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Title: It Started With a Mask
Author: [livejournal.com profile] eljay_earthgirl 
Rating: PG
Characters: Tenth Doctor/Donna
Warnings: None
Disclaimer: Belongs to BBC
Words: Right under 9k
Summary: The Doctor has a surprise for Donna, but we all know a masked ball changes everything.
A/N: Slipping right under the deadline here, but this is a birthday present for the ever-lovely [livejournal.com profile] sykira that once upon a time was an attempt to use every single challenge from [livejournal.com profile] doctor_donna and is now only... -checks calendar- ...two years late in the making? Ahem, yes, I am that kind of procrastinator. 


Donna, the Doctor found, for all her bellowing, did a rather poor job of saying exactly what she wanted. Take the thin, white porcelain half-mask she held in her hands. He had seen that look on her face enough times to know she was completely enamored by its design and would gladly claim it as her own, but you would never know with the way she was going on about it. He grinned inwardly; all his covert Donna-watching skills were finally paying off. As she set the mask down, the Doctor made a note to come back and pick it up. Perhaps he could use it as an apology for the next fouled-up trip. As much as he protested otherwise, the Doctor knew that things were more likely then not to go wrong on one of his trips; he really wasn’t that dense.

----

Later, when they split in the hallway and Donna headed towards her room, he looped back around to the wardrobe and picked up the mask. He spun it in his hands a few times, admiring the delicate swirls painted near the edges. Turning to leave, the sound of the door opening made him freeze. Diving into a rack of coats, he narrowly avoided Donna as she made her way to the back of the room. Apparently she had the same idea: come back and snag the mask when the other wasn’t looking. Waiting for her to pass, he made a quick getaway when she began searching the cluttered shelf. Pocketing the mask, he smiled at the thought of finally having a present he knew Donna would like.

----

As he flopped into his chair some weeks later, he had to wonder if the mask was enough to make up for the last few days. Ugh, where to start? First it had been the less-than-perfect trip to the beach, where after 30 minutes of sun and sand he had found out the hard way why no one visited the costal regions during that particular time of year. A little warning about the flash blizzards would have been nice. The resulting trip to the theatre to try and make up for the beach had ended just as well in his opinion. He and Donna had only stuck around long enough to see the opening acts of “Fleurindor ‘s Flexible Addiction” before deciding that seeing how many ways double jointed species could bend themselves was not conductive to digestion. Their latest escapade with the Reislingan New Year had left him with a distinct feeling of being punched in the gut. The memory of openly insulting Donna in front of the royal court still cut as sharply as it did the first time. No matter that Donna would have been killed if he hadn’t looked like the dominant figure of the relationship, she hadn’t even given him time to explain back at the TARDIS before slapping him. He rubbed his sore cheek as he looked at the mask, remembering the beginnings of tears he saw in Donna’s eyes as she stormed off. No, this was going to take more than one gift to fix.

----

Some deliberating and a very long explanation to Donna later, he thought he had a solution. Or at least the start of one.
The lone mask now had corresponding dresses in blue, green, and yellow. He knew that those were safe colors, colors that would go well with Donna’s hair and complexion. Each dress, or should he say gown, was a different style, ranging from halter-top to strapless. The TARDIS assured him that Donna would like the choices, but he still worried. Clothing was an unspoken off-limit gift. Donna never pressured him to wear anything other than his suits and he never assumed the right to guess at her size. Gently straightening one of the gowns, he hoped that the TARDIS had gotten Donna’s measurements correctly, or else he was never going to make amends. Well, he had a dress and a mask. Now all he needed was a venue.

----

Checking that Donna was still sleeping peacefully in her bed, he crept down to the console room and brought the monitor online. Ok, he needed someplace quiet, relatively small, with a masque or ball. Typing in the search parameters, he was dismayed as over 300 results came on screen. Altering the search, he deferred to Donna’s preference of warmth and removed all fall and winter events. The search was narrowed to 143 results.

Better.

Taking into consideration Donna’s hair color pushed the results to 72. Another line for non-joined couples rounded it to an even 50. His final modification for planets that openly accepted otherworlders left him with 6 choices.

This he could pick from.

Ålœr? No, they were all redheaded. And despite Donna’s protests to the contrary, the Doctor knew she enjoyed being the only ginger around.

Grumgli? No. Too many tentacles. Just, no.

Hepsilæn, Slispen, and Devlia? Too tall, too short, and too thin.

His last choice. He hoped it was a good one.

Mesperin.

Oh, that was perfect. Small, quiet, open to outsiders, humanoid, with no ill will to singles or those with hair of the incarnadine variety. Now if he could just sneak them onto the guest list…

“Is this what you do when I sleep?”

He jumped with a yelp, clumsily trying to shut down the monitor before Donna saw it. Whirling around, he positioned himself in front of the screen and smiled nervously.

“Do what? Get on the monitor? I do that all the time! Yup, that’s me, always on the computer doing something! Should you be up? Isn’t it awfully late? I think even I’m a little tired! Which is strange, cause I don’t have to sleep! Don’t you think that’s strange, Donna?”

Donna stood in the doorway, arms crossed over her dressing robe. She shot him an incredulous look and continued to the kitchen, muttering about crazy spacemen, lack of sleep draining sanity slowly, and denial not just being a river in Egypt.

He waited until he could hear her settle in the kitchen before turning back to the screen. A few adjustments to the Mesperin systems and they were officially invited to the Mesperin Spring Ball and Banquet. As he straightened, a small light in the wall flashed. Walking over, he picked up two thin, cream-colored envelopes, one addressed to “The Doctor”, the other to “Donna Noble”.

Yes, this would do nicely.

Pocketing the invitations with a smile, he headed to the back stairs that led to his personal wardrobe. He was glad that Donna hadn’t found out about this particular room, it was his little secret. He thought kept Donna on her toes, wondering if he washed and pressed his two suits over and over again or just had a room full of duplicates. Laughing as he took the stairs two at a time, the Doctor went to look for his (hopefully not-so) unlucky tuxedo.

----

Mask? Check.

Dress? Check in triplicate.

Venue? Check.

Invitations that didn’t include the physic paper? Check.

