"You know," said the Doctor, scratching behind Sirius' ears. "I'd quite forgotten how nice it was to have a dog around the place."
Sirius pushed against the Doctor's hand, but his ears were pricked forward towards the TARDIS door. They'd landed on Earth, somewhere with flat, green fields. The wind gusted against the open door, bringing olfactory promises that Sirius itched to explore.
The Doctor's senses weren't quite as keen as a dog's, but even he could pick up a hint of what Sirius picked up: warrens full of rabbits, fields full of mud and a sharp, feral scent coming in from the forest. "All right," he said. "Off you go, then."
The ground was soft underfoot as Sirius sprang forward from the TARDIS, out of the trees, legs long and loping across the grassy flat.
The Doctor followed behind. "Don't go too far! I'm not entirely sure this is the nineties." He turned a full circle with his head thrown back. "It feels a bit early. No radio waves. Then again, we may just be in a dip."
Sirius barked in mad delight as a rabbit crossed his path in a panic. Then he was gone, lost in a gleeful zig-zag over the field at the rabbit's heels. He almost had it; his mouth was open and watering, then a loud boom cracked the air and a hail of stinging pellets thudded into his hind leg. He yelped and rolled, then pressed his body flat against the ground.
"Oy!" The Doctor bellowed in outrage as he ran over the rough ground towards the man peering down the barrels of a gun. "You've only gone and shot my dog!"
"Don't you move!" the man bellowed, still keeping his sight on the Doctor. "What are you doing on my land? I'll bloody shoot you too, as well as your dog." He was a sturdy man in a well-mended tweed jacket, with leather boots and a well-kept rifle at his shoulder.
"Ah, dear," said the Doctor, raising his hands. "Look, I've got papers. You all right if I get them out?"
The man nodded briefly, and the Doctor slowly drew out the psychic paper. He held it up for the man.
"I can't bloody see that from here." The man kept the rifle butt at his shoulder and walked closer to peer at the open wallet. "What's the Ministry of Defence doing in Pickering?"
"Oh, we're in Yorkshire!" said the Doctor, under his breath. "Well, sir - may I call you sir? - the reason the Ministry of Defence has sent me here to Pickering is because we're considering installing a satellite."
The man watched him with a dubious expression. "And what's that when it's at home, then?"
"Can't tell you, I'm afraid," said the Doctor. "National security and all that." He watched Sirius, valiantly creeping up on the man with a determined dot and carry. "Listen, I'm not a threat, so do you mind if I look after my dog?" He pointed at Sirius, creeping low over the heather. Sirius stopped moving and gave him a baleful look.
The farmer took in the injured dog, and lowered the rifle. "All right, but you ought to be more careful, letting him run free over someone else's land. I've lost stock. I'm not taking any chances with dangerous looking dogs."
The Doctor bobbed down to pull at Sirius' ears and looked at the wound on his flank. "Poor old man, who's a poor old man, got shot in the leg, did he? We'll fix that up, we will."
Sirius tilted his head in amazement at this stream of idiotic babble, and the Doctor cleared his throat, embarrassed.
"He's a smart looking beast," said the farmer, approvingly. "Got a bit of mastiff in him, I'll wager."
"Ooh, very likely," said the Doctor. "Can you, ah, help us into town? We obviously got lost on our ramble, Sirius and I. I imagine you've got a vet or someone who can see to my dog."
The man nodded. "I'll bring the motor across."
The Doctor grinned, triumphant. "See, Sirius? Combustion engines narrow the time bracket down considerably. Can't be earlier than the twentieth century, surely." He picked Sirius up, with some effort, and carried him up the hill. "Perhaps next time, you would consider a smaller dog? I'm not as young as I once was."
The farmer's name was Willoughby, and his car was a 1910 Rolls Royce shooting-brake, to which the Doctor gave a gleeful chuckle. Sirius draped himself across the Doctor's lap, and sighed, while the Doctor pressed a handkerchief to the wound. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but the pellets stung, and Sirius itched to get his teeth into the wound and worry them out.
"Did you say you've been losing stock? To what?" The Doctor had to shout to be heard above the roar of the engine and the rattle of the chassis.
"No idea!" Willoughby bellowed over his shoulder. "Something feral, something that kills more than it can eat. Wild dog, as best as we can tell, but there's some old-timers who want to say it's a wolf. Any excuse to bring up stories of the black beast."
