The keening, whining metal on metal groan of the relative dimensional stabiliser in materialisation mode called out loudly throughout the deserted street. Houses built so closely together that they formed a defensive solid brick wall along the road held in much of that sound, which made the TARDIS’ cry echo back and forth., losing strength until it finally dissipated into silence.
The creak of a centuries old Gallifreyan brass hinge attached to a faded old wooden blue door squealed out next, followed by a long deep feminine breath.
“Were here,” Donna Noble panted out in awe as she stepped onto the street and walked a twisting gait to look around.
“Back in Chiswick, safe and sound,” the Doctor sang out with a beaming smile. “Just like I promised.” He firmly slapped the door frame of the TARDIS and let his eyes dance across the faded blue wood. “Told you, she can survive anything.”
Donna adjusted the strap of her now ruined wedding dress and gave him a small smile. “Yeah. It’s more than I’ve done.”
He stepped out of the doorway with his sonic screwdriver in hand. He lifted it, did a very quick, but thorough scan and drew out the time to read it. “Negative for Huon particles,” he stated. “No damage done. Perfectly fine.”
Her returning smile was tender, honest, but very sad. “Yeah, but apart from that, I missed my wedding, lost my job, and became a widow on the same day. Well. Sort of”
The Doctor’s wide smile fell, as did his shoulders. “I couldn’t save him,” he admitted with enough apology in his tone that it didn’t need to be said.
She shrugged and shook her head, battling to show nonchalance even though her heart was breaking. “He deserved it,” she spit out petulantly. Her petulance fell and her face creased with regret. “No. No, he didn’t.” She tipped her ear to her home. “I guess I’d better get inside. They’’’ be worried.”
His eyes flicked up to the window. Inside he could see Donna’s mother and grandfather dancing an untrained waltz. There was a young boy with floppy brown hair hanging over green eyes dancing beside them with his own partner in a wide-eyed female toddler. He danced with excitement and gangly energy, thrilled at the music and the energy of celebration. The young girl didn’t seem to be dancing with anywhere near the same level of excited dancing as her partner, instead she only seemed to want to twist side to side while sucking repeated draws on a pacifier.
The Doctor smiled at a very typical human Christmas tradition. Last year, he had been part of family celebrations, this year he had nothing at all to celebrate.
Best not to dwell on it too much. He beamed a faux grin and shifted his eyes to hers. “Best Christmas present they could have. To have you safe.” His eyes widened. “Oh no. I forgot. You hate Christmas.”
Her brow lifted and she shifted the seat of her shoulders into a shrug of agreement. “Yes. I do.”
The Doctor offered her a very cheeky smile and stepped back into the doors of his TARDIS. He leaned back to flip a switch that would absolutely impress her, and stopped short at the sound of a howl along the street. He quickly stepped out of the ship and looked curiously around them, on guard and ready to defend her if necessary.
“Is. Is that a wolf?” He stood ahead of her and held a hand back to keep her safely behind him. “There aren’t supposed to be any wolves in this area.”
Donna laughed. “Ah. Wouldn’t be too worried about them.”
The Doctor spun to look at her, his wide eyes asking for explanation. “Them?”
“Blondie’s dogs,” she answered simply, thumbing over her shoulder to the house next door to hers. “Well, she says they’re Arctic wolves or something from Canada, but a dog’s a dog. All look the same to me. Beautiful pair of animals, but blimey they can get noisy on a full moon.”
The Doctor’s eyes pinched into a frown. “Domesticating wild animals,” he huffed.
“The two of them seem happy enough,” she answered with a shrug. “great around the kids..”
“Yours?” he asked curiously, trying to think back to whether or she was a mother had ever been brought up in conversation.
“Don’t be daft,” she hit back with a shake in her head. “I’m prefer givin’ them back than having to keep them – like I do with that pair. Rose’s couple of youngsters. Four and Six months old.”
The Doctor’s eyes blinked a rapid series of blinks as the name that had been seared into his hearts, yet had been successfully suppressed over the past few hours of excitement, rose up back into his conscience.
“Rose?” he half whimpered.
“Yeah,” she said with a shrug as she looked toward the home. “Moved in about a month ago after she lost her husband. Two kids, two dogs, and no one but her brother Irving and his wife helpin’ out.” She looked back at the Doctor. Her smile was stilted. “Ahh. Dunno why I’m tellin’ you all that. Not like you’d be one for neighbourhood gossip.”
“No,” he agreed. But he shook his head and smiled, even waving a hand to assure her that he really didn’t mind. “It’s important to know who lives around you,” he began. His eyes lifted as another howl rang out over the roofs above. “Especially when they own a wolf or two.”
“Makes the neighbourhood safe if you ask me,” she said with a shrug. “So. You. Got plans?”
He closed his eyes briefly and shook his head slowly. “Nothing planned really. I. I really just want to take a moment. Think about my friend and …”
“When did you lose her?”
He swallowed thickly. “She disappeared a month ago. I’ve been searching for her ever since.” One side of his mouth kicked up in a half smile of regret. “I’d just decided to give up searching when you appeared on my ship.” He lifted his head to she sky and exhaled a breath. “Time to move on. Like I always do.”
“Move on,” she repeated sadly.
His eyes moved to her. “And you? What will you do with yourself now?”
A smile finally broke out onto her face. “Not getting married for starters.” She watched him shake his head with a tender smile and mouth the word no. “And I guess. I guess I’m not going to temp anymore. I dunno. Travel, I suppose. See a bit more of planet Earth. Walk in the Dust. Just go out there and do something.”
