“Why do aliens like earth so much?”
The Doctor leaned around the corner of the building, then ducked back. “What makes you think we do?”
Donna gave him The Look. It was a Noble tradition, that. She’d learned it from her mum and her mum had learned it from her Nan. “Pretty much everything that keeps on happening?”
He flashed a grin. “Must be you lot. So likeable.”
“And by likeable, you mean ‘scream a lot’ and ‘blow up really well’?” she suggested. A crash from the street made her wince. “We’re going back out there, aren’t we?”
He had that daft look in his eye, the one that said I’m a mad genius, but at least I’m fun! “Oh, yes!” He grabbed her by the hand. “Don’t let go!” was all the warning she got and then he legged it around the corner, hauling her after him.
Didn’t matter how many times she gave him a good hard kick about it – usually too out of breath to say much of anything after – but the silly sod always forgot his legs were about a mile longer than hers, so a jog for him turned her into Kris bloody Akabusi.
This time around, at least they were in London. Bit in the future, he’d said. Not far. They’d have to be careful not to run into their past selves. Or hers at least. He wasn’t sure about his. Mind you, he didn’t seem to know what day of the week it was, half the time.
“Hang on!” He stopped so suddenly that she ran right into the back of him. “This is Soho, isn’t it?”
Donna glanced around. Rainbow flags all over the place. Couple of theatres about. Chinatown down the road. “Looks like it.”
“Right…” He turned this way and that, then took out his screwdriver, waving it in the air. It buzzed and he laughed. “Brilliant! This way!”
And they were off again, and Christ, she really needed to get a better pair of trainers. He was as good as a personal trainer, him, only you didn’t pay him and he never bothered to stop and check you weren’t having a bleeding heart attack as long as you were both still alive.
“Where we going?” she managed to puff out when he shoved her into a shop doorway as a ship screamed overhead.
“I know somewhere we can duck and cover until we sort out a plan,” he replied, peering cautiously out of the doorway. “It’s probably changed hands by now, but it’s one of the sturdiest buildings I’ve seen in this part of the city.”
“Been here before, eh?”
“Oh, loads,” he said, grinning. “We just like earth that much.”
Another two blocks up and one across took almost ten minutes of ducking and diving. There were people everywhere, running and yelling and pointing their phones at the sky.
“They need to run!” she panted, trailing after him. “Why aren’t they running?”
“Curiosity,” Doctor called back over his shoulder. “Marvellous thing.”
“Ha! I’d never be that stupid.”
The Doctor very, very deliberately didn’t say anything, but it wasn’t silence. It was the very, very pointed saying of nothing, because he really didn’t have to say it and she could see he was grinning even with his back to her.
“Oh, shut up, spaceboy!”
Another block and they turned a corner and she ran right into the back of him.
“It’s still–” He looked shocked and that was always a bit worrying. He was staring at the shop on the corner across the road, which looked far too old-fashioned and tatty compared to all the cafés and shops around it. “It’s exactly the same.”
Engines howled overhead and she grabbed his arm, bundling him forward. “Yeah, and still as sturdy I’ll bet!” She rattled the handle of the door. It swung in, ringing the bell over the door, and she hauled him in after her, slamming the door shut behind them. The bell jangled again and she let him go, looking around.
It was a book shop.
Well, technically, it was a book shop, but what it looked like was as if a library had exploded all over a fancy Victorian room. There were books everywhere, all shapes and sizes and colours and everything. Most of them were old, leather-bound, and almost all of them were covered in dust. It was like the exploded bookshop time forgot.
“You said you’ve been here before, Doctor,” she said, turning back to him.
His dark eyes were darting around the room. “Yeaaaaah…” He reached for the door handle. “Probably best we find somewhere else. Looks like no one’s about and we–”
“Oh good gracious!”
Donna spun around. A man with a mop of fluffy-white hair was standing on the other side of the shop, one hand on his chest. He looked as shocked as the Doctor had outside.
“Crowley?” The man said, approaching.
“Ah…” The Doctor gave him a very awkward waggle of his fingers. He looked like Nicky Bevan when she got caught sneaking a bottle of shandy into school one day. All smiling and awkward like he hadn’t done anything wrong. “No. Not–”
White-hair’s eyes got even bigger. “Oh Lord!” His face lit up in a grin. “Oh, good Heavens! Doctor! You’ve regenerated! You look–”
“Don’t!” The Doctor winced.
“Yeah!” The Doctor held up his hands. “But right now we have another invasion going on and I really, really don’t have the time to get into the details and–”
The man nodded at once, beaming. “Do you need a little… enhancement again?”
“What’s he on about?” Donna muttered from the corner of her mouth.
“Probably wouldn’t hurt,” the Doctor said with a weak smile, then leaned towards her. “He’s got a certain kind of power. Very useful in a fight.”
Donna stared at the man. He looked like one of the older teachers from when she went to college, all prim and proper, with a nice suit and a bowtie and a little pair of specs on his nose. “Him? Power?”
