a news report that they reckon the roads won’t be clear until about ten o’clock this evening. Sorry.” Please don’t be annoyed with me.

I don’t have to go home yet. Yes, oh yes! “It’s not your fault,” she commented with a small shrug of her shoulders. “Perhaps you can finally show me that film you were going on about.”

“Oh yes!” he gleefully responded. “You’ll be amazed how well our creatures came out in it. Why, there’s this particular scene…”

“Why don’t you show me?” she gently suggested, interrupting his flow of words with a touch of her hand on his arm. “If you’re really good, I’ll let you give me a running commentary.”

He’d planned to do that anyway, but it felt marvellous to get her permission.

“You’re not watching that one again?!” Jenny despaired when she entered clasping her own cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.

From down on the floor by the DVD player, John did his best not to look guilty. “Donna wanted to see it. She’s not seen it before.”

“I’ll leave you to it, and go talk to Beatrice on my computer, if that’s okay?” she sought to confirm from her father.

“Yes, go.” He waved her off. “Take some biscuits and we will see you later.” Turning from Jenny’s answering smirk as she left them, he noticed Donna looking at his TV cabinet with keen interest. “Anything the matter?”

“Did I see a secret stash of drinks in there, right at the back?” When he pulled a few items out of the way for her to see a little better, she commented, “No doubt you expect Jenny not to look there.”

Oops! Caught me out. “No. Yes. Maybe,” he admitted. “They just seem to go well with the films I watch.”

“Keep telling yourself that, mate. What’s that one?” she asked, pointing to a fancy liqueur bottle she didn’t recognise. “The dark one with the blue label.”

“That one…,” he began to explain, leaning forward to pick it up,”…was given to me at Christmas. Haven’t opened it yet to try. Do you fancy trying it out with me?” He held it up enticingly.

“What about you driving me home?” she queried. “I don’t want to risk you getting done for ‘drink driving’.”

“You’ve still got your suitcase in the car,” he reasoned. “So you could stay the night, if you want. Wouldn’t take me long to set up the spare bed.” Please say ‘yes’. Please. Please. Please.

Are you deliberately trying to tempt me? “Oh, go on then,” she encouraged him. “You’ve talked me into it.” She’d be safe from jumping him, she was sure. Jenny was there to act as chaperone.

But when he shone that heart-warming smile of his at her, she knew she’d do anything to stay in the warmth of his attention, no matter what the consequences.

“Here you go,” he slowly stated as he poured out a small measure of warm coloured alcohol for both of them to sample and handed over a glass.

Hesitantly taking a sip, she found that the golden liquid was a delight on the palate. “Mmm. That is nice.” Hopefully it won’t have me giggling like a girl flirting with her school crush.

He nodded his agreement. “Unusual but I like it. More?” He replenished her glass when she held it out.

“Careful. You’ll have me legless at this rate.” Definitely sounding too relaxed now.

If you only knew… With a laugh, he replied, “You discovered my secret plan. We’re still celebrating your new job status, remember.” He then sat himself back at the end of the settee closest to her, and gave what he hoped was a non-predatory smile.

Okay, this is it. Taking the bull by the horns, she asked her burning question, giving him a chance to answer honestly. “Why did you decide to offer me different employment as a freelance? I’m not knocking it; I just wondered what made you do it.”

So that I could keep you. Putting his finished glass carefully down onto the coffee table in front of them, he leaned back in his seat to regard her. “Honestly? I thought about it first the day I caught you and Andy kissing.”

“Oh!” Her face instantly went bright red. “Nothing’s happened on that front, in case you were wondering.”

“I know. He told me,” he answered her unspoken question. “Andy understood my reasons for halting things between you, but I know he could last for only so long before he wanted more.”

She frowned heavily. “But he hasn’t made a move on me since, apart from the usual flirting, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed. He just couldn’t stop the flirting. “Anyway, I knew that changing your terms of employment to freelance would free you from what Andy calls my draconian ways. You can have a romantic relationship with whoever you please in the company, should you want to,” he tacked on.

The booze was obviously affecting her brain because that didn’t sound quite right. “Hang on. Are you basically saying you changed my contract so that I could shag your brother?”

Horror flashed on his countenance. Oh God, no! That wasn’t why. “No, I… I didn’t mean it like that, but yes, I suppose that is true, to some extent,” he spluttered. “Not that I’m saying you should go out and immediately…. him.”

“Would that worry you? That’d be like pimping me out,” she teased, pleased to see him so embarrassed. “Unless you have other more personal motives.” Not likely but a girl can dream.

How did you guess? “Well,” he drawled, and leaned forward to replenish their glasses. “It means I get to spend more time with you on location. That seems to be going quite well.”

Very well at the moment, you saucy man. “Are you trying to get me drunk, John?”

“I believe I am, Donna,” he admitted. Drunk with love.

“Then you can carry me up to bed when my legs give out.”

It would be my pleasure. “I’m prepared for that.” He mischievously grinned. “Just give me the nod when you are ready.”

“You’re quite cheeky in your own way,” she fondly commented, taking another delicious sip. “I like this side of you.”

And I love this side of you. To her amusement, he patted the cushion next to him in invitation. “Come and sit by me and you can like it up close.”

Here goes. Good luck, love. “I really shouldn’t do this,” she noted as she physically moved closer, as requested. “You might regret it.”

Never ever. “I doubt that,” he responded, reaching out to place his hand around hers holding her glass. He used the action to steady his other hand pouring more of the liqueur into the crystal container. “But you will get rewarded with more of this.”

“Are there any other rewards on offer?” she breathily wondered, gaining his warmest gaze.

“Tell me what your heart desires,” he near whispered, “and it’s yours.”

I want you.

He had placed her glass on the table in front of them, leaving his hand still holding tentatively onto hers. One small tug and he could have her easily within his arms in a tender embrace.

Should she be honest and give in to the yearning coursing through her veins? Having his lips so near was a beautiful torture. I want you but I can’t have you. “A cuddle would be nice,” she heard herself say.

His arm immediately rose in invitation for her to snuggle in. So she did; wrapping her arms around his slender waist and resting her head upon his lovely muscled chest. The memory of seeing him in the swimming pool happily danced into her mind. She felt him press a kiss onto her temple, and she sighed with satisfaction. This was what she really wanted: this type of connection. All that romantic stuff about kisses was all very fine and good but having someone who was willing to cuddle you tight in order to make you feel safe was another matter entirely.

She also wasn’t aware she must have said something, because the next thing she knew, John asked her, “Who didn’t want to make you feel safe and loved?”

“What?” she murmured, and briefly lifted her head away. Laying it back down on to his chest, she confessed, “My ex-fiancé, Lance. He became my ex when I found the scumbag with another woman. All that time he’d been cheating on me. If that wasn’t bad enough, his fancy piece tried to run me down in Sainsbury’s car park, and he just stood there laughing.”

“She tried to kill you?!”

“Yeah! But of course she said she didn’t; that it was an accident. The police tried to do her but they couldn’t prove otherwise, even with the CCTV footage,” she glumly continued. “Glad I ‘accidentally’ damaged her back light now with my shopping trolley.”

“Good for you,” John commented, and gave her a comforting squeeze. “I would never treat you like that.”

“I don’t think you would,” she sleepily agreed, snuggling in even more. “You’re a decent bloke.”

“I forgot to press ‘play’,” he murmured, just as his eyes drooped closed.

When Jenny popped her head around the door minutes later to ask if her PE kit had been put in the washing machine, she found both her dad and Donna cuddled up together sound asleep. The DVD player had stopped playing whatever they’d been watching and the menu kept scrolling round.

Aww. It was all rather cute, in a way. So she did the only thing a naturally inquisitive teenager would do: she took a photo. And then she posted it on Facebook for her friends to comment on her dad and his new best friend.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

They had snuffled awake when Jenny’s laughter had disturbed their slumbers, horrified they had fallen asleep on each other. But going to bed brought new horrors; and not of the normal nightmare kind brought on by eating too much cheese before bedtime.

On the other side of the wall was their current love/crush, undressed or getting undressed at that very moment. It wouldn’t take much to go out onto the landing, walk the few steps up to their door, and seek entry. Simple as that. And just as easy to ruin everything between them by such a rash act.

Forbidden fruit, they called it.

Each of them reached out and touched the wall that divided them, unknowing it was a simultaneous act. Their hands lingered there, yearning to continue touching each other as they had done during their nap; and each wrestling with their inner doubts.

What if they don’t want me in that way?

Yes, slipping into their bed with them was extremely enticing, but at what cost? They were adults with things like duty, honour, respect and decency to take into consideration. And Jenny slept mere feet away. No, this sweet agony would have to continue all night without resolution.

John yearned to do more than physically reach out. There had been desire in Donna’s thoughts and behaviour towards him that night; but had it been brought on by alcohol?

But there was a way to tackle it, in a way. He may not allow himself to cross the line he had drawn in the sand regarding this matter, but it didn’t mean that he could find a crack in the rules to peek through. After all, Donna probably wasn’t asleep yet, judging by the sounds of moving about he had heard and felt.

After a few moments, he padded out of his bedroom and up to her door. He even got as far as raising his hand to knock on it. What would he say when she opened it and found him standing there in his pyjamas? Saying “Can I come in and sleep with you again?” didn’t exactly create a persuasive argument no matter how much he wanted to embrace her the whole night long.

His body yearned for him to make a move on her, his heart wanted to declare his feelings, and his stern ancestors inside his head wanted him to do nothing more than rethink his life choices before cutting all ties to this lower member of class. Yes, they were definitely appalled with his obvious emotional response to such a woman, despite any specialness she might portray; they weren’t interested in that at all.

The result was his fingertips resting lightly on the wood of the door, knowing she might have heard his movements outside on the landing but having to pretend he didn’t want to kick the door down and lift her into his arms instead. Protocol be damned! Why couldn’t he just act like a normal human being? Why did he have to follow these rules all the time? Surely he was entitled to some time off from it all. Didn’t he always fight the good fight as a rule?

Sighing, he turned and quickly put as much distance as he could between him and Donna. It was best this way. He would only end up breaking her heart or endangering her life unnecessarily. Hadn’t he learned that lesson with Amanda?

Oh, he knew that Andy wasn’t very taken with her, had never been and ultimately that would have destroyed their romance, but there were other concerns. His mother approved many things about Amanda; like her looks, style, money, status and fertility; yet there was one teeny tiny fault that she was not aware of. Not yet. He would use it to deflect any scorn she would feel when he introduced his future wife.

Thinking of that fault led his thoughts straight to Jenny. The girl had hated the idea of Amanda permanently entering their lives; and vice versa. Yet Amanda had been determined to coerce him into a long-term relationship. The woman had been on a mission, as though she had picked him out of the Harrods catalogue and she was determined to get him. Which was very unfortunate. Mainly because, if she had persisted, Jenny would have eventually killed her, once she reached adulthood. That amount of rage and power was a natural trait in his family, and it could often be deadly.

Unbeknown to Jenny, she had already rendered Amanda unconscious with an accidental touch. It had taken a bit of trickery to get around the consequences of that - something he sometimes called ‘dad skills’. In light of that incident, he had felt it best to let Amanda dump him, over some misdemeanour she had conjured up. Add in the fact she thought he was attracted to her but merely used her as a trophy and the deed was easily done.

Having to do that upset him a great deal, but at least Jenny was safe and saved from her impetuous actions.

Would Donna fare any better? Probably not. That’s why he had to keep his distance, for all their sakes. And yet he didn’t want to, even now.

