Authors note: Oh yeah! Despite my best intentions I kind of forgot to finish this didn't I? It would be only polite to round things up and explain what the heck is going on. Sorry for the delay! Now what story should I tackle next? Suggestions gratefully received, although no promises on completing any or all any time this century!
The Doctor let out an almost girlish giggle of glee as he flung an arm around the stiff shoulders of the deeply affronted Dr Cameron.
"See Rose!" he crowed. "I've always said there was no problem on Earth that couldn't be fixed by sitting down with a nice cup of tea. Turns out that that was an understatement!"
Cameron shrugged away from the arm, taking a step backwards as she stared around the gathering crowd in alarm. She seemed to gather some measure of reassurance as her eyes alighted on a familiar limping figure arriving at the rear of the gathering.
Chase pushed his way to the front of the group, grasping the brown haired doctor by the shoulder as he peered intently into her slightly dilated eyes. "Alison! Are you feeling okay?" he demanded urgently. "You were practically cataleptic a few minutes ago."
"Oh, she'll probably feel a bit groggy for a while. Coming out from under a blood control spell is bound to knock a few brain cells out of alignment!" the Doctor commented blithely, before patting the slim woman on her other shoulder. "Still, could be worse, I once knew a man who was hypnotised and never snapped out of it. Ended up chasing anything in a dress. What's worse, was that it didn't even suit him."
Cameron blinked at this in slack-jawed astonishment. It was Cuddy's voice that cracked out in incredulous scorn at his statements. "Are you trying to say half of my staff have been placed under some sort of magic spell?"
The Doctor grinned at her whilst waving his hand in a rather patronising gesture. "Weeeelll" he drawled "Only magic as defined by Clarke's third law*. In actuality, the Sycorax were transmitting a stream of Arctron energy, focussed through a specific biocellular sample, in order to override the neuroreceptors in their victims' brains. Comes across like a cheap bit of voodoo to scare the pants off of a primitive society leaving them ripe for a takeover."
Cuddy blinked at him for a moment before throwing both hands up in frustration. "I don't believe this!" She exploded. "This whole situation is just completely impossible."
The Doctor grinned. "Ah, well that's where Clarke's second law, and my personal favourite, comes in. 'The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.'" He leaned forward to give her a conspiratorial wink. "I admit I gave Arthur a bit of help with that one, it's kind of my specialty!"
Rose gave a snort from behind him, folding her arms in fond exasperation. "Go on then, give them the technobabble speech!" she urged him with a grin. "You won't be satisfied until we can all appreciate just how you brilliantly you've managed to save the day again!"
The Doctor spun to give her a glare of affronted dignity, the hem of his paper gown flapping around his knees. The frown lasted all of three seconds before it crumpled into a cheeky grin. "Oh well, it was sort of brilliant now that you come to mention it. There aren't many people who have such supreme physiological control of their autonomic cellular processes to be able to bioengineer a worldwide signal hack using their own body as a transmitter." He shrugged in exaggerated modesty. "I couldn't resist the elegance of the solution, considering our current surroundings. You could even call it haematopoetic*"
House rolled his eyes and let out a brief snort and the Doctor stood on his bare tiptoes to peer over the shoulders of Chase and Foreman to bathe him with his most brilliant grin.
"See? It's all worked out for the best. If we had ended up in London like I'd planned, no-one would have got that pun!" The grin vanished as quickly as it had come as the Doctor's mobile features pulled themselves into a reproachful pout. "Although, whilst I have stopped expecting applause for my brilliance, I was kind of hoping for more than a snort of derision!" he grumbled. "Do you know how hard it is to manipulate the formation of 2.4 million erythrocytes a second?" He flung an arm around Rose's shoulders, giving her a squeeze whilst continuing "Especially whilst undergoing a well meaning ultrasonic attack". Rose took a few seconds to stiffen in indignation at the insult but was distracted as she noticed a small grimace of genuine discomfort cutting creases in the Doctor's forehead.
"You're okay, though, right?" she demanded in sudden alarm, shifting beneath his arm until she could slide her own in a protective embrace around the skinny ribcage.
