Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Braxiatel
Word Count: 10914 total
Summary: (Blue Rain AU) The evening Donna has dreaded for the past six months has arrived. It's time to meet Jon's parents.
Author's Notes: Okay, this one got away from me. I thought this would be a nice little fun fic of 3k words, but it's blown up into 10k words that's far more serious that I intended. It's also taken a lot longer than expected, because of the amount of research I had to do. I'd like to apologize up front about the cultural inaccuracies: even I can tell that I've gotten a lot wrong and this feels too American. At least I didn't refer to barristers as "lawyers".
This story is too long for LJ, so I had to cut it into two parts. There's no good breaking point, so the transition to the second part is going to be strange.
The silence was deafening. Until this moment, Donna had never had such an appreciation for the phrase. All around her, the clinks of silverware against bone china, the splashes of expensive wine into fine stemware, and the hum of posh accents and droll laughter enveloped them like a fog, and yet the yawning gulf between her and the three others at the table plugged her ears and bored down into her stomach, turning her apprehension into full-on nausea. She wondered how she would be able to keep her dinner down, then dismissed the notion: at this rate, she’d be asked to leave and never come back before she’d get a chance to order.
Donna straightened the butter knife next to her plate as she stole a look at Jon sitting at her left. He seemed relaxed, if a little expectant, and why not? He wasn’t meeting her parents for the first time in a high-brow restaurant a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. He certainly looked the part in his crisp tailored suit though his hair, his one fashionable affectation jauntily gelled in place, stuck up more than is proper, but he remained oblivious to her discomfort. Probably thinks I made it here, survived the introductions, so it’s all good. A little help here? Catching her eye, he flashed her a shy grin and turned back to his mum. Obviously you’re not a mind reader. Or empathetic to people in any way. She rolled her eyes at him.
“I must admit, Jon really hasn’t told us much about you.” Jon’s mother, a stately matron with warm, intelligent brown eyes just like her son’s and brilliant white hair framing her face like a summer cloud, had insisted that Donna call her “Eliza” and not “Mrs. Smith” in a kind but nasal accent. She sat with easy grace, her hands folded in her lap against the soft silk of her evening dress. Donna fixed her gaze on the centerpiece of orchids and glass bells, acutely aware how out-of-place she was in her off-the-rack dress and costume jewelry. “Except that you’re quite lovely,” Eliza continued, “and I must say, he led us true there.”
Startled, Donna glanced nervously at Jon, who repeated his encouraging smile. “Thank you, M- Eliza. You’re too kind.” For Jon’s sake, she tried to paint a better portrait of herself by reigning in her usual attitude, but she couldn’t hide her London accent. She imagined that every word that came from her mouth rang out across the restaurant and drew dark looks from the other patrons. Perhaps that was why Jon, whose accent matched hers and not his parents’, spoke even less than he normally did here.
“You met at work, I believe. At Fischer.” Jon’s father Henry was the truly intimidating one. A tall, trim man, Donna imagined that in his prime, he looked exactly like his son, except that his steel blue eyes were shrewd and piercing and that so far, he hadn’t smiled once. Everything about him was in perfect order, from his short grey waves and trimmed beard, to his jacket, waistcoat, gold fob, and meticulous half-Windsor knot, to the exact half-inch of cuff peeking from his sleeve, to his gleaming shoes. Donna had always been certain she could hold her own against anyone, but she found herself trying to avoid catching his attention.
“Yes,” she replied. She had to say more than “yes”, “no”, and “thank you” to these people, so she blurted out, “We’re in the same group,” and immediately regretted it. They must know that already.
“A fine company, Fischer,” continued Henry, making Donna wonder if he’d heard her at all. “A good reputation. However, Jonathan, I think it would have served you better to have stayed at United. Bigger company, better facilities and support. If you’d kept on as architect there, you’d be in management by now.”
A hint of annoyance flitted across Jon’s face. “I doubt that. You’ve always said I’ve not a shred of common sense. Best for all concerned that I stay in engineering.”
“Nonsense,” Henry stated. “You are perfectly capable. Your problem has always been a lack of ambition.”
Eliza reached over and grasped her husband’s hand. “Dear...,” she began.
