Jacques Bonnefoy coughed, a horribly wet sound, and drew in another wheezing breath. His fingers strained, scratching at the leather cover of his manual. If he could just open it—
Something hit his side, sending him rolling down the hill, his blood staining the grass. He screamed, high-pitched and agonized; when he stopped rolling and his vision cleared, it was to see the dark figure standing over him, Its eyes glinting through the shadows of Its face.
“You,” It said, “are going nowhere fast, wizard.”
“I’m going to go through you,” Jacques managed. It left him desperately blinking spots away from his vision, but he wasn’t about to just agree with the Lone Power.
“You’re going to die,” the Lone Power corrected him. It raised a booted foot, nearly as shadowy as its face, and rested it casually on his chest. “Very soon.” The foot pressed down; Jacques bit his lips together until a fresh scream ripped through them anyway. When the pressure let up he scrabbled at the grass, trying to get away, to move, to—manual, manual, that was his way out—
The Lone Power tsked, and stepped sharply on his hand. Jacques tried to pull free and wound up coughing again.
“No more trips for you, Jacques Bonnefoy,” the Lone Power said. It bent down and took his chin in a bruising grip. “No more spells. No more adventures.” He had a fancy It was smiling, could hear it in Its voice, and wasn’t that the most awful thing to listen to when he could barely breathe— “You are going to die here, betrayed, friendless, and alone. No one will mourn you longer than it takes to drink a toast.”
Jacques opened his mouth to protest, frantically ignoring the ringing in his ears—but It was right, wasn’t It, he was alone, he’d been left behind—abandoned—the Doctor had left him, no one had come with him—no, that was wrong, Dawn had, petite little Dawn from a planet he barely knew, but he’d driven her away, hated that he had, knew it was inevitable with the way they argued—
The Lone Power’s smile widened. “Good night, little wizard,” It crooned. There was a hard stamp on his fingers—his own cry in his ears—and then he was gasping desperately, clawing at the pressure on his ribs with both hands as he choked on blood laced screams—
“He can’t die!” someone yelled. He could barely hear at that point, hardly see a thing; his focus had narrowed significantly. The emotion came through, though, not that he could quite identify it. “He can’t die! Stop it!”
“Of course he can die,” the Lone Power said. It sounded almost…patient? Pleased? Jacques didn’t care about anything past the fact that the pressure had lightened very, very slightly. “As you can see, it won’t be long. And then,” It added, with what was definitely humor, “you might want to run again. Or stay. We can have some…fun if you do.”
“He can’t die here,” the other person insisted. Her voice shook slightly. “You said he’ll die betrayed, friendless, and alone—well, he isn’t. He still has friends, and he isn’t alone.”
The Lone Power stepped away with a snarl. Jacques’ head fell back as he sucked in breath after struggling breath. “You’re trying my patience, wizard. What did he do to make you think this was a good idea?” Its voice turned mocking. “Did he kiss you? Is that it? Are you trailing after him to get anoth—?”
“I cast a spell,” Dawn interrupted. Jacques knew her voice now that he could think a little: soft, high-pitched and light, weird accent that even carried over into the Speech sometimes. “You said very clearly how he’s going to die—well, that’s it. That’s how it’s going to happen. Which means it can’t happen now, because he isn’t alone, he isn’t friendless, and there are people around who’d mourn him for a very long time, so he can’t die. Let him go.”
Jacques turned his head in the silence that followed, gritting his teeth against the effort it took. He was in time to see Dawn glaring up at the Lone Power through wet eyes in the seconds before It spoke.
“You did what?”
Dawn shivered at the ice in Its voice, but squared her shoulders anyway. “I cast a spell. With your words. He can’t die here anymore—as of a minute ago, you’ve just been torturing him pointlessly.” She raised her chin; the shadowy figure towered over her, far higher than any human could. “So you’re going to have to let him go.”
“Or,” said the Lone Power, Its voice nothing short of venomous, “I could kill you here and torture him for eternity. And I won’t take my time about killing you.” It reached for her; Dawn scrambled backward, eyes so panic-wide Jacques tried to sit up before he could think.
“Stop—” he gasped. The Lone Power turned automatically toward the sound; Dawn raced around It in a circle that was barely wide enough, and fell to her knees clutching Jacques’ shoulder.
The Lone Power lunged. Dawn spoke a single breathless word.
The browning little hill and the bleak grey sky vanished. Jacques blinked, decided vaguely that the sharp sensation on his back must be caused by daggers, and fainted.
