A journey's end, a wounded soul.
The Doctor leaned against the cold metal, gripping it thoughtfully as he dug his free hand into his pocket. The little girl before him was pouting, and, though he wouldn't admit it, she looked oddly adorable as her hands tried to stretch out of the sleeves engulfing her hands.
"Perhaps I should have gone down a size," he mused, removing his other hand from his pocket and spreading his fingers around the metal. Glancing up, he added, "Quite like equipment native to the playgrounds human children frequent. Oh, it's been an awfully long time since I've been on a slide, must amend that. That's where we should have gone, little duck -- a jungle gym, the very best Earth has to offer."
She was still pouting, but a hint of a smile broke on her face, despite her best efforts to hide it.
"Take me?" She questioned.
The Doctor had begun to swing gently, kicking his legs up from the ground and allowing the gently forced motion of his torso to propel him back and forth; however, at her query, he slowed just a moment before continuing.
"Some other time," his stout voice declared, his pursed lips leaving no room for negotiation.
Natalie bit her lip curiously, rubbing her hands together. "Doctor, do I hafta go?"
At that, the Doctor set his feet to the ground again, brushing his hands down his sweater vest.
"Come now, you make it sound as though you're being sent to the Terrekkian mud farms to work their interminable seasons harvesting all manner of vapid foodstuffs unfit for even the least discerning food foragers' palate."
Natalie frowned, cocking her head to the side, the trademark sign that he'd lost her in his verbosity. Dropping his arms, the Doctor walked over to her and bent down so they were at eye level.
"Natalie, it is one of the first, and harshest, truths of life that we must all do certain things we might desperately want not to. We must be brave. And, you know? You're fairly teeming with courage, you are."
Her doe eyes, which had been so mournful, were briefly alight with his encouragement. "I am?"
"Practically, you're an absolute dab with a slingshot, though strength is far more than one's ability to properly execute draconian weaponry. It comforts me to know you can look after yourself, but beyond that, you're the staunchest sort of friend. Loyal and fierce. Kind." The Doctor spread his palm across the bottom of her throat, where her alien heart was positioned. "And your heart, Natalie, the very best I've seen."
"You can see it?"
The Doctor smiled widely, and his grin was of sunshine so wanting in the grey skies overhead. With his pointer finger, he dabbed at her forehead, her nose, chin, heart, and then her stomach as he tickled her gently and briefly.
"It's the best sort of heart because it lives outside of you, and that's very rare. Promise me you won't ever change that."
"Promise," she was suddenly serious, her tiny hand hidden by wool mock-saluting him.
The Doctor nodded and stood upright. Not a great distance from them, a man appeared. He was dressed in haphazard tweed, and removed his newsboy cap from his head, twisting it between his fingers. He seemed to recognize his daughter, but was cognizant of the fact that the girl didn't quite know him, and further didn't know how to approach him just yet.
"There's your father," the Doctor inclined his head. "Off you go."
Natalie shook her head in vehement protest. Her arms stretched up for the Doctor, begging him to capitulate and lift her up, as he'd done so rarely before. But he hesitated this time.
"You must go, Natalie. Haven't you missed him?"
She was silent, spreading her fingers out now, refusing to be ignored. At last, the Doctor relented, sighing exaggeratedly to himself. This is very obviously why I never travel with children.
"Well, I must say, you quite resemble a human child right now: recalcitrant, impudent, petulant, and manipulative. Qualities that are not, in the least, admirable," his tone was slightly teasing however, belying any irritation.
Natalie wrapped her arms about his neck, tucking her head to his shoulder. She was so oddly quiet, and it had never been in her nature (that he knew) to be taciturn, so it was very curious to him. He supposed it was natural, though; a deplorable amount of tragedies had befallen her in such a brief span of time, and after having traveled with the Doctor for a bit, she was being wrenched away from that brief semblance of normalcy to return to her father.
Placing one large hand on the back of her head and spreading his fingers across her hair, the Doctor dug around in his voluminous pockets for something as he said, "I'm sorry."
"For wha'?" She finally queried.
For the things you will endure.
"I forgot to give you sweets -- such things are essential to any sendoff. Now, I'm planning a holiday on Earth soon anyway, so...I believe I can spare my entire supply. You must understand how terribly difficult that is for me, you know how much I love these things. But...I can't have you leaving without Jelly Babies, it simply won't do. Keep them safe, and don't offer them to just anyone."
Natalie took the bag, almost reverently, and nodded with ancient wisdom. She dug around for a specific color, handing the Doctor an orange one. "Your fav'rite, Doctor."
A rather odd warmth he might have identified as tenderness suddenly diffused through him.
"Thank you," he took the sweet from her. "Now, tell me. Why do you resist returning to your father?"
Natalie tucked the white bag into the large pocket of her overgrown sweater.
"I love daddy, an' I missed him..."
"Yes..." The Doctor prodded, gently.
Natalie threw her arms around the Doctor's neck again and dug her curls against his cheek.
"But if I go...you'll be alone."
"Oh, little duck," he chuckled warmly, even as an inexplicable tightness formed in his chest. "You would do that for me?"
She pulled away to look at him, nodding wordlessly.
"Well, that's very kind of you, which hardly surprises me. But let me assure you that I shall be perfectly fine."
"One shouldn't know how. It will unfold in time, as all things do. We must enjoy the going as much as the end."
She seemed to consider this for a moment, and accepted it reluctantly. As they neared her father, Natalie posed another, quite important question.
"Can you come back to see me?"
The Doctor set her gently to the ground and smiled as happily as he ever had.
"I can," he answered, quite literally. "Neither of us shall forget the other, and we have memories to help us go where we must. You'll understand that someday."
I shall miss you dearly, he couldn't seem to say.
"Now, you mustn't forget me, all right?"
"I won't! You won't either, right?"
"Absolutely not," he responded, quite serious. As her father took her hand and led her away, the Doctor said quietly to himself, "I never forget anyone."
That's the trouble.