19 July 2008 @ 10:24 pm
Every Day In A Million Days  
Title: Every Day In A Million Days
Author: Lilith ([info]lilithilien)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Summary: Donna was alive. So what if she'd never heard of the lost moon of Poosh?
Rated: Gen
Length: 3000 words
Disclaimer: All rights to these characters belong to RT Davies and his lawyers and agents.
Notes: Tag to "Journey's End." I had to see if I could bring Donna back, memories (somewhat) intact. Introductory and closing quotes from "Death in the Forest." Enormous thanks go to [info]sarcastic_jo; all remaining mistakes are mine.



Everybody knows that everybody dies, and nobody knows it like the Doctor. But I do think that all the skies of all the worlds might just turn dark if he ever, for one moment, accepted it. —Dr River Song, v2.0


He wasn't sure how he'd ended up on Poosh. Maybe he wanted to check that the missing moon really was back. He looked up now into the night sky, at that tiny ball of rock suspended like a puppet between Poosh's two larger moons. All in order, nice and tidy. 'Right as rain,' as Donna would have said.

Or maybe it was just that the TARDIS felt too empty. Made sense, really. After being flown like it was intended, pilots at all six stations, it was none too pleased to go back to being helmed by just one Time Lord. He managed as best he could, racing from one station to the next, but in his endless circumlocutions he could never shake the feeling that the TARDIS missed ... something.

So.

Poosh.

A quiet little planet, Poosh. Orderly, neat, nothing ever really happened here. It reminded him of Canada. The Doctor hadn't stopped here in years—years being relative, of course, since his last visit was in the 27th century. That's why he was startled when a hand clutched his arm.

"I kn-kn-know y-ou."

He looked at the man: 'tall, dark, and yummy,' he thought, and he wasn't sure whether it was Jack or Donna in his head this time. But definitely a stranger.

"I'm afraid you're mistaken," he said brusquely, pulling away.

"No!"

The man spat the word out, setting the Doctor's senses on guard. But there didn't seem to be any hostility here, just raw determination. "You kn-kn-know D-Donna."

The Doctor's eyes narrowed, pieces falling into place. Clarity and pity emerged hand in hand.

"You. You're from the Library. You're Lee."

Each vigorous nod of the man's head sent pain stabbing rough and raw into the Doctor's chest.

"I'm sorry, Lee. Donna's gone."

"G-g-g..."

There are people living in the light, singing songs of Donna Noble. They will never forget her. He'd said these words to her family, and he'd known he would encounter the world's she'd touched, the people she'd helped. It was an agonizing enough thought in the abstract. In the face of the man she'd loved, it was excruciating. He didn't want to tell this story, he didn't want to think about it, but he knew what she would have wanted.

"Donna Noble, the Donna you knew, is gone. She sacrificed herself to save the galaxy."

"N-no." Despite the stutter, determination shined through. The Doctor's teeth clenched as he waited, patiently, torturously, for Lee's protest. "S-she c-c-c-can't be g-g-g-gone. S-she w-w-w-was s-s-s-saved."

*****


She was saved.

Why were those three words stuck in his head like dusty vinyl? He'd shared the whole story with Lee, made him understand that Donna wasn't coming back, and still he couldn't shake those three words. Donna, the Donna he had loved, hadn't been saved. She'd died as surely as if Davros' blast had torn her apart. Oh, there was a woman named Donna Noble out there, 100 words-per-minute Donna Noble, Temp Extraordinaire. But it was a Donna who'd never travelled with a Time Lord, who'd never visited the Library, who'd never met the man of her dreams inside a dream.

She was saved.

And wasn't that what he'd done, after all the other companions had departed? Yes, he'd taken her memories, but she was safe now, wasn't she? Yes, her universe might be smaller, bounded by the borders of Chiswick. She might not recall the song of the Ood, she might not remember trading barbs with Agatha Christie. But she was alive. Amidst all the death, all the wasted lives, Donna was alive. So what if she'd never heard of the lost moon of Poosh?

The moon.

Dr. Moon.

The Library.

She was saved.