“Don’t judge by appearances, my dear,” the man said sternly and she got a flash of Graham Norton if he was a middle-aged Professor. “What are we dealing with this time? The Cyber-creatures from 1984? Or those dreadful mechanical things with the baubles and plungers from 1943?”
“Something different,” the Doctor said. “Have you heard of the Sontarans? Actually… wait… did you say 1943? What happened–”
“Hold up,” Donna interrupted, “You were around 1943? How old are you?”
The man gave her a small smile. “Older than your young friend here.” Young friend, Donna thought. He glanced back at the Doctor. “Sontarans ought to be our first concern, I think. Those potato-like fellows in suits of armour, correct?”
“A few rogue ones trying to take earth.”
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” the man sighed. “Again?” He glanced towards the back of the shop. “I really ought to call Crowley. He has something of… I think the young people call it ‘a beef’ with them. He’d be very offended if–”
“Probably best if you don’t,” the Doctor interrupted. He’d gone red. He’d actually gone red.
“I must insist,” the man said firmly, trotting away into the back of the shop.
Donna nudged the Doctor who looked like he wanted the floor to open up and swallow him. “D’you know this Crowley?”
“Mm. Met him. Once. A while back.”
“Didn’t get on?” she guessed.
“Not… exactly…” He peered out through the glass of the door, then sighed with relief. The explosions had stopped and the people were milling in the streets, no longer filming the sky. “At least they’re predictable. They’ve got a code. They’re looking for a fixed target–”
“Us,” she put in.
“Which means they should leave the civilians alone for now.” He moved to one of the side windows, peering out. “They’ll be on the ground now. Probably coming this–”
“Way?” A new voice spoke from behind them. “Good. I owe them an arse-kicking for the middle-ages.”
Donna glanced back. Then turned all the way around, staring. “Oh. My God.”
A tall, lanky man was standing in the doorway beside the white-haired one. He was all dressed in black with bright red hair and sunglasses, but none of that mattered, because…
“S’that your dad?” she demanded, nudging the Doctor. “Is it?”
“His… dad?” The man looked just like the Doctor, if the Doctor was a bit older, in the middle of a midlife crisis and dressing like Mick Jagger. He tilted his head. “The Doctor?” A grin spread across his face. “Aziraphale said you’d regenerated. Go on. Let’s have a look.”
The Doctor was as red as the new bloke’s hair when he turned around. He looked more like a kid who’d widdled himself in class than a time-travelling alien. “Ah…”
The man’s mouth opened then shut. He frowned, eyebrows pulling down, and whipped off his sunglasses. When you’re being chased by potatoes in armour, a bloke with yellow snake eyes isn’t that shocking. But once they were off…
“Blimey,” Donna said, staring, “you don’t half like him, do you?”
The Doctor self-consciously fiddled with his tie. “It’s… a subconscious thing,” he said. “It’s not as if we can control it all.” He waved a hand back towards the door. “Not the important thing right now, either! Sontarans! Whole squad of them! After us!”
The red-haired not-Doctor grinned and he had too many teeth and they were all long and sharp.
“Not quite,” he said, walking – or whatever the hell it was his legs were trying to do – across the room. “They go way back, the spuds and I. Sounds like it might be a case of mistaken identity.” He slipped his jacket off and tossed it back across the room to the white-haired man before he opened the door. “Put the kettle on, angel. I’ll be back in five minutes.”
“You’re sure you don’t need a hand, dear?”
The man grinned and his mouth kept getting wider and wider and–
“SNAKE!” Donna shrieked, diving behind the Doctor, clambering halfway up him. “SNAKE!”
“Yeah, I see that!” The Doctor flapped his hands, pushing her back. “Full transpecies expanding metamorphosis! That… that’s fantastic…”
The bloody big snake on the floor winked one golden eye, then wiggled out into the street. Donna stared out after him.
“He just turned into a snake.”
“Should we… help?” The Doctor asked.
“He just turned into a snake.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be necessary, dear chap,” the other man – Aziraphale – said cheerfully. “He’s been wanting to get back at them since 1432.” He bowed a little bit and gestured to the back room of the shop. “Tea?”
“Doctor!” Donna grabbed the Doctor’s arm, shaking it. “He turned into a snake.”
He gave her a look that said he clearly didn’t see what the problem was. “Yeah?”
“That’s… not a big deal?”
The Doctor screwed up his face. “Nah. Scale of one to ten, I’ve seen stranger.”
“Yeah,” she retorted. “Like the fact you’re wearing the snake-man’s face!”
“She does make a fair point,” the white-haired man said. He sounded like he was trying very hard not to laugh.
Donna eyed him. “You’re not gonna turn into a snake or anything as well?”
“Not at all,” he said. “I like this shape too well to change it. I’ve had it more than six thousand years now.”
She gawped at him. “Well… you look good for your age…”
He smiled and it was like someone turned on a light. “Why, thank you, Miss Noble. Right this way, if you don’t mind.”
He trotted off through into the back of the shop and she glanced at the Doctor. “How’d he know my name?”
