Donna Noble lets herself into her apartment building and fishes for the mail in her letterbox. It’s been two months since she moved out of home and almost six since the world was apparently stolen. Of course, she missed it again, but c’est la vie. Still, things did get weird after that, not least of all the way her mother started treating her as if she was made of glass.
In the end, it all got too much. Donna moved out, finding a small apartment not too far from her most recent temping position. Usually she goes out with the girls after work for a drink, but she’s still a little seedy from Tuesday night drinks, so she left early and came home.
Tucking the bills into her bag, she avoids the creepy man in the apartment near the stairs and goes up to her own flat. Sliding the key into the lock, she gets an odd feeling, almost as if a breeze has blown through the hallway. Shuddering a bit, she turns the key and then opens the door, dropping her bag on the hall table before closing the door behind her.
She turns into the living room — and stops dead at the sight of a man sprawled on the carpet.
Donna’s about to turn on her heels and run to get Greg from next door, but then she remembers he’ll still be at work at this hour. And she really doesn’t want to hear what sort of sick jokes Lisa from downstairs would make.
She takes a good hard look at the man. He’s dressed in trainers, which make sense for someone who might want to make a quick getaway, but the brown pinstripe suit doesn’t seem nearly as appropriate for breaking-and-entering.
She thinks about calling the police, but he’s such a skinny streak of nothing that she’s certain she can take him on, even if he’s only faking. Even so, she picks up an umbrella and pokes him with it, making sure she’s out of his reach.
He doesn’t move, and in the end she drops the umbrella and sidles over to the body, dropping to her knees and reaching out for the hand that lies across his chest. She touches him and feels that the skin is cool to touch. Then she finds a pulse and realized that it’s racing. So fast. So very fast.
Surely one heart could never beat that fast.
But two could.
She sits back on her heels, her mouth agape, staring at the body of the Doctor in front of her. And it all comes flooding back.
“I thought I was supposed to die,” she tells him accusingly. “You told Mum and Gramps it would kill me. Hold on,” she stops, thinking hard, “I wasn’t even there for that bit. So how can I remember it?”
Because I was.
The familiar voice of the Doctor sounds and she leaps to her feet, looking around in all directions for him.
There’s a sound like a wry chuckle and now she realises that it’s within her head.
That’s right, he agrees. I’m here. In your head.
She can’t help the way she looks around when he speaks. “What are you doing there?” she wants to know.
She can almost imagine him leaning against the TARDIS console, his arms crossed over his chest and trying to come up with something she’ll believe. Clearly there’s been a cock-up and he’s come to get her help to rescue him.
Cock-up? His voice is clearly indignant. What kind of an improper suggestion is that?
“The voice of experience,” she retorts. “Tell me what happened.”
He sighs, and she automatically looks down at his body, but it’s still breathing slowly and regularly. It’s positively creepy, seeing him so still. Even on the odd occasions that she saw him asleep, he moved more than this.
Yes, well, sorry about that. Clearly he’s picking up on her thoughts. Not really my fault. Well, it is. In a sense.
“Hmm?” She pulls herself up onto the couch and leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands, looking down at his prone body. “Details, Timeboy.”
Ooh, that’s a nice realisation, his voice teases. You can’t slap me.
“Don’t bet on it.”
She lifts her hand, but a glance at his lax facial features and she finds he’s right. She can’t bring herself to do anything that could hurt him. He looks as innocent as a child and all she really wants to do is hug him.
I won’t be able to hug you back.
“Oh, never mind that.” She shakes her head. “I want to know what happened. And what are you doing here?”
Well, I had to find someone who could help me.
“So you pick the one person whose brain is supposed to explode at the sight of you. Nice one, Doctor.”
Hey, I never said that! He’s indignant again. I said you’d burn up! And if I wasn’t in here, you would. I’m — well — pretty much holding it back from killing you. There’s a moment of mental silence. You could at least say ‘thank you’.
“Hmph! Dream on,” she tells him. “If it wasn’t for your little mind-wiping stunt, I wouldn’t have needed you there in the first place.”
Not fair! His voice was firm, the way it always was when he was trying to win an argument. You touched the hand.
“You never told me not to!”
It never occurred to me that you’d be so stupid as to stay behind in the TARDIS when the Daleks were trying to destroy it.
