Monday, January 30, 2012

The Still Hour Is Come

Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: Ten, Donna
Rating: PG (warnings for angst and the loss of children)
Genre: Angst, hurt/comfort, introspection
Length: Oneshot, 1800 words
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the BBC, not to me.
Note: The title and one line in the story are from "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London," by Dylan Thomas. Spoilers for "The Doctor's Daughter" and "Forest of the Dead."

Donna finds the Doctor in the TARDIS library, seated on the leather sofa, staring off into space. They'd dropped Martha off on Earth, and headed back into the Vortex, and then he'd silently left the console room. She imagines he wants to be alone, but she doesn't think solitude is what he really needs right now. So she sits down next to him.

He doesn't turn his head, doesn't say hello, doesn't acknowledge her presence in any way.

"You all right?" she says.

He glances at her, and tries to smile, without much success. "Oh, yeah," he says. "I'm all right. I'm always--"

"Don't," she says sharply.

He blinks at her.

"You're not all right. Stop saying you're always all right."

He bristles slightly, and lifts one eyebrow, a lordly alien looking down on a small and inferior human.

"You did ask," he says coolly.

"Yeah, and it was a stupid thing to ask. Of course you're not all right." She notices that his hands are knotted into fists, resting on his thighs. Unintimidated by his chilliness, she reaches out and puts her hand on one of his. It remains fisted, so hard the knuckles are white. The rest of him, she realises, is just as tense.

"I'm fine," he says. He turns his head away, staring blankly at nothing.

"Oh, you are not." She watches him. His face is expressionless, and he's dry-eyed, but she feels tears burning her own eyes. She knows so little about him, but on Messaline, in just a few terse sentences, he'd told her so much. Once upon a time, he'd had children, children he misses so fiercely he can hardly bear to mention them.

When I look at her now, I see them. The hole they left, all the pain that filled it.

And now the loss of Jenny is yet another hole, filled with pain and grief and heartbreak. In a way, she's sorry she encouraged him to think of Jenny as his daughter, because now the girl is only another loss for him to mourn. One more loss, piled upon so many others.

And yet... well, how could she have done anything else? Jenny had been part of him. And he'd needed her, he really had.

She knows he's not just grieving for Jenny, but for all the children he's lost. How many? She has no idea. Strange, to think of him as a father. Somehow she'd imagined he'd always been footloose and fancy free. She'd never guessed that somewhere in his long life, he'd stayed on a planet long enough to raise children.

She can't imagine having children, and then losing them. Tremendous joy, and then terrible anguish. She can't imagine the pain he must be going through.

"Jenny was lovely," she says at last. "A wonderful girl."

His expressionless mask slips, very slightly, and he blinks. "Yes," he says hoarsely. "She was."

Jenny had been wonderful. No surprise there, as she'd been genetically all Doctor. He's pretty wonderful too-- not that she'll ever tell him that. But Jenny had been full of life and intelligence, sparkling with it, lighting up any room she was in, and lighting up the Doctor, too. Donna can still clearly see his delighted smile when he hugged his daughter and told her she was brilliant.

And now she's gone, and there's a still, quiet void in her place.

Donna remembers her own voice: She'll help you. We both will.

She thinks unhappily that Jenny would have done him so much good. A family member to care for. His own flesh and blood. She knows he's terribly lonely, though he never says so. She can feel how much he misses his own people. Jenny could have helped fill those holes inside him with joy instead of pain. She could have.

But now she's just become another loss for the Doctor. And the only person he has left to comfort him is Donna. She promised to help him cope, and so she will. But she's unhappily aware that she is woefully inadequate to the task. She's not family, not a lover, not even one of his own people. Only a friend.

A line she heard once at a funeral rises in her mind: After the first death, there is no other. It's true for the dead, she thinks, but what about the living? What about the people who survive the deaths of their loved ones? They have to deal with death over and over again.

The Doctor has lived long enough to suffer loss upon loss upon loss. She can't imagine how that feels, not really. She's already lost her father and her grandmother, and if she lives to a reasonable old age, she knows she'll lose still more people she loves.

But to lose all of one's children-- one's loves-- one's entire species--

It's beyond her comprehension. No wonder his eyes look so ancient and sorrowful sometimes. The wonder, she thinks, is that he can smile at all.

He's still sitting there, stiff and blank and tight-lipped, and she can't stand it any more. She just can't. She slips toward him on the sofa, pressing against his side, and wraps her arms around him in a fierce hug.

A shiver runs through him, but he doesn't turn toward her, doesn't respond, doesn't hug her back.

"Donna," he says, with only the slightest tremor in his voice. "I'm perfectly fine."

