"Then you stole me. And I stole you."

"I borrowed you."

"Borrowing implies the eventual intention to return the thing that was taken. What makes you think I would ever give you back?"

Noh is more than a bit bored, which isn't all that surprising. Maman had told her to sit there right on the duvan, and she'd been there for a while longer than it takes to count on her fingers up to fifty, doubling over a bit because she has five fingers, not fifty. Noh can hear her out on the patio, talking to the Man. He is the one who brings flowers to Maman every day, and they always wilt before tomorrow. The Man is not Papa, and Noh does not like him very much at all.

The Man and Maman are now very pointedly not talking and are doing that thing where their faces blend together instead. She can barely see them from her position down the hall in the spare bedroom. Noh sighs and stares down at her shoes. She is wearing the black velvet dress that had been to Papa's funeral hours ago, and her stockings have a run in them, and she suddenly wants to cry.

The Man is not Papa, and Maman does not seem to care.

She screws up her face, determines not to cry, and slides off the duvan. The carpet is a sort of creamy color, like spilled milk, and Noh wonders if kittens would like spilled milk when it is on the floor. She does not know; she's never had a kitten before. She'd like to have one, a soft blue tiger kitten to call her own, with a pink bow and everything. They'd go running on adventures together.

She goes out past the living room and the dining room and the kitchen—everything is black and white and grey and rectangle, straight lines and funny shaped vases with funny shaped art in them instead of flowers, as there ought to be. She puts on her sweater, which is black too, and she is already wearing her shoes, how about that. Maman normally makes Noh take her shoes off when she comes inside.

Noh doesn't much see the point; shoes are for your feet, aren't they? She'd think feet would feel naked, without any of their clothes on.

She opens the front door, which lets go of its frame with a soft click, and lets herself out into the outer apartment hallways, where other people have their doors to their homes lined up like ducks all in a row. Noh feels very grown up for knowing how to call the elevator, and presses the button for the One, which she knows is for down because that is the very first number in the alphabet especially for numbers (well, except for Zero, but Zero can also be at the end after the Nine, too. Zero is a very confused number).

The elevator doors open their lips before Noh thinks they should have, because the number box that counts down or up with numbers is on the Twenty when before it had been on the Forty-five. Twenty was definitely not One.

Rather curiously, she notices that the hallway here would be just like the hallway she'd come from but for the man grappling with another man who is shaped like a potato. Did they want to take the elevator too? Noh is not sure. She holds the right side elevator door open with her arm, which she knows works because she'd see Papa do it once for a woman with too many children and too many grocery bags.

"Excuse me," she says a bit loudly to be heard over the din, "are either of you going to take the elevator?"

With a very loud "HAH!" the man who isn't shaped like a potato reaches over the potato-man's head, bangs a stick that he has in his hand on the back of the potato-man's armor, which releases something that might be air hissing out into the hallway. The not-potato-man leaps over the potato-man's crumpling form in one long bound, and he plows into the elevator, all legs and hands and windmilling arms. Noh very neatly steps out of his way and into the corner next to the buttons.

He points his stick at the elevator doors. The stick goes bzzzzzzrt and lights up green on the end, and the elevator doors shut. He falls onto the floor and the wall, catching himself halfway on the railing around the interior of the elevator, but his legs fall all over the floor, catching themselves at the ankle, and he trips anyway.

She can't help but giggle at that.

"Ow," the man says, getting to his knees and rubbing the back of his head. "Well. That could have gone a lot better." Noh doesn't think he has noticed her yet; it's obvious that he's not talking to her. But she wants to ask him questions, and so she decides to start with the simplest one.

"Mister, why do you have a stick?"

"It's not a stick. It's a screwdriver. A sonic one." He flips it, points it at her, and then, it seems, finally takes the time to really look at her.

And look at her. "Oh." His face has gone a bit of a funny color, a bit of a pale pink greeny color. "Oh."