“Uh, hello, first meeting with the Daleks! Dalek virgin, as it were.” She’s angry with him now. How dare he be in her head and arguing with her? “How was I supposed to know that they’ve got a habit of trying to take over the universe every couple of years? You didn’t exactly give me an encyclopaedia with descriptions of every enemy I was meant to know about if I was going to travel with you.”
And suddenly he’s laughing in her head. Oh, Donna Noble, how I’ve missed arguing with you! He chuckles again. All right, point taken. It’s all my fault. Well, most of it. Well, a bit.
“All,” she says warningly. “Or else I’ll put my fingers in my ears and talk loudly to myself so that I can’t hear a word you’re saying. And you’ll probably die here on my lounge room floor. Now,” she guesses from his lack of response that she’s silenced him, at least for now, and presses her advantage, “you still haven’t told me why you thought I could help you.”
Fine, it’s all me, he says hurriedly, and she’s glad that there’s at least something she can use as a threat against him. Look — listen, I mean — I knew that you would need less explanation on my part for things to make sense. I’ve already destroyed Martha’s life enough thanks to her meeting with the Master, not to mention everything we all went through with the Daleks. Rose is in the other dimension with the version of me that grew from you…
“Oi,” she snapped. “Your fault, not mine.”
I wasn’t blaming you. His reply is so swift that she grins. I was just trying to make a point that you were my only option.
She huffs. “Fine then. And what do you expect me to do exactly?”
There’s no reply from the Doctor. Donna sits back on the couch and stares at the unconscious figure on the floor.
So, the Doctor’s voice speaks in her head, his tones teasing, are you just going to leave me there, then? I could die of pneumonia or something.
“Don’t make me laugh, Spaceman,” she retorts. “Respiratory bypass, remember? Although,” she stands up and looks down at him, “it could make for some awkward conversations if anyone came to visit.”
Your mother’s face would be a picture, the Doctor suggests.
“Right,” Donna leaps to her feet, “that’s it, Timeboy. I’m certainly not leaving you there if you’re going to make horrible suggestions. It’s the TARDIS for you, at least until we can work out how to get you out of my head.”
She’s just starting to wonder how she’ll find it, let alone carry him there, when his voice speaks in her head in mocking tones.
So how are you going to get my unconscious ‘long streak of alien nothing’ body there?
“Hey!” She glares at his body and heroically resists the almost overwhelming urge to kick it. “If you’re going to be in my head, you are NOT going to repeat every bloody thing I’m thinking before I have a chance to say it. Or at least think it. Got that?”
His voice is meek in reply. Yes, Donna.
“God, for a skinny weed, you weigh a ton!” she complains as she drags him through to her bedroom.
Well, I’d help you if I could…
She thinks that, if he had shoulders, he’d be shrugging them.
“I’d be nice to me if I were you,” she snaps, stopping to push her hair out of her eyes. “If I dropped you now, you’d feel the bruises for days.”
There’s mental silence and she perseveres with the task of getting the Doctor’s limp body up onto her bed and under the blankets. She all but collapses next to him, her hand falling onto his chest.
After a moment, she realises that she can feel his hearts beating under her hand, but that the beat is slower than it was when she felt it earlier.
Right, then. The Doctor speaks briskly in her mind. TARDIS.
She leaves the room, closing the door in the vain hope that, should Sylvia pop in for an unexpected visit, it will keep her out.
She’d drop dead at the sight of me, says the Doctor with a grin in his voice.
“Someone would be dead, all right, but it wouldn’t be her,” is Donna’s prompt riposte, although she murmurs it as they are now outside the apartment and she doesn’t want anyone to hear her apparently talking to herself.
S’pose you’re right. The Doctor pauses for a moment. D’you think she’ll ever forgive me?
“Forget her forgiving you,” Donna mutters angrily, suddenly furious with him. “What about me forgiving you? I’ve never begged for anything so hard in my life.” She stops suddenly. “I trusted you, Doctor!” she exclaims aloud. “And you haven’t even had the decency to apologise!”
A woman walking past casts a glance of astonishment and suspicion at her, and Donna averts her gaze.
Doctor, she thinks furiously, tell me where the TARDIS is. NOW. And you’d better have a first-class apology waiting when we get there.