"That's it!" he exclaimed, smacking his forehead so hard his palm stung. "Why didn't I think of it before? Oh, you stupid, stupid, brilliant man."

He changed the TARDIS' course, sending it tumbling towards Earth.

*****


"You've got some nerve coming back here."

Sylvia Noble in protective mode bore an uncanny resemblance to a Sontaran, the Doctor realised.

"Just let me talk to you. Just five minutes, and then I'll be gone, I promise."

Wilf, peeping over her shoulder, caught his eye. The Doctor was surprised to see how much he'd aged. The glimmer of hope that had always kept him young was absent.

"I think I can bring Donna back."

Hope flared there, just for an instant, but brightly. Enough to confirm that the Doctor had been right in coming here.

"Donna is back," Sylvia protested, but Wilf was already opening the door wider.

"We owe it to the Doctor to hear him out."

There was plenty of mumbling at that, but it hardly mattered. English politeness won out, and soon the three of them were gathered in the sitting room, steaming cups of tea in their hands, and the Doctor was unfolding his plan.

"But how do you know it will work?" was Wilfred's question as soon as he finished.

"I don't."

"Will it be dangerous?" asked Sylvia.

This was the question he had pondered since the idea first materialised. The dangers were many—that the recovery wouldn't work, that the Vashta Nerada would stop them before it was complete, that Doctor Donna would re-emerge and Donna Noble would be lost forever. A lie rested on the tip of his tongue, but instead he looked at Wilf.

"Yes."

The back door slammed then and from the kitchen came a shout, "Hullo. Where is everybody? You'd think aliens had abducted ... oh, hello. I didn't know we had company."

"Hello," said the Doctor, rising to his feet. "John Smith. We've met before."

"Oh, right," she replied, face vacant. "Anyway, I was just stopping to freshen up. Suzy Meyer, she's gone and got herself engaged, can you believe it? I'm meeting the girls at the Barley to see her rock—Sheila says she's it's big as Pluto." She nodded once at the Doctor. "Nice seeing you, Mr Smith."

Silence descended on the room once she'd gone. The Doctor recognised it as the same silence that had filled the TARDIS for too many days.

"How will you do it?" broke in Wilfred. "Without her remembering anything, I mean?"

"We haven't said he could do anything yet," protested Sylvia.

"Look at her," scoffed Wilf. "She's got nothing here, just a string of useless jobs to complain about and watching her friends pair off. Donna's more than that. The Doctor knows."

The Doctor watched, waiting for Sylvia's rebuttal, but it didn't come. She looked resigned. Wilf, on the other hand, looked positively charged. After a long second in which no one spoke, they both turned to him. The Doctor cleared his throat.

"I'll make sure she sleeps all the way there. She won't know what's happening, I promise you that. When she wakes up..." The Doctor knew the limits of his promises. Doctor Donna's brain, well, it was something the cosmos had never seen before and might never again. Who could know how far a Time Lord-human hybrid's mind might be stretched?

"If this happens, if this works ... Donna won't be coming back, will she?"

The Doctor pursed his lips, steeling himself to meet Wilf's eye. "She won't travel with me anymore." That was a decision he had already made. He couldn't trust himself to keep her out of danger, not anymore. "But it's likely she might choose to be somewhere else."

"This man ... Lee ... he really loves her?"

Remembering the haunted, accusing eyes that he'd seen on Poosh, the Doctor nodded. "Yes, Sylvia. I believe he does."

A long look passed between the mother and her father, a flood of thoughts washing between them so quickly the Doctor almost believed he could have charted the currents. At last, Wilf turned to face him.

"You can take her. But I'm coming with you."

*****


It was one thing to describe the Vashta Nerada to Wilfred in the comforting safety of the TARDIS. It was quite another to see the darkening swarm circle the tiny phonebox, the lengthening shadows bringing hungry death closer as the afternoon wore on.

"We mean you no harm," the Doctor insisted again. "We just need access to the Library's computer. Give me a day, just one day, and then we'll be gone."

But the Vashta Nerada did not answer.

"I know you can understand me. Can't you ... can't you speak to me? You've done that before." As loathe as he was to see Anita's remains, he knew it was the only way. "I promise you, we mean you no harm."

