"Oh, this is such a blast!" Donna Noble exclaimed enthusiastically into the evening. "Us winning free tickets to the main show, the absolutely gorgeous hotdog on a stick, and some bloody amazing cotton candy! This is, by far, the best circus ever!"
The Doctor smiled proudly, as if he was somehow the reason her statement was true. "Well, I don't like to brag…"
"Who are you kidding?" she snorted.
"…But this is, in fact, the best circus in all of the twentieth century. Way, way better than Barnum and Bailey's," he continued without so much as an acknowledgment of his companion's interruption.
"Where are we? America?"
The Doctor nodded. "Gotham City, to be exact. Haley's Circus and Amusement Rides, to be even exacter."
"Let's go on the Tilt-A-Whirl!" she exclaimed suddenly, snatching the Doctor's hand and dragging him over to the ride.
Astonishingly, the Doctor's eyes widened in what could only be described as abject terror. "Ah…" Not noticing, Donna continued to pull. "Donna…"
"What?" she asked without slowing down.
The Doctor dug his heels into the ground and managed to yank his hand out from her grasp. "See, here's the thing…"
Donna crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow. "What? Are you scared? Is the great, big, wonderful Time Lord scared of a little human carnival ride?"
He blushed and put his hands in his pockets with a pout.
"Oh, you are kidding me!" Donna exclaimed with no small amount of glee. The Doctor's blush deepened. "Aren't you the one who faced an army of Sontarans? And didn't you tell me you stared down the hordes of Genghis Khan with nothing more than a smile and the TARDIS?"
"Well, she is a spaceship," the Doctor muttered. "It's not like spears and fire rockets could get through her doors. And anyway," he continued loudly, "that's not the issue!"
"Oh no," Donna agreed. "The issue is that the great and powerful Doctor is afraid of rides."
"Look, it's just the Tilt-A-Whirl, all right? I went on one in Ontario that was just…" He shuttered violently. "Let's just say that I've never, ever, in all my lifetimes, had the opportunity to have gotten sick all over my shoes before that."
Donna burst out laughing.
"I liked those shoes. A friend gave me those shoes," he said defensively before rolling his eyes. "Are you quite done?"
As it turns out, she was. "Doctor, there's a little boy over there crying all by himself."
"Well, then let's go help him!" He quickly turned and headed towards the boy, only too happy for the change in subject.
Donna followed with a knowing smirk.
"Hello," the Doctor said softly when they reached the boy. "What's all this then?"
"I'm… I mean, my parents got lost and I'm trying to find them," the boy said with a teary defiance, daring them to suggest that anything else might be the truth.
The Doctor smiled at his tenacity. "Well, isn't that brave of you. I'm sure that they're very scared right now, and having you find them is just what they need to feel better!"
Donna crouched down so she could be face to face with the child. "What's your name, love?" she asked kindly.
She smiled. "I'm Donna, and this is my friend, the Doctor. If you'll let us, we'd like to help you find your Mum and Dad?"
Bruce considered the two adults before him seriously, judging their sincerity. "You guys talk like Alfred," he said after a few moments.
The Doctor grinned. "Good for Alfred! Always did like that name, Alfred, very British."
"He IS British," the boy pointed out. "And how are you guys gonna help me find my parents?"
Donna looked around. "Well, why don't we go talk to one of the circus people? I'm sure they can try the loudspeaker or something."
Bruce sighed in exasperation. Like he wouldn't have thought of that. "I tried already. They said the system was down and they couldn't talk on it."
"So they just let you go wandering about by yourself?" Donna asked, indignant. He shrugged, as if the fact that grown adults let a young boy wander around a public and crowded area was no big deal. "Well, I'm just going to go over and give them a piece of my mind!"
And when she did, the circus person told her that he didn't have to put up with the kind of attitude she was giving him, and that if Donna didn't get out of his face, he would have her kicked out.