Tuxedo? Check.

He had even found a matching mask for him to wear. He just didn’t have Donna’s acceptance. Of course, if he would stop being such a baby and ask her he might have that too. It was just… Where Donna was concerned the Doctor could be many things – envious, protective, caring, reckless, giddy – but brave was something he had yet to manage. Bravery was not in any means a difficult thing for him, but being stared down by an angry Donna was enough to have him running for the hills. He hoped this complication wouldn’t ruin the whole plan. Sighing, he watched her putter around the kitchen, cleaning up their lunch of turkey sandwiches. Well, now was as good a time as any.

“Donna?”

“What?”

The Doctor cringed. Oh yeah, she was still angry with him. Best to tread lightly then.

“You got something in the post.”

That got her attention. She turned, leaning against the counter. At her raised eyebrow, he produced the invitation from his pocket, holding it out to her. She eyed him carefully, taking the envelope and sitting down to open it. As she read the Doctor tugged at his collar impatiently, nervous energy boiling inside him, producing a feeling of claustrophobia as he bounced a little on the balls of his feet.

She glanced up at him and rolled her eyes, “Calm down Timeboy. Not all of us can read as fast as you.”

He chuckled lightly, if only it were as simple as reading speed. Still on edge, he waited as she slowly perused the rest of the paper.

She looked up at him suddenly, “Is this real?”

“What?” he spluttered. Of all the things…

“Of course it’s real,” he exclaimed, producing his own invitation, “Even I got one! Honestly Donna, do you think I would set you up like that? I mean…”

He trailed off as he caught her eyes, the gleaming smirk in them tipping him off to being played. As his mind flashed back to other memories of being baited by Donna, he wondered why he still fell for it every time.

“So what’s the uniform for this thing? Cocktail or formal?”

He smiled, “You leave the clothing to me. Your job, Miss Noble, is to decide when we’re going to the ball.”

Donna paused for a moment, “Tonight, I suppose. I feel up for some running.”

“Donna, there won’t be-“

“Don’t say it. You know there will be. Always is. Now, how exactly are you taking care of my outfit? Last time I checked, Spaceman, you didn’t know my size.”

“And I still don’t,” he stuttered out quickly, “The TARDIS calculated it, only thing I did was pick the style and color of the dresses. She did the rest.”

Donna looked at him sharply, “Dresses? As in more than one?”

The Doctor scratched the back of his head, “Well, yeah. I didn’t know what style you liked, or what color you wanted to wear, so I picked 3 styles and 3 colors. You get to choose. Mix and match as it were.”

Donna blinked owlishly, “You really thought this out, didn’t you?”

The Doctor blushed and looked at somewhere, anywhere else but Donna.

“TARDIS helped,” he muttered, picking imaginary lent off his jacket.

He looked up as Donna pushed away from the table with a smile and stood, taking his hand in hers.

“Well, let’s take a look at those dresses, hmm? Wouldn’t want to disappoint the TARDIS.”

The Doctor’s hearts jumped as he turned to face Donna. The presence of her hand in his felt wonderful after being denied the simple privilege of touching. He stared at their hands, squeezing Donna’s slightly to check it was actually there. The responding squeeze made him look up, hoping he hadn’t overstepped his limits again. The soft smile gracing Donna’s face told him he was forgiven. Mostly. There was always room for improvement.

----

“Blimey, has this been here the whole time?”

The Doctor chuckled as Donna took in the room-turned-salon, “No. I had the TARDIS set it up. It’s part of the surprise.”

“Oughta let you surprise me more often if this is what I get,” muttered Donna.

“I take it you like it?”

“Bloody love it. You know, I was just saying the other day…”

As Donna trailed off, the Doctor furrowed his brow in concern, “Donna? What’s-?”

She whirled on him suddenly, eyes blazing, “How exactly did you figure out what to put in this room?”

The Doctor began to back away slowly, Donna matching him step for step, “I didn’t! I just told the TARDIS you needed something like a salon! She said she’d take care of it! Isn’t that right?”

The responding whale song made him freeze in shock as he went very pale.

“YOU WHAT?! Have you got a break in your vortex manipulator?! Do you want me dead?! I can’t even believe…”

Donna stopped, her face morphing to concern, “Doctor, what’s wrong?”

The Doctor shook his head weakly, “The TARDIS apparently did some… eavesdropping while you were writing in your diary. That’s how she was able to design the room. If it’s any consolation, she says the diary is still locked up in your room and no one has touched it.”

The Doctor didn’t like the resulting silence; a silent Donna was a dangerous Donna.

Fortunately for him, she merely rolled her eyes and patted the wall, “Should’ve figured you’d help him. I knew he couldn’t get the room this nice.”

The TARDIS hummed in approval as Donna looked over the newly made salon. From what the Doctor could see, it had every available amenity. Donna gently ran her hands over the various hair dryers and straighteners as she peered into boxes of bobby pins and clips.

“The pins and clips will refill themselves,” the Doctor pointed out, “As will the various hair products.”

Donna hummed in reply, examining bottles of hair mousse and detangler.

“As great as this is Spaceman,” she started, turning to face him, “Am I going to have to do my own hair, or did you think of that too?”

The Doctor smiled and pulled out a small cube of metal from his jacket. He lifted it up and attached it to his temple, making sure it didn’t fall off. Motioning for Donna to sit in the chair, he moved to stand next to her, making sure he was visible in the mirror.

“I want you to watch me for a while. I’m not going to move, but in a moment you should feel pressure on your shoulder, like someone put their hand there.”

Donna nodded, and after a moment jumped slightly.

“What was that?” she asked, holding her shoulder as if to brush off the sensation.

“It’s a little trick the TARDIS and I put together,” explained the Doctor, pointing to the cube, “You know how I said I’m imprinted on the TARDIS’s bio-nebulizer?”

Donna shook her head, “And I said I had no idea what you meant by that? Yeah, go on.”

“Well,” smiled the Doctor, “We’ve sort of figured out a way for the TARDIS to move around.”

Donna stared at him blankly, “Still confused, Spaceman.”

The Doctor thought for a moment, “You know that the TARDIS can move rooms around, even move us inside them. But she’s never once moved you around, has she?”

