Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Word Count: 3764
Summary: Both Donna and the Doctor suffer raw wounds from the Library.
Author's Notes: This is the story I threatened you all with in my post yesterday. I like the writing but not the content. The story isn't bad; it's just that it has so many elements that I don't like - overly-angsty Doctor, preachy companion, transparent author opinions. *shrug* But I might as well mark it as done and move on. I originally shared it with a couple of people who read my journal a couple of years ago, in case you guys think, "Hey, haven't I seen this before?" The ending has changed since then. I'm only posting it here; it's not going to AO3 or ffnet.
Also, this story has way too many italics for someone who does her HTML by hand.
There are tons of references to other episodes, but I should note that the one reference that you might not recognize is to the audio "Death and the Queen".
“Flippin’ corridors!” Donna muttered to herself as she walked along, searching for anything that looked familiar. Or rather, anything that didn’t look familiar. Each passage looked like the last, without a single distinguishing characteristic, anything that might hint that she should turn at this intersection, check behind that door, or turn back the way she’d come. The thought that she’d been walking the same segment over and over again, looping back each time she’d reached the end, nagged at the back of her mind. “He says this place is blimmin’ huge, but it’s all hallway.”
With an exhausted groan, Donna backed against the wall and slid down, landing on her bum a tad harder than she’d intended. Wherever she was, she knew she was far from the library, and that suited her fine. She couldn’t stand to see another dark shelf of dusty books, not after what happened in that Library. All those people from the expedition had died, all except the bloke who owned the planet. Sure, the Doctor had said he’d saved them all to the Library’s computer, to live in its world forever, but she’d been there herself and she’d seen what it was like. She’d lived that stop-motion life, jumping from scene to scene and rationalising the bits in between. It’d been horrible, living with that nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite right, and she hadn’t even known what was really going on. To live like that forever, knowing that it was all a fabrication, that your children were carbon copies of the same pattern stamped over and over, that nothing you did mattered one bit and yet also that it would never end... The phrase “a fate worse than death” danced in her mind. Sometimes she wondered if the Doctor took his obsession with saving lives at all costs a tad too far.
The worst part, though, was Lee. Oh, she’d loved him to bits, she had. It didn’t matter that they’d gone from fishing to married to kids in a matter of seconds. They’d adored each other and they’d had the life they’d wanted together. She’d been sure he was real - of all the people she’d met in that world, only he hadn’t placated her, hadn’t said exactly the right things every time, hadn’t tried to fill in all those blanks in her false life, hadn’t been perfect - but she hadn’t been able to find him once she’d returned to reality. Donna pounded the cold floor under her with desperate fists. Maybe I didn’t search hard enough. Maybe he’d been searching for me, too, and we just never were in the same place at the same time. I should have insisted that we stay until the last survivors had left. I shouldn’t have given up.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, not for the first time today, and not for the last time either, she knew. She could still feel his arms around her, hear his voice stuttering into her ear. She wondered what kind of lover he was, as the computer had skipped over that particular detail on the way to producing their children. She then cracked a reluctant grin as she realised it had mercifully skipped over their births as well. It didn’t matter, though. Nothing mattered. She’d never see him again. If she’d known anything about him, anything real, the Doctor probably could have tracked him down, but there was too little to go on. If he’d existed at all. Slumping back against the wall, Donna wheezed and sniffled as she tried to get control of herself. “It wasn’t real,” she scolded herself in ragged gasps. “None of it was real. Why the bloody hell are you bawling over that bad video game?”
“It’s okay to cry.”
The Doctor stood a few paces away, chewing on the tip of his tongue as he regarded her with dark, worried eyes. He fished in his pocket and brought out a wad of tissues then, stepping over, slid down the wall next to her and held them out. “The good stuff. Not the ones with lotion. Make my pockets greasy, they do. Nothing worse than your sonic slipping out of your hand.”
With a wet sniff, Donna snatched them from him. “What’re you doing here?” she demanded as she peeled a tissue off the top, fronting a surly attitude to hide her embarrassment at being caught out. She’d wandered off to avoid this specific conversation.
“Oh,” he breathed, tossing his head back with a shrug, “thought I’d take a walk, check out the graviton generators, just down over there.” He waved a hand in the general direction that Donna had been walking. “Don’t know if you’ve noticed. They’ve been a bit spotty. Take a step in the wrong place and suddenly you’re three stone lighter.”
“You could make a mint selling that.” Donna blotted her nose. “Well, go on, then, check your generators. Don’t let me stop you.”
“And leave my best mate alone and crying on the floor? I’d like to think I’m a bit more considerate than that.” He patted his shoulder, inviting her to lie against him. “Come on. You need it.”
