The next morning they were finally able to get an explanation from the Doctor of what it was that had so upset him the night before. He explained that when he had tried to find the TARDIS to make sure she was all right she had blocked herself from his senses and he 'lost it' when he thought she died too in spite of the empirical evidence to the contrary. What Harry and the Brigadier wanted to know what that had to do with a blown light bulb. His explanation to that was very simple; the only other time the TARDIS had ever blown a bulb was when she had a severe power surge that had caused her some considerable damage. He likened it to hearing the dog bark in the middle of the night when you knew it only barked at intruders. It wouldn't mean anything to the average person but generally meant trouble to someone who knew.
After that morning the event was never mentioned again. The Doctor found the whole incident intensely embarrassing. Part of his embarrassment had come from his yet again forgetting he wasn't the only one hurting as a result of the loss of their home planet. Another part was for what he had felt to be petty sulking that had goaded her into giving him a taste of his own medicine; after all he had started it by blocking her out of his mind first. Lastly he felt a fool for not realizing the obvious and that she couldn't have suddenly expired without something more then just a blown light bulb as evidence.
The TARDIS said nothing of the matter to the Doctor. Her own guilt kept her silent. Shame that she had let her own feelings get the better of her, shame she didn't think of her friends fragile mental state; lastly intense shame for not thinking of how badly he might react to the isolation only days after having the Time Lords collective consciousness brutally ripped from his mind.
The humans also didn't mention the event because they could tell there was something more the Doctor hadn't said, something he was ashamed to admit unconnected with his dependence on his sentient time ship. Instead they chose to try to keep him focused on progress.
The previous evening had, in it's own way, been a blessing in that he had amazingly slept through the rest of the night without being roused by nightmares. Unfortunately, the frequency of the nightmares in the next few days when he did attempt slumber quickly made him intent on doing virtually anything to keep himself awake. When confronted about it he alternated between becoming upset at the suggestion he sleep and ignoring them completely. Even he couldn't quite bring himself to accept the lie that he could do without completely. Ultimately, in spite of any and all encouragement, they failed get him to consider the idea. As a result he pushed himself till he dropped in his tracks and frequently they found him asleep in odd locations. More then once they found him slumped over some piece of equipment or other that he had continued to work on till his body forced him to sleep. By unspoken agreement no one woke the Doctor when he was actually resting peacefully regardless of where unless he would be physically in danger, such as the time he had fallen asleep in the tub or the time had nearly set his sleeve on fire when his arm had slid too close to a heating unit. Both of those times the TARDIS alerted the humans who then swiftly came to his aid.
On the Doctors part, the next couple of weeks were filled with frenetic activity and an almost constant verbal barrage on random topics. The others could tell he wasn't really particular about what he did just so long as he didn't have to stay still. His first project had been to clean up the lab and rebuild the equipment he had destroyed. The Brigadier and Harry insisted he let them help, as they knew it would stir up substantial emotions being in the room again. They were both quite surprised at how well he seemed to handle the situation. The only real difference between that task and others was that when the Doctor was there he was virtually silent other then basic direction, discouraging or downright ignoring them if they tried to talk with him about anything other then the task at hand. Both of the humans quickly took the hint and kept quiet and an even closer eye on him.
Following the completion of that project he had began going over all the systems of the TARDIS, finding them in significantly better shape then he knew they should have been. When he queried the TARDIS she flatly refused to discuss the topic. Eventually he badgered her so persistent that finally she had threatened to mentally shut him out if he didn't drop the topic. At that he reluctantly relented and didn't mention it to her again, although that didn't stop him brooding about why she wouldn't discuss how she had healed so completely in such a short time. The fact that she was keeping secrets from him disturbed him more then he cared to admit.
After the first few rocky days of emotional breakdowns over the most seemingly random things, Alistair and Harry were pretty sure the Doctor was past the initial crisis point and as the days progressed he became somewhat less subject to the mercurial shifts in temperament, which was a relief to them all. Alistair's wife, Doris, had taken the Doctor under her wing bringing him treats and other sweets of which she knew he was particularly fond. In return she was able to coax him into helping her in the garden. Both she and Alistair were surprised at times how much the Doctor knew about the life cycles and nutrient needs of a wide spectrum of plants often telling them odd bits about the plants history and medicinal uses. One afternoon, as Doris became sure that he knew the name of every plant in the garden, she mentioned her surprise to him and he replied with a grin "nine hundred years old me, seen quite a few plants in my time." Doris's garden became a sanctuary where the Doctor could just be, without having to think about his life outside its walls. Some time later he mentioned that he had a garden but when she asked if she could see it his face visibly clouded over. She quickly temporized 'at some other time' as she realized he probably had many plants from his home in that garden. Many times the Doctor found some measure of peace there, which was evidenced by how frequently they found him dozing on the garden bench. At other times, however, he felt antsy and could only stay for short periods before having to be off to some other project.
For all the bright moments where he actually seemed to forget for a little bit the horrors he had seen and actions he had been forced into there were many more where he had to be practically dragged into interacting with the others. Of the four of them, Alistair was most able to get the Doctor to actually talk about what he was feeling but even he would get shut out at a moments notice when the Doctor became overwhelmed by flashbacks. More than once Alistair had watched as the Doctor just stopped mid sentence, his eyes going glassy as he became entangled in the memories that were still so fresh and raw.
