A/N: Strap in and secure all loose belongings; it's going to be a bumpy ride. Please subscribe and review. If you haven't read my previous story "Into the Fire"… I don't know why you'd be here, but go ahead and check that out first.
Aragorn used to consider himself a logical man. A man ruled by what was possible, and what was not. He had never bothered to consider what lay beyond his world. After all, who had the time? His world consisted on duplicity and danger, and every day he lived a life that demanded his full attention. He couldn't afford to gaze into the night sky when he was face-to-face with another creature, thirsty for his blood. Didn't have the time to dream about "beyond" when a war was at his doorstep.
Until the Doctor collapsed in front of him on that hillside. Because ever since then, Aragorn was beginning to notice a few changes.
The stars had always been part of the scenery; like the trees or the brush, just another thing for his eyes to slide by without notice. Looking, but never seeing. But now… after that story…
He had gotten no sleep last night. Oh, he had tried. It wasn't as though the halls of Lorien weren't comfortable, nor his room. But every time he closed his eyes, disturbing new thoughts would swim into his mind.
Middle Earth, in all its greatness, was on a planet; a ball spinning through nothingness, if what the Doctor had told Merry and Pippin was true. (He couldn't help but eavesdrop on their questions, and couldn't pull away even when his head began to hurt.) What was nothingness? How could there be anything holding them down if they were surrounded by nothing?
And other worlds… other planets were out in the nothingness as well. Far enough away to appear as winking lights in the night sky. The stars were worlds. Maybe not all of them, but enough to make his skin crawl. How many? Which ones?
After hours of lying still, drowning in thoughts, Aragorn had thrown himself out of bed and walked. It didn't matter where; all that mattered was doing something that he understood.
He ended up perched in the crown of a tree, swaying back and forth with the wind. The elves, to their credit, did nothing but watch him. As though they were afraid he would run. After a while, they began to sing a low, keening song that dragged his eyelids down. He refused to give in, roughly shaking his head to keep himself awake. The rest of the night was spent staring up at the stars, feeling the tree bark under his hands and the breeze on his cheek. Holding tight to physical things; things he knew.
In short, Aragorn was experiencing the same feeling every modern-day human had felt every now and then: the relativity of size. The moment when your brain presents itself with the minuteness of your own universal importance.
For the first time in his life, Aragorn was feeling very, very, very small.
He had climbed down when the sun began to peek shyly over the treetops, ignoring the feeling that the fading stars were watching him. Had pushed himself to focus on the problem at hand- namely, the army of monsters attacking them. But after Boromir had breathed his last, after watching the light fade from an ally's eyes… the thoughts returned.
Boromir was larger than life, full of vitality. He seemed invincible. And then, he was gone. Snuffed out with as much respect as a candle. And for what? Rose and the Hobbits; gone. Frodo and Sam spirited away by the Doctor.
Aragorn was grateful when Gimli and Legolas spoke up. Tracking orcs was something he could handle, something that required all his attention. A distraction that would have deafened the questions brewing beneath the surface. He was finally back in control.
And then the sky opened and belched out a man in a coat, and Aragorn simply sacrificed any chance of understanding what was happening.
The Doctor supported the new figure, leading him out of the lake. The three men on the shore watched them warily, and Aragorn risked looking away from this new visitor for a moment in order to comfort his party. Sure enough, Legolas had drawn his bow and Gimli was gripping his axe tight enough to break his knuckles. Aragorn raised a hand. "Put them away, gentlemen."
Gimli looked at him incredulously. "The sky- the very sky!- just tore and a man fell through. Why, in the name of Eru, would we put them away?"
Legolas, however, lowered his bow. "Lower your axe, dwarf," he said shortly. "Listen to Aragorn. We must trust the Doctor."
"'Dwarf,' indeed!" Gimli huffed. "Must you try so hard to prove your faith? Remember- I was not the one in favor of killing him."
Legolas shot Gimli a dark look, guilt playing at the edges of his face. Aragorn stepped back slightly, getting in between them. "Gimli," he commanded. With only a few irritated mutters, Gimli lowered his weapon.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and his charge were just sloshing onto the shore. Aragorn was struck immediately at the expression on the Doctor's face. It reminded him of a time when he had happened upon an injured soldier, bleeding heavily from a gash in his thigh. Healers had flocked around him, comforting him with false reassurances as they examined the cut. It was no use; anyone could see that the wound went clean through to the bone. There was no option but amputation; nothing else was possible out in the field.
Aragorn had clapped a hand on the boy's shoulder, and the look he received in return stayed with him. It was a look of dread, but also of acceptance. The look of a man who realized what would happen next would be horrible to go through, but was necessary.
It was the same look the Doctor wore now.
As he squished out of the lake, the Doctor gave them a comforting smile. Aragorn didn't smile back; he was watching the way the Doctor was holding the other man's body away from his own. Like it hurt to touch him.
"Gentlemen," the Doctor announced. "May I introduce you to Captain Jack Harkness?"
The three men looked from him to the new figure. "Who is this?" Gimli demanded.
The Doctor smirked, tilting his head to the side. "At this point, he's the best hope we have to win."
They looked back to Jack. His coat was tattered and worn, and currently streaming rivulets of water onto the ground. His head was thrown to the side at what must have been an uncomfortable angle, his face was pale and drawn, and his eyes were threatening to roll back in his sockets. Despite this, he managed to grin at them, only pausing to spit out a bit of stray lake-water.
"Is this a joke?" Legolas asked eventually. Jack looked at him with new eyes, pushing the Doctor away and struggling to stand upright. He stepped forward in a pitiful attempt at a swagger. The three men drew together defensively.
Oddly enough, Aragorn found himself looking more intently at Captain Jack Harkness, and had to strain himself not to smile back. An odd heady feeling was suddenly upon him, but he was ignored as Jack focused his energy on Legolas.
"Hello," Jack said, winking. "And you are?"
Legolas blinked at him. "Legolas Greenleaf. Prince of the Woodland Realm," he said hesitantly.
Jack beamed, despite his legs beginning to shake. "Well, it is my deepest pleasure to meet you, Your Highness." Before anyone else could react, he grabbed Legolas' hand in his soggy one and raised it to his lips.
The Doctor scowled. "Jack- I can't believe I have to say this, but now is not the time."
Legolas stared, stunned, at Jack. "I don't…"
"Mind? Yes, you do. Can't you help yourself at all?" the Doctor demanded.
Jack spun around, confused, and stared at the Doctor. "Do I know you?" He turned back to Legolas, trying to smile. "Love the ears. Kinky."
That was when he collapsed, legs giving way, and ended up in a lump on the ground. They stared at him in shock. The Doctor hesitated, before rushing over and crouching near him. Aragorn felt the odd feeling in his head lift, and shook his head violently to dispel the lasts of it. Gimli, meanwhile, was shaking himself. