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Chapter II: Fermata's Last Breath

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a steady cadence.

"You mean she did what?"

This was certainly an interruption to his day. Mayor Thomas had come in early in the morning, about an hour before the Doctor and Elli even opened up shop to complain of a massive headache. Upon closer inspection, the Mayor's injury had seemed to be caused by something metallic and weighty.

"With a hoe, a watering can, and an ax, yes. Maybe others but I really can't recall."

The Doctor gave him a look halfway between thoughtful concern and extreme consternation.

"Understandably."

He made a note to check Mayor Thomas for brain damage one more time before he released him from his professional care. In the mean time, he would need to make sure that an incident like this was handled properly.

"Have you told Harris about this?"

The mayor nodded. "Oh, yes. Harris knew from the start, when I came home with this huge bump on my head." He pointed to the affected area gingerly, as though touching it or even coming too close would cause a new onslaught of pain. "Being in favor of fair sales and honest advertising, though, he said that I deserved it and that I had it coming for trying to trick people for so long. Though, I don't see why he needed to be quite so incensed. It was just a simple town tradition, that was all."

The Doctor was getting worried. This was most unusual, on many levels. Typically, the people that came to try their hand at farming would stay for two days, then get so depressed at the prospects that (if they hadn't already moved out) they came to the Clinic, seeking advice and help. Often exhausted, sick, and miserable, they had no problem when the Doctor proscribed them a quick ride back to wherever they had originated from. This one, though...

Could the abandoned farm finally be finding an owner? Was this the end of an era?

"You are coming to the horse races this year, aren't you?"

The Doctor shrugged. "I suppose, if you desperately require my presence."

The riders were generally well experienced and adapted to changes in the course easily, and while those less practiced in keeping on the course (or their horse, for that matter) usually were carried to the Clinic. It wasn't that far from the race track and Rose Square, so the Doctor hadn't bothered coming to the races all that often, if at all. He found it easier to treat the injured, especially those with broken bones, in the confines of the Clinic. In fact, a lot of medical things were more easily done in the Clinic. That was why he spent most of his time there. Why was there a need to leave?

Smiling, Thomas replied, "Of course I do. I invited Claire and I think it would be a great opportunity--"

"Pardon, who? You've never invited a visitor before."

"Oh, come now. You know her name. We might as well give her a chance to settle in and let her have a fair shot at farm life. Besides, I felt differently about Claire compared to some of the previous tenants. Her circumstances are quite different, and I think that we as a community ought to each do our part to make her feel at home and encourage her in her task."

"This you say after she nearly gave you a concussion." He wasn't believing a word of it.

"Yes, well...these things do happen. It really was my fault, you know. I must admit that I deserved it."

The Doctor snorted skeptically and busied himself with polishing the metal reflector disk that he would wear for the bulk of the day in silence. Then, softly:

"She doesn't even have a horse. If she's just starting out farming, then she won't have any spare money to bet. There will be no purpose for her coming."

"Always so logical. Actually, I spoke to Barley about that. Turns out that he's got this foal..."

The Doctor shook his head; he would hear no more, he already knew what would be said. He waved off the rest of the mayor's comments and pretended to be busy with some paperwork, which was difficult to do with his desk being utterly free of paper. The mayor rattled on regardless.

"Her birthday's on the fourth, so I thought that would be the most appropriate time. What do you think?"

"I think your brain's been hopelessly addled."

"Is that a professional opinion or just your bitter personal feelings?"

The Doctor looked up, affronted. "I have always kept my opinions strictly professional."

Sighing, the mayor made his way to the door. "Yes, I suppose with you that's always been the case. All profession, all rationality, all the time. At least consider coming then, would you? I'd like to make a formal introduction of her to the town."

Not bothering to acknowledge this, the Doctor didn't even look up when he handed the departing man an reusable ice pack and a packet of herbal medicine. "That should take care of any lasting head aches and reduce the swelling. Contact me if your head bothers you or the bump doesn't go away after three days. You know to find me."

He hardly noticed the door slam shut on its squeaky hinges, except to remark absently to himself that he really needed to get someone in here--the blacksmith's boy perhaps?-- to fix it properly. The patients didn't need to be startled out of their minds thanks to a noisy and disruptive door.

The fact that he had no patients to be startled at present was by no means a factor in this.

Shortly before nine o'clock, he walked over to the door, undoing the latches with a sure and steady hand. His hand stopped being so sure and steady as soon as the last latch was undone, and the door fell in upon him, pressed ferociously inwards by some hostile, outside force. He barely had time to utter a yelp of surprise before he was tackled to the clean, tiled floor.

Reflector askew, the Doctor became acutely and immediately aware of a strange weight on his lap.

"Oh, hello!"

A blond girl in blue overalls gave him a weak smile, rubbing her head from her collision with the door.

"Sorry about that, I just needed to get back to the general store and pick up some more turnip seeds. Guess I got the wrong door, huh?"

The Doctor bit back a sarcastic remark about how it was be nigh on impossible to confuse the Clinic with the grocer's, but not without great effort. She was interrupting every aspect of his daily life anyway, so why couldn't he just accept that she was doomed to make his existence as abnormal as possible?

"Yes, I suppose you did." He caught a glimpse of a bruise forming on her upper arm. "Though it doesn't seem as though you came out of your duel with my door unscathed. Let me have a look at that."

She laughed nervously. "Nah, I've got to get planting. Start of the season and stuff, right?" She paused, eyes meeting his as she pondered what next to say. "Ah..."

Apparently, nothing came to mind.

"My name's Claire, by the way."

He nodded. "I'm the Doctor."

"Just the Doctor?"

Brow furrowed, he regarded the farm girl quizzically. What, had she expected him to be the furrier as well? Seeing this, she amended her question:

"I mean, no first name or anything? That's kind of odd, even in a farm town..."

His throat tightened. He hated to be baited like this.

"Naturally, I have a name. We're hardly so provincial here as to do away with them entirely, despite what they might tell you in the city. I merely dislike giving it out to someone who's likely to move on within a week's time. 'The Doctor' will suffice in your case."

There, he'd finally done it. He'd known it was bound to happen and it had. He'd taken his anger out on a villager. Well, at least this new girl--Clara, was that her name?--wouldn't be long in town anyway, so she didn't really count. Still, some part of him cringed at the infraction. He forced himself to ignore it.

Claire's first reaction was this was to be instantly offended, but then she decided on another plan. If this Doctor wanted to be aloof, then who was she to stand in his way? She was all for making friends, but she had a feeling that he was going to take a little longer to get to know than some of the others. Oh well. She'd show him that city girls could stick it out. A plan was starting to form in her mind already.

"Sorry to barge in on you like that. Look on the bright side: since I'm leaving so soon, you'll probably never have to worry about it happening again. See you!"

And with that last remark, she turned on her heel, leaving a slightly embarrassed Doctor in her wake.

"Anything wrong, Doctor?" came Elli's voice from a bookshelf as she reorganized the town's medical files for what must have been the fourth time that day. "I thought I heard a shout and some sort of commotion."

Getting up, the Doctor brushed the dirt that had settled on his normally pristine coat off and returned, "Nothing out of the ordinary."

He slid into his chair, running a hand absently through his hair, and stared off into the distance.

Oh, how he wished that were true.

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Reviews!

StarrNight :: Thanks! And no, I don't mind at all!

To everyone that reviewed, thanks very much! I really appreciate hearing how people feel about my stories. Hope you liked this chapter as well. The next one will focus on Gray!

--cy.