He smiled down at her soothingly. "'Course I'm okay! I always am aren't I?" He raised his free hand to run long fingers through the messy fringe at his left temple. "I just have a bit of a …"
He froze as a movement caught his eye. Raising one eyebrow, he cast an interested glance over the trim figure of the white-coated doctor standing before him, her arm raised to her head in an eerily parallel gesture.
"Are you alright Dr Cameron?" he asked in a suddenly intent voice, breaking free from Rose's protective embrace.
Cameron lowered her arm slowly to her side, shrugging herself out of a bewildered daydream. "I… I think so" she stammered, then winced. "Apart from what feels like a galactic sized hangover!" she grumbled, then flinched as the Doctor's hands shot up to hover a few inches from either side of her forehead.
"May I?" he asked quietly. Then, ignoring her look of confusion, he touched feather light fingertips to the corners of her eyebrows.
The Doctor closed his eyes in concentration for a moment and then dropped his arms, letting out a quiet "Ah!" He shuffled back, flicking a rather sheepish grin towards Rose. "Ooops!"
House's voice cracked out in cold suspicion "Ooops? What 'oops'?"
The Doctor turned towards him and shrugged nonchalantly, holding his hand up palm out in a conciliatory gesture, although the way he shifted from foot to foot gave a distinct impression of concealed embarrassment. "I may have underestimated the power of the signal just a smidge" he murmured, holding his finger and thumb in front of his face to indicate a trivial gap. "Well, I was still awash with Arctron energy myself after my regeneration" he muttered defensively to no-one in particular. He turned back to face Cameron again, talking soothingly. "Now it's nothing to be alarmed about, but I may have left behind in you and the others a slight… echo."
Alison raised perfectly sculpted eyebrows in bewildered alarm. "What?" she queried in a deeply confused tone.
The Doctor patted her reassuringly on the shoulder once more. "Oh it's nothing to be worried about really, but I may have left a portion of the planet's population a little … um .. Doctored!"
Rose let out an amazed bark of laughter. "Oh God!" she snorted. "Be afraid! Be very afraid!" she ground out sardonically, ignoring the Doctor's glare of disapproval.
"It won't be permanent!" he snapped at her huffily before turning back to Cameron. "Red blood cells have a limited lifespan in the body before they're replaced. You should be back to normal in … oooooh .." he paused for a guilty second before continuing "a maximum of three to four months." He smiled a sickly grin at her blank face. "But in the meantime you might want to stay away from a few things, like strong magnetic fields, and raspberry jam, the kind with the seeds in. Oh and cats, I never could get the hang of cats. Thursday mornings may get a bit interesting for a while, and you probably shouldn't…" He trailed off as he detected Rose's growing grin. "Okay, okay, I might have been a little premature on the whole 'elegance' thing, but I did break the hypnotic lock and so have eliminated the Sycorax's whole blackmail 'We can make millions jump to their death unless you surrender' ploy." He squared his shoulders inside the overlarge leather jacket. "All that remains is to take a little trip upstairs to their spaceship and negotiate a truce, now that we're in a stronger bargaining position…"
His words were cut off as the large foyer was suddenly flooded with a blinding white light as the whole of the mirrored front of the hospital lit up. The glass panes rattled in their frames as a thunderclap echoed out beneath a night sky that was momentarily brighter than the brightest New Jersey day.
The Doctor froze for a moment, then darted forward, barging his way between the frozen forms of Chase and Foreman to hurl himself headlong down the staircase to the main lobby below. Rose barely lost a second before she was off after him, the others breaking out of their startled immobility to follow more slowly a moment later.
They caught up to him just outside the main doors of the hospital. He was standing barefoot on the tarmac outside, staring up bleakly at the falling snow, the slim blue-tipped wand clutched forlornly in one hand.
Rose reached out a tentative hand towards him. "What's wrong, Doctor?" she queried softly, then flinched back as he lowered his eyes to pierce her with a tight glare of unbearable bitterness.
