The Streets of St. Louis(The Doctor and Nathaniel)
Five Times The Doctor Met Someone New: The Streets of St. Louis
A Dr. Who crossover series
Part IV: Nathaniel Graison (Anita Blake AU)Summary
: Five people the Doctor talked into going on the TARDIS (in that saucy crossover way). Part IV: Nathaniel (Anita Blake)Disclaimer
: Russell T. Davis and the BBC own the Doctor. Nathaniel Graison and that world belong to LKH. Rating
: PG-13 for language and graphic imagery.Setting
Between The Doctor Dances
and Boom Town
for Doctor Who, while it's set pre-series for Anita Blake. Nathaniel is fourteen.Characters
: The Doctor (Nine), Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness, Nathaniel Graison. No pairings.Note
: Look! Another AU! For great justice.~~~
Nathaniel huddled in the darkest corner of the doorway, curled in on himself and wishing he was dead.
Anything had to be better than this. He hadn't eaten in two days, couldn't even afford anything to take the edge off, his last john had kicked him so hard that he was sure he had some broken ribs, and he was so cold
He was careful not to cry. Most of the johns who came through this part of town were trying to get away from their families, and crying children usually turned them off, or sent them down the strip to find someone else.
Anyway, most of them liked to be the ones to make Nathaniel cry.
Dully, Nathaniel stared out at the night. Cars flashed their red taillights on the road, but no one was stopping. Not tonight.
Nathaniel didn't have a watch to check the time, but the rhythm of the street told him that it was probably nearing midnight on this Tuesday. Most of the paying customers were already home, and Nathaniel hadn't even had a chance for any work that night.
His fingers trailed over the dirty brick wall as he thought as clearly as his hunger-shrouded mind would allow. He needed to eat, and soon, or things would get a lot worse.
There was always the shelter on Third, but they would make him stay the night and every single time he did that, he ended up 'working off' some imaginary debt with a few of the regulars. With his broken ribs, he wasn't sure he could survive that.
The dumpsters in this part of the city were always locked up tight, theoretically against illegal dumpers, but they still kept the street kids out.
There was another option. Nathaniel's fingers trembled on the bricks, his breath coming faster. He could go just a little further downtown, down to where the lycanthropes hid. Taking a lycanthrope as a client paid good.
Well. If one survived.
Nathaniel knew he wasn't thinking clearly. He was just so hungry
He clenched his hand. He couldn't exist like this, not starving to death when he could do something about it. He was a survivor. He'd survived his brother Nicky's death, he'd survived working on the streets since he was eleven, and he was fourteen now, that was a pretty good run.
So Nathaniel climbed to his feet, swallowing down the pain in his side. He'd just go down the way, down the curving streets, just to see if there was anyone around who was willing to pay for his particular offerings.
He had only taken two steps out of the doorway when he heard bootsteps down the alley. Nathaniel froze, made himself straighten up and plastered his sales smile on his face, just in case.
A man came into view in the dim light. Instantly, Nathaniel could see that he was very out of place in this part of town. The clothes could pass in any part of the Tenderloin, dark pants and a black leather jacket, but the man inside the clothes didn't fit at all. He was tall, with short-cropped hair and big ears and large hands that tossed what looked like an alarm clock from one to the other, and he was whistling
He didn't belong down here, and suddenly, desperately, Nathaniel wanted to be wherever the man was going, a place where one got to whistle and juggle clocks and be sure
of his place in the world.
The man spotted Nathaniel almost at once. He tucked the clock under one arm as he stopped whistling. "What are you doing out here, then?" the man asked. His voice was accented, probably something British, Nathaniel thought, but not all uptight like that one client Nathaniel'd had, with his spotless tie and shiny glasses and a desire to cause a great deal of pain.
No, this man sounded nice, easy to talk to, friendly to be around, and Nathaniel knew instantly that he needed to distrust his own instincts on this. No one was nice and friendly in this part of town. Not to kids like Nathaniel.
Nathaniel propped up his faltering smile. It couldn't hurt to ask the man if he was buying. "Are you looking for some company?" he asked, standard opening pitch for a night like this.
The man's curious amusement slid away, and he just looked at Nathaniel.
Under the weight of the man's stare, Nathaniel involuntarily shrank back. He wasn't ashamed
of what he had to do to survive, but with the man looking at him in the dark and disgusting alley, Nathaniel suddenly wished he was anywhere else, anyone
"Don't you have school tomorrow?" the man asked quietly.
Nathaniel rested his shoulder against the cold brick wall and shook his head. "I don't go to school," he said, and he couldn't figure out why he was telling the man these things.
"Oh." The man shifted his clock to his other hand, and he joined Nathaniel in propping up the wall. "D'you have a home to go to?"
Nathaniel blinked hard as a shard of grief caught him unaware. Nicky had been dead for almost ten years, and most days Nathaniel didn't even think of his brother at all. "No."
"Where do you sleep?"
Nathaniel shrugged, then regretted it as his broken ribs protested painfully. "Around."
"I see." The man looked down at his clock.
On closer inspection, Nathaniel thought it wasn't really a clock at all. It had a clock face, sure, but it had too many hands. "What's that?" he asked without thinking.
"This?" The man held the clock into the light. "It's a Time-Space Energy Manipulation Detector."
"Oh." Nathaniel frowned as the words moved about in his head. "So it's a toy."
"Why do you say that?" The man's voice was light, but something sparked in his eyes, a challenge.
Unconsciously, Nathaniel stood straighter. "Because that's all fiction, like on Star Trek. Stuff like time travel isn't real."
The man smiled. The expression was very faint, and the light was bad, but it was definitely a smile. "When did you drop out of school?"
"A few years ago." Nathaniel pushed a strand of dirty hair behind his ear. "And I didn't drop out. I just didn't go back."
"I stand corrected." The man tucked the clock thing back under his arm. "Who are you?"
Nathaniel shifted position on the wall, to give the old bruises on his shoulder a chance to rest. "I'm Nathaniel." Then, feeling more bold than he had in years, he asked, "What's your name?"
The man beamed. "I'm the Doctor. It's nice to meet you, Nathaniel."
Nathaniel had plenty of johns who never gave their real names. One guy liked Nathaniel to call him Batman, which was fine as the man paid pretty good and hadn't wanted anything too kinky. But when Nathaniel heard the man in the leather jacket give his name, something told him that it wasn't a lie, and that made no sense.
Nathaniel was ripped out of his train of thought as a car screeched to a halt in the mouth of the alley. Nathaniel went on instant alert, ready to run if it was the cops, then thought better of that. Maybe, if they arrested him for solicitation, he'd at least have a place to sleep that night, and something to eat.
But it wasn't the police. Out of the car stepped a man that Nathaniel had never wanted to see again. Someone who liked pain, and someone who never took no
for an answer.
The last time Nathaniel had seen that man, he had ended up in the hospital for a month.
He must have made some kind of noise, for the Doctor whirled around as the man approached.
"Are you done with that one yet?" the man asked sarcastically. "He's got paying customers waiting. Don't you, Nathaniel?"
The voice was mocking, edged with pain, and Nathaniel stepped into the Doctor's shadow, whishing desperately for things he would never have, like protection and a place to stay and to never have to do this again
The Doctor drew himself up to his full height, towering over both Nathaniel and the man. "Get out of here," the Doctor said quietly.
"So you're not done with this little faggot yet?"
The Doctor took one step closer to the man. Only one step. "He's a child," the Doctor said, sounding both furious and confused at the same time.
The Doctor stepped closer to the man. He glared down at the man, and something seemed to gather in the air, like storm clouds in the distance. "Go home," the Doctor said, but it wasn't just words, it was more than that, and the meaning echoed in Nathaniel's head and made his ribs hurt. "Don't ever
come down here again."
The man backed away so quickly that he stumbled over his feet. Whatever Nathaniel had felt must have been nothing compared with what had hit the man. Then the man was away down the alley and the Doctor turned back to Nathaniel.
Nathaniel wished he could understand the utter anger on the Doctor's face. "Is this your life?" the Doctor demanded.
Nathaniel bowed his head, a nod pulled out of him by that same force that had chased off the john.
"How long have you been out here?"
Nathaniel shrunk in on himself. It wasn't like he was ashamed, he told himself, that he didn't go to school, and he let strangers fuck him for money. But as the words formed in his head, he felt the bile rise in his throat as he remembered half-forgotten days when he had been normal
, with his mommy and Nicky, when he could just play with toys and be a kid.
"Too long," the Doctor answered his own question. He ran a thumb over the top of his time-space energy manipulation detector and frowned, thinking thoughts hidden carefully away.
Nathaniel found himself staring at the man, and wondering what his life was like, and if he had a nice home and money, and friends who were just friends and didn't want anything from him, and why he looked so sad.
"Rose is going to kill me," the Doctor muttered softly. Then he shook his head and looked up. "Nathaniel, do you want to come with me?"
Oh. So a client after all. It made sense, but Nathaniel felt vaguely betrayed, as if he'd put this man on an undeserved pedestal. Realizing he'd been staring, Nathaniel hastily smiled and said, "Sure." Just in case the Doctor thought he had been thinking of saying no.
The Doctor looked sad again. "Not for a job, or working," he corrected softly, and Nathaniel felt like a fool. "Just... this isn't the life for a child."
"I mean, do you want to come traveling about? See the universe?" The Doctor turned over his alarm clock so Nathaniel could see the tiny hands spinning lazily about. "Go from place to place, always seeing new things?"
Nathaniel viciously stabbed at the hope blossoming in his chest. This might have been the words of a serial killer, trying to lull Nathaniel into a false sense of security, for all he knew. But really. What did he think he was worth? The only way he'd avoid starving to death on the streets was if the cold or a client killed him first.
"Sure," Nathaniel said.
The Doctor stared at him. "I'm telling the truth."
"Of course you are."
Shaking his head, the Doctor glanced around. "Do you have anything you want to bring with you?"
Nathaniel quickly grabbed his knapsack from the corner where he'd stashed it and slung it over a shoulder. "Is your car far away?"
An expressive smile crossed the Doctor's face. "Not far." He turned on his heel and carried on down the alley, walking so fast that Nathaniel had to almost run to keep up, sending shooting pains up his ribs. After a few steps, however, the Doctor slowed down. "What's wrong?"
Nathaniel shook his head. "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." The Doctor stopped. "How badly are you hurt?"
"I said, I'm fine."
The Doctor blinked at Nathaniel. "Are you bleeding? Shot? Stabbed?"
Nathaniel ducked his head under the Doctor's scrutiny. "It's nothing. Just some bruises."
"If you insist," the Doctor said, and seemed to accept that, but when they set off again, the Doctor walked much slower. Nathaniel couldn't find it within himself to object.
Walking down twists and turns in the alley, Nathaniel was distantly surprised that no one paid them any attention. Normally, when he walked these streets, he was a target for the older boys if he got on their territory, or for any john looking for someone young. But with the Doctor, he almost felt safe.
"So, Nathaniel," the Doctor said conversationally as they turned onto the main street. "How do you like it here in St. Louis?"
Nathaniel gave the man a curious look out of the corner of his eye. "It's St. Louis. It's fine, I guess."
"The vampires not giving you folks a lot of trouble since they became legal?"
Nathaniel almost missed a step. "What are you talking about?"
The Doctor glanced over. "Vampires being legal in the States, that court case?" He frowned. "Wait, what year is it?"
