"At least you... he's got Donna," Rose says as they walk back to the jeep, hand in hand. "He's not alone."
The Other Doctor - she can only think of him as that for now - looks away but she catches the look in his eyes and she knows him far too well. Her heart stops at the darkness in his face and the set of his mouth.
"What is it?" She grabs his other arm and turns him to her. "Tell me!"
He looks down, his face grave and troubled. "You won't like it."
"I don't like you trying to protect me either," she reminds him. "Now tell me."
He's still silent. The wind blows across the sands, chilling Rose's heart even further.
"You know I'll nag you until I get it out of you," she says.
The ghost of a smile flits across the Other Doctor's face. He sticks his hands in his pockets, still looking down, still thinking. Rose stays still, holding onto his arms, holding onto him for dear life. She knows him so well and yet he's a total stranger to her. The wind whips past them and the sea glimmers in the distance. Gulls wheel and call overhead. The silence almost chokes her.
"He won't have her," the Other Doctor says eventually. "Not for long. Time Lord-human metacrisis."
"What's a metacrisis?" Rose prompts him, because she might work for Torchwood but they still haven't figured out a way to download dictionaries into human brains.
"Remember when you looked into the Vortex? When you took the whole power of time and space into your body?"
Rose tries not to shake him. "You know I don't, you took it out of me because..." She stops talking, stops thinking, stops breathing for a moment as it hits her. "Shit..." She puts her hands over her mouth, fighting tears. She knew that Donna Noble was going to die, but this? This is worse than death. "No, she can't, not after everything she did!"
The Other Doctor wraps his arms around her and Rose begins to cry, not just because of Donna but because his smell is so familiar. "She won't." He speaks rapidly. "She won't die. I'll... he'll take it away. All of it. All of her memories."
"All of them?" Rose repeats. "Then she won't remember anything?"
"No. But she'll be alive." His voice is so bleak that her heart breaks for the Doctor - the other other Doctor - all alone without Donna Noble.
"There's a Donna Noble here," she says, sniffling. "I did some research when I was void leaping. She's a travel writer..."
His arms tighten. "Good." His voice is rough with tears, but she knows he's happy. "Good."
"We could meet her..." she offers, holding him tightly. "You could see... she's got a good life."
"Yeah." He rests his chin in her hair. "Thanks, that would be... thanks."
They don't move for a while. They stand on Dalig Ulv Stranden, buffeted by the wind, clinging together in the emptiness, and in mourning.
Martha and Mickey have been at Torchwood for a week when they hear that unforgettable groaning sound. They both turn on their heels and run towards the door, but Jack is already ahead of them, taking the steps two at a time, his coat flying out behind him.
"I don't get it," Mickey says, pushing the door closed behind him as he and Martha follow, "if I'd been dumped, there's no way I'd go running out to meet the person who dumped me."
Martha shrugs. Maybe it's something to do with Jack coming from the 51st century but more likely... "When you live through an entire year at the mercy of a mad Time Lord, it puts things in perspective," she remarks.
"Yeah, I guess. Still can't believe the Doctor's the only one left. If this Master was hiding as a human, the others could have done the same thing."
It's something that Martha's been wondering about as well, but they can hardly go looking all over the universe for people with broken pocket watches. And perhaps that's a good thing.
When they reach the reception area, they find Jack crushing the Doctor in a tight embrace and Ianto typing furiously on the keyboard. He still isn't quite convinced of the Doctor's lack of interest in Jack, but then he's been working at Torchwood for a while, so that's understandable.
"Is this a private party?" Mickey asks, wrinkling his nose at the sight. Mickey is... okay with the idea of Jack kissing and hugging other men but he gets funny when asked to witness the kissing and hugging. It's one of the surprisingly many things that he and Ianto agree upon.
"Mick-mick-mickey!" the Doctor calls, breaking out of Jack's arms and striding over with a broad grin.
Mickey smiles back. "Boss." They bump fists. "Bit early for you to be turning up again?"
"Early... late... never meant anything to me," the Doctor says with that infuriating, intoxicating boyish grin.
"I mean you come back, save us, leave and it's months before you turn up again," Mickey points out. "We only saw you a couple of weeks ago. It's still the same year, yeah?"
"Oh, what's wrong with visiting friends?" the Doctor says airily, slinging an arm around Mickey's shoulders and sweeping his gaze over them all like the paterfamilias he tries so hard to pretend he's not. "I wanted to see this Hub that Jack was going on about... meet the famous Torchwood team in the flesh - it's Ianto, isn't it?" he adds, zooming in on Ianto, who sits back, unprepared for the full focus of the Doctor's attention. "Ianto Jones?"
