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Altered History: Time Trials (11/11)

Title: Time Trials
Series: Altered History
Genre: Doctor Who
Rating: T/M (dark Doctor, character death, extreme danger)
Summary: Eight does not want to answer a mysterious – and diverted – call to come to The Library, but Donna won't let him shirk his duty. Yet the dangers there echo ones from the past, and the Doctor has never been so close to sinking into his darkest elements. Never mind the time stalker he's barely missed meeting before. Or did he?
Disclaimer: Utterly not mine. Just taking things from canon, mixing in Big Finish stories, and a healthy dose of my imagination.
Dedication: cassikat, for getting me interested in the Eighth Doctor in the first place. tardis_mole for being an awesome beta. And bas_math_girl for encouraging me to continue the series and keep posting.
Author's Note: Started during NaNoWriMo when I suddenly found “Echos on Ood Sphere” finishing two chapters sooner than I expected (leaving one flashback bit out in the original draft), and to keep me going. I had to figure out on the fly what else I needed to write, and figured out later where the ideas would fit.

Once again, please make sure you've read the earlier installments: The Runaway Bride, Prophecies and Pompeii, and Echos on Ood Sphere. Otherwise you'll have no context for why Donna is travelling with Eight.

One other challenge for me was to ensure that I was not going overboard in my treatment of River Song. In full disclosure, she has rubbed me the wrong way since the first time I watched the Library episodes. I've made efforts in writing to make myself like her more, and I find that at a fundamental level she is someone I would not want to know or have in my life. (Even with the occasional instances where I almost want to root for her.) In this story I also hit upon what I feel is the biggest reason to not trust her, but... to quote her, “Spoilers”. Keep reading to find out. I have made some effort to include Big Finish info, but even that adds to the reasons I cannot like River. (Hey, no one will like every Doctor Who character. We can make an effort to accept that they exist, and that may be the best anyone can ask of us.)

And as always, a big thank you to tardis-mole for beta reading. You keep my historical info on track, and help me weed out those Americanisms that stand out like Six's coat in a sea of... any color. Never mind stop me when I need to be stopped on some tangent.


Chapter One / Chapter Two / Chapter Three / Chapter Four / Chapter Five / Chapter Six / Chapter Seven / Chapter Eight / Chapter Nine / Chapter Ten


Altered History: Time Trials

Started November 3, 2018
Finished December 27, 2018



Chapter Eleven: Some Answers, Many More Questions

The Library
51st Century


The Doctor made it safely to the main teleport area, using the sonic to trace Donna's DNA and temporal signature. Once he picked up the trace he hurried to locate her. What had his future self meant? And why did he refuse to indicate which him he was? Was he the final incarnation?

At last, he saw her at a terminal, running some scan. “Donna!”

Her head popped up, revealing tears and a pale look. “Doctor,” she breathed, abandoning her search to run to him.

They met about halfway, forcing others to dodge them. Only the hug with Lucie when she had been a captive of the Ice Warriors was as tight. “It's so good to see you,” he choked, surprised by how tight his vocal chords felt and unable to do anything about it. “I thought you had died.”

She had buried her face into his jacket, and barely lifted it to talk. “The computer; it made me think I'd never met you. Like most of my life was a lie. It kept making me forget when I came close to remembering. And that's not the worst of it.”

The Doctor drew back, aiming for eye contact. “What could be worse than making you forget?”

Donna's tears resumed. “Things happened like on the telly, moving from one instant to another. It introduced me to someone, and then soon after that it made me believe I had been married to him for over seven years and had twins.”

He stilled. “It gave you a husband and children?”

She nodded. “The images of the children, they were a repeating pattern. I don't think they were real,” she choked.

He closed his eyes and drew her back into the hug. “Oh, Donna. You loved them, so that makes them real.”

Donna sniffled, not wanting to let go of this connection to the real world. “But what about the man; Lee? Was he real?”

Hearing a name made him pull back, but he covered it by keeping his hands on her arms. “Is that what you were doing; looking for him?”

