Ok, time for a new update! Thanks once again for all the fantastic reviews, you guys don't know how inspiring you are. Once again, an idea many of you have requested, though I'm not sure if this will make you happy…you'll see. Without further ado, the chapter.
Dobby's Polka-Dotted Sock
He almost wanted to die of shame. He was a Time Lord, he was supposed to have more dignity than this! But the fact was unavoidable; the Doctor had gotten lost in a shopping center. It was hardly his fault, especially since he hadn't even been the one to suggest this ridiculous outing. But they'd been sitting around the table having breakfast when Rory had opened his mouth.
"Dad's birthday is coming up," the nurse stated. And naive fool he was, the Doctor had perked up in excitement.
"Really? Are we throwing a party? Did you get him a present?"
"He doesn't really like big parties much," the other man had replied, before glancing away as he added, "and I haven't really found a gift for him yet."
Amy had given a drawn out sigh as she went to refill her tea mug. "That's because you've been searching in all the tiny little local shops. We'd have much better luck if we tried London."
And so Amy and Rory had decided to go into the city. Naturally they'd brought him along. As the doctor was an admittedly distractible person, all the bright storefronts and towering displays had had him turning this way and that trying to look at everything at once while still trying to keep up with the other two, who were walking through the place like ordinary people. It hadn't helped that Amy was using this as a shopping-in-general trip and had dragged them back and forth across the entire complex so that he couldn't even remember where the exit was.
He was pretty certain he had lost them in shoes—which store was beyond them—as it had been right next to hats. Honestly the Doctor was surprised they hadn't been more careful, knowing him.
"Hey, Amy, what do you think?" He'd plopped the silliest looking one on his head, just to get the biggest reaction out of her, but when he whirled around neither she nor Rory were anywhere to be seen. "Amy?" Placing the hat back, he'd peeked around both corners, hoping to just catch one of them walking away. "Rory?" No such luck. He was all alone.
Now here he was, wandering through aisles and turning his head not to look at merchandise, but to try and glimpse a familiar red head or long nose. Ultimately this was shaping up to be one of the more humiliating experiences in his attempt at Normal Life. But he would have preferred Amy and Rory calling him over the intercom to what happened next.
He hadn't meant to do it. He had never meant to do this. But a flash of red in his peripheral vision had him spinning back around on his heel, only to trip over a rack, get shoved out of the way by a disgruntled shopper's cart, and quite literally fall backwards into the flash of red. Who turned out to be another disgruntled shopper.
"Oi, watch it!"
The Doctor froze, terrified to look and yet unable to keep first his head and then the rest of his body from turning. He was met with the most terribly beautiful sight imaginable: an irate Donna Noble.
"Oh, I, uh," he stammered, for once absolutely speechless.
"Oh, I, uh," she mocked, rolling her eyes at him. "You knowing knocked me over! Do you even think before you go running about?"
"Er, no?" Oh dear, why had he interrupted her? Her eyes narrowed even further, and one hand was removed from her hip to poke him in the chest. He felt it keenly as he'd felt all her slaps.
"Well you better learn! This is a mall, not a playground, dumbo, and I'm not gonna be here for you to land on next time—"
"Donna, sweetheart, what are you yelling at the poor man for?"
He'd never been so frightened at the sound of someone's voice. But try as he might to convince himself he was hearing things, Wilfred Mott still appeared from an aisle and shuffled over between him and his granddaughter. "There's no need for all this fuss, is there?"
Donna looked somewhat abashed, glancing sown before saying, "Sorry. You alright?"
What? What on Earth was she apologizing to him for? "Yes, always! Er, I mean, of course," he hastily corrected at her raised eyebrow. "It- it was my fault, really, and—" not able to stop himself, he took her hands, doing his best to make her see how sincere he was. When might he get the chance again? "I am so, so sorry, Donna."
She stepped back as soon as he released her, giving a nervous laugh and eyeing him warily. "You just bumped into me, you don't have to—"
"Donna, come have a look at this," Sylvia Noble's voice called, presumably from the aisle Wilf had come from, and he couldn't decide if he'd ever been more grateful or more furious at an interruption in his life.
