To Err is Human (Chapter 12)Author: Lilac Summers
Rating: PG, language
Pairing: Doctor/Donna/John Smith
Category: humor, angst/romance
A/N: This chapter has lots and lots of running; if this is what you've been waiting for (for instance if you are Jenny (the Doctor's daughter, not the body-stealing alien)) then man do I have a treat for you! Also, I'd like to say that Donna's affinity for cookware was written before the latest episode of Doctor Who aired and Amy stole my bit.
Part 1 here
Part 2 here
Part 3 here
Part 4 here
Part 5 here
Part 6 here
Part 7 here
Part 8 here
Part 9 here
Part 10 here
Part 11 here
There was no time or breath for talk as they ran, just the steady pounding of shoes on cobblestone as they legged it to the school. Donna was huffing like a locomotive, cursing the corset that compressed her lungs and the skirts that tangled around her legs until she hitched them up to her knees, and wishing desperately for her jeans.
When they finally entered the building she forged on, full steam ahead. She had already outlined their plan neatly in her head.
"Right then. We go upstairs, grab the watch, get to the TARDIS, and away from here. The Family won't stick around once we leave; they'll want to follow. We can think of our next step when we're in the vortex. If we jump around enough maybe they won't be able to pin down our loc-"
So focused was she on getting to the stairs - and completely used to dragging the Doctor behind her like a rag doll - that when he suddenly refused to move forward she practically suffered whiplash as she was jolted to a halt.
Then came the completely new and unwelcome experience of having "John" ignore her as he grabbed the big alarm bell in the hall and began to ring it piercingly, refusing to let go of her.
"OI!" she screeched again. "What in the blazes are you doing?"
"Rousing the troops. We need to defend the school."
She spluttered, dumbfounded. "But..but... are you mad? What we need is the watch and the-"
"Hush," he ordered stridently, already in the middle of directing confused students as they stumbled down the stairs. "It is not the time for your science fiction."
Her jaw dropped. "MY SCIENCE FICTION!?"
She was ignored once more as he towed her firmly around by the wrist, moving from group to group of boys congregated in messy clumps.
Realizing she wasn't going to get through to him, she began to twist in his grip, prying at his fingers with her other hand. "Look here, this ain't the time to be playing Army Men or whatever it is you think you're doing. At least let go of me so I can do what needs to be done!"
If anything his grip tightened and he rounded on her, eyes alight with his own ire. "I am not letting you out of my sight, madam! We shall deal with your strange notions later."
"Strange notions?" she parroted, before shaking her head decisively and swinging around so that she momentarily blocked his way. "Okay, I get it. You're scared and none of this makes sense. I wish we had more time and I could explain this to you better, I do, but for now you need to just believe me and do as a I say. You put me in charge here. You are the Doctor, those aliens are after you, and we need to get out. So we're going to go upstairs, and get the watch and-"
He grasped her face carefully and ended her warbled explanations. Denial and fear swirled in his worried eyes. "I do not know what sick disease has a hold on those people, or what strange technology they are using, or how you seem to be struck by the same illness - but I promise you I will make you better, as soon as we are sure the school is no longer in danger." And he was grabbing her wrist again, toting her along like a recalcitrant child.
"Oh for the love of - I will kick you!" she threatened loudly, then found herself summarily hauled in front of a group of four strapping lads, upperclassmen.
"You four. You are in charge of watching over my wife. You will make sure she does not stray from here and under no circumstances do you allow her upstairs, is this understood?" barked the Doctor in a tone of voice Donna had ever only heard him use when facing hoards of earth-invading aliens. The boys nervously nodded, successfully cowed. "Fail in this and you shall answer to me," warned the Doctor in a parting shot as he finally released Donna's wrist and scurried off to order around more students.
Donna and the boys stared at each other in a silent stand-off. They had formed a loose cordon around the stairwell, blocking her path.
Donna eyed them appraisingly. They were each a good half-foot taller than she, and shifted ill-at-ease as she cast them a beady eye. "You lot think I can't take you down if I want?"
They looked positively sick at the idea of having to restrain her. "Please don't try it, ma'am," begged one of the four. "Master Smith wouldn't much like it if we were to lay a hand on you."