Idiot man, she thinks, not without affection. He might be an alien, but he's much like a human male this way. Determined to pretend everything's okay, that he's too tough to break, that he can cope with his sorrows all on his own. Determined to tell himself he doesn't need anyone to help him through this.

But she knows he does.

She leans her head on his shoulder, and presses closer. He's still rigid, all closed in on himself. It's rather like hugging a stone, but she knows he needs comforting, no matter what he wants to believe.

She remembers his voice: When they died, that part of me died with them. It'll never come back. Not now.

She thinks of another piece of his soul dying, deep inside him, and her heart aches for him. She wants to somehow magically comfort him, to take all his sorrows away, but this is all she has to offer. There's nothing else she can do for him. She sits there, her arms around him, holding him tightly, her head on his shoulder. For long moments, he doesn't move.

And then, slowly, he shifts, turning toward her. His arms come up and wrap around her waist, and he lowers his head, pressing his face into her shoulder. She lifts a hand, stroking his hair, and he shudders, and makes a small sound of pain and grief.

She holds him while he mourns.


Donna is curled up in a big wing chair in the TARDIS library, her arms wrapped around her legs, her face pressed into her knees, when the Doctor pokes his head in. "All right there?" he asks.

"I'm fine," she says, without looking at him.

There's a pause, and then the sound of his Converse-shod feet stepping nearer.

"No, you're not," he says. "I shouldn't have even asked. It was a stupid question. Of course you're not all right."

"I'm fine." She sighs against her knees, trying not to remember her time in the Library computer, and failing miserably. "None of it was real, Doctor."

His footsteps come closer. She doesn't open her eyes, but she is nonetheless aware that he's kneeling next to her chair. His hand drops gently onto her shoulder.

"It felt real, though," he says gently. "Didn't it?"

It had felt terribly real. Despite the strange way time had leapt and tumbled and hiccuped, it had seemed utterly real. When she closes her eyes, she still sees her happy life, and the bright, beautiful faces of her children.

Except they hadn't been children at all.

She remembers Miss Evangelista's voice: Your children were never alive. They're not real.

She knows it's true, that they were only computer programs, electronic data. Illusions. But she remembers tucking them in, kissing them goodnight, telling them stories...

She curls up a little more tightly in the chair, clinging to her memories, the memories she can't bear to let go. The Doctor's hand is on her shoulder, but she can barely feel it. She's back in her cosy little house, with her family, holding two warm, small bodies, kissing soft rosy cheeks good night...

"I'm sorry," he says, stroking her hair. "So sorry, Donna."

"It wasn't real," she whispers. "It was never real."

She tries to push her sorrow away, because she is guiltily aware that her grief can't compare to his. He lost a real, flesh-and-blood daughter, and before that, he lost real children and real loves and real people. It isn't the same thing, it really isn't, and she has no right to weep for the minor losses she's suffered when he's gone through so much worse.

"It was real to you," he answers. "And that's all that matters."

She thinks of her children. Joshua and Ella. So beautiful, so sweet, so brilliant. They were never real, and in a way, that makes their loss that much more tragic, because she has nothing real to recall, no little curls of baby hair to look at and cry over, no photos of birthday parties and family vacations to make her smile, no tiny booties carefully packed away in a trunk in an attic somewhere. All she has to hang onto is the feeling of being their mother, the way they felt in her arms, the happy sound of their laughter.

And now they're gone, all gone, and she can never see them again except in her dreams.

It's so quiet here without them, so empty. So still.

She remembers the Doctor's voice: The hole they left, all the pain that filled it. She understands now, more than she ever wanted to. The Doctor is right. Joshua and Ella were real to her, and so the grief she feels is real too. Just as real as the Doctor's sorrow at losing his daughter. It's different, and yet... it's the same.

In a strange way, her loss is just as real as his. There's a hole inside her, filled with nothing but pain.

His hand brushes through her hair, very gently, and she knows that the Doctor understands. He doesn't think her losses are insignificant or irrelevant or less important than his own. He understands what she's going through, as no one else could.

When they died, that part of me died with them.

Oh, yes, she thinks. He understands.

Despite her best intentions, a choked sob escapes her. The Doctor puts his arms around her, the same way she put her arms around him when he lost Jenny, and gently pulls her off the chair, into his lap.

She buries her face in his chest, and lets herself mourn.

-The End-


Sarah said...

My eyes are just brimming with tears. What an excellent piece of writing. The loss of children can be so devastating to the parents.

EllyF said...

Thank you very much. I'm sorry to have made you cry, but only so sorry, since this one was meant to be a tearjerker. I'm glad it affected you, anyway.