In Hex’s opinion, large crowds pretty much universally sucked. With so many people in one place, it was always going to be a given that there would be far too much noise, and he just really wasn’t a very big fan of loud noises at all. They fried his brain, pretty much – sent static all the way through his head, made it hard to concentrate and difficult to accomplish just about anything if he didn’t push himself especially hard through it.
They had landed at some sort of lunar festival on some distant, unpronounceable planet, which meant that there were joyous, glorious celebrations all over the place. And although it wasn’t quite enough to send Hex into a complete mental shutdown, it still wasn’t exactly what you’d call great. But Ace seemed to be having fun, and the Doctor appeared to be enjoying himself too, in a cryptic, quiet kind of way, so he didn’t feel like voicing any objections.
He was sitting at a table at one of the stalls, letting the noise wash over him and kind of wishing he could leave when a hand caught lightly at his shoulder. He looked up to see the Doctor with a slight sort of rueful smile on his face, swinging his umbrella back and forth from one hand in precise, sweeping patterns. “Too loud?”
“A bit,” Hex admitted, wincing.
The look that the Doctor gave him was immensely understanding, which startled him slightly. “Mm. I’m not especially fond of crowded, noisy locations myself.”
For a moment or two, they simply just stood side-by-side in some kind of weird noise-sensitive solidarity.
“Do you want to leave?” the Doctor asked, making him start again, and then blink at the unexpected question.
“I mean – ” he began, and then reconsidered instantly. “No. I’m fine here, it’s just – ”
The Doctor gave him a Look.
“ – yes. Kind of. Yeah, a lot, really. But, you and Ace –”
“As I said,” the Doctor said, “I have no particular inclination towards staying in this location for any longer than I need to – especially if one of my friends is finding the experience unpleasant. And Ace certainly doesn’t need us to look after her.” He paused significantly, and then said, again, “do you want to leave?”
Hex hesitated again, and then slowly nodded.
“I’ll be right back,” said the Doctor.
Hex glanced out across the street; saw Ace – laughing and yelling in the midst of a group of musicians who seemed to be playing some song or other while other people danced and sung around them. Her hair was coming out of its ponytail, falling over her face. She seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself, too – her face was alive and bright with energy. Ace thrived on noise – revelled in it, surrounded herself with it whenever possible, almost like if she thought that if she had enough of it any doubts or insecurities would be thoroughly vanquished and quietened. Maybe that was it, really.
He watched the Doctor briskly cross the road and wave at Ace to get her attention, and saw rather than heard them exchange a few brief words, ending with the Doctor neatly tapping Ace on the nose, and Ace laughing and waving him off.
“She’ll meet us later,” he said, rejoining Hex. “Shall we?”
“Uh – sure.” Hex wasn’t really sure what he was agreeing to, but anything was better than the crowded street, probably.
He followed the Doctor off down a side street – away from the noise – and from there through a complicated series of turns – left, right, far left – and then down yet another side street. The Doctor was humming cheerfully under his breath all the way.
“Hey, uh, Doctor – do you actually know where we’re going?” Hex asked after they took three left turns in a row and ended up going back in what he suspected was the direction he came from.
“Not in the slightest,” he said without a trace of shame. “Shall we stop?”
Hex grinned. “Nah,” he decided, and then pointed. “Let’s go left.”