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): 2293
Trafalgar Square in summer was exactly as Nerys always remembered it: blinding sun blazing off the white concrete, packed with tourists wandering the plaza and lounging on the steps in front of the National Gallery and on every inch of the fountains’ edges and the column’s pedestals. She’d never seen the draw of the place, noisy and crowded, with no comfort and nothing to do. Her contempt for the whole area was not ameliorated by either her current companion or her aching feet, still trapped in the wedges she’d worn to work. If she had to be in the city in summer, it’d be for some shopping and lunch at a cosy cafe, not for bustling crowds and chasing after an over-caffeinated ferret of a man.
The moment they’d entered the square proper, she stopped and waited for the Doctor to realise she wasn’t keeping up and circle back to her. “Come on,” he coaxed. “Where’re they going to be?”
“How should I know?” she demanded. “I wasn’t here for this.”
“You’ve got to know something,” he replied. “Donna must have told you what happened. Think back to when she was staying with you.”
With a frustrated sneer, Nerys crossed her arms and shrugged, shaking her head at the futility of it all. “All I know is that they fought in the square. I’ve no idea what part.” Then it occurred to her. “Wait. Donna did say they’d been to Buckingham Palace. So they had to have come from that direction.” She pointed south toward the Mall.
“Oh, that’s brilliant, yes,” the Doctor crooned, nodding to encourage her.
“That’s all I know. They got here and argued, and Donna came to my flat directly. So she would have gone to Charing Cross.” She glanced around to get her bearings, then pointed east toward the river. “Or maybe Leicester Square, if they’d got past the gallery.”
The Doctor nodded as he assessed possible routes toward both Tube stations. “So we have arrival and departure. But what about in-between? We don’t know how long they were here, or if they went somewhere else and came back.” He looked around. “What about the gallery itself?”
Nerys snorted. “Donna in an art museum? Seriously?”
“I suppose not.”
“Them coming here at all is unusual.” She thumbed over her shoulder. “More like they were passing through on their way to Soho.”
“Oh, that’s good. That gives us a probable path: the zebra crossing here, past Nelson on the left, between the fountains, then up toward St. Martin’s.” He pointed out the path as he talked. “Okay. They’re not likely to see you in this crowd, but let’s get you out of the way anyway. What about behind that fountain there? Place for you to sit, and it’ll be hard for them to spot you.”
“I won’t see much of anything either,” she pointed out.
“The spying’s my job, since they won’t know me from Adam.”
She licked her lips then hooked her hand on the strap of her handbag to pull it closer. “Then if it’s all the same to you, there’s a pub just up over there. That’s where I’ll be.”
“You don’t want to see the argument?”
“Hunger’s my thing. You kidnapped me from my dinner.”
“Oh!” the Doctor exclaimed. “I didn’t realise. I’m sorry.”
“Somehow I doubt it.” Without another word, she turned and stalked off.
A fond smile brightening his eyes, the Doctor watched her retreat until she was lost in the crowd, then turned and took a good look at Trafalgar Square. Given Nerys’ information, Donna and her husband were likely to enter from the direction of St. James’ Park and cross diagonally toward St.-Martin’s-in-the-Field to head toward Soho. From what he understood, the bulk of the argument had occurred within the square, so he truly had nothing else to do but wait and watch for their approach.
As he took stock of the area, he realised that with the sheer number of people moving through the square, he’d have to keep a sharp lookout for his quarry. Even attempting to stand in one place was near impossible, as a large tour group, led by a harried-looking woman carrying a small megaphone and a colourful stuffed octopus mounted high up on a staff, oozed past him, pushing him back against the bollard behind him. Moving with currents of the crowd to patrol the southern edge of the square seemed the best plan, and he hoped that Donna’s striking copper hair would serve as an adequate beacon.
To Nerys’ credit of remembering events years in the past for her, Donna appeared on the traffic island south of the square, her arm hooked on her companion’s elbow, about twenty minutes into the Doctor’s vigil. The Doctor took the opportunity to appraise the man who had become Donna’s husband. Sam was about as different from himself as a human could get. A handful of centimetres taller than Donna, he was stocky and strong, exactly the build that Donna had so often professed to like as she derided the long streak of alien nothing. His bespoke jacket over a crisp silk shirt and closely cropped blond hair matched his shrewd, serious countenance. His eyes, however, were only for the woman on his arm.
The changes in Donna were starkly apparent as she stood with her husband, and the Doctor wondered how he hadn’t noticed them earlier, when he’d seen her with her daughter in Chiswick. Her blouse-and-trousers ensemble were practical for touring and shopping, much like the clothing she would select for visiting alien planets, but these were of higher quality and conservative style. This Donna eschewed the large, sometimes gaudy fashion jewelry that the Doctor’s Donna favoured, instead wearing smaller, elegant pieces that the Doctor identified as made of genuine gold and gemstones.
The couple were earnestly discussing something, and though Donna was as animated and ebullient as ever, the Doctor could not hear them over the crowd and the traffic, so strode to the edge of the pavement to better hear them as they crossed.
“‘Course I want to go there!” she was saying. She hugged Sam’s arm. “You always remember my favourite, don’t you? But we’re just going to look. Not buying anything.”
Sam peered at her, his eyebrows knitted with worry. “You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
“Well yeah. You’ve seen, Mum’s been over every day this week to help with Sarah when I’m at school, and she always stays to help you when you get home so I can study.” She paused for a moment as they gained the pavement and stepped past the man in the brown duster standing near the crossing light, who watched them out of the corner of his eye. “And now, today all day so we could come out. She’s practically living with us! She needs her own space. It wouldn’t take much to convert your office. A bed and maybe a telly, so she has some place to relax and she doesn’t feel like she has to rush home.”