Ianto stands up, almost bows, thinks better of it, and takes the Doctor's outstretched hand. "Pleased to meet you, sir..."
"Oh no, not 'sir'," the Doctor says, shaking his hand, "just the Doctor. Don't let Martha's U.N.I.T. habits rub off on you - Martha Jones and Ianto Jones! Talk about keeping up with the Joneses!" He grins at Ianto and then at Martha, full of energy, of life. And alone.
Martha cannot smile back. She knows the Doctor and she knows that he only runs on like this when he's upset, using a torrent of words to hold the floodgates. Jack is beginning to look suspicious, too.
"Doctor, are you sure everyrthing's all right?" he asks.
The Doctor glances at him, surprised. "Of course! Excellent, brilliant, molto bene, why wouldn't it be-?"
"Where's Donna?" Martha says, looking beyond him at the empty doorway. The question breaks the flow of words, as she knew it would.
"She's at home," the Doctor replies, almost affronted. "Visiting her family."
Martha looks him straight in the eye, daring him to lie to her. "And miss the chance to see the Hub and meet Jack again? She'd never do that. So don't try and pretend that everything's all right. It's not all right."
The light drains from the Doctor's eyes and Martha feels cruel, but she knows that someone had to make him admit the truth. Normally, it would be Donna doing that but Donna... isn't here. "Doctor, what happened? Where is she?"
"Is she in trouble?" Mickey asks, stepping forward. "If you need some help, we could-"
The Doctor shakes his head once, hard. "She's fine. She's with her family... she..." He swallows convulsively and turns to Jack. "Let's go downstairs. This concerns all of you..."
Martha can see the worry gathering behind Jack's eyes but he doesn't say anything, he just nods and they all file down the stairs. The Doctor comes down last. Gwen runs forward but Jack shakes his head slightly and she swallows her questions.
The Doctor half-leans against the desk where Tosh used to tinker with bits of alien machinery. His hands are in his pockets and he is staring downwards. They naturally gather around him and all of them, except Jack, sit down. They haven't been working together long but they know this sinking feeling all too well.
The Doctor looks up and his eyes show just how old he is, and how much pain he's in.
"None of you can ever speak to Donna Noble again," he says.
By the time he has explained what's happened, Martha feels sick. She wants to cry. She wants Donna to burst out from behind a cupboard and laugh at their faces. More than anything, she wants to phone Donna's mobile (because the number's still in her phone, she could do it right now) and hear her voice, just hear her speak.
"So she knew what was happening to her?" Jack asks. He's staring at the Doctor, his face hard.
The Doctor nods. He's looking at the floor again, so he doesn't see the look on Jack's face. "Yeah. She knew... she knew what was happening... why... she knew what I was going to do." He rubs his face with one hand, such a weary gesture that Martha's own hand twitches in sympathy.
"So she was happy for you to wipe her memory?" Jack says, his voice taking on a harsh tone. "Happy for you to take away everything she'd done and seen since you met? She was happy?"
The Doctor looks at him for a moment. The past crowds in on them. Only Martha is aware of how Jack came to be immortal, but you don't have to know the details to see that the Doctor had something to do with it.
"I had to do it, Jack."
"Bullshit!" Jack's arm muscles tighten as he tries to hold himself in. "You didn't 'have' to do anything! You could have respected her wishes and let her die with dignity-!"
"She would have burned up!" the Doctor snaps. "She would have been in the most terrible pain, you don't know-"
"I don't know what it's like to die? No, of course I don't! I don't know what it's like to die in terrible pain!" Jack holds out his arms - look at what you made me. "I don't know what it's like to have your entire body in agony, wishing for death, for anything to make it go away, how could I possibly know that?"
Gwen bites her lip. "Jack..."
"Don't try and calm me down." Jack points at the Doctor. The Doctor doesn't retreat but he tenses. "The truth is, you couldn't let her die. You can never let people die. That's just the way you are, if there's a single chance you can save them you take it." He lets out a breath and looks down, pulling himself together, reminding himself where he is, that his team are watching. "And normally, that's admirable. I would personally be dead - with no comeback - if you hadn't saved me. But you always assume people want to live. And sometimes, they don't. They just don't." He folds his arms and looks up now, back under control, but his eyes are still cold and angry. "I didn't know her for very long, but I don't think Donna agreed with what you were doing. I think she wanted to die remembering you, remembering what she'd done. But you couldn't handle that if it meant her death. You took away her memories, you took away that achievement, and now she's right back where she started, a temp in Chiswick."
