lallis_folly: (dangers untold)
[personal profile] lallis_folly
This was originally written for a 2010 [livejournal.com profile] femme_fic ficathon.

Title: Memory and Time
Rating: G
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters: Amy and Other Companions
Prompt: Amy clearly doesn't like her aunt. Who were Amy's female role models growing up?
Spoilers: For "The Big Bang" and "Journey's End"
Summary: Someone assures young Amy that the Doctor is, indeed, a real person.


The playground was deserted when Amelia stormed into it and plopped herself down on her favorite swing. She scuffed her toe in the dirt, an angry scowl further darkening a face unusually solemn for someone of her tender years. "Little Miss Pouty," Auntie Sharon called her. Amelia had a few choice phrases for her aunt, too; she'd heard some of the boys using them in the schoolyard; she wasn't quite sure what they meant, but she was positive they described her father's spinster sister to perfection.

She had reason to be angry, though, didn't she? First her parents vanished and left her with Auntie Sharon, then her raggedy Doctor, the man who fixed the crack in her wall, got into his magical blue box and disappeared. He'd promised to come back, and he never did. Adults simply weren't reliable, that's what it was. And then they had the gall to tell her that the Doctor never existed in the first place. Who fixed her wall, then? Who threw the plate out the front door and smashed it? (And who got punished for it?)

But no matter what they told her, she maintained her story. She knew what she had seen. She knew that there was no more crack in her wall and no more mysterious voices that only she seemed to hear.

She screwed up her face thoughtfully. Maybe she shouldn't have mentioned the voices. That's probably why Auntie Sharon had sent her to see Doctor Lester. Well, she wouldn't be seeing him again -- not after biting him and running out the door. He deserved it with his talk of imaginary friends.

"The Doctor is not imaginary," she said angrily, her breath frosting in the cool air.

"Of course he's not," a grown-up voice said.

Amelia gasped and twisted around on her swing. There was a stranger behind her, prudently out of biting range, a handsome woman with a mop of curly hair that Amelia immediately envied. She was dressed for the autumn weather in a fashionable coat, with sunglasses holding her curls back from her face. She smiled and settled gracefully onto the other swing.

"Hello, Amy," she said.

"My name's Amelia."

The woman looked briefly surprised. "Is it? My mistake. I thought you were Amy Pond."

"Amelia Pond," Amelia repeated.

"It's like a name in a fairy tale, isn't it?" the woman said casually.

Amelia blinked. "That's what he said."

"The Doctor? Yes, I know." She smiled at Amelia. "He told me." She reached into her coat and drew out a battered blue book, embossed with a pattern of squares. It reminded Amelia of the Doctor's magical box. She opened the book and showed it to Amelia. "And I wrote it down."

The pages she showed Amelia were closely-written in an elegant script, but she couldn't read them. The woman stabbed a perfectly varnished fingernail at the page. "See? Right there. Amy Pond, fairy tale."

Amelia craned her neck to try to get a better look at the page, but the woman snapped the book shut and stowed it back in her coat. "Spoilers," she said conversationally.

Amelia scowled. "What does that mean?"

The woman sighed and fiddled with an ugly wristwatch which didn't match the rest of her elegant clothing. "One of the problems with time travel," she murmured.

"Who are you?" Amelia demanded.

"Oh, I'm sorry, dear," the woman responded. "How rude of me not to introduce myself." She held out a hand. "You can call me Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Jane Smith."

Amelia shook her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Smith," she said automatically, though she wasn't certain whether she was pleased or not. She wasn't sure whether she liked this Mrs. Smith; she smiled too much, and her smiles hid things.

"And I'm pleased to meet you, Miss Pond," Mrs. Smith said. "I'm always pleased to meet friends of the Doctor's." She looked over Amelia's shoulder. "Oh, dear. It looks as if your auntie heard about Dr. Lester."

"Amelia Pond!"

At her aunt's shout, Amelia looked back over her shoulder. Auntie Sharon was storming toward the park, her face black with anger. "Uh oh," Amelia said, turning back to Mrs. Smith.

Except that Mrs. Smith was gone, the swing upon which she had perched moving gently in the autumn breeze. Amelia looked all about, but the elegant woman was gone; even if she had walked away, she would still be in sight. Like the Doctor, Mrs. Smith had simply disappeared.

