It was the hottest day of the year according to the TV weather girl, and Donna was inclined to believe her. Shaun had volunteered to brave the scorching heat to do the shopping, and Donna hadn’t argued. Personally she was going to have a cold drink and a sandwich whilst watching 'Loose Women' - a perfect plan that was interrupted prematurely by the doorbell.
Sighing deeply she closed the fridge and made her way to the front door, thinking to herself that maybe they should move to a big mansion with security gates and guards and stuff after all. The house she and Shaun had bought after winning the lottery was significantly larger than the cramped flat they lived in before, but it was still just an ordinary house in an ordinary street, and it was far too easy for people to find them...
Who it’d be this time, she wondered - journalist; charity worker with a begging bowl; long lost friend/schoolmate/relative come to do some sponging; Dragon’s Den wannabe with an ‘investment opportunity’ - the list was endless and she’d seen them all by now.
The chap outside was not easy to pin down however. He looked about twenty five, with a big mop of hair and clothes he’d probably stolen from his grandfather - one of those hipsters then, ironic bowtie and all. Maybe an art student? If it was yet another Reality TV producer she’d slap him good and proper and no mistake.
“What?” she asked, folding her arms, and he smiled brightly.
“Donna! You look marvellous. Well of course you do, you always look marvellous, and heaven forbid anyone ever says differently. But you do. Look marvellous. Just wanted to say.”
Oh great, he was one of those.
“Look, you have a minute. Better talk fast.”
’Don’t engage with them!’ Shaun kept saying, ‘Just tell them no and close the door!’ But Donna much preferred to shut people down completely. Leaving was good. Never coming back was better.
“Ah now. Well.” The young man clasped his hands together nervously. “I suppose this is about me trying to make up for the wrongs I committed in a previous existence, so to speak.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Oh a religious nutter then? Not had one of you in ages. Did God tell you to come and get a large donation-”
“No no no,” he interrupted irritably, waving away the accusation. “It’s more like... like that TV show about an Earl trying to make up for his past? He’s got a list and travels around...”
She frowned, then worked out what he was talking about.
“Oh you mean ‘My Name is Earl’, that American hillbilly thing?”
“Yes that’s probably it. And I’m here to try to...” his voice trailed off, and he looked at her with an intensity that was quietly unnerving.
“I’m here to try to make up for how I wronged you - in the only way I can think of. It’s not much, but-”
He shook his head, and Donna tried to smile despite the sudden feeling of unease.
“Sorry mate, but I’ve never seen you before. Whatever you think you did- I forgive you. It was nice of you to stop by.”
She hadn’t had a lot of genuine nut jobs, but they invariably unsettled her. And he seemed so genuine, poor fella. She hoped he had family somewhere to look after him.
But as she moved backwards, getting ready to close the door, he abruptly stepped forwards, a hand on the door and his face suddenly far too close to hers for comfort.
“Does it ever bother you, Donna, that your life makes no sense?”
She opened her mouth to refute him, but suddenly couldn’t find any words, and the way he was looking at her made the world suddenly seem unstable.
“The way you keep missing important things... OK, so some of those times were just accidental, like that time you were scuba diving in Spain during the Cyberman invasion, but it keeps happening, doesn’t it? You always miss things. And there are whole years that can’t remember, but whenever you try to think about it, you find that you can’t concentrate.”
“How... how do you know all this?” she asked, gripping the door tightly to stop her hand from shaking, and feeling a strange, but oddly familiar, prickling sensation at the back of her head. Something was wrong, very very wrong, and she needed to get away...
“Because it’s my fault,” he replied sadly, and she shook her head.
“No. No this is ridiculous. Are you like a stalker or something? I- I want you to get the hell off my doorstep before I call the cops! And who are you anyway?”
“Donna - do you ever dream of a blue box?” he asked, blithely ignoring her threats. “One of the old Police boxes, but magic? And you and your best friend travel in it - going to different places and times for incredible adventures, but when you wake up you can never quite remember things right?”
“Yes,” she whispered. (How did he know? She’d only ever told Shaun...) And the strange sensation in her mind now felt warm, like embers.
“Just give me five minutes, that’s all.”
Improbably she found herself nodding, and slowly opened the door to let him in.
“Thank you,” he said sincerely, and in the half light of the hallway his eyes looked as old as her Gramp’s. Maybe she had gone insane this time? It was a very hot day...
She took him through to the sitting room, and he looked around curiously, walking around as if someone’s front room was dreadfully exotic. And now her head was properly aching.
“You look wrong,” she said, illogically, and he turned, eyebrows rising.
“Ah yes. Sorry about that. New face and all that.”
OK, she needed to get a grip, for all she knew he was about to kill her or something.
“Are you mad? Like - are you completely bonkers?”
“Yes,” he replied gravely, and then sat down on the sofa. “Come here - I think sitting down is more comfortable, don’t you? Also you’re not quite a featherweight, and I don’t feel like catching you. Again.”
“I’m sorry?” she asked, folding her arms and trying to ignore the pounding behind her eyes.
“Donna, will you just sit down! There isn’t much time. Please!”
She decided to humour him, partly because the world was beginning to slip out of focus. As she sat down she closed her eyes - trying to block out the escalating pain, now nearly unbearable - and felt cool fingertips touching her temples.
“Oh Donna,” he whispered, and then-
Memory after memory after memory, a maelstrom that pulled her down as her mind expanded...
And she became, again.
“Doctor...” she whispered, and she felt his breath hitch.
‘I miss you,’ he said simply - and how strange, his voice sounded different, even in her head - although the sadness was the same that she (now) remembered from last she’d seen him.
