Her neighbors must think she runs a lot for stolen spaceships at the rate she's going. Not ten minutes after the stolen RMN-42 shuttle blasts off her back patio, a stolen Type 40 materializes in its place.
"Could at least give me time to clear away the dishes first," she mutters, piling the china teacups onto a tray.
But it's not as if she's really irritated to see him. Irritated at him? Well, that's pretty much a constant.
He steps from the blue box and he smiles. It's a tired-looking smile, but it's all him just the same. She remembers the first time she met him, him with the white in his sideburns and dark bags under his eyes. He's not quite there yet, she can tell. Certainly far from early days for him, but not quite that old. His sideburns only have wisps of gray and the darkness in his eyes hasn't taken over, not just yet.
She wonders what happens to him in between those times, what takes him from the lonely old man he is now and makes him into the sad and tired man he is when she first meets him.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small diary covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs. She picked it out for him, like he picked out the blue one she has nestled in her handbag.
"Summer of the Seven Hills," he says.
"Oooh, you're a bit behind me, then," she says, smiling. "Just like you, showing up late."
He sticks his thumb in the direction of his ship behind him. "I could always leave and come back, if you want."
"No, seems like too much work. And besides, you'll just track more mud in."
He looks down at his feet and makes a face that's somewhere between 'oh, you noticed that' and 'sorry'. She sighs and moves the cold teapot to the tray.
"You just missed her," she says. There's no need to say who 'her' is. They both know. Even a few months behind her like he is, he knows.
"Again?" he kicks off his trainers and pads barefoot into her home.
"Mhmm. Don't know how she navigates herself here, but she does. Talked all about saving her soul today."
"Did she really?"
"Yes, that bunk Valiant religion tried to rope her in."
"Oi, that's based on actual events. Can't say that about most religions." He sits down in the wire chair that the girl before him had occupied. The girl was bouncy and excited and full of learning and youth, where he's tired and old, waiting for the day to be over so he can rest.
"Well, I think she learned a few things about herself today. That she should be happy with exactly who she is." She nods and puts the tiny teaspoons on the tray. They make a tinny sound as they land, sticky side down, in the teacups. She should've cleaned up earlier, she thinks, but since when does she have time to be domestic?
"That's just like you, pressing atheism into my daughter. How do you know I don't want to bring her up to worship the Three Sisters?" His voice is teasing, of course. He's never followed any religion with a sense of seriousness just as she's never believed one generation has it right over another. They sit in a sort of limbo between non-belief and hopeful wondering. At least they sit there together.
"I think if you wanted to raise her up a certain way then you should actually act like she's your daughter." She steps away from the table and away from his confused expression. She can almost swear she hears the gears working in his head. She knows the moment they click into place because she hears:
"Oi! I act like she's my daughter! Ask after her all the time."
"Yes, yes, you ask. Ever since you heard she's alive and visiting here you've asked. But that's hardly the same as seeing her. It's hardly the same as putting forth the effort and making sure your ship lands at my doorstep the same time as hers."
If he had a witty retort, he doesn't say it. He leans back in the chair and sighs and looks older for it. "How old is she now?"
"A little over three months."
"She's still so young."
"Yes, but she's getting older." She sighs and dumps the china into the automatic dish cleaner. It scrapes and cleans and stacks everything neatly back in her shelves. It's almost enough to believe that she's a clean person, that she spends enough time at home to care about the things she owns.
Without the setup of the china, she drops a teabag into a mug and pours some water from the kettle. He doesn't tell her he wants a cup, but she knows and she makes a cup for herself to keep him company with. She reaches into the farthest cabinet and pulls out a small jar, dumps a glob of honey in his tea and hands it over.
"She's figured out how she takes her tea," she says. "Lots of sugar, a little milk."
"Sugar and milk?" he makes a face. "My daughter?"
"Four or five cubes depending on the way she feels," she says, dropping one cube into her own cup. "Wasn't expecting the milk until she asked for it."
He shakes his head and tries to analyze the new development. It's very like him, taking apart simple things while the big problems sit at his feet.