He nodded shortly. She’d be a good traveller, he decided. A good fit to join him in the TARDIS and help him to heal his sore and aching hearts.
“Well, you could always…” he paused.
Her smile faltered, but it was still there. “What?” she asked almost silently.
“You could always come with me.” He strode to the doorway again and looked up to the POLICE CALL sign above the door. “See all time and space. Really travel.” He turned his head to look at her. “You’ve seen it out there, Donna.” His eyes pinched in wonder and his voice was thick with emotion. “It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.”
She shook her head. “No.”
His hearts fell, and so did his chin. He looked down to the tarmac of the road. “Okay.”
“I can’t,” she added with sincere apology. “I’ve. I’ve got people and things to do here.”
“That’s fine,” he assured her with false nonchalance.
“No, but really,” she asked, her eyes narrowing and her head tilting with concern. “Everything we did today. Do you always live your life like that?”
Time to lie. “No. Not all the time.”
“I think you do,” she accused. “And I couldn’t. Not like that. Not all the time.”
He opened his mouth to argue.
She didn’t let him get a word in. “And you. The way you stood there, not caring that she was dyin’.” Her look of concerned deepened. “Not carin’ that you could die as well.”
He opened his mouth to argue.
Again she went on. “I’ve only known you a day, and I’m already worried about you, and what you’re capable of. You’re playing a reckless game…”
“Donna,” he tried for interruption.
“You need to find someone,” she continued. “To stop you. And soon, because if you don’t..”
“Donna!” he growled finally. Leaning back in thanks to the heavens and then to that damned howling wolf that wouldn’t let up that she had finally stopped talking. “I’ll be fine,” he assured her. I promise.”
“I really don’t know that you are,” she disagreed. She looked back toward the house, and waved to the smartly dressed man peering out through the living room window. “But you know what? Join us for Christmas? Mum’s already planned for an extended group this year with Blondie and the kids.”
The Doctor’s eyes lifted to the window. He saw Donna’s grandfather Wilfred playing with the two youngsters and shook his head. “Nah. Thanks, but Christmas dinner? Not really my thing.”
She slapped gently at his arm. “Oh don’t be like that. You told me you did it last year…”
“Last year was different,” he countered hoarsely.
“She really meant something to you, this friend of yours, didn’t she?” She watched his sad nod. “You loved her.”
“Still do,” he admitted. “Always will.” He thumbed toward the door of the TARDIS. “Maybe I should head off now.” His nose screwed up with faux disgust. “Before you get accosted by the family and I get dragged inside to join you.”
“It’s not that bad,” she pressed and held out her hand. “Come on. I promise you that if you join us, you’ll forget everything else. And I think you need it.”
His soulful and sad eyes fixed on her for a moment, and while he considered appeasing her by agreeing, saying he just needed to shift the TARDIS, but would take off instead, he couldn’t do it. Not to her. Donna was someone special, and someone he knew he would grow to care for deeply if given the chance to do so.
But she didn’t want to.
“I really have to go,” he said again. “I’m really sorry, Donna. But I can’t. I just can’t. Not yet. Not so soon after…”
“I understand,” she assured him with a nod and a sympathetic smile. “Will I see you again.”
He winked and gave her an honest and thankful smile. “If I’m lucky.”
“Me too,” she breathed. He moved to walk away and she stopped him with a call of his name. “Your friend,” she asked him, holding her question until he faced her completely. She saw immediate sadness and heavy emotion cloud his eyes. “Your friend you lost. What was her name?”
His voice was thick with emotion and shuddered as he spoke. “Her name was Rose.”
“Don’t ever forget her, Doctor,” she warned him. “Let that name keep you fighting.”
“I will.” He curled around the door and disappeared.
Donna watched with her hand up to shield her eyes like a hat when the TARDIS howled, and then shot up into the sky as a streak of blue and flashing white.
A curious, and very surprised voice called to her once the TARDIS had disappeared completely from view. “Donna? Are you okay?”
Donna’s hand dropped from her eyes and she let out a very defeated huff. “Rose, hi.”
Rose Tyler pulled hair from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. She struggled to control a single wolf at the end of a leash tugging incessantly to keep moving. “What happened? I thought you’d be off on your honeymoon right now.” She tugged hard on the leash. “Tiallu, settle down, please.” She looked up again. “Sorry, she’s not used to being without her mate.”
“That’s him howling like he’s a pack all on his own?”
“I’m sorry,” she whined. “I can’t walk them both at the same time by myself, but I need to get them out. Neither of them do well when they’re away from each other.” She petted the wolf’s head. “Once Tiallu’s home, he’ll quieten down. I promise.”
“It’s okay, Rose. Really.”
“But what about you?” She looked her over. “You look like you’d had a day.”
“Oh, Rose. You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
Rose smirked. “Try me.” She thumbed to the house. “Need to talk about it?”
“I’d really rather not,” she admitted with a huff. “Not unless I want to be institutionalised.”
Rose pursed her lips. “Well. Did you want to get drunk then? Brax brought some Scantifum from his estate. He’s offered to look after the kids for a few hours, and I’ve baked a fresh magnolia fruit pie.” Her smile brightened and she held out her hand. “What’dya think?”
“Scantifum?” Donna queried with a smirk.
“Special reserve, half a century aged at Mount Peridition.”
Donna looked down at herself. “Got some slouch for me to wear? I don't feel like wearing this much longer.”
Rose gave her a wink and started to walk toward her home. “For you, Donna. Always…”