A/N: Written for the Doctor/River Ficathon at spoiler_song
Prompt: NY!Melody/4; Four comes and visits Melody one night when she has awful nightmares. He let's her play with his scarf. Four as a father figure.
Pulling his hat down securely over his curls, the Doctor strode out of a now-empty warehouse and into the crisp night air. He paused outside the threshold. Nasty blighters, those Gnolloids. Catching up skilled human workers from all over the planet to labour away in New York City's first nuclear sweat-shop. The air had been thick with fear and chalk dust and science gone terribly wrong.
He breathed deeply to purge his nose of the warehouse's smell, and immediately regretted it. The door had lead him out to a darkened alleyway. Although he could barely see, the bulky shapes lining the walls were undoubtedly bins for industrial waste. The Doctor shrugged and tossed the end of his scarf over his shoulder. It was the smell that lurked in the corners of every great human city for several millennia. He saved his true disapproval for the murky brown strip of sky that spanned the alleyway.
The stars were blotted out behind a screen of smog. All the flash and glamour of the Big Apple was on the ground- No one even looked up around here, except for tourists gawking at skyscrapers. He didn't like not being able to see any stars. Made him feel... cut off, closed in. The feeling of "trapped on Earth forever" was still a bit too recent for his comfort.
The Doctor made his way down the alley in the general direction of the TARDIS. Not a bad night, though. He had foiled the Gnolloid's plans and freed the scientists. Sent all the workers home with the transmat installed in the foreman's office before disabling it. The nuclear devices were rendered permanently inert, and sat in crates for UNIT to pick up shortly. The thought of still hanging about when some American UNIT squadron arrived caused the Doctor pull a bug-eyed face and hasten his steps.
Wrapped up in his thoughts, he almost didn't hear it. A tiny noise. But the unmistakable sound of a crying child could stop the Doctor at 20 meters.
"Hello? Who's there?" he called gently. "Please come out. It's quite safe now."
The alleyway was silent. He took his felt hat off and held it next to his ear like a radar dish to amplify the sound. The Doctor took a few steps in the direction he thought he had heard the whimper. It was too dark to see properly. He patted at his waistcoat pockets, feeling for a torch.
"Were your parents in the warehouse just behind us, eh? I can take you to them. What do you say? I'm sure they're very worried about you."
He heard a faint, snuffly sob from inside one of the bins.
"Gracious. I've heard of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but this is going entirely too far."
The Doctor located his mini torch and clenched it in his teeth to free up his hands. The industrial-sized bin's walls were tall, almost up to his nose. He would need to get inside for a proper look. Easily scaling the rusty metal, the Timelord levered his midsection over the side. Experience had taught him to look before he leapt when it came to skipping. Or rather dumpster diving, as it was an American bin after all.
Wan torch light flooded the interior of the bin. Thankfully, this one was mostly empty and its stench minimal. Sacks of shredded paper filled only a quarter of the volume. The paper strips whispered like grass underfoot when Doctor's lanky form dropped into the box.
He made himself comfortable sitting on a bag about the size of a hassock, opting to remain low to the ground and non-threatening. Playing the light around the edges of the bin, he looked for anything alive. A small movement betrayed the location of the child, but it took a second longer before the Doctor could see the shape of a head and hand in the debris.
The child was human, perhaps a girl, a few months shy of two years old. Brown hair and skin, though it was difficult to determine under the layers of dirt. She was wrapped up in a nest of the shredded paper like a little mouse. A slight flutter behind her closed eyes seemed to indicate that she was sleeping.
Her hand suddenly clenched as waves of emotion ran across her soft features. Terror, grief, rage... emotions far too dark and complex than should ever have been experienced by a child. The nightmare that had alerted the Doctor to her presence seemed to have returned full-force. Her grubby hand rose to her mouth, not to suck on a thumb but to muffle the sound as the girl's whole body twitched under the force of her sobs. Something taught this toddler to value silence over comfort.
The Doctor reached over to stroke her hair. "Let's get you out of here and into the TARDIS." His soothing voice seemed to be easing the girl out of the nightmare. "Find where your parents got off to, hm?" He smiled reassuringly, and though the sleeping child didn't see it, she visibly relaxed. "Don't worry, the Doctor's got you now."