Praying silently to himself, he sat down on his bed, picked up his mobile phone and dialled a number. “Hello,” he crooned down the line when she answered, “long time no see.”

“Hello to you. Yeah,” Donna softly agreed, glancing at her watch. “Must be no more than twenty minutes since we came upstairs. I thought I heard you moving about a moment ago so assume you can’t get to sleep. What can I do for you?”

Now there was a leading question. “I wanted to thank you for coming to Jenny’s match wirh me today. Normally I find that sort of situation unbearable.”

“I’d have never guessed,” she teased. “It was no problem at all, and I enjoyed myself.”

“You liked the match, standing around in the cold on wet mud?” he wondered incredulously.

“Well, not that bit of it,” she admitted. “The rest of it was pretty good.” Like getting to glare at those stuck up women.

“You’re just saying that because you conned me into having a McDonald’s meal.”

“Me?” she mocked. “As if I would. But the look on your face was priceless. Totally worth it.”

“Jenny thinks so too,” he supplied. “You made her day.”

“That’s why they call me Super Temp,” she gloated. The happy smile on Jenny’s face would keep her going for days. “I arrive and solve problems.”

“Talking about being Super Temp,” he neatly sidestepped, “which I agree you are, I just wanted to clarify that you are okay losing your temp status in order to work with us. I was going to suggest that we head into the legal department tomorrow to double check the correct paperwork has been done.” We could probably push things through to change by the end of Monday, at the latest, if you want.

That made her re-examine her thoughts; but only for a split second. “I’m surprisingly okay with it,” she was astounded to learn. Especially if it meant being included in a family day like she had. “Are you?”

“Wouldn’t have suggested it if I wasn’t,” he assured her. “I erm…” He gave a nervous cough. Get it out now while she can’t see you. “…. I suppose that you will be free to date Andy now, if you want to.” At her pause, he quickly added, “Once next week ends and you become a fully-fledged freelance consultant.” Please say you’ve reconsidered where Andy is concerned.

Is that what he wants me to do after tonight! “Do you think I should?” she asked. “You didn’t seem so keen on the idea the other week.”

“Well…. You know,” he blustered, “whatever makes you happy.”

I know something that might make him change his mind about me dating someone else. “How would that affect our fake engagement?”

He chuckled despite himself. “I might have to call things off if you are two timing me.”

“Nah! I’m not that sort of a woman,” she declared. “Faithful to the bitter end, you’ll find.”

Molto bene!! “I’ll keep that in mind.” Hope soared within him. A noise from outside the bedroom on the landing broke into his thoughts. “I’d better go,” he whispered into the phone. “Jenny is crashing about so I ought to go and see what’s happening.”

“She might have locked herself in the bathroom,” she murmured, having heard the same sound. “Do you think she’s alright? Let me know if you need me to come out.”

“Will do. Hang on and I’ll peep out….”

She held onto the phone as he scuffled about; and she could hear his bedroom door open. Would he come into her room? It really was awful of her to desperately want him to suddenly burst into the room, like some romantic hero to rescue her. Nice fantasy to take to bed though…

There was a low murmur of voices, and then he returned to the phone. “It’s okay; she was merely getting a glass of water. She forgot to bring one up with her, and she was worried about waking you so she tried to do so in the dark.”

“Aw, that is so thoughtful of her. And rather silly,” Donna reasoned. “I wouldn’t have been annoyed with her.”

“Yes, she’s a good girl and rarely causes me problems,” he fondly boasted. One particular problem occurred to him and here was his chance to solve it. “The only thing that does worry me is letting her go clothes shopping before Sunday; getting a new dress in particular, to be honest. Her sense of money is rather skewed and she doesn’t appreciate my tastes when I offer an opinion.”

“Fairly typical for a teenager then,” Donna noted. “Why does she need to buy a dress?”

“She needs something new for this weekend or my mother will no doubt cause a scene,” he explained. “I may have mentioned my mother’s birthday garden party.”

“Oh yes, you have. Did you want me to go with Jenny to get a dress on Saturday?” Donna instantly offered, knowing all too well that level of parental disapproval and the effects it can have on teenage self-esteem. “I don’t mind if she hasn’t got anything by then.”

“If you wouldn’t mind, that’d be fantastic. Molto bene!” John enthused; right before he remembered he was supposed to refuse her kind offer. “Sorry. That would be me taking advantage of your good nature.”

“Or it could be me fulfilling my mock fiancée responsibilities,” she countered. “Don’t worry; I’ll think of a suitable reward you can repay me with.”

I might never be able to afford it. “You’re on! I’ll tell Jenny first thing in the morning. Before I go, thanks again for today. All of that sort of thing… Anyway, thanks. Bye, love.”

What! That was a stupid thing to let slip, he berated himself as he headed towards his pillow, to dream a wish fulfilment dream instead of his more usual nightmares.

~o0o~

It had to be the nicest start to her working day Donna had ever had. There was no sour face from her mother, no digs about her seeking a husband from the employment base, no mention of the likelihood of a permanent position being a pipedream; nothing negative at all. Instead, she got nothing but smiles from John from the moment they shared breakfast, through the drive the production offices, right up to the point they entered their own particular work space and beyond.

If she had floated along on her own little cloud from heaven it would have been no different. Who would demand anything better than that?

But John had tried; she had to give him his due.

He hadn’t been sitting at his desk for long, and she’d just handed him his morning cup of coffee when he had asked, “Are you ready to sign those papers? We’ll head for the legal department and make sure they have them ready or at least under way. I don’t want to wait any longer than Monday for you to sign them and be your way to a new position.”

“Careful, anyone would think you are eager to change my title,” she had teased. “Talking of titles, did you know that your mum has invited me to her birthday party thing this weekend? The invite was sitting at home for me. Mum rang and told me.”

Really! “No, I did not. I wonder why she’s done that.”

“Probably wants to know who exactly is babysitting her precious son,” Donna supposed; gaining the indignant response she wanted.

“Babysitting?!” he protested, and then thought of an excellent tease in return. “I know you are generally older but…”

He good-naturedly laughed when she punched him in the arm.

~o0o~

Jenny cautiously picked up her slice of toast and eyed her father as he sat perusing that Saturday morning’s newspaper. “Dad,” she cautiously began her question, “do you ever think it’s about time you married?”

John lowered the weekend paper and considered her. “Is this more of those probing questions your friends at school want to know about us?”

“No,” she denied, taking a small bite. “This is all me, wondering why you aren’t with someone and happy.”

“I am happy,” he insisted.

“You look it,” she sarcastically retorted.

That tone sounded familiar. “I think,” he carefully worded, “that you have been spending too much time talking with Donna.”

“Or not enough,” she contradicted. “I think you ought to ask Donna out.”

“Jenny, don’t be silly,” he answered. “I work with Donna and we travel about together, but that is as far as it goes.”

“Uncle Andy said otherwise,” she murmured, and deliberately bit off a larger piece of her toast.

“Well, Andy can talk,” he impatiently responded, “Because I caught him trying to…”

“Trying to what?” Jenny inevitably wondered.

“Doesn’t matter,” John decisively said, closing his newspaper to end the topic of conversation. “Have you finished your breakfast? I want you to get any homework you might have to do done and out of the way before this afternoon.”

“I know,” she groaned. “Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Grandma’s garden party tomorrow.” Fat chance really, considering all the fuss the woman had been making over it. Remembering a certain detail, she deliberately riled her father by asking, “Will Donna be coming to it?”

“She will be there,” he answered as calmly as he could. This might be a very trying time for them. “Mother invited her but I don’t understand why. Unless you put her up to it?”

“Wasn’t me!” Jenny insisted with a shake of her head; causing her long blonde hair to whirl against her face. “I thought you knew. Grandma ran into Amanda the other day.”

His face paled. “She did?”

“Ahmm,” Jenny confirmed. “Grandma said that Amanda had met Donna by chance with you and Uncle Andy. Then she said she was going to find out a little more about your new secretary. I’m not surprised Grandma has invited Donna to her party.” Secretly, she was hoping Donna would brighten up her grandmother’s attitude as much as she had her father’s.

“This needs some damage control,” he muttered to himself. “Excuse me.” And he was gone before Jenny could ask another question.

Jenny stared at the empty space he had left for a few seconds. “I wonder what that means. Oh God, please don’t let that odious woman come back into his life.” She then turned her head to look for her mobile phone. “Time to call Uncle Andy and ask him about this,” she sighed.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

Saturday took an unexpected turn for Donna when Jenny phoned up to say she was going shopping with her friend Beatrice instead; so she was left to go out and choose an outfit and a suitable birthday gift on her own. Once that task was done, Sunday loomed large and scarily on the horizon.

After what Jenny had said about her grandmother was it even possible to impress the woman? Sylvia Noble may have her faults but at least you could schmooze her with the offer of a bottle of white wine and a James Blunt or Michael Ball CD.

It took almost an hour to find the right place. There were loads of cars parked in the driveway when Donna turned up to the home of Mrs Smith. The place was enormous. I mean; it represented serious money. She had expected the Smiths to be fairly wealthy but this was on a different scale to what she had anticipated. Perhaps the old girl had bagged herself an Earl or something? Or was housesitting for the National Trust.

She parked her car where some lackey in a yellow hazard jacket pointed her to go, and then stepped self-consciously onto the gravel that led up to the main house. This was just like being in Pride & Prejudice, Donna told herself, and if she could stretch the fantasy, she’d be Elizabeth going to see Darcy at the ball. But who would be her Mr Darcy? Her mind flitted between John and Andy. At one time it would have been only Andy, but after that pool incident at the hotel, John had started vying for top spot. Now, after having spent intimate time asleep in his arms, John was easily her first choice; given a choice, of course.

Stop imagining your boss being your lover, she angrily told herself. Not going to happen. Not in a million years. One more week to go and things might be able to change between her and John. Unless she got this meeting right with his mother it would all be over, for her to never see him and his brother again. Only one more week, she forlornly repeated as dread suddenly but briefly filled her. She was Donna Noble, she told herself, and she could bloody well do this!

Smoothing down her dress over her hips, she took a deep breath for encouragement and set off to face whatever music that might come. A couple of other people were walking in front of her, so she just followed them in through the main door, and walked through the house until they eventually reached the back lawn.

“There you are!” a delighted voice called out as soon as she stepped through some huge French windows. “I was worried you wouldn’t come.”

She turned to see Jenny racing forward to take possessive hold of her arm. “Hello,” she greeted the girl. “You look lovely! That shade of blue really suits you. Am I dressed alright? I’ve never been to a garden party before. Heard about them obviously, considering the Queen has them every now and then.”

“You look fine,” Jenny reassured her. “Do you really like this dress?”

“Of course,” Donna suitable enthused; and they chatted on about the various dress shops Jenny and her best friend had visited the day before.

Very soon a familiar face appeared by their side. “Hello,” Andy greeted them, giving Jenny a kiss on the cheek. “Did you two deliberately choose complimentary dresses?” he teased.

“Oh, you know, when in Rome,” Donna joked. “It’s a happy accident that we chose similar styles and colours.”

“The sort of accident I approve of. You both look lovely,” he complimented, and then stepped warily away from her. “Have you done something different to yourself?”

“No,” she answered. “What sort of something?”

I have my suspicions. “I’m not sure,” he admitted, “but it’s good whatever it is. Anyway, I haven’t greeted Mother yet so I’d better go and do that as soon as possible. I’ll see you both later.”

“Any idea what he was on about?” Donna asked Jenny as he walked away and back towards the house.

“None at all,” Jenny replied, but she could see what he meant now that he had mentioned it.