Wilf's gasp was his first sign of the swarm's assent. The Doctor looked up to see the white suited figure there, moving silently toward them, as quiet as the creatures themselves. The skull inside the helmet was as gruesome as he remembered, and its voice was brittle.

"These bones are old. Did you bring us meat?"

"No, we are not meat. I am the Doctor and these are my friends. You will not eat us."

"We remember you." He drew himself up as the skeletal creature took another step forward. "These are our forests. You should not have returned."

Making sure that Wilf was well behind him, the Doctor stepped forward to meet the swarm. "Believe me, I didn't want to, but this is very, very important. I really cannot tell you just how important this is. I have a friend who is in very serious trouble, and the only way to save her is to access the Library's computer. So please, let us pass."

There was a pause, as if the collective had taken a moment to confer, and then the bones stated, "You are the Doctor."

"Yes, I am."

"You are the Destroyer of Worlds."

The Doctor reeled, the unwelcome title so cold on the lips of the dead that he couldn't resist quaking. This, then, was his legacy and his destiny, the fate that he had escaped and the judgement that he had passed. The world spun and he almost lost his footing, his vision swirling between shadow and fire, thousands of possible futures swirling into that one precise moment when he had earned this name.

"We mean you no harm."

For a moment he didn't know where the voice came from. It was calm and sure, so different than the torturous screams echoing in his head. He opened his eyes to see Wilfred beside him, his hand stretched out in peace. "We mean you no harm. It's my granddaughter. She needs your help."

The Vashta Nerada seemed as surprised by the intervention as the Doctor. "You are not a Time Lord."

"No, I'm ... I'm human, from Earth."

"You are in our forests. You are our meat." The swarm moved closer, no longer as shadows but as pure, indelible blackness that rolled toward them like a rising tide, leaving the TARDIS standing on a rapidly shrinking island.

The Doctor raised his arm to guide Wilf back, but the old man stood firm despite the inky blackness nearing their feet. There was fear in his eyes, to be sure, but there was also that spark that refused to back down. That spark that the Doctor had seen so often in Donna.

He knew what he had to do.

"You know who I am," shouted the Doctor, commanding the full attention of the Vashta Nerada. "Now I think you should look up Donna Noble. See what the Library has to say about her. She's the one that we've come here to save."

It was probably just his imagination that the quiet background buzz grew louder. It was probably just a trick of the light that made it seem like the swarm swelled, rising thick and dense, blackness surging upwards towards the sun and threatening to swallow its light.

But there could be no denying the moment when it ebbed, the buzz fading behind Anita's voice.

"You have until day's end. When night falls, you will be our meat."

The swarm retreated, leaving the TARDIS standing in the light of a wide bridge.

"Right," the Doctor proclaimed. "Time to get busy. Help me with Donna ... and whatever you do, stay out of the shadows!"

*****


"Are you sure this will work?"

The Doctor's eyes narrowed, pupils darting across the computer screen as digits flew by. "To be perfectly honest, I have no idea."

A choked sob made him look up suddenly, but Wilfred had already composed himself. He stood on guard beside his granddaughter, gently stroking the fringe from her forehead. Watching the tender gesture, the Doctor softened.

"It should work, yes. CAL is a computer—an incredibly advanced computer of a complexity that the Earth won't see for several millennia, but a computer nonetheless. Her hard drive may take up the whole core of a planet, but she stores data just like every computer does. And if I'm right, then she's stored Donna in here. The trick is finding her."

"Finding her? I thought you knew where she was."

"Well, I know she's in here, I just don't know where exactly." When a quick glance at Wilf revealed confusion, he hastened to explain. "When data is deleted from a hard drive, it's just the memory address that's lost. The data itself doesn't disappear—it's still hiding down in the nicks and crannies, tucked away wherever there's room. Rather ingenius, really, the way it works. So the trick is recovering it—recovering her—and then downloading her memories back onto that wonderful old brain of hers."

"And she won't remember anything from the last few months?"