~*~*~


On the planet Midnight, while a touring bus crawled toward the Sapphire Falls, Donna Noble relaxed by the pool with fifteen feet of tempered glass between her and the X-tonic radiation that made the planet's surface uninhabitable. She had fallen into a doze shortly after the touring bus's departure, and she was dreaming of a man whose true name she did not know, a man who was probably nothing more than a computer's invention.

The sense of someone watching her woke her, and she opened her eyes quickly to find a woman clad in one of the resort's robes standing over her with fancy drinks in her hand. Her face was in shadow and Donna couldn't make it out until she leaned down to hand Donna one of the drinks.

"Dr. Song!" Donna exclaimed. "But you're -- " She bit off what she had been going to say. "Um." She sipped the drink, and nodded appreciatively.

"Gorgeous?" River Song suggested. "Glamorous?" She snapped her fingers and an attendant hurried to put a chair in place for her. She graced him with a stunning smile and he blushed. He was very young.

"You're quite good at that," Donna observed.

River shrugged and sipped from her drink. "Plenty of practice. I was going to introduce myself, but we've apparently met."

Donna rolled her eyes at the archaeologist. "Well, of course we have. We just met at the Library, when you summoned the Doctor there." And then she remembered a key fact about the Doctor and River and mentally kicked herself. "Except that you haven't been there yet, have you."

River smiled slowly. "Spoilers," they said together.

"So what brings you to Midnight, Dr. Song?" Donna asked.

"You do, actually. I need help, and I think you're just the person for the job."

"But surely the Doctor...."

River shook her head. "Not this time. And not this Doctor."

Donna frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You know that the Doctor...changes, yes?"

Donna nodded. "Regenerates. He's told me some of his stories." She made a leap of logic. "So we're talking about a future Doctor, then?"

River nodded. "Indeed. From after your time. And I need your help because the Doctor cannot cross his own timestream. Usually." She leaned back and was silent a moment. "Let me tell you another of the Doctor's stories, Donna. You met the Doctor once, but when he asked you to travel with him you refused."

Donna nodded. "But I searched for him, and I found him again."

River smiled. "In a small English village, there's a little girl called Amelia. A few weeks ago, Amelia met a man with a magical blue box, who promised to come back for her. This little girl is going to grow up to travel with the Doctor in his TARDIS. But there will come a time when the universe is in such danger that the only way to save it is for the Doctor to sacrifice himself -- which he will do. This sacrifice has the effect of completely erasing the Doctor from existence. But he can be brought back, if the woman who Amelia will grow up to be can remember him. That's it. All she has to do is remember him. Otherwise, we end up with this." And she pulled out her diary and handed it to Donna, who opened it cautiously.

She had seen River's diary in the Library, seen the closely-written pages, though the Doctor hadn't let her read them. Now, every page was blank.

There had been a time when Donna would have handed the diary back with a shrug and a flip comment. But no more. Traveling with the Doctor had changed her, and there was no way she could not help.

"Tell me what you need me to do," she said simply, handing the empty book back.

~*~*~


The playground was deserted when Amelia stormed into it and plopped herself down on her favorite swing. She scuffed her toe in the dirt, an angry scowl further darkening a face unusually solemn for someone of her tender years.

Auntie Sharon had sent her to yet another stupid doctor. This one had insisted that she and Amelia were friends, so Amelia should call her "Miss Janet." Except that Miss Janet had turned out to be no more friendly than Doctor Lester or Doctor Pratt. Since Miss Janet had treated her the same way the other doctors had, she had bitten Miss Janet, too.

Why hadn't her raggedy Doctor returned? He'd promised, after all. She stared out her bedroom window every night, but there was never any sign of the Doctor or his odd box, with its swimming pool in the library. Silly man.

She turned into the seat properly and pushed off, pumping her legs to gain height. When she was swinging as high as she could, she thought about jumping off, just to see if she could, but instead, she leaned back and looked at the world behind her upside down.

A red-haired woman was crossing the park toward her. Somehow, she reminded Amelia of that strange Mrs. Smith she'd met on the day she had bitten Doctor Lester. Scuffing her feet in the dirt, she slowed the swing, then stopped it, turning to face the woman, who smiled gently at her.

