Fandom(s): Doctor Who (modern)
Characters: AU - Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Sylvia Noble, Wilfred Mott, Lance Bennett, Nerys
Pairing(s): Tenth Doctor/Donna Noble
Rating: R (well, probably more PG-13)
Genre: Sci-fi, adventure
Summary: Original AU. A normal human in a world in which a handful of individuals have suddenly developed superpowers, Donna lives her mundane life whilst always keeping one eye to the skies to catch a glimpse of the city's new heroes.
Word count (chapter): 4070
Notes: So, it occurred to me that if I keep up posting every two days, it's going to take over a month for the entire story to come out. This is a gift for bas_math_girl, and it's rather rude to keep her waiting, so I'm stepping this up to one chapter per day (unless for some reason I can't find the time to post).
If Donna had kept off her feet like everyone advised her to, her ankle probably would have healed rather quickly. However, her insistence on independence cost her recuperation, and it was nearly two weeks before she could walk normally again. Lance was her pillar, picking her up to drive her to and from work every day, even though it tripled his own commute. She did spend a couple of nights at his flat, both to make the trip easier and to spend time with him, but he convinced her to stay at home most evenings, insisting that family was far more important to her recovery than convenience.
At work, her fifteen minutes of fame evaporated faster than she imagined it would, replaced by the huge new project that swallowed almost the entire group, including Veena. The customer, a small tech lab called Keller Environmentals, had supplied preliminary designs for a sophisticated energy conversion system and apparently the technology was so interesting that everyone wanted to work on it. Since Donna couldn’t move much, Veena drafted her to take notes in hours-long meetings where the engineers argued over minute details in the blueprints. After-hours changed as well, as Brian, Tom, and Anna opted out of the Friday night pub run to work late, leaving a much quieter table with just Nerys, Lance, and Paul to entertain her. And she noticed that through all the frenzied project work, just as Veena had predicted, Jon was conspicuous by his absence.
Donna was pleased to hear that he had gotten some amount of a reprieve. On the Wednesday after she’d heard his story, Veena crept up to her and told her that Nerys had whispered to her to destroy the dismissal form that she’d had her fill out for Jon the week before. Apparently, Jon had found the flaw in the prototype, an error in the machining of one of the parts, the day before its promised delivery. Unable to commandeer one of the mechanics away from the other project, he’d spent the entire night manufacturing the part himself and was able to assemble the perfectly-functioning machine an hour before the professor arrived to inspect and approve the work. The way Nerys’ jaw twitched as she told this to Veena demonstrated that she wasn’t pleased to keep the troublesome engineer on, but the secretaries celebrated quietly with a couple of fist pumps and broad grins.
“That’s one bullet dodged,” Donna remarked. “I hope that’ll give him his confidence back.”
“Doubt it,” drawled Veena. “Once he’s done with the orders for the final product, he’ll be mopping up old projects. They won’t let him near the Keller project, and that’s gotta hurt.”
“I bet he’ll be glad to not be in the spotlight for while.” Donna secretly made a plan to bring the engineer a congratulatory cupcake when her ankle healed up enough to bake.
Unfortunately for Jon, by that time, Donna had forgotten all about that promise. On the first day that she could walk normally without pain and that she had off, she tried to drag Nerys out shopping on the pretense of needing new flats, because she was certainly not going to wear heels for a long time. As her call had woken her friend up, Nerys’ annoyed sneer was audible over the phone, and all Donna could extract from her was a promise to meet her in the early afternoon. Veena was off in Southwark or somewhere visiting friends, and there wasn’t a power on Earth that could make Donna choose to take an outing with her mother, so she strung her purse over her shoulder and headed out alone.
Freedom never tasted so good! She’d planned to hop on a bus at the nearest stop - the one right near where she’d twisted the ankle, in fact - then take the Tube into the city, but the bright spring Sunday lifted her spirits so high that she couldn’t stand to be stuffed in a vehicle for that long. There were plenty of fine shops in Chiswick, and half the fun would be getting there.