Donna tilted her head, “Well, no. But she can’t. Right?”

The Doctor nodded, “Right. She can only move things that are non-autonomous, things that wouldn’t move on their own. That includes not being able to directly move you or I around. But with this… um… we’ll just call it cube for lack of a better word, and taking advantage of some neurobiological chemistry, she can use me as a conductor/template and move you around.”

Donna pinched the bridge of her nose, “And how does this go into fixing my hair?”

The Doctor gestured at the mirror, “Take a look.”

Donna looked up, and gasped as a portion of her hair was lifted and twisted around in mid-air.

“Is that…?”

“That’s the TARDIS. She’s going to be your personal stylist for tonight. And in the future should you need her.”

The room suddenly went quiet, and the Doctor busied himself with arranging the clips boxes on the counter.

“Why?”

The question was so abrupt in the silence of the room that it nearly startled the Doctor.

“Why what?” he asked, twirling a bobby pin in his hand.

Donna gestured to the room, “Why all of this? Why now? Why me?”

As he looked at her, the defiant tilt to Donna’s chin told the Doctor his answer would have to be honest. Of all his companions, only Donna had the ability to see through any lie he told her, and he knew she would be hurt if he lied now.

“Do I need a reason to surprise you?” he joked, smiling at her softly, “Does there need to be a purpose to all of this?”

Her glare made him chuckle and clear his throat.

“You’re… well… Look, Donna, you’re one of the most important people in my life. You’re my best mate. But you’re hundreds of light years away from home, stuck in a temperamental spaceship piloted by a 900 year-old Time Lord with a knack for getting into life or death situations. For all of it, you never ask for anything. If nothing else, you give more than you get. I know it’s not easy running for your life all the time and I know the last few trips have been awful. I just wished for one night, one trip, when you didn’t have to run, break out of jail, or worry about anyone else. As crazy as it sounds, I do pay attention to you, Donna. I’m not completely oblivious.”

He quickly broke off eye contact before things could get awkward and gestured to the closet, “The gowns are hanging in there. If you don’t like your choices, the TARDIS will help you find something you like. I’m going to go get ready. Meet you by the console.”

Crossing the room, he exited and closed the door before Donna could respond. As he walked to his room, he thought about his little speech.

What in the world am I doing? And where in the name of Rassilon did that confession come from?

Shaking his head to try and clear his mind, he focused on getting changed for the ball.

----

Since he hadn’t given Donna a set time to be ready by, the Doctor busied himself with tinkering in the console room after changing into his tuxedo. The TARDIS was strangely quiet in his head, and he wondered if she had something up her proverbial sleeve.

Checking the invitation, he set in the coordinates and began the process of piloting them to their destination. With only a few jolts and near misses, the TARDIS landed with a slight thump. The Doctor dusted off his hands, happy at the decently calm flight. He ran to the door and took a peek outside to verify his landing coordinates. Satisfied with their location, he closed the door and ambled back over to the console.

With a glance to the clock, he finished donning his black tie and sat down on the jump seat. He suddenly remembered the masks, and spent a few moments frantically patting down his pockets before finding the pair safely secured inside his jacket. Before he could sigh in relief, the rustle of skirts drew his attention. As his face split into a grin, he turned to find Donna standing in the darkened doorway. The lack of lighting made it impossible to see little more than a vague outline, and he stepped forward to try and get a better view.

“Wait. Don’t you want to guess what dress I have on?”

He laughed and nodded, “Alright. Do I get any hints?”

“No,” replied Donna, shifting slightly.

The Doctor moved into an overdramatic thinking pose, humming slightly as he tapped his finger on his chin.

“Let’s see,” he drawled, “Is it… the green halter top?”

Donna chuckled, “No.”

One down.

He leaned in, “Well, is it the yellow spaghetti strap?”

Donna giggled, “Good on you for knowing what the dress is called, but no. Not the yellow one.”

The Doctor paused. Surely she couldn’t…

“Donna,” he started, “Are you wearing one of the gowns I picked?”

“Yes,” Donna drawled.

The Doctor’s eyes widened, “Donna, you’re not really-“

At that moment the TARDIS hit the lights, flooding the doorway and illuminating Donna in all her resplendent glory. The Doctor’s breath hitched as he took her in, his hearts beating wildly in his chest.

The last gown, the blue one, had been chosen on a whimsical impulse. He had been immediately hooked by the swirling design of silver thread covering most of the skirt and bodice, echoing the finely painted silver spirals on Donna’s mask. The material was a lush satin, soft and airy to the touch with a sheen that flickered and nearly sparkled in the light.

“Doctor,” said Donna, her smile faltering slightly, “Is everything all right?”

All right? Oh Rassilon, how did he explain that it was more than all right? It was… it was… god, he didn’t even have a word for it.

“Donna,” he started softly, awe apparent in his voice, “Oh, Donna…”

Her hair was swept up, a latticework of crystal pins holding it in place. A few flyaway hairs rested gently on her cheeks, framing and softening her face. The dress was strapless, the built-in stay gliding effortlessly over her curves until lacing at the back of the bodice. The skirt was full without being overwhelming, and it rippled gracefully with every move she made.

“Doctor,” she whispered, a trace of self-consciousness creeping into her voice, “Please say something.”

The Doctor tried to think of something to say to Donna, but his thoughts would not settle. Over and over they tumbled, leaving him gaping and speechless. He moved his mouth, trying to get some word, some noise out of it, only to find himself repeating words he had helped pen, but had not thought of in centuries.

“Hail, my Lady, you who come here to this home, whichever of the blessed ones you are, Artemis or Leto or golden Aphrodite,” he whispered reverently, taking a few tentative steps toward Donna, “Or Themis of noble birth, or bright-eyed Athena. Or perhaps you are one of the Kharites, you who have come here. They are the ones who keep company with all the gods and are called immortal.”

Keeping their eyes locked, he gently took Donna’s hand and raised it to his lips with a tender kiss, “Or you are one of those Nymphs who range over beautiful groves, or one of those Nymphs who inhabit this beautiful mountain, and the fountainheads of rivers and grassy meadows.”