She considered it, she really did. She was spry and a dirty fighter - she could probably kick one in the nuts and vault over him before the others even figured out what she was doing. But truthfully, there was no way they wouldn't be able to catch her on the stairs, as hobbled as she was by her skirts. "This is ridiculous," railed Donna. "We're wasting time!"
She about-faced and found that the lobby had emptied during their silent showdown, so she abandoned the foot of the stairs and stormed towards the courtyard, where she could heard the Doctor barking out instructions as if he were a seasoned general. Her entourage followed her like four overgrown ducklings.
She was confronted with a sight she would have sworn she would never have to deal with: the Doctor directing the students in setting up a protective wall of sandbags, and teenagers manning old-fashioned machine-guns and rifles.
"What the hell!?"
"Ah, Donna. There you are," stated the Doctor, for all the world acting as if he hadn't set his guard dogs on her. "I have directed the women and other staff to take refuge in the cellar."
There was, of course, an unstated order in that comment.
"Bully for you. Now what do you think you're doing, giving these boys guns?"
"They are in charge of protecting the school from those madmen in costumes."
"They aren't in costumes and you know it! This isn't the time for denial, or for cowboys and Indians. What the hell happened to my mild-mannered husband to turn you into General Doom? And you hate guns!"
He seemed completely baffled by her comment. "It is a war, Donna. Guns are necessary. This is what I have been preparing the students for all semester."
Donna gaped and blinked double-time. "You what!?" Holy crap, how had she not known this? She'd been so worried about their "relationship" that she hadn't taken the time to really pay attention to what else he'd been doing.
"Oh my god, you're going to freak when you're back to normal. This was instruction #1 in the video, and I'm not supposed to let you do this!" Just fantastic, another way she had failed him.
"Stop saying things like that!" he commanded.
"I won't stop! And I won't let you lead these boys into a battle they can't possibly win. You can't; they're children!"
"They are men, trained for war.""Just believe me! There's no need for any of this. They're after us, you n' me, not them. If we just go, if we leave right now, no one has to fight."
"I am not leaving these people defenseless! Now get in the cellar, Donna."
"Get in the cellar!" he shouted at her, gripping her elbow and marching her to the storm cellar. She readied a particularly stellar kick, got caught in her own skirts and cursed, then shrieked in outrage when he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her off her feet to haul her bodily to the opening.
"You stupid man! Do you have any ide-" she banged on his back and shoulders with her hands, and smacked him good and hard upside the head.
He set her down at the threshold to the storm cellar, took her fiercely by the arms. "DONNA!" he roared, and the entire courtyard seemed to hush as the assembled students witnessed kindly John Smith finally lose his patience. "For once in your life you will listen to me and get in the cellar. I refuse to have anything happen to you, do you understand me!?"
"This isn't about me. If you'd just listen; you're doing everything wrong!" she shouted back.
He advanced on her and she instinctively backed up, not wanting to get grabbed again, but she tripped over the threshold behind her and bumbled down the shallow steps. A young girl, part of the kitchen staff, caught her and hustled her into the mass of waiting women and younger children.
By the time Donna untangled herself from the flurry of hands and pushed away from the crowd, the Doctor was just a silhouette against the night, shutting the big double doors tight.
She scrambled up the steps and for the doors, pushing with all her strength against them, but they had been barred.
Donna gave them one last kick. "Son of a bitch!"
Children and staff gasped behind her, then took one step back as she rounded on them, hands on hips. "All right, then. Who can tell me where the trapdoor to the kitchen is?"
They looked at her blankly.
"C'mon now! I've seen my fair share of 'Masterpiece Theater'. There's always a trapdoor to the kitchen!"
It was Nurse Redfern, sitting patiently in one corner with bandages and clean water at the ready, who had finally stepped forward and pointed out the almost-invisible panel in the ceiling, leading up to the kitchen. Donna hauled herself out of the square opening and onto the kitchen floor, then peered down at the frightened faces looking up at her, Nurse Redfern among them.
"Okay, Joan. You're in charge of this lot. They're not after you; I can get them away from here. I'll cover this up with something. Keep everyone calm and quiet and you'll be fine. When everything quiets down you should be able to lead everyone out."
Donna was ready to pull the trapdoor shut before she hesitated for one second, her curiosity niggling at her.