Donna spent two hours of the morning playing the discerning shopper, trying on all the shoes that happened to catch her eye and haughtily turning down every one of them (though there were at least three pairs she planned to come back to purchase later that day), and basically being every shop girl’s worst nightmare. A little after noon, she purchased one of the best Cornish pasties she’d ever had from a tiny bakery and as she savoured it, she phoned up Nerys to nail her down to meeting her at one. Then she wandered to the park to rest on the concrete seating of the small outdoor stage; she was certainly not going to admit that by that time, her ankle was actually very tired.
On such an unseasonably warm and sunny early spring day, the park was packed with families on picnics, footballers chasing each other around, and joggers circling around on the paths. A woman stopped to hand Donna a pamphlet touting some minor candidate for the upcoming mayoral election, but quickly scurried off as Donna loudly proclaimed her support for one of the major candidates (selected at random) and gushed about his good features (which she invented as she talked). Grinning mischievously at the retreating figure, she stuffed the pamphlet into her purse and turned to watch a group of buskers that had set up on the stage, against the rough backdrop wall.
In the few minutes that they’d been there, they’d gathered a sizeable crowd, including a number of people leaning over the railing at the top of the wall, despite not featuring any music or signs to attract attention. With an audible “oh!” Donna realised why: all four of them were primes, entertaining people with their skills. The one in the front, his face painted over with a Union Jack, would have been a marvelous circus barker: he kept up a continuous commentary on his mates’ activities whilst he performed his own tricks, levitating objects around himself and juggling them in intricate patterns. When the woman next to him raised her hand and whistled, a bird flew to her from a nearby tree and landed on her finger. It then performed tricks or flitted around her head at her order. She didn’t seem to be able to keep its attention for very long, but a new one popped up any time she called for it.
A bloke who had a bandana tied over his face was a regular fireworks show, throwing fizzing balls of light of all colours all around the stage. At first, whenever an orb came near someone, they jumped back in fright, but after witnessing the spheres hitting the man’s mates with no ill effect, the children in the audience started chasing them around to try to catch them. The last member of the group, a young woman with a woolen mask over her head, danced across the stage with catlike grace, somersaulting over her mates and scampering up the wall as easily as she could walk.
As the crowd cheered and clapped at each new wonder, Donna found herself thinking back to the discussion at lunch two weeks earlier, when they’d all wondered just how many people had powers, and whether or not they employed them for anything useful. Right here in front of her, there were four primes using their skills to entertain and earn money, which were certainly worthy endeavours, but what other kinds of things could they do with their gifts? The dancer and Floaty Boy had skills that had many applications, but for the life of her, Donna could not think of a single thing for which calling birds to your side for a minute could be useful. The jury was out on Fireworks Man: that would completely depend on what exactly those light balls were made of. Donna grinned at herself; obviously a little bit of the science at her job was rubbing off on her.
Shifting on the uncomfortable concrete seat, Donna gazed around at the audience. I wonder how many of these have hidden powers, too? One obviously did. A tall, gangly bloke in a jumper and jeans, wearing a full-head mask bounded down onto the stage and joined the dancer, mirroring her movements perfectly and drawing amazed cries from the crowd. The woman was taken aback for a moment, being used to performing alone, then dove into ever more complicated acrobatics, across the stage and the backdrop wall, which the man matched perfectly. The audience clapped, keeping a tempo that sped up as the dance duel intensified, and even the other three performers stopped their shows and stepped off the stage to watch. Donna began to wonder if the two were having the audience on and were simply performing a rehearsed routine, rather than an impromptu face-off.
With a flurry of flips from one end of the stage to the other, the woman tumbling right whilst the man sprang left, they concluded with twin double backflips, landing lightly facing each other amidst raucous applause. The man bowed low to his adversary, presented her to the audience with a gallant gesture, then sprinted off, leaving her to enjoy the audience’s ovation alone.
Donna clapped enthusiastically with a delighted grin on her face, then dug in her purse for a fiver to drop in the gratuity box. She wasn’t the only one who felt the same way, and she grinned as she realised that she’d never before had to queue up to give money to street performers. However, it wasn’t lost on her that all but one of them concealed their faces. She, Donna, might idolise them, but many, like Sylvia, distrusted them, and most of them couldn’t afford to make their identities known. Even of the big primes, only Kathica was public.
