Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Nerys
Summary: The Doctor investigates one of the most serious time anomalies he's ever encountered, right here on Earth.
Word Count (chapter): 2131
It was never easy to track a single person down through time, especially when the Doctor didn't even have a last name to work with. Luckily, with the TARDIS' help, he had found that in all this time, the bride hadn't strayed far from the home where he had dropped her after they'd fled the Thames Barrier. Still single, she'd gotten a new job - full-time, this time - and moved into a new flat, but it was all easy to trace.
Striding through the gleaming glass door of an accounting firm in the heart of London, the Doctor walked up to the reception counter and waited to be greeted, standing with his feet spread apart and his hands jammed in his pockets. The receptionist, in a smart business dress with her long blond hair twisted high into an immaculate bun, played a few more turns of the computer solitaire game that was clearly reflected in the mirrored company logo on the wall behind her, then slowly looked up with a bored sigh and began to recite. "Welcome to Anderson & Wilson. How can I -" The words died on her lips as she did a double-take, then sneered. "You!"
"Hallo, Nerys." He flashed her his most disarming smile. "How have you been?"
Nerys glanced around to see if anyone was watching, but the reception area was empty except for herself and the man across the desk from her. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"It's a pleasure to see you again, too."
She sprang to her feet and jabbed a finger at the office’s entrance. "Get out of here! You can't just come in here like this!"
An eyebrow arched. "Why not?"
She checked around again, then hissed, "You're an alien!"
His eyes wide, he stared down at himself, patting his chest and arms. "Am I?"
"What do you want?" she growled.
Turning back to her, he jammed his hands back in his pockets and tried that disarming smile again, though it hadn’t seemed to disarm anything the first time. "Why do I need to want anything? I was in the neighbourhood and thought I'd say hi."
Nerys was having none of it. "Shouldn't you be off somewhere, fighting robots and making people jump from speeding cars on the motorway?"
"Good ol' Nerys. I missed you."
Nerys slammed her fist on the desk. "Doctor, what do you want?"
Even the Doctor knew when to play it straight. Occasionally. "I need to ask you some questions. Something's gone wrong with time and I need to figure out what."
She blinked once, then rolled her eyes. "Look. I told you back then to sod off, and this is why. You make everything weird. Now go away."
"Nerys, I really need your help,” he pleaded. “You're the only one who can sort this out."
She shook her head in disbelief. "Whatever it is, why would I have anything to do with it?"
"Because it's about Donna,” he explained without actually explaining anything. “Whatever's happened is centered on Donna."
"Donna?” she squeaked, appalled. “What's happened to her? Is she okay?"
"I don't know!"
Nerys ducked under the desk to grab her handbag. "Let me call her and -"
"No, no!” the Doctor, waving his hands to stop her. “She's fine like that. At least she should be just fine in this reality."
"What are you talking about, this reality?" she demanded as she peered up at him.
"That's what I need you to work out."
"Me?” Her voice cracked on her incredulity, and she sprang to her feet. “What can I do about reality?"
"Come on." He held out his hand to her, jerking his head toward the door. "I'll tell you everything in the TARDIS."
Nerys didn’t budge. "No! I’m working! You'll tell me right here!"
"But we don't have a second to lose!" he insisted.
"Re-ally?” she drawled. “You've got a time machine, Doctor! Does anything have to be urgent for you?"
"It doesn't work like that. I can't just -" His usual excuse of “crossing into established events” and whatnot foundered and died on his lips. He smacked his forehead. "Oh! Oh! You're right! There's plenty of time on this end. Haha!" He spun in exhilaration. "I'm always under pressure to get things right, I just assumed... All right, this can wait until you're off. When is that?" He looked around for a clock but the crisp, antiseptic walls of reception were bare except for a couple of framed canvasses spattered with paint passing themselves off as high art.
"Five o'clock. Now shift. I'm busy." She promptly sat down and turned to her computer, ignoring her visitor.
"The eight of clubs goes on the nine of hearts," the Doctor offered as he turned and headed for the door. He grinned at Nerys' sneer reflected in the polished glass.
It puzzled the Doctor how people could stand to live in a linear order, one minute to the next. It was so much better to skip all the boring minutes and move on to the interesting and exciting ones. Thus, he skipped the TARDIS ahead three hours and twenty-seven minutes, then trotted back to the office building that was home to Anderson and Wilson, arriving at precisely 4:50 p.m.; he certainly didn't want Nerys skiving off early to avoid him. He selected a spot out of the way with a clear view of the glass doors leading into the lobby and waited as patiently as he could, fidgeting and pacing back and forth.
After fifteen minutes, the haughty blonde emerged from one of the lifts. Upon exiting the building, she spotted the Time Lord, hands in his trouser pockets, bouncing up and down on his red canvas-clad toes. It took her eight firm and deliberate steps to reach him and once there, she cocked her hands on her hips and sniffed. "I'd hoped that you’d been a hallucination."
"That's not the first time someone's said that to me."
"Come on. I don't have all day." She turned up her nose and crossed her arms to hide the fact that she’d glanced at her wrist despite not wearing a watch.
"I can make sure you have as much of the day as you want."