"What, you're not going to argue with me and try to convince me to stay down there with you?"
Joan slanted her a wry glance. "You would not listen if I tried. And you were always an odd one, Mrs. Smith. Something tells me you know more about this than anyone else."
"Damn skippy I do. Take care then, and..." she searched her brain for something Doctor-y and inspiring to say as a goodbye to the woman who was keeping such a cool head in an emergency, "be brilliant and...er...go for the girl-power and vote and stuff, okay?"
She closed the trapdoor on Joan's confused face and hauled a hearth rug over it, before the sudden burst of gunfire had her whirling towards the windows. She watched, horrified, as the students open fired on a seemingly endless stream of scarecrows. The gun fire cast the Doctor's face in harsh lines of doubt and regret as he instructed children to kill.
He was going to be so sorry later. Donna stumbled back, almost retching. It was all for nothing; they were after the Doctor and would keep coming until they got what they wanted. And they weren't going to believe the Doctor couldn't give it to them until they were shown otherwise.
It was going to be all up to her. Once she had the watch she could draw them all away.
She grabbed a heavy skillet from the nearby rack as a weapon, then a rolling pin for good measure. She wasn't going to kid herself, the knives freaked her out a bit much and she didn't have it in her to stab anyone. But a good clobber over the head would take anything down just as good.
Thus doubly armed, she raced through the building and for the stairs, taking the well-worn path up to the flat she had shared with her "husband" for the last two months, never once noticing the little girl with a red balloon that traced her path.
When she burst into the flat at an all-out sprint, heart pounding, it was half-expecting the watch and TARDIS key to be mysteriously gone. But no, the chain and its treasures were still in their little bowl. Thank you god!
She had the chain around her neck in a heartbeat, and had picked up her weapons once more, halfway out the door before a niggle of sentimentality made her look back at the cozy flat she had shared with her human Doctor.
There was the accursed couch, where he'd kissed her so passionately. Through that door was the small old-fashioned kitchen where he had baked her cookies in a ruffly apron, and praised her own inedible meals.
And in the back were the bedrooms. His bed, never used. Her own, where she had spent countless sleepless nights enfolded in his arms, his lips pressed against her skin and his hands ever roaming.
It was all going to be finally over, one way or another, and he would never look at her that way again. He would never touch her that way again.
Way it should be, anyway. Don't you dare become a stupid maudlin cow at a time like this, Donna!
She shut the door forcefully behind her.
She had reached the ground floor again, stationing herself by a seldom-used servant's entrance. One final glance out the windows confirmed no scarecrows near this end of the grounds. The sound of weapons firing echoed dully through the big building. Her race through the school had taken only minutes and every breath she took pulled painfully against the tight corset but she couldn't afford to rest yet.
Mustering her courage, she slipped a fingernail under the clasp of the watch and eased the lid open a scant sliver.
Golden light streamed out; it seemed to caress her as it danced briefly around her, sending a warm rush of welcome through her. The smell of stardust - of the Doctor - hit her senses and she choked up. She missed him! It was the scent of galaxies, starlight and impossible things, and if she could smell it, then the Family would doubtlessly be upon it immediately.
She forced her fingers closed, snapping the watch shut and cutting off the light. The tiny bit of energy that had escaped moved about the room, searching for its true owner. Unable to do so, it traveled back to her, coalescing in faint streamers of gold that affectionately brushed her in a slightly-inappropriate tickle - almost the sensation of warm hands trailing fingertips over her skin - before seemingly being absorbed back into the closed watch.
Donna took a deep, steadying breath, brushed off stupid useless tears she hadn't even realized she had shed, and hustled towards the door.
But on the other side, the little girl from the dance stood blocking her path, red balloon in hand.
She was the creepiest thing Donna had ever seen.
"I swear to god, you say 'come play with us' or 'redrum' and I will end you!" threatened Donna, inching around the wall, skillet and rolling pin held high.
"So it is you who has been hiding him." Her nose twitched, a small rodent-like quiver. "This room reeks of him. You reek of him. Tell me where it is and you can continue on with your pitifully short life."
"Says the energy mass that only has 3 months to live," drawled Donna.
"You have no concept of whom you mock, human!"