"Hullo, Amelia," she said. "My name's Donna. I'm a friend of Mrs. Smith's. She said that you'd met the Doctor, and she wanted me to come talk to you. I hope you don't mind."

Amelia scowled. "Are you a doctor?"

"Me?" Donna laughed. "Hardly. I'm not nearly smart enough for that. No, I'm just a friend. I travel with the Doctor sometimes. You ask him about me someday."

Amelia decided that she liked Donna's laugh. It was happy, and...honest. Not like Mrs. Smith's. She cocked her head. "My auntie says that the Doctor's not real."

Donna looked around cautiously before lowering herself to the swing next to Amelia. She leaned over and lowered her voice and Amelia leaned in toward her conspiratorially. "Don't tell anyone, Amelia, but the Doctor is as real as you are, but, oh, my dear. It's going to be a long time before you see him again. You might even be a grown up before he comes back. Can you remember him and wait that long?"

"A grown up? But he promised me he'd only be gone five minutes!" Tears rolled down Amelia's face, and she angrily dashed them away. "He promised!" She expected Donna to protest, to attempt explanations, to tell her that he hadn't actually meant it like that, but she didn't. Instead, she nodded gravely.

"Listen to me, Amelia, and believe it. The Doctor always means what he says...but the universe doesn't always cooperate. You wait. When he comes back, he'll have an explanation. There'll be a reason why he's made you wait so long."

She stood up. "I have to get going, but I'm sure I'll see you again. It's not like we can hide from each other here in Leadworth."

Amelia slid off her swing. "You live here?" she asked, interested in spite of herself.

Donna nodded. "For a little while, anyway. Until it's time for me to leave again."

Amelia frowned, perplexed at the odd statement, but she sensed that Donna wasn't going to explain.

Donna started to walk away, but then she turned back to Amelia. "I have to ask you something, Amelia, and it's very important. I know you're going to want to tell your auntie about me, to tell her that you know someone else who knows the Doctor, but you can't. It's very important. It'll be hard for you to keep it a secret, but she can't know I'm here. Can you do that?"

Amelia screwed up her face, thinking furiously. This was something else that wasn't going to be explained to her, she could tell. But.... "Can I tell Rory?"

"And who is Rory?"

"He's my friend. He already knows all about the Doctor. I told him." She stopped, considering the matter. "But I don't think he believes me, either. He thinks the Doctor is a game."

Donna looked like she was thinking it over. "Yes, I think you can tell your friend Rory. That shouldn't be a problem. Maybe I'll see him around, too." She smiled, and with a wave, walked off across the park. Amelia watched her go.

After that she saw Donna a lot. She'd catch glimpses of her sitting at the pub, or slipping into the post office, or just walking through the park. No one seemed to pay any attention to her, but Amelia couldn't decide if that was because only she could see Donna, or if Donna was so completely normal -- except for her claim about knowing the Doctor -- that no one paid any attention to her.

One afternoon, she and Rory were sitting in the playground. It was getting colder and they had the whole playground to themselves. She was showing Rory some drawings she had made of the Doctor and his box, when a shadow fell on the papers. She looked up guiltily, expecting to see her auntie -- and have to undergo another round of psychiatrist visits -- but instead, it was Donna, looking with interest at the drawing in her hand.

"Oh, that's very good," Donna said. "That really looks like the TARDIS."

Amelia smiled. "Thank you. Rory doesn't believe that there's a swimming pool." She nudged the boy with her shoulder and he rocked to one side.

Donna looked down at him. "So this is Rory." She folded her legs and sat down on the ground next to them. "Pleased to meet you, Rory. I'm Donna."

Rory shook her outstretched hand tentatively, but said nothing.

"Not going to talk?" she asked gently. "Shy, then? All right. Well, I can tell you, Rory, that there is, indeed, a swimming pool in the TARDIS."

"And a library!" Amelia added. "The Doctor said. Though he said that the swimming pool was in the library."

Donna nodded. "It might have been. I think sometimes that the TARDIS likes to move things around a bit, you know, like someone wearing a new suit."

"But how can there be a swimming pool in that little box?" Rory asked, his voice barely audible.