After dropping off the tip, Donna walked on, taking one look back at the buskers returning to their performance before setting on the path out of the park back towards the shops where she and Nerys had planned to meet. The diversion had been delightful and she was thinking about the primes and the usefulness of their powers when a slightly muffled voice sounded beside her.
“Fancy meeting you here.”
Donna whirled to find the male acrobat walking along beside her, his hands plunged deep in his jeans pockets. Coming to a dead stop, she pointed at him and gaped. “You! You’re that jumping bloke!”
“Yes,” he laughed. “I’m the jumping bloke.”
She couldn’t help gushing about the amazing performance. “That was bloody’ fantastic!”
“Why, thank you.” He bowed his head chivalrously.
“That was choreographed, wasn’t it?” she accused him. “Because there’s no way you could have done that like that.”
He shook his head, and somehow she knew he’d pursed his lips. “Nope, it wasn’t. I’ve never met her in my life, that I know of anyway. Still haven’t.”
“How can you copy her like that, then?”
He dipped his head again, this time in embarrassment. “I just can.”
Something in his demeanour, in the way he seemed to shrink into himself, sparked a memory, and Donna clapped a hand to her mouth. “Oh my god, you’re the Doctor!”
He jerked back and she could feel his confused stare from behind his mask. “The what?”
Donna felt her cheeks flush. “That’s the name my friends gave you when I told them about you, about checking my injuries.” He didn’t respond and she felt the need to qualify herself. “Well, you wouldn’t tell me your name, now would you, frog boy? But you’re him from the alley. I thought I dreamt that, that you ran up the wall.”
“Yup-ah,” he admitted, popping the final consonant. “That’s me, and I did. But that’s not my name.”
“Oh?” she cooed. “Then what is your name?”
He shrugged. “I told you. Don’t got one.”
“And I told you that you do,” she shot right back. “If you’re not going to tell me what it is, then I’m just going to call you the Doctor.” With that, she glared up at him with a defiant smirk.
Crossing his arms, he stared off to his right. “That’s a terrible name.”
“It’s the only one I have for you,” she pointed out, her eyes wide with reasonable innocence.
“Fine. It’s as good a name as any,” he conceded and held out his hand in greeting. “It is a pleasure to meet you. I am the Doctor, and you are?” he asked with exaggerated formality.
“Donna Noble. Charmed, I’m sure.” Pursing her lips with a snooty huff, she placed her hand in his, and he bent to kiss it, touching it briefly to the lower part of his mask. It was an odd construction: seemingly-opaque flat oval eyepieces set in a thin black frame attached to a deep blue nylon skullcap that covered his hair while leaving his ears exposed. A triangle of flexible but sturdy mesh hung from the frame to conceal his nose and mouth, though Donna could see the curve of his jaw and the strap under his chin that kept the mask secure. It clashed oddly against his collared shirt and dusty green jumper, like he was some kind of military spec ops uni student. Donna was suddenly aware that people were staring at them, specifically him, as they passed by. “I see you’ve graduated from the hijab look,” she observed.
“By your suggestion,” he countered.
“Can’t say I approve.” She gave him another once-over, and shook her head. “A bit Darth Vader, isn’t it?”
The Doctor shrugged. “Well, it’s more utilitarian than fashionable. I designed it so that it’d fold up and fit in my pocket.”
“Ah. Easy for you to keep it with you and throw it on.” Her eyes flicked to the passersby giving them a wide berth. “But people must stare all the time.”
His laugh was a trifle forced. “I’ve not worn this much.”
Donna eyed him with an amused smile. “Just to have dance-offs with other primes?”
“I admit I couldn’t resist. It’s not something I get to do much, move freely like that.” Indeed, she could see in the twitch of his hands a carefully suppressed overabundance of energy. “Not much call for it in my line of work.”
“And that is?”
Donna could feel his sly smile through the mask. “Quite sedentary.”
“You really won’t tell me anything about yourself, will you?” Donna couldn’t quite hide the wistful lilt in her voice.
“No. I can’t.” His denial was matter-of-fact.