The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. “Um… did you ever go to Sunday School?”
“Yeah. When I was like six.”
“Did you ever hear about the Garden of Eden?”
She nodded. “Pair of nudists went scrumping and got kicked out a garden, right?”
The Doctor nodded. “Loosely, yeah.” He jerked his head in the direction of the back shop. “He was there. One of the guards after they got kicked out.” He straightened his jacket and headed off after the white-haired man.
“WHAT!?!” She dashed after him, grabbing his arm again. “What do you mean he was there? Is he like… what? An angel or something?”
“Quite so,” the man said, beaming at her as they came into the back of the shop that was just as messy and stacked with books as the front. He was clearing a small coffee table and had laid out a plate of biscuits. “Not what you expected?”
She gave him a good, hard stare. Technically, if you tilted your head and squinted a bit, he did look kind of like the chubby cherubs they plastered all over Christmas cards and churches. Bigger, but if he was a guard – or guardian? – angel, that was fair enough.
“D’you have wings?”
The Doctor groaned. “You can’t just ask if an angel has wings, Donna!”
“Why?” She shot him a suspicious look. “Is it like a…” She waved vaguely to the front of her trousers. “I mean, I know some people get tetchy if you ask about their downstairs. Are angels wings like that?”
The angel looked like he really wanted to laugh. His eyes were twinkling. “Don’t worry, it’s hardly offensive,” he said, motioning for them to sit on the couch. “I do have wings, but they take up rather a lot of space and I kept knocking books off the shelves. It’s far easier this way.”
She plopped herself down on the couch and turned her attention to the Doctor. “Doesn’t explain why you’re wearing his mate’s face.”
“He made an impression, all right?” The Doctor said, slouching down beside her, all arms and legs. “Sometimes, stuff gets stuck in your brain and shows up when you least expect it. I mean, look at humans and that dreaming stuff you do.”
“Yeah, but my dream doesn’t show up on my face,” she pointed out.
“Time Lords are rather different,” the angel said, setting down a tray with four China teacups and matching saucers. “And I imagine Crowley is tremendously flattered that you remembered him so fondly.”
“Shame you missed the hair,” Donna said with a grin. “Is that why you picked me up, then, spaceboy? Didn’t get the ginger you wanted, so you picked up the first one that came along?”
The Doctor grinned crookedly. “First thing I checked, to be honest,” he admitted, reaching up and fluffing his hair.
The angel smiled, pouring them tea – and doing it exactly the way Donna liked it, right down to the right amount of sugar and milk and perfect shade of brown – before sitting down on an armchair on the other side of the table. “He gets so little positive feedback, I imagine this will delight him for weeks to come.”
“Little positive feedback?” The Doctor sat up indignantly. “He can do a transpecies expanding metamorphosis and he had a hand in building a bunch of star systems! Why on earth wouldn’t he get positive feedback?”
“Because he turns into a giant snake?” Donna said. “I mean, don’t know about most humans, but that’s definitely not a positive thing.”
“I think the fact he’s a demon factors rather largely, I’m afraid,” the angel said with a sigh.
“…demon. Right.” Donna picked up her cup and saucer. “And you’re an angel. You know you’re not meant to be friends, right?”
“Mm.” The angel smiled. “So we have been made aware, once or twice.”
She sipped the tea. It was perfect. Best cup of tea she’d ever had. From an angel. Angelic tea. And they were waiting for a great big snake who was a demon who–
Donna frowned. “Wait, what do you mean he built stars?”
“He did,” the Doctor had that stupid, giddy look on his face again. “It was brilliant.”
“Ah.” It all made sense. Especially why the Doctor would get so excited about someone like that that he’d use their face as a model for his own. “Took excited fanboy to the extreme there, didn’t you, Doctor? I heard of a woman who got made to look like Barbie but you did it all by yourself.”
He pulled a face at her. “Shaddup!”
The angel was giggling into his cup. “It does rather suit you,” he said, eyes dancing. “Though I must admit I do miss the scarf. It was very impressive.” The bell jangled in the front of the shop and the angel turned his smile towards the doorway. “That was fast work, my dear.”
The demon – back in two-leg-two-arm mode – sauntered in like he owned the place. “Settled a couple of old scores,” he said cheerfully. He sat down on the arm of the couch by the Doctor, peering down at him. “Is that really what I look like?”
The Doctor went very red for an alien.
“Bit less pink,” Donna said, “and more ginger. Little bit older as well.”
The demon shook his head. “That’s… weird, seeing my own face from the outside again.”
The angel cleared his throat. “The Doctor believes it’s because you made such a strong impression on him,” he said with a wicked look in his eyes. “He was such an avid admirer of your great works, after all.”
Donna looked between mortified Doctor and suddenly-blushing demon and grinned. “Now, you look the same.”
Across the table, the angel sipped demurely at his tea, but when she glanced at him, he shot her a mischievous wink and she couldn’t help feeling he was enjoying himself. And, looking back at the immortal alien and demon blushing like embarrassed kids, she had to say she was as well.