"Oh, the TARDIS is magical," Donna declared. She smiled, a trifle sadly, Amelia thought. "Not fairy tale magic, though. It's like... Hm. Remember the tale of Pandora's box? The little box that had all those things in it until Pandora opened it and they all escaped? The TARDIS is like that -- bigger on the inside."

Amelia frowned. "I don't know that story."

Donna looked at her, surprised. "No? You've never heard the story of Pandora's box? What do they teach in these schools these days?" she asked, and though her face was perfectly straight, there was laughter in her voice. And then she made an odd request. "Tell me about your Doctor," she said.

Amelia frowned at her. "I thought you said you knew the Doctor."

"Oh, I do, I do. But the Doctor changes, and so he might be different for different people."

So Amelia found herself telling Donna the story of how she'd been praying to Santa Claus for help with the crack in her bedroom wall -- "It's not there, anymore, either!" Rory exclaimed -- when the Doctor appeared in his funny box in the garden. "He crashed into the shed," she said solemnly. "Auntie Sharon was really angry that the shed had to be rebuilt, but she still didn't believe me about what happened."

"What else happened?"

"Well, he wanted an apple," Amelia said, and then told Donna how everything she had cooked for the Doctor had ended up in the bin or spat on the floor or -- in the case of the bread and butter -- launched out the front door. Donna laughed merrily at each description. Amelia definitely liked her laugh.

"But I'll bet you got in trouble over that plate, didn't you," she said when she got done laughing.

Amelia nodded solmenly. "But not for a long time. Auntie Sharon didn't know it was gone until she was counting the plates for a party."

"Miss Donna," Rory suddenly said, pulling at Donna's sleeve, "what time is it?"

Donna pulled up her sleeve and showed Rory her wristwatch, and Amelia was reminded of that strange Mrs. Smith. She hadn't seen the elegant woman in Leadworth since Donna's arrival. Not that Donna's watch was anything like the ugly one that Mrs. Smith had been wearing that day, but still. Amelia wondered where she had gone.

"We have to go, Amelia," Rory said. "Your auntie will be home soon."

Amelia rolled her eyes and heaved an annoyed sigh. "I'm not supposed to leave the house," she confided to Donna. "Because I bit Miss Janet."

"Another one?" Donna exclaimed. "You should be careful about biting people, you know. You might catch something!"

Amelia cocked her head and looked at Donna suspiciously. "Are you making fun of me?"

"Of course not, Amelia. It was just a joke. You'd better run along, though; you wouldn't want to get in more trouble." She handed Amelia's drawing of the TARDIS back. "This is very good. You should keep drawing; you've got a real talent."

"Thanks." Amelia accepted the drawing and she and Rory ran off toward home. When she looked back once, Donna was still sitting on the ground, a thoughtful expression on her face.

~*~*~


Donna opened her flat door at a familiar brisk knock. River Song stood there, and Donna had a feeling that she hadn't come in through the house's front door.

"How are things going?" she asked.

"Well enough," Donna answered. "She's bitten another psychiatrist; pretty soon, Miss Pond isn't going to be able to find anyone who will see Amelia."

"Good," River said. "Psychiatrists only do more damage. We don't need one actually persuading her that the Doctor doesn't really exist."

Donna frowned thoughtfully, thinking of Dr. Moon whose job it was to keep track of the Library's central computer, CAL. But that was something she couldn't talk over with River Song. Instead, she turned the conversation back to the children. "I met Amelia's little friend Rory today."

River raised a brow. "Really? He's a good lad, that one. Devoted to Amy, too."

Donna picked up on the verb tense; River wouldn't have spoken of Rory in that manner by accident. Donna had quickly learned that River did nothing by accident. "Would you like some tea?"

River nodded. "Yes, please."

Donna's flat was very small; although she was planning to spend months here in Leadworth -- boring, boring Leadworth -- she had, with River's help, secured only a very small, furnished, three-room flat. It was all being funded by River and Donna was beginning to suspect that the archaeologist was far more than she seemed. There was something really quite different about River; she seemed brasher than she had in the Library, louder and less introspective than the River Song Donna had met. But she understood that the Doctor and River were meeting each other in opposite directions; River would continue to be younger every time she saw her. Or something like that. Keeping time travel straight sometimes made her head swim; she couldn't understand how the Doctor managed it. Instead, she concentrated on making the tea, and brought the two cups into the lounge on a tray.

