The Doctor was unlike any man she'd met before. She'd had a few important ones in her life, sure; her granddad had always loved her no matter what, unlike her mother Sylvia, who was constantly telling Donna how worthless she was.
Then she'd met Lance, and everything had changed. Not really because of Lance himself. See, Lance turned out to be in league with the Empress of the Racnoss, who was pretty much a giant spider bent on world domination. (And when she said giant, she didn't mean big. She meant flipping enormous.) No, Lance had just been a passing fancy. She'd loved him, and he'd turned out to be a two-faced self-preserving sod. But he'd done a lot for her, in a way. Without Lance, she'd have never met the Doctor. And the Doctor meant the world to her. (Several worlds, actually.)
That wasn't to say that she fancied the Doctor. Who would want a skinny spaceman with a blue box anyway? Not her, not Donna Noble. Certainly not. They were mates, and they both knew that was meant in the regular sense of the word, not the Discovery Channel way. Sure, they'd kissed once, but honestly, he was dying and she couldn't think of anything better to do at the time; it definitely qualified as a shock. They'd made it quite clear afterwards that it was never to happen again, then they'd laughed at yet another fantastic adventure.
Donna snapped back into reality as the TARDIS jerked around, the Doctor buzzing about the controls and grinning madly. His mood had improved considerably since their previous adventure. Some vacation that turned out to be. The Doctor had come back from his flight that day visibly shaken and unwilling to talk about anything, and though he seemed in better spirits she knew he wasn't his usual self.
“Doctor? You sure you're all ri-” Donna couldn't help but feel excited as the ship stopped pitching about. I wonder where we've gone this time?
That was the last time Donna Noble set foot in the TARDIS for over a year. In that year, the Doctor died and most of civilization (namely England and America) were attacked or killed by aliens. Then Donna Noble was killed. She died so that she could live again, live that year over so she could meet the Doctor like she had always been destined to do and so they could keep saving the universe together.
“Donna, you've got something on your back,” the Doctor said without thinking, brushing a bit of dust off Donna's shoulder as he walked past. That earned him quite a smack. It also brought about the return of Rose Tyler and the darkness.
She was in the TARDIS again, only this time alone, trapped. Scared, truly scared for the first time in quite a while. No one was around to hear her witty retorts, so she simply screamed for him as she'd done a few times before, only when she really needed him.
But unlike before, he couldn't come running. She didn't know what was going on, but....What the bloody....the jar on the floor was glowing. The hand inside it seemed almost alive, but that couldn't be. She reached out to touch it, and everything went black.
She opened her eyes and realized she was still inside the burning TARDIS, dying right along with it. She turned around and....Oh, isn't that just wizard....the Doctor was there. And he was naked.
“Oi! I thought we'd agreed, none of this!”
“You....you GIT! Put your clothes on and get us out of here!”
“You heard me,” yelled Donna. She was normally amused by his antics, but she could only take so much of his laughing in the face of death. “SHIFT, MARTIAN BOY!”
“WHAT?!” He looked genuinely confused, then suddenly started spewing out technobabble as she'd never seen him do before. “Biological metacrisis....” he said as he punched a few buttons. “I love my hand....” Rambling, he fiddled with a dial or two and the TARDIS was safe again. “Molto benne! Donna, do you know what this means?”
“That you've gone completely loony?” The Doctor laughed, snorting in the process, and it suddenly occurred to Donna that he was different somehow. “You all right, Doctor?”
“All right? I'm fantastic! And you, Donna Noble, so are you. Come on, Sunshine, we better go save me and the others! I'll just....” Donna started to ask, but he dashed off, suddenly seeming to realize that he had saved both of them without the assistance of pants. Donna hadn't seen the Doctor look this embarrassed since River Song had called him 'pretty boy.'
She realized he'd left the TARDIS unattended, so she flipped a switch or two just to make sure they didn't crash. I don't remember him teaching me that, she thought. I must have seen him do it a million times though. Monkey see, monkey do. Or rather Martian do. Donna suppressed a chuckle as the Doctor returned. "Okay, spaceboy, let's go save the world." Their eyes met, both of them grinning broadly, and they spoke in unison.
Donna didn't think much of it until after Davros attacked her, but she and the new Doctor were thinking alike more than usual. Surprisingly so. She was sprawled out on the floor of the Crucible (maybe Mum is right....all I do these days is lie about) and she could suddenly understand everything the Doctor had said just minutes ago in the TARDIS. Biological metacrisis, two-way, to be exact. She was Donna Noble, part super temp, part Time Lord, all attitude. And ready to show the Daleks that she wasn't just a temp from Chiswick anymore.
The Doctor had said goodbye to Jack and Martha, Mickey, Sarah Jane, even Rose after a fashion. Donna was standing on the beach, there for her friend as always, but she felt like she was somewhere else, even someone else completely. She knew the Doctor would never stay with Rose, and that Rose would never leave without the Doctor. So the Doctor's clone (they had taken to calling him Pretty Boy, a moniker Rose liked immediately even without understanding the joke) had stayed behind with her, giving her the happy ending she'd wanted, and allowing the Doctor(and)Donna to travel time and space forever.