"Oh, just the usual human response" he bit out cynically. "A whole head for an eye, isn't that the philosophy?" His shoulders slumped in defeat as he glanced down at the sonic screwdriver in his hand. "It looks like someone's gotten their hands on some alien tech and worked out how to use it." he muttered, then continued softly, almost below hearing. "You know sometimes I wonder if I have it the right way round, believing that I'm protecting humanity from the monsters."
There was an awkward frozen stillness that hung in the cold air of the barren threshold, before Rose reached out a hand again, laying it gently on the Doctor's arm.
"At least come inside out of this snow before you catch cold" she murmured, glancing down at his bare legs.
The Doctor's jaw loosened slightly as he looked down at her. "It's not snow." he informed her dully. "It's ash. The remains of the Sycorax spaceship breaking up in the atmosphere after someone blew it out of the sky." He smiled bleakly. "I guess my negotiation skills won't be needed after all."
Chase spoke up hesitantly from the doorway. "But isn't this a good thing? Weren't the … um … Sycorax" he stumbled over the word, his voice laced with uncertainty and embarrassment. "Weren't they the bad guys?"
The Doctor snorted softly, his expression still grim as he let Rose gently tug him towards the cover of the entryway. "I guess everything's relative" he muttered quietly. The harsh lines of his face softened thoughtfully as he watched Dr Cameron reach out a hand to catch one of the falling gray flakes on a forefinger before closing her eyes with a shudder and turning away.
House collapsed back into his chair, gazing with vacant eyes across the clutter of his desk, his mind a million miles away. He reached absent-mindedly for his oversized tennis ball with one hand whilst listening to the muted uproar of the hospital drifting from the rooms all around his office. No-one was quite clear on what exactly had transpired that cold Christmas morning, and the uncertainty was fuelling the hysteria and mindless panic until the whole building resembled an overturned ant heap.
There had been pandemonium as a belated rush of bewildered hospital staff, patients and visitors, drawn by the flash of light, streamed out of the hospital and clustered around Cuddy like flies on dung. In the heaving and shouting press of people, House had lost sight of the Doctor and his companion, and no-one seemed inclined to give him a sensible answer as to where they'd gone.
House leaned back in his seat, levering his long denim clad legs up until they rested, crossed at the ankles, on the edge of his desk, providing a little relief from the throbbing pain that was cramping his ravaged thigh muscle more insistently than normal. He tossed the tennis ball to his left hand and reached his right into the tight pocket of his jeans, pulling loose the small test tube of blood that his mysterious patient had tossed to him, and which was all that he had to remember him by. Much to his chagrin, by the time he'd brutally elbowed his way out of the mêlée and returned to the lab, it had been annoyingly thoroughly and systematically denuded of any traces of the evening's excitement.
He stared thoughtfully at the tube, pivoting it up and down between two fingers until it resembled one of those drinking bird desk-toys. The dark viscous liquid sloshed backwards and forwards in a depressingly familiar way.
He wasn't quite sure how long he'd sat there, in the gradually brightening room, but he was aware of the electric sensation of another personality invading his sanctum a good few seconds before the soft, apologetic cough broke the silence.
He looked up, his iceberg cool gaze clashing with a warm burnt umber intensity. There was a complicated pause as a hundred conversational gambits were clearly considered and discarded.
It was the Doctor who made the first move, crossing over from the doorway to drag the leather recliner from the corner of the office to a more conversational distance in front of House's desk, then flopping down into it with a whoomph of exhaustion.
House raised an eyebrow at the rumpled man in front of him, taking in the creased, tight fitting brown pinstripe suit and the long brown trenchcoat that seemed to sit easily on his lanky frame.
"I'm surprised to see you back here." House finally grated out. "I had you pegged for a more love 'em and leave 'em type and to hell with the aftermath!"
The Doctor cocked his head slightly, a tight smile pulling at his pointed features. "I suppose I am, in a manner of speaking. But I can't abide loose ends" he murmured softly.
House tightened his fist over the tube of blood, but the Doctor wasn't looking at that. His gaze never wavered from House's face. "Discounting for a moment your dubious intentions and understandable ignorance, it occurs to me that, despite everything, I suppose you could say that I owe you my life." The Doctor's speech was slightly halting and he shifted slightly in the low chair, obviously uncomfortable under House's slight smirk.