"She's quite a good artist," Donna offered, adding sugar to her tea.

"Is she?" River sipped her tea, watching Donna closely.

Donna nodded. "She showed me a drawing she made of the TARDIS today. It looked just like the real thing. I was thinking that perhaps getting her to draw the Doctor might be helpful."

"That's a good thought." River nodded. "Has she, by any chance, said anything about Pandora's box?"

Donna put her teacup down with a clink on the saucer. "She hasn't, no. But I did today; after she showed me her drawing, I called the TARDIS Pandora's box. Neither she nor Rory knew the story, so I summarized it for them." She looked at River. "Is it important?"

River looked troubled. "It might be. It's odd that it was you who brought it up, though. Very odd, indeed."

"But you're not going to explain it to me," Donna said.

River shook her head and sipped her tea. "No, I don't think so. It's hard, sometimes, to see how time flows, and what you might think happens one way actually happens in a completely unexpected fashion. But then," she murmured, as if to herself, "I really don't know all that much about Amy. Yet."

"How much longer do you want me to stay?" Donna asked. "My hair is starting to get longer."

"Oh, don't worry," River said, "we'll get it trimmed right before you go back to Midnight. The Doctor will never notice that you've been away."

"Are you sure?"

River nodded. "Absolutely positive," she said brightly. "When he gets back from that tour, you could meet him stark naked and painted green and he wouldn't notice." She sipped her tea, her expression giving nothing away.

Donna gave up. "All right, then."

They sat and drank their tea, chatting of commonplaces, until River declared that she had to be going. She stood and touched her hand to the vortex manipulator on her opposite wrist and was gone. Donna sat back down, sipping thoughtfully at the remains of her tea.

~*~*~


Amelia shivered a bit in the spring breeze as she stepped out of the school. She looked immediately for Donna and a rare smile lit her face when she saw the only grown up she trusted waiting for her at the school yard gate. In the last month or so, Donna had taken to meeting her and walking her home from school. Amelia found that she enjoyed having an adult around who listened to her and believed her story about the Doctor, who admired her drawings, who laughed and joked with her as if she, too, were an adult.

It was Donna who suggested that maybe she should meet Amelia's aunt after all, to make sure that it was all right with Miss Pond that Donna should spend time with Amelia. "I wouldn't want to get you in trouble -- or end up in jail for endangering a child or something like that."

Since Donna insisted that no one could know that she, too, knew the Doctor and had actually traveled in his marvelous TARDIS, they passed her off as a very close friend of Amelia's mother. Auntie Sharon had actually seemed relieved that there would be an adult around to keep an eye on Amelia until she got home from work. "She's very self-sufficient for her age," Amelia heard her say to Donna when she was shamelessly eavesdropping at the door, "but far too solitary. And she tells all these ridiculous stories about an imaginary friend. Better far for her to have a real friend, don't you think?"

"Real friends are always better than imaginary ones," Donna agreed diplomatically.

Amelia ran across the school yard and through the gate. "Hullo, Donna!"

"Hullo yourself, Amelia! How was school?"

Amelia shrugged. "Okay."

"Yeah? Just okay? Well, would ice cream make it better?"

Amelia brightened. "Yes!"

"All right, then. C'mon." They walked across the park in the direction of Donna's flat. Amelia practically bounced as she walked; whenever they went to Donna's flat for ice cream, it meant that she was going to tell another story. Amelia loved Donna's stories about her adventures across the universe with the Doctor, and she couldn't wait until he came back to get her and take her traveling with him.

Amelia no longer doubted that the Doctor would come back. She just wished it wasn't going to take so very long.

Donna unlocked the flat door and let Amelia in. She hung their coats on the halltree inside the door and went to the kitchen to dish out the ice cream. "Have you studied any ancient history in school yet?" she asked, as she banged around in the kitchen. Amelia stood near the counter that divided the kitchen area from the rest of the room and watched.

"Yes," she said. "We've studied ancient Rome and stuff, but I thought it was pretty boring."

"Maybe I can help with that," Donna said, popping the ice cream carton back into the freezer. She handed Amelia a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, grabbed a couple of spoons from the drawer and gestured for Amelia to precede her into the lounge. They settled into seats and started in on the ice cream. "Have you ever heard of Mount Vesuvius?"

