Never. Ever. Ever. In his long-legged life had he had a companion foisted on him by paradox avoidance. But here she stood in front of him, his future friend, bouncing with excitement, "Now, remember, my name is Melanie Jane Bush and I was in Greystoke Hospital in London on July 7th, 1988 when my Doctor..." she patted his brightly colored lapels. He edged away from her. "...came and rescued me. All righty?"
"All right," he sighed and, without another word, turned and walked away towards his TARDIS. Out of all the Billions and Billions of interesting people in the universe he would never have chosen a veggie-juice swilling health nut to explore the cosmos with. But, to avoid blowing up reality, his future friend had to become his present friend. And by 'present' we mean 'right now.'
It wasn't fair.
He landed the TARDIS with his usual genius, hidden in the bushes on the grounds of the hospital on the very day and year required, and stepped out. He sighed again and headed towards the front doors.
Suddenly, he stopped.
There was a young nurse pushing a body on a cart down the shady sidewalk. The Doctor looked again. Yes, an obvious corpse. It was properly covered with a white sheet, the ends neatly tucked in against the breeze, but it was still an incongruous sight in this sedate place and time. Curious, he blocked her way. She stopped the cart with a slight slide of her sturdy white shoes and blinked at him.
"Anna!" someone shouted and she looked back. Another, older, nurse came running towards them, red in the face. "What are you doing?!" she shouted.
"I'm taking Mr. Sallers to the morgue, like you told me to," Anna said, pointing to a small, nondescript building just down the road.
"No, no, no!" the other panted. "You're supposed to take the tunnel!"
"What tunnel?! You never said anything about a tunnel!"
"The private tunnel under the...I didn't?"
"Oh, god." Both women looked down at the unfortunate Mr. Sallers as if it were all his fault. "Well, we're almost there anyway. Keep going!" They both put their hands on the cart and looked at the obstacle before them. Mouth twitching, the Doctor stepped into a petunia border out of their way. Determinedly keeping pleasant and professional expressions on their faces, they pushed the cart past. He continued on himself, rather buoyed by the incident.
He reached the hospital doors and threw them open wide. Every patient, visitor and medical professional stared at him as he looked around imperiously. Ah! A Welcome Desk. He strode forward, not noticing that no less than three people scurried out of his way. He leaned his hands on it and looked down at the worried man who squinted up at him through thick glasses. "Melanie Bush," he said.
"Eh?" the man answered.
"Melanie Jane Bush! She's a patient here somewhere. Where?"
"Are you friend or family?"
"Neither," he said coldly.
"FREEEEDOM!" a woman howled and the past Melanie Bush burst in through a far set of double doors. The myopic man gasped and scandalized surprise went twittering through the waiting room. She was completely nude save for a hospital gown that was wrapped around her arm. That only remained on because she was clutching her IV stand in her hand like a spear. She shook it. "I want out! I want my freedom! I want doughnuts!"
Two nurses quickly arrived, one threw a towel around the space where Melanie Bush used to be because the other nurse was a little too quick in yanking the woman back through the doors.
"Ah, there she goes," the Doctor observed and followed the trio. He went through the doors in time to hear the nurses exchange some choice, nasty words with each other while they cooperated in gently wrapping a towel around their patient. Melanie gasped for breath. Now that he was closer he saw that her skin was pale, she was thin and her hair (ridiculously curlicued in his memory) was limp and dead. His eyes went wide and he shoved his fists into his trousers as he studied this weird sight. Where was the annoying, energetic woman he'd met? Common sense belatedly tapped him on the shoulder. This IS a hospital, Doctor, it whispered.
She noticed him. "Krispy Kremes are made in the United States," she said and withered. She dragged in another breath and continued. "They serve 'em hot. I want a dozen, please."
"They're not very healthy are they, Miss Bush?" he asked. "Terrible rings of sugar and lard?"
"Who cares?" she groaned and sagged to the floor.
"Who cares? Who cares?! What on Earth's wrong with her?" the Doctor demanded.
"Oh, y'know, Demerol. It takes them that way sometimes," one of the nurses answered offhandedly as they scraped the wreck of Melanie Jane Bush up. "Nothing to worry about."