"Mister, are you okay?" Noh is a bit worried; Papa had gone that color before he'd fallen over. Papa had never come back from that fall.

"Yes, I um—yes." He is still staring at her, and his voice has gone a bit squeaky. "Yes. Right. Your eyes are green."

"So're yours," she points out. "Green like mine."

"Yes. And your hair's curly. And you're ginger. I always wanted to be ginger. Definitely a Pond Ginger, on the scale of gingers. Um-" He shuts himself up, stares at her some more.

She's not all too sure what ginger means, but says, "Yes. And you're wearing a bowtie. A red one. And your hair is all floppy."

"Bowties are cool," he counters immediately. This seems to draw him back from wherever he had gone, and he draws himself up to his feet and adjusts the bowtie. "Very cool. I am the King of Cool—no, rubbish title. King of Cats? Cats? No that wouldn't work."

"I like them."

He brightens a bit at that. "Bowties?"

"Kittens. I would like a blue tiger one, with a pink bow, but Maman says I can't, and Papa isn't here anymore to say anything." She willnot cry. Instead, she says, "I'd call him Ponders."

"Ponders. Really." His eyes are still a bit wide, and he continues to stare at her as if there wasn't anyone else quite like her in the whole universe of universes.

"Yes. We'd go on adventures."

"I love adventures." They grin at one another, and in that moment she knows that he is a very kind man, and a bit like her, too old to be quite as childish as they really are.

"How old are you?" he says to her, quite suddenly, and she starts, because it's almost as if he knew what she was thinking.

"Seven," she says to him. "But I've had five birthdays because Maman forgets some of them."

"Which ones did she forget?"

"The first two. I wasn't there with her and Papa for those."

"Oh." His voice has gone all croaky, like a frog's. He clears his throat. Stares at her. Opens his mouth. Closes it again.

She decides to ask the next question on her list. "Mister," she says, "who're you?"

At that he stands up a bit straighter. "I am the Doctor."

"And I am Noh." The elevator doors ding open; they are on floor One. She grabs his hand with both of hers. "And today I am running away."

"Really." He doesn't seem surprised by this.


"I ran away once." He is a bit wistful.

They step out of the elevator in tandem and shuffle off to one side, out of the way of the crowd. She tugs on his sleeve to get his attention; he stoops down so they are eye to eye. "Mister Doctor, may I run away with you?" she asks, all in a rush, because she knows that if she doesn't ask now then she will never.

"Aren't you afraid? I am a stranger, after all."

She stares at him for a moment, and then smiles. It is only now, under that smile, that he realizes just how pale and pinched and sad her face had been before.


"And why is that?"

"Because you're like me. Bigger on the inside." She grabs his hand. He stares down at her, obviously at a loss.

"What about your Mummy?"

"She doesn't love me." This is said as if it were the obvious answer. Of course her mother didn't love her. What a silly thing to ask.

His hearts broke for her.

"What a silly Mummy she is then; not to love a girl like you," he says. And then, "Say, how would like to go and meet a River? She has hair just like yours." He stands unexpectedly, clapping his hands together.

"Just like mine?" Nobody else had hair like Noh, that she knew of. "How can a river have hair?"

"She's a person." He bops Noh on the nose, and she giggles. "And I think she'd very much like to meet you."

"Okay." And then a thought strikes Noh, and she just has to ask. "Mister Doctor, how we going to get there to see a River?" She grabs his hand again, and holds on extra tight. His long fingers envelop her own hand completely; his palms are calloused, rough and comforting.

A workman's hands.

The Doctor glances at her sidelong. "I have a box. It's bigger on the inside."

She stares up at him for a moment. "Of course it would be," she says finally. "Otherwise how would you ever fit?"

"Of course. Silly old Doctor." The Doctor grins down at her, and then they take off out the building, hand in hand.

(River has a lot of explaining to do. Because Noh has green eyes, just like him.)