With a piercing shriek, the girl awoke, her eyes wild with fear. She rolled away to the edge of the bin when she saw the bohemian stranger seated beside her. The girl ran a chubby forearm over her face. The only sign she had been crying was the unusually clean patches on her cheeks.
"I'm a friend—" the Doctor began, only to get a face full of paper bits thrown at him. He shook out the shreds from his curls. "Now that you are—" The little girl had now picked up a biro from the bin floor and waved the inky point at him menacingly.
Putting up his hands and leaning back against the opposite wall, the Timelord grinned at the feisty child. "I concede defeat. Would you accept confectionary as a gesture of peace and goodwill?" He pulled a white bag from his pocket and waved it at her.
The girl's stomach growled. She took a few steps toward the Doctor.
"Would you like a jelly baby?" he asked innocently.
He remained completely still as she grabbed a few sweets from the bag. The girl returned to her corner, where she watched him until her hunger got the better of her and she stuffed three in her mouth at once.
The Doctor tutted. "Careful now. Slowly. Chew. There's a girl."
Smiling shyly, the little girl approached again, this time with considerably less trepidation. She took a green jelly baby and bit off its head without moving away.
"Do you know your name? I can't just call you... Leela II. You remind me of her a bit. Slightly feral, but lovely just the same."
The girl picked up the end of his scarf to pluck at the multi-colored tassels. The Doctor unwound a length of it from around his neck and draped it loosely over her head. She giggled and pulled it down to peek at him. The child twirled in place, which looped the scarf around her own shoulders. He freed up more scarf, allowing her to spin until she was in a woolen, striped cocoon.
"Those creatures are gone now," the Doctor said in a conversational tone.
The girl suddenly stared at him, lower lip trembling. She extricated herself from the scarf, but she held as much as would fit in her arms against her chest like a favorite toy.
"I sent them away and they won't be back." All the Gnolloids had been packed off by the Judoon to a horrible place called Stormcage, but the little one didn't need the details. "Safe as houses. Or a house inside a safe."
This seemed to strike a chord with the toddler. Pointing at him, she babbled nonsensically.
The Doctor pointed to himself as well, and quickly swiveled to check behind just in case.
The little girl continued, tugging at the sleeve of the over-large shirt she was wearing as a dress. Her hands indicated the area around them, then she pointed to her face, and then the sky. Finished with her speech, the child looked at him expectantly.
"No, no. It's no use; I'm not getting a word of this. Some day I shall have to learn to speak baby." He sighed. "Ready to return home, Leela II?"
By the time the Doctor and his tiny charge arrived at the TARDIS, the little girl had fallen asleep on the renegade Timelord's shoulder. His ridiculously long scarf was tucked under her head as a pillow and over her back as a blanket.
A loud voice called out "Master!" in greeting.
"Shh, K9! You'll wake her. Human children need their sleep. And I don't need anyone running around pressing buttons on my TARDIS."
"Tachyon particle readings indicate that this child is not native to this particular timespace locale."
"Do you know, I don't believe our friend is from here- New York City, 1969."
"Affirmative! I had just stated this fact." The sensor on the robot dog's forehead spun 180 degrees, the equivalent of an eye roll.
"Come now, K9, try not to be so dreadfully linear," the Doctor chided. "Must have been taken from another of the Gnolloids ports of call. I had wondered why none of the scientists had mentioned a missing child. There were no other children around the warehouse. I say, I hope she wasn't meant to be a snack."
"Master, the TARDIS can scan the 20th century for the location of the child's closest biological ancestor and plot a course for that destination."
The Doctor nodded his shaggy head. "Mm, yes. You do that. I'm going watch over her in case she has nightmares again." He gently patted her back. "Call out when we arrive."
After a few short minutes, the Doctor was saying his goodbyes to the sleeping child. True to form, he didn't bother checking date or location (Leadworth, 1990) before traipsing out from his time machine. He left the little girl at the local constabulary, as they would be better suited to dealing with reuniting the child to her family. There would be questions, emotions. It was easier for everyone this way.
The Doctor could save someone from a nightmare made real, but he couldn't stay to help them come to terms with it. As the TARDIS engines roared to life again, he spared one final thought for his temporary bin neighbor. She was young; perhaps she wouldn't even remember her nightmares.