Donna pursed her lips and nodded. “Yeah, I do.” She laid her head on his shoulder, then sat back up again. “You got a pillow or three in those pockets? You don’t got enough padding for this. It’s like cuddling up a bus stop.”
“Do that much, do you?” The Doctor draped his arm around her, gathering her to his chest.
“That’s a sight better.” She relaxed against him, and they fell silent. Somehow, just the Doctor’s presence made things seem so much better.
“I don’t understand,” Donna finally murmured long after the tears had dried on her cheeks. “Why should a fake husband and fake children hurt so much?”
“Just because they were in a computer doesn’t make them any less real, Donna,” he told her, clasping her just a bit tighter. “You loved them, and they loved you back. You had a life with them. They don’t have to be solid and punchable for them to matter.”
Pulling back, Donna gave him the obligatory sock on the arm that he deserved, then cuddled back up. “I really thought I’d finally got what I wanted. There was a wedding and everything, sort of.” She sniffed. “An implied wedding. I don’t think we actually went to it, but we came home from it. He carried me across the threshold. That counts, right?”
“Far as I know,” the Doctor agreed.
“Good enough for me. See? I got past the altar this time.”
“That’s a first,” he sighed. “Maybe the successful ingredient is me not showing up.”
Peering up at him, Donna ticked off on her fingers, “You were there for Lance and Rudy, and not for Lee. That’s a pattern. You are hereby not invited to my next wedding,” she declared with a decisive nod.
“I accept the proscription. I give my word I’ll stand quietly outside,” replied the Doctor.
“You, quiet? Pfah.” Pursing her lips, she wagged a finger at him. “But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to send a gift,” she clarified.
The Doctor was the picture of innocence. “Of course. Never crossed my mind. Though I don’t know where I could get a robot Santa gift-wrapped.”
Disengaging herself from his arms, Donna leant back against the wall and stared at the coppery struts of the ceiling, arching overhead. “At least that’s one thing we’ll never have to find out.”
“Where to get a robot Santa gift-wrapped?” he squeaked.
“No, you wally,” she snorted, swiping at his knee. It was simply too much effort to smack him well. “The effect of me attending your wedding. Never gonna happen.”
“Oh, I’m not so sure,” the Doctor murmured, mostly to himself. “Looks like I’m going to be getting married.”
Donna jerked upright. “What?” She looked him over with a confused frown, then rolled her eyes. “Must be hell, seeing the future and all, knowing what’s coming up. So what’s she like?”
“No, Donna, I can’t see the future. Not like that. I just found out that I have a wife, or I’ll have a wife... someday. Soon, or maybe not so soon. Welll…” He scratched at the back of his neck. “You know that archaeologist. River, that was her name. River Song.”
Donna puffed herself up and thrust her hand at the Doctor. “Professor River Song, archaeologist,” she declared in haughty imitation of the woman. “I’ve dated androids. They’re rubbish.”
The Doctor nodded. “That’s her.”
“I know,” she replied as she flopped back against the wall. “What about her? She’s how you found out?”
“No, I mean, that’s her,” he repeated. “She’s my wife.”
Donna blinked. She blinked again. “You’re kidding!” she declared, her face frozen in a disbelieving smile. “Tell me you’re kidding.”
The Doctor withered, almost curling into a gangly-legged ball. Even his hair lay flat and limp.
“You’re not kidding,” Donna murmured. “How do you know?”
“She told me.”
“And you believed her?” Donna squealed. This oh-so-advanced Time Lord was as gullible as a schoolboy. “Doctor, anyone could say that!”
“Not the way she did.” He looked up at her, his eyes dark and miserable. “She knew my name, Donna. Not my sobriquet. My name. No one knows my name, not any more. The only people who knew my name, they’re gone. Not a single person left in the universe who knows it - except her. There’s only one reason I’d tell anyone my name -”
“Yeah, I get it.” Donna sighed. She thought her love life was rubbish, but it didn’t hold a candle to the Doctor’s. Just when you thought finding out that the love of your life was a computer simulation was the worst it could get, here he comes, upping the ante. First, he loses his love in another dimension, and then this. He never got a break, did he? “So the day you meet your wife is the day she dies. I’m sorry.” She took his hand and squeezed.
“Thanks, but that’s not it.” He pulled his hand back and began rubbing his fingers like he was trying to remove dried ink. “I mean, yes, not the way I ever imagined meeting my future wife, but, but…” He shrugged. “It’s all wrong, Donna. Every bit of it.”
“In what way? She seems nice enough.” Donna really hadn’t gotten to know River at all, just that she seemed fond of talking sentimental rubbish, but she owed it to her friend to paint an appealing picture of her. “She’s a scientist at least. You two can geek out together. Cos that’s what she was saying, wasn’t she? That she knows you in the future?”
