Characters/Pairings: Donna, Ten
Spoilers?: Through End of Time: Part 2
Summary: "But really, you think I'd leave my best friend without a defense mechanism? She's all right. She's fine. She's asleep."
Excerpt: “It’s a defense mechanism,” he explains, “in case you started to remember and you needed… well, defending.” The corner of his mouth twitches up into a smile, but it feels insincere. “Me, I’m just part of the package.”
Author's notes: Well, you know how it goes. When you don't get closure... write it yourself!
Donna Noble wakes up with a man crouching over her.
He’s got big brown eyes and hair that’s much too spiky for her tastes, but he grins down at her like she’s the most brilliant person in the world and says, “You all right?”
Donna blinks once, then twice, trying to figure out why she’s flat on her back on the pavement, being leered at by a stranger. She stares at him, the middle of her forehead crinkling in confusion. She’d been running, she remembers suddenly. She lifts her head and brushes some pebbles from her cheek, looking left and right. She’d been running, she’s sure of it, but why...?
The man springs up from his crouch and outstretches one of his hands. “Need a hand?” He surveys the street and crinkles his nose. “Not a soft place to land, it must be said.” He grins at her again when she takes his hand and he heaves her to her feet. “Still. You’ll be fine.”
“I was running...” she starts, looking around her. Hadn’t she been running from someone?
“It’s all right.” He holds her hand just a second too long, and when he lets go he shoves his hands in his pockets. “You’re safe.”
“There were... people... chasing me...” She pinches the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes. There’s something, she knows, just at the edge of her consciousness, something important she’d been thinking of...
Her eyes snap open and she drops her hand, gawking at the man in front of her. “Doctor?”
The recognition in her voice seems to spark new life in him, and his face breaks into a beaming smile. “That’s me. Hello!”
For once in her life, Donna Noble is speechless.
...For about three seconds.
“Where did you come from? Who’s chasing me? Where did they go? Why is my mother a scruffy blond bloke? What the hell is going on?” She gestures widely back behind her. “They were chasing me, there was loads of them, they—”
“It’s all right, you’re safe,” the Doctor says again, and Donna knows, instantly, from his evasive tone that she’s not going to get the answers she wants. “Quick blast of artron energy, should’ve taken care of them. Not killed, of course, but they’ll be out for a long while. You, too, come to think of it. You’re sleeping right now.”
Donna looks at him incredulously. “I’m not sleeping, I’m standing here talking to you.”
The Doctor only lifts his eyebrows, but it’s enough for her to connect the dots.
“I’m dreaming.” She doesn’t try to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
“Sorry,” the Doctor says, and he looks it. He rocks back and forth on his heels, looking around the street. “It’s a defense mechanism,” he explains, “in case you started to remember and you needed… well, defending.” The corner of his mouth twitches up into a smile, but it feels insincere. “Me, I’m just part of the package.”
“Part of the package,” Donna repeats. She laughs, fighting back her feeling of disappointment with a wave of fury. “Great. I’m talking to the paperclip from Word.” She shakes her head. “Suppose you won’t mind if I do this, then.”
And then she pulls back her arm and slaps him hard across the face.
“Oi!” The Doctor staggers to the side two steps, cradling his face and scowling at her. “What was that for?”
Donna rolls her eyes. “What do you think, dumbo?” She rounds on him, wagging one finger at him. “You and your flipping mind-meld, you took my memories! You didn’t even ask! Worse than that, I told you not to and you still—“
“You were dying,” the Doctor says, quiet but firm. “I’m sorry, Donna, but I had to.”
She thinks about slapping him again. Instead she lowers her arm to her side, her hands shaking. “That was the best year of my life. The best. And you just…” She steps back from him, blinking back frustrated tears. “Traveling with you, it felt like I mattered.”
“You did. You still do.” He’s wearing that earnest puppy-dog face, and Donna wants to shake him. “You’re brilliant, Donna.”
“Oh, don’t start,” she snaps.
The Doctor ignores her and carries on, looking infuriatingly confident. “You are, though. Shaun thinks so, doesn’t he?”
“Shut up.” It’s underhanded of him, she thinks, using those big sad eyes to try and stop her from smacking him silly. She keeps her scowl fixed in place and tries to stop her voice from wobbling. As always, she compensates by yelling. “I used to help people. I saved lives! I saved the universe! Those are the only memories I have of actually making a difference and you took them from me!”