Forever was an awfully short time.
They were back on the TARDIS only minutes later, Donna planning out their next 'vacation spot', which by God wasn't going to have giant life-altering beetles or diamond canyons with parasitic consciousnesses as house guests. Her hands shook for a second, then the feeling passed.
“How about Felspoon? Or have I told you about that one?” The Doctor's tone was light, but Donna could tell he was worried.
“Watch it, Doctor, I'm just as smart as you are now.”
The Doctor looked at her for a moment. “I know, Donna. You're brilliant, just like me. Probably more so.”
“Exactly. I'd call you a genius, except I'm in the room.” The words felt foreign in her mouth, but she continued. “Felspoon sounds marvelous. Fantastic!” Another one. It couldn't be helped.
The Doctor walked over and helped her pilot the TARDIS. After all, being made for six pilots, an extra pair of hands couldn't hurt. She noticed, though, that he made sure to stay near her, constantly glancing in her direction. It was as if he expected her to fall over at any second.
They both knew Donna was stronger than that. She'd never been weak, even as a child, and she wasn't going to start now. Any other human would have died within minutes of a human-Time Lord metacrisis, but not Donna Noble. She would stay strong until the end, and she hoped with everything in her that the Doctor somehow, through some miracle, could save her. Having his brain, though, she knew it was impossible. And having his brain hurts. A lot. She didn't know how he could stand it.
“Donna, we could go to Felspoon any time. Let's go see someone from the past. Your choice.”
Any time. They could see Felspoon any time. He was choosing to ignore it too. That was good; maybe it meant he had a plan after all. “I've always wanted to meet Charlie Chaplin. Always funny, that Charlie Chap-Chap-Chap-” Donna panicked, but couldn't seem to make herself stop. “Chap-Chap-Chap-” The Doctor masked his concern poorly by pretending to reach around her and flip a switch, resting his hand on her shoulder. “Chap-Chap-Chap-....A good chap, that's what he is.” She broke away and checked the scanner, shaking. “Don't you think so, Doctor?”
The Doctor smiled and nodded, but he knew as well as she did that she couldn't handle it much longer. A human brain could only take so much information, and the Time Lord consciousness currently swimming around in Donna's head was going to give her an aneurysm, quite literally.
“Doctor?” Donna's usually loud and sarcastic voice was now quiet and full of fear. But also resolution. “I want....” She paused and he saw her eyes momentarily lose focus. “I want to stay. Please, tell me I can stay with you.”
“Donna, you'll always be with me. You think after all we've done, the Ood and the Pyrovile and Jenny, that I'd ever forget you?” She answered with a slap across his face, something he obliged under the circumstances. For a dying woman, Donna Noble had a few good smacks left in her.
“Listen, Martian, you know very well what I mean. Cut it out with the crybaby act and answer me!” Donna was starting to feel dizzy, but she didn't care. If she was going to die, she wanted to do it properly, more important and worthy than her mother had ever given her credit for. When he didn't answer, she tried a different approach, reaching out for one of his hands and giving him a small smile. “Doctor, I'm not leaving you.”
“Donna....” The Doctor could hardly bear to speak the words; giving voice to the truth only made it that much more painful. “Donna, you're going to die. You know what I have to do....please, I can't let you die like this.” He moved closer to her and put one of his hands on her face, but she pulled back with such ferocity that she almost fell to the floor. He tried to help her, but she backed off as steadily as she could and refused to come near him.
“Die like this? The best I've ever been in my life? Doctor, all my life,” she faltered slightly, choking back tears of rage and pain, “people have told me that I'm useless, just a temp from Chiswick, nothing special. And I've always believed them. Until you came along and told me different.” She could see the Doctor's eyes cloud over and she knew she was hurting him, her best friend. He was only trying to help, but she wasn't going to stop until she had her say. “You made me so much better, Doctor. Told me I was brilliant and wouldn't shut up until I believed you. I won't go back, Doctor, you can't make me. Please....please don't make me go back.”
The Doctor knew that if he had any chance of saving her, he would have to act quickly. Donna was growing weaker by the minute, even her attitude showed it; Donna Noble had never begged before, at least not for her own life. She was better than that. He took a cautious step toward her, and took it as a sign of her exhaustion, not her complicity, that she did not back away. He hated what he had to do to save her life. He knew that to her, dying would be a better option, but he couldn't stand by and watch another friend die. “Donna, just let me....”
Donna heard nothing after her name. It seemed that the cells in her brain were burning up faster than she'd anticipated; she was dying, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She felt her legs give out and she fell to the floor. The Doctor caught her, of course, and she tried to smile knowing that he'd risked another Donna Noble slap to keep her from being injured. Not that it made a difference now. She could vaguely see that the Doctor was crying, and she realized that no one in her life, except her gramps of course, probably cared for her as deeply as he did. She was his best friend too. “I'm not leaving you either, Donna.” She reached up and squeezed his hand, realizing how hot she must feel compared to him. Why is it so warm in here?
