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A Friend In Need

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A Friend In Need.

He wasn't supposed to be lonely, after all he was the Doctor, there were thousands of places out there in Time and space he could visit, adventures to be had, people who would want the opportunity to travel the universe and experience all those wonders! He clapped his hands together and headed towards the console room, his garish multicolored coat flapping behind him. But when he got there, well! That feeling hit him again, what was the point! He’d just got used to having Peri around and the Time Lords had taken her away! What was the point of travelling around and meddling in time, in the end you lost everyone that mattered.

He stopped, thrust his hands in his pockets and walked away, back towards the library to brood.

The TARDIS felt this odd mood, she knew her Doctor, knew that despite this brash, argumentative exterior the man of love and compassion lay underneath! He just needed a project to get him out of this rut.

She studied a timeline, with this version of the Doctor the usual approach wouldn't work, he wouldn't readily take advice from his oldest friend. A friend who was too much of an authority figure. After clashing heads with the Time Lords authority he needed something different, something where his softer side would come out.

She studied the human's timeline. Arr yes, perfect.

The Doctor was too engrossed in his own blue mood to feel the TARDIS's sly move into the vortex. She kept the journey as smooth as possible, only the slight bump on landing gave her away.

The Doctor suddenly became aware that the TARDIS had landed, he came rushing into the console room furiously demanding to know what was happening.

The wall monitor was lit, showing the image of a young boy sat on the rocks his legs dangling over the edge of a precipitously long drop, next to a waterfall. The water was thundering over the edge of rocks just feet away from where the boy was sitting. The boy’s head was bowed, he seemed fixated by the drop.

The Doctor took in the scene, and felt an unaccustomed knot in his stomach.

The boy was dressed in a white shirt, black jumper and black shorts, his highly polished black shoes were caked in mud.

The Doctor studied the boys clothing, and considered that this was probably Earth in the 1930’s. The boy looked about 9 or 10 years old. He didn’t look excited by the precarious place he was sitting, nor did he seem to be enjoying his adventure. He seemed steeped in a deep sadness.

The Doctor noticed the wet cheeks, but that wasn't due to the spray from the falls, the red rimmed eyes told him that.

Suddenly the Doctor’s clothing changed to something akin to that of a hiker from this time period.

He looked up furiously! “I say, what do you!” he started to protest.

Then the voice in his head was clear and urgent, “He needs you, he’s always been there for you! But at this moment he needs his best friend, and may his God help him, that's you Doctor! The trouble is he can't know that yet!”

The Doctor looked puzzled then understanding struck.

“That's,... Alistair!”

“Yes, that's, Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart! And right now he’s a lonely, hurt, little boy, who, thinks no one cares about him!”

The Doctor swallowed back the pain he felt looking at the desolate young boy. A boy who would grow into the tall, brave, soldier who would become one of the best friends he would ever know.

The TARDIS doors opened and the Doctor stepped out to find he was several hundred yards away from where Alistair was sitting.

How was he going to play this? He didn't want to startle the lad and make him fall off his perch, the thought of what that would do to this planet’s timeline and more importantly his own timeline, filled him with dread.

He coughed loudly, it seemed to have no affect! So he called out “Err, excuse me but I seem to be lost!”

Slowly the young Alistair turned a tear streaked face towards the Doctor, then without answering he turned to look back down at the gorge below.

Yes, well, Alistair must be in a pretty bad way. If there was ever a man who had been a boy scout, ever willing to assist someone in need, it was Alistair. But this lad was so deep in his own despair.

The Doctor walked slowly up to the side of the boy, who just ignored him.

After a few minutes of silence Alistair said, “If you follow the path, you'll get to the village!” He pointed to his left not looking up.

The Doctor didn't move he just stood looking at the boy who would become the Brigadier, his best friend. Something serious must have happened in his life for him to be so upset. The problem was the Doctor couldn't ever remember Alistair telling him anything about his childhood. In fact, as absurd as it seemed the Doctor had just assumed Alistair had always been a soldier, maybe even a Colonel. But that was so silly really of course at some point he’d been a child. How could he know so little about his friend.

“Are you alright, Al..” he managed to stop himself before he said the all too important name out loud.

The boy nodded, then wiped a sleeve across his face.

“I’m, .... Mr Smith,” he said as he lowered himself next to the unhappy boy. “What do they call you?”

“Alistair!” the boy said without looking around.

“It’s a long way down, you need to be careful not to fall!”

Alistair swallowed hard, nodded and wiped his eyes as tears started to fall again, tears he seemed unable to stop.

Suddenly Alistair scrambled to his feet almost overbalancing over the edge.

Shocked the Doctor grabbed hold of his friend and pulled him into his chest. Breathing deeply he calmed his own fear. As he held Alistair close, the distressed boy started sobbing into his shoulder.

Carefully the Doctor got them away from the edge.

Holding his friend close the Doctor stroked his hair and tried to calm him. The boy shivered and the Doctor realised it was getting cold and dark.