“But that’s what I mean,” he moaned. “She knows future me. That’s wrong.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”
The Doctor straightened and began his explanation. He was always at his best when he had concrete things to describe, not squishy things like feelings. “She had this diary…”
“Yeah, I know. You showed me. We left it on the balcony.”
“That’s it,” he affirmed. “She took me aside, and she started reading from it, asking me if we’d already done the things she described. You see? She didn’t know if I’d done the things she’d done, which means she’s been meeting me out of order. That’s not allowed.”
Donna wasn’t quite following him, but she understood his last sentence. River was breaking a rule, and the existence of a rule meant there was some authority enforcing it. “By whom?”
“The Laws of Time,” he stated. “I’ve told you about them. One of the most important is that you must always meet other people in correct temporal order. You know, I meet you now, then the next time I see you, it’s the next time for you, too. No in-betweens, no backwards. Otherwise, you learn things about the future you shouldn’t know. You can’t not.” He licked his lips. “Usually it’s little things, like she happens to drop that next time you see her, you’re going to have an ice lolly instead of a Mr. Whippy, but sometimes it’s big things -”
“Such as, you two are married,” Donna supplied.
He tapped the tip of his nose. “Like she was saying all the time, ‘Spoilers.’ But she said it like all that matters is you don’t peek ahead, don’t see the ending.” He shook his head. “It’s more than that. Foreknowledge causes anomalies, paradoxes, time loops, tears in reality. The tiniest misstep could cascade into a universe-swallowing void.” He swallowed hard. “It’s bad. As bad as it can get.”
The concept that time had laws always had felt a bit nebulous to Donna. Why should Time write Laws? It didn’t help that each time he brought them up, the Doctor would launch into a fifteen-minute lecture of why something was bad that always ended with Donna saying, “Well, then, stop doing that.” This time was no different. “Then find her and tell her to stop.”
“But she’s not the problem. She’s keeping the diary and checking it with me because I told her to.” The Doctor paused for effect, then stated with careful precision, “Future Me told her that it’s okay to flout the Laws of Time, that the effect on the rest of the universe, the rest of reality doesn’t matter.”
“The sex must be fantastic,” Donna murmured, regretting it immediately when she saw the storm in the Doctor’s eyes.
With a deep, despairing groan, the Doctor leapt up and paced down the corridor, yanking at his hair. “I keep trying to tell myself that this doesn’t have to happen, that she’s really not my type and now that I know, I can avoid the whole thing, but you know, that’s a paradox in itself. And me!” he continued to rant. “Future Me! He’s going to do all this already knowing all the problems it’s going to cause, for me, for her, for everyone! This!” he thundered. “This is why it’s against the Laws.”
He stopped and whirled, his chest heaving as he wrestled with himself. When he finally spoke, his voice was tiny, and Donna strained to hear him over the low, steady hum of the time travel capsule. “But really, what terrifies me is, when do I start doing whatever the bloody hell I want? When do I decide that I’m above the rest of the universe?”
Donna pushed herself to her feet and stepped toward him, reaching for him with a tentative hand. “Doctor…” she crooned, but he stormed off.
“She said that I… I… Future Me. Future Me,” he repeated in a feeble attempt to distance himself from himself. “She called him ‘My Doctor’. She said I wasn’t him yet, that I change so much that she doesn’t even recognise me as I am now.”
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Donna asked.
“Donna.” He hung onto the name like it was the one stable rock in the storm-whipped ocean. “She said that he stares down whole armies and they run away. Like a general. Like a god.” He swallowed hard, his throat convulsing visibly. “I don’t like this future, Donna. I just want to travel. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, just to see this whole beautiful, brilliant universe, to step out onto new planets and see new horizons. I don’t want this future she’s giving me, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It’s already happened.”
“Doctor!” cried Donna, though she knew there was little she could do to pull him out of this rabbit hole. “It’s not your fault!”
“Of course it’s my fault,” he sneered. “Future Me is still me.”
“No!” Donna had to shout to secure the Doctor’s attention, and when she wanted to, she could really shout. “No, he’s not. He sounds like a totally different man. Who he is is not your fault. You just go on the way you do, doing what you know is right, and let Future You do what he wants. You can’t live like that, paying for actions you haven’t done yet.”
“But I might do. I can feel it, you know. I already…” He choked on his memories, gasping for breath. “You didn’t see how I finally convinced the Vashta Nerada to leave us alone. And...” He clutched at his head, holding in an imminent explosion. “My hearts flutter with jealousy that Future Me gets to tell the universe to get stuffed. It’s hard, you know,” he breathed as he deflated against the wall, “keeping the lights on now that everyone’s gone, fighting the good fight, keeping the standard aloft. And now that I know that I’ll do it one day, that I’ll turn my back on the Laws, oh, the temptation…” The words started spilling from his mouth, almost too fast for comprehension. “It’s going to happen someday, you know. I can feel it. Always have, even on the first day I opened these eyes. Someday I’m going to get fed up with the... with the unfairness of it all and tell the universe to go -”
“Doctor!” Donna exploded, shouting over him. Leaning over, she poked the Doctor in the chest and he reeled back, knocking his head against the wall behind him. “You never remember, do you?”