“I doubt that’s my only problem in your opinion,” Jon growled out, and his hand on the table curled into a fist. Donna knew what that meant: she’d helped him learn to control his powers for two months now, and his hands always clenched when he was trying to suppress them. She suspected he wasn’t actually angry enough to become potentially dangerous, but he needed to prevent even the smallest display of ability that might inform his parents that their son was a prime. That would be disastrous. She reached over and covered his hand just like his mother had his father’s moments earlier.
“Jon…” she murmured, but he snatched his hand away.
“There are other routes of advancement than management,” snapped Jon, his accent subtly shifting to mock his father’s. “Ambition takes different forms as well, don’t you agree? You could have taken party leadership if you wanted, but instead you stepped down to work for the Abingdon MP.”
Henry sniffed. “A Member of Parliament serves the country first. My strengths are in law, not politics. I went where I was needed.”
“My point.” Jon relaxed a touch, sitting back in his chair and glancing at Donna with a frustrated grimace. His father drew breath to retort, but Eliza put her foot down.
“Now, my dear, it’s no use dredging up old arguments. I doubt you two will ever see eye-to-eye. Jon has done very well for himself. You forget your son holds a doctorate in engineering and is well-respected in his field. That is nothing to scoff at. You should be proud of him.”
“I paid for that education,” Henry grumbled. “Four years at MIT, because he wouldn’t have anything less, had his heart set on it since he was ten. ‘The best engineering school in the world’ - I don’t know how many times I heard that whinge.” He turned to address Donna directly. “That alone cost more than his brother’s entire education up until he was called to the bar. Then four years at Cambridge on top of it. But he’s made every pound I spent count. Of course I’m proud of him.” With a glare at Jon, he pronounced, “I simply believe that my son could do so much more.”
Mercifully, a waiter appeared at that moment with menus, and everyone took the opportunity to hide behind walls of pale blue cardboard and let the tension dissipate. Donna goggled at the menu. No prices were displayed, but the descriptions of the dishes were enough for her to infer their range.
Jon leant closer and slipped an arm around Donna’s shoulders, his long fingers caressing her neck just below her ear. The gesture, she knew, was not simply a demonstration of affection: as he murmured under his breath, he channeled and amplified the sound through himself to the sonic field emanating from his hand and she could hear his voice as clearly as if he were speaking aloud. He would also hear her responses, pronounced with the merest of breaths, and thus, they could speak in almost perfect privacy.
“Choose whatever you want,” he urged. “Try something you’ve never thought you might. Don’t worry about the cost. In fact, my dad’s more likely to be insulted if he thinks you’re trying to choose the cheapest thing available.”
“I don’t even know what half this stuff is,” she hissed back. “This is the kind of food you had at home?”
“Nah. My mum’s an excellent cook, but she mostly cooked normal stuff, just like yours.” He glanced up to make sure his parents were still engrossed with their menus. “We really aren’t all that different from your family. I think my dad is just trying to impress you.”
Donna twitched with silent laughter. “Impress me? Scare me off, more like.”
Jon grinned. “Possibly.”
“Please don’t hesitate to order anything you want, Donna, dear,” Eliza called over her menu. “I particularly recommend the oysters, and the lobster is a house specialty.”
Donna shook her head. “I don’t think so, thanks. Shellfish’re better off staying in their shells, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Now there’s a woman with sense,” grunted Henry.
After their orders were taken, Eliza took a firmer hand in guiding the conversation away from topics of contention and toward the actual purpose of evening, getting to know her son’s new “lady friend”, as she termed it. Donna felt far more at ease talking to Jon’s mother, who, contrary to her first impression of the woman, seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say and wasn’t judging her on every word.
More importantly, though, Eliza prevented her husband from dominating the table. Donna still had not been able to figure him out, and it was clear she needed to pass his inspection. She doubted that his father’s disapproval would influence Jon’s choices in any way, but satisfying the parents would improve their own future. Henry seemed content to eat his dinner and let Eliza ask the questions and tell the stories, and if he was judging Donna’s comments, he did so in silence.
“I’ve barely strayed from Chiswick,” Donna was saying, “‘cept on holiday. My mum’s always said I should expand my horizons, but I just can’t see myself anywhere else, you know?”
“Oh, of course, dear,” Eliza replied after swallowing her last bite, setting her fork down, and dabbing at her lips with her napkin. “I’m London born and bred like you. I never thought I’d leave, and I do miss all the opportunity, but I was surprised to find just how comforting the pace of life in Abingdon really is. But you’re young yet -”
“Not that young,” Donna laughed.
