“This is exhausting! That guy’s really going to lead us on a chase, isn’t he?”
“Yes, it would seem so. Lucky we’ve got a time machine. It tends to drastically shorten chases.”
Clara rolled her eyes as she followed the Doctor into the TARDIS. They’d gotten themselves involved in yet another mystery, on another planet, and nobody else seemed to be willing or able to help. So of course they’d volunteered… of course. They weren’t anywhere near a solution yet, but things seemed to be at a bit of a stalemate for now.
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to go work on one of my more…” Clara interrupted herself with a long yawn, “…Boring human habits.”
“Ah. Yes, I had noticed your under-eyes were starting to get a bit dark.”
A pained expression crossed Clara’s face, and she sighed deeply. She patted the Doctor on his shoulder as she passed him, headed to her room. “Yeah, thanks for that.”
Turning back towards the console, the Doctor set up a few more scans for the current baddie they’d been tracking. The TARDIS beeped, indicating she’d found something a bit quicker than expected. The Doctor caught himself halfway through raising his arm, about to shout for Clara to come back. No, he thought, better let her get some rest, so she’ll be ready when this particular adventure reaches its showdown.
If he’d been honest with himself, he’d have admitted he just didn’t particularly want to deal with a cross Clara. He wasn’t completely sure, but he suspected she had been subtly trying to give him hints that he was really getting on her nerves lately. More than usual. He’d tried explaining to her that subtle wasn’t really his thing this time around, but Clara just couldn’t seem to break the habit. The Doctor still wasn’t positive she was even really seeing him yet, despite what she claimed.
The TARDIS thumped down on a small planet the Doctor had never heard of, given the readings on the scanner. He’d probably come across it in some chart somewhere but ignored it, due to it being smack in the middle of a galaxy known for its cheesy tourist traps. He straightened his coat, and headed for the doors.
He stepped out into a small lobby. It was somewhat deceptive—parts of it looked older than others, with paint peeling off walls, but barely cured on the trim, some display setups so new they still had packaging on them, and a quarter inch of dust on others. The air, in general, smelled old. This was an obviously forgotten place, and even time seemed not to want to settle easily here.
The Doctor passed the front desk, and walked through to the galley room behind it. Rows upon rows of display cases lined walls without shelves, right on up to and including the high ceiling. Each case varied greatly in age and wear. Some looked like they’d been set up yesterday. Others were so cracked and faded it was impossible to see inside them. Inside every case was a hat.
Hats. Everywhere. From every time period and almost every galaxy. It was enough to boggle even a Time Lord’s brain.
“Of course. A hat museum. It’s not quite an entire planet but, oh, Donna would’ve loved—“
The Doctor closed his eyes for a moment. Just a moment. But one of those many cruel “curse of a Time Lord” gifts turned that moment into virtual days inside his head, reliving a specific set of memories he’d tried to lock away as best he could. He could feel Donna, inside his head, whapping him on the face with her bag and giving him grief for not having brought her here. He deserved it.
Reluctantly returning to the present, the Doctor noticed a slight alteration to the apparently random pattern of display cases. He strode to the back corner of the room, and ran his hands around a particularly small case, confirming his suspicion. The case turned, opening a door into a hidden office.
This area had been used much more recently than the rest of the establishment. Papers and supplies and a few scattered hats littered a large desk in the middle of the room. A shiny black calling card lay conspicuously on the seat of a fancy chair, and the Doctor scooped it up. He didn’t have to bother reading it to know it was the next clue he was looking for. He headed back towards the TARDIS, eager to leave any place that could forcefully bring up guilty memories.
Something stopped the Doctor as he reached for the door handle.
He’d seen it on the way in.
He’d made himself, rather convincingly, pretend to ignore it.
Now, it beckoned him.
Called to him.
Grew imaginary hands that formed that ridiculous come hither gesture at him.
He was so much more mature than this. He didn’t need it. Clara would poke fun at him. A guilty expression crossed his face, he groaned slightly, and turned to give in to the temptation anyway. He’d pay for it, he knew, just like everything else he ever did.
Clara was headed back to her room, clutching a cup of tea, when the Doctor stepped back inside the TARDIS.
Both froze the moment they spotted each other. Clara nearly dropped her tea. The Doctor’s expression flipped between utter embarrassment and a slight tinge of something like hope. Clara set her tea down on the console, and slowly walked towards him, her eyes impossibly wide.
“I… I saw it, and I thought, well… maybe you might… you might like it,” he stammered. “W-w-why are you malfunctioning, Clara?”
“Because of you. Because of that,” she said softly, gesturing with her eyes to the bright red fez atop the Doctor’s head. Tears flowed freely down her face, but she wore a gentle smile. She placed her hands on his chest, slightly calming the beat of his twin hearts.
This Doctor might not be the hugging type, but he did bring his own hands up to cover Clara’s. Maybe, just maybe, she was finally beginning to see him again. Maybe, it was going to be alright. His face relaxed, and he couldn’t prevent the faint smile that followed.