Through the Vastness

"They say the planet's called Raxicoricofallavitorius, but I think FL3.21's a much more sensible name. That's what they called it at first, until this funny man came along and told 'em the name was downright silly. His name for it was much sillier, I reckon, but they say that the man's—Mum? Mum?"

Gwen waved her hand before the old woman's lost-looking face.

"Are you all right, Mum?"

"What?" Donna blinked twice, and her eyes focussed on her daughter's. "Yeah, course I am."

"Well, I was just saying, this man who thinks he's as clever as anything—"

"Bam! Bam! Whoosh! Pew! Pew!"

The two women turned their heads to look at the child who came running into the kitchen—one resignedly, the other indulgently, as is often the case with grandmothers.

"Harry, I told you to play outside. Don't go tracking mud all over the house."

"Oh, leave him be." Donna scooped the giggling boy up and settled him on her knee. "What've you got there then, Harry?"

"It's the Cybermen," the little boy answered, marching his tin toy up her arm. "They found the lightsabers and they're going to delete the world with them. You will be deleted!"

"Those funny little metal things?" Donna picked one up and squinted at it. "Can't seem to do much harm. More like Dorothy's Tin Man with radio antlers, if you ask me."

"They deleted people at the Battle of Canary Wharf," said Harry, using his Cyberman to strike at a loose thread on his grandmother's sleeve.

"Have you been listening to those daft stories about the end of the world again?" She ruffled the boy's hair fondly. "You're just about as daft as your uncle about them aliens and all that stuff. What's your brother up to now, Gwen?"

"Wilfred's been quiet for a while now. Got some government job or something. Special ops, he said."

Donna snorted. "Special's ops' just about as real as those Christmas apocalypse stories my Gramps used to tell. The boy's got some crummy underdog job with the police again, you can bet on that."

"Well, I'll tell you the next time he calls." Gwen got to her feet and helped her son off his grandmother's lap. "I've got to go now, Harry has his intergalactic laws class to go to. Buggered me for three months until I agreed to let him go. Say goodbye to Gran, Harry."

"Bye, Gran!"

"See you soon, sweetheart."

"Bye, Mum." Gwen stooped to kiss her withered cheek.

"Love you, Gwen. And don't you waste your time worrying about me."

She smiled at the strong-willed reassurance, but as Harry ran to the car out front, she lingered by the door and pursed her lips at the sight of her Mum rocking blankly in her chair, staring at the ceiling , as if she expected something to drop out of the sky, but couldn't quite remember what.

"Hasn't been quite right since Dad died, God bless her," she murmured, and left.

River was gone now. Gone, like her father and mother just minutes before her.

The Doctor sat in an armchair in front of the console, staring at it motionlessly. He hated armchairs, with their upright backs and plush seats and the comfort that made you want to sink into them and never get your bottom out of them. But then again, he'd never had much use for armchairs until now. Whizzing about the universe, solving puzzles, saving species, running around with his friends…

Pain stabbed his hearts like ice cracking in the centre of an erupting volcano.

"I hate endings," he growled.


"And I hate," he shouted, giving the TARDIS a kick as he leapt to his feet," repeats!" He brought his fist down like a hammer on some innocent buttons before him.

The TARDIS hummed indignantly.

"Well, what am I supposed to do!"

Silence again.

"I'm sorry, old girl," he murmured, stroking the glass top repentantly. As if finding solace in the ever-presence warmth of his one lifelong friend, he walked around the console, pulling a lever here and turning a dial there to fine-tune her mechanics.

"You'd think that with all the quantum fixations and time loops I get in, I'd be used to repeats by now. But temporal specifications are never as hard as emotions, are they? Maybe the Daleks have a point." He paused to contemplate that, refusing to admit how wrong he knew that speculation was. "That's all my life is. Repeats. I think I can start over again, and I think I can make things last…but it's just a cruel joke in the end. And the universe gets me every time. The universe," he bit out the word bitterly, "doesn't care."

He pulled the scanner towards him and flipped a switch, then punched some buttons and started to pull a lever. Seeming to change his mind he let his hand rest on it instead, and stood there with his head bowed.

"There's nowhere to go," he realised heavily, and dropped into the detested armchair. "I have the whole of time and space at my fingertips, and I have nowhere to go."

Ironic laughter,. That's what his life was. A big jumbly timey-wimey mess of irony, interspersed with occasions of laughter, because that made things just that little bit easier.

"No one needs me anymore. All these people I loved—they've all got someone else now. And then there's me." He spat out the word like it was an expired morsel of food. It had, after all, always been the one thing that filled him with more dread than anything else ever could.

The TARDIS started humming, more adamantly than before.

He didn't look up, refusing to muster enough persistence to get up and find out what was going on.

"What do you want this time?" It took a moment to sink in. "What—you're de-materialising! And now you're materialising! He threw his head back and let the back of his eyelids flood him with darkness. "What are you doing that for? Wherever you're taking me, I don't want to see it. The last thing I need right now is a lecture on rejuvenation, mother."

After a moment, she hummed impatiently.

"I'm not going," stated the Doctor petulantly.

She hummed again, nagging him.

"I'm telling you—hey!" he shrieked as the TARDIS tipped the armchair over and flung him onto the floor. "Geez," he grumbled as he got up, his unconquerable interest piqued in spite of himself. "You can forget about me ever calling you sexy again. What's this about, then?"

He made his way to the door and stuck his head out in a bored fashion. No good letting her know he was grateful for the distraction.