“Young enough,” Eliza repeated with a knowing nod. “Everything needs to be fast and exciting. One day, though, you might find that a life that ambles along is just what you need. I didn’t know it until I found it.”
“So you didn’t actually want to move to Abingdon, then?”
“Oh, no. That was entirely Henry’s decision.” She glanced at her husband to see if he objected to her talking about him, then continued. “He didn’t feel he was entirely effective as an MP, so he refused to stand for re-election and took a post on Albert Lindstrom’s staff, doing legal research and drafting bills and the like.” An impish twinkle gleamed in her eye. “I think controlling things from behind the scenes suits him better.”
“Pfah!” Henry grunted. He picked up his wine glass but didn’t drink, gesturing dismissively with it. “I don’t control anything. It’s Bertie’s ball. I just write it all down. As I said, I’m not a politician.”
“But you said you’re drafting bills. That’s MP work, isn’t it?” inquired Donna.
“The job description of a Member of Parliament encapsulates a great deal,” Henry stated, “including drafting bills, but no man can do everything himself. The paperwork alone could occupy him for his entire term of office. Bertie is a fine MP, a statesman and a leader, but his expertise is not in law, so he keeps me on his staff.”
“Oh, I’d no idea,” admitted Donna. “All I know about politics is what I’ve seen in films. They always seem to show a bunch of stuffy blokes in a cramped chamber yelling at each other.”
Everyone laughed, and Henry held his glass up to her. “You’ve a good portion of it spot on,” he pronounced and took a long sip.
The waiter appeared to take their coffee and dessert orders and clear away the empty dishes. Once he left, Henry settled back in his chair. “I must admit I enjoy the work. I’m getting too old for all that Parliament nonsense. Now I’m serving Queen and country without all the stress, and I spend my time immersed in my first love, which is common law.” He wagged a finger at his son. “So, you see, Jonathan, however much we may disagree, I do understand how you feel.”
“Then maybe you could drop it,” mumbled Jon.
“Never,” Henry growled, then turned back to Donna. “My current work is particularly rewarding. We’ve been working with Johnson’s and d’Arcy’s staffs on the Prime Agency bill, and we’re close. It’s been a year in the making, but we’re finally heading in the right direction, and once we’re done, it should speed right through both Houses in no time.”
Donna cocked her head at the concept. “Prime Agency? What’s that?”
“That’s the working name. We’ve had some debate about the difficulty of using the term ‘prime’, as when used in connection with government, one thinks immediately of the Prime Minister. That’s the problem with trendy American lexicon. However, it is the established term, so we must use it.” He refocused on Donna’s question with a satisfied sniff. “It’s what this country has desperately needed for nearly three years now. The bill establishes an agency that will manage primes living in the UK.”
Donna pursed her lips as she considered what she should say next. She had heard of the idea, though not the actual name. She’d known that Parliament had been considering passing laws concerning primes, and that the actual purpose and execution of those laws were still under contention. She hadn’t known that they were this close to actually having such laws enacted.
Jon had told her that his father was anti-prime, and she was glad that the bill he was drafting wasn’t attempting to criminalise them, but “managing” didn’t sound good either. “What does that mean?” she asked his father. “How will the government be managing primes?”
Henry settled back in his chair, quite content to discuss the work in which he took such pride. “The agency will establish a roll of all primes in the country, their names and locations as well as their abilities, so that risks can be assessed and precautions taken to protect them and their communities. The agency will also provide specialised services for primes, such as powers education and legal assistance, placing primes where they can use their powers to do the most good, as well as services for employers, landlords, physicians, anyone who has to deal with primes on a regular basis.”
He certainly did a good job of making it all sound fair and beneficial, but there was one thing that rubbed Donna the wrong way. “Then you’ll be forcing primes to reveal themselves. It’ll be illegal to keep it a secret, won’t it?”
Henry nodded. “It’s the only way it will work. It’s for their own good. If we don’t know who they are, we cannot protect them and their families from themselves.”
Donna drew in a breath to argue, then hesitated. Jon, afraid of antagonising his father in yet another way, had specifically requested that if the subject of primes or anything related came up during this dinner, that she let it go. He wanted to avoid an argument that could turn his parents, who were anti-prime though not so much as the radical Power Down movement, against her. However, it was against her nature to stay silent, and it scared her that national policy could be set by a prejudiced man like this. She deliberately turned her head so she could plausibly claim she hadn't seen Jon’s attempts to catch her attention and stated with calm inflection, “It sounds more like you’re trying to control them.”