Sirius cocked his ears at the word 'wolf', and the Doctor stroked his head. "Picked up something out there? Wolf spoor?" he said, softly.
Sirius made the best possible shrug a dog's anatomy would allow, then rested his chin on the Doctor's leg. Whatever he'd crossed on the field, it was something that brought up his hackles and made his lips curl and his body tense, so that the wound in his leg tugged and pulled.
The Doctor pulled gently at his ears. "Don't worry, old boy. We'll be at the vet's soon."
"Now," said Willougby. "I don't want you to be shocked, or any such thing, but our veterinary, well, she's a lady. Perfectly competent, though, I assure you."
The Doctor grinned. "A lady, you say? Well, that's very forward thinking of your community. Admirable, even." He ruffled Sirius' ears, and Sirius leaned into the caress. This time, it was the Doctor who sighed. "Good dog," he said, softly.
Willoughby made a non-committal noise. "I wasn't so sure of the woman, myself, but she's every bit able to do the job. Even pulls the calves, when it's needed, and that's no small task. I would go so far as to say that she's as good as a man."
"Fancy that," said the Doctor.
Sirius did not like the veterinary surgery at all, and tried his best to convince the Doctor not to go in, but somehow he ended up on the shiny bench, while the Doctor perused the bottles in the glass-doored cabinets.
"No later than 1920," he said to Sirius, pointing out ether and sulphur and paraffin, apparently unaware that all of these things could be applied to Sirius in his current state. Then he glimpsed the printed calendar on the wall, marked with lambing season and other agricultural dates, and his finger jabbed at it, triumphant: it said April, 1913.
Doctor Headley was a surprisingly petite silver-haired woman, and she took Sirius by the scruff of his neck with a firm grip while she shook something vigorously. Sirius craned his neck to see what she held, realised it was a thermometer and yelped in outrage, scrambling to escape.
"Hold on there, old boy," she said, heartily. "This will only take a moment." In panic, Sirius let go of the transformation, and he felt himself begin to blur back to human.
The Doctor reached hastily for the thermometer. "Ah, no need for that. He's been shot, he doesn't have the flu."
"Don't be absurd," said Doctor Headley. "If I'm to treat the dog, I'm bally well going to treat him properly." She held out her hand for the thermometer, with a no-nonsense expression.
Sirius looked up at the Doctor with imploring eyes. The Doctor took pity on him, and fetched out his sonic screwdriver.
"What's that, then?" asked the vet, suspiciously.
The Doctor waved it over Sirius, and it glowed blue. "Well, it's a lot of things, but right now it's a thermal register, and it's telling me that my dog has a core body temperature of 101 F." He tucked away the screwdriver before Doctor Headley could ask any more questions.
While the vet picked pellets out of Sirius' side with forceps, the Doctor held a kidney dish for her, and quizzed her on what was killing farmers' sheep.
"Well, you can't say with the countryside." She leaned over Sirius' body and delicately lifted a pellet from the wound. "I'm not superstitious, mind you, but there's a lot of land, and we know precious little about it. Could be anything out there. But it's most likely a feral dog - I've seen some smart enough to steal bait from a trap." She reached for the last pellet, and dropped it into the dish with a clink. "The thing that worries me is what happens when they cut off the supply of sheep. Whatever it is will come looking for dinner in other places, and I'm not talking about the hen house."
Sirius whined softly on the table, and the Doctor ruffled his ears with affection. "Sounds interesting, does it, Sirius? I think we arrived just in time. Doctor Headley, can you point me and my esteemed… dog at the local establishment?"
The pub was the Red Lion Inn, which Sirius felt was nicely fortuitous. Once they had a room, Sirius shifted to human and peeled the awkwardly placed bandage from his backside to examine his buttocks in the mirror.
"Ooh, that looks nasty," said the Doctor, balancing a tray on his knee. "Fancy a pork pie? They're very good."
Sirius gently probed the wound; it was shallower in his human form, but broader. "Bloody hell, that stings."
"Where do your clothes go, when you do that?" the Doctor twirled his finger.
Sirius snatched the pork pie from him and bit into it; he was starving after all the mess and fuss of being shot. "I've never thought about it; they're just there. Part of the spell, I suppose. Are we going to stay here? I suppose I'll have to stay as Padfoot."