“Let me take you home Alistair,” he said gently, “your parents must be worried sick!”

Alistair shook his head, “They won't be bothered, it’s all my fault, they ..they wish it had been me, rather then James!”

The Doctor looked at the boy confused.

“What's all this about Alistair? What has happened to upset you so much!”

The distressed boy started crying even harder.

The Doctor knelt down and placing his hands on Alistair's shoulders looked the boy hard in the eyes. He hated using hypnotic techniques on his friend, but the boy was far too upset to coherently tell him what he needed to know.

“So, Alistair, who is James?”

“ Gordon, James, Lethbridge-Stewart, my older brother!”

A brother the Doctor didn't know that Alistair had. In all the years they had known each other he never mentioned a brother.

“He wasn’t himself! We went to the Manor when we shouldn't have, James thought it would be fun. We saw this... this strange man, and James.. James changed. He started talking to an invisible friend. He wouldn't talk to anyone else. Then one day we argued about it, and later that day he jumped off the waterfall! I COULDN'T STOP HIM!” The young boy screamed out. “I tried, I really did, I...tried!”

The Doctor was looking at Alistair in utter shock. He had no idea that this had happened to his friend when he was young.

Taking a deep breath he once again looked deeply into the boys eyes. “Of course you did Alistair, I wouldn't doubt that. I imagine you did everything you could to save him!”

Alistair nodded frantically “I ran down to the river!”

The Doctor glanced at the steep uneven path, littered with large stones that the boy must have used. It was a wonder he hadn't tripped and hurt himself badly.

“But when I got to the river I couldn't reach him, I couldn't reach... James! It was my fault he ...drowned, my arms were too short! They hate me because my arms were too short!”

The Doctor used his multicolored handkerchief to dry the boys tears!”

“Alistair, no one blames you, how could they? You didn't make James jump did you? You didn't want him to jump did you?”

Alistair shook his head vigorously.

“And your arms being too short wasn't your fault, you tried your hardest to reach James, didn't you?”

Alistair nodded tearfully.

“But Mum and Dad blame me!” the boy sniffled. “Dad hasn't spoken to me since he came home, and Mum hasn't kissed me good night. And.. when I go in, she sends me to my room to play. She doesn't want to look at me!”

The boy’s tears started to fall again. “Now Dad's gone back to his squadron and he didn't even say goodbye! Everyone would be better off if I was dead!”

For a second the Doctor couldn't breath, the thought of his life without Alistair in it was unthinkable.

“NO, NO, THEY WOULDN'T!” the Doctor shouted out!

The boy looked at him shocked.

The Doctor held him close as he spoke to him gently.

“Sometimes Alistair, when we lose something precious to us, part of us closes down. We forget that the rest of life carries on! We don't recognise that other people still need our help! I think that's what has happened with your Mum and Dad. They don't blame you, they just forgot that you need them! Do you understand?”

Alistair nodded, but the Doctor didn't think he was convinced.
But he was just a frightened young boy, who had seen his brother die, how could he be expected to understand his parents grief, after all he was having trouble processing his own.
“Come on Alistair, let me take you back home!”

Alistair took the proffered hand and let the Doctor go with him.

As they approached the cottage the Doctor’s sharp hearing detected two panicked voices calling for Alistair.

“I thought, he was in his room!“ the woman wailed.

“Oh, God, Gordon, where is he? Where's Alistair? Where's my baby?”

The door to the cottage flew open and a tall military man came out, about to shout his son’s name. On seeing him walking next to the Doctor he ran forward and enfolded him in his arms yelling for his wife.

The Doctor watched the woman snatching the boy out of his father's arms and planting kisses on his face. As the sobbing woman held Alistair close the boy looked at his Dad in disbelief.

“I thought you'd gone back to your base, Dad!”

Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, shook his head. “Not when you and your Mum need me Alistair! I can stay another week!”

Alistair, smiled weakly as his mum took him inside.

“Err ..Thank you for bringing him home, Mr...,? Where was he?”

“Smith, Doctor Smith, I found Alistair sitting on the edge of the cliff, near the waterfall!”

Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart looked like he was about to faint. The Doctor gripped his arm.

“I’m sorry for the loss of your other son, Mr Lethbridge-Stewart, I understand how you must be feeling! But I think Alistair needs you and your wife to help him understand his loss too! You can’t just shut down and hide away from everyone! People need you, Alistair certainly does an he’s too precious to ignore!”

The man nodded “Yes, you're right! Doctor Smith!” he looked back at the cottage where a silhouette of his wife, still hugging their son, could be seen through the curtains.

The Doctor headed back to the TARDIS and looking around he clapped his hands.
“Yes well, we better get going!” he said out loud.
After all he couldn't just sit around moping when there were people out there who needed him.

The TARDIS smiled to herself knowing that the Doctor would soon be embroiled in a new adventure, and she felt sure that it wouldn't be long before a new companion would be joining them.