“Donna…” Jon murmured, but she shushed him with a wave.
“No, it does,” she repeated. “That’s exactly what you’re trying to do.”
“They need to be managed,” Henry clarified. “Primes are dangerous, and we have a duty to protect our citizens.”
“No, they’re not. Primes aren’t dangerous,” she stated. Henry fixed her with an incredulous stare, so she elaborated. “Certainly Silver Falcon is superhumanly strong, but that doesn’t make him inherently dangerous. He controls himself. I’ve seen him loads of times hugging people on camera and they survive just fine.” She swallowed a smirk at the thought that her understanding of Falcon’s ability to moderate his strength came from very personal experience. She picked up the fork in front of Jon and brandished it. “Here. I’ve got a fork now. I could stab you with it.” She spun it in her hand to grasp it like a dagger and jabbed the air with it. “Do you need to ‘manage’ me now, because I’m dangerous?”
“Now,” began Eliza, “I believe there are better places to have this discussion, don’t you think?”
“No, no, let her speak,” Henry soothed. “This is interesting.” He nodded at Donna. “Even with your fork, you are nowhere near as dangerous as Silver Falcon.”
“Most primes aren’t.” She turned to Jon for support. “Like that one in the park? She could call a bird to her and make it do tricks.”
Jon swallowed hard before he found his voice. “Right. A bit of flying and singing. Not much power at all.”
“How exactly would you know that?” Henry asked, wagging a finger at Donna. “As you just pointed out, she could be controlling herself, presenting a palatable picture as she plans her avian assault.”
“But that’s the thing. You don’t know that either, that she’s planning anything,” she countered. “You can’t arrest someone because you think she might commit a crime. If you’ve some evidence, you could, but not on suspicion and means alone.”
"I never said anything about arresting them,” he clarified. “The Prime Agency bill is designed to help primes, not criminalise them.”
“That’s what they always say when it starts, isn’t it?” Donna mused. “Whenever anyone tries to impose limits on someone else, ‘We’re helping ‘em’, they say.”
Eliza almost burst out of her seat, waving her napkin at something across the room behind Donna. “Oh, over here!” she called as both her husband and Donna grinned at her obvious ploy to cut the discussion short. “Dear, please, fetch a chair for him.”
As Henry signaled a waiter, Jon rose from his seat. “Chris! I thought you were held up at work.”
So this is Jon’s brother, thought Donna as she appraised the man approaching the table. Though he was a hand shorter than Jon, his broad shoulders gave him more presence, and he moved with regal confidence, in stark contrast to Jon’s awkward gangliness. Also unlike Jon, he resembled their mother more, though those sharp blue eyes were entirely their father’s. His long, wide nose belonged to neither parent, and Donna almost giggled at the thought that it must be perfectly suited to sneer down at someone along. He dressed as formally as his father, though the cut of his jacket and waistcoat was thoroughly contemporary and fashionable.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he was saying. “I moved my last meeting to Monday and drove out as soon as I could.” He glanced down at the cleared table. “Just in time for coffee, I see.”
Jon turned to Donna. “Donna, this is my brother, Chris. Chris, this is my…” He glanced away for a moment, embarrassed. “This is Donna. Donna Noble.”
His brother took Donna’s hand and bowed low to kiss it. “Enchanté. It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Donna. But please, call me Brax.”
Donna wasn’t quite sure if she’d heard him correctly. “Brax?” she repeated.
“Yes,” he said with a smile, obviously used to the question. He took the chair that the waiter brought for him, and Jon scooted closer to Donna. “Everyone calls me that, except for my family. It’s a nickname I picked up in school.”
“You mean you insisted on it,” scowled Henry. Shaking his head, he explained to Donna, “Every teenager goes through that phase where they want to be the next rock star. I got him the drum set and I think those boys managed three rehearsals before it was on to the next ‘cool’ thing. The only thing that stuck was the name. Braxel or somesuch.”