“Yeah,” she whispered. “I need to know. Was he a victim of the system, or was he constructed like the children were?”

He felt his hearts sink into his stomach. Why he had no idea. But he could not ignore her distress. “I'll help you.”

He joined her at the computer, ignoring the motions of people getting onto the teleports to board the ships.

“Please be patient,” they heard the computer say. “Only three can teleport at a time. Do not state your intended destination until you arrive in your designated slot.”

After several more attempts, Donna sighed heavily. “There wasn't even anyone called Lee in the library that day. I suppose he could have had a different name out here, but, let's be honest, he wasn't real, was he?”

The Doctor thought about what might be the best thing to say, and found only blanks. He sighed. “Maybe. Maybe not. We may never know.”

Donna's tears had stopped, but the drawn distress remained. “I made up the perfect man. Gorgeous, adores me, and hardly able to speak a word. What's that say about me?”

“Nothing, Donna.”

She looked at him, startled by the force in his tone.

“It means nothing. CAL's systems had to make you all forget or the pressure might have taxed her abilities. The near destruction would have happened sooner. The programs made assumptions about what you would like. But even though they could make you forget memories they could not make you forget the impressions life with me made on your psyche.”

“Stand right in the middle of the teleport, please,” they heard a woman saying to a trio getting onto the teleports. “Keep your hands and feet inside at all times.”

“What about you?” Donna asked, ignoring the continued words of the woman. “What happened?”

The Doctor took a deep breath, the memory of River's final words before her death haunting him. “Not here. In the TARDIS.”

“Are you all right?”

“What? How could either of us be all right after this?”

“If you are pregnant, please go to teleport seven on the floor above-”

Donna spoke over the woman. “I mean, is 'all right' special Time Lord code for 'really not all right at all'?”

He thought about it. “Yes.” No point in denying it.

“Because I'm all right, too,” she said softly.

The Doctor sighed and held out his hand. “Come on.”

She took his hand, and they turned to walk to where the TARDIS was. But before they got far, they heard a man's voice.

“D-D-D-Donna!”

The Doctor saw the shock on Donna's face as her head whipped around to face the source. He also turned and saw a dark-haired man stepping off the teleport to walk towards Donna.

“Donna, is that...?”

“Yes,” she answered weakly, not letting go of his hand.

Lee came over and hugged her, pushing the Doctor aside. The Doctor's lips pursed and his eyes narrowed. He never liked being shoved aside, but he did not speak. Why was he feeling his hearts clenching like they were going to keep him from breathing?

Donna did not return the hug. She was stock still until she gently drew herself away.

Lee blinked. “D-Donna?”

She looked up at him with wet eyes and sorrow. “Lee, I'm from another time. I have family waiting for me, and we weren't given a choice in whether we wanted to be together. I'm not quite the person you thought you knew, because I didn't remember my real life. I'm sorry, but we're not meant to be.”

The Doctor took a deep breath, only then realizing that he had stopped breathing.

Donna shook her head and waved gently. “Goodbye, Lee. Please have a wonderful life,” she choked. Then she grabbed the Doctor's hand and hurried them both out.

There were no further words from Lee. Or none that even the Doctor's ears could ear. They remained silence until they had reached the entry area where the TARDIS was.

The Doctor stopped suddenly, thinking back over what had happened and been said.

“What?” Donna asked, finally speaking for the first time since telling Lee goodbye.

“Professor Song made a claim about the TARDIS. I'm going to test it.” He let go of Donna's hand and raised his into snapping position. Then he snapped his fingers.

The TARDIS' outer doors opened, and they could see the inner doors also open.

Donna's mouth dropped. “So that woman, Professor Song. She said you could do that?”

“Yeah. And I never knew.”

“Handy,” she commented. “Now let's get out of here and have some tea. And talk.”

/=/=/=/=/=/

About an hour later they were in the sitting area the TARDIS had created for Donna, attached to what passed for the kitchen. She had made the tea and rustled up some biscuits for them both from the Doctor's collection. The good chocolate ones, that he admitted to limiting to bad days.