The Doctor intervened right before the irate redhead could kill the circus person. "You're quite right, my good fellow," he said, giving her would-be victim a disarming grin. "And why should you have to listen to that?" He jabbed his thumb in his friend's direction. "She's loud, abrasive, and her voice gets oh so high pitched when she's angry."
He'll pay for that one, he will, Donna promised herself, narrowing her eyes.
The Doctor pulled out his psychic paper and held up if for the man to see. "But she's right. You can't just ignore a little boy who's lost."
The worker stared at what was, to him, a very valid and authentic looking police badge.
"I… I'm sorry, officer," he stammered. "But I wasn't lying to the kid. The loudspeaker's really busted!"
"That still doesn't mean you let a little boy wander around on his own!" Donna said angrily. "Anything could've happened to him!"
Bruce looked up at the enraged woman, annoyed. It wasn't like he was a baby. He knew how to take care of himself. Heck, Mrs. Dawson always asks him to keep an eye on Rachel while they're playing. It's because she knows he's responsible and stuff.
With one final sneer at the unhelpful employee, the Doctor ushered the three of them away. Weren't circus folk meant to love kids? Wasn't bringing joy to their tiny, single heart supposed to be their main goal in life? Clearly that lump of Tarkalean Flob was a bad, bad circus man!
"What do we do now, Doctor?" Donna asked, sitting down on a bench.
The Doctor winked at Bruce before answering the question with a cheeky grin. "We could always let you start hollering for his parents? You've certainly got a big enough gob."
The boy snorted while Donna tore the Doctor a new one. He decided he liked these people. They were funny.
After several smacks to the arms, shoulders, and torso, the Doctor finally apologized to his stalwart companion and sulked over by a loudspeaker pole. He pulled out his sonic screwdriver and began puzzling out what was wrong.
Meanwhile, Donna sat Bruce down next to her on the bench. She offered to buy him a snack of some kind, but he politely declined.
She beamed at him. "Your mum must've taught you well, Mr. manners." He blushed. "My mum was always telling me off for being rude. The funny thing, though, was that she was worse than me!" Donna said with a boisterous laugh. She sighed, fondly. "That hypocrite…"
"Where is she?" Bruce asked. "Back in England?"
Donna nodded. "Yep. Her and Granddad."
"Are you guys on vacation or something?"
"Sort of," she said, considering. "But it's more like we're just… Traveling." She smiled when Bruce asked what that was like. "It's the best; mad, exciting, heartbreaking, breathtakingly beautiful, and sometimes…" Donna leaned in close. "Sometimes it's bloody terrifying."
"If it's bloody terrifying, then why do it?"
"Oi! Watch the language, sonny-Jim!"
The boy rolled his eyes and asked the question again without bad language.
"Like I said, Brucie: It's the best." Donna leaned back on the bench and looked up at the stars with the expression of someone who is absolutely living the greatest life possible. "I've seen things, traveling with the Doctor. Marvelous and amazing things that I could only dream about. It's a wonderful, fantastic universe out there, and I'm going to see it all!"
Bruce watched the Doctor as he began pulling wires out of the pole, his brainy specks on, while various circus people yelled at him. Was traveling with him really as awesome as she was saying?
Donna's smile grew wider and she tore her gaze from the heavens to look him straight in the eye. "But do you know what I love most about traveling with the Doctor?"
The boy shook his head.
"Everyplace we visit is more amazing than the last," the time traveling temp from Chiswick answered gleefully.
After a beat, Bruce asked what they were doing here.
"What d'you mean?"
"This place isn't amazing. It's just… Gotham. There's nothing special here."
"There's you." Bruce raised a dubious eyebrow. "Think about it! A little boy, all on his own, in a crowded mob, and he's a brave as anything?" Donna smiled, clearly impressed. "If that's not amazing, then I don't know what is."
"What? You can't be amazing?"
Bruce shrugged. "My dad says that I can be anything I want to, but I dunno about amazing."
