So, Donna Noble is going to lie three times today. Which is fine, really, because the universe owes her, well, everything, and frankly, it can mind its own damned business.
The first lie -- the first big lie: she lies all the time, she lied to her mum this morning when she said she was listening, and to her granddad when she said she was fine, and even before that to the alarm clock when she said, "Yeah, yeah, I'm getting up" -- the first lie is to her boss.
"Yeah," she says cheerily into the phone, flapping her slowly drying nails in the wind as she leans back on her boss's chair, "yeah, I'll get right on that."
And that doesn't start out as a big lie, it's like "I'm okay," or "Yeah, you look great," or "We should really catch up," or whatever, something everyone knows isn't true, so it's practically not lying anyway. But it gets to a big lie quickly, because then she swings her feet up onto her boss's desk and kicks her shoes off and wiggles her toes in their tights.
"Yeah," she says, "but you told Adele to do that."
That's not true. Her boss didn't tell Adele to do anything, because Adele couldn't find her arse with both hands and those dinky written instructions from Google Maps. But if Donna says it firmly enough, people will believe her. Which is weird, but she promised Sheena she'd come meet her after work to see her new engagement ring, and if she has to take the models to her boss's boss's office herself, she'll never get back in time, so, yeah, it's weird, but she needs to be believed. It's important.
She tries not to do it too often. There's nothing magical about it, she's not Harry bloody Potter, but there's a knack to being that firm, that quickly. She picked it up being a temp, with all the rushing from place to place pretending you know what you're doing -- but you can't overuse it or it wears out. She can't use it on her mum or her granddad, either, because they both knew her when she still shat in her knickers, and that, that is a tactical advantage they're not going to lose. Well, not until Granddad gets really old.
So, yeah, that's the first big lie. When Adele gets killed in that freak gas explosion later, Donna's going to feel really guilty.
But anyway, it's not like she's not doing something important here, too. Well, okay, not important-important, not important like her cousin's wife Jenny, who's a GP with a share in her own practice and four dogs, but sorting through the crap on her boss's computer is important to her boss. Or, at least, it will be once Donna's done it. Because you see, the thing people don't realise about their computers, the thing that makes Donna Noble the best temp in Chiswick, is that you can't just take an office's worth of stuff, stick it on a computer and expect it to file itself.
If you'd taken seven-year-old Ginger Noble, two parts fiery rebellion to one part My Little Pony, and told her that mumble years later her life skill, the thing she took pride in, would be filing, she'd've kicked you in the knees and run away. She might have done that whatever you said. But that's because seven-year-old Ginger Noble lacked the same basic understand of filing -- Donna's fingers fly across the keyboard, sorting and regrouping and organising, and as they tap away in a familiar rhythm, the rant in her head continues along its familiar path -- as everyone else.
There are people in life who'll just take their receipts and their bank statements and their birthday cards and shove them all in a shoebox behind the couch. That's what people basically do with their computers, if they're not careful, too. And then there are people like muggins here, who go through life straightening out the crumpled invoices of other people's lives.
Fingers still working, she sighs. It's not exactly glamorous, is it?
Then it's lunch and Donna chips a nail trying to open a Coke, of all things, it's not like she even drinks Coke normally, but there you are, and she can't bear the thought of painting them again.
You see, Donna's been getting these hand cramps. Not headaches, not like her mum keeps asking her if she's getting, which is, if you ask Donna, which no one does, which is probably her mum's latest way of not asking her when she's going to quit temping and do something with what's left of her life.
Being fair, though, her mum's been really good about it, recently. Ever since they let Donna sleep through that big earthquake last year, the one where all the dust made it look like there were planets right nearby (and wouldn't that have been a thing to see?), her mum's been almost nice. Not that her mum isn't, you know, her mum, and she loves her and everything, but it's hard being almost-- being Donna's age and still living at home.
So, yeah, Donna's hand cramps. They're murder. Donna once had toothache for three weeks -- when it was bad, she couldn't think about anything else, and when it wasn't so bad, she couldn't think about anything but when it would get bad again, and when it was at its worst, she couldn't think of anything at all -- and she'd almost rather have that back. At least when it's all of the time, you can't fool yourself into thinking it's not that bad.