He lowered their hands, but kept them cradled together, “For you, on some high peak, in a spot with a view going all round, I will set up an altar, and I will perform for you beautiful sacrifices.”

As the color rose in Donna’s cheeks, the Doctor suddenly realized what exactly he had recited. Panic swept through him as the chant of ‘Just mates’ rang out in his mind. This was not supposed to be a night of declarations of intention, merely an outing between good friends. It seemed the fates would have this trip go down the drain as well. While he floundered to explain his sudden romantic streak, Donna regally raised her opposite hand and covered his.

Seeing he was still distracted, she leaned in, saying, “Anchises, most glorious of earth-born men.”

The Doctor looked up in surprise at the responsive words.

Donna smiled shyly and continued, “I am no goddess. Why do you liken me to the female immortals? No, I am a mortal. The mother that bore me was a woman.”

She paused, “Although, she has been called a demon once or twice.”

And with that the tension in the Doctor dissolved. Spilling over with laughter, he swept Donna up in a hug, twirling her around for good measure. When he set her back down, slightly winded, she laughed as he grinned at her.

“I wouldn’t have pegged you for a Homeric,” he quipped, rocking back on his heels.

“Well, I didn’t think you were the type to quote for effect,” she retorted, smirking at his flustered face.

“Well I… I helped him write it.”

Donna scoffed, “You did not help Homer write his hymn to Aphrodite!”

The Doctor smiled uneasily, “Well… not all of it. Just a few places here and there. The part I just recited in particular.”

At Donna’s shocked face he waved his hand, “It was late and we were drunk. Trust me, we never thought anyone would read it.”

Not wanting another awkward moment, he offered his hand to Donna, “Would you like to see the next part of your surprise?”

Donna smiled and took his hand. Leading her smoothly across the room, he stopped them in front of the door.

“Close your eyes,” he commanded softly.

When Donna’s eyes had slipped shut, he pulled the masks from his jacket and held them out loosely.

“You can look now.”

The smile that graced Donna’s face as she fluttered open her eyes was worth every trouble he had run into trying to get tonight put together. She reached out and took her mask, running a finger over its regal curves.

“How did you know?” she asked, glancing up at the Doctor.

“I told you Donna,” he replied with a small smile, “I pay attention. Now, this ensemble would be incomplete without your mask. May I do the honors?”

He held his hand out, asking permission, and she nodded and handed over the mask. Circling her, the Doctor carefully placed it on her face and pulled the silk ribbons around her head. Tying them off, he placed a hand on Donna’s shoulder and turned her.

The pristine mask off set the colors of Donna’s eyes, making them smoulder behind the eyelets. The bronze fire of her hair and the faint hint of lipstick glossed over her lips coupled with the smooth porcelain to make a wonderful contrast of textures and colors.

“Bellissima,” the Doctor offered with a smile, affixing his own mask firmly over his eyes.

Reaching out and opening the door with a flourish, he gently guided Donna outside. He watched as she took in the forest around them, the pathway leading from the TARDIS lined with glowing spheres. Walking over, Donna reached out to examine one.

“They’re like lightning bugs,” the Doctor explained quietly, “The Mesperians line the pathways with the succulents and perennials they favour to attract them. They stay here all night.”

Donna giggled as one of the creatures flittered around her, making loop-de-loops before dropping back to the flower-draped tree. She turned and reached for the Doctor’s arm, wrapping it around her own and leading them down the pathway. As they neared the larger road at the end of the pathway, the Doctor paused and took one last look at the TARDIS, snapping his fingers to close the doors. As he turned back to Donna, the sound of hoof beats approached them. Out of the dusky night a carriage glided to a stop in front of them, drawn by two Clydesdale-esque creatures and driven by a local youth.

“The Doctor and Miss Noble, Ambassadors of Earth?” he asked quietly, bringing the carriage to a gentle stop.

“Yes,” answered the Doctor, helping Donna into her seat, “Are we late?”

“No sir,” he replied, waiting until the Doctor was comfortable before taking off, “You have plenty of time before the ceremonies begin. As I headed this way they had just set up the drinks.“

“Good,” cut in Donna, “For once we’re on time!”

The young man chuckled, “Oh yes, ma’am. No way this carriage is getting lost. Kæl and Cahr are the two best mespers we have. It would take an awful lot for them to lose their way.”

The carriage drifted into silence, occasionally jostling at a rut or rock in the road. The Doctor watched as Donna took in the forest around them, smiling as she leaned forward expectantly when they came to a turn.

“Doctor, Miss Noble,” began the driver, slowing the mespers slightly, “Welcome… to Castle Aevlia.”

As his words died off, the carriage came around the turn to face the royal castle.

“Well Donna,” whispered the Doctor, “What do you think?”

Donna choked out a laugh, “I think you must have paid all the favours in the world for this. Oh Doctor, it’s so… so…”

“Magical?”

She turned to the Doctor with a shy smile, “Yeah.”

The castle was a massive swirl of white marble, illumined by hundreds of floating torches. Situated at the edge of the forest, the far side of the castle lay perched atop the natural valley of the countryside. Smiling, the driver clicked his tongue and the mespers continued down the main path, pulling to a stop in front of the front archway.

The Doctor leaned in, “So is this better than snow at Christmas?”

Donna grinned, “Much better.”

The Doctor grinned back and hopped down quickly. Reaching out, he helped Donna out of the carriage and led her to the stairs. She gathered her skirts, flashing him a smile as they ascended towards the faint strains of music. Passing the first line of guards, the Doctor presented their invitations to the sharply dressed master of ceremonies. While he verified them, Donna stepped away to peer over the handrails onto the dance floor.

Dozens of couples spun in unison, following the timeless steps of a waltz. Gowns of every color sparkled throughout the ballroom, creating a kaleidoscope of light. The Doctor walked up silently, watching Donna’s eyes glow with child-like rapture behind her mask. He smiled, happy that she was enjoying the ball so far.

“We’re to be announced,” he whispered, slipping his hand into hers.

Donna turned and followed him to the top of the main staircase. As they adjusted their hands, a masked servant bounded onto a pedestal.

“Miss Donna Noble and her escort, the Doctor,” he cried.