"Well, you ask your dad if he's seen anything more amazing than you, and I'll bet you'll have him stumped," Donna said confidently.
The loudspeaker chose that moment to emit a rather wretched squealing sound, causing everyone to pause and glare at the offending piece of technology.
"Excuse me," a familiar voice began. "I'm the Doctor. Hello! I was just wondering if any of you lot was looking for a young lad by the name of Bruce?"
The aforementioned boy and Donna both whipped their heads back to where they last saw the gangly alien, who, by now, was standing on some sort of barrel that was being lifted up out of reach of the circus people by a pair of elephants. He was speaking into a microphone which had possibly been procured for him by the little monkey wearing a fez that was snuggling up to his shoulder, and had the device hooked up to the loudspeaker with what looked to Donna like a piece of chewing gum.
He. Was. BONKERS!
"Yes, we're located by the rather unhelpful help desk, which is right by the Tilt-A-Whirl." And Donna was sure she heard his voice quiver just now! "Which is, I believe, towards the front of the circus?" he asked the monkey, who nodded back. "Please keep an eye out for Sasha and Bruno, a lovely pair of VERY HELPFUL elephants," this last part was said with a glare to the small crowd of circus people that had gathered around, trying to regain some semblance of control, "who are assisting me in getting this message to you."
Sasha and Bruno's handlers were attempting to reign in their charges, but were slapped silly by said charges' tails and couldn't get close.
"How is he doing that?" Bruce asked, awed.
"I have no idea," Donna admitted.
They looked at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter.
Meanwhile, a crowd was gathering around the Doctor and had started cheering when the fez wearing monkey climbed down the Time Lord's arm and launched towards Mr. Haley himself, hugging his face and bestowing sweet kisses all over it, causing the very frustrated man to fail in his attempt at getting to the Doctor, who was, by now, criticizing the entire circus from the animals' point of view.
"…And really," the Doctor's voice was coming through clearer than ever, "when it all comes right down to it, the lions could really do with a bit more meat every now and again. They are, after all, King of the Jungle. Which is an absolute truth, by the way, having once shared consciousness with the Leoniese Hierarchy."
A loud roar could be heard in the distance.
"Oh, come off it! I'm not giving secrets away, and you know it!"
The roar sounded off again.
"Oi! Behave. They'll never believe it anyway."
The lions roared one last time, causing the Doctor to get a very indignant look on his face.
"I do not look like a nutter!" he defended automatically before taking a moment to consider himself and his surroundings.
With a wince, the Doctor conceded the lions may have a point.
And so, finally, Bruce's parents arrived, thundering through the gathered crowd, desperate for their son.
"Bruce!" his mother shrieked as she ran over and engulfed the boy in a fierce hug, his father barely half a step behind her.
"Are you all right, Bruce?" he asked, gently, crouching down as Donna had before.
Bruce nodded, squirming out of his mother's grasp. "Yeah, I'm okay, Dad. (Mom, quit kissing me! Geez!)"
The adults all chuckled at that.
"I want to thank you for taking care of Bruce," his father said to Donna as he stood up.
He held his hand out to shake. "I'm Thomas Wayne, and this is my wife, Martha."
Donna smiled and shook hands with him. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wayne." Her eyes widened in recognition. "Wayne?" She looked down at Bruce in astonishment. "You're Bruce WAYNE?"
He quirked an eyebrow and nodded slowly. British people were so weird.
The elder Wayne frowned. "You've heard of us?"
Having once temped at Wayne Enterprises' London brach, of course she was familiar with Bruce, but only knew of Thomas and Martha Wayne for things that obviously hadn't happened yet. "Uhm, well, I…"
At that moment, the Doctor sauntered up, having somehow managed to talk his way out of his previous situation.
"And who in Gotham hasn't heard of the famous Waynes?" he answered cheerfully before shaking the man's hand with great gusto. "Hello! Always a pleasure to meet another doctor. Especially one as respected as you!"
