DISCLAIMER AND SPOILER ALERT: "Doctor Who" is the property of the BBC and any and all other copyright holders of this property. This story is one long massive spoiler for the end of series 4, especially the last episode, "Journey's End." Don't say I didn't warn you! Some notes are made at the end of this story.
"The Final Journey"
Donna Noble had lived a long life.
It was, by all accords, a most ordinary life. She grew up, hitchhiked for a holiday as a child when her family couldn't afford one, worked as a temp for number of years, had more than one disastrous relationship, then got married and raised a family. When she reached the end of her life at the venerable age of 86, she could mostly say that she had been quite satisfied with the life that she had led.
A knock on the door drew Donna's attention away from the latest episode of Coronation Street, just going into its 104th year and still quite good. "What is it?" she demanded tersely.
The door opened and a very thin brown-haired man in a brown pinstriped suit appeared. He wore a pair of thick-framed glasses, which he pulled off the moment he laid eyes on her. "Donna Noble," he said in a quiet, proud, near reverent voice.
"Yeah?" Donna gave him and the bushy-haired woman who entered with him a dismissive glance and turned her attention back to the television only to find that the serial had gone to commercial. With a sigh, she glanced at the newcomers. "I suppose you're among the latest bevy of people to come demanding samples of my blood. Come on, get on with it." With that, she presented a frail arm with an IV attached to it.
The man didn't say anything, but a smile tugged at his lips. "Donna Noble," he repeated with a shake of the head.
"Yes, yes, that's me. Now, come on, hurry it up."
The man made no movement toward her bed. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Donna," he said right before the serial came back on, "I'm the Doctor."
Donna rolled her eyes. "Well, imagine that, a doctor in a hospital. You think you're quite the comedian, don't you?" She pushed her glasses up her nose and gave him a good hard look. "Rather skinny for a doctor now, aren't you? You don't follow the so-called nutrition program any more than the rest of them do. And you." She jabbed her finger at the woman with the Doctor. "Who're you?"
The woman hesitated, gave the Doctor a quizzical look. He shook his head. He had told her as they were coming on this trip that she wasn't to speak her name aloud. "Should I...?"
"It's for the best." The Doctor laid a hand in the small of the woman's back and steered her toward the door. "Why don't you wait outside? Here." He passed her the psychic paper. "Use this to waylay anyone who comes around."
The woman hesitated, her hand on the handle. "Will you be all right?" she asked, concern in her eyes.
The Doctor stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. Yeah I will be."
"Okay." The woman gave him, then Donna, one last look and disappeared into the hallway.
The Doctor turned back to see that Donna's attention had drifted back to her serial. It was similar to the last time they has occupied the same space with each other's knowledge. She had been chattering away on her cell phone, not particularly caring that he was there. She had devolved back into the self-absorbed woman he had initially met so long ago on one of the absolute worst days of his life. Donna had done so much for him. She had saved him, so that a part of him could be with Rose Tyler. She had saved not just the universe, but reality itself.
It was time to pay her back.
"Do you know why I'm here, Donna?" The Doctor asked, moving to her bed.
"Of course I do." Donna's eyes never moved from the screen. "I'm dying, everyone knows that. Just because I'm 86 doesn't mean that I've gone daft. Everyone's tiptoeing around, whispering about me moving on. A lot of bother if you ask me. They don't try to treat me like I'm still a real person, like someone actually important enough to exist. They're just waiting for me to give up so they can fill this bed with another patient." She shrugged, wheezed a bit. "As if they cared to begin with. I'm just an ordinary person. No one like the King or a celebrity."
The words were so reminiscent of a previous conversation in the TARDIS that the Doctor's heart ached a bit. He sat on the edge of the bed. "What did you do with your life, Donna?"
"Why do you care about that?" Donna glanced impatiently at him, then for the first time, really took a good look at him. Something tugged at the back of her mind, like she had seen him somewhere before. Something inside her chest started to throb.
"I do," The Doctor replied. He leaned forward, stared her in the eye. "I want to know what you did with your life, Donna Noble."
Donna stared back, then let out a sigh. "You know, you're the only one to call me by that name in years. All right, if you must know, I worked as a temp for most of my younger life. Didn't know what I wanted to do with myself." She let out a snort. "Mum never thought I was good for much. Dad died after I broke off my first engagement, and Granddad..." Tears misted in her eyes. "Granddad was the best of them. He truly was. Not a day doesn't go by that I don't miss him terribly."