Amelia shook her head.

"Well, the Doctor promised to take me to ancient Rome. But somehow, the TARDIS went a little wrong and we ended up in this little town called Pompeii, which was on the side of this mountain called Vesuvius."

Amelia listened round-eyed to Donna's story. It was thrilling and utterly engrossing, and once or twice, as Donna spoke of the horrifying Pyroviles, she almost forgot about her ice cream. And then the mountain exploded.

"The air was full of hot ash and smoke and there was fire everywhere. People were running and screaming...." Donna fell silent, tears in her eyes.

"Then what happened?"

Donna shook herself and glanced Amelia's way. "Well. I shouted at the Doctor. I demanded that he save at least one person, since we couldn't save everybody. In the end, we saved that whole family. That was the day that the word 'volcano' was invented."

"No!" Amelia said in disbelief.

But Donna nodded. "Oh, yes. Before that terrible disaster, that word didn't exist. They'd had no need for it, you see. But after that...." She smiled at Amelia, but her smile was a little sad. "I have something to show you."

She got up and crossed the room, taking a plaque from the mantel shelf. She sat down on the couch next to Amelia. "There was a Roman custom of respect for the little household gods, the ones that helped with day-to-day life. And there was a bit of ancestor worship mixed up in it. After we rescued them, the family moved to Rome. And they had this made and added to their household altar."

She tipped the plaque forward so that Amelia could see it better.

"That's you!" Amelia said in surprise.

Donna nodded. "That's me." She pointed to the other figure, a man in a very unRoman suit. "And that's the Doctor. I know he looked different when you met him, but that's all right. There's only one TARDIS, and that's it." She pointed at the angular shape in the center of the plaque. "Besides, you can see how old the plaque is, if you look carefully."

Amelia could. One of her favorite spots was the museum, and she loved the old marbles. She could tell that this one was just as ancient as those.

"So the next time you study ancient history in school," Donna said, "you just think of us running around Pompeii, or stopping by Rome, or seeing Stonehenge being built, and finally solving that mystery." She wrinkled her nose at Amelia, who laughed.

Donna returned the plaque to its place of honor, though as she returned to her chair, she glanced over her shoulder at it. "I probably shouldn't leave that there, just in case your auntie comes calling," she said thoughtfully.

Amelia shrugged. "She won't. She's too busy working. She works all the time."

Donna sighed. "I'm sorry you spend so much time alone, Amelia. I wish I could help."

Amelia stilled. "You're going away."

Donna looked at her steadily. "No. Not yet. But I will have to leave eventually, Amelia, and I'm not certain if we'll meet again after that."

Amelia looked down at her ice cream bowl; the rest of the ice cream had melted and run together with the syrup, forming a puddle in which the sprinkles floated. "We will," she said. "You'll see."

"I hope so."

"Tell me another story," Amelia demanded, hoping to cheer her up.

"And what would you like to hear?"

"Tell me about another planet!"

Donna smiled at her enthusiasm. "In a few years, everyone will know about other planets," she answered. "The aliens will start coming here openly."

"Really?" Amelia's eyes shone. "Tell me about them!"

So Donna told Amelia the story of how the Doctor saved the world -- again -- from the Slitheen. It wasn't her own story, true, but knowing how the Doctor felt about Rose Tyler, and knowing that he should talk about it, she'd gotten him to tell her stories about Rose. And now she passed those stories on to Amelia.

Amelia treasured these afternoons with Donna, and hoped they'd go on forever. Eventually, though, it was time for her to go home. Donna always walked her home, especially if one of her stories wasn't quite finished yet, and this afternoon was no exception. Donna walked her as far as the front walk, but didn't come into the house, as Auntie Sharon was already home.

"Will I see you tomorrow?" Amelia asked.

"I don't know," Donna answered. "I may have to go out of town tomorrow."

"Can I go with you?"

But Donna shook her head. "No, Amelia. You have school. You have to get smart in maths and science and history and literature, so that you're ready to fly with the Doctor when he comes back."

Amelia sighed. She could see the sense of that. "All right." She turned to go into the house, tossing a cheery good night over her shoulder.