Finally, after some time in silence, Donna began her questions. “Professor Song, she knew you in the future, but she didn't know me. What happens to me? Because when she heard my name, the way she looked at me.”

“I don't want to know, Donna,” he answered. “I had her diary, but a future me came after she'd died. He took it, and her sonic and gun.”

“No surprise she had a gun.”

“I could have looked into my future, I could have looked you up. But that's not possible now. What do you think? If we still had the opportunity, should we have peeked at the end?”

Donna thought about it for a few seconds and then shook her head. “Spoilers, right?”

“Right,” he agreed. “I know too much sometimes, as it is.”

“Doctor, I'll tell you more about what happened to me, and then I want you to tell me exactly what happened after you tried to teleport me to the TARDIS.”

He was not thrilled about it, and he knew he could not admit to what he had said about her. But he also knew that he needed to ask her some questions. “Okay, okay, okay. I'm ready to move on to the next chapter anyway.”

So they talked. First she shared the story created for her. “It was what I always thought I wanted, but something was always not quite right about it,” she admitted in the end. “Like I knew on some level that it wasn't real. Or that what I wanted in a family had changed. I don't know which.”

Then it was his turn. While he kept from admitting that he had said he would chose Donna as his wife, he held back little else. Every hash word he had spoken to River, every time he nearly threatened her for what he saw as her murder of Donna and himself.

Donna's expression hardened a little during his tale, but she remained silent until he finished. And then for a bit after.

She was silent long enough to make the Doctor uneasy. Could she tell that he had left things out? “Donna, please say something. Even if you think I was too hard on her.”

“In some ways, yes. Good in everyone, remember? Even in a teenage girl who you suspect is connected to She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We don't know enough about what River did to know how we should have treated her, but I don't condone any of her actions towards you. She had no right to wipe your memories or to attempt to entrap you into marriage. But it seems that you managed to alter that by merely refusing to let her whisper into your ear.”

He nodded. “And I can't begin to say how relieved I am that she forgot my name. That means I should be safe from marrying her. Unless some future me feels so sorry for her that he does it anyway.”

“I doubt it. You've been pushed into too many things in life. You would never marry someone who didn't respect you enough to trust you. And being that reckless? That forceful in trying to tell you something that would create a fixed point? She had feelings for you, no question about that, but it was not true love.”

“What is true love, Donna? So many claim to know, but I've never understood it. Familial love, that I understand. I've been a father, grandfather, and even a great-grandfather.”

Donna's eyes widened, but she remained silent. She just nodded, wordlessly encouraging him to continue.

He appreciated her quiet, and continued his question. “Time was that I never endured the interested attentions of someone else. Closest I came in my first incarnation was accidentally becoming engaged by drinking hot chocolate.”

“How does that equal becoming engaged?”

“Aztec traditions. May I finish my question?”

She scoffed. “You'll finish that story later, Sunshine.”

“Okay, okay, okay,” he promised. “As I was saying, I used to never see anyone interested in me. And too often when someone did express an interest they had their own agenda. How do you know what true love is?”

“Never been interested in someone in that way?” Donna asked.

“In what way?” he queried, puzzled.

Donna sighed and thought about it. “Well, most people, when they talk about love, they really mean infatuation. You've been around Humans enough to hear about lust and infatuation, haven't you? You do know what those words mean?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Prove it. Describe them.”

The Doctor frowned as he thought about it. “Well, lust is merely about the physical aspects of the object of the feelings. Infatuation is some sort of consuming emotion focused on another person, and it's often accompanied by mistaken beliefs about what the other feels about them.”

Donna nodded slowly. “You're accurate enough. But the biggest thing is that they're fleeting. So is flirting. It's an attention-getter, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything. Anyone can flirt with anyone. But to place the other's well-being above yours? To wish to be mutually supportive to each other? To value their company so much that you want it for the rest of your days? That's part of it. It's about trust, respect for what the other brings and their unique traits, and bringing out the best in each other. You make each other feel better able to handle whatever comes, and you are witnesses to each other's lives. And from watching my parents, I can tell you that love is as much of a decision as instinct. It feels right to be with the person, and you make the decision daily to be a loving partner to them.”

