Part 13

So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip

Into my bosom and be lost in me.

. . .

Jo woke up, keeping her eyes shut as she tentatively felt out her surroundings. Nothing moved, nothing tilted, and she felt marvelously contained, within her own body as well as within the comforting pressure of her own weight on the bed. She opened her eyes, confirming her suspicion that she was in one of UNIT's tents, on a folding cot, warmly swaddled in a woolen army-issue blanket. The lantern light told her it must still be dark outside. How long had she been asleep? The last thing she remembered, there had been…. No, she didn't want to remember that right now.

Her overnight bag had been fetched from the room in the tower and a change of clothes lay neatly folded beside her. She blinked at the clothing, realizing beneath the blankets she was still wearing her muddied, damp pantsuit, that her hair was stiff with mud. Of course she thought; she vaguely remembered the Doctor not wanting anyone to touch her, his protectiveness towards her privacy outward and in, and he would not cross propriety to change her clothing himself.

There was a movement nearby and then he was there in front of her. He'd apparently nipped away just long enough to clean up himself, for his own wet, mud-caked outfit had been replaced with an impeccable set, a velvet burgundy coat and fresh white ruffles belying his weary face. His silver-white hair was damp but clean. She reached out a hand and fingered his ruffles with a small smile, then took his hand. It was such a relief to just feel his hand, solid and warm, after all the world had gone to feathers and mist for so long.

Feeling her gratitude and relief in that touch, he returned her smile, comforting. He analyzed her eyes, her skin tone, the strength of her emotive pulses. The empathetic effect was fading, he noted, normality being reestablished. Perhaps only a third of the intensity of before, and as she grew more alert he expected her own mind would naturally begin to repair the barriers that had been so broken down.

"How are you, my dear?"

"Better," she said. She studied him. "And yourself?"

"Better," he replied without elaboration. He gestured to the side of the room." I've ordered you a hot bath, if you're up to it."

"Oh, heavenly! Yes, I think I can manage, now that the world isn't all topsy-turvy for once."

"Here, let me help you," he said. "I'll fetch you something warm to eat while you wash up. Unless you need something now?"

"Yes, please!" she said, suddenly realizing she was starving. She pulled aside the blankets as she got to her feet. "I mean, a little to tide me over anyway. Goodness, look at me! I'm all mud!"

He chuckled at that. "Yes, you are. You should have seen the Brigadier and I, we were all a sight to behold. Thankfully, it was dark, little dignity lost. Here, there's biscuits, would that work? I'll get you something more substantial."

She took the meager biscuits and wolfed them down with a nod, heading eagerly for the bath. She started to pull the curtains shut.

"You'll want these," he reminded her, handing her the clean clothes.

"Oops," she said. "Now off with you." The privacy curtains pulled firmly shut around the tub. He smiled and went to get them some dinner.

. . .

The Doctor made sure she was undisturbed through her meal, the warm bath and now some hot soup and bread were all bringing a welcome pink back into her pale cheeks. Word had gone out that she was awake, of course, but not even the most curious dared cross her guardian. He'd been most firm that she was to be left with him, alone, and the Brigadier had surprisingly agreed without even a quibble, giving over his own tent for her use. Even the customary sentry was kept well away from the tent entrance.

After she'd eaten, he sat beside her on the cot and just let her talk, answering her questions, offering what comforting replies he could, letting her work through her ordeal in her customary way of rambling with words. More than once he had to reassure her that the alien was really gone, that she was well and safe, and that it was almost impossibly unlikely they'd ever encounter another one like it.

He casually took her hand as she spoke, testing the empathetic levels. They were still diminishing. It might be another day or two before she was completely healed in that area, but she would be safe with others soon.

"May I come in?" the Brigadier's voice asked from the doorway. He glanced at them sitting side by side, apparently holding hands, then quickly shifted his gaze to the far wall.

The Doctor smiled in understanding and patted Jo's hand, laying it down. He stood and gave a small bow. "Of course. You're most welcome, Brigadier."

Lethbridge-Stewart was still uncomfortable and apologetic. "Forgive me for the intrusion. I brought you a little something to cheer you up," he lay a plate of cream-cakes on the table then looked up at them.

"No, thank you," the Doctor said.

"What?" he asked. The Doctor and Jo were both looking at the plate of cakes with a revulsion usually reserved for greasy bloaters or obscure variety meats.

"Cream-cakes," Jo said. She looked at the Doctor and they both suddenly grinned, leaving the Brigadier wondering what he was missing out on. He wasn't really sure he wanted to know, things were awkward enough of late.

He retreated into formality. "I see you are quite recovered, Miss Grant?"

"Yes, thank you," she replied in a small voice, not meeting his eyes.