"It's 1992," Nathaniel said, wondering what he had gotten himself into with a man who didn't even know what year it was."
"Right!" the Doctor exclaimed, drawing a few stares. "Why do I keep thinking it's 2001?" He grinned suddenly. "You folks are going to love Jurassic Park. Spielberg's a genius. Even if he got the dinosaurs wrong." He shook his head. "You haven't lived until you've seen a Tyrannosaurus chasing a flock of Pterodactyls. Do you like dinosaurs?"
"I'm not six," Nathaniel said awkwardly, fighting the urge to say 'yes'.
"Nothing about being six," the Doctor contradicted. "When you've got thirteen metres of 'terrible lizard' chasing you across a plain, it's bloody amazing." He sighed wistfully. "We'll go there, I'll show you. Maybe I'll actually talk Rose into liking it. I know Jack will want to go."
So the Doctor was crazy. Nathaniel thought about that one for a moment, then mentally shrugged. At least he was high functioning, and would probably have something to eat at his place. Feeling emboldened by the free talk, Nathaniel asked, "Who is Rose?"
He was expecting the man to say his wife, or something similar, but the Doctor got a bit of a dreamy look on his face for an instant, then it was gone. "She's my companion, traveling around and the like. Same with Jack, although that's a long story that doesn't need going into right now."
They rounded a corner and Nathaniel almost walked past the tall blue box, tucked into the shadows of a billboard.
"Here we are," the Doctor said, taking a key from his pocket and putting it in the lock. "Shall we?"
Nathaniel hung back. His impression of high-functioning insanity was slowly slipping away. He wasn't sure he wanted to get into that tiny box with the man, not with his broken ribs.
The Doctor must have seen his hesitation. "It's not what you're thinking," he said, unlocking the door. He pushed the door wide enough for Nathaniel to see inside. "See? Bigger on the inside than the outside."
Nathaniel edged around so he could see inside, then backed up to look at the outside edges of the box.
"This is the deal," the Doctor said. "I really am a time traveler, this here's my space ship. I really was offering you a chance to go see the world, free of charge and expectations."
Nathaniel didn't buy the part of the offering being free of strings, but then he smelled something coming from the inside of the box, of coffee and of food, and the hunger in his belly dragged him off the street and into the box.
Inside was even more amazing than outside. The huge room couldn't possibly exist inside the blue box, but there it was, with corridors stretching down and beyond, and that was where the food smells came from, Nathaniel knew.
The door closed behind Nathaniel and from deep in the corridors came a girl's happy shriek and an answering male shout, and then pounding footsteps came nearer and Nathaniel shrunk back against a warm pillar as two people burst into the circular room.
A woman, hardly more than a girl, with blond hair and a wide grin, danced around the blue console in the middle of the room, holding a glowing object from her dark-haired pursuer. "Not until you tell me!" she shouted, oblivious to Nathaniel and the Doctor.
"You little minx!" the man retorted, grinning all the while. Then he spotted Nathaniel, and froze, the glee on his face wiped away in an instant, to be replaced by wariness.
"Easy, Jack," the Doctor said from behind Nathaniel. The girl whirled, attention off the man for an instant, and he took the opportunity to grab the object from her hand. "This here's Nathaniel. He's going to be coming with us."
"Coming with us?" the girl echoed. She stared at the Doctor, puzzled. "But he's just a kid."
Nathaniel clenched his jaw, but didn't say anything. He wasn't a kid, he was fourteen!
The Doctor brushed past Nathaniel on his way to the console. "He doesn't have anywhere else to go, Rose. I told him we'd go see the dinosaurs."
"Oh." Rose stared at Nathaniel with frank curiosity, and none of the disgust that normal people had when they looked at him. "You don't have anyone who'll miss you?"
The question would normally have set Nathaniel's alarms off, but for some reason, maybe the hunger, maybe the pain, Nathaniel didn't want to run. "No, ma'am."