"Oh, uh, thank you," Dr. Wayne said with a bemused grin. "You must be the doctor from the loudspeaker."
"Thank you for helping us, Doctor…?"
"I'm just the Doctor, that's all. But enough about me! Tell me, Dr. Wayne, how did you come up with the leukocytic stimulation theory?" the Time Lord asked, changing the subject with great ease.
Something which did not go unnoticed by young Bruce. He considered again the man as his father enthusiastically answered his question. There really was something weird about him. Almost alien even. Maybe him and Donna were aliens, Bruce thought in a fit of youthful fancy. But that was ridiculous. Dad always said there wasn't any such thing. And even if there were, why would they come to Gotham of all places and waste time helping a lost kid find his parents?
Bruce chalked up the Doctor's oddness to his just being extremely British in ways that Alfred was probably too proper to be. And Donna seemed perfectly normal anyway.
After a few more minutes of amiable chit-chat, Mrs. Wayne felt that it was time to be going.
"Aw, Mom," Bruce whined. "I wanted to go see the Flying Graysons!"
She shrugged. "I'm sorry, sweetie, but the tickets for the main tent are sold out. I warned you about waiting to the last minute to clean your room. If you'd done it when I asked, then we would've been here in plenty of time to buy tickets."
The boy sighed heavily. "I guess."
Donna pulled out the pair of tickets she and the Doctor had won and offered them to the Waynes with a smile.
Dr. and Mrs. Wayne tried to resist, but Donna wouldn't hear of it, stating that she'd seen enough circuses to last her a lifetime, and no child should go without. Not if she had anything to say about it.
"I'd listen to her if I were you," the Doctor advised. "She's a beast if she doesn't get her way. BLIMEY! That hurt!"
"You'll live," she said flatly as he rubbed his shin before telling the amused Gothamites that these tickets were a prize and that kids got in free because of it.
Dr. Wayne looked down at his son's hopeful face, and with a chuckle, graciously excepted Donna's generous gift.
"Thank you for everything. Both of you," Mrs. Wayne said warmly.
"Well, we didn't do much, really," the Doctor denied. "All I did was use my sonic screwdriver to hyper-accelerate the molecules of the defective parts to create a stable radiological broadcast. Easy-peasy." He smiled as the humans tried to work that one out. "And Donna just sat there on a bench."
Bruce laughed. Technically speaking, that was the truth.
Rolling her eyes, Donna crouched down next to the boy. "Have fun, okay? I mean it."
He nodded, his own eyes already alight with the spectacle to come.
The now functioning loudspeaker proudly announced that the most spectacular show on earth was about to begin, so everybody with a ticket should make their way to the main tent!
Donna stood up, and the Waynes said a hurried goodbye. Before they entered the tent, Bruce turned around and gave her a hearty wave.
"He won't have many more chances for things like this, will he?" Donna asked sadly, waving back.
"Two weeks from today, Dr. and Mrs. Wayne will be gunned down in an alley, by a petty thug," the Doctor confirmed.
"And Bruce will see the whole thing," she finished, remembering the story. The murder of a world famous doctor, owner of the international Wayne Enterprises, and his wife was big enough news to reach all the way to London. Donna wasn't much older than Bruce is now, and she could remember just how devastated he looked in those photos from the funeral. "It's why I gave them our tickets. I wanted Bruce to have one more happy memory."
"Donna Noble, I've seen the whole of Time and Space, beheld wonders that would make any man weep from the sheer splendor of it all, but never have I seen anything quite so amazing as you."
In tears from both the tragedy to come and the Doctor's words, Donna turned to her friend. "Can we go now?"
The Doctor put a comforting arm around her shoulder, and the pair walked back to the TARDIS.
Doctor Who and all affiliated characters are the property of the BBC. Bruce Wayne and all affiliated characters are the property of DC Comics. I own the monkey.