"I'll need you to prepare a report on these events, but you may wait until we've returned to London, naturally."

"Thank you," she repeated.

The Brigadier rocked on his heels, his hands clasped behind him.

There was an awkward silence.

The Doctor quietly took her wrist, as if checking her pulse. Though all but the strongest passing emotions were now faded safely away, he could still feel faintly the discomfort, regret, shyness and fear radiating through her hand. He was glad he couldn't pick up on the Brigadier's as well, though he could guess it. Humans always claimed they wanted complete intimacy with one another, but in practice they would go to any length to avoid that transparency. They were such fragile creatures, really.

Still, time would make it pass. They were very adept at forgetting.

He stepped forward. "Well, we'll set about packing up then. I've taken down some notes, they'll have to do until we can get it written up more fully. Have those cables all been brought in? I thought I heard one of them overload. Oh, and I was meaning to ask you about…ah, but all that can wait for later, can't it? Yes. It was kind of you to drop in, Brigadier. I'm afraid Miss Grant is still rather fatigued. I'll bring her with me, we'll leave for London this morning. If you could assign some men to dismantling the tower lab? Yes, thank you."

He steered the Brigadier out of the room as he talked. The hint was taken.

. . .

When he returned she was crying. She was trying to hide it behind her hands, but gave up when he knelt in front of her and wordlessly handed her his handkerchief.

"I don't know what's wrong with me," she grumbled. "Everything is fine."

"Is it?" he asked mildly.

She looked at him in disbelief. "That's not what you're supposed to say. You're supposed to tell me it'll be all right. That's what you always say!" She whacked him with the handkerchief and then suddenly buried her face in it and began sobbing in earnest.

He came up and sat beside her again, just letting her cry, even when she turned and muffled her own voice in the velvet of his coat.

"I was so…alone!" she wailed. He didn't reply, waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

After a few minutes finally subsided to sniffles. "I'm sorry, I'm being a foolish girl, just like you've said…"

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. You are anything but foolish, Jo." He meant it. He let her duck under his arm and quiet herself against him again, noting that even with the extremity of this post-stress reaction he was only slightly picking up the internal emotives. She was healing.

"It's not yet dawn. You need rest," he said soothingly.

"I don't want to be here, I don't. I don't want to be anywhere around…" She stopped. He didn't pry, especially as he had a good idea what the trouble was, waiting as her breathing finally slowed again from its ragged gulping.

"I'll take you back to London," he decided.

"Now?" she asked in a hopeful voice.

"If you like. Look at me." His voice was soft. She lifted her puffy, tear-streaked face up for his scrutiny. There were still circles under her eyes and she was obviously overwrought. "Relax," he said softly, humming a little. "Just relax. Get some sleep, Jo. You're safe, sleep now, rest. I'll take you home." She gave a sigh and drooped against him.

He stood, picking her up in his arms. "Come along now, my dear. Bessie is waiting."

He walked out the door, just holding her and letting her sleep in his arms. "Fetch her bag, will you, and bring it along to my car," he told the startled sentry.

He carried her across the car park, the sentry obediently following. The sky was just beginning to lighten. "You can tell the Brigadier that Miss Grant and I are returning to London. We'll see him there, later," he said, speaking over his shoulder. The soldier nodded.

. . .

She partially woke as they approached the car, her eyes looking around questioningly in the dim light, then settling on his face. "You'll still stay with me?" Her hand took a hold on his sleeve.

"Of course," he bent, settling her gently in the roadster's seat.

She didn't let him go; instead her arms suddenly went around him, her face against the crook of his arm. He half-stood over the seat awkwardly, but didn't pull away. Jo gave a small stifled sob. He glanced over at the sentry who uncomfortably deposited her bag in the back seat and stepped back to give them privacy. The Doctor waved a hand, sending him off.

After a moment her grip loosened, though she still didn't quite release him. She began to softly ramble. "I couldn't… I mean, I knew the Brigadier was right there, that he just wanted to help me… I'm sorry. I guess… I mean, I just couldn't trust anyone, not even him, knowing that, well, everything! Everything was just all coming out, and everything I was feeling." She looked up at him. "I just wanted you. Just you. If the Brigadier knew, well I was afraid he would send me away, if he knew that… that…."

He gently shushed her with a fingertip to her lips. Her emotions were raw and still running high. As he had told the Brigadier, in his experience human emotions were rarely rational. She was just a child, this dear, fragile human girl, but he was very fond of her too. She buried her face into his ruffles again.

"Your heart is your own, but it's safe with me," he said softly, holding her, feeling her slowly relaxing once more in his arms.

"No one shall know from me. Come now, my dear. It's time to go home."