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Fandom: Dr Who (9th doctor)
Title: Refugee
Summary: Set pre-"Rose". Some healing needs to take place before even the most resilient hero can handle heroism again.
Notes: Old school fan, new school fandom. No 'ships, no slash. Some alcohol abuse. Grappa is indeed an Italian spirit which can strongly resemble paint stripper in effect, odour, and flavour.

The bar was a quiet one, hidden in one of the lower income suburbs of the capital of Western Australia. The drinker was hard to spot in amongst all the others. Most of the people who drank here were trying to bridge the gap between depressed and drunk in the fastest amount of time possible. The young woman behind the bar, who was working her way through university, didn't pay much attention to him at first.

It took about four days before she started to notice him. He'd come in when the bar opened, drink steadily until closing time, and then walk out, sober as could be. Schooner after schooner of Emu, as though he were trying to drown himself in the beer. Always in complete silence - the only sound he made was to ask for another. He sounded like a Pom, though. She thought he might be tallish, although she'd never really seen him walk into or out of the pub - he seemed to choose the moments when she wasn't watching. Short, dark hair, ears that stuck out a bit, and a beak of a nose. He was wearing a leather jacket, which could be just swagger, or could be a concession to the air conditioning in the pub, which was always set to a fairly low temperature.

On the fifth day, she offered her name. He didn't reply; just asked for a beer and started his day's drinking. The man drank as though he were trying to escape something.

The sixth day, she tried to get through to him a different way. "You'll wreck your liver if you don't cut back," she said. He just gave a grimace which had the ghastly remains of a smile behind it. He kept drinking.

On Sundays the pub shut. On a hunch, she went to the local bottle shop. As she drove up, she saw him walking away, carrying the clichéd bottle of something in a paper bag. She parked the car and followed on foot. He walked across to the oval, and into the pavillion. She followed, but he had disappeared into the shadows inside. The doors were locked.

The following day he was back at the pub again. She didn't say anything to him that day; she just watched. Watched as he sank drink after drink, getting more and more depressed as the time went on. She'd seen the look in his eyes somewhere before, she knew it.

She wasn't rostered on for the next few days. Exams had to be sat, and essays had to be handed in. But throughout the whole business she worried at the question of where she'd seen that kind of look in a person's eyes. It nagged at her. It was important.

She finally remembered at the end of her Saturday shift.

The next day, she was at the bottle shop before he was, waiting. When he came walking over from the sports ground, she walked over to him, and pushed a bottle in a paper bag into his hands.

"Grappa," she said. "Italian for paint stripper. My grandfather used to make it."

He looked at her, a sort of dull surprise in his eyes, as though he hadn't expected anyone to notice him, or realise he was hurting. He took the bottle and returned to the sports ground. She followed again. This time, he led her up into the spectators' stands. He sat at the back, twisted the lid off the bottle, and took a good hard swallow.

When he finished coughing, and she finished thumping him on the back, he took a more respectful sip of the grappa.

"My grandfather was a member of the Communist resistance in Italy during the Second World War," she told him, talking more to herself than to him. "He never said much about his time there. Not to us grandkids, anyway. From the scraps I've picked up in family discussions he was the only one who survived out of his brigade." She wasn't looking at him as she spoke, just staring off into the middle distance. "He came out to Australia as a displaced person at the end of the War. Went and worked up in the Snowy Mountains scheme. He nearly died in a tunnel collapse once. The only survivor."

"He came over here after the dams had been built. Came here to start a new life. First he worked up in Wittenoom, in the asbestos mine, but he decided against it after the first tunnel collapse he was in. So he came down here, met Nonna. Worked the fishing boats." She gave a reminiscent smile. "He liked that, I think. He'd been a mountain boy, and he liked learning to haul the nets. Worked the boats until he retired."

"Nonna used to say he enjoyed the peace of it. Being out on the ocean. He'd fought in the mountains and watched his friends die, and he'd worked in the mountains on the other side of the world, and watched more friends die. But on the ocean, he could just haul nets, gut fish, work hard, and come home again.

"But he never forgot. Never forgot all the friends he lost, all the comrades he left behind." She looked at him directly then. "I was reminded of my grandfather when I saw you. He used to get the same look in his eyes that you have in yours - so terribly lonely. He had Nonna, he had children and grandchildren, but he was still so very lonely. He said once that he had nobody who remembered him as a boy. Nobody he could share memories with." She looked back out into the distance again.

"When he got like that, he used to drink the grappa he made. He'd drink until he was drunk enough that tears rolled down his face."

She sighed. "He died last year. Finally wore out. Us grandkids split up the grappa between us; there wasn't much left. We all drank some at his funeral. We drank it to mourn him, the way he drank it to mourn his friends." She looked over at him again. "From the looks of you, you could stand to mourn your lost ones, too."

She looked back out over the sporting field again, losing herself in memories of her grandfather. She didn't look around until she heard the bottle clink down on the bench next to her. She turned to see the stranger looking at her. She picked up the bottle, raising it in a toast.

"Papa, I miss you," she said, and took a swig of the grappa. It burned all the way down to her belly, making her gasp at the shock of the near-pure alcohol. The tears in her eyes might have been from the memories, but it was easier to say they were from the spirit. There were tears in the eyes of the stranger as well.

He nodded at her. "Thanks," he said. Then he rose and walked off.

He wasn't in the pub again. He just seemed to vanish as suddenly as he'd appeared.

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