The Doctor started to reply that yes, her grandfather had been a good man, one of the best. Before he could do so, he nodded for her to go on.
Donna's eyes lost focus, and he could see that she had drifted into the past. "I was in my early 30s when I met Lee. Lee McAvoy. Such a good, honest man. I felt like that I'd met him before, somewhere else. Another life, another universe, some mumbo jumbo like that. I met him and we married right away. Eloped because my mum refused to pay for a second extravagant wedding when my good-for-nothing fiancé didn't even bother to show up for the first. We had a good life. Had kids, grandkids. He passed away about three years ago."
The Doctor reached for her hand, held it gently and thought of the irony that Donna's life held, even after everything that had happened. The universe still reformed itself constantly around her. "I'm so sorry," he said sincerely.
Donna shrugged. "Not much to be sorry about. It's how life goes. You're born, you live awhile, you die. It's my turn now."
"I see." The Doctor fell silent for a moment, and then spoke up once more. "Were you happy?"
"What sort of a question is that?" Donna jerked her hand from the Doctor's. "Weren't you even listening, you daft man. Of course I was happy."
"Good." The Doctor nodded, hesitated a moment, then nodded again. "Good," he repeated. He rose, swallowed hard as if he wanted to say something else, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it. "Well, I just wanted to check on your well-being. Take care, Donna."
Donna gave him a curt nod as he headed for the door. She stared at his departing back and bit her lip, then drew in a breath. "Although," she said, "there is..."
The Doctor stilled, hand on the door handle. He glanced over his shoulder and waited.
"There is something... oh, it's quite silly and why am I telling you of all people?"
"What is it?" Curiosity piqued, the Doctor moved back toward the bed.
Donna gazed wistfully at a vase of flowers on the nightstand. "There were times, lots of them, where I felt like a part of me was missing. Something had been locked away in the back of my mind, and I'm not quite sure what it is. I know that it's important, whatever it is. Maybe it was just wishful thinking, wanting to be something I couldn't possibly be. I was just a temp until I got married, then a mum and grandmum. Perhaps I just wanted to be something more."
The Doctor said nothing, and then an ear-splitting grin appeared. "Oh, Donna. Donna, Donna Noble. You have no idea."
He had toyed with the decision for a while, ever since he made the choice to come and see her once more at the end of her life. In that split second, he made up his mind. Nothing was going to alter fate at this point. He came back to her bed and pressed his hands to her temple.
"What're you doing?" Donna demanded and tried to squirm out of his hold. "Some New Age medicine? I'm telling you, I want none of tha..."
"Hush," the Doctor ordered and Donna's mouth snapped shut.
Golden light shined around her hair, sparkling in the air and growing until it encased the two of them. It spun violently and died away after a few moments. The Doctor lowered his hands and waited.
Donna opened eyes that she hadn't realized she'd closed.
And she remembered.
"Doctor," she breathed. She blinked furiously and held a hand to her mouth, truly seeing him for the first time in 56 years. "Doctor!"
"Donna," the Doctor said with a grin. "Welcome back."
"Oh, Doctor." Tears streamed down Donna's cheeks. "I remember."
Then she slapped him.
"What the..." The Doctor yelped, rearing back and covering his chin.
"Why the bloody hell did you do that?" Donna yelled at him, sounding much younger in those few seconds than she had in years. "You wiped my memories from my mind! I swear if I ever get out of this hospital bed, I'm going to wring your scrawny neck. Get back here!"
For his own protection, the Doctor stood at the foot of the bed. "You know I had to," he said as she grabbed the ice chip bucket. He neatly dodged the feebly thrown missile. "You would have died..."
"Did you ever considered that it's better to die knowing what I am, and what I did, than to have the best part of your life wiped completely from your mind?" Donna cradled her head in her hands as memories and knowledge rushed through her brain so fast, she felt like a computer in the final seconds before a fatal program crash.
"So you're saying you'd throw away your marriage, your children, your entire normal life just to be a half-Time Lord for hours, perhaps days?" The Doctor demanded.
"Yes!" Donna replied hotly. "Yes, I would!" Her breath hitched and the tears came faster. "I was someone, Doctor. I did something with my life, something extraordinary, and you took it away from me. You didn't give me a choice."
"And, if it had been one of your children," the Doctor said quietly, "would you have done the same thing?"