"If I'm right, she won't remember a bit of it. We'll be recovering the data from a system restore point." Although it was still possible the Time Lord portion of her brain might reject the new data. He wasn't sure how it would react to being overwritten. He was trying hard to ignore the calculations running through his head, to push aside the statistical possibility of burning out her human brain altogether.

But the Vashta Nerada, they had allowed them to pass. Surely that meant something. Surely they woudn't have...

His thoughts scattered, he almost missed the indexed characters he'd been looking for. Quickly he scrolled back. "Hello, Donna Noble."

"Did you find something?"

"I most certainly did." Several quick machinations with his sonic screwdriver later, and CAL began downloading the data—the memories—to the still figure on the metal table.

Wilf looked on anxiously. "Now what?"

"Now we wait."

A hand speckled with age hovered over Donna's. "Is ... is it all right if I touch her?"

"I think that'd be fine."

Their hands joined, fingers entwined. The Doctor swallowed hard as Donna's fingers curved around her grandfather's, her grip strong even in sleep. The sight tugged hard at his unsettled conscience. Was this right, what he was trying to do? He wanted to believe that it was his Donna who'd possessed that strength, which made the thought of her losing it unbearable. But he had to admit that this wasn't entirely true. Donna had been just as strong when they'd first met. Unfocused and wild as it might have been, her vigour was undeniable.

No, the Doctor hadn't given Donna her strength. If anything, the reverse was true. So what right did he have to think she wasn't 'good enough' the way she was? Was restoring her memories as his companion important enough to jeopardise her mind? Were the things they'd done together worth risking her life?

For a fleeting moment he debated pulling the plug. Then the sound of Wilf's voice pierced through his thoughts.

"Sorry, what was that?"

"I said that the creatures, they just let us go when you said Donna's name. Why would they do that?"

The Doctor looked down at Donna's face. It looked softer than he remembered, the worry lines he knew so well relaxed in sleep. "Because they know who she is," he said quietly. "Because Donna Noble's name is known throughout the universe. I told you that songs were sung about her. Books were written too, of the things that she did. I know it may be hard for you to believe, but she was glorious."

And that, right there, that made all the risk worth it. Donna needed to remember that.

DOWNLOAD COMPLETE

The childlike voice shook him from his thoughts; the moment of truth had arrived. Carefully he unhooked the cabling, checking as he did so that all of Donna's organs were functioning correctly. Everything seemed in fine shape; her mind remained the only glaring question mark. Gently, he reached out a trembling hand to shake her shoulder.

"Donna? Donna, it's time to wake up."

Drowsy eyes opened, pupils reeling as they focused and locked on his face. Confusion riddled her face for a long moment before the corners of her mouth lifted. "Hello, you."

His smile eclipsed hers, wider than he thought it had ever been. "Hello yourself, Donna Noble."

Shaking her head, she tried to sit up. "You won't believe the barmy dream I just had. It felt so real! I had this gorgeous hunk of a husband and ... Granddad? What are you doing here?"

*****


"So I guess that's it, then," said Wilf as he slid the lever smoothly into place. The Doctor noticed that his fingers lingered just a little longer than necessary on the TARDIS' rounded panel. "I have a granddaughter who's happily married on Poosh and I've been to a library that takes up a whole planet. I reckon the library in Chiswick is going to be a real disappointment after this."

"You know," said the Doctor, the words slipping out before he'd really had a chance to think about them, "if you wanted to, we could take one more trip. Just one, mind you."

Forethought or not, they sounded right.

But it was only because Wilf had proven a deft hand at the helm of the TARDIS. It wasn't because he'd been lonely, not at all.

Wilfred looked up, eyes shining bright as Gondorian beacons. It only lasted for a second, though, and then the lights faded. "If not for my knees, I'd jump at the offer. Donna said there was a lot of running involved. I'm afraid I'm about fifty years too late for that."

"You know, I hear they do wonderful things with knee surgery on Matsui Minor." The Doctor clasped the back of his neck and leaned on the support beam. "If you'd like, we could swing by, see if they can squeeze you in."

The lights were back, blazing brilliantly away. It was enough to warm both of a Time Lord's hearts.

"Well, then, what are we waiting for?"


...now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call, everybody lives.