"She probably got the notion of sugar from you and the notion of very sweet from me. But where'd she get the milk from? Even Donna would only put real cream in her tea. Not that she ever saw Donna with tea. Maybe they talked about it…"
"Or maybe she learned about it in her travels," she suggests. "Someone offered her a cup somewhere and she learned she liked milk."
"She's growing up without you. For all you know she's never had honey in her tea. No one's shown her."
He shakes his head and takes a sip of his tea. "Life's about more than just that."
"You're right," she says. "It's about living and learning and growing and she's doing that all on her own right now. She's got just herself and her ambitions and do you really want that to be everything she has?"
"She's got you." He says the words with a little smirk on his face. "We're very alike in that, her and I."
"But I can't be everything to her." She leans against the counter and sighs irritably. "You're incorrigible, you know that? You have a child out there and she's living her life and you're content because she has an occasional friend she visits?"
"She considers you a friend?"
"She could have a father, you know! A proper family."
"I bet you'd make a great Mum."
"Yeah, fat chance on that one, sweetie. Lost my chance for that a long time ago."
He looks at her over the rim of his cup. "Do you ever wish you could?" He talks in that way, that strange and somewhat nostalgic way that she's never been able to place. She's tried to ask him, but he always changes the subject. Very like he's doing now.
She takes a sip of her tea and redirects the conversation. "She mentioned her again, too."
"Donna." She looks into her mug and then back up at him. "Are you ever going to tell me who she was?"
He takes a breath and puts the mug back on the counter. The round edge makes a swishing sound as the hot surface of the mug meets the cold tile counter. The sound wavers a little, so she imagines his hands are shaking. As much as his hands have ever shook around her.
"Not today," he says. It's the same promise as he's given her before and she believes that one day he'll tell her because she has to believe it. He's never lied before, not to her. He's just kept things until the right moment presented itself.
And she believes it's for the best because she has to believe it.
She reaches out a hand to grasp his. His fingers curl around her hand. It's the first contact they've truly had since he arrived. Much of their contact isn't physical. It's understood.
He takes another sip of his tea and nods. "I should go."
"So aren't you going to ask me to come with you?" she asks, tilting her head to the side and smiling knowingly. It's a game they've played since they first met. He asks, she says no, sometimes they run off for dates together. She's never been a companion in the strictest of senses, but that doesn't make what they have less than it is.
"You have a better reason not to come," he says, and there's no teasing in his voice. "She'll come back to see you."
Her eyebrows knit together and she puts down her mug. Seriousness is something the two of them dance around with teasing, so when he comes right out with it, she's a little startled. She takes another step towards him. "Stay here, with me. Just for a little while."
"I can't," he says.
"You can see her. Wait for her. A little effort, have yourself a family."
He shakes his head and refuses to look at her. "I can't watch her die again."
Of course it would be about this. It couldn't be about anything else. Nobody knows death like he does and she knows that, but this fear is keeping him from so many good things. So many beautiful things.
She raises a hand to brush through his hair and lift his head to face her. It's a common gesture, one she's used a hundred times before. "Doctor."
He lifts his head and looks at her. He always does.
"I know you can't stay for me. But stay for her." It's not painful, not really, knowing that he can't stay behind for what they have. But part of her won't let this rest until she knows the girl who visits her will have some sort of a family. Will know she's always had some sort of a family waiting out there.
But he looks away again and that nostalgic look crosses his features. She's growing to hate that look with the same vehemence she hates his stubbornness and self-sacrificingly stupid ways.
"Not today?" she asks with a sarcastic tone.
His lips twitch as if he's considering a smile. "Not today."
"But one day?"
He turns to look back at her. She's never questioned him before and it shows on his face. It explains the reason why he waited for a response the last time she saw him. Sometimes it's like that for them. Things that didn't make sense click into place in the strangest of ways.
"One day," he agrees.
She believes him because there's a girl out there that she cares about that she wants to have a whole life. And he's made a promise to stay one day, to see her again.
She believes him because she has to believe it.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 1,880
everybody_lives, morethananecho, and notsomerrywidow used/referenced with permission.