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Donna Noble lived a long life never knowing what the Doctor had taken from her. She found a permanent job, fell in love, got married, and had two lovely, intelligent children whom she worried about constantly. She had everything she thought she needed, and yet, despite her happiness, she always felt that she was missing something, as if there was something, or someone, important that she had forgotten.
Every night her grandfather would gaze up at the stars through his telescope. He never told her what he was looking for and whenever she asked, he would change the subject. When he died she took up the hobby. She had no idea why she did it, (the stars were as likely as her kids to disappear if she didn't watch them, after all) she just felt that she had to do it.
These and other questions, hints at the life she couldn't remember, gathered in the back of her mind, waiting for the right man to answer them. That man entered her life one last time, on the night of her 123rd birthday.
It was almost midnight and everyone else had either gone home, or gone to bed, but she was in the backyard watching the stars when the Doctor walked up to her.
"Happy birthday Donna," he said cheerfully as he sat down beside her.
"Excuse me," she replied," do I know you?"
"Who me? Naw. I was invited though. Or rather I will be."
She knew that she had never met this strange man before, and yet, his erratic behavior seemed familiar.
"Happy birthday," he said again as he handed her a small box.
"What is it?"
"Just a device that will slow down what's about to happen and make it less painful. Don't ask where it comes from, I haven't been able to figure it out myself and I'm not allowed to take it apart with my sonic screwdriver. But I was given instructions to have you put it on before I said anything else."
"But why can't…" she started to ask but the Doctor just shushed her and pointed to the box so she decided to humor him and open the box. Inside was what looked like an ordinary watch, but when she put it on all the memories began to slowly come back to her. It was as if the watch regulated the flow of information into her mind. She didn't remember everything yet, but she knew that she eventually would, just as she knew that the very information returning to her would eventually kill her. The watch merely slowed it down and numbed her to the pain.
"Doctor?" she asked as the initial shock wore off, "how long do I have?"
"Just long enough to set in motion the events that, via a time loop, will lead up to this rather pleasant reunion."
"So I have a few days to get my affairs in order before I finally croak." She sighed, "well at least I have advanced notice."
"And you've lived a far longer and happier life than most people have a chance at," the doctor added.
"To be honest I've been feeling like I've lived a little too long. Like I've done everything I need to do and the only reason I'm not dead already is because I'm waiting for something that is behind schedule, but I can't leave until it finally happens."
The Doctor looked apologetic, "I'm afraid you have me to thank for your longevity. I wasn't able to remove everything, just enough to keep you from burning out. Even without regenerating time lords are very long lived. As for being behind schedule, this is the date you'll tell me to come in the note you leave with the watch. I received a message on my psychic paper saying to visit Sarah Jane, do you remember her yet?"
Donna looked thoughtful, "no, not yet. I have an outline of my life with you, but the details are still filling in."
"Oh, well you'll like her when you remember. When I got to her house she had just received a letter for me, Inviting me to your funeral and the reading of your will. I hope you won't be offended, but it was actually a bit of a thrill to be invited. I'd never really attended a funeral before. Imagine my surprise when I find that you left, or will leave me, that watch in your will with instructions to be here tonight so I can give it to you."
"This is unbelievable," Donna replied, "even for someone who in now beginning to remember doing some unbelievable things. If you just gave me the exact same watch that I'm going to leave you in my will…, then where did it come from?"
"Haven't the foggiest," the Doctor replied honestly. "All I know is what was in that letter I found in the box with the watch. Not the same box I just gave you though." he pulled a large beautifully hand carved box from his jacket pocket, a box that Donna had just received for her birthday.
"My Granddaughter just gave me a box just like that."
"Probably is this box," said the Doctor. I was hoping I could keep this as a souvenir." He opened the box and pulled out a two page letter. "The first page says what the watch does. Not only does it allow you to remember the fun times we had together without painful burnout, it keeps perfect time. The second page is instructions telling me to bring the watch to you here and now and not to mess with it."
"That was probably the hard part for you wasn't it?"
"Who me? Naw. I never meddle with strange alien devices," as he said this he eyed the watch with the hunger of a purebred meddler.
"Yeah, well I've got to go to bed," she said as she stood up. The Doctor followed suite and escorted her to her door. Just before she entered she turned to him and said, "thank you Doctor. Thank you for the memories."
He smiled and said, "thank you, Doctor Donna." He gave her a farewell hug and walked away. She knew they would never meet again, but she was glad all her questions were now answered. She could die knowing how much she had truly lived.