Those not dancing turned and acknowledged the pair as they descended. A thin path appeared among the crowd, leading from the base of the stairs to a quiet corner table. Donna raised an eyebrow at the Doctor, who merely smiled and guided them through the mass of guests. As they neared the table, the Doctor spied a tray of drinks being dispersed throughout the crowd. Breaking off from Donna for a moment, he snagged two glasses and presented her with one.

“So,” Donna drawled, raising her glass to brush against her bottom lip, “Donna Noble and her escort?”

The Doctor cleared his throat, tugging at his bow tie, “Well, yes. Unmarried women are announced first, followed by their guest or guests. In the case of marriage, whoever holds the highest standing in court is first. Or if there is no standing, it defers to the couple in question. And of course if the couple is engaged, then-“

Donna darted out a hand to cover the Doctor’s mouth, “I get it Spaceman. Donna Noble and her escort.”

As her arm dropped, her attention was drawn to one of the walls.

Squinting, she gestured with her chin, “Any particular reason for the shirtless men with paddles?”

She paused and grinned slyly, “Why Doctor, what kind of ball did you bring us to?”

The Doctor’s eyes widened comically and he inhaled part of his drink. Thumping his chest in time with his coughing, he turned quickly to check Donna’s finding, only to slump in relief.

“That’s only,” he started, still hacking sporadically, “The drummers… for the opening ceremonies.”

Donna patted his back, “Had you going there for a moment, didn’t I? Well, finish your drink and let’s dance.”

“Donna,” the Doctor started uneasily, “I don’t really think…”

“Oh come on,” Donna huffed, grabbing his glass and setting it down next to hers, “If we don’t dance now, I’ll never get you out there, or knowing our luck Armageddon will start right as the band fires up. You, me, dance floor, now.”

The Doctor gave up protesting as Donna dragged him away from the table and into the fray of dancers. Upon arriving at the middle of the ballroom, she turned and waited, hands on hips. When the Doctor didn’t move after a moment, her eyes widened.

“You don’t know how to dance,” she stated, horror creeping into her voice, “You brought me to a ball and you can’t even-“

“Donna!”

The Doctor sighed and shifted uneasily, extending his hand after a while. Donna eyed him warily before placing her hand in his.

“In the Academy, we were taught how to be a picture of charm and grace,” he said softly, bowing deeply.

As he rose, Donna blushed and curtsied in return, drawing a slight smile from the Doctor.

“Amongst other things,” he started, gently pulling Donna into a proper dancing position, “That included dancing.”

As the tattoo of a waltz swelled from the band, the Doctor began moving.

It didn’t matter how many times it happened, the first look of wonder on his dancing partner’s face was always one of the best parts of the night. As he deftly twirled them around the dance floor, he noticed that Donna was superb, obviously no amateur, picking up on his lead effortlessly.

“I thought you said you didn’t dance,” Donna stated, breathless from the constant movement.

“I said I don’t like to dance,” the Doctor replied, tightening his hold as another couple swerved by, “I never said I couldn’t.”

“Why don’t you?” Donna asked quietly, suddenly shy pressed up against him.

The Doctor chuckled, “It’s a long story. Suffice to say, I don’t because I’m good at it.”

Donna snorted, “Only you could make that sound like a perfectly reasonable argument.”

“Donna,” the Doctor breathed, maneuvering them around a stumbling couple, “If I promise to explain later, will you just relax and enjoy the ball?”

Donna nodded with a smile, playfully pushing the Doctor off-balance. He caught himself, grinning as he pulled Donna into a quick spin. They continued this way, teasing each other with pushes and pulls until the band took an intermission. As they retreated back to their table, Donna caught the Doctor’s hand.

“So explain this whole dancing thing,” she said, pulling him to sit.

“I said it was a long story,” the Doctor warned, taking big swig of his drink.

Donna shot him a pointed look, “When isn’t it a long story?”

A small smile tugged at the Doctor’s lips as he leaned back in his chair. Taking another sip, he stared at the chandelier suspended above the dance floor. At the clearing of Donna’s throat, he brought his gaze back down and studied his hands.

“On Gallifrey,” he began slowly, “There were very specific regulations for dancing. When you could dance, where you could dance, what you could dance, the whole thing. However, the most important rule was who could dance.”

Smiling wryly, he continued, “My family was very close to being considered indirect royalty. According to custom and class, dancing was considered a lowly task for us to do. We were only allowed to dance at formal events.”

Picking up his glass, he spun it gently, “In the Academy you learn all kinds of dancing: tango, waltzing, foxtrot, or at least the equivalent of them. We also dabbled a bit in ballet.”

He waited for the snickers from Donna, and wasn’t disappointed.

“You took ballet?” she guffawed, shaking with suppressed laughter.

The Doctor smiled, “No. I didn’t take ballet. I studied ballet.”

At Donna’s sudden silence, the Doctor explained, “I did so well in my classes, my teacher sent me to a studio to take professional lessons. I would have Academy classes in the morning and spend my afternoons at the studio. I did quite well.”

He set his glass down, “But you see the dilemma, don’t you Donna? A high-ranking son could never be a dancer. I was expected to be a politician or a lawyer, never something as common as a ballet rat.”

Leaning back again, he chuckled, “I gave up dancing because I wanted so desperately to please my mother. Belonging to the Prydonian Chapter branded me a runner, and my response to the Untempered Schism nearly sent her into hysterics. When she found out about the dancing, she made me swear to never dance unless it was necessary. Though they may have thought otherwise, I did care for my parents. I still try to honor the promise, however silly it is now that my mother’s gone.”

Memories of the dance studio flooded his mind suddenly and gave him pause. While he struggled to wade through and contain them, Donna caught his hands with hers. He watched as she smiled gently at him, squeezing their intertwined hands. The simple move had a calming effect, and he felt the memories loosen their hold, giving him purchase to control them once again.

He smiled back at Donna, brushing a thumb over her knuckles to try and reassure her. Dropping his head, he closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on the suffusing warmth he found in Donna’s hands. It soothed him, chasing away the remnants of the difficult memories.

“Is that why you run?”

The Doctor looked up in surprise, “What?”

