Title: last man (?) in the world
Word Count: 1,471
Spoilers: pretty general season 4; references to "The Unicorn and the Wasp"
Summary: The Doctor and Donna's 'not a couple' routine does not entirely convince one Miss Jane Austen. Donna is distressed; the Doctor gets to hear about it.
Author's Note: This, then, is what happens when Doctor Who's eaten my brain, and then the Pride & Prejudice episode of Wishbone is on. Yaaaaay?
Also, I really do fail at titles when it comes to, you know, anything. In this case, we are referencing Elizabeth's whole "last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry" line, only, well, the Doctor's not a man so much as a man-shaped alien! Ergo question mark! And let's not even get into the part where perhaps "universe" would be more applicable than "world" and so on and so on. Maybe I should just start doing things Friends-episode-style: "The One Where Jane Austen Implies That The Doctor and Donna Are Totally In Love, For Real."
They do the whole customary song-and-dance bit – "Oh, we're not together." "We're not a couple." "We're so not a couple." "Me and her, her and me, we're not—" "So completely not a couple. Not now, not ever." "Nope." "Never. Never ever." – and Jane (yeah, that Jane, though perhaps it'd be more polite to say Miss Austen) just smirks at them, a knowing twinkle in her eye.
"You see that?" Donna mutters in his ear, giddy, as soon as Miss Austen's shifted her attention to some other partygoers. "Jane Austen thought we were a couple. Jane bloody Austen!"
"Best not let her overhear you referring to her like that," the Doctor whispers back. "Not good manners, is it?" (He can't help cracking a grin, though; her excitement's contagious.)
But then the smile slips a bit from Donna's face. In the course of a few seconds, it's vanished completely, replaced by a little thing the Doctor likes to call slow-mounting dread.
"Jane Austen thought I'd fancy you."
"Well, yeah. And what's so wrong with that? You're sharp, quick-witted, lively. Not unlike an Austen heroine, in fact. It'd only make sense that you'd fall for my sort. Me and Mr. Darcy, we've got a few things in common."
"What's that?" Donna demands, words popping indignantly off her tongue. "Emotional retardation? A raging superiority complex? Come to think it, yeah, I can see the resemblance. Only difference is, he's the most charming man in the whole history of literature, and you're a walking, talking twig with a couple of hearts and a spaceship."
"Hey." The Doctor frowns at her. "I said nice things about you."
"Exactly," she retorts, in true Donna Noble fashion. (He's not sure anyone else could get so genuinely irate over a compliment.) "Don't you go trying to butter me up, you daft alien. You're not just going to distract me from the fact that the writer of the greatest romances in the world seems to think we could be an item."
Irritation is bubbling up in spite of himself. "And how's that my fault?"
"I dunno," she responds, only faltering for a second. "But I know I didn't do anything to bring it about; that much's for sure. Which means it's on you. You must have looked at me in some way."
"I looked at you the way I always look at you!"
"Oh really?" She plants her hands on her hips. "And how's that, exactly? Like you're secretly in love with me?"
"More like I'm secretly frustrated that strangling falls into the Bad Things category." In reality, that's a look that only gets saved for special occasions – like this one, for instance – but holding back the remark is impossible, considering the circumstances.
"That's it!" Donna exclaims, snapping her fingers. "Must've been the frustration. She'll be thinking it's all sexual."
"It's not sexual!"
"Well, I know it's not," she says, pulling a face. "But try telling that to Jane bloody Austen."
"You keep calling her that, she's going to hear you," the Doctor warns.
She doesn't seem concerned, though; just starts pouting a bit, staring into space. (Well, not literally.) "This is really just rich, that's what this is. Fiancé gets engaged solely for the purpose of turning me over to a gigantic spider woman. Only attractive bloke I've come across traveling through all of time and space is special friends with the servant boy. And then I get written off as someone who'd date you." She juts her thumb in his direction.
"Oh, what?" she snaps impatiently.
"I'll have you know that I've been considered something of a catch." He stands up a bit taller.
Donna's not having it. "Really?"
"Really! There was Martha, mind."
"Who it seems has since come to her senses," Donna counters, then mutters, perfectly audibly, "Thank God."
"And—" There's the split-second of mental fumbling – remembering her – but it's been ages, after all, and he's gotten good at hiding how much he misses her, even from himself. He recovers quickly. "And Madame de Pompadour thought I was quite sexy."