Donna at least looked incredibly relieved. "Coming!" She made to leave, but stopped and looked back up at him, even attempting a smile. "Listen, just- look after yourself, alright?"
She was gone before he could get his throat unstuck, but he called after her, "I will! I promise, Donna!" Donna. Donna Noble. After all this time…
He turned away from where she'd gone, but found his way blocked by a sheepish looking Wilf. "Sorry about all that, young man," the aged human began, "I know how miserable these trips are for us blokes, without a complete stranger biting your head off."
"She's not—" he started, but snapped his mouth shut. She was what, a stranger? Oh, but she was. Just as Wilf was now a stranger. And he could play this off, slip away quietly and get out of here, forget his feelings until he was alone. The shock was still keeping them at bay.
But Wilf was still talking, still being his amiable self just looking to make amends for his granddaughter, even if he didn't have to. "Donna's just a bit high-spirited is all. It had nothing to do with you." Of course it didn't. He wasn't special, not to Donna Noble. Just another face in the crowd, as he had to be.
"It's fine, I'm not upset," he hastened to assure, wanting desperately to get away.
Wilfred Mott grinned wryly. "Right, there's just something in your eye, eh?"
He blinked, only then recognizing the wetness to it. The Doctor scrubbed at his watery eyes in a panic, as he agreed, "Yes, yes, just something- I had better go wash it out."
"Well alright," the old soldier accepted his excuse, but held out his hand. A final formality before he could escape. "I hope we haven't caused you too much trouble, uh, did you mention your name?"
A perfectly innocent question yet his mouth went dry. He was certain he'd played the John Smith card before. What could he use?
"Doctor!" A familiar Scottish woman's voice broke through and he tensed just as Wilf did.
"Doctor?" Rory's voice followed up, and he realized that the two must be looking for him. And now he was faced with two choices, equally undesirable. He could allow them to continue shouting his name for everyone—for Donna—to hear, or he could let them know he was here, thereby revealing himself to Wilf. Damned either way. But Donna came first.
Slowly, the Doctor turned and spotted the Ponds walking down an aisle and waved to get their attention. Before the two could start over, however, he held up a finger to indicate that they wait for him. Amy looked bewildered, but Rory just shrugged and directed her over to a display to look at while they waited. As much as he felt he could use the support, he needed to have this conversation alone.
He lowered his arm slowly and forced himself to turn back around. The other man was gaping at him, eyes wide as though he'd just been given the gift of sight for the first time.
"Oh- oh my word, it's you," the man breathed. "It's you!"
He merely nodded, feeling very afraid. What exactly was going through this human's head—this human he cared for and respected so very much. What did he think of him?
Wilf meanwhile was looking him up and down. "You really did change. I wasn't quite sure what you meant when you were going on about it—but you change!" He gave a short laugh in amazement, and a thin smile tugged at his lips in response.
"Yes, I did. It's been a while, Wilf. How's everything?"
"We're doing alright, Doctor. Doctor…never thought I'd be able to say that again, but here you are," he was positively beaming, but sobered slightly as he added, "Never thought I'd see you, let alone find you talking to Donna."
"I- I wasn't—"
"But she didn't recognize you!" The old man gasped, the wheels in his head turning with a dangerous thought, and he tensed once again in alarm. "That means that it's safe, right?"
"What?" He asked, voice suddenly hoarse.
"Look, I saw you talking to her and nothing bad happened. You could do it again! Maybe you have changed, Doctor, but it's the outside. I know you still care about her, about Donna." As confidently as he said it, there was still a worry in the other man's eyes.
"Of course," the words tumbled from his lips before he could recall them, because Wilfred did not need the encouragement.
"Well then that's it, right? You could introduce yourself as John something, start all over again—"
"No. Please, Wilf," he begged, shaking his head to stem off the temptation. A fresh start with Donna Noble. It could be wonderful, but it would all be a lie. And she deserved better than lies.
