Once Fitz stepped out into the vacuum, it took him a few moments to get used to the weightlessness after the artificial gravity of the TARDIS. The spacesuit was bulky and uncomfortable and his vision was obstructed by the helmet, adding to the panic that was already gripping him with its icy hands.
There was a jetpack control panel built into the sleeve of his spacesuit and he fumbled with it with shaky gloved fingers. Pressing down on it activated the thrusters. Ideally, he’d have had some practice with it, which could have prevented him from thrashing about frantically in outer space, but there was no time.
The closer Fitz moved to his goal, propelling himself into the emptiness, the clearer the Doctor’s figure became in his line of vision. Tied to the Eye of Harmony of a dead TARDIS, he drifted in space, his body lifeless like a rag doll. Time Lord or not, his chances of surviving in space without any sort of protection apart from the scant oxygen supply from the TARDIS were slim.
For a brief moment it seemed like Fitz was too late. The Doctor’s eyes were closed, the expression on his face eerily peaceful, hair floating around his head like he was underwater. Then he looked straight at Fitz, almost startling him, and gave the most pained smile Fitz had ever seen, his frozen lips cracking and tiny bubbles of blood flowing away.
“Doctor!” Fitz yelled inside his spacesuit, but of course he couldn’t hear.
Shaking with simultaneous nervousness and relief, Fitz gave him a thumbs up and proceeded to cut through the ropes tying him to the Eye of Harmony with a dagger. As he did, the Doctor seemed to have drifted off again, his eyelids falling closed, his arms limply floating around his torso.
“Come on, come on, come on,” Fitz murmured to himself.
His hands were trembling and the gloves were bulky and made any fine movement a thousand times more difficult. Finally, he severed the last of the ropes, which twisted in the vacuum like a snake in slow motion. The Doctor didn’t seem to have noticed. It must have been a good five minutes since Fitz had left the TARDIS, if not longer, and who knew how long he’d been drifting for before they’d even found him. And there was still the way back.
In hindsight, he should have probably grabbed some sort of oxygen mask for the Doctor, but he hadn’t had the time to find it and didn’t even know if there was such a thing on the TARDIS. All he could hope for was that the Doctor’s famous Time Lord physiology would get him through the journey back to the ship, although Fitz wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t already cradling a lifeless body.
He lost a few more precious moments trying to work out how to grab hold of the Doctor in a way that didn’t block his access to the jetpack controls. Whoever designed the spacesuit clearly hadn’t thought it would be used for rescue missions of that sort. In the end, Fitz held the Doctor up by the scruff, his gloved fingers squeezed around the collar of the Doctor’s coat.
“You hang on, just hang on another minute,” Fitz begged inside his helmet, knowing there was no one to hear him.
After what seemed like eternity, Fitz propelled them through the open doors of the ship, past Compassion, and collapsed onto the floor together with the Doctor under the pull of artificial gravity. Frantically, he tore the gloves, the helmet, and the jetpack off, deciding to deal with the rest of the spacesuit later.
By then, Compassion was already kneeling by the motionless supine Doctor, pulling his icy coat off. She’d prepared a pile of blankets and a change of clothes for him while Fitz had been outside—the kind of thoughtfulness he hadn’t really expected.
“Is he alive? He’s alive, isn’t he?” Fitz heard himself say, or rather, as he belatedly realised, yell.
“He’s alive,” Compassion answered. “He’s very cold, though.”
“Thank god,” Fitz breathed, unsure of what god he was thanking, and joined her in tugging the freezing, stiff clothes off the Doctor.
With surgical precision, Compassion ran a pair of scissors through his waistcoat and shirt, apparently deciding removing them in a more conventional way wasn’t worth the trouble, while Fitz worked on his shoes, socks, and trousers. The Doctor’s skin felt chilly, much more so than usual, almost burning Fitz’s hands with its cold.
Together, they managed to get the Doctor into warm pyjama bottoms, a jumper, a pair of socks, and a hooded bathrobe for good measure. He stirred a few times and, to Fitz’s immense relief, half-opened his eyes and tried to say something, albeit unsuccessfully.
“We’ve got you, Doctor,” Fitz murmured as he and Compassion dragged him onto the couch. “It’s going to be all right.”
“He’s not shivering,” Compassion noted, her voice still calm and level in a way that had always made Fitz want to scream or maybe give her a shake in case her humanity got stuck somewhere in her brain and needed a good rattle.
“I know he’s not!” Fitz snapped, realising there were only so many blankets he could possibly put atop the Doctor before crushing him. “What do we do?”
The Doctor murmured again, although it was impossible to tell what he was attempting to say, even if it was English or some other language that the TARDIS translated. Still, it was something.
Fitz didn’t know how to go about his wet hair. Should have tried to remove the ice crystals before they melted, he realised. He contemplated begging the TARDIS for a hairdryer, but then remembered hearing that it was a very bad idea and had a go at drying the Doctor’s hair with the edge of one of the blankets.
