“The thing about the Galactic Federation,” said the Doctor, “is that it's mostly just an excuse to hold parties.”
Donna followed him into a grand hall filled with at least a hundred different kinds of alien. “So we're gatecrashing again?”
“Not this time,” said the Doctor, cheerily. “I was invited to attend as a representative of the Time Lords.” He produced a thin plastic card from his inside pocket. “It was in the spam-filter, didn't see it until I went looking for my Kerblam dispatch notice. Good thing I have a time machine, isn't it?” He seemed pleased with himself. “All those nights in the vortex all dressed up with nowhere to go and I could have been here, schmoozing with diplomats.”
“Is there a plus-one on that invite?” she asked.
“You,” he said rather grandly, “are the official Earth-Gallifrey Liaison Officer. Not that Gallifrey really needs one any more,” he added a bit too breezily, “but one advantage of being the last of your kind is nobody complains if you give your friends all the cushy government jobs.”
“Thanks,” said Donna, feeling a bit awkward. She wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that he was throwing his lost home planet around so freely. “I'll try not to get Earth a bad reputation.”
“Bit late for that,” said the Doctor.
“Oh.” She waited for him to expand on the topic but he got distracted by something in the crowd.
“Alpha Centauri! I haven't seen it in ages!” He paused. “I think we've met by now. It was centuries ago, might not have happened yet.”
Donna was quite pleased with herself for being able to follow that last sentence.
The Doctor continued. “I was so young then.” He seemed wistful. “And handsome. Dashing, even.” He lifted his chin and ran a hand through his hair. “Still, I suppose they can't all be lookers.”
If he was expecting a compliment on his appearance he certainly wasn't going to get one from her. “Shame I never met that one,” she said.
The Doctor nodded. “You'd have loved him.” He pulled a face. “Or you'd have slapped him when he asked you to make him a cup of tea.”
“Sounds charming,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “The rudeness isn't just something you picked up in your old age, then?”
He looked hurt. “You think I'm rude?”
She took pity on him. “Go on, go and have a chat with your old friend.” She nudged him with an elbow to encourage him.
“You'll be okay on your own? Promise you won't start a diplomatic incident?”
“I learned my lesson last time,” she assured him. “Never assume the furniture isn't on the guest list.”
The Doctor looked satisfied. He glanced quickly around the room. “You should be all right in this crowd. Draconians, Martians... watch out for the Neranese Emperor,” he said, pointing out a mass of teeth and tentacles on the other side of the room. “Makes Henry VIII look like a good husband.”
Donna stared semi-discreetly at the alien he had indicated. “I'm not really into tentacles,” she said.
“He also takes rejection really badly,” the Doctor added. “Best just to steer clear.”
“Okay. Anything else you want to warn me about?”
“I'd say don't eat the little bits of cheese on sticks, but I think what happened to me last time was just an unfortunate accident.” He winced slightly and then shook his head sadly. “Those were my third-favourite pair of trainers.”
Donna chatted her way around the room, meeting all sorts of interesting people and eating quite a lot of tiny sandwiches. She spotted the Doctor talking to an alien that looked like... well, it'd probably be rude to make the obvious comparison. She took a step towards them.
Something touched her hair. “Is the orange fur natural or dyed?” asked a hissing voice.
Donna turned and found herself standing next to the alien the Doctor had warned her about. Still, she'd stared down her fair share of creepy men over the years.
“It's not fur,” she snapped, “it's hair.”
A row of eyes blinked down at her. “What's the difference?” asked the Neranese emperor.
Donna wasn't going to be thrown by a question she didn't know the answer to. “They're just different,” she said, turning away.
The creature stepped around to stay in front of her. “It's very attractive.”
“Are you fertile?”
She gaped at him. “Excuse me?” Oh, someone was asking for a slap. She drew her hand back and then remembered that she'd promised not to start anything. Did that apply to creeps?
The emperor extended a tentacle to touch her wrist, and probably smiled although it was a bit hard to tell with that face.
Surely she was allowed one slap? Or a kick in the balls, for preference. She glanced downwards. Did this sort of alien even have balls?
As was his habit, the Doctor came to her rescue.
“Ah, Donna, I see you've met the Emperor,” he said, appearing at her side. “Your Imperial Majesty, this is Donna Noble, my betrothed.”
“Your what?” said Donna, as the tentacle around her wrist fell away.
“I see,” said the emperor, glancing between them. “You didn't tell me you were spoken for,” he said to Donna, three of his eyes narrowing and the tone of his voice an accusation.
“You never asked,” she pointed out.
“She's shy,” said the Doctor, slipping an arm around Donna's waist. She tensed at the contact then made herself relax. It was just for show, nothing to panic about.