"Padfoot!" the Doctor exclaimed. "How Blyton-esque, I love it!" His face sobered. "Yes, I think we should stay and find out what's happening in the forest. I have a feeling." He nodded towards the window, where the sky was darkening. "Don't you sense it? Something out there, something with eyes."
Sirius chewed meditatively as he looked out the window. "Doctor, most things in the forest have eyes."
"Ah, but most of them aren't looking at us right now, are they?"
There was a brisk rapping at the door, and they both jumped.
"Who is it?" the Doctor ventured. He gestured for Sirius to stand away from the door. Sirius looked down at the gap between door and floor: a man with boots stood in the doorway.
"Sorry for the interruption," said a voice with an American accent. "Ramsay the barkeep mentioned you were from the Ministry of Defence."
"And?" The Doctor frowned. Sirius shrugged; the only Ministry he knew anything about was the Ministry for Magic, and he doubted that had any relevance here.
"I'm a civil servant, too. I'm wondering what your interest is in this matter." The man tried the handle of the door, but Sirius whipped out his wand in time. "Colloportus!" he whispered, and the bolt slid home.
"Look," said the man. "I don't really care what you and your dog are doing in there - it's a free country and I'm an open-minded kind of guy. But I'll give you your space. I'm going to slide my credentials under the door. Bring them down to me, I'll be in the taproom until closing." His boots sounded down the hallway, and Sirius heard him thumping down the stairs at a rapid pace.
"He sounded odd," said Sirius. He picked up the leather wallet.
"Yes," said the Doctor, in a long drawn-out syllable. "That was definitely not Edwardian-era vernacular."
Sirius flipped the wallet open; he didn't recognise the name. A waft of cologne, gunpowder and sex drifted up from the leather. He's from something called Torchwood."
The Doctor leapt from the bed, and the dinner tray clattered to the ground. He snatched the wallet from Sirius' hands and stared at it, wild-eyed. "Oh, this is bad. This is very, very bad."
"Why?" Sirius tidied up the dishes and stacked them on the plate.
"I know him. We've met - we will meet - but not yet. Do you understand?" The Doctor paced wildly. "I wonder if we can go out the window? It's not that high. There's got to be spell for flying, surely. Turn us into beetles or something, we'll fly all the way to the TARDIS."
The Doctor did tend to go on and on at a running pace when he got an idea in his head; Sirius had found the best way to deal with this was to make him lay out the facts, one by one. It had given him a greater appreciation for the way that Remus had talked him and James out of some really deadly ideas at Hogwarts.
"Right, you know him, in the future," Sirius said. He pushed the Doctor down into the chair, and closed the curtains before he decided to jump out of the window. "And that's why you can't meet him now."
The Doctor tapped his fingers nervously. "We could shred the fabric of time and space."
Sirius narrowed his eyes at the man. He had a good nose for melodrama. "That's not what you're really worried about, though, is it?"
"Sirius, the fabric of time and space is really very important," the Doctor began, defensively. Then he gave up under Sirius' glare, and slumped in the chair. "He was a friend; I let him down. Quite substantially. It's something I'm not very proud of."
Sirius gripped his shoulder. "We've all let friends down. You're just unlucky enough to able to meet them before the fact. Look, he's expecting to meet someone from the Ministry - but he won't recognise me. Why don't I go down and talk to him? I could see what he's found out about this beast everyone is talking about."
The Doctor chewed his lip. "He's expecting a man and a dog."
Sirius held up his wand with a grin. "That I can take care of."
A few minutes later, he looked down at the Doctor in confusion. "I don't understand. I got an O in transfiguration. Human to animal is my specialty." Sirius was very proud of his ability to distinguish between dog breeds. Cú Faoil should have given him a nice, shaggy Irish Wolfhound, as similar to Padfoot as Sirius could imagine.
The little black Scottie dog looked up at him with angry eyes like currants. He opened his mouth, presumably to tell Sirius off, but all that came out were ferocious yips. The dog strutted up and down on the wooden boards, barking in outrage. Sirius could understand the language of dogs, but this? He could barely catch a word of it, it was so strongly accented.
"Human transfigurration? I'm nae human, you ballacks! Turrrn me back, rrrright away! I cannae fly the TARDIS like this! I cannae even reach the console!"
"Ah, it will have to do," said Sirius. It was late, and people would hopefully be deep enough in their tankards not to notice that he was a completely different man with a completely different dog. He picked up the dog, tucked it under his arm, and headed down to the tap room.