"It could work," the old soldier was still reasoning, "You must miss her. But she can't remember you with you looking different. You don't have to stay away anymore. Eh? Doctor?" He was looking at him hopefully, but the Doctor shook his head one last time.
Wilfred's face fell. "Why not?"
"I can't," he stressed. Perhaps he could, but he wouldn't. He just couldn't bring himself to put on a mask and play pretend. He couldn't open those wounds again, when they'd only just healed into scars.
"But she'd make you happy again, just like the old times. Just go and introduce yourself, she's right over there, it'd be easy." It'd be one of the hardest things he could ever do. "Please, Doctor."
But he took a step back, hating himself bitterly for the way Wilf reached a hand out as if to stop him. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I'm sorry!" He staggered back, but was finally unable to take the sad, disappointed look on the other man's face and so he turned and fled. He ran and ran like the coward he was until he burst out into the open air. His strength seemingly drained, he leaned against the side of the building, eyes shut and his chest rising and falling rapidly.
A light hand fell on his shoulder and his eyes snapped open to see red. "Ah!"
"Ah!" Amy shrieked and Rory gave a start beside her.
"Wh—" he stared at them both, trying to process that it was them he was seeing, and not her. And it frightened him how desperately he'd wanted it to be her.
"You could have gotten us before you ran out of there," Amy was scolding him, but the words hardly registered. "Who were you talking to anyway, Doctor? Doctor?" She repeated, frowning in concern.
"Are you ok?" Rory followed up with his own question.
Ponds, more than he had a right to ask for. And yet it still hurt so much.
"Just take me home," he replied woodenly, too weak to put up a façade. "Please."
She only saw him rush past because she happened to glance up to check, but the old man calling "Doctor!" in desperation after him would have been enough. But he was already out into the mall proper. Amy turned to Rory with alarm; what had happened?
Before the two could start after the Time Lord, however, they heard a wheezing behind them as the elderly man their friend had been conversing with hobbled over to them. "Wait, wait please!"
"Um, can we help you?" Her husband asked uncertainly, clearly impatient as she was to follow the Doctor.
"Yes. You're his friends, aren't you? The Doctor's. You know him."
"Yeah, why?" She inquired, suspicious. After all, what could possibly make the alien run so far and so fast?
"Then please, answer me this: is he happy?" He looked as though everything hinged on the answer.
Amy opened her mouth, but then froze, snapping it shut again. Was he? Was that twelve-hundred year-old man she knew who had loved and lost more than he ever let on happy? Could he ever be? Was everything—the smiles, the jokes, the laughs, hugs, kisses—was it all an act just for them?
No. She was sure, none of that was fake.
"We do everything we can, and he's as happy as he can be," she finally answered confidently.
"Oh good," he panted, only now catching his breath. "I'd hoped he might've found somebody." The old man offered them a wan smile, and she found herself returning it. But quick as it was there, it was gone. "I fear I've just ruined it all again. I never meant to, understand, but—go to him. Don't waste any more time on a silly old man like me. He needs you, now, just like he needed her then. Help him."
She didn't need any more encouragement, and raced out of the mall with Rory right behind her. Once outside, she turned her head this way and that frantically, not sure if he would have gone to the car or not. She was relieved to locate him quite quickly, leaning against the concrete structure with eyes unseeing and a face drained of color. Approaching softly was perhaps not the best way to do it, for when she laid her hand on his shoulder, he jolted into awareness violently with a shout of terror. "Ah!"
"Ah!" She couldn't keep from shrieking in response, even though she knew it was him. Rory even jumped.
"Wh—" his eyes darted back and forth between them as if unable to reconcile the image presented before him with what it meant in his brain, and he seemed incapable of even finishing that attempt to speak.
She decided to try acting natural, hoping that would snap him out of his frightened state. "You could have gotten us before you ran out of there. Who were you talking to anyway, Doctor?" The strange, old man with his worried eyes had never given a name. "Doctor?" She prompted when he continued to stare, and she noticed he was even trembling.
"Are you ok?" Rory asked more directly, and at last all the shaking and harsh gasps of breath stopped. But when he looked at them, they didn't feel much better; his face was completely blank.