~*~*~


Donna waited until the girl had disappeared into the house, then turned to walk back to her flat. She wondered how much longer River was going to want her to stay; she was actually running out of stories to tell...and she felt like she'd been in one place too long. She had completely forgotten what she and the Doctor had discussed the morning that River had come to get her -- and she was beginning to get the urge to call her grandfather, which she knew was a really bad idea; for one thing, she was several years ahead of her own departure in the TARDIS right now. Come to that, she was in two timestreams herself right now, here in Leadworth in her present and somewhere in London in her past.

She shook herself, a little chilled. "Definitely weird," she said to the night.

"Let me guess," the night answered back in River Song's voice. "You were contemplating time and paradoxes." The elegant archaeologist stepped out of the shadows ahead of Donna, a smile on her face.

"Yes," Donna answered. "How did you know?"

River shrugged. "It's not hard to tell, really, once you've been traveling in time for a while. People get this odd look on their faces."

"How much longer will I be staying here?"

"Not too much longer," River said, but would say nothing more on the matter, and by the time Donna reached her flat, she was walking alone.

~*~*~


Nothing lasts forever, of course, not even forever -- something Amelia was to learn many years in the future. One day she came out of school to find that Donna was waiting for her, but she wasn't alone. With her was the mysterious Mrs. Smith.

She dragged her feet all the way to the gate, the scowl that had been gone from her face for months furrowing her brow.

"You're leaving," she said, when she got outside the gate.

Donna nodded. "I'm afraid so. I told you I couldn't stay forever, Amelia." She crouched down so that her eyes were level with Amelia's. "But I'm going back to the Doctor and the TARDIS, so I want you to think of us whizzing around the universe, all right?"

Amelia nodded. While that didn't necessarily make it all right that her friend was leaving, it did, oddly enough,make it hurt less. "I'll miss you."

Donna grabbed her into a hug. "Oh, and I'll miss you, too, my dear." She pulled back and reached into the pocket of her coat, drawing out a long, flat package. "I have a present for you."

Amelia accepted the package.

"Well, go on," Donna urged, "open it."

Amelia ripped the brightly-patterned paper off to reveal a thin book entitled "The Story of Pandora's Box." The cover was decorated with a square box with an intricate round pattern on its face. Beside them, Mrs. Smith started and made a small noise, but they both ignored her.

"Look inside," Donna said.

Amelia obeyed. Written inside the front cover in a clear, neat hand were the words, "To my friend Amelia, a book to remind her of other marvelous, magical boxes and what can be found inside them. Love, Donna." Next to the inscription was a tiny outline of the Doctor's TARDIS.

She flung her arms around Donna again. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you for believing me."

"You're welcome, my dear," Donna whispered back. "Never forget. It's very important that you never forget. All right?"

Amelia nodded and released her friend. "I'll see you again someday, right?"

Donna nodded, her eyes bright with tears as she stood up. "Of course you will. I promise."

Beside them, Mrs. Smith's expression was unreadable. She cleared her throat. "It was nice to meet you, Amelia. I'm afraid that Donna and I have to be going, though." She pulled back her sleeve, revealing that same ugly wristwatch she had been wearing the first time Amelia saw her. Donna put her hand on Mrs. Smith's arm; Mrs. Smith touched the watch face and with a flash the two of them were gone.

Amelia stared at the spot where they had been for a moment, then hugged the book to her chest and ran home. She had no doubt that she would see her friend Donna again.

~*~*~


"That's us!" Donna said in surprise. She and River Song were standing in an alcove off the pool deck, in the hotel back on Midnight. Not terribly far off, she and River were also sitting by the pool, sipping fancy drinks.

"Why so it is," River agreed. "How convenient. We got you back before you even left. See? I told you the Doctor would never even miss you." She hesitated a moment. "Donna, there's something I need to tell you about this tour that the Doctor has been on all day."

"Whoa. That's going to be really hard to adjust to," Donna said. "It's the same day we left. But it's been months! But it's the same day!"

"And that's time travel for you," River remarked drily.

"But you had something to tell me," Donna said.

River nodded. "Yes. And it's serious, Donna. Very serious. Something awful has happened on this trip, and the Doctor will be off balance for a bit -- that's why he's not going to notice if you slip up for a little while. But it won't last, so you need to remember that you've been napping by the pool all day today. That's it. Just napping by the pool. Okay?"