Donna’s eyes grew wide, apparently alarmed she had voiced the question, and she made to pull her hands away. The Doctor gently held them in place, smoothing a thumb over her knuckles again.

“What were you going to say, Donna?” he said quietly, continuing the gentle movement of his thumb.

Donna blushed, looking away slightly, “…After the wedding, when there wasn’t a reason to practice dancing with dad, I used to run. It gave me the same rush. And after he… left… it reminded me of what it was like. I just thought, maybe, you might do it too.”

She shrugged, embarrassed, “But who knows why you do things, Martian Man? Half the time you don’t make any sense.”

Silence descended at the table as the ball continued around the couple. The Doctor thought about Donna’s words and realized he had only ever been as entirely at ease running as he was dancing. 900+ years and he had never noticed, yet a few months go by and Donna could see it all. He smiled; Donna Noble never ceased to amaze him.

He rose and nodded towards the dance floor, “Do you have another dance in you, Miss Noble?”

Donna smiled slowly, nodding slightly and rising as well, “Only if it’s with you, Spaceman.”

As they wove through the crowd a second time, the rulers of Mesperin began the official ceremonies to mark the night of celebration. Upon finding sufficient space to dance, they waited as the drummers struck up a tempo to accompany the ceremonial chanting coming from the front dais. The Doctor took the small moment to glance over at Donna. He noticed her face and shoulders looked drawn, as if she was anticipating a blow. Pulling her gently towards him, he tried to meet her eyes.

“Donna,” he began softly, “Is something wrong? Do you feel all right?”

Donna opened her mouth to respond, but a wayward couple bumped into her, nearly knocking her over. Moving quickly, the Doctor pulled her to himself, hands framing her hips. Taking time to glare at the oblivious duo, he turned back to Donna, ready to apologize for the couple’s rudeness. It was a surprise then when she quickly brought her hands to his chest and pushed ever so slightly. Assuming she needed some air, he took the hint and stepped away.

“There’s a balcony not too far away, would you like to step out for a moment?” he questioned, checking that they had plenty of space within the crowd.

Donna shook her head sharply, “No, I’m fine. Really, I’m ready to dance.”

But even as she answered, another boisterous couple broke through the crowd to press towards the dais. The Doctor quickly moved to place himself between Donna and the couple, taking the brunt of their shuffling. He turned to smile apologetically at her, only to be taken aback at their closeness. At this distance he could clearly see the golden halo that framed Donna’s wide pupils, could almost feel the delicate blush that crept up her cheeks, could hear acutely the sharp intake of breath as she reacted to the sudden intrusion of personal space.

“I think they’ve moved,” Donna whispered after a beat, eyes wide and staring, voice carrying a hint of breathlessness.

“Yes, I… I suppose they have,” the Doctor murmured in reply.

Rassilon, who was this creature? Magnificent woman, divine human, a friend. Companion to the wonders of the galaxy looking up at him with - fear?

A rare sight indeed, Donna Noble showing fear, but there was no mistaking the manic gleam in her eyes for anything else. Instinct made him reach out to comfort her, to protect her. But before he could question what was wrong, or place a reassuring hand on her arm, Donna had tensed and pulled away. Muscles locked in place as realization slammed down. Donna wasn’t scared of the crowd, of the aliens in the room, nor of prying eyes.

Her fear was directed at him - was fueled by him.

Fear on others had been a look he was used to, a look he occasionally reveled in, but to have it come from Donna… Double hearts slowed and stopped, only to resume at an uneasy staccato.

“Donna…” he whispered desperately, bewildered at her actions.

Seeing his shock, Donna schooled her features back to normalcy and began to reach for him, an explanation sure to come shortly after. But it was he who pulled away this time. He didn’t understand; his companions had been scared of him before, had feared while in his presence, but why was it hurting so damn much this time? Ignoring Donna’s concern and surprise, he blindly stumbled past her into the crowd, heading in the general direction of the balcony.

Pushing his way through, he broke free and into the cool air of the night. The area was empty, and for once he was grateful for the blanket of silence. Taking deep gulps of breath, he forced a calm walk to the railing. What was going on? Why in the world was this so hard to deal with? Donna was just a companion, no different than anyone else.

Even as he voiced the statement in his head, the acrid taste of a lie filled his mouth. Donna wasn’t just anything. She was Donna Noble. She was… everything.

And she was scared of him.

There was the guilt that filled him, a well-versed and fully formed emotion, but what was this? Anguish? Fear? Sorrow? Why, it almost felt like he was heartbroken.

His mind went static, caught like a bad record. Heartbroken? But he would have to be… in love… to have that happen.

Right?

And he wasn’t.

Right?

“Doctor!”

I mean, he did love Donna.

“Doctor!”

And he would do anything for her.

“Doctor!”

She was so perfect.

“DOCTOR!”

And he was just so broken.

“You TimeDunce! Leaving me alone in there! What were you thinking? Oh, lemme guess, you weren’t! Next time I’ll just leave you alone in a crowd of strangers dancing and see how you like it!”

He turned to the fuming Donna now standing next to him. As she continued her tirade, he reached out and touched her arm.

“Donna.”

She did a full stop, blinking in confusion and surprise at his tone.

“What?” she retorted, halfway snapping at him, still angry.

Ok, Time Lord, here we go. Apology in 3… 2… 1…

“I love you.”

WHAT?! That’s not the plan!

“I think I’ve loved you since you decided to travel with me. And I want to know what I did, Donna, I want to know why you were so scared because the thought that I might scare you hurts more… It hurts more than Rose ever could.”

Even his inner monologue had shut up to listen.

“You’re everything, Donna: my friend, my springboard, my conscience, my beacon. I don’t know what to do without you. And if you can’t even be around me without being frightened… Please, just tell me how to fix this, how to fix us.”

The distant call of a bird seemed to strangely fill the silence. He stood there the length of one heartbeat, of two, three, and four. He didn’t need the nagging voice to tell him he hadn’t just crossed the line, he had taken a flying leap and cursed its mother on the way over. But he knew it was the truth, and Donna, of all people, deserved the truth.

“Is that what you think? That I’m scared of you?”

Donna’s voice startled him, and he quickly brought his focus to her. He suddenly wished he hadn’t gotten the masks for both of them, as Donna’s face was almost impossible to read.