All further thoughts on the matter flew out of Donna’s head because something made her turn and look in a particular direction; almost calling to her. “What….,” she began to query; and then she saw him.

Standing less than three metres away was John, dressed casually smart in a jacket she hadn’t seen before. Instantly, her pulse began to race and butterflies tried to take up permanence residence in her stomach. It was his eyes that captured her attention, drawing her in with their warmth; causing love to swell up into her heart. He was so handsome it almost made her weep.

But as he got nearer, the radiant smile on his face slipped into a warning grimace. “Erm, Donna. Can I have a quick word please?” Without waiting for an answer, he took hold of her elbow and guided her across the lawn, well away from the other guests, by an ornamental lake and under the shade of an overhanging willow tree.

“Well?” she challenged him. “What’s the problem? Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?”

He kept a firm grip on her forearm. “It’s my mother,” he quietly confessed. “She apparently saw Amanda in town last week and invited her here today.” He then took hold of her left hand and brought it up to his chest. “If that wasn’t bad enough, my mother now thinks we are engaged thanks to that encounter, so I have to do some damage control, with this…” From out of his trouser pocket he then produced a ring that he preceded to place upon the tip of her third finger. “This was my paternal grandmother’s ring, and since you said you would be willing to carry on with this charade so that I could get rid of Amanda, I am asking you if you will do me the honour of being my temporary fiancée.”

“But that’s a family heirloom,” Donna objected. It was rather a nice ring, she had to admit; the amethyst set amongst several diamonds especially caught her eye. “I can’t take it even if I’d obviously give it back later on.”

Ignoring her protest, he slipped the ring completely onto her third finger. “There’s no one else I would rather wear it for the time being,” he sincerely told her. “And I know you wouldn’t be petty enough to keep it if things between us went sour.”

Having placed the ring, his arm wrapped itself around her waist to draw her close. She gazed up at him, seeing his vulnerability as clear as day. “You silly pup,” she fondly said, raising her other hand to tenderly caress his cheek. “All this just to avoid talking to a crowd of people or tell your ex where to get off.”

Anxiously licking his lips, he admitted, “It’s all a bit daunting, talking to Mother’s friends. It is much easier coping with the technicians at work or on location. I can do that; and when I can’t, I have you by my side organising me.”

“That is so sweet of you to say,” she near whispered, feeling him drawing her closer. “All I do is stand about with a clipboard. Nothing else.”

“I am grateful for all that you do,” he murmured, leaning forward even closer. “Thank you. If I were putting this ring on for real I’d kiss you.”

And I’d let you. “Go ahead. Help yourself.”

His lips eased forward and her eyes fluttered shut; letting the sensations of all the aromas around her weave their own special magic upon her senses. There was the smell from the tree, the fresh watery breeze, his aftershave and the scent of the washing powder used to launder his clothing. Plus the minty hint in his breath as his mouth landed softly on hers.

It was the briefest of kisses; like a leaf on the breeze. But Donna was determined to get any ounce of romance that existed in this scenario so she tugged his head back down to kiss him properly. One kiss surely wouldn’t harm things, would it?

This kiss was headier than the previous one. Tender with the merest touch of his tongue against her lips as they moved together.

“There you are, John!” an older female voice broke through the passionate fog that had enveloped them. “I thought I would find you hiding under here. Is this who I think it is?”

A stunned John drew back from their kiss and regarded the mature well-dressed woman who stood watching them. “Sorry, Mother. We were just…” He then gave an embarrassed cough and remembered his manners. “This is my friend Donna. Donna, this is my mother, Verity Smith.”

“Lovely to meet you, Mrs Smith,” Donna quickly greeted her, having released her hold on John’s arm and offered a hand to shake.

Verity took the offered hand and limply shook it. “How do you do. I’ve heard a great deal about you, from my granddaughter Jenny,” she stated with all the joy of meeting Osama Bin Laden after he’d fallen in a cess pit. “If you could put my son down for a second or two perhaps he would mingle amongst my other guests. It is very impolite of him to monopolise you like this.”

“Yes, Mother,” John stammered. “I’ll erm go do that right away. Perhaps we can meet for refreshments later, Donna?”

“Of course,” she answered, plastering on an encouraging smile for him. What a bitch, she thought as she looked back at his mother. I mean, what kind of mother deliberately shows up her son like that in front of the fiancée she’s never met before? A snobby one, that’s who. “Happy birthday,” she forced herself to trill. “Thank you for inviting me. I’ve left your card and present in the same room as everyone else. Sorry it isn’t much but I didn’t know what to get you.” Still no welcoming words, so she trundled on. “You must be so proud of Jenny. She’s a lovely girl.”

“Yes, she is coming along wonderfully well,” Verity commented in return. “Are you the one that works under both John and Andrew?” she idly asked as though she didn’t have a clue who Donna was.

Those beady eyes bore into her as she replied, “The one and only. Well, for the time being I am, but not for long. It will be good to be part of a team, and I’ll get the best bit.” When Verity’s eyebrows rose in interest, Donna added, “I’ll get to travel about with them and stay in expensive hotels.”

“I hope that isn’t the only reason you are interested in my sons,” Verity voiced in dispassionate tones. “And what is that ring I see upon your finger?”

Donna held up her hand to display the ring on her third finger. “Do you mean this one?”

Verity bent to get a closer look and then sniffed in disdain. “That was his paternal grandmother’s. Why has he given it to you?” she haughtily wondered.

“Well,” Donna nonchalantly began to explain, “The fact we are engaged might have something to do with it. Family heirlooms tend to be passed on like that.”

“It was supposed to go to his future wife,” Verity snapped, clearly put out.

Of course Donna then pointed at herself. “Well d’uh! Official fiancée at your service.”

“No, you are merely a flash in the pan,” Verity insisted with a minimal shake of her head. “You cannot be his fiancée.”

So Donna pinched her own arm. “I assure you I am real.”

Alas, Verity was not amused by her antics. “It doesn’t matter whether you are real or not, this engagement of yours will not last long, and John will be free to find a better choice of wife.”

Now Donna was really riled. What a cheek! “I think you’ll find it’s up to me and John whether this engagement will go the full course or not, and you should respect his choice, even if you don’t like it.”

“Young woman, my son knows his duty to me, the family, and his daughter. You, on the other hand, are simply a passing fancy who happens to have charmed her way temporarily into his affections.”

Donna deliberately bobbed her head in a mini curtsey. “Thank you,” she said as though she’d been given a massive compliment.

At that point, a tall, vaguely familiar man sidled up to Verity and lightly touched her forearm. “Who has been using their charms, Mother?” he pleasantly asked.

Mother? There was another brother?! Why hadn’t she been told about him! Although now that she looked at him, Donna could see a strong resemblance to John and Andy. When I say strong, they could have been clones. Like peas in a pod, they were. The hair was completely different in style, being swept harshly back into a short back and sides kind of thing. Clean-shaven and he wore thick rimmed glasses. She was brought out of her musings by Verity pointing at her.

“This young woman has been using her extensive charms on John. She works as his secretary,” Verity explained as though the words tasted really bitter on her tongue.

This new son extended his hand towards Donna in greeting. “How do you do. I’m Roderick, John’s elder brother. Well, half-brother to be more precise.”

Donna eagerly took his hand. “I’m the ‘she’ that’s not the cat’s mother but you can call me Donna. I work with John and Andy as their personal assistant on location.”

“Ah,” Roderick gasped in realisation. “Jenny speaks very highly of you too. Would you care for some refreshment? I see you don’t have a drink.”

“I’d love something, thanks,” Donna cheerily answered. “What have you got?”

“Why don’t you accompany me and we shall see,” he offered, gesturing with his hand for her to follow him as he stepped back towards the house. “We have several things that might tempt you.” He then returned his calm gaze to his mother. “Would you like me to get you anything too, Mother?”

“No thank you,” she primly replied. “I have already arranged something.”

“Very well,” he acknowledged, and placed his hand on the small of Donna’s back to guide her away. “I shall return later.”

They walked in silence for a few steps. Then Donna murmured, “I’m not sure which of us you were trying to rescue but thank you.”

He looked suitably shocked. “I am merely being hospitable, Donna.”

“And I’m the Pope. Yeah, I can see you trying to hide that smirk. You were doing some rescuing and I am personally grateful for it. Your mum obviously detests the sight of me.”

“Surely not,” Roderick protested. “Mother is concerned about John’s well-being and she hasn’t had the chance to meet you properly. Whereas Amanda supplied a great deal of information that Mother was unaware of, so she was a little disconcerted to learn about your relationship through a third party.”

“That’s her excuse, huh?” Donna then smiled conspiratorially at him. “Didn’t stop her inviting me to this birthday gig though to get a good look at me; without telling John. Are you supposed to now report back to her? Because I’ve been a bad girl. A very bad girl.”

“Oh Donna,” he laughed with glee leading her to pick up a plate at the buffet table. “You are going to cause my mother all sorts of problems in the future.”

“Who me? Nah!” she denied. But if she could ruffle the old crow’s feathers, she wouldn’t be disappointed. “So how come I haven’t seen you in the production company?”

Picking up some slices of meat to lay on his own plate, Roderick paused to think first before replying, “It isn’t my field of interest, I’m afraid. They sometimes include me when decisions are made about soundtrack musical scores; otherwise I am free to enjoy my own pursuits.”

“Which are?”

Standing up straight, he announced, “I have a career in music. Not quite reaching the same heights as Gareth Malone but I follow a similar path, with young students.”

“Wow. That’s impressive,” Donna responded. “Does your wife work in the same field?”

“I have no wife,” he stated, giving a defensive sniff. He then continued to fill his plate without looking at Donna. “People always fixate on that fact which can be rather irritating. It would be nice to meet someone but I am happy as I am.”

“You’ll find someone,” she consoled him, thinking that there must be a woman somewhere who could see his good qualities shining through. She then spotted an advancing figure and whispered to him, “Looks like your playtime is up.”

Puzzled, Roderick lifted his head to look in the same direction, and saw his mother aiming towards him, dragging behind her his niece Jenny. “Hello Mother. Is something wrong?”

Slightly flustered, Verity informed him, “The piano is all set up, Roderick so can you rouse your brothers, please. This is most infuriating.”

He handed his untouched plate to Jenny and followed Verity. “Yes, Mother,” he sighed as he walked away. “I shall collect them straight away.”

“So that’s Roderick,” Donna remarked to Jenny who stood watching them leave. “Smith version number three. Do you get to see him much?”

“Not really,” Jenny confessed, “and I find him a bit scary. He’s always so severe.”

“He seemed nice enough,” Donna defended him. “Just needs a bit of teasing every now and then. Are there any other brothers I should know about?”

“Just Uncle Donald,” Jenny supplied. “He and Uncle Roderick are twins too; but he isn’t here today. His son, my cousin David is around somewhere. Grandma is looking after him while his parents are on holiday.”

“Blimey, she certainly was busy when she was younger,” Donna muttered to herself.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

Hearing the strain of a plucked string, followed by three notes obviously played on a piano, Donna asked Jenny, “What’s going on? Have they booked a band?”

“No, silly!” Jenny chided her. “It’s the usual family recital.”

“Usual?”

Jenny nodded in confirmation. “Grandma always insists that they play some pieces together. It’s a Gallifreyan tradition.”

“So who are ‘they’ exactly?” Donna cautiously wondered.

“My uncles and Dad,” Jenny supplied. “That’s them tuning up. Come on or we’ll miss it.”