That's not the next lie she tells. She's stopped lying to herself about them, now. She knows she's going to have to see a doctor, and soon, before she has to start taking real time off work, not just an hour here and there when the boss is out and Adele, bless her, will try and cover for her, but she just can't.
A doctor might make them stop.
The next lie she tells, the second one of the day, is this. It's to her hand, which is a little weird, but she's in that little room off the side of the work kitchen with the one formica table and the mugs, so no one can see her as she holds it up firmly to her face and says, "I'm not lonely."
When she gets the cramps, you see, she doesn't feel so alone. Which is ridiculous, frankly, and why she doesn't just hit herself round the head with her good hand and get on with her life, she doesn't know. She's got friends, she's got her mum and her granddad, she might not have the best job in the world, but she's bloody good at it, and she doesn't need to be lonely.
Everyone always thinks they're missing out on so much. Look at Sheena: her man's only gone and proposed, and she's still got half an eye on the door. That's really why Donna needs to see her tonight, to be honest. Talk some sense into her. There's no point in watching out for more and better when you could be making the most of the here and now, that's what she says.
That's what she says now, at least. It's not a lie, not like the two she's just told or the one to come, because she does believe it.
It was Granddad who said it to her first. He didn't say that, not exactly, and he looks almost guilty when Donna says it now, but he's the one who made her realise. She wanted to go out with him and his telescope, one night not long after the earthquake, not to see the stars but to see him, of course, and he wouldn't let her. He'd never, ever, ever tried to stop her before, and she got-- well, she didn't just sit there and take it, but then he sighed.
"No," he said, looking more at his hands than her, "you don't want to be doing that with me, love. Not when there's a whole world right here for you."
So that's half of it. The weird half, the half that's the reason she doesn't go see a doctor, is that the cramps really do help. They don't just distract her or anything like that, they really do help.
Anyway, so her lunch hour -- even an extended, boss-is-away, it's Tuesday!! lunch hour -- is well and truly over, and the twitches in her hand haven't developed into anything worse, so she drags herself back to work.
She did the fun bit this morning, getting the picture of the office network she'd been holding in her head for days to sit still and behave, and now it's just scut work, just moving and tidying the endless rubbish that an office's worth of lazy bastards leave lying around their shared computers.
Now that she can just tell people things -- sometimes -- and they believe her, she just does this and then tells them they told her to. That's if they complain, of course; normally they're so grateful someone's finally gone in and taken a flamethrower to the jungle of \Shared\Accounts\Misc that they just nod and tell her she's lucky they won't report her to the agency this time.
Actually, no, that's not new at all. She's always done it like that, for years, ever since she realised she was the only person in Chiswick's sea of incompetent office workers who actually knew their arse from a file type. What's changed this year is it's not just a thing she does, it's a thing she does and takes pride in, because that's what she's got.
The third lie doesn't come for ages, not until it's nearly tomorrow, and first she's got to get through a whole evening with Sheena.
It's not, it's honestly not, that she doesn't love Sheena, because she does. Donna thinks the world of Sheena, really, she just wishes Sheena would sit still and think for a moment, just once, just one moment, before haring off to do some damage. And this is coming from Donna, who left her fiance at the altar to go shopping, for god's sake, so if Donna thinks she should slow down, it must be true.
She gets to the pub, and Sheena's not there.
Later, she learns Sheena died in the same gas explosion as Adele. Later, she learns it wasn't a gas explosion.
She's sitting in the pub, nursing her drink and leaving abusive messages on Sheena's phone, when a tall streak of piss walks in.
"Oi," she says when Sheena's answer message gets to the bleep, "if you've stood me up for some bloke, I'll never-- Oh, hang on. Kiddie-fiddler at two o'clock." She can't help waving her free hand up in the sky at that, an oh-lord gesture lost to Sheena's phone. "If he comes this way, I'll get him to buy you a drink. Just come find me. I'll be in The Dog all evening."
Donna hangs up as the tall streak approaches.
He's staring at her so hard she thinks she's going to burst into flame. Her hand starts cramping like mad, worse -- if that's possible, which, oh god, it is -- than before.