“I don’t know what to think, Donna. I want to understand. Please.”

He wasn’t prone to begging for anything, but for this, for her, he would beg.

After a moment, Donna offered her hand, “Let’s sit down. Come on.”

Taking her hand, the Doctor let her lead them to the secluded bench tucked into the corner of the balcony. Keeping their hands entwined, she tugged him down to sit next to her.

“We’re a right mess, aren’t we?” she joked with a grin, squeezing his hand.

He grinned halfheartedly back at her, still hurt and confused and totally off-balance about so many things.

“Yeah, just a bit,” he whispered in reply.

“Doctor,” Donna started suddenly, “I’m not scared of you.”

The Doctor barked out a laugh, “Perhaps you should be.”

Donna tugged his hand until he was turned facing her. Shifting, she gently set their hands on their knees.

“I’m not scared of you,” she reiterated firmly, “I trust you.”

Squeezing his hands, she continued shyly, “I’m just scared about us. About this.”

“What is this?” the Doctor stated quietly, staring at their interlocked fingers.

“That’s the question, isn’t it, Spaceman?” she offered with a grin.

When the Doctor gave no response, she paused before continuing softly, “When you said… Earlier, I mean… Did you…?”

“I meant what I said. Every word.”

And he had. For whatever it was worth, he loved Donna. Now, later, eternally she was in his hearts.

“Why me?”

“Because you’re the most important person in the universe,” he stated without pause, “And everyone else pales in comparison.”

The silence that descended was charged.

“Liar,” Donna choked out hoarsely after a beat, voice trembling.

He looked up at her then, searching to see past the mask that had started it all. Not content with having another barrier between them, he decided the masks had to go. Disentangling his hands, he slowly reached around Donna to tug her mask’s silk ribbons loose from their bow. Pulling the mask off, he set it aside and removed his own.

Taking Donna’s hands once again, he slowly slid his gaze to her eyes.

They were liquid and bright, fearful and hoping, beautiful in their intensity and terrifying in their power. They were perhaps the most expressive part of Donna, and the part he loved best.

The Doctor gave a shy smile, leaning in to press his forehead to hers. His hearts were feverishly beating almost out of sync, his body felt slightly numb it was so sensitized, and the only sounds audible were the blood pounding through him and Donna’s breaths against his face.

He never wanted it to stop.

Because here, together, like this, warmth and touches and whispers, was home. This was all the home he’d ever need.
Looking up to Donna’s eyes again, the urge to kiss her had never been so forceful. Now he understood the fear in her eyes, the overwhelming panic at feeling so much, at the possibilities lying in front of them. But he thought about a future with Donna, of what they could accomplish, of all the things they would be to each other, and the fear seemed so insignificant in comparison.

“I love you.”

Donna’s voice was small, her smile wide, but shy and shaky. He was sure he had never loved her more than that moment.
And sod it all to the vortex; he was going to kiss her.

Looking back, Donna would adamantly point out that she met him halfway for the kiss, but for the moment the Doctor couldn’t really be bothered to care who instigated the whole thing:

He was kissing Donna Noble.

Tentatively sliding a hand to her waist, he gently cupped her cheek as his lips pressed against hers. Her body stilled for a moment, before her hands crept up, fingers clutching at the crisp material of his tux. Rassilon, he could practically sob in relief. His body was singing, craving this moment, something he hadn’t known he needed until now. The kiss was purposely light, but when something between a sigh and a whimper ghosted past Donna’s lips, he deepened it.

Omega, it had never been like this before.

He had never bought into the Gallifreyan notion that each soul had a partner and that a kiss from them would bind the two souls forever. It was a childish and romanticized idea that had been thrown around to ease the thought of arranged marriages, of which he had been a victim. But for all his doubting, even he had to wonder if this was the binding they spoke of.

Although her body was practically moulded to him, Donna’s presence continued to wrap around him. He could feel her mind pressing against his, not penetrating his defenses, but flowing and dipping, filling the empty spaces. He broke the kiss off with a smile, gently tracing her cheek with his thumb. Donna kept her eyes closed, and he watched in alarm as tears pooled in their edges.

“Donna? Is everything ok?” he whispered soothingly, trying to remain calm.

Donna eyes fluttered open, and upon focusing them on the Doctor, filled with even more tears.

“You weren’t lying,” she whispered tremulously, bringing a hand to press against her mouth as tears spilled over her cheeks, “You actually meant it.”

“Donna,” the Doctor asked slowly, utterly confused and worried, “what are you talking about?”

Donna grasped his hands and splayed them over her temples. The Doctor could only gape as the cavern of her mind was opened to him. Swirling amongst her thoughts and memories were parts of his psyche. All of his feelings towards her, all of his memories that involved her, had attached themselves to her corresponding memories. She was seeing herself as he saw her, one moment at a time.

“You’ve loved me for so long…” Donna breathed, a small, strangled laugh seeping through.

“All this time, I just thought… You never… I thought you’d never love me back.”

The statement sent his mind reeling, making his defenses splutter and stall. Suddenly the presence he had felt earlier shifted, pushing forward and filling his mind. Just like Donna had seen his memories of her, so he was seeing her memories of him. On and on they went, chronicling their travels, but painting then with so much excitement, so much passion, so much love.

“Oh…” he breathed into the night air, startled and stilled by the connection made between the two of them. “Oh, Donna…”

This time it didn’t matter who leaned in first; as he raised his hands to frame Donna’s face and their lips met once again their connection seared and sizzled, fracturing into almost tangible strands of light that wove through them.

Eventually they broke away, breathless, content to sit, forehead pressed to forehead, in the faint hum of energy that arced between them.

“Blimey, will it always be like that?” Donna asked suddenly, bright eyes belying the content and almost sleepy tone to her voice.

The Doctor chuckled, whispering his fingertips over the crest of Donna’s cheek, “I’m not very sure. But what’s the harm in finding out?”

Donna’s eyes fluttered under the soft ministrations and she smiled wryly, “You keep saying things like that, Spaceman, and you’re just asking for trouble.”