"What happened? Is he all right?"

"I don't think I should tell you what happened," River said. "He'll tell you eventually, I think, but he may not be able to talk about it right away. Just be there for him, Donna. Just be his friend. Just be you."

Donna nodded. "All right. I can do that."

"Good." River smiled and raised her arm. "And Donna? Don't mention that you've seen me." She touched the vortex manipulator and vanished, leaving Donna to make her way back to her room and change back into the bathing gear that she had left lying on the bed months ago -- and in a few minutes.

~*~*~


"Doctor," Amy Pond Williams said, as the Time Lord threw the TARDIS into motion. "Where is Donna Noble? What happened to her?"

Rory looked at Amy in astonishment. "I haven't thought of Donna in years! How did you remember her?"

Amy shrugged. "I remembered her before I remembered him."

The Doctor stared at them both. "How do you know Donna? How can you possibly know Donna?"

The newlyweds glanced at one another. "She came to Leadworth when we were kids," Rory answered.

"She told us all sorts of stories about traveling in the TARDIS with the Doctor," Amy said. "She gave me the Pandorica book."

"But...how?"

Amy screwed up her face, trying to remember. "Someone else introduced us. Mrs. Smith?" She turned to Rory. "Was that her name?"

Rory shrugged. "I don't know. I never met her."
"Mrs. . . . Smith," the Doctor said flatly. "Not Miss Smith? Miss Sarah Jane Smith, perhaps?"

Amy shook her head. "No, I don't think so. I'm pretty sure she said her name was Mrs. Smith." She snapped her fingers. "Mrs. Jane Smith, that was it."

The Doctor dropped his face into his hands, muttering.

"What? Doctor, what?"

He shook his head. "Never mind. We'll go to Donna's place, but you can't talk to her and she can't see you. It's very important." He adjusted a couple of controls on the console, and the central column stopped moving.

"That was quick," Rory said.

The Doctor shrugged. "Not far to go."

He opened the TARDIS's door and they stepped onto a regular old street in front of a row of regular old houses shortly after nightfall. A little way away, a door opened and an old man looked out. He caught sight of the TARDIS and hurried up to them.

"Doctor? You've changed!"

"Hullo, Wilf," the Doctor said. "You shouldn't be surprised; you were there when it started. This is Rory and Amy." They stepped through the TARDIS door onto the street. "They knew Donna when they were children, and wanted to see her."

Wilf frowned. "Another wedding, eh? You do like your weddings, don't you, Doctor? But how could they...." He shrugged. "Why do I ask that question? But how can they see her?"

"They can see her," the Doctor said. "She just can't see them."

Wilf nodded. "Come on, then." He led them back to the house, and pointed in a window. "There."

Inside was a family dinner scene; Donna at a table, laughing with an older woman. "She's no different," Amy said. "She's exactly as I remember her."

"It's been years for you," the Doctor said, "but only a few months for Donna."

"Why can't she see us?" Amy asked. "She told me she was going to travel with you forever."

Wilf turned away. "If she saw you her brain would burn out and she would die," the Doctor said steadily. Something suspiciously like a sob sounded from Wilf's direction. "I'll tell you about it later."

"But, Doctor, surely now that you've changed it's safe for her," Wilf said, turning back around.

The Doctor shook his head. "No, Wilf. Even the sight of Amy would trigger the process. Those memories must remain locked away. Donna's travels in the TARDIS are over. We're just...checking in on her."

Wilf nodded sadly. "I'm old, Doctor. Not as old as you, but old enough. I won't last forever. Who will remember all those marvelous things she did when I'm gone? Who will hold the candle to remember that, for a while, she was better than all this?" His gesture encompassed the house, the street, the planet.

"I will," Amy said. She took Wilf's hand. "When I was a little girl, Donna came to my village, and she told me all those marvelous stories, all about her travels with that madman in his magical box. I will remember them. And I will pass them on. I promise you."

Wilf smiled tremulously and patted Amy's hand. "Good girl. Thank you. It means everything to me that she be remembered for what she was. Thank you."

Wilf turned and went back into the house.

"Well done, Amy Pond," the Doctor said softly. "Come on, then. Off we go." And he herded them back into the TARDIS. Moments later, the street was empty.
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