The emperor's stare turned on the Doctor. “I thought your kind had no interest in matters of the loins.”
“Oh, don't believe everything you read in the gossip columns,” said the Doctor, easily.
“Will the wedding be a public event?”
“Haven't set a date for it yet,” said the Doctor, who really was bloody good at lying. Donna was impressed by that, though she probably shouldn't be. “We've been very busy.” He turned his attention to Donna. “Come on, cupcake, I want to introduce you to the God-King of Lexin.” He steered Donna away with a hand on her back. “I told you to stay away from him,” he whispered as they crossed the room.
“I don't have eyes in the back of my head,” she hissed.
“Neither do I, but we can't have everything we want. Maybe we'd better stick together from now on.”
“Yeah.” She cleared her throat. “Are you going to move that hand on your own or will I move it for you?”
“What? Oh. Sorry,” he said, breaking contact.
“Thanks for the rescue,” she added.
“Nothing you wouldn't have done for me.” A thought struck him. “If we ever run into Casanova -”
“The world's greatest lover?” Donna was impressed.
“Oh, don't you start! That man's ego is bigger than mine!”
“Okay, that I don't believe.”
The Doctor started to protest but he was interrupted by a horribly-familiar voice.
“I have good news!”
They looked around and then upwards at the Neranese emperor.
“I have spoken to my personal chaplain, and he has agreed to conduct your marriage ceremony here, today!”
Donna and the Doctor looked at each other, then back to the emperor. “There's no need,” said the Doctor, “we wouldn't want to cause any inconvenience.”
“Nonsense!” A few tentacles waved excitedly. “It would bring great honour to me and my people!” Most of his eyes stared down at them, as though daring them to argue.
“Um,” said Donna.
“I am so glad you agree!” cried the emperor. “I shall make the necessary arrangements!” He slithered away again.
“We should leave now,” said the Doctor.
“Yeah,” agreed Donna.
They turned around and walked right into the imperial guard.
“Now look what you've got us into!” hissed Donna, as they waited at the makeshift altar.
“How was I to know he'd have a priest with him?” the Doctor protested. “Anyway, he's just trying to make us admit we were lying to him, he probably won't insist on an actual legally-binding ceremony.”
“Legally-binding where?” asked Donna, dangerously.
The Doctor swallowed. “Not on twenty-first century Earth,” he said, without much conviction.
Donna glared at him. “I want a divorce.”
“We're not even married yet!”
“You just said we wouldn't have to go through with it!”
The argument came to a premature end when the priest arrived. Donna wondered if the Doctor had a plan. He usually did, didn't he? She glanced at him. He looked like a rabbit caught in headlights. Donna swore under her breath.
The audience applauded with a variety of hands, tentacles, and other appendages. Everyone seemed relieved, and Donna couldn't blame them after that ceremony. She suspected that the priest was being paid according to how long it lasted.
“And now, you may kiss.”
“Do we have to?” asked Donna. She looked around at the crowd. They looked quite interested in what was about to happen. Bloody alien perverts. She sighed and leaned towards the Doctor. He kissed her cheek quickly. She looked at the emperor, who didn't seem to be buying it.
Oh well, in for a penny and all that. She grabbed the Doctor's head and kissed him. Properly. There was even a bit of tongue action.
She released him after what seemed like a convincing amount of kissing. His hair was all over the place and there was real fear in his eyes. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. He squeaked.
Donna rolled her eyes. She turned to their audience. “Right, we have to go and consummate our marriage now, thanks for the wedding.” She took the silent Doctor by the hand and pulled him along behind her as she headed back to the TARDIS.
“Right,” she said as they approached the TARDIS, “how do we get divorced?”
The Doctor spoke for the first time since the wedding. “Gretna III, divorce capital of the universe.” He took the key from his pocket. “I've got a loyalty card.”
Donna cleared her throat as he pushed the door open. “Aren't you going to carry me over the threshold?”
He looked surprised. “Do you want me to?” he asked, and she could tell he was mentally weighing her.
“I was joking,” she clarified. God, he was thick sometimes.
“I could give it a go,” he offered.
“With those arms?” she scoffed. She pushed past him into the TARDIS. “And if you tell anyone this happened, I'll...” she thought for a moment. “Well, whatever it is, you won't like it.”
“My lips are sealed,” he said, following her inside. He stopped in front of the console. “You're sure you want to get divorced?” he asked. “Some people think I'm quite a good catch.” He waggled his eyebrows at Donna until she laughed.
“Now that you mention it...” She winked her sauciest wink, and laughed again when he blushed.