His tones are definitely sheepish as he directs her around the corner and two blocks away to where the TARDIS is standing in lonely splendour on an empty building site. Donna raises her right hand and clicks her fingers — and hears a squawk of protest from the Doctor as the blue door swings open.
“Shut it,” she mutters, hurrying inside.
Slamming the door behind her, she begins pacing up and down the console room, getting increasingly infuriated as the voice in her head remains silent.
“Well?” she demands in a dangerous tone.
“Was that a question?” She thumps a fist on the TARDIS console, wishing he was in front of her so that she could slap him, and thinking that, at this moment, she would even be willing slap his unresponsive body. Presumably that was why he had rushed her off to the TARDIS so quickly.
Okay, fine. Donna can imagine that, if the Doctor had a body and pair of lungs right now, he would be inhaling very deeply. I’m sorry, Donna. Very sorry. Very, very, very sorry. There’s a pause. Is that enough?
“It’s a start,” she concedes. “I want some proper grovelling as soon as we get you back into your body, though.”
She waits for another moment and changes the subject. “So, why are we here? I’m guessing it’s not so I can pay my respects to the old girl. Not that it isn’t lovely to see you again,” she adds, patting the core of the TARDIS. “But there must be a reason for us to be here.”
There is, the Doctor is beginning, when suddenly Donna is distracted by sounds from outside the TARDIS.
She tries to lunge for the door, but feels as if someone is holding her back.
“Doctor,” she yells, “let me go!”
Look on the monitor, his voice orders. Don’t open the door.
In the end, because she’s making no headway in the direction of the door, which, in any case, isn’t opening, no matter how hard she clicks her fingers or yells at the TARDIS, she does as she’s told.
Swinging the monitor around, her fingers seem to go into autopilot — or at least, she lets the Doctor take control — and then an image of the outside world appears.
She gasps at the sight of a silver spaceship that is coming in to land just around the corner — right in front of her apartment, in fact. Strangely, it’s clear that no one else can see it, as people are walking around outside as if nothing is happening.
Perception filter, says the Doctor. Just like the TARDIS.
“They’re going to my flat,” she yelps. “What do they want there?”
You’re safe here, he reminds her.
“And you’re not,” she shoots back. “What happens if they take you? Your body? Do I have you stuck in my head forever?”
Yes, well, I’m trying not to think about that.
She moves her hand, as if she could slip her fingers between his and give his hand a comforting squeeze. Then she remembers that she can’t. He chuckles softly in her ears.
Thanks anyway. I appreciate the thought.
The TARDIS doesn’t open the door again until the ship has departed, as unnoticed by people on the street as it had been when it arrived. Donna hurls herself out onto the street and makes record time up into her apartment. However the bed is empty, her blankets having been hurled across the room, and the Doctor’s body is gone.
Donna finds her hand heading up in the direction of her left collar-bone and forcibly stops it.
“What are you doing?”
Sorry, force of habit. The Doctor’s voice is apologetic. I forgot I didn’t have a body. I was reaching for the sonic screwdriver.
“Yeah, well, whoever took your body’s probably already got their hands on it.”
Doubt it. She feels her shoulders lift in a faint shrug. Perception filter on that, too, just like on a TARDIS key. Which reminds me…
“Yeah, all right, I’ll get it.” She turns and scrabbles in the drawer of her bedside table until she finds a delicate chain with a key hanging from it. The sensation of the delicate silver against her neck feels pleasantly familiar.
“Well, now what?” she demands, rather concerned about the Doctor’s silence.
There’s a pause.
It wasn’t meant to happen like this.
The words are so soft that they might be a whisper — or a thought. But something about the way they come across makes Donna suspicious.
“And just what do you mean by that?”
Let’s get back to the TARDIS.
“Are you changing the subject?”
She has to laugh at the ready response and his obvious honesty.
Okay, I’ll explain back at the TARDIS, he promises. I don’t want whoever took my body to take that as well, or I really could be stuck here in your mind forever. Not, he adds quickly, that it’s a bad place or be or anything…
“Oh, pipe down.” Donna grabs her handbag, dumping the mail — it’s all bills anyway — only the hall table and grabbing her phone. “Have you still got all my things on the TARDIS?”
She locks the door of her flat behind her and is back at the TARDIS in a few minutes. Once they’re inside, she leans against the console and crosses her arms over her chest.