She knew the neural breakdown was already starting, and yet she couldn’t help looking, catching up with what he’d been doing after he left her.
Dipping into his mind she saw him going off alone, saw him running, saw Mars...
'Oh you idiot', she berated, 'What did I tell you, way back when - find someone, because sometimes you need someone to stop you!'
'Well I'm old and stupid', he shot back, 'but I'm learning. I hope.’
Shifting her perspective to more recent events she saw that he had indeed found another flame haired girl who wouldn’t take any messing around or stupid excuses, and- Oh and... River. Interesting.
Well - he did seem to be in good hands again, she had to give him that.
Finally - time was treacle, but her mind faster than she could explain - she turned to where she didn't want to look, to the bright golden light of regeneration (so unfair, so hopelessly, desperately unfair, that he could be reborn from that fire, and she would only burn) and saw... her grandfather, pleading.
'Oh Doctor,' she sighed, 'When will you learn to let people make their own choices?'
'Well I'm here, aren't I?'’ he shot back, somewhat querulously. 'So please, Donna - choose.'
She could feel herself dying, her poor human brain faltering and failing to contain her Timelord consciousness, and she was once more gripped with the pure terror of losing this - losing the DoctorDonna - losing herself and living on as an unknowing cripple, burdened with the great ache of inexplicable loss - like a phantom limb she didn’t know she’d ever had...
But then - and oh, he was a sneaky bastard this time round - she found herself reminded of Lee. Her beloved Lee who had been nothing more than a mirage, a fantasy within a dream, a story in The Library like so many others... And yet she had mourned him; could still recall with perfect clarity the pain of seeing him vanish before her eyes. (Oh God her children! She’d lost her children too...)
The Doctor and her travels nothing more than a consolation prize.
Except now she had found someone else - someone real, someone she truly loved and someone who loved her - just her - plain old Donna, more than all the world...
Tears in her eyes, she made her choice.
The last thing she sensed before she blacked out was a song, and she smiled through her tears as she recognised it as the song of the DoctorDonna.
There are people living in the light, singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand million light-years away...
Donna woke up on her sofa, disoriented. It didn't help that a peculiar-looking young man was sitting in the armchair opposite, holding out a cup of tea.
"Ah, you're awake. Splendid. I was beginning to worry."
"Who- who are you? And what are you doin' in my house?"
She was getting alarmed, and he put down the cup carefully, concern on his face.
"I only came to deliver a letter, but you took a funny turn, so I tried to make you comfortable..."
He indicated the sofa, and she began to feel embarrassed. Too hot, that's what it was, and passing out in front of strangers... Well this was just fantastic.
"I made you some tea," the young man continued. "Very good for you, tea.”
She nodded and reached out for the cup, taking a sip.
“Thank you,” she offered after a moment, and he smiled.
“My pleasure. But - you have a whole life to live, so I better be on my way!"
He followed words with action, and she walked after him to the door, awkwardly thanking him for his help. He didn't reply, just shook his head and smiled briefly, looking terribly sad, although she couldn't work out why.
She realised that she felt terribly sad herself, and oddly emotionally exhausted, but she couldn’t work out why that was either. Weird day - it was probably the heat.
"Goodbye Donna," he said softly, and then abruptly pulled her into a fierce hug, holding her tightly for a lot longer than was polite or normal, and yet she didn't pull away, instead folding her arms around him as if she’d done it a hundred times before... (Seriously, what was wrong with her today? First passing out, and now letting a complete stranger hug her? Maybe her mum was right to worry.)
Then he pulled away, nodded once, and walked down the garden path. He didn't look back, but even so it seemed as if he was dragging his feet. She watched him disappear round the corner and wondered why her chest felt so tight. Had to be the heat.
Shaking her head she went back into the house, and with surprise noticed the envelope on the table. (But that's why he'd come, right? To deliver the letter...) Realising that he'd never given her his name - or any information about who the letter was from - she picked it up, looking at the red writing with a frown.
To Donna Temple-Noble
For a second she wondered if maybe this was one of Nerys' tricks, but discarded the idea again. Too bizarre. Carefully she opened the envelope and pulled out a card from the Royal Observatory. A star scape was scattered across the blackness of space, and without looking at the text on the back she knew that it was called The Medusa Cascade... Heart suddenly beating faster she opened it, and then sank into the sofa as she read the writing inside, caught between laughter and tears and unable to understand either impulse.
Shaun came home not much later and she shook herself out of the stasis she had fallen into, smiling as she looked up at him. Her Shaun - her wonderful dreamer. She knew that a lot of people had been surprised that she’d fallen for someone who always had his head in the clouds, but they didn’t understand that this was what she loved him for. She could tell him her dreams, and he never laughed, nor looked worried the way she knew her mum or Gramps would. He was the first person to see through the brashness she hid behind, instinctively understanding that she was a dreamer too... Yet looking at him now she had a sudden feeling of rightness - a bone-deep certainty that she’d made the right choice marrying him - that she'd never had before. Her smile widened.
“Come look at this,” she said, and explained about the strange visit she’d had whilst he was out, quickly reassuring him that she was fine now when she saw the look on his face.
"So what does the card say?" he asked, walking round the sofa and looking over her shoulder, before whistling.
“Shut up you,” she replied, knowing that he’d spend the next many weeks thinking up implausible theories about who it might be from. But then he softly kissed her head.
“Whoever wrote it is right though.”
Tears suddenly in her eyes she could only shake her head, because surely it was a joke. And yet...
I need you to remember one thing: You are magnificent!
Thank you for everything,
your best friend in another life