The Doctor held Donna for several minutes as she grew weaker. She could still talk, one of the blessings of the situation; Donna could never keep quiet, even if she couldn't move. “Doctor....it'll be all right. You'll find someone else to keep you out of trouble. I know you will. Remember that girl from the Library? You'll see her again. I bet she could keep you in line....” Donna trailed off and looked into the Doctor's eyes. She had overheard the two of them in the library that day, how the woman (River, her name was? It was getting harder to remember specifics) had said he looked so much younger than the other times they'd met. He certainly looked older at that moment than she'd ever seen him.
Suddenly, the Doctor's eyes lit up and he smiled broadly as she looked up at him in shock.
“Oi, try to keep the excitement down, Doctor. I am dying here!” Her statement returned his face to a look of concern and grief, and she suddenly wished she hadn't said anything. “It's all right Doctor, everybody dies.” There. She'd said it, acknowledged it. “It's not your fault, none of it. You can't blame it all on yourse....” She trailed off as she began to lose consciousness, but the Doctor seemed even more motivated by this and stood up, dragging her along with him.
“Donna Noble, you're brilliant! Even when your brain is in shutdown, you're brilliant.” He looked around the TARDIS, still holding her close and stroking her hair, which had become damp with sweat. “Where's my sonic screwdriver?”
“A time....like this....and you're worried....about a screwdriver?” Donna began to wonder which one of them was losing their mind when a sharp pain in her skull reminded her.
“My sonic screwdriver....it's-”
“-Sonic,” they both said, although her voice was now barely above a whisper. “I know. Absent-minded alien, that's what you are. It's by the monitor.”
The Doctor walked as quickly as possible, careful to keep Donna held up against him, flipping switches, turning knobs, and pushing buttons while he made his way over to the screwdriver. The screwdriver he had given River in the future.
The TARDIS lurched several times, knowing it was imperative that they reach their destination quickly. The Doctor had done his best to explain, but given the time left it was hard for Donna to understand completely. They sat on the floor of the ship with her leaning against his shoulder, his arms wrapped tightly around her, comforting despite her high fever.
“It'll still wipe your memory, Donna. You understand that.”
Donna managed a weak “Get on with it” and a small grin, which was encouraging.
“Donna....I can't lie to you, you're too good a friend for me to do that. I don't know for sure if it will work.” Donna barely nodded at this, and the Doctor saw the fear in her eyes. He couldn't put it off any longer or it would be moot. “In case....” Donna's eyes closed, but she was still listening, he could tell. “In case it doesn't work, I want you to know that you were....you're fantastic, Donna. Brilliant, molto benne.”
Donna smiled as her head slumped sideways onto the Doctor's chest. He could feel her heart, slowing down but still beating.
“Hold on, Donna, we're almost there.”
The TARDIS stopped and the Doctor pulled Donna up, making their way to where Charlotte was waiting to save Donna's life. The Doctor was carrying Donna by this point; he knew she'd lost consciousness a few minutes before and was no longer aware of whether or not she was even breathing, but he would never forgive himself if he didn't try. He laid Donna on one of the teleport platforms as gently as he could and used the screwdriver to hack into the controls.
“Goodbye, Donna Noble.”
Donna opened her eyes one more time and saw the Doctor activate the teleport. He waited for several minutes, hoping that his plan would work. Please let it work. If not, it was all for nothing and Donna had still died.
The minutes passed, seeming like hours, and finally something popped up on the computer. The Doctor wanted to cry again.
DONNA NOBLE HAS LEFT THE LIBRARY. DONNA NOBLE HAS BEEN SAVED.
He waited another moment or two, just to be safe, then opened the necessary files, rearranged a few pieces of data, and used the teleport again, pointing the screwdriver behind his back at the platform. He didn't dare to look for a moment, too scared that he'd failed and would turn around to see Donna's body lying by the console. Then he heard proof that it hadn't been in vain.
“Hello, Martian Boy.”
Not impossible, just a bit unlikely. The Doctor spun around and saw Donna, looking as wonderful and healthy (and ready to slap someone) as usual. She tripped off the platform, still a bit dizzy, and he caught her one-handed, both of them smiling. “So then, I suppose you'll be wanting an explanation for this?”
Donna smacked him on the arm (darn hard, too) and replied, “You know what, Doctor? I don't even want to know. Odds are I won't understand it anyway.” She paused, typing away at the computer for a moment to close everything down, then gave him a good laugh trying to work the teleport with all its complicated buttons and controls. “Fine then, you do it.”
He poked around with the controls for a bit, then they made their way back to the TARDIS. On the way there, he told her everything she needed to know; how the computer still had her filed with her human brain and all memories of him previous to her being sucked into CAL, how the Time Lord part of her was gone, and how she had saved the universe once again. Like he'd told her the last time he thought she was leaving: she'd saved his life in so many ways, and he was more than happy to return the favor. “You were brilliant, Donna. Just brilliant. I'm sorry you don't remember it, but you were....”
“Fantastic?” She guessed, and he froze. “I prefer supertemp.” She gave him a smile as she closed the TARDIS doors behind them. “Now then. You said something about Charlie Chaplin. Quite a nice chap, that Charlie Chaplin. I think I'd still like to see him.”