“Braxiatel,” corrected Brax, and proceeded to explain. “Kev Tyndall thought it would be more ‘metal’ to choose new names, then he came up with ‘Borusa’ for himself. How that’s ‘metal’, I still have no idea. But my friends liked ‘Brax’ and it stuck, and it was simply easier to keep it when we went to Oxford.”
Henry shook his head in disgust. “I do not know what is wrong with using your given name.”
“Have you actually tried saying it, Dad?” Though his words rebuked his father, his sly smile brimmed with tolerant amusement. “Chris Smith? It either all blends together or gets stuck on the tongue if you try to make it two words.”
“Your name is Christopher.”
“You’re the only one who calls me that. Even Mum and Jon call me Chris.” Brax turned to Donna, his eyes dark with dry humour. “If you have children someday, think hard about how their names and nicknames will work. I’ve had a devil of a time keeping it straight with everyone. Chris with Mum and Dad, C. Irving Smith for a professional name, Brax to friends and colleagues.”
“I’ll be sure to consult you when the time comes,” Donna assured him with a laugh, not quite sure that her original assessment of him was accurate. Brax carried himself with stereotypical privileged arrogance, complete with the posh accent, but his manner of speaking and jovial style felt rather too familiar for someone she’d just met. Slick, thought Donna. That’s the word. Slick. Like he’s putting on the face he wants me to see. It was not a comfortable feeling.
“I’m so glad you could make it,” Eliza cooed at her son. “Where is Romana? Couldn’t she get away?”
“Not in time, no. She spent all afternoon with the solicitor for the case she’s presenting next week. If I’d waited for her, we wouldn’t have made it. But this way, she’s home now to look after the girls.” He turned to Donna. “I’m afraid we’re not much company. With a table of Smiths, it’s all dry legal talk.”
"Oh, no," Donna protested, "we’ve barely strayed into anything like that."
"That’s because Mum's been telling her all of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood," grumbled Jon.
“That’s a time-honoured tradition, Jon,” laughed Brax. “That way, Donna knows exactly what she’s gotten herself into.”
Donna couldn’t resist. “And it wasn’t only your childhood. One of those happened at Cambridge, didn’t it? The one with the industrial lathe and the fairy cakes?” Jon turned a most satisfying shade of red, and she reached over to squeeze his hand in both comfort and apology.
The waiter returned with a tray laden with their desserts and coffee and tea for everyone, and the conversation turned toward savouring their sweets. Donna in particular gushed over her chocolate mille-feuille. She couldn’t help herself and finished her dessert before the others, and she resolved to take the opportunity to get to know Jon’s brother better. “You’re a barrister, then, you and your wife both?”
“Oh, yes.” Brax toyed with the handle of his coffee cup as he spoke. “In fact, we first met at a trial, though,” and he glanced at Jon, “it turns out she and my little brother were good mates at Cambridge. I worked for the prosecution and she represented the defendant. However, she defeated me quite soundly, and I knew at that moment she was the woman for me.”
“And what does the score stand at now?” prompted Jon.
“Five to two in her favour,” declared Brax with a proud smile for his wife. “All before we started seeing each other, mind you, years ago. Hardly ethical to argue against each other now. Well, Romana still argues cases,” he clarified. “I haven’t in years. I work on Kate Burchard’s staff.”
“She’s an MP, isn’t she?” asked Donna.
“Yes. Ilford North.”
“So you do things like your father.”
“Precisely,” answered Henry. “He’s gaining experience for a bid for a seat of his own. He’s better suited for that sort of business than I was, certainly.”
“Prime Minister Smith, then?” Donna asked with a wink.
“Oh, no. My ambition doesn’t aim quite that high. Besides,” Brax declared, “the real power’s in the back rooms.”
Henry snorted as he sipped his tea. “That’s the unvarnished truth, that is.”
Brax grimaced and, shaking his head, tugged at his ear. “Sorry, Dad. Didn’t catch that.”
Henry placed his cup back on its saucer. “I said you’ll find that truer than you think, once you make it to Parliament. Many issues are debated behind closed doors long before they make it to the House floor.”
“Is that the way this Prime Agency thing is going to go?” asked Donna with a sickly sweet smile. “All rubber stamped before the public even gets to hear about it?”
“Donna!” chided Jon. “Please don’t bring that up again.”
Henry shook his head. “Not that. Primes are too much in the public eye, so it’ll get its time for debate and decision. It shouldn’t take long, however. Parliament is quite cognisant that something has to be done.”