“So, explanation time, thanks. What did you mean by ‘it wasn’t meant to happen like this’?”
There’s an extended silence.
Her voice is threatening and it clearly prompts him, because he speaks even as the sound of her voice is dying in her ears.
Okay, okay. I worked out a way to save you and restore your memories of me. I had to be in your head to do it, though. I needed to repair and strengthen the synapses that were destroyed when you began to suffer the effects of the meta-crisis. Long story, bit of technical handiwork on my part: a quick trip to the TARDIS gave me time to do it.
“And then someone stole your body and screwed up your plans.”
Pretty much, yes.
“So am I stable now? Won’t burn up on exit — your exit from my head, that is?”
Definitely not. You won’t be the DoctorDonna anymore, although you’ll still have remnants of it in your mind, but you’ll be my Donna.
She can hear the fondness in his voice and has to smile.
“Right then, what are we going to do now?”
Well, the TARDIS should be able to find my body, but it might take a while.
“So, what, we pass the time with a quick game of Scrabble? Then again, considering how much you cheat…”
I don’t cheat! His voice is indignant. I just use words that human beings haven’t heard of before.
“You say potayto, I’ll say potahto,” she retorts. “Still cheating in my book. Tell you what,” she presses a few buttons on the TARDIS console and releases the handbrake as she talks, “one thing I am going to do is go to bed. You can wake me up when we’re there.”
She strolls away from the console and down into the lower parts of the ship. The rooms along the hallway are just as she remembers them and she quickly finds her room.
Changing into the pyjamas she left behind only takes a few minutes and then she crawls in between the sheets. The Doctor is babbling in her mind with ideas of who might have stolen his body and what they hope to gain from it, and Donna knows she’s got no chance of getting to sleep with him carrying on like that. In the end, she cuts him off.
“It’s a little hard to sleep with you babbling on like that!”
I don’t babble!
“You’re right.” She smiles. “You blither. And blather. And a few other things that I think Arthur Dent might once have experienced. But for now, I’d really appreciate it if you’d shut up so that I can sleep.”
There’s mind-silence after that, until she as she’s drifting off, she hears his voice one last time.
Sweet dreams, Donna.
She smiles. “’Night, Spaceman.”
When Donna exists the TARDIS, she finds herself is a dark corridor, only lit by the TARDIS itself and small covered lights every few metres at ankle-height.
“Hmm, not quite what I was expecting,” purrs a voice from nearby.
She spins around to find herself face-to-face with a good-looking man with ginger hair and blue eyes.
“Who’re you?” she demands.
“I could ask you the same question.”
“I asked first.” She puts her hands on her hips. “And on my planet, at least, it’s polite to let the lady go first, chum.”
“Oh, I know all about your planet,” says the stranger. “I was there for a long time — I even ruled it for a while.”
“You and every-bloody-body else,” she retorts. “Seems to be the habit of every alien who lands in Hyde Park. It’s like Pinky and the Brain — ‘Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Take over the world’ — or the Earth, in this case. Boring and bloody repetitive, if you ask me.”
“Well,” the man walks around her, eyeing her from head to foot, “you’re not quite what I would have expected from one of his companions. Bit more mouthy than most of them.”
“I slap a lot harder, too,” she warns. “And I’ll do it soon unless you tell me who you are and what you think you’re doing.”
The man rocks back on his heels and smirks. “I would have expected the Doctor to have told you about me. You can call me the Master.”
Donna hears a groan inside her head and the Doctor’s voice mumbling something along the lines of Not again — I should have known. However she ignores him and keeps her attention focused on the man in front of her.
“Where is he anyway?” the Master demands.
She tilts her head so that she can look down her nose at him. “I think you’re asking the wrong person. If the Doctor wasn’t here, the TARDIS would never have brought me here.” And she snaps her fingers so that the doors of the TARDIS close before the Master can go inside.
“Not as clever as I would have expected,” comes the Master’s reply. “The only way you can be here with the TARDIS is if the Doctor — his mind, in any case — is here, too. So,” he steps closer, into her personal space, “be a smart girl and tell me where he is. Otherwise I might have to get some of my friends to help persuade you.”
And even as he stops speaking, Donna hears a familiar echo down the hallway.