"Just take me home. Please." It would have been begging if he'd not been void of emotion, and sharing another concerned glance before leading the expressionless Time Lord back to the car.
Home turned out to be the TARDIS, for when they returned, the Doctor locked himself inside. She was able to accept that for the night. Come morning, when they'd cleared the breakfast dishes away and he still had not emerged, she strode out onto the back lawn determinedly.
"Amy, are you sure this is a good idea?" Rory questioned just as she reached the door.
"We're here to help him, Rory, not let him hide in his box," she countered, delivering three sharp knocks to the door. "Doctor?" No response. When she tried the door, it was still locked. "Come on, girl, please," she muttered to the wood, and smiled with some relief at the familiar click of the lock opening.
The Ponds entered to find an empty console room, at first. It was only when Rory had started for the stairs to the corridor that Amy looked down through the glass and found him in his swing, his jacket shed on the floor and shirtsleeves rolled up, the goggles on his head but pushed back onto his forehead, making his bangs stick up so that she could see his red-rimmed eyes even more clearly. Had he been sitting there all night?
"Doctor," she said softly, climbing down the stairs to stand before him, and Rory followed after. Slowly, she knelt in front of the swing, and took his hands which were limply holding a real screwdriver. The tool clattered to the floor and he gave a jerk, his eyes connecting with hers.
"You know, it's very nice that the TARDIS built this second level," he mumbled, and she blinked, not expecting this random topic. "I used to have to pull up the grating—the floor was made of it—every time I wanted to fix something. Terribly cramped space. But this is nice, I should make use of it more often."
"Doctor, we really should talk, if you're up to it, about—" Rory tried to advise, but the Time Lord interrupted him.
"There's a lot of maintenance I've been falling behind on. The helmic regulator keeps acting up. And I've been having to change the bulb much more often lately, there's got to be something wrong."
"Doctor, it can wait," she gripped his hands harder, but when he tugged them away she added anxiously, "Please, talk to us!"
"What's there to talk about?" He replied in a voice that sounded calm, but teetered on the verge of hysteria, talking faster and faster "Besides, there's so much to be done! People to visit, things to see, maintenance. You know, I could fix that chameleon circuit if I just tried hotbinding the fragment links and superseding the binary—"
But the Doctor choked off on a sob, a sob that turned into an anguished cry, and she only just managed to throw her arms around him before he was weeping on her shoulder, his tears punctuated by agonized moans that he was barely able to stop from becoming wails. And she did her best not to break and cry for him through it all, until he slumped in exhaustion against her.
She pulled back to see his tear-streaked face, streams of the salty water leaking out even in sleep. "Oh, Doctor," she murmured, gently wiping at them. She then removed the goggles and smoothed down his hair. Rory came forward then and helped to lift the other man from the chair, and then picked him up proper.
She scrubbed at her own eyes as they ascended the stairs, coming to a silent agreement to head back into the house. Amy held each door open as Rory first carried the Doctor inside and up to his room, where he was laid on his bed, and they untied his shoes, placing them on the floor.
He seemed at least more at ease now, lying there, but she could not erase the memory of his cries, and she put one hand to her mouth and looked away. Rory wrapped his arms around her and she leaned gratefully into his touch.
"What do we do, Rory? We don't even know what's wrong."
"There's got to be something. We've made him comfortable, at least. And maybe we don't know…but somebody's got to. We might need to get some advice."
She nodded after a moment, realizing it was the only choice they had. Even if she knew how much he hated people to see him vulnerable, this was scaring her enough to take that chance.
So she pulled the covers up and over there friend, kissed him on the forehead, turned off the light, and shut the door. Amy followed Rory back downstairs to make some phone calls, even if all she really wanted to do was sit up there with that broken Raggedy Man, and drive all his grief away.
Ok, so surprise! This is a two-parter! Next chapter you'll see how this gets resolved. How do you think I handled the return-sort-of of Donna? And oh Wilf, how I love him. Thanks for being patient and for all your wonderful suggestions so far, thanks for reading and please review!