“I’ll get him some tea,” said Compassion and Fitz threw his hands in the air in frustration. How exactly were they supposed to pour tea into him if he was barely awake?
At least he was alive. The TARDIS wouldn’t let him die, would she? Fitz felt the temperature in the control room rising, or maybe it just seemed that way because of all the adrenaline in his own body.
Finally, he got rid of the spacesuit and dumped it on the floor by the couch, immediately feeling much less claustrophobic. For lack of a better idea, he dived under the covers and brought the Doctor’s limp body to his chest.
“Come on, Doctor,” Fitz said, arms wrapped around him tightly, hoping it would be enough to communicate his body heat. “I’ve got you. It’s all right. Come back to us. Please, please, Doctor. Come back.”
The Doctor tried to say something, but his speech was slurred and indiscernible, just hums and mumbles and chattering teeth. Chattering teeth!
Fitz’s heart jumped for joy.
“Yes-yes-yes, that’s great, you’re going great!” he exclaimed.
By the time Compassion returned with a teapot and an empty cup, the Doctor was shaking violently, clutching the blankets, his limbs drawn to his body, still unsettlingly pale but much more alive. Fitz squeezed the Doctor’s freezing hands between his own, trying to warm them up.
“Here, drink it,” Compassion said, sitting down on the edge of the couch.
She filled the cup, dropped a straw into it, and held it up for the Doctor, who desperately grasped the straw between his lips. He drank slowly, seemingly too tired even for that simple action, but as minutes passed and he finished his second serving, life forces started returning to him. He dropped his head on Fitz’s shoulder, still trembling, but nowhere near as badly as before.
Finally, the Doctor spoke slurringly, his cracked lips stretching into a semblance of a smile.
“It’s lovely tea, Compassion.”
Fitz laughed with delight.
“Thank you. Good to be on solid ground. Weightlessness is not really my thing.”
“Still don’t know how you managed to pull it off. Survive out there for so long, I mean.”
“Time Lord physiology. Takes a little longer to kill us. Still, doubt I would have lasted much longer.”
“Good thing you have us, then, eh?” Fitz grinned.
“Best decision I’ve ever made. Thank you,” he said, turning more fully to Fitz and then to Compassion, who’d by then moved to the nearby armchair, probably satisfied that the Doctor wasn’t going to die on them.
“How are you feeling?” Fitz asked, suddenly aware of their position. He fidgeted, contemplating how to slide out from behind the Doctor without making it into a big deal.
“Like I’ve just floated in outer space without a spacesuit for almost seventeen minutes,” he said in a lighthearted tone incongruous with the meaning.
“Fair enough. Can I get you anything?”
“Oh,” the Doctor contemplated his answer for a few moments. “Something to eat would be marvellous. Maybe some French toast? And some more tea, if you’d be so kind. And maybe something sweet to restore my blood sugar.”
“I don’t know how to make French toast,” Compassion said preemptively.
Fitz shook his head with amusement, euphoric they’d made it. He’d watched the Doctor prepare French toast for him and Sam, and then Compassion, a few times before and it was approximately at the limit of Fitz’s own culinary skills.
“Get him some soup,” Compassion advised, watching him head to the galley.
When Fitz reemerged with a tray and a couple of new burn marks on his arms from throwing the bread into the pan in what in hindsight he recognised as a rather suboptimal way, the Doctor wasn’t on the couch. He looked around with slight and probably misplaced worry. Compassion, who was also worse for wear, had nodded off in her armchair and was snoring quietly—the most human he’d seen her in ages, if ever.
Fitz found the Doctor in his ridiculously large bedroom, sitting under a pile of covers in his ridiculously large four-poster bed, only his head sticking out from underneath the duvet. He beamed and tucked straight into the still warm toast.
“Thank you, Fitz. I daresay it is the best French toast you’ve made so far.”
“It’s the only French toast I’ve ever made.”
“Well, it’s a good first attempt. Next time you may want to go a little easier on the cinnamon.”
“Just eat up.”
The Doctor smiled at him over his cup of tea, the mischievous glint back in his eyes. Fitz took a sip from his own cup. The adrenaline was beginning to wear out and he realised how tired and shaken he was himself.
“How did you find me?” the Doctor asked.
“Holsred showed me how to track you using a piece of the TARDIS.”
The smile on the Doctor’s face grew wider, cracking his lips further than before.
“That’s quite brilliant,” he said. “Well done, Fitz. Very well done.”
He pushed the empty tray aside and leaned in to give Fitz a hug. It was a very good I’m-happy-we’re-both-alive hug, Fitz noted. Colour had returned to the Doctor’s face and although he looked tired, nothing in his appearance gave away what he’d been through barely an hour ago. He always healed fast, but then he also bore the brunt of most of their misadventures.
There would be time, probably very soon, to talk about what had happened, although Fitz was pretty sure he could live knowing nothing about it. For now, he was content with just holding the Doctor, drawing comfort from his embrace. Happy they were both alive, too.