“Something, yes,” Donna agreed, “but not that.”
“I take it you don’t approve of the Prime Agency bill?” asked Brax.
Donna took a deep breath to keep an even tone. Civility and intelligence was crucial here. “Not the way your father described it, no,” she pronounced.
“And that is?” he prodded.
“Please,” Jon interjected, “can we talk about something else? We’ve had enough argument for one night already.”
“That was hardly an argument,” Henry declared as he wagged a finger at his son. “It was a discussion, a lively one, I’ll admit, and Donna had some very interesting opinions, which I’m sure your brother would like to hear.” He turned to Brax. “Correct me if I am wrong, Donna, but she believes that the agency is intended to control and criminalise primes. She doubts the intent of the measure, that it is designed to help and protect both primes and the community. She believes that primes should be left to their own devices.” He turned back to her. “Is that correct?””
Donna sat stunned for a moment. She’d never before heard anyone who disagreed with her actually understand her point of view and repeat it back to her without exaggeration or misrepresentation. “Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Brax smiled. “My father is one of the best barristers in England. If you cannot understand your opposition enough to state their case accurately and succinctly, what hope do you have of defeating them?”
Donna grinned back. “Oh, I’m the opposition now, am I?”
“Absolutely,” stated Henry. “My constituency - well, it’s Bertie’s, of course - they want something to be done about the primes, and they’re not the only ones. The Prime Agency will do exactly as they’ve been asking. But here you are, providing a countering viewpoint. The definition of ‘opposition’, I would say.”
“Well, that’s flattering.” She glanced over at Jon, who sat stiff as a board, nervous and probably pretty upset with her, and then at Eliza, who listened to the conversation with polite disinterest. Donna suspected that she’d endured decades of debate in which she did not care to participate and was quite practised at quietly occupying her time. She turned back to Brax. “I only know what your father’s told me about the bill, but to me, it casts too wide a net. You’re worried that some primes can’t control their powers and are going to hurt themselves or their families?” Jon shifted in his seat beside her. “Then, sure, encourage them to come forward for help. But most primes don’t need that, and requiring them to reveal themselves and submit to… to being ‘managed’, that’s going too far.”
“That is an oversimplification of the history and reasons behind this bill,” Brax pointed out. “Community safety is only one concern. There are many others.”
“But that’s my point,” countered Donna. “The solution should fit the problem. Another thing that’s been talked about is the heroes fighting crime. My mum likes to say, ‘We can’t do that, why should they?’ It’s not going to help to unmask Silver Falcon and make him go to powers training. But you could, I don’t know, say if you want to be a hero, you got to train with the city police, learn the proper procedures and the laws. Maybe make a hero force or something.”
“That is certainly true,” replied Henry, “but this still doesn’t address the fear. People are afraid of primes, that ones like that Harold Saxon live among us and will turn the world upside-down before we realise it. If we know who the primes are, we can manage that fear.”
“Make ‘em wear a yellow star whilst you’re at it,” spat Donna. Eliza gasped, and a tense silence settled on the table.
“Don’t mention the war,” Jon murmured in a feeble attempt to lighten the atmosphere.
Bit too far, she thought, but if it gets them to think… “It’s what it sounds like to me,” Donna finally stated.
“That is utter nonsense. We are hardly advocating anything like… like that,” Henry sneered, his nose in the air.
“But that’s where it always starts.” She tapped the table to emphasise her point. “When you take a group and you say they’re different and say they’re the source of all the problems. They’re human, too, you know. You shouldn’t treat them any different than you would anyone else.”
“We’re not,” insisted Henry. “We are not segregating them, or assigning blame to anyone. The bill is designed to provide services to a segment of the community that requested them. They want this.”
Donna was pretty sure that wasn’t true for the most part. “They do? How do you know that?”
“Parliament does not work in a vacuum,” Henry declared. “Much of this bill is built upon public research and consultation with primes.”
“You’ve worked with primes to come up with this? And they like this?” Donna wasn’t quite able to hide the note of incredulity in her voice.
“I have not personally, to be honest,” he admitted, “but the people on Bertie’s staff, as well as others, they have, and there’s been a host of independent research. It all points to this.”
Donna shook her head in disbelief. “I don’t think any of my friends would like this,” she muttered.
Brax jumped in. “Then you know some primes personally.”