So Donna let the eager girl lead her towards the sounds from afar, in another room. It was large enough to have once been a ballroom. Within it sat a grand piano, with Roderick seated at the keys. Beside him stood John and Andy, both holding what looked like violins.

“I didn’t know they could play,” she muttered; feeling even more than she had earlier that any chance she might have had with either brother was being whipped away by a cultured hand. This wasn’t her world, and never could be. These men were well out of her league. “Are you going to join in?”

“One day,” Jenny replied, “when I am able. Grandma says I should be proficient enough to reach the right standard quite soon.”

Donna merely nodded in understanding. What else could she say? She had only ever had a go at hitting a triangle or waving a tambourine when she’d been at school. There was no natural musical talent yearning within her and the opportunity to do anything more taxing with an instrument had never arisen.

A few feet away from them stood Verity Smith, looking very smug and every inch the successful matriarch as she eyed her talented sons. She beckoned Jenny over to stand by her side as the first chords were played.

Such beautiful music.

Donna was enthralled as she listened to the unfamiliar sounds. It was similar to something else she had heard as part of a film score, but that was as far as her recognition went. Both violins seemed to soar as the music reached a crescendo, and she found herself willing them to reach the next high note and complete the piece.

When it all ended, she clapped with appreciation as much as everybody else did; but was she the only person who felt as though certain parts had been aimed purely at them? Surely not. But John’s gaze had captured hers as he finished, and she dipped her head to hide the resultant blush upon her cheeks. It hadn’t been for her but it was nice to pretend, for a moment at least, that it had been.

All three men bowed to the assembled audience and then accepted a grateful kiss on the cheek from their mother, returning the kiss in the same vein.

“Everybody, my talented sons,” Verity announced, thus forcing the attending people to applaud again.

“What did you think?” an eager Andy asked Donna, having risked disapproval by seeking her out first.

“I can’t believe you did that. You are very talented. All of you,” she gushed in reply. “It was beautiful; out of this world.”

He grinned in delight. “Did you recognise it? Roderick chose the arrangement.”

“I have no idea what it was,” she honestly admitted. “Then again, we’re Radio 2 people in our house rather than Radio 3, so that shouldn’t be a big surprise.”

“That’s not all you are,” he bitterly commented, lifting up her left hand to examine her fingers. “What’s this, Donna? I thought you were going to wait… for me.”

“It looks like an engagement ring,” Jenny supplied. “Did you get engaged? I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend.”

Before Donna could reply to Jenny’s question, Andy continued his reveal. “I’d know that ring anywhere. It was my grandmother’s; the one that was left to John. You went and got engaged to John, didn’t you?” he accused Donna.

“What!” Jenny shrieked.

“I can explain,” Donna started to defend herself, “I… We…”

“Oh no! No. This can’t be happening,” Jenny was denying as she backed away. “He would have said something to me. You are just friends who work together, nothing more, that’s what he said; that you needed comforting the other night. It wasn’t as bad as it looked!” she bit out angrily. “My friends all warned me you were moving in on him.”

“Jenny, please listen, your dad was right,” Donna tried to calmly state. “This…” She waved her ring finger about. “…is all a rouse.”

“Go on, explain,” Andy demanded. “I cannot wait to hear this after the lecture you gave me on our first location trip.”

No matter where she looked, John was nowhere to be seen to come to her defence. “Do you remember that day in the restaurant, when you’d just come home from Budapest and Amanda was all arsy with you both? He’d pretended me and him were an item to get rid of her, you see,” she aimed the last bit towards Jenny. “Well, he asked me to pretend again so that Amanda wouldn’t try it on with him today. All this is because John hasn’t got the wherewithal to tell some tarty bunny boiler where to get off.”

Fortunately, Andy appeared to understand, but Jenny was still furious. “So are you and him together or not?”

“That is exactly what I would like to know,” a stern female voice announced.

“Hello Mother,” Andy greeted her as a distraction, but it didn’t work.

“Well?!” Verity Smith commanded. “Speak, woman. You certainly had no problem talking a moment ago.”

Not wanting to answer her, Donna retorted, “That is a matter entirely between John and me.”

“If you are unwilling to inform us, I think you ought to leave,” Verity declared. “I see that my suspicions were true. Roderick, would you escort her from the property immediately, please?”

From beside her, Roderick obediently stepped forward; but he gently requested, “Would you come this way?” He held out his hand to guide her exit.

Sod this! “Alright, I’ll go but it is for John to decide my fate, not you,” Donna bravely proclaimed.

“John knows his duty to the family, the company and his business,” Verity stated. “He will do what’s best. Goodbye.” She then turned her back on Donna; fully expecting her to be gone from her sight, very soon. “Jenny, dear, why don’t you play for us in a little while? You could do with the practise, and Roderick will tutor you as to how to improve.”

“Yes, Grandma,” the girl reply.

But Donna wasn’t listening anymore. Instead, she was following Roderick; out of the house and probably out of the best job she had ever had. “I’m not really the gold-digging witch your mother will make me out to be,” she assured him as they walked. “Not that you care, but I thought I’d say it anyway.”

“My mother hasn’t said anything yet,” he reminded her.

“Maybe, but she will; if she’s anything like my mother is. You’ll get a full ear-battering about why you must never go near any woman remotely like me again.” Donna jiggled the ring on her finger and finally managed to free it from her possession. “You know, you’re not the snobbish robot I first expected you to be,” she complimented him with a smile.

“I try hard not to be,” he commented with a wry grin. “Although I am well aware that some people still think so.”

“Well, you’re not; and if I tell you so then it’s true. I may be a lot of things but I only give compliments when they are due.” She stopped out on the drive gravel a few feet away from her car. “Can I ask a favour? Would you give this ring back to John for me and tell him I’m sorry.” She took hold of his nearest hand and placed the gem onto his palm, ignoring his shock at being touched. “His plan went tits up but at least I can take the blame for it and he can avoid his mother’s wrath for a while.”

To his consternation, Roderick found his fist being patted by her as his hand was closed around the ring. “I am sure he will appreciate the gesture. Mother can be a little demanding.”

“I’d guessed that,” Donna knowingly replied. “Look after yourself, Roderick. You’re a keeper.” With that, she reached up to kiss his cheek farewell. “Bye!”

“Oh!” He raised a hand to place his fingers over where she had kissed him; surprised at himself for reacting in such a way. “Goodbye, Donna Noble.”

With a cheery wave, she started up her car, and drove away, leaving him standing there deep in thought.

Seconds later John came frantically running out of the house as though his heels were on fire. “Where is she? Did she leave?” he queried as he ground to a noisy halt. “Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Mother wanted her gone,” Roderick explained. “You should have told her about switching your affections to Donna.”

“It isn’t like that!” John denied, expecting his brother to argue with him.

There was a nod of Roderick’s head, and then he held out his open hand, palm upwards. “Donna asked me to return this. You are lucky; anyone else would have kept it as a memento. Now you can give it to the woman you want to marry, if you ever come to your senses.”

“Pardon!” John gasped, taking the ring.

“Oops! I meant if you ever find the right person,” Roderick drily corrected. “Never mind,” he breathily murmured as he gazed towards the driveway that Donna had driven along moments before. “As Mother said, I’m sure you’ll do what’s best. But,” he added as he turned his stare onto John, “don’t take your friend for granted and break her heart. Donna doesn’t deserve it.”

Any reply John came up with was halted by the sight of Jenny storming out of the house, bearing down on him at a fast rate of knots.

“Dad! Grandma said she caught you kissing Donna,” Jenny accused him. “Well? Why did you kiss her?”

“Jenny, sweetheart, it just sort of happened,” John defended himself.

“Just sort of happened,” she sarcastically repeated. “Did you happen to fall on her, landing on her lips with your mouths wide open? Seriously, Dad! How stupid do you think I am in order to believe that one?!”

“She’s right, you know,” Roderick put in when John silently appealed to him to back him up. “You must have wanted it to happen.”

“Did you, Dad?” Jenny loudly demanded. Scorn contorted her face.

“Well I… erm… it was…,” John faltered.

Taking pity on his brother, Roderick rested a tender hand on Jenny’s arm. “Why don’t we take this conversation inside,” he calmly suggested.

“But he needs to answer the question,” Jenny insisted.

“And he will,” Roderick assured her, guiding her back into the house. “Once he has found the correct words to describe his emotions, and you stop shouting at him.”

“I wasn’t!”

“I’m afraid you were, and it doesn’t help explain matters when you do,” Roderick continued, using his calm, suave tone

“If he can’t or won’t explain things, doesn’t that imply…,” Jenny reasoned. She then stood stock still as a thought occurred in her mind. “Oh my god! I’ve been so blind. He’s in love with her.”

Oh no! “Jenny,” John whined behind her. “Do you have to?”

“But I’m right, aren’t I, Uncle Roderick,” she sought to confirm. “Why else would he go through this ridiculous charade?”

“He did give Donna our grandmother’s wedding ring,” Roderick quietly added. “In here…” He opened a door that lead into the downstairs study. The scent of aged wood immediately rose up and greeted them. “We can discuss things in here without too much interruption.” Once the large panelled door was shut behind them, he set his attention onto his niece who was taking far too much joy out of glaring at her father. “You seem to have objections against John’s interest in Donna. Why? You were rather taken with her friendship before today.”

“Well,” Jenny huffed, “I was, but that was before he turned it into something gross.”

Ignoring John’s cry of protest, Roderick forged on. “Why exactly is it gross? Would you prefer your father to choose someone more like Amanda?”

There was another inevitable cry from John.

“I certainly would not,” Jenny quickly answered. “Anyone but her.”

“I think that is an excellent starting point for you persuade your daughter, John,” Roderick turned to him and stated, “so I shall leave you to do just that and I shall return to my duties and Mother.”

“Thank you, Roderick,” John responded. “Jenny and I have a great deal to talk about. But first, I need a drink…”

~o0o~

John stepped out of the room and straight into Amanda. “John!” she gasped in delight.

Hell’s bells! “Oh, hello Amanda. Lovely to see you again,” he forced himself to say. “I’d heard you were around somewhere.”

“I was beginning to think you’ve been avoiding me, you naughty man,” she chided him.

Get me a sick bag, someone… anyone. Jenny plastered on the biggest grin she could muster. “He was with me.”

“Oh look, it’s Jenny,” Amanda noted.

As if Dad can’t see me with his own eyes, you stupid idiot. “The very one,” Jenny trilled. Go on, give me a decent reason to thump you.

“So….,” Amanda hesitantly began, obviously caught unawares. “Is there any chance of us having a quiet word together, John?”

His heart sank. I don’t need this right now. “Certainly we can,” he politely assured her. “But first, I have a few things I have got to do.”

“Like what?” Amanda wondered as her smile faltered.

“Like talk to me,” Verity announced as she approached them. “Jenny, dear, would you show Amanda where the buffet table is? She’s looking a little peaky and obviously needs to eat something to boost her blood count.”

She also needs to put some meat on her skinny bones before all the venom in her throat explodes. “Yes, Grandma.”

“John, with me, please,” Verity commanded as she swept away.

“Yes, Mother.” He obediently followed.

She led him back into the empty wood panelled room he had recently left, and immediately turned to face him once he had closed the door, leaning against the desk in there. “Well? What do you have to say or yourself? Andrew has filled me in on a few of the details but I would like to hear the complete truth from you.”

So he told her everything, from the very beginning, about his blossoming relationship with Donna and how he had used her to waylay Amanda’s attentions. He ended by saying, “I have tried to maintain an appropriate distance from her, but the universe seems to dictate otherwise, causing me to form an attachment that can benefit no one. Our people will not sanction this relationship with Donna. I understand why, Mother.” John sighed, dipping his head in resignation. “It cannot be.”