“Then make new ones!” he yells back, and it startles her just enough that her mouth snaps shut. “Come on, Donna, haven’t I taught you anything? You don’t need a TARDIS or a Time Lord consciousness to make a difference or help people, you can do it from Chiswick. And you, Donna Noble, you’ve got a knack for it.” He smiles again, just barely, and that hint of pride finds its way back into his voice. “Take that parallel world, with Rose. You never met me then, but you still set it right.”
The Doctor is the only person Donna knows who manages to look at her with such intense pride and admiration, and even in the safety of her own subconscious she feels herself turning bright red.
“Those memories aren’t what make you brilliant, Donna. That’s just you. You’re the one who made them brilliant in the first place.”
Donna chokes down the lump in her throat. She wonders if anyone else will ever have quite as much faith in her as the Doctor does.
She doubts it.
“Yeah,” she agrees quietly. And then she narrows her eyes and points a stern finger in his direction, for good measure. “I’m still mad at you.”
The Doctor nods, and she can see him struggling to reign in a smug smile. “Fair enough.”
Donna folds her arms over her chest and bites her lip, and for a minute there’s an awkward silence. A large part of her still wants to throttle him for being an idiot with a God complex, but a larger part wants to hug her best friend for the first time in over a year. Compromising, she tilts her head and asks, “What about you, then? How’ve you been?”
The Doctor’s smile is apologetic. “You’re still dreaming, Donna.”
“Right, yeah.” She laughs, but it sounds forced even to her. “Sorry. Forgot I was talking to a screensaver.” She lets her smile fall. “You think he’s all right?”
“Always,” the Doctor says, and Donna knows he’s lying.
“If he’s on his own when I find him, I’m gonna kill him,” she adds cheerfully. “He bloody well never listens to me.”
The Doctor smiles but says nothing, and Donna feels an eerie chill down her spine. Her eyes go wide as she looks at him in horror.
“No,” she whispers, but the Doctor only looks at her.
She knows that look. It’s his I’m so sorry look.
“I’m going to forget again.” A sudden resurgence of tears blurs her vision.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and she can see that he means it. “There’s nothing I can do.” Donna takes a step backwards, and the Doctor steps towards her, arm outstretched. “But you don’t need it, Donna. You’re brilliant on your own.”
“Yeah.” She laughs again, watery and awkward. “So you’ve said.”
On impulse she steps forward, crushing him in a hug and closing her eyes in a vain attempt to hold back her tears. The Doctor holds her tightly and with enough desperation that Donna can pretend for the moment that this is really happening. All questions of brilliance and memories aside, Donna misses her friend the most.
A single sob gets past her control and she sniffs. “God, I...” She stops to take a deep breath, but it transmutes into a yawn. “I’m tired.” She pulls back to look at him. “How can I be tired when I’m dreaming?”
The Doctor frowns at her, and Donna looks around. The street looks blurry, and wiping the tears from her eyes doesn’t seem to help. It’s a strange effect, like the world around her is fading. She lets go of the Doctor to cover her mouth as she yawns again, suddenly finding it very difficult to keep her eyes open.
She’d be scared, she thinks, if she weren’t so exhausted.
“Doctor,” she starts, swaying on her feet. Her knees feel weak. “Something’s wrong, I...” She takes a step backward and stumbles, and the Doctor moves quickly, catching her under the arms before she falls. “I’m so tired.”
“It’s all right.” He eases them both to the ground. “You’re all right. Just relax, Donna.”
Donna rests her head back against his shoulder. She struggles to keep her eyes open and focuses on the stripes on his suit.
“I want to remember,” she says.
“I know.” The Doctor smiles sadly as Donna twists her head to look at him. “You don’t need me, Donna.”
“I know,” she says, and for once she means it. “I’ll miss you.”
She watches his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. “Me too,” he admits, so quietly she can barely hear him.
Donna’s eyes well up and make it even harder to see, but she smiles at him anyway. “Take care of yourself, Spaceman.”
“Yeah.” The Doctor nods, his smile stretching wider. “And you, Donna Noble – be magnificent.”
“Yeah.” Her eyes slip shut as she rests her head against his shoulder. “Yeah, I think I will.”
Smiling against the soft material of his suit jacket, she goes to sleep.
Donna Noble wakes up with a man crouching over her.
It’s Shaun, looking worried but relieved. Just over his shoulder, Donna sees her mother, looking just as anxious.
“Donna?” Shaun tugs at her hand. “It’s me, I’m here.” He grins. “You’re safe. You’re home!”
Donna blinks, trying to figure out what she’s doing sleeping on the sofa. “I was… what happened?”
Shaun and her mother exchange grins, and Donna is certain there’s something she ought to understand.
“Did I miss something? Again?”