He slides onto the bar stool beside hers, a shade too close for her personal comfort, and lifts a hand to signal the barman. Mel is briefly aware of his personal aroma, some inoffensive blend of aftershave, shampoo and other personal care products, but she's soon absorbed again in her work. On Earth, in more or less her own time and place, a woman alone in a city bar does well to look busy.
She's taken the time to be cross with the Doctor for standing her up; for suggesting this as a meeting place to begin with and for keeping secrets from her. By now, hours ticking by with no sign, her heart is beating a bit too fast and she can't keep herself from turning to look at the door more often than necessary. Her feet itch. Before she met the Doctor, Mel thought that was a metaphor, or at least an extreme exaggeration. She knows better now. Her feet itch when there's nothing to run towards or away from. She's tried changing her shoes and moisturising her heels, but it doesn't stop her itching to find the next adventure.
She slides her fingers over the tiny screen on the device in her palm, and words flow. It's not a diary, not poetry, but something in between. It takes her thoughts, finds the shape of how she might have expressed them, and turns them into words. The symbols on the screen are blocky and orange, alien, but she's found that she can read them back in her room in the TARDIS, if she lets herself. Sometimes it's better not to dwell, and she concentrates until the screen is full of alien script again, emptying out the thoughts.
It's one thing she never mentions to the Doctor. He'd scold her for carrying it here, anyway, and lecture gently until she sees the wisdom of putting it away. She doesn't carry much, little more than she needs, and her room aboard the TARDIS has few mementos. Some interesting stones and shells, some exotic scents and cosmetics, a shawl from an ancient bazaar... it all seems foolish, when she takes her personal inventory. Not the diary, though. She needs something, some record for herself. She's missed it, while she's been away, and there's a lot to tell it.
The bar is filling up with after work business types, all suits and briefcases with their work spilling over into leisure time. Mel's been places that nobody else in the room can imagine, felt welcome and at home in stranger company than this, but the slight differences from her native time hit her harder than meeting someone with blue skin or a forked tongue.
At least some things never change: the man on her left keeps giving her half-glances and there's nothing shy about them. Just furtive. It's harder to ignore than she'd like, though that's less animal magnetism on his part than uncharacteristic self-consciousness on hers. With the Doctor, she's used to being noticed, even stared at, but not like this. Not when everything around her is so... ordinary.
His half-glances become a lingering, appraising stare, and Mel's vague sense of being flattered evaporates. Even without meeting his gaze, she can sense that there's something impersonally predatory there. Not dangerous, she thinks; she's grown quite good at detecting that, since meeting the Doctor. Of course, echoes the afterthought, it could just be that she's revised her definition of 'dangerous'. And worse, there's always the possibility that she's wrong. Again.
"If you're going to offer to buy me a drink," she says, catching his gaze and holding it - catching him out and watching to see what he does - "I'm fine, thanks." She smiles at him, as she would at anyone, but sees herself watching and assessing from behind the mask in a way that's new and alien to her. She doesn't want to be this way, to be that kind of person, to look beyond her first impressions. It's just that, after all that's happened lately, she isn't sure how to stop.
He's dark-haired and wiry, unfazed by the put-down, relaxed on the stool. He stares for a second, flashes a tight smile, then slowly blinks and reaches for his own drink. His gaze travels from her shoulder and curls, down her arm and across her blouse, far too personal now, but resting longest on the copper-coloured gadget in her palm. She slides it into her jeans pocket and redoubles her friendly smile, almost before she's registered that he's noticed. Not many people would. Not in a place like this where everyone is flashing the latest mobile phone or palmtop.
With a smile that's a slightly cutting mockery of her own, he leans closer.
"Actually, I was just saying to myself that you look like a really interesting person," he says, low voiced. His voice is nicer than his manner, belying the sarcasm, and that throws her. In the vague hope of one of the Doctor's trademark timely rescues, Mel glances towards the entrance. "Stood you up, did he?" the stranger sighs, propping his elbow on the bar. He tries to look sympathetic, but not very hard.
"I beg your pardon?" As she swivels the stool to face him down properly, Mel doesn't miss the way he looks her over from the new angle, ankles to throat. It would be infuriatingly rude, if she didn't catch the edge of shrewd alertness in his stance again, and the way his eyes focus a second longer on the pocket with her diary in than on anything else. "Look, Mister--" He lifts his eyebrows, expectantly, and doesn't fill in the blank for her. Mel finally feels her cheeks grow hot. This isn't any game she knows how to play and she isn't interested in learning it. "I was really hoping to have a nice quiet drink, by myself. If you don't mind."
He sits back, annoyance hardening the youthful lines of his face. Heavens above, she realises, he's younger than she is. She's missed it until now, until that little flash of petulance, because his youth only goes skin deep.
Mel turns away.
"Yeah, whatever," he says, grabbing his beer bottle and car keys from the bar. "Have a nice one, love." She catches something ruder as he - quite deliberately - brushes her shoulder and hip on his way past.
Mel realises, at the same moment she hears the clatter of a falling chair and a yelp behind her, that he's plucked her diary from the pocket.
Somehow, she isn't at all surprised when she turns and sees the Doctor holding the gadget in one hand and the elbow of the slightly stunned-looking pickpocket with the other. Everyone in the room is staring, but that's only to be expected. The Doctor hardly blends in, even when he makes the effort. Having slung a green and purple golfing umbrella across his back to clash with his many-coloured coat, he blends in even less than usual.
"Melanie," he calls, using that deliberately reasonable tone that always leads into a lecture, "what have I told you about appropriate accoutrements in pivotal time periods?" He waggles the alien diary at her. "This poor soul - this entire planet - might have become the inadvertent victim of your carelessness!"
He lets go of the thief's elbow, dropping him abruptly to his knees. A woman steps forward and helps him back up again but she, like everyone else, continues to stare at the Doctor.
Mel clears her throat, reaching for a retort that involves pots and kettles and a certain colour, but people are starting to mutter to each other, away in the shadows. She sees a couple of men moving purposefully between the tables. Still striking his stern pose, the Doctor hasn't noticed.
"Doctor," she says, her smile fixed and bright as she grabs his arm, "I think it's time to go."
Mel laughs as they hurry outside into the warm, hazy evening. The streets are crowded and the two of them are soon lost in the throng, not-quite running for the safety of home. The Doctor lectures her all the while, but Mel can't wipe the smile off her face.
Her feet have stopped itching.