Fandom: Doctor Who
Barney likes the park, and so, most afternoons, Donna straps him into his pushchair and off they go. He's still too small for the swings, but sometimes -- when there's nobody around to watch -- she slides down the smallest slide with him safely tucked between her knees. He likes that, and expresses his pleasure with peals of chuckles, but the slide isn't his favourite part of a visit to the park. Most of all, he loves watching the ducks squabble over the hunks of stale bread Donna throws to them, clapping his small hands in glee as they quack and flap.
Today, they're not the only ones at the duck pond.
The young man smiles and waves at Donna as she approaches. She doesn't recognize him, which is odd: the park is a society in miniature, and most of the faces Donna sees on her visits are as familiar to her as she is to them. She's sure, though, that she's never seen this man before. She wouldn't have forgotten someone who looks like a younger, more attractive Herman Munster and who is dressed like a geography teacher trying to get down with the kids. But although she doesn't recognize the young man, there's something weirdly familiar about him. He seems to know her, as his waving and smiling are only becoming more enthusiastic as she approaches.
"Hullo!" he calls -- and it really is hullo, as if he's stepped out of the pages of a 1950s Boy's Own adventure. "You look well, Donna."
The sense of familiarity grows more intense. It's like the feeling of a forgotten word on the tip of her tongue, multiplied a thousand times over.
"Do I know you?" she asks, feeling unaccountably wary.
He waves his hand cheerily. "Friend of a friend," he says, and turns his attention to Barney. Barney doesn't seem to share any of Donna's misgivings; he treats the stranger to his biggest smile, all gums and dribble. "Who's this handsome little chap, then?" the young man says, pulling a face which makes Barney break into delighted laughter.
Maternal pride shoves suspicion to one side and elbows its way to the front of the queue. Donna glows. "This is Barnaby. He was named for his granddad, weren't you, Barney?" Barney waves his arms in confirmation.
"Of course you were," the young man says. Solemnly, he takes Barney's tiny hand in his much larger one, and very gently shakes it. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Barney, son of Donna, grandson of Sylvia, great-grandson of Wilfred Barnaby Mott."
The sense of almost knowing is suddenly so powerful that Donna feels a little dizzy. Her head is thudding, her mouth is dry and it's hard to concentrate. "How do you --?"
The young man straightens up again. "We go back a long way," he says. Then his expression shifts, some of the breezy cheerfulness melting away. "You're not feeling well."
Donna puts her hand to her head. "I think I'm getting a migraine." Her skin is prickling, her flesh crawling as if it's trying to get off her body and get away from the cheerful, innocuous, apparently harmless man in front of her. She doesn't want to go, doesn't want to stop talking to him, but at the same time every last, tiniest part of her feels the wrongness of this, a wrongness which is profound and unsettling and utterly beyond her ability to articulate.
"It's not a migraine," the young man says. Now he's not smiling at all. "I'm sorry, Donna, I truly am. Mistakes that can't be fixed have to be lived with, and that's as true for me as for you."
"What are you talking about? What mistakes? This isn't a mistake. This is my life. I'm happy," she tells him. The tight bands of pain squeezing her skull make it hard to speak, but it's important to say it, because it's true: she can feel the truth of it, deep down. Shaun and Barney and Grandad and pizza and Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday night -- these are the small building blocks which lock together to form the solid structure of her contentment. It's not a lie, even if she cannot entirely shed the vague but persistent belief that it could have been something else. That she could have been someone else.
"I can't stay for long," the young man says, his tone abruptly urgent. "If I talk to you for too long, you might get sick. But I had to come back, just once, to tell you --" He breaks off for a moment, and then says, in a rush of words, "If you or Barney ever need help, I'll come. I'll come right away and I will move galaxies for you or him. I promise."
Donna blinks. Her brain feels fuzzy; she's not sure she heard that right. That stuff about galaxies was just, what's the word, metaphorical, right? Had to be. "He's just a little kid," she says.
"He'll be a grown up some day," the young man says, "and I'll be there if he needs me. Remember that, Donna. If you have to forget everything else, remember that."
Barney gives a cry. Donna reaches automatically to comfort him, and when she looks up, the young man is gone. So is her headache. She breathes out in relief, although she still feels a little shaky on her feet. She'll take two Panadol when she gets home and lie down until Deal or No Deal comes on, and then she'll be fine.
Barney is still fussing, so she lifts him out of the
pushchair and holds him against her chest, like she did when he was a
newborn. "Hush, now," she tells him, "I'll look after you."
And then, not knowing why, but feeling sure of it all the same, she adds
quietly, "and so will he."