His words echo around the Hub. They all stand there, unable to look at each other in the face of Jack's condemnation and the Doctor's pain. The Doctor turns away.
"What if something happens to her?" Mickey says, speaking up for the first time. "We'll do our best to stay away but stuff happens to Donna Noble. Even in the parallel world, she was always getting caught up in situations - she was famous there," he adds when Gwen, Martha and Ianto stare at him.
The Doctor's shoulders lift and drop. He rubs his face. "Have the police handle it. Or Gwen and Ianto, she only saw you two on a computer screen, you two might be okay."
"Thanks," Ianto mutters, wary once more but for an entirely different reason.
"Just thought I'd let you know. Better go tell Sarah Jane."
"No." Martha speaks up, stopping him. "I'll tell her. Or Mickey." She glances at Mickey, who knows Sarah Jane a little better and has a certain rapport with her. Mickey gives her the nod, letting her know that he's backing her up.
"Oh no, it's fine," the Doctor begins.
"Doctor. It's not fine. Telling us was hard enough. How are you going to look her in the face and tell her you made Donna forget everything about you?"
He swallows and looks down at the floor. "Doctor's orders?"
"That's right." She walks forward and stands beside him. "I'll walk you back to the TARDIS."
iii. Sarah Jane Smith
When she hears Mickey's voice on the phone, Sarah Jane wonders for a brief moment if she has gone mad, because she has seen many things and done many things, but she's never had a trans-dimensional telephone call before. She is more than a little relieved to find out that he's on the same Earth as her, working for Torchwood.
Sarah Jane can feel her lips pursing and she hates sounding like an old nag, but... "Mickey, why on Earth would you want to work for them?"
"Making good use of my skills," he says, not taking offence. "Listen, the Doctor was here, he asked me to pass on a message."
She's on immediate alert, reaching for the notepad. "What is it?"
"It's better if I tell you face to face," Mickey answers, sounding sombre, and Sarah Jane gives him her address with that familiar heavy weight in her stomach. But then Luke comes home from school and she pushes it away to give him a smile. Can't let him see she's upset.
Mickey comes on a sunny day, when the trees are in leaf and Bannerman Road looks perfectly suburban, like nothing strange or odd could ever happen there. Technically, this is part of London. Not his London, but then he'll never go back to the Powell Estate. Too many memories. He'd be looking up at Jackie's old flat every day, that ain't healthy. But then... neither is working for Torchwood. Sarah Jane's house is on the corner. It's older than the other houses, cut off by the tall wall, nice if you like that sort of thing.
Sarah Jane smiles when she opens the door but he can tell she's worried. They sit in her small living room with and drink tea in companionable silence. Mickey would like to sit here for the rest of the afternoon, just looking at all the strange things Sarah Jane's collected, maybe getting her to talk about them, but he didn't come here for a nice chat. He puts his mug down on the coaster and looks at her.
"It's about Donna..."
Sarah Jane listens to the explanation without interrupting once, her eyes fixed on his face, the perfect journalist. Mickey can see her taking it all in, processing it. When he finishes, she closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose. When she speaks, there is a world of sadness in her voice. "Poor Donna," she says, and then, "poor Doctor."
"I don't know if I agree with Jack," Mickey says, thinking out loud. "Maybe wiping her memories was the best thing."
"I can see why Jack would be upset," Sarah Jane answers. "But his... ability... means that he's a little prejudiced about death. The truth is that everybody dies..." Her voice wobbles. She looks out of the window, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "Everybody dies and nobody knows it like the Doctor. He had to watch his entire race die, Mickey. And he was responsible for her. He was responsible for what happened to her... how would he have explained it to her mother and grandfather if he'd let her die?" She turns back to Mickey, her voice strengthening. "It was the best thing. Because this way, Donna Noble is still in the world. She still has the potential to do so many things. And if the price of her life is all of us staying away from her... guarding her... well, I think it's a fair exchange. When you know, and I know, what she's capable of when she puts her mind to it."
Mickey smiles and she smiles back at him.
"Do you want another cup of tea before you go?" she says, and Mickey nods. Just for a while, he can sit here and enjoy the hope Sarah Jane has given him, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, he'll meet Donna Noble again.
Okay, this is the first DW fanfiction I've ever written and I'm a little nervous. I know it's ragged around the edges and some of the characters are OOC, but all in all, I'm satisfied with the first effort. And nell_aria, I realise the title may be rather bad Italian. ^^; Let me know if it works or not. The cut text is from River Song's speech at the end of Forest of the Dead, which I slightly paraphrased for Sarah Jane.
Doctor Who belongs to the BBC. I own nothing.