Donna started strolling toward the shops and he loped along beside her, hands in his pockets. She noticed that people were quite eager to stay away from the odd masked man, providing them a clear, easy path. “Why not? I don’t understand why you and the other primes don’t want to be known. Don’t you want to be recognised and rewarded for the wonderful things you do?”
He turned his head to look at her. “They are, aren’t they? Silver Falcon and Crimson Angel, they’re household names, but you’ve no idea who they are and you wouldn’t ask if you met them.”
“Yes, but they’re…” She stopped herself before she finished the sentence with “big heroes”. It drove home the point that she was holding him to a different standard than the others. “I’m just asking you because I can, aren’t I?”
“Seems that way.” His tone was lightly teasing.
“Then I’ll stop. I promise,” she assured him. “But I still don’t understand, why don’t you all want to be known?”
“Because we have our lives to live.” He pointed at his mask. “This isn’t my life, and this isn’t me at all. This is a dream, a fiction. I get to be someone else for a while. Going out and fighting bad guys, that’s not something to build your life on. You don’t want to bring that home.”
Donna nodded slowly as she tried to understand. “Then you’ve someone to go home to, someone you’re trying to protect from this?”
“No.” Ducking his head, he turned away for a few steps, then replied equably. “It’s just me. Just my life that’s at stake here.”
“But you’re doing it, aren’t you?” She peered up at him.
“Going out and fighting bad guys. Doing great things.” Stopping on the side of the pavement, Donna peered up at him with eyes that were bright with pride for him.
Rubbing at the back of his head, the Doctor shrugged. “Yes and no. What you said, just outside your door, I realised that that’s what I wanted. I want to use what I have to do something worthwhile. I felt like there’s got to be some reason I’ve been given this. But there’s precious little opportunity. I can get a cat out of a tree in less time than it takes to call 999, but anything bigger? I haven’t seen so much as a shoplifter. I’m starting to think that the reason Silver Falcon’s so successful is that he’s able to fly to the scene straightaway. If I ever get a chance to stop a crime, I have to hope it happens next to a Tube station.”
Donna laughed. She’d never thought about the realities of being superhero before. She’d only just seen them on the news, always right where they needed to be. How do they know? How do they ever get there? “Well, maybe you can run on the rooftops, like they do in the films.”
It was the Doctor’s turn to laugh. He pointed skyward, and Donna followed his gaze. “Do you really think I could leap from that roof to that roof?” he asked, indicating two buildings on either side of the street. “What is that, fifteen metres, maybe twenty?”
Whatever length it was, it was certainly at least as long as the width of the street plus the pavements on either side. “Honestly, I don’t know what you can do. You can climb sheer walls. Seems reasonable you can jump like that, too.”
“To be truthful, I can’t climb sheer walls. The one in the alley was brick, and the one back at the park is river stone cemented in place. It’s all a matter of dexterity, identifying footholds, and managing momentum, not strength.” He looked back up at the buildings above them. “I’m not that strong. Well, a bit stronger than normal people, but I’d be surprised if I could do seven metres, with a running start and a good landing.”
“All right, then. That’s not an option.” She thumbed at her chin as she thought.
“I’ll figure it out. Maybe I need a motorbike.”
She regarded him with one eyebrow high behind her fringe. “Can you ride one?”
“Nope-ah.” She could hear his self-mockery in his voice. Glancing around as she laughed with him, she spotted Nerys up the block, standing in front of the shoe shop. Noticing Donna walking with the masked man, she stiffened, frowning suspiciously.
“Oh,” Donna breathed. “There’s Nerys. I’m meeting her for shopping. Come on.”
Noting the haughty blonde watching them, the Doctor stepped back, shaking his head. “Er, no. I think I’d rather find a fight I’ve a chance of winning, like Silver Falcon.”
Donna grinned at him. “Yeah. Nerys’ sneer is a special kind of supervillain.” She turned to him, her hands clutching her handbag in front of her. “Doctor? Thanks again for saving me and helping me, in that alley. I really can’t say it enough.”