“Oh, bloody hell, not that lot again.” She turns and glares at the Master, not in the least intimidated by him. “You’re not exactly original, are you? In fact, I’d say you’re all bloody useless! And pathetically predictable. ‘Let’s trot out the same old enemies, time after time, and see if we can take over the Universe. No, didn’t work last time, but even though it’s the same tired, boring plan, it’s bound to be a success this time.’” She stops and laughs in his face. “Please tell me that you at least consulted the Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord.”
His eyebrows twitch in obvious confusion and he backs away a little. “What?”
“Oh, never mind.” She leans in towards him, her face almost touching his. “Tell me what you want and I’ll tell you where to stick it, sunshine.”
A sneer crosses his face and he closes the small gap between them, one hand hovering near her face.
“Maybe not smart, but definitely fiery. Just how I like them.”
Donna’s never likes it when men sneer at her. Or when they underestimate her. And particularly not when they do both. And when they’re within punching distance — and if they’re too stupid to have tied her arms down — well…
Go for it, Donna!
She doesn’t really need the Doctor’s encouragement, but it’s nice of him, she thinks, as she swings her right fist and makes contact with the Master’s eye.
“Well, this is an improvement,” says Donna sarcastically. “Stuck in a cell, on the planet God-knows-what — and don’t interrupt, Doctor,” she adds quickly, feeling him about to say something, “I’m in full flow and I have no intention of listening to any ideas you might have to offer at this moment. So, as I was saying, stuck in this mouldy, damp little cell, with only a disembodied voice for company — okay, not quite disembodied as it has a body to work with — mine! Anyway, the Master is ranting and raving outside like the lunatic that he is. The Universe on the verge of being taken over by the Daleks again — and we all know how well that turned out last time! — and I’ve got Sleeping Beauty taking up the only space I could sit down.”
She stops talking and waits. The Doctor doesn’t say anything, presumably because he’s not sure if she’s finished yet.
“Well?” she demands. “Haven’t you got anything to say, Spaceman? No bright ideas on how I can wake you up?”
Do you remember how the Prince woke Sleeping Beauty?
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me!”
Why not? His voice is teasing. And no ginger beer-walnut-anchovy after-taste this time either. I made sure of it. Lots of mints before I came back to Earth. Admittedly that was a few days ago now, but…
She half-laughs-half-chokes in disbelief. “You’re having me on.”
It’s that or wait here until the Master comes back. And he’ll have a black eye, which he won’t like. And he’ll punish you, which he will like.
There’s a pause.
Or you can wake me up and we can get out of here.
“You’ve always known what I had to do!” she explodes as the realisation hits.
She hates that he’s so calm. She hates that he’s played this game with her from the start. And when he’s awake again, he’s going to be so covered in bruises that he won’t lie comfortably for a week.
But she has to wake him up first.
She stops, uncertain, and turns back to look at the bed that is bolted to the far wall of the cell.
“Saving the Universe?”
It’s the only way.
She sighs, and then suddenly grins. “If I do it, there’d better not be a bloody mind-wipe to follow. Capisce?”
I promise. His voice is completely serious and sincere.
“All right then. Allons-y.” She narrows her eyes. “And get out of my head!”
He chuckles in her ears and she can’t help smiling back. No longer hesitant, she approaches the narrow cot and leans over the unresponsive figure on it. His hair is all askew, as usual, and as she brushes it aside, she can hear his breath whistling softly in and out. There’s even a hint of mint.
Thoughtful of you, she thinks, before touching her lips to the Doctor’s.
There’s a rush of heat and light that makes her want to clamp her eyes shut and pull away, but she can feel something slipping out of her head and she knows that it’s the Doctor’s consciousness returning to his body.
Then his hands are in her hair, his lips responding to hers, and for a moment she can forget that they’re actually both — because it is both now — in mortal danger.
And she notices the one thing that she never did have a chance to realize when she last locked lips with the Doctor — he’s a damned good kisser.
Before she can properly get her bearings and her balance — it’s the fact that she’s just had a second mind leave hers that's thrown her off; nothing at all to do with the kiss — the Doctor is up off the bed and fishing in the pocket of his coat for his sonic screwdriver.
The door is no challenge and then the Doctor holds out his hand to her, wiggling his fingers invitingly.
She grins and grabs his hand, and they speak in unison.
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