He came to an indeterminate amount of time later, in what was quickly identifiable as a hospital bed. Turning his head the other way brought Dawn into view: she was staring down at one of the books she always carried with her by means of a spell, and occasionally wiping away tears.
“I’m not dead,” he said. It came out hoarse and made Dawn start violently, but he had to hear it. “I—” Slowly, he raised a hand to his chest and pressed: pain, but nowhere near as sharp as he remembered.
“Don’t do that,” Dawn snapped. Her voice broke; she tried to smile at him even as she wiped away fresh tears. “You’re awake. Are you—do you feel okay?” She reached toward his hand, but pulled back before making contact.
“I can breathe,” Jacques said after a moment. “Doesn’t feel like I’m being stabbed repeatedly, or crushed slowly, either.” He regretted the detail when Dawn’s face crumpled momentarily. “I, uh—I feel better, anyway. Like I’ve just had a whole lot of bruises and done something to my throat?”
“There’s water,” Dawn said immediately. The words came out very soft; when she looked at him again, her face was reddened and damp, but steadier. “There’s this dissolving thing, too—they said it’d help your throat. I can—?”
“Please,” Jacques said.
There was relative silence for a bit as Dawn helped him drink and gave him what he recognized fairly quickly as a QuikDisolve Throat Save lozenge. Once it was gone, he caught her hand. “You brought us to my planet?”
“Not the first jump,” Dawn said. After a long moment, her fingers curled around his with careful strength. “I just—you keep saying there’s better medical technology here, and you were—you looked awful, so I thought… Well, it seemed like a good idea.”
“It was,” Jacques said. He squeezed her hand. “Thank you. They can do a lot more for me here than on your—” He swallowed down the words ‘primitive planet,’ suddenly and awkwardly aware that this would actually be the very worst context he’d ever said them in. “Uh, there are some useful advances here.”
“I know,” Dawn said quietly. She’d been free of tears for some minutes, but now he could see more welling up. “We only got here yesterday—yesterday evening, actually. You’ve been here less than twenty-four hours, and they’ve already got you a lot more healed.” She wiped her eyes with her free hand. “I’m sorry, I can’t seem to stop—”
“It’s okay,” Jacques said immediately. “Dawn, no—it’s fine. I promise.” He tugged at their joined hands, willing her to look at him. “I’d be crying, too.” A blatant lie, but at least it got her to raise her eyebrows instead of hunching in on herself.
“Of course I would,” he said. His smirk faded quickly as he eyed her. “Dawn—what the hell made you come back?”
Dawn frowned at him. “Wh—I—that’s your question?”
“Yes,” Jacques said. “What made you come back? You were free and clear. Hell, you made it pretty clear you were going home. What changed your mind?”
Dawn’s mouth turned down at the corners. She wiped at her eyes again, then gave up. “It’s a suicide mission. You were—and you knew, and you went in anyway—”
Jacques shook his head, wincing. “No—you already knew that. What changed your mind?”
Dawn looked at him, and then away. “I—didn’t want the last memory we had of each other to be that argument, with the wishing I’d never met you and—”
“Dawn,” Jacques said quietly. He waited until she looked at him again. “What’s the real reason? The big one you don’t want to tell me?”
Dawn’s fingers tightened around his. Her throat worked; she shook her head, only to make the mistake of meeting his eyes.
She winced, and looked quickly away. “I just—I couldn’t do it. Okay? I thought it—might be the better option, because you keep telling all those stories about your, your incredible escapes from the jaws of death, and yes, Jacques, you did use that exact phrase, I heard you—” She shook her head and stared down at their hands. Seated, shoulders slumped, oversized jean jacket discarded over the back of her chair, she looked very small. She hadn’t bothered to redo her braid; about half of her long hair had pulled halfway free, hanging in loose loops around her face and shoulders. “I don’t—I mean, I do, I do know why you called me a coward, and you’re right, you’re—you’re completely right. I am. I really, really am. I was so, so relieved to have an excuse to walk away.” She sniffled, and swiped half-heartedly at her eyes. “But I just—I kept remembering how hurt you looked that time, you know the one, that time you told me you missed your friends…”
He did. He’d told her several stories about the Doctor and Rose, and not just about them: about John, about the people he’d worked for, about—but this had been different. This had been quiet, on an evening when they sat shoulder to shoulder against a rock on a beach, Dawn blinking sleepily now and again. For once, they’d stopped getting on each other’s nerves and just…talked. He’d told her about being left behind, then, about what it felt like to be betrayed. He’d talked about the panic of waking up to find two years erased from his memory, a little about the despair of getting his best friend killed…and then, very softly, he’d told her about watching the Doctor vanish and waiting far too long for him to come back. It was the first time she’d hugged him for longer than a few seconds, and she’d asked before doing it.