House raised the other eyebrow, abandoning his nonchalant pose and letting his feet fall down from the desk as he leant forward intently.
"And are you going to repay that debt by giving me a few straight answers?" he demanded hotly.
The Doctor didn't flinch from the sudden belligerence. He stared calmly at House, one side of his mouth quirked in a crooked grin.
"That depends" he spoke in an affable tone, steepling his fingers together lightly beneath his chin. "On whether you have the courage to ask the right questions."
House narrowed his eyes, the muscles of his jaw tightening as he leaned forward, elbows on knees, to pierce the shorter man with a hostile gaze.
There was a long expectant pause, then House abruptly broke eye contact with a violent shake of his head. "This is ridiculous!" he spat out. "I know what you want me to think but that sort of thing is pure escapist fantasy for weak-minded idiots who can't face dealing with the real problems before them. I'm a doctor. I believe in the rational, the explainable." He leaned back in his chair away from the other man. "I may not know exactly what's been going on here. Static discharge, mass hypnosis, elaborate government conspiracies…" he paused in his breathless rant, looking back at the still figure in front of him "Weird mutated freaks … Who knows! But there will be answers, and they will be logical!"
His voice had risen to a near shout but was cut short by the Doctor's soft snort. "Oh give it a rest!" the other man mocked cuttingly. "I've been hearing a lot about you and you are not renowned for your logical and considered approach to problem solving. You go with your instincts. With what feels right at the time, even sometimes against all evidence to the contrary. And you make it work for you." The Doctor awarded him with a dazzling grin. "That's what makes us both so fantastic!" he beamed.
House's mouth pulled into a reluctant half-smile at the arrogance but he remained silent. The Doctor leaned forward, his gaze softening in sympathy. "All I'm asking for here is a little faith in the unexplained. I think it would do you a world of good, although I can see that that doesn't come easy to you."
"You want me to just go with your flow?" House asked cynically. "I bet there are a few drowned swimmers in your wake who regret making that decision."
The Doctor tilted his head in weary acknowledgement of that, then in a sudden impulsive gesture, darted a hand into the pocket of his long brown coat. House watched uncertainly as the man fumbled around for a distracted few seconds, muttering to himself as more of his arm disappeared into the mysterious recesses of the lining.
"Aha!" he exclaimed triumphantly, pulling out a fist full of junk and examining it with interest. He pulled a bit of fluff from an old baby-shaped jelly sweet and popped it absent-mindedly into his mouth. "I knew I had this left!" he muttered rather indistinctly, peering at his haul. He was left with a couple of funny shaped foreign coins, a small furry ball of fluff that House could have sworn twitched in the non-existent breeze, and a large red and yellow medicine capsule. The Doctor picked the pill up carefully between thumb and forefinger, thrusting the rest of the handful back into his pocket, and placed it delicately on the desk in front of House.
"It's a pain pill. From a little planet not that far in advance of yours. Picked it up a few decades back. When I last wore this coat in fact, but it should still be good." He winked at House knowingly. "Should knock the socks off your regular Vicodin and last a fair bit longer too!" he whispered conspiratorially, then leaned back pensively. "You could try analysing it if you like but you should know that it's a rather fragile little molecule." he mused. "Wouldn't stand up well to testing. I'm guessing that you're not above a bit of a gamble but remember, the House doesn't always win." He paused, fixing House with a challenging look before leaping to his feet and striding dynamically to the door in a swirl of coat tails. He looked back for a moment, meeting distrustful, cynical blue eyes.
"I guess it's your choice then." He called back, his dark eyes serious for a moment. "It comes down to whether you'd prefer to know or to believe."
The moment of gravity passed and the Doctor erupted once more into a mischievous grin. "Guess I'll see you around then Doctor!" He called cheerfully. "Ciao for now!"
And with that he was gone, leaving House staring thoughtfully after him.
Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Haematopoietic: Definition adjective 'Of, or pertaining to, haematopoiesis, which is the formation of blood in the body.'