Chapter Twenty One

Catherine watched the Doctor brush away his tears. He seemed to retreat into himself at that point, but she didn’t understand why. She knew he had appreciated her compassion for him, but his natural toughness had reasserted itself almost immediately. He didn’t need anyone else, or thought he didn’t. His reaction seemed strange to her, but she admired his emotional strength. She wished she had that sort of strength…..

The Doctor was irritated with himself, not for the tears themselves – he would never be ashamed of the feelings he had for his companions or for Gallifrey – but for the display of them in front of someone else, especially someone who was a virtual stranger. He thought for a moment and corrected the thought. Catherine was not a companion, but she was also no stranger. He had actually come to value her unique perspective on the places and events around them. The Doctor thought that the emotional shock that he knew he was still suffering from must be affecting him more than he had realised. That synchronous emotional bond that the Doctor knew he had with Catherine was certainly growing stronger and he did so admire her spirit and independence…..

The Doctor hadn’t quite realised how much spirit she had until she asked the question that had been niggling at the back of her mind all day. Catherine was still a bit wary of his reaction when she asked it, but she knew she would have no peace of mind until she did. It was more than curiosity. His actions from this morning still bothered her somehow. They seemed out of character and somewhat irrational for him, or at least, she corrected herself inwardly, out of character and irrational for the man as she knew him. “Doctor?” she asked. “This morning, that creek near Node Two was so still and glassy. Everything was reflected perfectly in it – like a watery mirror. It was beautiful. The trees, the creek bank, even that wooden bridge that we crossed – everything made a perfect image in the water.” She paused, wondering how to proceed next.

He nodded and said, “It was beautiful wasn’t it? The landscape architect responsible for that planting around the creek, not to mention the construction of that bridge, must have watched the creek many times before the final design was finished. Fantastic!” While he seemed lost in artistic appreciation for a moment, Catherine took a deep breath and broached the question uppermost in her mind.

“Doctor, everything seems to have a perfect reflection except you,” she said, pausing as she chose her next words.

The Doctor interrupted her pause to say, “Catherine, everyone has a reflection. It’s a physical impossibility not to have a reflection.” But he wasn’t tempted to laugh at her or ridicule her on this. Instead, he looked at her cautiously, wondering what was coming next, dreading what was coming next. He knew her instinct was telling her that something was out of place here and that in a way he had unconsciously tasked her with a personal problem to be solved. However, he could have wished that she had not been quite so observant on this particular occasion.

Catherine continued, “I watched as you washed your face and hands this morning, Doctor. Something wasn’t quite right. I noticed that you sent strong ripples through the water breaking your reflection up before you actually looked into the water. It seemed to me to be a strange ritual to go through and my instinct tells me that it is out of character. You never faced your own reflection. Why?”

Catherine expected to see the ‘poker face’ expression on his face again, but was shocked to see a completely new expression. The Doctor looked at her with a strange expression she could only describe as part way between tears and raw shock. Despite this, he managed to ask her, calmly, “Why do you think, Catherine?”

She replied, in an uncertain tone of voice, “I may be wrong, but it seemed to me as if you literally could not bear to look yourself in the face, Doctor.”

His expression didn’t change as he replied, “I always knew your powers of observation and your instinct for the irrational and out of place were useful attributes. But I never expected them to be used on me.” He paused for a few moments, before he held his hand out to her and said, quietly, with a serious tone in his voice, “Come with me.” She placed her hand in his and they stepped outside the TARDIS, the Doctor locking the doors behind them.

It was quite late in the evening by now and there was no moonlight to illuminate the scene. The only light emanated from the external lighting from the TARDIS. It cast an eerie glow around the immediate vicinity extending out to the edge of the ‘rocky plateau’ and the waves crashing on the rocks there. A strong sea breeze blew around them, causing wisps of Catherine’s blonde hair to blow around her face. One particularly long wisp of hair blew out like a fragile finger to touch the corner of the Doctor’s right eye. Catherine turned to watch it and to see his reaction. He seemed not to notice as he stared out to sea watching the waves. The sea seemed to exert a calming effect on him. She could understand that. Watching the movement of waves and the ocean always had a relaxing effect on her too. But she did wonder if he ever was going to answer her question. Somehow, looking at the expression on his face, she didn’t like to ask it again, so she just stood there next to him, her hand in his, watching and waiting.

After about an hour (in Earth terms), the Doctor turned and said to her, unexpectedly, “How’s your knee, Catherine?”

Catherine was surprised at the question at this time, but answered it anyway. “It’s a bit stiff, Doctor, but fine, thankyou.”