“My son, I sometimes forget that you do not remember the exact circumstances of your father’s death or why we came to be here, living in this place,” Verity kindly stated. “The fact is, our people have gone and we are all that remains of our way of life.”

“Yes Mother, you have often told me we retain all our traditions and customs.”

“What I might not have told you is... the pain of loss, of what could have been, weighs heavily on the best of us.” The memory of her late husband being the reluctant cause of too many deaths to even attempt to count, painfully stilled her words. He had been a good man, a caring man. A man who would have been proud of the sons he helped create; especially the one who stood before her, filled with compassion and duty. “Their deaths released us from unnecessary constrictions.”

“What do you mean?” John queried. Hope rose in his heart.

She stepped closer and rested a hand on his arm. “Liaisons with lesser beings were frowned upon, and the participants ostracised, but that does not need to happen anymore. We live among these people, they provide our sanctuary, and we, of course, grow fond of them. Or in some instances, like you have, we love them.”

“So what does that mean?” John wondered. “I cannot continue to live this lonely life without a companion. I don’t want to now that I’ve met her; but you do not approve even if I am allowed to dismiss the objections of my ancestors.”

“I never said I disapproved,” Verity softly stated, pleased to see the light return to her son’s eyes as she spoke. “I trust your judgement to choose the right woman, no matter who she is or where she comes from. I merely ask that I get to know her before you do something stupid.”

“Like elope with her,” John considered, remembering the actions of his elder brother Donald all those years ago. “No, I will not do that. I would prefer to do things properly.”

“Good.” She gave him a nod of agreement and acceptance. “Then I shall leave you to do just that.”

“Thank you, Mother,” he gratefully acknowledged, and gave her cheek a kiss. “I won’t let you down.”

“Since you have already made initial advances, make sure you complete things properly, if you can and she is willing,” she warned. “Return to me when all parties are favourable and everything can be arranged. We do not want a repeat of last time. My poor boy can never gain his correct place within the family.”

He gave her a grave bow and then left.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

The drive home was rather quiet. Jenny glanced across at her father and was dismayed to see his face almost crumpled in grief.

“Dad, what happens now?” she softly queried.

“The usual, we go on, we do the best we can with the life we have. I shall travel on by myself once you reach the age to go out and explore on your own.”

“I think you are forgetting someone. You’ll have Donna,” she bitterly spat out.

“No, I won’t,” he morosely replied. “We can never be together.”

“Why? Doesn’t she love you enough to stay with you?”

“Oh Jenny,” he sighed, turning this head to glance at her, “the tragedy is that quite the opposite is true.”

“I don’t understand,” she admitted. “Do you not really love her? I thought she was more to you than just a trifling arrangement.”

Sucking in a sob on his breath, he confessed, “I love her a great deal. More than I could have ever imagined, but I am denied that happiness.” Knowing Jenny’s confusion had just increased, he explained, “I am restrained by your disapproval from ever telling her of my feelings.”

“Me?” Jenny gasped in denial. “But what about Grandma? She doesn’t approve either.”

“Mother now understands why I behaved the way I did today, and has withdrawn her previous misgivings but cannot give me permission to proceed unless you also agree. I therefore accept that Donna and I can never be.”

Guilt overwhelmed Jenny but she still felt the same level of opposition. He had lied to her, after all. But she wasn’t the only one involved. “And what about Donna?”

“She loves me but she has not told me. Sadly, she thinks I am incapable of loving her,” he brokenly replied, “so she will sacrifice her feelings. That’s good; it’s all good.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know, sweetheart,” he acknowledged. “Being as we are can make life difficult, especially during puberty when emotions and hormone levels are high and contrive to strengthen any conflicts.”

“Did you go through these phases of intense anger and distrust?” she wondered, relieved to be able to compare notes.

“Of course.” He gave her a wan smile. “Why do you think Donald ran away to end up as a humble schoolteacher married to a woman who never raises her voice except to praise him? It was his way of rebelling.”

“I see,” she conceded. “That explains why Grandma detests Aunt Sarah so much.” After a few moments, she pondered, “Doesn’t that suggest Grandma should love Donna’s fieriness rather than dismiss her from the house like she did?”

“It does,” he agreed, “hence her change of heart tonight. If you can overcome your aggressive instincts I am hoping you will eventually do the same.”

Fat chance!

Rather than blurt out any rash comment that would hurt him even more, Jenny kept wisely quiet. Anger, possessiveness and a protective compulsion warred within her still. Logic said that she ought to welcome Donna into the family with open arms, since she had valued her friendship until that day; but the prominent feeling within her at that moment was the need to rip Donna’s throat out for trying to steal her father. The only blessing was that it wasn’t as violent as the way she had felt about Amanda.

With a typical teenage pout on her lips, she stared out of the car window instead.

~o0o~

Later that same Sunday evening a man stood on the doorstep of the Noble household. A knock at the door soon had Sylvia opening it with barely concealed disdain.

“Hello. Is Donna in?” Andy cheerily greeted her.

“Which one are you?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. He didn’t look like he normally did. “I can’t tell you apart but that won’t affect my aim if I have to slap you into next week.”

Biting down on a sigh, he replied, “I see you’ve been told what happened this afternoon. Let me introduce myself: I’m Andrew Smith but someone as lovely as yourself can call me Andy.” He added to the schmooze by taking her hand and gallantly kissing the back of it.

To his relief, Sylvia’s scorn immediately melted away. “Charmed, I’m sure. She’s in the back room. Go on through.”

“Thank you,” he said as he graced her with a beautiful smile and stepped into the modest house. To some it would seem like a palace but to him it was terribly small yet cosy. “In here?” he double checked as he entered through a door, and then found Donna sitting in the room.

“Hello Andy. What can I do for you?” she instantly asked, standing up at the ready.

He motioned for her to sit down again, and went to sit by her side. “Hello Donna. I wanted to come and see if you were alright.” He then lowered his voice to whisper, “Having now met your mother I can understand why my mother didn’t have quite the impact she was hoping to have on you.” Donna giggled in appreciation. Keeping his voice low as he leaned closer, he surreptitiously tasted the air near her and stated, “I hear things got a little bit heated as Mother’s part in Amanda’s plan to get John back failed dismally.”

“Is that what that was all about?”

“I’m afraid so. Mother always did like some of the qualities Amanda could bring to the family.” Andy then sighed. “Unfortunately, Mother chose to ignore other, less pleasant ones; plus, of course, John’s heart in the matter. Or mine,” he idly added. “Before I go any further, did John do anything in particular to you?”

“Like what?” Donna glared at him as she warned, “You’d better not be suggesting that he’s got me up the duff!”

“Oh no! I’m not saying you are pregnant at all,” he insisted. “Far from it. His personal moral code would never allow such indelicate behaviour.”

“That’s all right then,” she huffed. “What do you mean by ‘indelicate behaviour’? That’d better not be a backhanded insult.”

“Again, no.” He tried to smile brightly. Now, how should he gain confirmation and then tell her she had been specially marked by his brother? It had been strange to suddenly lose interest in her when they’d met again that afternoon, but the current tang in the air solved that little mystery. “What I am trying to find out is, and this is going to possibly sound a little weird but, did he touch you in any way that seemed odd at the time?”

“You’re starting to frighten me,” she admitted.

So he took hold of her hands to offer comfort. Ah, there it is; the missing piece of the puzzle. Although, quite frankly, how she could no longer fancy him personally was beyond his normal sensitivities; but that was by the by. “There’s no need to be frightened. John is not a predator of any sort, let alone a sexual one. I’m trying to find out if he did anything to your neck, or maybe your forehead.”

Finding his presence to be an immensely calming one, she was able to relax and think. “Not my neck, but he did kiss my forehead, I think, when I fell asleep on him the other night. We got a bit drunk, you see. No, not like that, buster! There was no quick bunk up to be later blamed on alcohol. We merely drank enough to fall asleep on each other while watching a film. Well, we were supposed to be watching one of those cult creature films of yours but we never got that far. Too busy emptying a bottle of liqueur. Anyway, we just sort of...” She demonstrated them sagging together by bringing her hands closer in a telling gesture.

Ah, so she doesn’t know. Andy pondered on how much to tell her. John had not only initiated contact, but judging by the change in her pheromones, he had also stamped her with his ownership, as it were, by apparently licking her neck at some point of the evening without her even knowing. Only one more step would be needed in order to make them fully married, in the eyes of their family’s culture. Oh boy! This was momentous. It was also not his place to tell her but for John to reveal the truth.

At least the bond John had formed stopped Andy from feeling overpoweringly jealous. That was a blessing. There was something about Donna Noble that was generally attractive to the Smith family. An important something. Even Roderick had noticed and commented on it.

But he realised he would have to make some token gesture of jealousy to halt any of her suspicions. “I see. Just cuddling?”

“Just cuddling,” she confirmed. “Cross my heart and hope to die.” Her finger did the appropriate action on her chest.

“In that case, you shouldn’t let Mother put you off going back to work.”

How did he know I was worrying about that?! It’s like he‘s physic or something. “But the things she said...”

“As far as I’m concerned you can continue as you were,” he assured her. “If John doesn’t want you to sign that new contract he’s been hastily pushing through, then it is up to him to say and dismiss you, not Mother.”

“So it will be alright to go in tomorrow?”

He nodded. “Should John not contact you beforehand to say it’s alright, go and see Peter Browne down in the accounts department to finish off your six weeks. I don’t see why you should lose out when you were especially booked for it.”

“Thank you, Andy.” She sighed, feeling that not everything was as bad as she thought.

“And if that idiot of a brother of mine doesn’t show up, I shall deal with him before coming to take you out to lunch. Bring Marianne as well if it makes you feel safer,” he offered as he stood to leave.

What could she say to that except give him a heartfelt hug? So she did.

It was only later that she realised that she hadn’t wanted to do more to him.

~o0o~

“Morning, Donna! You don’t look very happy. Not like you to look so glum. Anything the matter?” Marianne kind-heartedly greeted her first thing Monday morning.

“To be honest I’m not feeling so great,” Donna admitted. “The thing is... I need to change office this week and join the regular workforce. It’s my last week here so it shouldn’t cause too much of a problem, but I can’t go back to John Smith’s office.”

“Oh?” With that, Marianne leaned closer to hear the gossip. “What’s gone wrong?”

Donna waved her hands about to dismiss all the flimflam. “I accidentally handed my notice in, shall we say, so I won’t be welcome anywhere near him. It’s best I work out my temporary contract in another part of the building entirely.”

“But what about the location stuff?” Marianne wailed in sympathy. “They’ll need you for that.”

“No they won’t,” Donna denied with a shake of her head. “I’m sure Mr Smith will be on the phone right now to arrange a replacement secretary. So, I’d better go along and see where Peter Browne can fit me in his department for a few days and I’ll see you lunchtime.”

“Yes, see you later,” Marianne replied, already deep in thought. Poor Donna; and so taken with the two brothers, especially John, too. Such a shame to have her heart broken like that. She would have to think of a special treat to cheer her friend up.

When John Smith strode through the main doors about ten minutes later, Marianne did her best to give him her usual cheery greeting, but he merely scowled at her. Oh dear. Further proof that Donna had been correct.

But it shocked her when four minutes later he reappeared at the front desk to demand, “Has Donna phoned in sick?”

“No, Mr Smith. She’s here, in the building.”

His face went from a scowl to thunder. “Why isn’t she in my office?”