"Doesn't matter who you are, does it, when you're in stuck in a body I can turn over my knee!" Donna kept inching forward, keeping to the wall until she had almost crept past the girl blocking her way. The girl followed her with her eyes, and it was only due to the fact that Donna was completely focused on every twitch of movement that she noticed the girl withdrawing a weapon from the folds of her dress.
Before she could overthink it, she swung with her rolling pin, bringing it down hard with a sickening crack across the wrist of the small hand with the gun, sending both gun and the rolling pin sliding deeper into the room and under a bookcase. Not a little girl, not really, just the thing that took her body. She chanted it to herself as young eyes, shocked at the new experience of pain, pierced her accusingly.
"Not so much fun being in a human body now, huh?" Donna growled. Then for good measure she yanked the red balloon from the girl's other hand. "And you look ridiculous carrying this around. You're an evil body-snatcher, for god's sake; have some self-respect!"
The creepy thing gave her one last furious look and turned away to retrieve her weapon and, presumably, either try to shoot her again or go off and tattle to her family. Donna wasn't going to stick around to figure out which one it was going to be, so she turned tail and began running once more.
The sound of guns had stopped as the Family ended their assault, sidetracked by the sudden release of Time Lord energy. Donna had exited the building through a servant's door, and double-backed by keeping to the deep shadows cast by the hedge surrounding the school. She found a suitably dark corner just in time to watch the panicked retreat of schoolboys and teachers, fleeing now that they were no longer the Family's target. The little girl had ended up returning to tattle on her after all, and now she led a platoon of scarecrows, and the entities they called "Mother of mine" and "Brother of mine," back towards the room where the Time Lord energy had last been released. Donna watched them from a distance, hardly daring to breathe, hoping they couldn't sniff her out from this distance. She wondered nervously why "Mr. Clark" was not with them.
But then there was a sudden rush of kitchen staff and other women running out of the destroyed courtyard gates, evacuating the cellar now that the battle had stopped. The tall figure of the Doctor came frantically running after them, catching up to Nurse Redfern who was dutifully bringing up the rear and making sure everyone escaped.
From her vantage point, there seemed to be a spirited discussion going on, with Nurse Redfern pointing vaguely back inside the building and the Doctor spearing hands into his hair in building hysteria. With a sorrowful shrug, Nurse Redfern followed the last of the departing staff.
Donna scouted the area thoroughly, making sure no scarecrows lingered, and began doing her best James Bond impersonation, dashing from shadow to shadow as she closed the distance between the Doctor and herself.
Donna winced as the Doctor hollered her name in ever-increasing frenzy and sped up her hunched-over run, keeping to the low surrounding wall and the cover of tall hedges. Finally alongside him, she reached through the brush and pulled him into the hedge.
"Shhhh! Stop shouting! I'm right here!"
The Doctor seized her in a lung-crushing squeeze. "Where did you go!? I told you to stay with the women in the cellar! How could you run off like that!?"
"Had to get this," whispered Donna, lifting the watch from under her dress. "Told you I did."
The Doctor's reached out and touched the watch gently, before jerking his fingers back. "You are still talking of this nonsense?"
"I'm not this Doctor!""You can't still not believe! You've seen what those things can do! You know they aren't human."
"The...the soliders dressed as scarecrows. Donna, there were no bodies in the costumes, only straw. You seem to know how this is possible but I...it can't be real!"
Donna said nothing, watching the Doctor struggle with the facts he had witnessed. Coming to some sort of conclusion, he scrubbed his hands harshly over his face. "Even if those things aren't human, that doesn't mean I'm this 'Doctor' they keep saying I am!"
Donna blew out an aggravated breath. "Well, at least you're admitting those things aren't human. I guess that's as good a first step as any. Here," she pushed the skillet at him.
"A skillet?" he goggled.
"Yeah. We're heading to the TARDIS. I figure if anything will convince you, it's her. Scarecrow comes near us, you slam that over the head, yeah?"
"Donna," he said very quietly and calmly, the eye of the storm, and she paused in her attempts to clear a way out of the hedge for the both of them. When she caught his eye in the dim light, he continued. "Please tell me you did not leave the safety of the cellar armed with only a skillet."
"Of course not!" said Donna, affronted. "I had a rolling pin, too!" And she grabbed his hand and hauled him out after her.