"YOU!" Mel cried, pointing at him. "Clown Man! You go to 'Merica and bring me a dozen doughnuts!" Another ragged breath. "Please?"
"Sounds good," one of the nurses decided as they led her away. "I'll take a dozen, too, dearie."
"DOUGHNUTS! I WILL BE FREE!"
The Doctor noted which room the three went into before he turned around and strode back into the waiting area.
"I dunno what's wrong with everyone today," he heard the squinting man whisper to a security guard. "Down in the emergency room Dr. Smythee stapled a man's balls to the gurney. He wouldn't stop fighting, y'see."
"Never!" the guard exclaimed and even the Doctor's eyebrow went up at he went past.
"Oh, yes. That calmed him down right quick." They both watched the Doctor barge his way out. "Must be full moon."
The Doctor walked quickly to the TARDIS, went in, set the coordinates for the United States and took off. The TARDIS disappeared. Instantaneously it materialized reasonably within the region he wanted. He found what he was looking for and bought two dozen steaming sweet pastries. He paid for his two boxes with a gold doubloon. Back to the TARDIS. Disappear. Reappear in Britain, at the hospital, right outside the front door. Excellent bit of piloting, that. Well, of course it was. He emerged from his ship with one box and headed back inside the hospital.
The two brave security men showed their absolute devotion to duty by ignoring him. "...and then Dr. Phlebman got arrested this morning."
"Felony pandering! With some of the nurses!"
"Negotiating amorous transactions," the Doctor answered as he went past the desk. Blank stare from Officer Obtuse. "Pimping, you idiot."
Stung, the guard tried to make a stand. "May I see your ID?"
"No." The Doctor swept through the far doors, down the long corridor and into the proper room. Melanie Bush was gowned and calmed again and she lay on the bed like the unfortunate Mr. Sallers lay on his cart. Her two fussing escorts, er, caretakers were putting the final touches on her and watching them gave the Doctor something of a chill. She lay so still. A small oxygen tube was under her nose and she was plugged into a variety of crude, monitoring devices. They flashed and beeped. She had a new IV tube in her arm and the bandage securing it displayed a drop of fresh blood. Miss Bush had pictures of her family and friends arranged around the bed, as well as motivational posters on the walls and plastic plants on the bedside table. They were dusty.
No window. The Doctor shuddered.
Everything pointed to a lengthy stay. Greystoke Hospital still kept patient charts at the foot of the bed for the whole world to see so the Doctor rifled one-handed through hers. He read her prognosis and blanched. "Oh," he whispered too low for human hearing. He slowly put the clipboard back on its hook with his fingertips as if it were going to bite him. "I see."
"Er. Are you family? Or are you here to entertain the patient?" the nurse that had called him 'dearie' asked and smiled. The other threw her nose up and left the room without acknowledging anyone with so much as a belch.
What a dreadful place, really. "No, I'm...I'm her Doctor." She looked at his clothes and gave a polite chuckle at his little 'joke.' Considering the doctors she had in this hospital he really couldn't understand her doubt but he didn't argue with her. She was friendly, at least.
Melanie Bush opened her eyes and saw him. "Freedom!" she cried as if it were his name.
"Doughnuts!" he answered as if it were hers. He held out the box. She gasped and eagerly reached for them. "Sorry," the Doctor said to the nurse as he handed them over. "I ate yours."
"Still warm!" their patient crooned. "So gooooood."
"I'll leave you to it, then," the nurse decided and walked towards the door. "She shouldn't make another run for it but hit the call-button if she does." The Doctor made a hmrph noise of assent and the woman left. He lowered the railing and sat down on the edge of the bed. It creaked dangerously. Neither he nor she paid any mind.
Melanie chewed and swallowed in complete bliss. She licked her thin fingers and offered him the box. He shook his head. She took another for herself. "Sooooo," the Doctor began. "Doughnuts and freedom is it?"
"I've got my doughnuts," she said, nodding, "And soon I'm going to be free."
She nodded. "That's what they say. No more, thank god. No more of this," she looked around the sad, plaster room. Then she stared at the doughnut in her hand and clarity appeared in her eyes for a moment. "How did you get these? They're fresh and hot!"