“She is in the office, just not your office,” Marianne did her best to explain, but those angry eyes of his were causing her thoughts to scuttle away.

“Then where exactly IS she?”

“Erm....” Marianne nervously licked her lips before answering, “She was heading for Peter Browne’s data collection, to see if he had any work for her.”

“What!” John raged. “She has a perfectly good job to do already. Why has she gone there?”

“Because you didn’t want her…,” Marianne cautiously suggested. Whatever she’d done, Donna seemed to think she had blown it where her previous position was concerned. “If that isn’t the case then she will need to be informed.” She quickly picked up the reception phone receiver. “Shall I call the department and get them to send her back? I’m sure I could catch her in time.”

His eyes bulged. “In time for what?”

“To stop her leaving for good,” Marianne squeaked out, half expecting him to strike her or cause some damage to her desk.

“Leave it with me,” he proclaimed. “I’ll deal with it.”

Watching him march away, Marianne felt it was best to phone up and warn Peter Browne that the boss was on his way. Might save a life or at least a career by doing that; her own included.

~o0o~

Donna strode up to Peter Browne’s office and invited herself in, cloaking herself in as much bravado as she could muster. “Hello, Peter. I’ve had to be re-assigned for this week. Do you have any work you can offer me?”

Just as she had expected, Peter frowned heavily at her in confusion. “But I thought you were tied in with John. What changed to cause that to happen?”

“Oh, you know,” she airily stated. “Clash of personalities and all that.”

“A lovers’ tiff, eh?” he mused, giving her a sympathetic grin.

“What? No! We aren’t like that,” she protested. “Why do you think so?”

His grin morphed into a sly smirk. “Oh really! We aren’t blind, during our departmental meetings, despite what you think.”

Oh no! Do I give off the fancying vibe when I’m around John? “Well,” she gulped nervously, “whatever you thought is happening, isn’t; so do you have some work for me or not?”

Peter hissed out a sigh through his teeth. “I’ll find something for you today but you won’t need a whole week’s worth.”

Would she be getting the sack? Did he know something she didn’t? “Why’s that?”

“Because,” he explained as he started to guide her towards another colleague who would provide the work, “John will soon make sure you are back in his office or out on location. There’s no way he’ll let you stay here.”

“Says you,” she despondently muttered to herself.

“Leanne, this is Donna from John Smith’s office. She’s down here to gain some idea how we operate, from the ground upwards,” Peter lied. “Do you think you can find her some tasks to do? Filing, phone call messages, anything at all.”

The woman introduced as Leanne cautiously eyed Donna up and down, as though she expected to be bitten at any moment. “I know that Gaynor has a mountain of stuff that needs filing.”

“Good. Excellent,” Peter enthused. “Then I’ll leave Donna in your capable hands.”

“Lead on, Macduff,” Donna cheerily said to Leanne. She could feel that probing questions were going to be asked, but at least she had a window of opportunity where a polite distance would be maintained, in order to rustle up some answers during the quiet period.

It didn’t last as long as she had anticipated.

“Does this mean that John Smith himself will be coming in here for some work experience?” Leanne wanted to know as she ‘accidentally’ hovered about doing things nearby. “Like that programme Undercover Boss, but without the secrecy.”

“No, I don’t think so,” Donna answered whilst trying to evade the woman.

Leanne pensively entwined her fingers. “Then why is he in Peter’s office?” she continued to ask. “If this is a new initiative they should have told us about it.”

Donna almost dropped her armful of papers in shock. “John is here?” she faintly wondered.

“Yes. He turned up about ten minutes ago,” Leanne supplied. “Weren’t you expecting him?”

“Not really,” Donna admitted; and looked towards the office door to check whether a burly security guard was going to arrive in order to escort her abruptly from the business property.

No sign of anyone on an evicting mission, so she allowed herself a sigh of relief.

“You and him. John,” Leanne clarified, “is it true that you’re having an affair?”

“Neither of us are in a relationship so it wouldn’t be classed as an affair IF anything was going on,” Donna stressed. “Which it certainly isn’t.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Leanne maintained. “Not that I blame you in the slightest because he has been looking even more gorgeous than normal lately.”

“It’s the beard,” Donna absently agreed as she noticed Peter’s personal office door open and a familiar figure start to appear as both men stepped out.

It’s him! Oh my god. Will he want to see me? Her heart thumped wildly in her chest as her instincts told her to run and embrace him.

Chapter Text

It’s him, it’s him!

At that precise moment his gaze lifted and their eyes met over the distance separating them.

Donna! Oh why did you leave me? Play it cool; charm her back. John’s shy smile turned into a megawatt grin.

All of those caught within the damage zone of his grin felt its affect upon them, but he only cared about Donna. His legs propelled him forward and towards her with very little incentive from his conscious mind. He merely wanted to be with her again, to have her by his side, in any capacity she was comfortable with.

“Hello,” he softly greeted her.

“Hello,” she returned the greeting.

“Busy?” he asked, nodding towards her unfinished stack of filing. Dump it all and come with me.

“Oh, you know; just making myself useful,” she replied. He’s here. I can’t believe he came and found me.

“Let’s put this down, shall we?” He took the pile of papers from her arms, turned to look for a place to drop them, and immediately handed the pile to Leanne. “I’m sure you can find a better place for these,” he addressed her. “Donna will be coming back with me to my office.”

“I am?” Donna queried in disbelief.

“You are,” he insisted. “We have some legal paperwork to get signed, and a pressing appointment this afternoon.”

The meeting to finalise the Barcelona location. She’d almost forgotten about that. Or rather, forced herself not to think about her previous duties. “So, you need me?” she asked; that ‘need’ being totally ambiguous within her mind.

To her increasing delight he took possessive hold of her hand.

“Always,” he huskily murmured. Always and forever.

Out of sight, Leanne clapped her hands over her mouth in reflected joy. This had to have been the most romantic thing she had ever seen.

“Bye everyone! Thank you!” Donna called out their farewells, letting John practically drag her away.

“Did you see that?!” Leanne gasped once their visitors had left the office.

“Oh my God!” the nearest woman cried. “I thought he was going to propose at the end there.”

“Who’s to say that’s not what he is doing right this second,” Leanne suggested.

“And you are all delusional,” Peter chided them.

But their enthusiasm refused to wane, and they all burst into laughter that was both joyous and envious.

~o0o~

“Bit of a death grip you’ve got there,” Donna commented as they reached John’s outer office door.

“Sorry.” He eased his tight grip slightly. “Can’t have you getting away from me, not now.”

“You make that sound like a line from a film,” she blustered. “Almost romantic.”

He pulled her closer as they entered his domain. “It is, isn’t it,” he remarked.

“Okay, what’s going on?” she demanded to know. “You’ve dragged me back here as though your inner caveman is at work, and… well… I don’t know, really.”

The hold he had retained of her hand was released, and he carefully slid some A4 sized papers towards her on the desk top. “Why don’t you sign your new contract and then we can discuss all this properly?” He then expectantly held out a slim silver pen towards her.

She took it from his grasp and frowned. “Shouldn’t we be discussing stuff before I sign anything?”

“Normally I would agree,” he reasoned, “but in this instance the case would benefit from you signing first.”

“If I blindly sign this,” she said, placing an index finger upon the legal document in front of them, “I might be agreeing to all sorts of unwanted things. Things like being whisked off to Timbuctoo to set myself up as the latest unfortunate member of the slave trade.”

“Donna,” he begged, “just sign the contract. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to get it here to you today. So I would be eternally grateful if you’d sign it. Please.”

Now deeply suspicious, she picked up the document and began to skim through it. Whatever she saw caused her to gasp and sink down onto the nearest chair, which fortunately happened to be a nice, comfy leather one.

Yes, the legal wording contained what she had expected, stating that she would be contracted to supply her time and skills to Gallifreyan Productions as a freelance consultant, providing a service for the foreseeable future, subject to renegotiation on an annual basis. But she hadn’t expected all the extra additions; like access to various company assets, including a villa in the south of France, a financial security bonus that had guaranteed the full payment of her mother’s mortgage, and membership to several credit card accounts in upmarket shops. In essence, he was going to pay for everything you could possibly think of, even the clothes on her back.

“You’ve… This is too much,” she eventually managed to say. “The one we agreed on was already far more than I had expected. But for you to do all this….” She waved a hand over the papers. “I’m overwhelmed.”

“You deserve it,” he maintained, gazing at her with open adoration.

“It also says here for to take immediate effect, but you’ve booked me with the agency until the end of the week.”

“Then you shall doubly benefit.” He fixed her with a determined stare. “Whatever it takes, you are free today to do as you please. The agency will be paid compensation for being broken from their legal contract with us during this week.”

“But…”

“Sign the papers, please,” he pleaded, “and let me show you how much you mean to me.”

“You’re a right Mr Darcy, aren’t you?” she noted, to his amusement. “All that’s missing is the wedding you’ve secretly arranged.”

“If I told you now it wouldn’t be a secret,” he enigmatically stated.

That was it. Her mind was made up. With a flourish, she signed and dated the document and bound herself to him for at least the next year if not forever.

The door to his office was suddenly flung open and Andy stood there like an avenging angel. “Did you do it? Did you get Donna to sign the paperwork?” he almost wheezed in his excitement to get there. Then he spotted John was standing with Donna closely by his side. “Oh, you did. You might have told me.”

“Thanks Andy,” John scowled. “Donna has just this second completed signing everything.”

“Sorry,” Andy contritely apologised. “My timing can be a bit crap, which is a bit ironic when you… Look, why don’t we all go out now and celebrate together? My treat. And I promise no going anywhere near unwelcome company. So what do you say?” he eagerly queried. “There’s a glass of champagne with my name on it.”

“Are you still inviting Marianne?” Donna couldn’t resist asking.

He pondered that for a moment. “Yeah, why not. She deserves to help you celebrate.” He deliberately waited until he had turned and was heading out the door before he added, “Must be miles better then Amanda, any day of the week.”

For once, John chuckled in amusement. No one and nothing could destroy his good mood. He had legally tied Donna to him employment-wise for the foreseeable future, and now all he had to do was extend that to the rest of it.

~o0o~

One very happy lunch later, they returned to the office to undergo the meeting to finalise the Barcelona location. Fortunately, the whole thing took very little time, and soon Donna was gathering up used coffee cups, wrapping up uneaten small cakes, and contemplating the mound of washing up to be done.

As he left the office, Andy surreptitiously pointed at Donna and mimed to John that he ought to get close and talk to her. John waved him off, grinning from ear to ear. Yes, he was going to do this; but preferably without an audience.

“How’s Jenny?” Donna asked him as he sidled up beside her and began to help place things into the office kitchenette sink in front of her. “You’ve not mentioned her today yet.”

“Haven’t I?” he vaguely answered, throwing some rubbish into the nearby bin.

“No, you haven’t,” she stressed. “Is she still annoyed with me? I understand why, of course, but it’s best if I stay out of her firing line for a while.”

“She’s fine,” he insisted, “more than fine. Okay, she sulked for a while last night, but she isn’t the sort to bear a grudge for long. Just a bit fiery; you know how it is.”

“Oh I do,” she agreed. “Rather too well.” Wasn’t I just as bad at that age?

“She does still like you rather a lot.”

Result! “Does she?! I didn’t think she would.”