She frowned. Was that so uncommon? “A few, yeah.”
“And they would not approve of the Prime Agency bill?” he asked to clarify her opinion.
“Not the way you described it.” Donna gestured to include his father in that statement.
Brax’s head bobbed as he considered her answers. Donna could almost see him jotting down notes in his head, with an imaginary fountain pen in a leatherbound notebook. “How many primes do you know? Anyone we might have heard of?”
Donna made a show of thinking, to imply that the number was high enough that she had to count. “A few mates. I’ve met Silver Falcon a number of times, and Crimson Angel once, I think. Oh, and I know the Doctor.” She smirked inwardly at making three primes sound like around ten.
As Jon fidgeted next to her, his mother leant forward, her interest piqued. “You ‘know’ the Doctor. As in, you know who he is?”
Donna hesitated, not quite sure if she should… then she did. “Yeah, I do.” In for a penny, in for a pound. Sorry, Ears. I’ll make it up to you later, I promise. She barrelled on to keep their attention on her so they wouldn’t notice Jon’s mortification. “Nice bloke. Clever. Bit of a looker. With the mask off, he’s just like everyone else, really, though I bet that’s true for all of ‘em, except maybe Kathica.”
Eliza seemed quite amazed that Donna knew a named prime, and perhaps a bit jealous. “How well do you know him?”
“Well enough. He’s a mate.”
Brax cut in. “How did you find out he was the Doctor?”
Donna wasn’t quite sure how to respond, as the truth would take too long to explain and might drop clues as to the Doctor’s real identity. Henry and Brax were both clever, far more clever than herself, and she needed to keep that in mind before she tried to pull the wool over their eyes. Rescue from attempting to spin a tale that would hold under their scrutiny came from an unexpected quarter.
“That is irrelevant, Christopher, as you well know,” barked Henry. “How she discovered his identity has nothing to do with his opinion on the subject or how confident she is of her knowledge. Pay your brother’s lady friend due respect by staying on topic and save your manipulations for the office.”
“Of course.” Brax’s cold smile sent a chill down Donna’s spine. “I apologize, Donna. May I ask, have you discussed this with him before?”
She shook her head. “Not in so many words, but I’m pretty sure I know what he’d think about it.”
“That he’d oppose it?”
Donna glanced at Jon to find him staring down at his hands in his lap. She suspected from his intent expression that he was listening to his parents’ and brother’s heartbeats and breathing, to gauge their reactions to Donna’s answers. If he’s doing that, he trusts I’ll represent him well. “I know for a fact that he wouldn’t like this agency thing forcing him to come forward, but I do think he’d like organising the heroes and training them. Responsibility. That’s the word he used. Heroes need to take responsibility for what they do.”
Henry cleared his throat. “I, for one, would prefer to hear his opinions directly from him. Do you think he would agree to a chat?”
Donna laughed. “Not a chance.” She bit back tagging her statement with a mocking “sunshine” like she normally did.
“In costume, of course,” he hastened to add. “Or we could do one of those online conversations, if that’s preferable. I admit I’ve never done one, but I hear you wouldn’t recognise your mother on one. You see, my dear, I’m interested in his opinions and ideas, not his identity.”
The suggestions were certainly good, but she doubted anything could convince Jon to talk as a prime to anyone, especially his father and brother. “I really don’t think so.”
“Would you do me the favour of asking him? I could issue the invitation on Bertie’s letterhead, if that helps.” Henry's seated bow was gracefully formal.
“Er, I don’t know,” stammered Donna. She didn’t want to refuse the invitation, as he issued it with such respect for both her and the Doctor, but she feared that this entire ruse was pushing Jon too far. Luckily, he came to her rescue.
“It can’t hurt, Donna,” he soothed, taking her hand. “He’d probably be flattered. And the worst he could do is say ‘no’.”
“Have you met him as well, Jon?” his mother asked.
“I have. Seems a good man, and quite personable, too. But Donna knows him better than I do.” He delivered his opinion of himself with a perfectly straight face, and Donna had to swallow a grin.
“Well, all right,” Donna drawled, and nodded to his father. “Do the letterhead thing. Make it official.”
Henry pulled a fountain pen and a small notebook - exactly the kind Donna had imagined Brax using earlier - from the breast pocket of his jacket and started writing. “Do I address it to ‘The Doctor’?”