Donna snorts. "Right."
"No, seriously!" he argues. "Snogged her and everything!"
"Like that counts for much," Donna scoffs. "You snogged me."
"No, you snogged me."
He's got her there. He can tell. "Well, let's not get into the logistics of it, shall we? Point is, that didn't count for anything. Didn't count for anything even remotely resembling anything, martian boy."
He groans. "Not the martian thing again—"
"Now, let's get off the subject before it makes me sick."
"Hey! It wasn't so—"
"Anchovies," Donna says gravely, "and ginger beer."
"Right," he admits after a couple of seconds. "Fair point."
"Now." She claps her hands, face suddenly set with determination. "What're we going to do?"
She glares at him. "To convince Jane Austen that we're not a couple, genius!"
"Do you really think that that's the priority right now?" he asks, frowning.
"What else would it be?"
"Invaluable historical experience? Being in the presence of one of the greatest minds in literature?" Nothing. Her expression doesn't change a bit.
The Doctor sighs.
Fortunately, it turns out there are aliens afoot, masquerading as fellow ball guests. (He catches on a few dances in when he realizes that six of the partygoers can't turn in a complete circle, a trait common to xeirozphenes.) This does, indeed, become the priority. The Doctor's quite relieved, to be honest. The whole not-a-couple-no-matter-what-Jane-Austen-thinks conversation had been rather exhausting.
They save the day: thanks to some fancy footwork and an excellent last-minute epiphany from Donna, Jane Austen and her family and friends do not get devoured by any manner of alien creature.
"You are brilliant, Donna Noble," he grins, pulling her into a hug.
"Yeah, well," she returns, her breath tickling his ear as she laughs a little, "You're not so bad yourself."
Jane looks over just in time to catch sight of the embrace.
Donna shoves him off and adds, loudly and emphatically, "But not in a romantic way, or anything."
"Oh," he says blankly, regaining his footing. Donna widens her eyes pointedly, and he throws in, louder, "No. No, not a bit. None of that."
"Exciting evening, hmm, Miss Austen?" Donna calls, wriggling her fingers in a ridiculously dainty wave. Jane only smirks before returning her attention to Cassandra. Donna, meanwhile, has promptly become miserable. Sinking down into a chair, she moans, "God, she looked at us like that again. Nothing's changing her mind. As far as she's concerned, we might as well just shack up together and be done with it. Me. And you."
"There are worse things," the Doctor says, sitting down next to her and giving her a consoling pat on the shoulder. (He mercifully doesn't point out that, technically, they are shacked up together.)
"Really?" she asks, with a skeptical eyebrow lift.
"We could've been eaten."
"I thought you said worse," she retorts, but he can see a smile sneaking around the corners of her mouth.
"So what if Jane Austen thinks we're a couple?" he carries on. "Even she wasn't the be-all end-all expert to romance."
"Oh really?" Donna demands. "What makes you say that?"
"Why didn't Mary Bennet and Mr. Collins end up together, hmm?"
Donna's quiet for a moment, processing, before her eyes light up at this grand epiphany. "Oh."
"They would've been perfect for one another," the Doctor continues, encouraged by her reaction. "Preachy, dull; never shutting up about things no one in their right mind would care about—"
"Not entirely unlike someone I know who likes to go off on big 'lo!-the-wonders-of-space' rambles," Donna interjects slyly.
"Don't know who you're talking about," he replies, straight-faced.
"Yeah, you haven't met him," she plays along. After a moment she adds, casually, "He's an okay sort of bloke."
"Is he?" A smile tugs at his mouth.
"Yeah," Donna admits, bumping her shoulder lightly against his. "But if you ever do meet him, don't tell him I said anything."
"I'll keep my mouth shut."
They sit in pleasant silence for a bit, sipping punch and not paying much mind to the slowly dimming hysteria of the other guests.
And then – "You don't really think you're like Mr. Darcy, do you?"
He feels a stab of indignation that he technically knows could be classified as a tad irrational. "All I said was that there were certain similarities—"
"'Cause I'd like to see you try to pull off the lake scene," Donna interrupts, voice downright thick with scorn. After a beat, she adds, "That was sarcasm, by the way. I wouldn't. Really, really wouldn't."
"You do realize that the lake scene isn't in the book."
"Still. Just keep that in mind, space man."
"Will do," he promises. (Although secretly, he suspects he could pull it off just fine, thank you.)
She smirks, triumphant.