“That’s my office, Donna,” he grumped.
“Just be for a year, ‘til I graduate. And it’s not like you won’t be able to use it as well.”
The Doctor sauntered behind them, staying close enough to hear them, but keeping enough of a distance to not seem suspicious.
“Well, I don’t like losing my office, but we’ll talk about it.” Sam stopped suddenly and pulled Donna to him, and the Doctor kept walking, strolling past them to gaze at one of Nelson’s lions. “But you’ve got to stop thinking about that and enjoy yourself today! You’ve been working too hard, and that’s why we’re here, to give you a break from everything. You’re getting something at Grace’s.”
Those were the last clear words the Doctor heard. When he realised he had lost their conversation in the general noise, he turned to find them again and saw over the head of the woman who had come up behind him that they were passing between the fountains as he’d predicted. However, instead of heading east toward the church, they turned north, toward the steps that led to the plaza in front of the National Gallery. Donna walked next to her husband, no longer clinging to his arm.
“Pardon me,” the Doctor mumbled to the woman and, sidestepping her, jogged after them, finally getting within hearing distance when they started climbing the steps.
Sam threw up his hands in frustration. “All right, then, how about a new dress? I know you’ve wanted one for Reesa Simmons’ engagement party.”
“I’m not going to the party,” Donna stated plainly.
“What? Why not?”
“Got exams the next day early. Reesa doesn’t want me there anyway. She hates being reminded that I got you.” Catching his arm, she pulled him close and pecked him on the cheek. “Besides, I’d rather use that money for that bed.”
Sam laughed, more in exasperation than for humour. “Donna, love, we can afford both, and we can especially afford to get you a treat.”
“Oh, look! Chalk art!” she exclaimed, detaching herself from her husband’s arm and trotting off to view the work of one of the artists drawing on the pavement. Sam rolled his eyes at her transparent attempt to escape a discussion she didn’t want to have, then shook his head and trotted after her.
The Doctor strolled leisurely behind them and sidled up next to Donna, pretending to be entranced by watching the artist work.
“Oh, that’s simply gorgeous? Don’t you think, Sam?” Donna gushed as she gazed at the picture.
“Beautiful,” he agreed, though he was barely interested.
The artist smiled up at Donna. “Thank you, ma’am.”
Fishing a couple of coins from her pocket, Donna dropped them in the tip jar, then began fiddling with her phone. “May I?” she asked, indicating her intention to snap a photo with a thrust of her chin. The artist nodded her assent and Donna began walking around the artwork to find a good angle. Once she got her photos, she rejoined Sam and stood back with him to watch.
“If setting up that room is that important to you, Donna, then let’s do it,” Sam pronounced.
“It really is,” she confirmed with a relieved smile. “Mum’s been such a help, and it pays to stay on her good side. Now that she’s finally off my back, what with getting married and going to school, I’d like to keep it that way.”
“I bet you would,” said Sam, laughing. “I can share my office to help keep the peace.”
“As I said, it’ll only be for a year.” Donna stared down at the artwork and sniffed sadly. “I’ve been a horrible mum to Sarah, letting Mum have the rearing of her whilst I’m at school. I keep telling myself, just one more year and it’ll be done and I can be a real mum to my little girl.”
“How do you figure that?” asked Sam. “You’d have your evenings back, I’d say, but we’d still need your mum during the day. Or we could get a nanny.”
“I’m not leaving the raising of my daughter to anyone else,” Donna declared, “even my mum.”
“You’ll have to when you’re working full-time.”
“I said, I’m not leaving my daughter to someone else.” The artist looked at her, eyes wide with apprehension of the argument brewing in front of her. Her audience, including the Doctor, joined her, concerned. Donna noticed the eyes on her and hissed a curt, “Come on!” to Sam. The couple strode off to a respectable distance and leant in close to exchange words without noticing the man in the brown coat sauntering just a tad closer.
“I’ve been putting you through school all this time for what?” Sam demanded. “Just so you have a pretty certificate to hang on the wall of the nursery?”
“‘Course not!” protested Donna. “I’ve been working hard for this, so that I could have what you called ‘a respectable job’.”
“Oh, don’t put this on me. You’re the one who asked to go back to school, and I’ve done nothing but encourage you to pursue what you want. And now you want to throw all that time and money away and stay at home.”
“This is our daughter we’re talking about here!”
“I’m talking about our marriage. Our partnership!”
Donna stormed off and Sam strode after her. The Doctor took a step to follow and faltered as a wave of vertigo washed over him and he stumbled, clenching his fists to force the dizziness out and keep himself conscious and alert. The world receded as his vision greyed, and he swayed on his feet. Then, everything snapped back into place.
Still disorientated, he gazed around, looking for the familiar flash of bright red hair but finding only the bobbing octopus of the tour guide as her group milled around him. He took a gulp of fresh air and looked again and spotted the couple, down the steps and heading back the way they had come; his vertigo must have lasted longer than he had thought. Donna snarled at her husband, her face twisted with resentment and they paused to snipe at each other again. Her hand twitched, ready to lash out to catch Sam with a sharp palm to the cheek, but she thought better of it and launched into another tirade, getting up close into his face. The Doctor tried to extricate himself from the crowd, pushing between tourists gazing up at the exhibition signs plastered across the entrance to the National Gallery or out over Nelson’s domain, but by the time he pulled himself free, Donna and Sam had marched off and were nowhere to be seen.