Averting his face, he tugged on an ear as he replied. “I did what anyone would have done. Just… well… if you have to walk home at night, be more careful. I can’t be there all the time, and I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Donna’s heart leapt a little. Here was a prime, worrying about little ol’ Donna. For once in her life, she felt a flattered blush spread over her cheeks. “I will, I promise. I won’t dawdle anymore, for sure.”
“What else could you do?” he mused. “Self-defence classes are good. You could get pepper spray, but that’s really limited. You’d have to aim well and probably take your attacker by surprise. It wouldn’t have helped against those blokes.”
“They say to carry a whistle.”
He cocked his head at her. “Oh, your shout’s better than any whistle.”
“Oi!” Donna exclaimed.
“Take care of yourself, Donna.” Clasping his hands behind his back, he bowed his goodbye.
“Will I see you again, Doctor?”
“If I’m lucky.” And with that, he strode off, losing himself among the Sunday shoppers.
Swallowing her pleasure at the encounter, Donna trotted up to Nerys as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “Ready to buy some shoes?”
Her friend gazed at her with utter disdain, her lips a flat line of disapproval. “And who was that?”
Of course Nerys had to ask. “If you must know, that was the Doctor.”
“The who?” The sneering had already begun.
“The Doctor,” Donna repeated. “The one that helped me in the alley that night two weeks ago.”
“Thought that was Silver Falcon.”
“Falcon was the one that knocked ‘em all out, but the Doctor was the one that stopped ‘em, and then helped me home after,” she reminded her.
Setting her fist on her hip, Nerys pursed her lips with a scowl. “And now you’re best mates or something?”
“I just ran into him in the park.” Donna rolled her eyes, growing tired of the questioning.
“What a creep,” Nerys concluded.
“Oi! Shut it, Nerys!”
“In all of the greater London metro area, you run into him twice in two weeks.” She wagged a finger at Donna. “That’s a creeper for sure.”
“Nerys!” Donna scolded. “He’s a lovely man.”
“Who walks around in black bondage mask.” Nerys rolled her eyes as Donna frowned at the implication. “Donna, you have got to get over this prime-worship. Their celebrity status is blinding you, and you’re not looking out for yourself. This Doctor, you just hear the word ‘prime’ and suddenly he’s just an angel, isn’t he? If he was just a regular bloke, you’d call him a stalker.” At Donna’s hesitation, she prodded more. “What’s his real name, Donna? Do you know who he really is?”
“Of course not. He’s a prime. They don’t tell us who they are,” Donna insisted, bristling as she gazed anywhere except at her friend.
“Doesn’t that set off all the bells?” She threw her hands up at Donna’s silence. “I know you’re fascinated by them, but you need to be careful. You can’t trust everyone that comes along, prime or not.”
Rationally, Donna knew Nerys was right: it’s not possible to tell if anyone’s what they seem; even people you’ve known for years could turn out to be scum. But this Doctor… somehow, she trusted him, and moreover, she wanted to trust him. Maybe it was because he’d saved her personally - he wasn’t just a celebrity superhero on the news - and he’d taken the time to make sure that she was safe, and thus she’d put him up on a pedestal. Pursing her lips, she pouted as she tried to deny to herself that she was being foolish.
“You know I’m right.” Nerys was an expert at being superciliously annoying.
“Look, Nerys,” Donna hissed the sibilant end of her name. “You don’t know him at all. Yes,” and she raised a hand to cut her friend off as she opened her mouth to interrupt, “you’re right. I need to be more cautious. But with him, I can tell. You know sometimes you just know it’s right, that a person’s good, deep down?”
Pursing her lips again, Nerys simply answered, “No.”
“Of course you don’t. You think everyone’s a lying bastard.” She laughed at Nerys’ sarcastic sneer. “Okay, look, I promise. I promise I’ll be careful and protect myself. But only if you promise to trust my judgment.”
“Oh, you never listen to me anyway,” Nerys sighed. “Fine. Just don’t come crying to me when it turns out I’m right.”
“Won’t happen. The last one you warned me about was Lance, and see how that turned out?” She flashed a warm smile at the thought of her loyal boyfriend.
“Hmpf.” With her nose in the air, Nerys turned to enter the shoe shop with Donna following, grinning triumphantly.