Donna lugged the telescope out of the tent she had had Wilfred leave on the hilltop before he left. She set it up, the way she had seen the old Wilfred do a million times. Good old Gramps.

The blanket was soft as she settled down with a grunt and a sigh, and peered through the lens.

"That's Orion right there," she said to herself quietly. "Gramps always said he thought it looked more like a woman doing warm-up exercises with a kitchen knife. He was batty, he was." Silence. "You know, I don't even know why I do this almost every night," she remarked to a blade of grass. "Watching the stars, looking into the sky, like I'm waiting for something to happen. Goodness knows there's nothing out there." She paused. "Is there?"

She threw her head back with an air of exasperation.

"I'm talking to grass," she said scornfully of herself. "Now I'm the batty one. But there can't be, can there? Oh, I don't know. But I feel so…I don't know what I feel like. I've got no one now. Not even Gwen or Wilfred or Harry. I've never had anyone, not really. Not in the incredible, terrifying, wonderful way I've sometimes thought I could."

Sighing, she picked at the grass beside her. One got discontentment in old age. She was bending over to look into the telescope when she heard it.

There was a sound. Behind her.

A strange sound, like nothing else she had ever heard. A sound like…like incredible, terrifying, wonderful worlds.

Her breathing slowed.

A heartbeat pounded in her head—an unearthly heartbeat that echoed in her ears.

And in a moment of infinite certainty, she turned around and saw the box. The big blue box.

The Doctor froze as he curled his fingers around the edge of the door. In the same second, they saw each other. And he knew that she recognised him for what he used to be, even though he was in most ways a changed man. Like Captain Jack once said, the big blue box was a dead giveaway. But it was more than that—he saw it in her eyes—she knew.

"Donna Noble."

The name rippled through the air, forcing him to remember everything that, with his regeneration, he had buried alongside the man he used to be.

"Doctor," she said, getting to her feet, all old age dropped from her like a cloth off a new exhibit.

With a gasp, she stumbled backwards, and he ran towards her, steadying her with his arms.

The image hit her behind her eyes—the last time she saw him. As his real self, not the nameless John Smith she had so casually said goodbye to. In the TARDIS, as they left Bad Wolf Bay.

"We were going to see Felspoon," she choked out, smiling at him. Because she was happy, she truly was. She remembered again.

"Just 'cause," he agreed, gripping her shoulders. "What—a g—good name."

"We saw the Ood, remember?" He shook her a little, wanting a little more of her. Just for a little while more.

"All the Ood," she replied through gritted teeth. "Singing their song at last."

"Stay with me," he demanded. "Please, Donna, you've got to."

"Then there was Pompeii. Volcano Day."

A half-formed scream ripped through her teeth and she lurched forward into the Doctor's arms as the images flashed through her mind, leaving traces of fire as they raced past.

"But I can feel it again," she whispered breathlessly, gripping the Doctor's arms as she looked into his different yet familiar old eyes. "All the things we did, everything I loved and all the pain—"

"We had the best of times," the Doctor said very, very gently, just like the last time.

"The first time I saw you," Donna grasped at the last flashback. "In the TARDIS. You were in your suit, and I was in my wedding dress. You said I looked lovely."

"And what a mess you were by the end of the day."

"Oy, watch it, Time Boy!"

He grinned at her unparalleled response.

"But look at you now, gorgeous Donna."

She rolled her eyes. "I got old. And look at you, younger than ever."

"I'm much older than I was, Donna."

"So this is what you Time Lords do, then. Like worms. And what kind of tie is that?"

"A cool one."

She managed to snort, and they both laughed in choked breaths.

"Donna Noble. Oh, Donna, Donna, Donna."

She gave a great gasp and went completely limp in his clutch. Reeling, he lowered her onto the blanket.

"Donna." He gave her a little push, then turned to the TARDIS in fury. "Why did you bring me here? Why did you do this to her?"

"No," Donna protested weakly. He'd never seen her weak before. And even now, there was that spark—that fiery kick in her that never left, even when the last remnants of him had been washed away by the waves that were her ordinary, mundane human life.

"No," she said again. "At least now I know. I remember it—all those brilliant times we had, packed into one glorious moment. And wasn't it wonderful, Doctor?"

"It was," he reassured her, gulping down the choke in his throat. "Please, no, Donna, you have to hold on."

Her eyelids fluttered as he fought to keep sight of the grey eyes that had always been so full of life, that had always demanded more.

"I've lost so much," he sobbed brokenly, cradling her head. "I can't lose you again. Not again. And it's still my fault. It's always my fault."

"No, you listen to me, Doctor." Even while she was dying, she was still stopping him. "You have so much more. You don't lose us. You give us life and show us how to live it. Go on living that life. Just keep running, because that's what you need to do."

"To forget."

"To live."

The tears wouldn't stop rolling his cheeks as he watched the smile tremble over her lips.

"It burns, Doctor," she admitted. "My head, it hurts."

That was what she had felt, a long, long time ago. But he couldn't save Donna like he had saved her.

"But I need this. And you needed to see that the past is beautiful, Doctor, but only if—" she clenched her jaw, drawing in a deep breath before going on—"if it's left in the past."

A sob escaped his lips. An age-old pain that was every bit as fresh and painful as if it was the first time.

"And Doctor." The grey eyes blinked and focussed on his for the last time. "Thank you."

Shaking all over with grief and rage, he leaned over and pressed his lips to her forehead. For the very, very last time.

Silence was all that was left.