Rose looked startled. "I'm not a ma'am, I'm just Rose. And this here's Jack." She gestured over her shoulder.
Nathaniel turned his gaze to the other man, not missing the glare the Doctor sent in the man's direction. Jack glared back, just for an instant. Then he was moving forward, his hand out.
"Nice to meet you," Jack said. He didn't seem to mind that Nathaniel had no idea how to shake his hand. His blue eyes seemed to size up Nathaniel in an instant. "Hey, we totally came from a different time zone before the Doctor needed to make his 'bizarre object of the week' stop. You want to have some lunch with us?"
For the promise of food, Nathaniel would have done almost anything. He nodded, clutching at his bag with suddenly cold fingers.
"Come on, then." Jack turned and headed down the corridor. Nathaniel followed slowly, leaving Rose behind to glare at the Doctor. "This place is a little confusing, even after you've been here for a while."
"What is this place?" Nathaniel asked quietly, not sure if Jack would want him asking questions.
"The Doctor calls her the TARDIS," Jack said, running an affectionate hand over the wall. "Long and complicated name. Basically, it's a spaceship that can move in time and space."
A soft pulse of blue ran over the wall, so unlike anything Nathaniel had seen. The whole place felt alive.
"And she likes to move things around in here," Jack said with a raised voice. "But I can usually find the kitchens."
Nathaniel watched Jack carefully for any sign of what the man expected. Had the Doctor brought him back here to service Jack? Or Rose? Both? Neither? Nathaniel didn't come from a world where things were free, and he didn't really believe that he would just get a meal and not have to put out for it. Not that it mattered; Jack and Rose seemed nice enough.
But Jack's body language was totally non-sexual as he guided Nathaniel down a corridor, then twisting around a shallow flight of stairs, then into a wide room with all variety of kitchen instruments and coffee brewing on the counter and a fridge wider than Nathaniel was tall.
"So, food," Jack muttered. "I'm sick to death of sandwiches, it's all Rose can be bothered to make." He clapped his hands together. "Once, I spent three months as a fry cook in this little diner on the edges of the Harden system. You haven't lived until you've slung hash watching the space freighters refueling, I tell you."
Nathaniel wanted to say something, anything, but the promise of food clawed at his stomach.
He must have done something without realizing, for Jack's attention was suddenly on him. "Right, so. This may take a while." With a few deft movements, there was suddenly bread and cheese and fruit on a small plate, and Jack was putting it on the table and pulling out a chair for Nathaniel. "Sit. Have something to take the edge off."
Nathaniel's whole world narrowed down the plate of food, and he was on the food in an instant, shoving bread and cheese into his mouth, barely chewing. A glass of water, gloriously cool and clean, appeared by his hand, and Nathaniel drank and ate until the plate was empty and he was licking crumbs off dirty fingers.
The sizzle and smell of frying bacon pulled Nathaniel back to himself. Jack was busy stirring and cooking at the stove, sipping from a cup of coffee as he flipped bacon over on the grill.
"If you want some milk, it's in the fridge," Jack said, overly casual. "You might not like it, it's camel milk. Long story."
"No, thank you," Nathaniel said, realizing how ill mannered he must seem.
"Probably a wise choice." Jack cracked blue-shelled eggs onto the grill. "So, how long has it been?"
"Since you've eaten." Jack's gaze was suddenly piercing. "Rose may not get what the Doctor meant, but I did. How long have you been on the streets?"
Nathaniel looked at his grimy hands. "A little while."
"Uh huh." Jack went back to stirring the eggs. "Well, you can eat as much as you want. There's always enough for a banquet. Are you on anything?"
The constantly switching topics, combined with the food in his stomach, were making Nathaniel dizzy. "Not now," he stammered. "Not for a while."
A bit of the tense strain in Jack's eyes eased away. "Good."
Rose came in then, her spine straight and her eyes flashing. "Smells good, Jack," she said sharply.