“Do you know that for a fact, Miss Donna Noble?” The Doctor quipped with a smirk of his own.

“Well, if my record with blokes isn’t proof enough,” she began, sitting up and quirking her eyebrow at his misguided attempt to argue, “I would say the big red aliens with guns that just stormed the castle might do it.”

The Doctor craned his head around to find that, in fact, the castle had been stormed and chaos was ensuing in the ballroom.

Turning back around, he stood with a smile and took Donna’s hands. “Donna Noble: right every time.”

“And don’t you forget it, you big dummy,” she teased, rising as well to stand next to him.

Slipping his hand in hers, he turned to look at her.

“Allons-y?” He questioned with a broad grin, his other hand already reaching in the pocket of his tux to fish out the Sonic Screwdriver.

“Way ahead of you, Doctor,” Donna replied, hitching a handful of dress up to reveal a pair of trainers in the matching blue to her gown.

The Doctor’s grin widened even more, and before he realized what he was doing, his head dipped down to press a kiss to her cheek.

“I love you,” he whispered, locking eyes with her.

A deep blush rose up her cheeks, much to his delight, and she squeezed the hand in her own tightly.

“I love you, too,” she whispered in return, and he could feel their connection humming within them, centered on their intertwined hands.

The sound of gunshots broke the intimate moment, and they both shifted into slight running stances.

They glanced at each other, a smile passing between them, and no words needed to be spoken as they took off together: the Doctor and Donna.

Date: 2012-09-08 03:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] her-xcelncy.livejournal.com
This is lovely! Just very sweet and adorable and I can definitely see the Doctor being so awkward trying to put together something like this for Donna. I loved the end too when Donna pulled up her dress to show the trainers and I can just picture the scene in my head. Great job!

Date: 2012-09-08 04:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tkel-paris.livejournal.com
*applauds* I love it! I just love it!

Yeah, when the Doctor goes to that much trouble for you, you're special to him. Certain R names can go suck it for all I care. :P

And of course there's an alien mess to sort out! But at least it'll make the time afterward all the sweeter. :DDDD

Bravo! sykira is one kucky gal today! That's three birthday fics for her that I know of. :D

Date: 2012-09-08 03:03 pm (UTC)
sykira: (Happy!Dave agrinning at Catherine)
From: [personal profile] sykira
AIEEEEEEEE! I don't know if I am more excited that you are alive or that you finished this! I am going to wait til the kids go out later so I can get some peace to read it properly and savor it but in the meantime THANK YOU A MILLION THANK YOUS! And chic, how the heck are ya??? Do you you still have the same email? Are you taking over the world yet?!

I can't wait to read this and I can't wait to catch up! love you hon

Date: 2012-09-09 03:34 am (UTC)
sykira: (DT says U Rock!)
From: [personal profile] sykira
For not the first time today I wrote a long comment and then LJ ate it and in the theme of fool me once I feel stoopid for not copying and pasting it before I hit post, argh!

When I try to reconstitute my thoughts they end up half-formed and garbled so my apologies in advance, love ♥

Right from the start your writing sparkles. So full of creative ideas and evocative images: I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the (mis)adventures and all the ways he discounted various different places to attend a ball! This whole thing is so much more than an ingenious way to work in all those prompts, it's also a great story and EXACTLY what I love!

(There's more in the middle I'll come back to but skipping ahead so I can hit post in case I lose this comment too!)

When he thought she was afraid of him...you played that beautifully because as a reader I knew she wasn't but yet I could totally see why he could believe that, given who he is. It was elegant how this is the point you remind the reader of who the Doctor is--that he is no stranger to people looking at him in fear, and usually he's not even uncomfortable with it. But when it's Donna, he wibbles so gorgeously ♥ be still my heart!

And when he's heartbroken MEEP

And those exquisite kisses *sighsssss*

Date: 2012-09-09 04:16 am (UTC)
sykira: (fanfic panic!)
From: [personal profile] sykira
I stand in awe at how after 2 yrs you have these guys pitch perfect in terms of their voices and interaction. Donna's all gobby, the Doctor's all babbly, its snarky and sparky and delicious! And just feels so RIGHT, like this bit: "the defiant tilt to Donna’s chin told the Doctor his answer would have to be honest" or this bit: "The Doctor began to back away slowly, Donna matching him step for step"

The ballet = running connection is inspired, I really like that parallel. And the Homer part had me beaming at the screen like an idiot!

Date: 2012-09-09 04:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eljay-earthgirl.livejournal.com
AHHHH I'm so glad you like it! I wibble-wobbled on whether or not I still had it when it came to writing the two of them, but I remembered how much you had liked this story when I showed the parts I had while writing it, and I just couldn't let it sit there.

;alsdkjfsldkjf I'm just so happy you like it!

Date: 2012-09-09 01:48 pm (UTC)
sykira: (forever)
From: [personal profile] sykira
Of course I do! I love it! How ARE you, hon?!

Date: 2012-09-09 03:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eljay-earthgirl.livejournal.com
Pretty great, actually. This is what I'm calling my senior-plus year at uni (full academic year plus first summer session), which is both exhilarating and terrifying. I'm still at the same apartment with the same friends/roommates, still getting along really well. I came out to them and my friend Danielle last year and they've been nothing but supportive and completely accepting and it's been a huge load off of my shoulders.

I've fallen into the social networking trap that is tumblr, and while it's eaten away a large portion of my downtime, I've met so many new friends in so many new fandoms (including a few new DD people!).

On a more academic note, I recently (read: this summer) got to participate in a Forensic Anthropology Field School where we went out, with permission, and exhumed unknown graves of undocumented people in a border town to bring back to uni and analyze with the intent of putting the information into a international database an hopefully repatriating the remains back to the person's family. I had so much flippin fun, which is perhaps weird to say about digging up dead people, but I'm so glad I went and I'm so sure I'm in the right place to get into the career I'll be passionate about.

I'm planning on applying to grad school for fall of next year, so fingers crossed on that, but there might be a year of re-applying and re-taking the GRE while working to save some money. I'm ok with that, surprisingly.

How are YOU, though?

P.S. I have changed my email. I'll message you with it.
Edited Date: 2012-09-09 03:29 pm (UTC)

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