"Come on." Beckoning with a finger on each hand, he turned and trotted down the shallow steps to the pavement, glancing back to make sure that Nerys was following him. She was but ambled along at a leisurely pace and he had to double back and slow his long stride to stay with her.
"Tell me what this is all about," she finally inquired after a considerable silence. “What’s wrong with Donna?”
"I will, in the TARDIS. We can talk there." He offered her his arm, which she glanced at with disdain. She fixed her gaze straight in front her and proceeded at the same pace, just slow enough to annoy the hyperactive alien beside her.
When they reached the blue police box, Nerys inspected the gloss on her fingernails whilst the Doctor unlocked the door and held it open for her. He flashed her a proud grin as she strode past him into the craft. She walked up the ramp to the console and toed the grating with her shoe. "It's a good thing I'm wearing wedges today."
The Doctor's face fell, and he turned to latch the door. "Nothing impresses you, does it?"
"I've seen it all before, Doctor. And I'd hoped to never see it again, honestly."
"You've got to admit, she is brilliant," he urged as he tossed his coat aside and swept up the ramp.
"Is this some kind of alien 'my TARDIS is bigger than your TARDIS' thing?"
"Oh, never mind." Pouting, he idly flipped a couple of toggles on the console. "I really need you to tell me what you know about Donna."
Nerys gaped as she tried to formulate a response. "You’re kidding, right?” she finally sputtered. “What I know about Donna? We've known each other since we were six years old. That would take days!" She huffed as she crossed her arms. "How do you even know her?"
The Doctor frowned before answering, "I met her at your wedding, of course."
"And now it's two years later and you're asking me about her. Why?"
"Because." He spun away, tearing at his hair. "Because I think someone has been manipulating her life, and I want to find out how and why."
"Manipulating her life?" Nerys mimicked incredulously.
"I don't know!” He continued to march around the console, batting at this control or that. “Maybe. So I need you to tell me all about Donna Noble, so I can figure out what went wrong."
The Doctor stopped on the spot and whirled. "What?"
"Donna Thomas,” she repeated. when that drew an even more confused stare from the Doctor, she sneered, “Married!"
"Donna got married?" he squeaked.
"Always been since you've known her. I don’t know where you heard the name Noble,” she sniffed.
The Doctor dismissed her complaint with a shake of his head. “When was that?”
“About two years before I met Lance. She and Sam are coming up on their fourth anniversary."
"Well, good for her," the Doctor murmured absently, scraping his hand over his mouth and jaw as he stared into space. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to him that Donna's life had changed so dramatically, but the realisation that the timeline had branched that long ago still came as a blindside. How far back would he have to search?
"Yes? Oh." Broken out of his thoughts, he grinned at Nerys. "Sorry. I need to see this. Where can we find them?"
"You don't believe me,” she growled.
"Of course I do. If there's one thing you are, Nerys, it's brutally honest. But I need to see the effects of... Where do we go?" Darting to the console, he pulled the monitor in front of him and began flipping switches and typing at the keyboard.
"She still lives in Chiswick. They bought a house near the river. I've got the address here." She pulled the handbag from her shoulder to find her mobile.
"Here." The Doctor tilted the monitor, which displayed a satellite view of the area, so that she could see it. "This is Chiswick."
Nerys stepped over to look and frowned. “What’s that on your hand?” she asked, pointing at the lines of ink on the palm of the hand holding the monitor in place.
The Doctor blanched and stuffed his hand in his pocket. “Nothing.” At Nerys’ sceptical eyeroll, he grinned with embarrassment. “Calculations. Diagrams. You know. Can never find a notepad when I need one. My mum always told me not to, said the ink was poisonous.” He shrugged. “Still here after, oh, thousands of pens’ worth.”
Nerys studied him for a moment, the corner of her mouth twitching, then turned to the map display. "Here. This house." She tapped the screen.
"Brilliant. Let me just input the coordinates..." He continued mumbling as he worked the TARDIS controls, whilst Nerys stood back and watched, pursing her lips.
"I knew this wasn't going to be just a talk. Here we go again." She glanced around and, spying the jumpseats, walked over and planted herself on one.
After holding on to the edge of the console to weather the initial jostle of launch, the Doctor leant against the railing, watching the time rotor rise and fall. So Donna had already been married at Nerys' wedding... He wondered why he didn't know that. He ran through his memory of that day in this timeline and realised that he barely knew Donna at all. Nerys, too intent on picking up the pieces of her spoilt wedding, had not bothered to introduce him to anyone at the reception. Indeed, though he remembered seeing Donna there as Nerys' matron of honour, he only knew her name from their alternate history. He couldn't remember any other individuals there, as those few he knew from Donna’s life in Chiswick, such as her parents, hadn't attended Donna's friend's wedding.
He glanced sidelong at Nerys, who sat fuming with her eyes fixed on the hem of her skirt and ignoring anything that hinted that she was flying in a spaceship. Compared to her firm reality, Donna in the TARDIS was a dream, rapidly fading upon waking. You shouldn’t be here either. Not ‘here’ here, but working that job, picking yourself up after Lance, living that life. Living Donna’s life. But you don’t know that, and I’ve got to keep it that way. He tore his eyes away and studied the time rotor again. He needed to restore the original timeline, and he couldn’t allow himself to be distracted.