He’d barely heard her, and he made a great effort to reply. “What?”
She glared at him, fists cocked on her hips. “What I’m here for. Remember what I said the first time we met?”
He paused for a moment, thinking. “You’re going to sue the living backside off me?”
“Not that time!” she scolded, swiping at him for his attempt at levity. “After Her Spidery Highness, outside my mum’s.”
The Doctor’s cheeks coloured just a bit. “To find someone. You said I need someone to stop me.”
“That’s the one.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You couldn’t stop me, if I decided that’s what I wanted. No one could.”
“I couldn’t stop a five-year-old from stealing from the sweets jar, but that’s neither here nor there.” Reaching up, she caressed his cheek, and at her touch, he visibly relaxed, just one tiny bit, but it was there. She placed her hand on his chest, and when she spoke, her voice was soft and soothing. “Stopping you from making bad decisions, yeah, that’s part of it, sure. Really, though, I’m here to stop you from facing it all alone. That’s what a partner is really for, whether it’s a wife or a husband, or even a best mate.
“It’s not about the love, or the sex, or anything about the ‘Me, me, me!’ or even the ‘You, you, you!’ They’re not there to worship you, or even to try to make life perfect for you. That stuff, that’s not healthy. That’s delusion. That’s obsession. It’s mad and it’s destructive, for both of you.” She faltered, swallowing down her embarrassment at her own failures. “When you met me, I was… I was too self-absorbed to see that in Lance, and then, hoo boy, Rudy took the cake there. But that’s what I loved about Lee. That computer world was too good, made everything too perfect, but he was just, well… he just was.” His memory brought a tender smile to her lips, and she had to blink back tears, because the man in front of her needed her now.
“You see? That’s what it’s all about. Your partner’s right there by your side to help you through the tough times and make the good times even better. They support you when you’re right, tell you when you’re wrong, and work through it all with you.”
She took his hands and held them as she gazed up at him with a firm promise shining in her eyes. “That’s what I’m here for. I’m your partner. You’ve done all that for me, and I’ll be here for you as long as I can. And after that, cos I know it won’t last forever, you go find someone else, someone new. Just like I told you to back then, too.”
The Doctor searched her eyes, then smiled with a soft sigh. “You don’t think much of River, do you?”
“You know,” she drawled, and paused a moment to fix his tie, cinching the four-in-hand tighter to his throat. “I filled half a diary just on my scuba-diving trip to Spain. If she’s got one that’s an inch thick and full of all the wondrous adventures you’ve had together, you’re not gonna be seeing her much.” She tapped his tie with finality. “Unless maybe she writes really small. Microscopic.”
“Well.” The Doctor tried to hide his amusement and failed miserably. He flashed her a lopsided grin. “She promises an interesting life, at least. It’s just like me to go directly from bachelor to widower. Why waste time? I’ll just skip the intermediate step.”
Donna cleared her throat. “You learnt from the best.”
Horror at reminding her of her losses with a misjudged joke flitted across his face. “I’m so sorry, Donna. I didn’t mean to...”
“It’s okay.” It really was. At the end of both of her almost-weddings, she’d come out with the better deal. Not that she’d ever let the Doctor know it. “I’ve got you. That’s good enough to go on with for now.”
Donna grinned, her blue eyes twinkling as she gazed at the best friend a girl could have, which didn’t stop him from also being the biggest berk in the universe.
“Come on.” The Doctor held out his hand to her.
That was one thing Donna Noble never refused. She took it, asking, “Where are we going?”
“Check the generators. Maybe throw them into reverse for a while and do a little body-gliding down the corridors.” Tugging on her hand, he flashed an enticing smile.
Donna planted her feet and refused to budge. “You’re just distracting us with something new and shiny.”
“Absolutely. A bit of excitement would do us both good. And not the ‘run for your life’ kind either. Or perhaps...” He clicked his fingers and pointed at her. “You’re always going on about relaxing at a resort. There’s this planet, all it’s got is one enormous spa. Pools and patios and pedicures. Just what you like.” He punched the air in triumph at his own brilliant idea, then turned serious. “But it’s time we moved on. It’s time we both stopped mourning our once and future spouses.”
“Yeah,” she sighed, then nodded, her determination matching his. “Time to put the Library behind us for good.”