The Doctor nodded, then turned away to look at the waves again, gripping Catherine’s hand a little tighter as he did so. He was thinking about Catherine’s instincts and her other attributes and their trip so far. But before he went too far down that path, he supposed he owed it to her to answer her initial question. Turning back towards her again, the Doctor took a deep breath, his blue eyes glinting with some unresolved pain which she could barely see in the glow of light from the TARDIS. He said, “Catherine, you thought I could not bear to look myself in the face. You were right.” He might admit that to her – and that was a big admission – but he wasn’t ready yet to tell her the worst of it. His role in the destruction of Gallifrey was far too immediate for him to feel ready to discuss it. He returned to the peaceful exercise of watching the waves again.

Catherine was shocked. In one way this was the answer she had expected, but in another way she had hoped that it would have just been some strange ritual that he needed to go through. The problem for her was that if he couldn’t bear to look himself in the face, it implied that he had done something either very wrong or which had regrettable consequences. She too looked at the waves crashing on the rocks at the edge of the ‘plateau’ and felt the strange calming effect from them.

For the next three hours (in Earth terms), any apparent onlooker would have wondered at the sight that was before them. A tall, striking man with close-cropped dark hair wearing jeans and a battered, black leather jacket standing closely hand-in-hand with a tall, attractive blonde-haired woman wearing tan slacks and a matching battle jacket, both quietly watching the waves crash against the ‘rocky plateau’ in a semi-trance like state next to a strange blue box…..

During that period, Catherine used the waves’ calming effect to clear her mind of her feelings of shock. This took quite a bit of time – she didn’t quite know how long – but she knew she could not best utilise her logic to solve the problem until those feelings were gone. Fortunately, the Doctor did not expect to make conversation at this time. Once the shock had passed, she applied her instincts and her logic to the problem. From everything she had seen of the Doctor, she would be very hard to convince that he had done something wrong. She cast her mind back right to the moment of their first meeting and, ignoring her feelings about his gorgeous appearance, she calmly and logically looked at their dealings together. Her conclusion was that there was far less likelihood of him having done something wrong than of his actions having had regrettable consequences. Of course, having reviewed all their dealings, it tended to strengthen even more the already strong emotional bond she felt with him. It seemed a long time since she had been alarmed at the validity of such a bond. She sighed audibly.

While Catherine was solving problems during this time, the Doctor was thinking once more about Catherine as a travelling companion. She certainly had all the qualities he usually looked for in a companion and she was certainly a woman of spirit – an attribute he admired. Also, there was that strange increasing emotional bond between them. The problem for the Doctor was the emotional shock he had suffered, still was suffering from, as a result of the destruction of Gallifrey. He didn’t know if his perspectives were skewed or not because of it. Did he really want a companion when he was in this sort of uncertain state? He didn’t know. Did he want her as a companion? It was then that Catherine sighed. Without even thinking about it, he dropped her hand and put his right arm around her upper back. “Doctor,” he thought to himself, “you seem to have answered your own question!” There was no immediate reaction from Catherine.

Catherine didn’t react to the Doctor’s arm around her because she thought it was wisest not to. “Who are you kidding?” she reprimanded herself. If she was honest with herself, she had to admit that she had enjoyed his arm around her at times while they had been journeying to and from Node Two. Now was no different, so as at the picnic area near Node Two, without thinking, she stretched her left arm out to rest it lightly around the back of his waist. She thought it must have been her tiredness, the lateness of the evening and the sea air that were to blame…..

As the loop back process should have been completed by now, the Doctor and Catherine, their arms still lightly around each other’s backs, re-entered the TARDIS. They immediately parted from each other as he went to check the ion concentration readings and signal strength at each of the coordinates and Catherine, at his request, checked the scanner for verification that the loop back process was complete. The process was complete and the Doctor’s readings were exactly as he would have wished. “Give the man a medal,” he said, congratulating himself on everything working, as he pointed out the readings to Catherine. “Perfect!” he added, with a grin on his face ‘like the cat that had swallowed the cream’.

Catherine looked troubled, however. It wasn’t that she wasn’t impressed, because she was. Anyone who could orchestrate a loop back mechanism like that and have it working so quickly deserved the highest praise. It was the fact that her instinct for the out of place was troubling her. Something was wrong. “Doctor,” she said, looking concerned, “my instinct tells me there is something wrong with the way this process is running.”

The Doctor looked up from where he had been noting the readings and was horrified to see indications that although the loop back mechanism was correctly generating a positive ion ‘chain reaction’ at the generation point, the connection to the TARDIS had not been fully disconnected on completion, so there was the risk of a negative feedback directly into the TARDIS database. “‘To every action there is opposed an equal reaction’,” he murmured, quoting his friend Isaac Newton. Fortunately, it was a problem that was easily fixed, so the Doctor fixed it.

He turned back to look at Catherine, saying, “Thanks. Problem fixed. Fantastic.”

She smiled at him, asking, “What next, Doctor?”

He grinned at her, saying, “Back to the Eye, Catherine,” as he pulled the dematerialisation lever and set the TARDIS in motion once again.

(* To be continued….. *)