“How could she not?” Oh you are so beautiful when you smile at me like that. I could kiss you from here until kingdom come. “Look, I know this isn’t the ideal time to ask this, but then when IS it a good time considering all that has happened,” he wondered, frantically passing her cups to wash up without doing more than glancing occasionally at her face. If he stopped, he’d be caught in her eyes and would never want to leave. “Anyway, despite me getting things a little wrong lately, can we class this as a date? Or at least go on a date? You know, should you want to. I’ll understand if you don’t.”

“You dumbo,” she softly wheezed; causing him to halt his actions and stare at her. “Why do you think I let you put me through all that this morning?”

“I’m not sure, to be honest,” he admitted, now growing exponentially in confidence. “It rather suggests that you might be fond of me; of us.”

“Jenny has her merits. I’d be hard pushed to fault her,” she teased.

“And what about me?” he risked asking. “I’m sure you could get to like me a little more.”

“You?” She moved nearer and, to his delight, lifted a hand to touch his cheek. “Why don’t you let me show you how that liking might go.”

Her mouth eased slowly forward and pressed against his lips; causing him to fervently clasp her body close within his embrace.

“Show me again,” he begged.

So she did.

~o0o~

They were snuggled up together on the leather settee in John’s office, having had a rather deliciously satisfying snog. It was weird, Donna noted, how happy he was to lie with his head nuzzled up against her neck whilst all the other blokes she had gone out with would have attempted something rather more intimate; like put their hand up her skirt or planted their face in her cleavage. But not him. No, all he’d done was kiss her neck with wet swoops of his tongue, like he was doing right that second, as though she was a giant ice cream cone.

“Oi! You’d better not be leaving behind love bites on my neck, mister,” she idly threatened him.

“That’s not what I’m doing.” He chuckled in clear amusement; unrepentant and persistently intent on continuing his task. “No, not a visible mark on you,” he reassured her. “Nevertheless, everybody will know you’re mine.”

“Getting more than a bit possessive there, Mr Smith.”

“Definitely,” he happily agreed. No snarky remarks from her could burst his bubble, and he was well aware now that her words existed to mask her vulnerability. “You can do the same to me if you like.”

What else was she allowed to do to him? “Maybe later, when you’ve stopped pinning me down on here. I’d always wondered if this was your casting couch.”

A snorting laugh exploded from his lips. “It could be from now on, if you play your cards right.”

“You’re getting very saucy in your old age,” she noted. “This location trip of ours tomorrow…?”

“Mmm hmm?” he murmured distractedly. “What about it?”

“Are we sharing the same hotel room?”

His arms instantly fell to his side. “Donna! That would be unseemly.”

“Why? We’re both grown adults.”

“Maybe,” he countered, anxiously fingering his collar, “but we are not married.” Not yet. “We have hardly just started dating.”

Oh! “So you don’t want to…?” she forlornly queried.

“I do!” he hastily assured her. Oh gods do I! “Honestly, I do but I cannot; not when it matters so much. I would hate for you to end up doing the same as my sister-in-law Sarah.”

“Why? What did she do?”

To her dismay he merely shook his head. “I’ll tell you another time,” he cagily answered. “I will!” he amended when she glared at him. “Now you are not to worry about her, and get back to enjoying my incredibly handsome looks.”

Inevitably she scoffed at him. “Got yourself a little bit of an ego misalignment there, mate. It’s gone wandering off with the fairies. You might want to pull it in a bit.”

“I’d rather pull you in a bit nearer,” he whispered; doing just that.

Which was all very nice. Extremely nice, as it happened, but she had questions she needed answering. For now, it could wait; she was having a nice cuddle.

~o0o~

“Come home and have dinner with us,” John had requested.

“Are you frightened of letting go of me?” Donna had teased. “Because I promise not to run away. Will Jenny be okay with me turning up?”

“She’ll be fine,” he tried to confidently say. “Or at least she soon will be. This is our first proper date so she will have to get used to the sight of you.”

“But I don’t like the idea of her throwing a strop. It won’t help our relationship if she disapproves.”

“Then you will have to charm her, just like you have me,” he’d breathily crooned.

“Hello Donna,” Jenny had warily greeted her later on.

“Hello Jenny,” Dona eagerly greeted her, aiming for the same tone she usually used. “You alright?”

“Yeah,” she’d replied; but had kept her distance until their meal was ready to eat.

In fact, Jenny didn’t even look at Donna until they had sat down together at the dinner table. After they’d eaten, John had insisted that he alone cleaned up. She was sure there was a method to his madness; and she was right.

Left alone, Donna waited for Jenny to make some comment; whether it be good or bad. When it didn’t come, but was filled with awkward silence, she took control.

Sod this! “You can ask me any question you like,” Donna softly offered, “and I promise I’ll answer as truthfully as I can.”

Jenny lifted her gaze and for the first time that day looked her directly in the face. “Okay. Did you deliberately choose my dad to go after? I know you aren’t really engaged but you might be pushing him that way.”

“Honestly?” Donna waited for nod from Jenny before she continued with an answer. “It was Andy, your Uncle Andy that I’d thought… hoped I might end up with. Not that I’m saying your dad wasn’t nice or anything, especially in the bum department. Sorry, you didn’t want to know that snippet.”

“No, I don’t mind,” Jenny insisted, leaning forward in interest. “What changed?”

“I suppose your dad turning up in the beard helped a lot! Seriously. I really love the beard!” Donna gushed. “I mean, when I first saw Andy I couldn’t stop myself from swooning over how gorgeous he is; the both of them. You might not know this, but Andy is a major flirt.”

Jenny smiled. “I’ve heard he can be. What about Dad?”

“No, he isn’t; nothing like it,” Donna replied, “at least not at first. He’s more… what’s the word?... respectful and dignified. You and the family always come first, whatever he’s doing.”

Wanting to hear Donna’s side of things, Jenny then asked, “Then what was all that engagement business about?”

“Amanda,” she succinctly responded. “Your dad asked me to play along and pretend we were an item just to rid of her once and for all. Sort of worked, and as you know, sort of didn’t.”

“But why you?”

Luckily, Donna didn’t take offence at that. It was a fair question after all. “Purely because I was sitting next to him the first time, and the second time because he knew I’d play along supporting him.”

Jenny snorted a laugh. She suspected there was another reason that had motivated him. “That doesn’t explain the kiss.”

Which one? “The one your Grandma saw? Well, he had just put a ring on my finger, so it seemed a natural reaction to a proposal. It being a mock one didn’t seem to matter. Plus, I wanted to kiss him. I’ll be honest about that.” When Jenny scrunched her face up in disgust, she added, “Your dad is very kissable. He is a dazzling bloke; but don’t tell him I said that. It’d go straight to his head.”

This was still the same Donna she had grown fond of, nothing needed to change; so Jenny relaxed even more in the knowledge that her dad wasn’t being taken for a fool.

“So… have I passed the interview? Do I get the job? I mean: bloke?” Donna queried, making Jenny openly laugh in relief.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she enigmatically replied.

“You can easily see whose daughter you are,” Donna whimsically commented to no one in particular.

“Coffee, ladies?” John then appeared in the doorway to ask; grinning like the cat that had got the cream. Which in essence he had.

“Yes please,” both of them chimed simultaneously, and then giggled at their synchronicity.

A satisfactory result, John idly noted to himself. It felt good to get Jenny’s true feelings on the matter before he returned her to his mother’s care whilst they were away on location.

As it turned out, he wasn’t the only one worried about his mother’s continuing influence on the Smith’s lives.

~o0o~

Chapter Text

Before Donna saw John’s mother again, there was one mystery that HAD to be solved. That’s why she had somewhat made a detour from their latest location trip while John and Andy were discussing the finer qualities of different latex rubbers with a supplier; and was standing on the front doorstep of a smallish cottage on a badly lit street of a village. At the time, she hadn’t suspected why John had allowed her to drive his car and said he would return to the hotel with Andy; she’d just been glad to have the freedom to investigate while being less than thirty miles from a possible answer.

It had hardly taken her any time to find the right address. The door opened and a familiar if slightly different looking man gazed out at her. He looked exactly like John did when he didn’t have the beard, but this man had a different air about him. His clothing wasn’t as refined or expensive as the clothing John wore, yet many of his gentle mannerisms were present. Only the additional wrinkles around his eyes made her realise this wasn’t John standing in front of her but she was instantly drawn to him.

“Yes, can I help you?” He then loudly gasped in partial recognition, “Sophie! What are you doing here?”

Who? “Sorry, I’m not Sophie; and I’m not sure you can help me or not,” she cautiously admitted, purposefully stepping further into the light from the porch to let him see her more clearly. “Are you a member of the Smith family at Gallifreyan Productions?”

“I am,” he confirmed. “Sorry about the misunderstanding; for a moment I thought I knew you. Someone I used to know a long time ago. What connection do you have with the Smiths? Hopefully you aren’t here trying to blackmail me into providing extra funds for the school.”

“Dad,” a young boy from behind him blurted out, “that’s the lady from Grandma’s”

“What did you say, David?” the man queried, turning around to face his son. “Do you know this woman?”

Ah, here was some common ground at last. “Hello David! Nice to see you again,” Donna greeted him as he stood warily within an interior doorframe. “I’m Donna. Donna Noble,” she introduced herself to his dad. “I know your brothers.”

“Oh, right!” the man gulped, now knowing who this stranger was. “I’m Donald, David’s dad,” he blustered, awkwardly offering a hand to shake. “I heard about the scene… I mean, you, at Mother’s home.”

“So I gather,” she noted. “You’re nothing like Roderick, are you. More like John.”

“Well, we are brothers,” he replied. “I mean… half-brothers. You know, not the full thing. Do you want to come in?” He stood aside in invitation for her to enter the house. “My wife Sarah isn’t here at the moment. Sorry. But I’m sure I can rustle us up a cup of tea while you tell me what you want.”

“Thank you, that’d be lovely,” she acknowledged as she stepped into the hallway and then followed him further into the house and eventually the kitchen.

It was a pleasant enough house. Nowhere near as grand as his brother’s or mother’s homes; but much more humble. There was a slightly chaotic air to it that many teachers’ homes have, filled with original features and little artefacts. Plus books; loads of books.

“So what is it you wanted to ask me?” he began, as he bustled about with the tea things in the kitchen. He gestured for her to sit at the table on one of the wooden chairs.

“This may seem like a bit of a cheek,” she began, “but I wanted to know why your wife isn’t properly accepted into the family.”

“Oh!” Donald had to quickly retrieve the teapot from being dropped onto the harsh granite flagstones of the floor. He almost threw it down onto the kitchen table. “What makes you say that?” he bumbled.

Obviously hit a nerve then. “I saw your son at your mother’s house but apparently only you dropped him off when you went away on holiday, and only you picked him up again. David is obviously welcome if your mother is prepared to look after him, but it’s odd that your wife doesn’t visit. At all. Jenny told me that she has rarely seen her aunt. Considering that Sarah is her only aunt, don’t you think that is more than a bit strange?”

Donald’s eyes had gone wide, and he was desperately casting his gaze about the kitchen as though an answer would pop up out of nowhere. “No,” he squeaked, falling down onto a seat. He then distracted himself by carefully pouring out the tea. “Sarah was merely packing for our holiday.”

“And I’m a Dutchman,” Donna scorned. Her tone then softened. “I’m not trying to get at her; I just want to know what she apparently did that’s so terrible.”

“She did nothing wrong. It was my fault,” he confessed. “We were young, fresh out of college and in love. You know how it is. She would have done anything for me. Her wish was to have children. And I don’t know why I am telling you all this…”

“Maybe it’s because you can sense that I’m a friend.”