“I remember,” he told her. His voice felt strained, even with the lozenge still working.
“Yeah,” Dawn said. “I guess you would.” She shrugged and looked at him again, barely holding eye contact. “I just—I didn’t, I don’t, want to be one of the people making you feel like that. Even if you were probably about to—especially if you were about to—I just couldn’t. It would’ve been better to keep walking away, but I…you know that phrase, ‘I couldn’t live with myself’?” She waited until Jacques nodded. “Yeah. I couldn’t do it. I don’t know if maybe you were saying that stuff on purpose to make me go—?”
“I was,” Jacques said. It hadn’t been quite that well thought out at the time, with anger buzzing through his veins, but he hated how uncertain she sounded. Besides, he’d come to that idea himself soon enough after it had really started to work.
“Okay,” Dawn said. She wiped her eyes again; this time, no fresh tears emerged. “Well, anyway. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to remember I’d done that for the rest of my life, so I came back. I had no idea if there was anything I could really do, but—”
“You saved my life,” Jacques said, trying not to sound incredulous. Given Dawn’s grimace, some of it must have made it through. “I don’t know how you managed it—”
“I cast a spell,” Dawn said. “Really, really quickly. Um.” She cleared her throat. “I…might have written your death into your Name.”
Jacques stared at her. “I’m sorry, what?”
Dawn winced. “I—I couldn’t think of anything else. The Lone Power was—” She swallowed hard, fingers clenching around the edge of the book in her lap. “Jacques, you didn’t see it. You were—you were—I’ve never heard anyone sound like that. And the Lone Power said, um, that you’d die…betrayed, friendless, alone, and mourned for however long it takes to drink a toast. And there, but thinking of how to describe the place was taking too long, so I couldn’t put that in. But that’s what I did. The Lone Power said that that’s how you’ll die, so I wrote it in, and—and it wasn’t true right then, so you couldn’t die, so—and then I jumped us to Earth. And then here.”
“You wrote my death into my Name,” Jacques said slowly. “I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or hor—” He looked up and saw her face. “I…guess it might be brilliant? It got us out, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Dawn mumbled. Her shoulders slumped. “Look, I’m not sorry I did it, but…I’m sorry if it ends up causing problems. I just wanted to get you out alive.”
Jacques nodded. “Yeah, okay. Alright.” He shook his head minutely. “I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before.”
“I hope no one ever has to again,” Dawn said. She squeezed his hand. “Um—are you hungry, maybe? I think I’m kind of hungry.”
Jacques frowned at her. “When’s the last time you ate?”
“Yesterday,” Dawn said immediately. “They insisted. But now I’m actually a bit hungry, and if you are too…”
“I wouldn’t mind something so long as it goes down easy,” Jacques said.
Dawn nodded, and got to her feet. “I’ll go find something. Or someone who can find us something.” She hesitated, looking down at him. “Will you be okay here?”
Jacques nodded, and brushed his lips against her knuckles before letting go. “I’ll be fine. Go on.”
Dawn hesitated, then nodded and went out the door, leaving Jacques to stare up at the ceiling.
His death was in his Name now. That was just…
He couldn’t think about it for too long without the details blurring together with the feeling of the Lone Power’s foot pressing down on him. He turned panic-sharp thoughts towards the only other thing that bore thinking about just then: he now owed his life to a twenty-first century Earth girl he thought he’d burned all his ties to not so long before he’d confronted the Lone Power—
But there was that feeling again, so he turned away. Maybe he’d get Dawn to read some of her book to him; with any luck, it might actually be good.
Accentuate the positive, he thought firmly. He was back on his own planet, alive, and with medical care that would get him back on his feet within days instead of weeks or months. He’d actually survived an encounter with the Lone Power that had injured him to the point of choking on his own blood. And, perhaps best of all, his newest friend (‘newest,’ as though they hadn’t already known each other for most of a year) was apparently the sort to come back for him even if she was terrified.
Forget hospital food—once he dulled the faintly nauseated feeling that QuikDisolve lozenges always gave him, he wanted to celebrate.