The Doctor had almost never stayed in one place for an extended period of time except when he had no other choice. That was as true now as it had been then and he felt trapped. This time it wasn't the Time Lord Council or physical injury that had him grounded it was his traitorous TARDIS. He had asked cajoled and entreated the TARDIS to take him somewhere else, anywhere else, yet she tenaciously refused saying he needed to be here. When he demanded an answer as to why she would tell him he would know in time, which infuriated him no end. Since when did she get to decide the course and timing of his trips? Had she become damaged in some way that had made her so rebellious? True she had never been like the other TARDIS' in which he had traveled. She always had seemed smarter in ways he had never been able to quite define. She had always seemed somehow more alive then the others. But no matter how he tried to think it through she was definitely not acting in the manner that he had become accustomed. What was it the Earthers called it… 'Thinking outside the box', even as he recalled the phrase he wondered if that was it exactly - had someone taken control of her? The next three days were spent with the Doctor going over her every system again, looking for some anomaly that would explain her behavior.
On day three just as the Doctor was coming to the conclusion there was nothing he could find to explain the observed behavior, he picked up a signal that he hadn't seen in years. At his surprised outburst the Brigadier came over to see what it was he was making a fuss about.
"We have visitors Brigadier; I just picked up some reading from a Nestene transmitter in London."
Alistair, watching the Doctor as he made this pronouncement, realized he had in this discovery seemed to pick up some of the old sense of adventure, the old spark that had always been a hallmark of his previous incarnations. As a result he actually looked more truly alive then he had since he had showed up. Realizing that this just might be exactly what the Doctor needed he suggested, "Well why don't you go sort it out."
The Doctor frowned as he realized he was going nowhere unless he could figure out how to convince the TARDIS to take him.
Misreading the Doctors frown he said, "Of course if you need some back up you can always contact me, unless of course you're looking for company…"
As Alistair started to get more diplomatic about his statement, the Doctor received a clear message from the TARDIS, 'Time to go Theta'
Interrupting the Brigadier he said, "No, no need I am sure we can take care of it, can't we old girl? It was past time we got out of your hair anyway."
Alistair looked intently in the other man's eyes and said quickly to make sure his friend knew he wasn't trying to push him out, "Doctor you're no trouble, and you're more then welcome to stay," He paused, "It's just you have seemed antsy these past couple of days."
"Quite right that." The Doctor said with a genuine grin, "never did like to stay put."
Returning his smile and trusting the instinct that said it was time for his friend to go back to what he did best, he said with all earnestness "Doctor be careful out there, and if you need to… Well just don't you two be a strangers."
Suddenly serious again, the Doctor nodded and there was very little that gaze didn't convey. Shaking the man's hand he said "Please tell Doris and Harry thanks for everything." Echoing the Doctor's words, Alistair felt an intense wave of gratitude from the TARDIS. "I'll swing back sometime soon. I owe your lady a trip to a garden you know."
With that the Brigadier turned and left the TARDIS and stood to watch as the TARDIS dematerialized. Looking at the space in the corner that hadn't been vacant for close to a month, he sighed and hoped that the next time the Doctor showed up he still had the same face. He grimaced as he thought about the lecture Doris would give him for just letting him swan off with out saying a proper goodbye; though once he assured her he was going to be all right she would forgive them both. With that he went off to the kitchen to get some tea and wait for Doris to get home from her shopping, thinking he really was getting too old for this kind of stuff.
It felt so good to be moving again! He so didn't do domestic and he had had more of it in the past three weeks then he had in centuries. If he was honest with himself it felt nice knowing that there were people out that he could depend on in a crisis, but he had begun to seriously tire of people looking at him with pity and walking around him on eggshells. No matter what they did they would never be able to fill in that gaping hole in his mind where once a whole people existed. Swallowing he forced his mind away from that mental ache and instead turned his focus to the monitor and began working on the coordinates so he could get as close to that signal as he could. Getting a lock on was being problematic, though, as the signal kept cutting out.
Working on foot from where he had parked the TARDIS downtown he began tracing the signal generator. With all the local background noise, signal bounce, and the erratic signal it took him a couple of hours to track down exactly where the signal booster was located. As he suspected it was in one of the clothing stores he passed a couple of times already. Looking up at the storefront his eyes were drawn to a pretty blond store clerk explaining something exuberantly to a young couple near the checkout. Something about her seemed very familiar but he couldn't place were he may know her from, shaking his head he refocused on the task at hand. He figured if he headed back to the TARDIS right now he should be back here just before closing time. It would make it so much simpler if it turned out he had to blow up the building if he didn't have to worry about how to get a bunch of people out first.
After scooting back to the TARDIS to get some of Ace's nitro 9 explosives he returned just in time to head into the building in search of the transmitter. Finding it on the roof he also found what he had feared; they had set it up in such a way that the building structure was being used to amplify the signal. So far there had been only the occasional test pulses from the transmitter, which had contributed to the length of time it took him to track down the correct building. Just as he was beginning to set up the timing device on the explosive the transmitter started a steady pulsing. His time had just run out. Immediately checking for life signs in the building he found that instead of the empty building that he had been anticipating there were two life signs down on the basement floor of the building. Swearing under his breath he made for the lift. As he exited into the hall one of the two life signs abruptly flickered out. Scowling he put on extra speed, striving to reach the remaining life sign, finding a locked door behind which he could hear shuffling sounds and the unmistakable sound of a female voice. Quickly he unlocked the door just in time to see one of the Autons advancing on young woman. Grabbing her hand just as the Auton moved in for the killing blow he smiled, as he began to tug her from the room, instructing her to "Run!"
To Be Continued in Part 02 - Going Forward