Jack's eyes went to the empty space behind Rose. "Where's the Doctor?"
"Looking into something," Rose snapped. She sat down at the table and smiled intentionally at Nathaniel. "So. Tell me about yourself."
"Rose," Jack said warningly.
"No, if he's coming with us, I get to ask questions," Rose argued. "So how old are you? You got a family? Go to school?"
"I'm fourteen," Nathaniel said nervously. If Rose didn't like him, would the Doctor make him leave? "And no."
The single word took the wind out of Rose's sails. "Oh," she said. "Oh."
Jack slid a platter onto the table between Nathaniel and Rose. "We need plates," Jack said.
Rose blinked at Nathaniel, emotions running through her eyes, then she got to her feet and went to a cupboard. Out came three plates, then she added another, and carried them back over to the table. "You want some coffee?" she asked Nathaniel. "Or tea? Jack, put the kettle on."
"Bossy," Jack mumbled under his breath, but he pressed a button on the stove and the kettle instantly started steaming.
Nathaniel watched the domestic scene, confused. It wasn't like families on TV that he'd seen, but it seemed less fake, and it reminded Nathaniel starkly of all the things he would never have.
The Doctor didn't join them for the meal. When the food had all vanished, and Rose had relaxed enough to let Jack tease her, Nathaniel settled back into his chair and wondered what was next.
Rose solved that one for him. She turned to Nathaniel and asked, "You have a change of clothes?"
Was this is? Time for him to work off the meal? "Not really," Nathaniel hedged.
Rose waved her hand. "I'll dig something up in the wardrobe," she said, standing. "Come on, then, I'll show you the shower."
"Anything to get out of the washing up," Jack said, but he was smiling as he began to gather the plates. "Go on, get out of here."
Nathaniel stood too fast, sending a wave of pain through his chest, and he winced.
"What's wrong?" Rose asked quickly. "You hurt?"
Nathaniel couldn't meet her eyes. "It's nothing."
Rose exhaled through clenched teeth. "Boys," she muttered. "Come on, we'll get you looked at before you do yourself more damage."
She shooed Nathaniel out of the kitchen, down more twisty corridors, and into a big white room with lots of cupboards with green circles on them. It was the strangest clinic room Nathaniel had ever seen.
"Shirt off," Rose ordered, turning around to root through a cupboard.
So this was it. Nathaniel let his backpack slide to the floor and he shrugged out of his jacket, and then out of his shirt. The mirror in the far wall showed the myriad of bruises on Nathaniel's skin in the harsh light. He hadn't realized it was this bad.
Rose turned back, hands full of instruments. "Don't know what a fair half of this lot does, but--" Her mouth clicked shut when she saw Nathaniel's body. Shock, then worried anger crossed her face. "Blimy, what happened to you?"
Nathaniel looked down, gripping his worn shirt in his hands. "Nothing. Just stuff."
"Who done this?" Rose demanded.
"Clients?" Rose asked, confused. Nathaniel glanced up, and knew when she finally understood, for her face flushed. "You're just a kid!"
She put her handfuls down on the table and moved around to another drawer, flushed and angry. She pulled out what looked like a Star Trek tricorder and came back over to Nathaniel.
"All right, up on the table," she said, all business. "The Doctor showed me how to use this, it can see what's wrong on the inside." She twiddled some buttons and pushed at things, moving the blue blinking end over Nathaniel's chest, focusing on the livid bruise where he'd been kicked. "You got some broken ribs here, all right. But just fractured, not actually broken. Hold on." She went to a different cupboard, yanking out another strange instrument, and pressing at buttons. "Don't move."
Tongue between her lips in concentration, she carefully laid the instrument on Nathaniel's ribs. A curious warming sensation crept through his chest, like the pain was being pulled away with tiny hooks. The device beeped, and when Rose took it from Nathaniel's skin, the pain in his ribs had vanished.