She winces, then catches him catching the wince. "You've got stupid hair," she blurts before she can stop herself. It's true, though. That's not even coming close to being a lie.
"Yeah," he says, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth like she's just told him he's won some award for Lankiest Creep This Side Of Turnham Green. "Well, Donna Noble, you've got a stupid brain."
"You what?" she shrieks, and she's on her feet before you can say 'cruising for a bruising'. "Yeah? Yeah? Well, Mr NHS Glasses, you and your lip have no place here."
It's the pain from her hand, that's all it is, but for all she's hurting and, yeah, a little bit scared that he knows her name, she doesn't feel alone.
"Donna," he says, "Donna. You did it. You saved yourself. You and that stupid, glorious, wonderful, stupid human brain of yours."
At this point, right, Donna is feeling a lot of things. The first is the pain, because if your hand felt like it was just about to drop off, you wouldn't care if the Queen was shagging a pony in front of you, you'd be feeling that cramp first. The second is anger, because look at him, the arrogant tit, just because he has a suit and a tie and some ugly glasses, doesn't mean he can march in here and start insulting anyone he sees, least of all Donna. The third is relief, and she's not thinking too hard about that one now, because the last one, the last thing she's feeling is pain, as that headache her mum's been promising her all year finally makes itself known.
Donna sinks to her knees.
"Fuh..." she says. Even that much is bloody hard work.
"It'll hurt now, I'm sorry." He doesn't sound sorry, the arrogant little sod. He sounds like a kid on Christmas morning, apologising for waking you up but can we have presents now? "But then it won't hurt, Donna Noble, because you, you worked out a way to file it."
"..." she says.
"I've got a transducal fibolic node right here," he says, holding up a kitchen whisk, "and you, in your head, you've got the other end."
That wouldn't make any sense even if Donna's entire brains weren't being pulled through her eyes with a chainsaw. "...w?" she manages.
"When you were in the TARDIS, that last time, that last, glorious time--" He likes the word glorious. He likes the sound of his own voice saying it, more like. "-- you got into the mainframe. You're not meant to be able to do that. How did you do that? And then you did this! You filed it. You took an entire timeline's worth of-- An entire Time Lord's timeline worth of time, and you filed it."
Donna misses those wonderful days when it was just her hand that hurt.
"And in doing so, you taught the TARDIS how."
The pain vanishes for a single, shining moment, the sort of vanishing that means it's going to come back any second, but it's just long enough for her to get out, "You don't half talk a lot of shit, do you?"
The man laughs at that, and if Donna could stand she'd punch him in the face.
Then he holds up his hand between them and snaps his fingers. Her eyes blink involuntarily shut, and as they open again, she remembers.
"So are you ready, Donna Noble, are you ready to come with me? There are a million billion squillion (that's a technical term, that) planets to explore; more stars than you can dream of; worlds within worlds upon worlds; vast, cosmic scales of justice to tip over and see what happens; what might well be a Xaphrphrian invasion three streets down from here. Are you ready? Will you travel with me again?"
The pain's still there, but Donna -- of course -- files it away. This man, this alien, is back playing god with her life again. No hello, no please, no "Sorry I wiped your mind and self-esteem and made your family lie to you," no nothing. She doesn't need him, not any more, not now she knows who Donna Noble is. She takes one of his thoughts out of storage, just to have a peek. The seven moons of Antigous. Now she's got a whole Time Lord's worth of memories to play with, she knows she could get there without him.
"Will you?" the Doctor repeats.
She needs a moment to think. You see, the thing is, she knows him, now, through his twisted memories and her own painfully clear ones. She shoves his memories back and tries to focus, to see the Doctor she knew before, the man she trusted. Now she brings his memories out, and sees why he can never trust himself. He's not a sane man, that one. He's not a nice man, either.
"Will you?" the Doctor asks a third and final time.
Will she? Donna Noble looks the Doctor straight in the eye.
Then, third lie of the day told, she takes his shaking hand. "Nah, come on then, you. Planets to save, chop chop."
And they do. Happily ever after.
Any and all feedback much appreciated!