"I have my ways."
She weakly leaned up on one elbow and looked him over. Studied him from the top of his curly, blond head, past his fantastic coat, and down to the green spats on his shoes. "I'm hallucinating," she decided. "I don't mind you, though," she reassured him. "A big man full of colors all over everywhere is perfectly all right with me. Not like that...that winged spider thing I saw the other day," she lowered her voice to a confidential whisper, "And the farting radiator and the IV drip that won't stop calling my name. I hate those."
She nodded and they shared a moment of perfect understanding. Her eyes fluttered closed but she wrenched them back open. Despite her claims of acceptance the Doctor could tell she was fighting. Fighting like mad. Good. Good for her. "Who are you?" she asked.
"I'm the Doctor."
"Oh, please, not another doctor."
"No, no, no," he said, patting her lightly on the leg. "I'm not 'a' or 'yet another' doctor. I'm the Doctor. I'm the one that arrives when the extremes have been reached. When there's no hope. When no one else will or can do." He grasped his lapels and exuded sincerity.
"You make it all better?"
"Now, I didn't say that."
She managed to smile and the sight made him infinitely sad. "What do you recommend then, Doctor?"
The Doctor took another look around. There was no air in here. No light either. Just a display of inanimate tchotkes and useless machines that went beep, beep, beep, beep, endlessly, beep, beep...
He turned back to her and smiled for the first time that day. "I recommend travel," he said. "Get some different air into your lungs. Meet strange and wonderful people. Exercise! Running and so forth. Eat exotic food. Drink..." his eyes almost twinkled. "Drink lots of carrot juice."
"No, no," he reassured her. "I'm told it's very healthy."
She smiled again and it wasn't so weary this time. "I will, then." She picked the box up an inch. "And thank you so much." Consciousness left her so quickly the Doctor practically heard it swoosh by his head. She still clutched the pastries, though. He admired that in a woman.
"You're welcome," he said, then he leaned over and, peeling back the surgical tape that held it in place, gently pulled the IV needle out of her skin. He flicked it away. Various tubes and sensors followed. The beeping became frantic. He threw her blankets off and picked her up, her bare bottom sticking out of the hospital gown. He didn't notice and really wouldn't have cared if he did. "Now, let's get started." He turned and nudged the door open with his foot.
The trick is to walk quickly and stare straight ahead. As long as you looked like you knew what you were doing and avoided eye-contact then no one will hinder you. Much. The Doctor crossed the waiting room, ignoring the startled "Sir? Sir?" from the guard and the little man at the desk who were politely squawking behind him as if he didn't realize he was carrying a patient away.
Through the front doors, through the TARDIS doors then gently put her down on the floor to work the controls. Then away into the vortex. Mission accomplished and goodbye. He paused a moment to choose an appropriate medical facility from the vast store in his brain. She would enjoy the 'hospital' on Vrixis, he decided. Patients there floated in a serene blue grotto while they healed. Ocean breezes. Sunlight filtered through pristine water. Mer-healers swimming without a ripple from one patient to the next. No barbaric needles. No debilitating drugs. And where Melanie J. Bush was concerned a 100% success rate. Perfect. He entered those coordinates in.
"WHEE HEE YOW!" He turned. She was clumsily scrambling to her feet as best she could. "Cold floor, cold floor," she winced and twisted herself around to check that her bare bum was unharmed by the chill. It was and she went to work on her third Krispy Kreme to settle her nerves. Then she noticed where she was and the Doctor enjoyed the look of surprise and amazement that broke over her face. She gazed delightedly at all the lights, the monitors and again at the Doctor's colorful coat. "What is this?" she asked.
"This is freedom."
"Really? Oh, good!" She grinned at him. Then she looked again at the TARDIS's controls. "What sort of system do you use?" she asked politely. The Doctor told her in intensely technical Gallifreyan. "Excellent," she said, nodding. "I use that myself."
"Of course you do, Miss Bush," he said.
She waved a hand and offered him the box. "Please! My friends call me Mel."
He looked at her as she swayed a little where she stood. He looked at the box. He took a doughnut, his thirteenth. They really were ridiculously good. "Thank you," he said. She nodded. "Thank you...Mel."
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