“There’s definitely something about you. It’s in your…” …Aura. He had almost said it, but it would have been extremely unwise to do so. Hadn’t it been drummed into him to never divulge anything that he saw or detected about a person? Even when it shone as brightly as it did around this woman who looked so much like Sophie that it hurt. But that was all long ago, before he had met Sarah. Rebounded almost. Probably. “…Face,” he finished instead. “Are you really dating our John?”

“Yes,” she quietly admitted, feeling the enormity of being able to say that. “But I don’t know a great deal about your family or why there is a rift.”

Rift! He jerked slightly in response. “I did the whole thing wrong. Our romance was a whirlwind one that had us eloping to escape Sarah’s father’s disapproval, and my mother. I take it that you’ve met my mother and know how she can be.” He waited for a confirming nod before continuing. “I wanted to marry Sarah to spite her; to do things my way instead of how we are meant to behave. That backfired on me and I have paid the price ever since.”

“The whole doing things your way doesn’t sound so bad,” Donna reasoned.

“Oh it was!” Donald protested. “Our family has set protocols about everything, especially marriage. Because I didn’t gain the proper consent from both sets of parents, running off like we did, my mother cannot fully accept my wife into her antiquated life. But we’ve been happy together, and we now have our son, David. He has been a blessing, in more ways than one.”

“Are you seriously saying that because your mother cannot forgive you for eloping, you’ve been technically ostracised from the family?” Donna complained. “That is bonkers! I am so sorry.”

He grimaced, trying to stay cheerful. “Thanks. Whatever you do, if you go through with an engagement, make sure you let John take the steps he needs to beforehand. Don’t rush him.”

“I’m not sure…,” she started to deny; and was shocked when Donald reached over to place a hand above hers on the table top.

“I heard, and I am sure John will want to take your relationship further. You are made for each other,” he gently insisted. “Let him explain everything about our family. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a little bit different from other people.”

“And the rest,” she scoffed. “Weird doesn’t begin to describe you lot. It’s like you’re from another world, where old fashioned manners are really important.”

“You’ve hit the nail on the head. I should tell you that my wife does not know the whole truth and I am forbidden from telling her.”

“What!” Donna couldn’t help exclaiming. “That’s wrong.”

“It’s true; so gain the correct consent, from Mother, your mother and Jenny, and John will be able to share every secret with you.”

“That sounds remarkably like a bribe,” she noted.

“No, it would be a reward,” he assured her, and gave her hand a comforting pat. “He wants you in his life and I know he would go through what I have done if it meant being the only way to be with you.”

Isn’t he a cutie! “Blimey, you’ve inherited the gift of the gab too,” she commented to dismiss her growing excitement. John and me. Me and John! “Thank you so much for making me feel better.”

“You are very welcome.” He beamed a smile in her direction. “And say hello to my little brother for me.”

“I’ll do better than that,” she instantly promised, “I’ll bring him here myself to see you.”

Donald could already see the warm glow around her increase as her connection to the family grew. “I’d love that. Make it soon.”

~o0o~

When his car wasn’t sitting in the hotel car park when they got back, John tried not to be too worried. His tentative connection with Donna reassured him that she was on her way back to him from her task. But it didn’t take him too long to give in and walk down the corridor to her room and check she was okay.

“Hello. Did you have a pleasant drive in my car?” he greeted her when her door opened and she inevitably invited him in.

“You know, don’t you,” she accused him. “Go on, tell me off.”

“I know nothing,” he tried to deny; clutching his chest to portray his innocence. “Alright, I saw that you had looked up my brother’s address, so it wasn’t hard to guess that’s where you’ve been.”

She turned and huffed. “You ought to be a detective. You’re wasted doing this sort of thing.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I have my successes,” he countered, wrapping himself around her from behind. “Well aren’t you going to tell me what you found out?”

“Sarah’s heinous crime was eloping with your brother,” she supplied, unable to resist the onslaught of his lips upon her neck. Good grief! The man made her putty in his hands. “I still don’t understand why you couldn’t have told me yourself.”

“I would have done,” he whispered next to her skin. “You smell wonderful.” All full of me. “It is going to be extra hard to leave you alone tonight.”

“Then stay,” she invited. Stay the night with me.

I want to, more than anything. “Perhaps I’ll wait a little bit longer,” he considered as she turned within his embrace, “it would be rude not to.”

She reached up to kiss him. “Very rude.”

“But I do have to return to my room,” he distracted himself by saying, “to sleep, and look after things.”

“Why do you need to rush back?” she wondered. “Don’t tell me. You keep an alien in your bedroom just like Elliott did in ET.”

“Well…,” he cautiously began. “Something like that.”

“You are kidding me!” she gasped in disbelief. “Can I see it? Your pet alien, I mean.”

He equally sighed in exasperation. “I don’t have a pet alien. Not unless I could remotely consider YOU as such.”

“What do you mean? I’m not an alien, you blithering idiot,” she stormed.

“You are to me,” he quietly spoke.

“Pardon?”

This is it: the moment to confess all. “Donna,” he carefully began, “there’s something I have to tell you.”

Stepping away, she readied herself to hear something awful. “Alright. Little bit weirded out by how serious you’ve gone, but go ahead, tell me. Will I need tissues when I burst into tears because you are terminally ill?”

“No, hopefully you won’t need to sob,” he considered thoughtfully, “although you might change your mind about me.”

A kink, then? “If it’s a fetish thing, like walking around of a night time in a lady’s nightie, I’m sure I can be very broadminded and overlook it eventually.”

“No cross dressing is involved,” he assured her, smiling in amusement despite himself. If this was her version of a worst case scenario perhaps he might not be so doomed after all. “My brothers Roderick and Donald are not my half-brothers; instead, they are my full brothers.”

Eh? “So does this mean that your mum and dad had a love affair before they got together?” she tried to reason out. “It’s not exactly unknown, and no reason to have a huge family secret about it these days.”

“With my family it is,” he responded, and sighed deeply. “We are not like other people’s families; we don’t follow the same rules. We don’t even live and die like other people do.” He then halted as though he had said too much.

“What do you mean by that? Are you suggesting there was something different about your late dad?”

“Yes. Yes I am,” he confessed. “When Father changed his face, he had to also change his second name; hence my older brothers having a different surname.”

“Changed his face?” She gawped at him for some seconds. “Was your dad part of the pioneering surgery to give burns victims new faces?”

He shook his head. Say it! “We… that is… the whole of my immediate family… we aren’t exactly human.”

“Not human?!” Her mind spiralled away. “Like some sort of ape clones. DNA grafted onto a gorilla. What exactly are you trying to tell me?”

“We’re alien, Donna!” he eventually forced out. “We did not originally come from this planet. And we are not clones despite appearing that way. Instead, we were formed in our version of a test tube; we’re from a loom.”

“You’re knitted?! Now I’ve heard everything,” she gasped.

“ARGH!” he cried in frustration, grabbing his hair. “Why would you think we were knitted?”

“I don’t know!” she defended herself. “You mentioned weaving machines, not me!”

“I merely meant that that is what they were called. I’m not saying that my mother sat down with a Sirdar pattern and chose baby wool colours and knitting needle sizes.”

“You seem to know an awful lot about it for someone who doesn’t knit,” she commented.

“I never said…!” He then stopped his line of thought. “You’re making fun of me.”

“It’s a bit hard not to, you must admit,” she reasoned. Gorgeous berk! “It does make all the alien promo stuff make sense now though. Or that it has been your life’s work creating friendly aliens. Yes, makes perfect sense.” She nodded to add emphasis.

“So, are you okay with that?” he guardedly wondered.

“Sort of. Yeah. Once I’ve had a chance to get over the shock. I mean, stands to reason that a perfectly handsome bloke with oodles of intelligence, and don’t even mention the pots of money, who turns out to be interested in me, wouldn’t exactly be ‘normal’; whatever that is. This is bonkers and brilliant, all at the same time. You’ve not said where you really came from, unless there is an alien world underneath Surrey. I’ve had my suspicions, I have to say…”

Oh this glorious woman! “We came from Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, as refugees during the Last Great Time War.”

“Jenny mentioned that constellation,” she quietly noted. “Gallifrey. Like your production company. Clever. I’d have never worked it out. Did you escape from Roswell?”

“That was a different family. We were the lights in the Suffolk woods incident.”

“Ah yes. I remember reading about that one. Got the nearby British and American soldiers all worked up, you tinkers!” she fondly chided him.

He suitably blushed. “It did rather highlight the need for a more positive public image. Apparently Father was mortified by the fuss.”

“What did you do with your spaceship? No doubt dug a massive hole in the back garden.”

“She’s errr, she’s standing in my bedroom at home,” he pointed out. “Do you want to see a photo?”

“What! But how? There’s nothing like that in your room.” She then eagerly waited for him to bring up a photo on his mobile phone; letting him proudly hold it out towards her. “That’s a… Hang on, that’s a vintage police phone box. Since when were they magically spaceships?” she scoffed.

“When we learned how to disguise our craft with a chameleon circuit.” He then opened another saved photo. “This is the inside.”

Despite the darkness inside, it was easy to see that the innards contained a massive space. “This is really your spaceship? Why is it all dark? The batteries obviously need charging up.”

His mood dropped. “Sadly, we’ve had to let her sit there and die since Father breathed his last.”

“That is so sad,” she agreed. “It makes you a bit like washed up whales; or local Romani people forced to live in council houses. I bet they miss you all back home on Gallifrey.”

To her dismay his eyes teared up.

“There is no one left there. They all died at the end of the war. We are all that remains of our world.”

“Oh John!” she sympathetically cried, and threw her arms around him to offer comfort. “At least you’ve proved, through Jenny, that they can live on in some small way. Where there’s life, there’s hope,” she whispered. “And I’ll do my best to help you cope with your loss.”

“Would you do all that for silly old me?”

“I’d have done it if you were just a humble dustman,” she assured him. “But you being an alien refugee adds to your cause.”

“Then it’s a good job I hadn’t mentioned we are Time Lords.”

“Really? You’re lords? With all the fancy cloaks and fur and stuff?” she queried, releasing her hold on him. “That explains all the money and grand houses.”

“Not entirely,” he admitted. “Houses were involved.”

“Then would Sir care for a cup of tea?” she offered, and turned to put the hotel room kettle on. “Or I can offer a coffee, and a shortbread biscuit,” she added, picking up the small cellophane wrapped treat.

There was a delicate cough behind her.

Looking back at John, she was shocked to see him down on his hands and knees. “Have you dropped something, like a contact lens? What does it look like?” she helpfully asked, peering intensely down at the carpet.

“Donna,” he said, halting her from clambering down next to him, “you have just freed me from the last obstacle.”

“Obstacle? What obstacle?” she openly wondered. Surely a cup of tea couldn’t cause a problem. “What did it stop you doing?”

“This,” he triumphantly declared, bringing out of his pocket a small blue ring box.

“No!” she denied, unable to believe this was happening to her. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!!!

So he soldiered on. Oh yes, my accepting love! “Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife? I love you, Donna. Please say ‘yes’.”

“Yes,” she quietly replied at first. “YES! Bloody yes!” she excitedly continued, just in case he hadn’t got the message.

“I need to ask your mother’s permission as well,” he informed her.

She scowled. Did you have to mention her!? “Why did you have to spoil the moment?”

“Do you really think she will refuse?” he worriedly questioned her, looking suddenly crestfallen.

Unable to hide her grin, she threw herself on him, and hugged him tightly. “Honestly, she’ll be delighted. Now put the ring on for real. I want to show it off.”

“Anything for you,” he happily replied, already more than half way to doing just that.

~o000o~