"That's better," Rose said with satisfaction as she picked up the tricorder again. "See?" She turned it around so Nathaniel could see, but the words were incomprehensible. "All better. The bruises will heal soon, too. Do you want some painkillers?"
Confused, Nathaniel shook his head. He was fine with the pain, really. It reminded him that he was alive.
"Okay, well, you'll still need a shirt, and a place to sleep, and a shower," Rose said, bustling around the room. "The Doctor can go traveling around the whole universe, but he never thinks of the details of bringing folks in here." She brushed her hands off on her pants and beckoned Nathaniel over. "Come on, I'll show you where you can sleep. The Doctor said it was late outside, are you tired?"
Breathing without broken ribs was a blessing that Nathaniel savored, drawing in air deeply and speaking without pain. "I can sleep anywhere," he said, trying to figure out if that was the proper way to indicate that he wasn't a freeloader.
Rose blew that off. "There's a mile of rooms around here," she said. They went down a short hall, and Rose turned left. "You can have the room next to mine, if you like."
"If you want--"
"And there's usually a shower in there, all your own, and if you ask nice the TARDIS can even make it bigger," Rose continued. "And I'll go grab some clothes and leave them outside the door, and you can get some sleep if you want, how's that?"
"Good!" Rose passed a bright blue door with an aside of, "That one's mine," and pushed on a white door. The room inside was tidy, with a real bed and a mirror on the wall, and a weird shower visible through a door in the far wall, and Rose stood back to let Nathaniel in. "If you need anything, just go into the hall and shout. One of us will find you. You need anything now?"
"I..." Nathaniel glanced down at his bare chest, at the bruises dotting his dirty skin, and shook his head. "No, thank you."
Rose stood there for a moment, clearly wanting to say something. "Well, if you do, you just go on and ask," she finally said. "I'll be back in a bit, okay?"
Nathaniel nodded, and Rose closed the door and he was alone.
Still more than a little confused, Nathaniel laid his bag on the floor and took off his shoes and pants, then stepped into the shower. The water was just the right temperature, with soap that smelled like flowers and shampoo that made his hair feel like silk under the water, and all the while Nathaniel wondered if they'd be coming in for him then, in the shower, and which of them it would be, and how long it would go on.
But the door remained closed. When Nathaniel peeked out into the hallway, there was a laundry basket full of clothing with a note written in girly handwriting, See if any of these fit, and we'll see you in the morning. Or whenever your morning is. Get some sleep!
It was signed with a cartoon flower.
Was this a sign? Nathaniel took the clothes into the room, obediently trying everything on. Some things fit, some didn't, and Nathaniel made two piles, then dressed in the blue flannel pajamas and sat on the bed, staring at the door, wondering when they'd come in to make him work off the meal and the healing and the shower.
He sat staring for a very long time, then his body took over and he fell asleep.~~~
When Nathaniel woke up, he was very confused. The previous day had seemed like such a wonderful dream, but it couldn't have been a dream because he was still in the nice room, still clean and warm in the pajamas, and he was alone.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Nathaniel pulled himself to his feet and changed into some of the clean clothes Rose had brought down for him. He hesitated for a long minute before leaving his backpack and dirty clothes bundled up in the corner of the room. Hopefully, if the Doctor decided to kick him out now, he'd at least get a chance to retrieve his possessions.
The hallway outside the door was silent. The whole place felt asleep, and Nathaniel found himself tiptoeing down the corridor on bare feet so he wouldn't wake up the ship. Jack had said something about the ship moving things around, that had to mean the ship was alive, right?
Nathaniel found a familiar stairway and climbed up and up until he was in the round control room he'd entered the previous night. The lights were on low, weird blues and greens pulsing sluggishly off the walls. The Doctor sat in the room's only chair, one foot propped up on the console, staring at the crystal column running through the centre of the room. Nathaniel wondered if he should go away, when the Doctor said without turning around, "You want to meet the TARDIS?"