His eyes widened as her explanation finished.

Donna frowned. “Are your people that emotionally constipated that you can't even recognise the emotions?”

He winced, although his eyes did not go back to normal. “Well, emotional displays and influences were extremely discouraged, to say the least. You've seen the High Council.”

“Yeah, they were a right joy to be around. I can see why you fled.” She finished her tea and sighed. “I don't know about you, but I need a lot of rest after today. Promise me that you'll get some rest yourself. You look like you went to hell and back. Not to mention stayed there for a while.”

He nodded. “Okay. I will.”

She gave him a narrow look. “Swear on our friendship. You need a good night's sleep if we're going to carry on with running into danger.”

“I promise, Donna. I don't want to create any unnecessary problems for us. I'll put away the tea.”

“Okay. Good night,” she said, pushing herself to standing.

“Good night,” he answered, watching her leave the room. He remained sitting for a few seconds before he carried out his promise.

/=/=/=/=/=/=/

Meanwhile, Donna went into her room. She closed the door and leaned against it. “'It's about trust, respect for what the other brings and their unique traits, and bringing out the best in each other', she recited her words to the Doctor. “'It feels right to be with the person, and you make the decision daily to be a loving partner to them.'”

Her eyes widened before she closed them tightly with a wince. “You've gone and done it, Donna. Fallen into real love with an alien who might not be capable of returning your feelings. What the hell am I going to do other than keep quiet?”

She looked up at the ceiling. “Don't ever tell him, Sweetheart. I don't want him to think poorly of me. He's the only man outside of my family who's treated me well, like I really matter. I can't be putting him on a pedestal like Lucie once did. And he can't know that I think he's dazzling.”

A quiet chime answered her.

“I hope that was an agreement,” she whispered.

/=/=/=/=/=/=/

While Donna was thinking aloud in her room, the Doctor had finished with the cleanup and walked back to the Control Room. Once there he sat in the Jump Seat that doubled as a reading chair.

“That's quite the picture of love that Donna painted. Care for another's well-being over your own, and wishing for their company? I know I've come to appreciate some companions' company more than others. Sarah Jane comes to mind. Grace could have been one had she agreed to come along with me. And Lucie, for all her youth, was one of them. Who knows what she would have become had she lived? Surely someone even more extraordinary.”

He stood, needing to walk around the room. “But why would I react so strongly to thinking Donna was dead? Why did I feel so panicked when she wanted to leave? And why was it so easy to think of her being my choice to become my wife?”

His voice slowly trailed off and his feet slowed to a stop. His eyes widened even more than they ever had during his Fourth incarnation.

“Oh,” he whispered, feeling the juggernaut hit him mentally.

He vaguely heard the TARDIS making tinkling sounds, like she was laughing at him for being thick.

The Doctor covered his face with his hands and rubbed his head hard. “Oh, Eternals! How could I? Would the High Council try to prevent it? They made me leave Sarah Jane because... they feared how close we were getting. Is she the one Ohila foresaw? Is that why she reacted so strongly to Donna? And even if I could convince my people to accept it, what about Donna's wishes? Ohila said she could help Leela and Andred have a child, but will that work? Is that the family River referred to? Donna has been the most understanding of all of my companions, the one who pushes me to be my best. But... what does she want? Could she possibly...? And do I dare ever say anything? I can't now. We're both too emotionally raw, and after what she's been through that would make me no better than what I accused River Song of being.”

He dropped his hands to his sides, sinking back into the chair. “What do I do? I can't lose her. Not yet. She must be the companion Ohila meant when she said a loss will trigger this me's death. But what does Donna want? And how can I ask? And what if loving her makes things worse? What if it turns into the cause of her death?” he finished on a whisper.

He was so lost in thought that he failed to see the growing hint of green appearing in the Rotor. The Moment was listening in, and she was furious. But she made the light fade when the Doctor looked up again. She did not want him to notice her noticing.

THE END

TO BE CONTINUED IN “Chasing Unicorns and Wasps

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