“That’s best, yeah.”
“Splendid.” He stowed the notebook away. “I shall send the invitation to you at Fischer and you may relay it as you like. Thank you, Donna.” He glanced at his younger son, who was watching him, the disbelief plain on his face. “I expect you are surprised that I wish to talk to this Doctor?”
“Frankly, you’ve never been one to entertain other opinions,” remarked Jon.
Henry shook his head. “I have always entertained all opinions offered. I consider them, decide which is best, and move forward whilst discarding the rest. You cannot work in jurisprudence if you are not prepared to give due consideration to others’ opinions and interpretations.”
Jon rolled his eyes. “Then it’s just my opinions that you choose to ignore?”
“Nonsense.” Henry folded his hands in front of him on the table, seeming to Donna like he was preparing a formal argument. “I have always listened to you. We rarely agree, and certainly I shall avail myself of a father’s prerogative to offer his son advice and attempt to argue him out of his more foolish notions, but have I ever stopped you from acting on your beliefs?”
Jon stared at him, wide-eyed, and could offer no answer.
“I thought not.” He leant forward. “I am sure you believe that I have always favoured Christopher. It may seem that way because he and I agree on most things and rarely argue. You, however, must always come at me from the opposite direction and challenge me with that incisive mind of yours. One son to be my constant ally, and the other to keep me honest and performing at my best. A father could not hope for better.” He turned to Donna. “And I do not say that for your benefit, my dear. Jonathan endeavours to keep his brilliance well hidden, but you must discover it on your own.”
Donna stared, speechless, as Henry turned to his wife to ask if she had been enjoying the evening, and a quick glance at Jon confirmed his surprise as well. Every time she thought she’d figured Henry out, he threw another spanner in the works. He wasn’t the cold, implacable patriarch that Jon had described to her, but she supposed it was only natural that the son who had spent his life trying and, to his mind, failing to live up to his father’s expectations would picture him that way. Neither was he the pompous MP she’d thought he’d be, though, as she had mentioned earlier, her imagination was fueled by films and not by any measure of reality. Certainly, he was pretentious and self-important, but he reminded her of her best friend Nerys: inscrutable to outsiders and expressive only to those close to him, but in his own eccentric way.
“As I said earlier, with us, everything turns to law and politics,” said Brax with a gracious smile.
“Well, this was my fault. I’m the one who brought this back up,” Donna admitted with a grimace of apology to Jon.
“Perhaps, but my father and I cannot resist any opportunity to debate.” He sat back and fidgeted self-consciously with the knot of his tie as if he’d just admitted something shameful. “I believe it is the main reason Jon avoids these gatherings if he can. He prefers it when the rest of my family are here, because the conversation tends toward the girls and their interests.”
Donna appreciated his effort to introduce a new topic and she went along with it. “How old are your daughters?”
“Anna is ten, and Emma will be eight next month.”
“The best age, that. I bet coming from two families of barristers, they’re quite the handful.”
Brax laughed. “They do love to argue, that is true. Fortunately, they take after their mother. Bookworms both, and their arguments tend to be over who gets to borrow what from the library.”
“Actually, Anna is taking after her uncle,” commented Eliza. She turned to Jon with a fond smile. “She finally completed that Lego boat she showed you last time you visited them. She took your lessons on, what did she say? Force and surfaces?”
Jon grinned. “Yes, Mum, close enough.”
Eliza didn’t look convinced that anything she’d said was ‘close enough’. “Well. She rebuilt it so it floats now, and she wants you to help her set up a rubber band propeller.”
“Next time I’m over,” agreed Jon, “but she probably can do it herself. She can modify the one we set up on that little car she built.”
Tugging at the hem of his waistcoat, Brax straightened with fatherly pride. “Of course she can. She just wants to work on it with you,” he snarled, shooting a jealous glare at Jon who returned a proud grin at his niece’s preference for his company. Their mother smiled happily at what was obviously a long-running game between her sons.
“Then I’ll have to come visit soon," Jon replied and turned to Donna. “And then you’ll get to meet Romana and the girls as well.”
“I’d love that.” This style of conversation was far more comfortable, and Donna continued inquiring after Brax’s family to keep the focus away from politics. Brax eagerly answered all her questions, going into detail about the girls’ interests and friends, proving to Donna that no matter how serious his political aspirations were, he was still devoted to his family.