Donna stared hard at him, and then hung her head. "Why now?" she asked softly. "Why, at the end of my life, why did you unlock my mind?"
"Because..." At a loss for words, the Doctor moved back to Donna's side and took both her hands in his. "Because, I wanted you to die knowing that you did something extraordinary with your life, Donna Noble McAvoy. You were brilliant." He squeezed her hands as she said this. "The Ood still sing of the DoctorDonna. You were never forgotten. I never forgot you. You were always looked after, always protected. Torchwood looked after you when I couldn't. I came back a few times. Just to look, and to see. Never to interfere."
Donna started to protest, but remembered a conversation she once had with her youngest daughter after they'd been to a park. A strange man in a suit had come up to her on the swings, talked to her for a bit about her family, then disappeared into a blue police box. "You talked to my daughter."
"I thought you were some sort of weird sexual predator."
"Naw," The Doctor said, making a face, and Donna laughed.
"How did they all turn out?" Donna asked. "The others?"
"Well ... Jack's still Jack." The Doctor gave a wry smile. "Martha's still hanging in there. She's got another oh, 10-15 years left in her at least. Sarah Jane passed on a few decades back. Mickey..." His voice hesitated. "Mickey..."
"You don't have to go into it." Donna hesitated, then leaned forward and placed her hand over the Doctor's. "Rose? Did you ever...?"
"She's good. Yeah, she's good. They're both good." The Doctor nodded brusquely. "It took them some time, but... yeah, they're fine."
Donna decided not to ask how the rifts between worlds opened again, but she smiled. "That's good. You're not alone any more. The woman with you. She's a companion now."
A bright smile blossomed over the Doctor's face, one that she hadn't seen since he'd been reunited with Rose Tyler. "Yeah. Yeah, she is. You've met her."
"I have?" Donna picked apart the re-born memories in her mind, settling on a face - a woman in a spacesuit. "River Song? Professor River Song?"
"Not a professor yet. Just a grad student. Encountered her oh... six months ago her time. We've been on a wild adventure," The Doctor gave her a devilish grin. "We went and saw the mountains you were wanting to see. The mountains of Felspoon that sway in the breeze. I told her there, about you and what happened. Then I decided to come here."
"I'm glad." Donna squeezed his hand. "I'm really glad you're no longer alone."
"So am I," he replied. He kept hold of her hand. "You know it's time to make your last journey."
"Yes." Donna's eyes locked on his, and once more they were young and strong. "It's time for me to go. I can see that now. I suppose, all along, this was the reason I lingered on as long as I have. I was waiting for you one last time. This time, you found me."
"You'll stay with me? See it through to the end?"
"I will." The Doctor blinked away tears. "Donna Noble. You were absolutely brilliant."
Donna smiled, held the Doctor's hand tight. "You know what, Doctor? So were you." Then she closed her eyes and headed on her final journey, the Doctor beside her until she knew nothing more.
"How did you talk her family into doing this?"
"Oh, they were going to have her cremated and anyhow. All the rage in England these days, what with the lack of cemetery plots and all. Her family has what they think are her remains, and that'll comfort them. I wanted to give Donna this."
The Doctor and River Song stood at the foot of the newly finished grave, the swaying mountains of Felspoon in the distance. The Ood-made headstone gleamed in the sunlight.
"HER SONG WILL BE ETERNALLY SUNG"
The Doctor stared silently at the grave for such a long time that River Song eventually moved to his side, slipped her hand into his. She squeezed, and he glanced down at her. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." The Doctor sucked in a deep breath. "Yeah, fine." He glanced at the grave one last time. "Thank you," he said to it. "Thank you for everything."
River Song nodded as well. "Thank you, Donna."
The Doctor heaved a great sigh. "Right then! Let's head off! Say, you in the mood for the best Thai found in a 5 million mile radius?"
"Five million miles?"
"Yeah. There's a planet, you see..." The Doctor headed back to the TARDIS, River Song at his side, leaving Donna behind in one of the worlds that she had saved, and had longed to see.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I wasn't able to find an official age for Donna, the closest I reached was around 30 in 2008. So, that's what she was. Lee McAvoy was the man that Donna married in the library hard drive. Even though he's from her distant future, time works in mysterious ways – as shown with Gwenyth and Gwen Cooper in "Journey's End." Part of me hopes that some technology will emerge, something will happen that will awaken the memories in Donna and she won't die as a result. Other than that, this is my way of reconciling what happened at the end of her time with the Doctor.