Nathaniel edged into the room, the metal grating cold against his bare feet. "Is that your ship?"
The Doctor glanced over his shoulder, smiling wryly. "Some days, I suppose you could say that I'm her Time Lord." He ran a possessive hand over the edge of the console. "We've been traveling about for a long time, me and her."
Nathaniel leaned against the far railing. "Is she the one who changes the lights?"
"The lights, the temperature, the rooms..." the Doctor sighed. "One time, I got back from 1723 Spain to find she'd put half the wardrobe into storage. It took me over a year to find a pair of shoes that fit."
Nathaniel smiled faintly. It was nice to hear someone talking about another something in an affectionate way. Nathaniel didn't hear a lot of affection in his life.
"So." The Doctor leaned back in his chair. "Rose and Jack are probably in bed now. I thought you'd have slept longer."
"I wanted to come up and see if you needed anything."
The Doctor raised his gaze from the console to Nathaniel's face. He didn't speak for such a long time that Nathaniel wondered what he had done wrong. "I told you," the Doctor said eventually. "I didn't bring you here for that."
Nathaniel gripped at the railing hard, a sharp metal edge digging into his palm, a tiny welcome pain. "Then why am I here?"
The Doctor reached into his pocket and pulled out a length of shiny red ribbon. He pinched one end of it between his fingers and let the rest drop down to swing in the air. "It's like we're here," he said, indicating the top of the ribbon. "And the future is the rest." He flicked at the dangling portion of the ribbon. "You humans can't see the rest, only know where you are and where you've been. But me..." He smiled, unhappily this time. "Sometimes, I can get glimpses of how it's all going to unravel." He slid the ribbon through his fingers, letting the red colour cover his skin.
Nathaniel couldn't look away from the ribbon. "So you knew I was going to come with you?" he asked, rather confused.
"No." The Doctor tied the ribbon in a bow around a lever on the console with loving movements. "I saw how things might have been if you stayed on the streets."
Nathaniel let out a shaky breath. He had never let himself think more than a few days ahead, couldn't ever bring himself to imagine that he might live for longer than just a few days. How could the Doctor do it?
"And that was simply something I couldn't let happen." The Doctor rubbed at his face, looking suddenly very old. "Some days, I think that I meddle a little too much."
"Some days?" Nathaniel asked. When the Doctor looked at him sharply, Nathaniel shrank back and stammered out, "I mean, do you think other things on other days?"
The Doctor went back to touching the console. "Some days, I don't meddle nearly enough." He pushed a few buttons, and the room began to vibrate slightly. "But enough about me. What do you know?"
Nathaniel bit his lip. "Know? About what?"
"Anything. Everything." The Doctor waved his arms. "You know about dinosaurs. What about the rest of history?"
Nathaniel flushed. He wasn't stupid, but it wasn't his fault he’d been too hungry to pay attention in school.
The Doctor snapped his fingers. "No worries, I'll tell you all about it."
"All about what?"
"History!" The Doctor pulled a lever, and the lights came up. "You haven't seen history until you've lived it. You know about..." He seemed to search for something. "Oh! I know! How about Napoleon?"
"I've heard of him," Nathaniel said cautiously.
"Well, to properly get him and his inferiority complex, you need to know all about the French Revolution. And the aristocracy across Europe. And Magna Carta. And the Church. Although that might be a long story." The Doctor frowned deeply. "Oh, why not, we've got all sorts of time." He faced Nathaniel. "See, it started like this. Once upon a time, there was a short Jewish man in Galilee who got up and said, 'hey, we should all love each other' and the Roman overloads and sundry people in charge didn't much like that. With me so far?"
As the Doctor embarked on his unorthodox retelling of history, Nathaniel let himself relax. Not a lot, just a little.
Maybe, just maybe, he might just survive. And the Doctor could possibly be the one to help Nathaniel find a life that wasn't always pain and powerlessness.
Maybe there was hope for someone like Nathaniel after all.