Jamie folded his arms, determined to stand his ground, even though he was, in fact, sitting up in bed. “I saw it in one of those talking pictures. He had to keep chopping off people’s heads.”
“You don’t have to chop off anyone’s head, Jamie,” said the Doctor. He finished tidying away the medical instruments and closed the cupboard. Jamie was still looking at him when he turned around. The Doctor sighed and added, “And no-one’s going to try and chop off yours either, I promise.”
“You’re sure, Doctor? This isn’t one of those really important things you’ve just forgotten?”
The Doctor frowned. “I’m quite sure. That was a television series that you saw, and they really will put any old nonsense on the box, especially in the twentieth century. In future, you’d probably be best to stick to cartoons. Now, do you feel up to seeing Zoe?”
“Aye, all right,” Jamie said, his expression softening. “I mean, I’m fine really. I feel fine. It’s just a bit of a shock.”
“I imagine it would be.” The Doctor opened the door and beckoned Zoe in. She peered round the door with wide eyes, but when Jamie gave her a smile and little wave she rushed over and embraced him in a hug that did its best to crush his ribs, despite her small size.
“Oh, I am sorry, Jamie,” she said, as she sat down by his bed. “I really don’t remember very much at all. I don’t think I had all that much control over it really.” She hesitated, then placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure it must mean that the TARDIS likes you very much.”
Jamie didn’t know whether to be offended or insulted. “Well,” he said to the Doctor, “at least it means you can’t keep on griping about me putting myself in danger.”
“I most certainly can,” the Doctor said firmly. “You can still die, Jamie. You just don’t stay dead, and I can assure you that that doesn’t make it any less of an unpleasant experience.”
Both his companions turned to stare at him and he shrugged awkwardly. Before either could ask he said, “Once. And it may very well happen again. But really it’s nothing you need to worry about, not right now.”
“So you’re like Jamie, Doctor?” said Zoe, her voice tinged with a hint of accusation.
“No, not at all!” He swallowed, realised he’d sounded rather harsher than he’d intended. “No,” he repeated, “no, this is quite different.” He took Zoe by her shoulders and his voice was soft and serious. “Zoe, you did what no-one is ever supposed to do, you looked into the heart of the TARDIS, into the Vortex itself. You should have died. You would have if Jamie here hadn’t, well, hadn’t-”
“Quite,” said the Doctor. “You brought him back to life, but you gave him the life of the Vortex; eternal life, unchanging throughout the ages. Jamie cannot, will not, ever stay dead.”
Zoe turned around to look at Jamie. He looked better than she felt, but of course the Doctor must have explained all this to him already. He reached out a hand towards her and she took it in both of her own.
Stupid, stupid Doctor. Changing his face and exiling him to Earth? This is what he gets for doing the sensible thing and calling his own people for help? Well, never again. Pompous idiots. There should have been another way, something he missed. He stared at the implacable faces of his accusers, afraid of the answer, but he had to ask: “What about Jamie and Zoe?”
“The girl will be sent home but we cannot undo what has been done to the boy. He cannot go home, Doctor, and so he must go with you. He is your responsibility.”
“Oh, don’t you worry lass. Just as soon as he’s woken up, the Doctor’ll get us right out of this mess,” said Jamie when the situation with the meteors had been explained to him. Liz Shaw folded her arms, thoroughly sick of hearing about this ‘Doctor’ person and more than a little perplexed by the strange young man who had trouble reading yet seemed perfectly at ease with the idea of aliens and advanced future technology.
She looked up from her microscope to see him perched on the edge of her lab bench. “UNIT called me in to investigate this business,” she said, “and I intend to do so. If your Doctor friend ever bothers to show up, well, he’s welcome to help out.”
Jamie smiled, seemingly immune to her caustic tone. “He’ll be here,” he said. “Just in the nick of time too, probably.”
Liz rolled her eyes at his almost dreamy tone and folded her arms. “Well, I intend to have this investigation concluded rather before the nick of time. Pass me that test tube, Mr McCrimmon, I’m going to show you just how brilliant I am.”
“You do know, sir, that I already have an assistant, Jamie. He’s Scottish, you know.”
The White Guardian inclined his head. “He is insufficient.”
“He’s quite good.” The Doctor adjusted his scarf, still not quite able to summon the courage to look the Guardian in the eye. “I mean he’s learned a lot. Being around me that tends to happen, of course. I’m sure he’ll do.”
“You will have a new assistant, Doctor. That is my final decision.”
“Well, yes, sir. If you insist.”
Jamie pulled Romana free of the falling door and out of reach of the Shrievenzale. She clung to him and he couldn’t help but notice the sweet scent of her hair. “It’s all right, lass,” he said, patting her shoulder. “But if you scream like that for such a wee beastie, you’ll have no breath left for when a real monster sneaks up on you.”
“You stupid idiot!”
“What was I supposed to do, Doctor? You think I could just walk away and let you die when I knew I might be able to survive it?”
The Doctor stared, looking at Jamie and seeing the centuries they’d spent together, tumbling back like dominoes until there was only the determined young piper, fighting to keep his chieftain alive. “Course you couldn’t,” he said. “Come on then, better get you back to the TARDIS.”
“I’m fine.” Of course he was, on the outside, always. But the Doctor was in no mood to argue.
“Right,” he said. “Well, we’d better get me back to the TARDIS then. I’ve just regenerated and we know how that usually goes.”
“Aye, must have been something — what went wrong with the accent?”
“Nothing went wrong with it."
“Then how come you sound like you’re from the south?”
“I’ve always sounded like I’m from the south.”
“Well, I’m not spending every regeneration sounding like you. Once was more than enough, thanks.”
“I thought it was very sweet of you.”
The Doctor stared at him. “It was an accident,” he said, “a horrible, horrible accident.”
“I’m gonna accidently drop you in a minute,” muttered Jamie.
“Are we in Scotland?” asked the Doctor, his accent changing suddenly. Jamie stared at him, horrified.
“Don’t do that,” he said.
“What?” said the Doctor, “Och, yer honest sonsie face, great chieftain o the-”
“That,” said Jamie. “Don’t do that. Really. Just don’t.”
The Doctor pulled a face then stuck out his arm at the soldier who’d greeted them. “Doctor James McCrimmon,” he said brightly, “at your service.”
Jamie scowled, but didn’t miss a beat. “Mr John Smith,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”
“You know,” said the Doctor, as they strolled back to the TARDIS some time later, “I had no idea there was so many ninjas in 19th century Scotland.”
“Oh, aye,” said Jamie. “We had a lot of those back in my day too, and werewolves. Course, their presence has always been a well-kept secret, known only to the clan pipers.”
“Has it really?” asked the Doctor, bouncing a few steps ahead and turning around. He walked backwards, hands stuffed in his coat pockets.
Jamie looked at him. “Doctor, would I ever lie to you?”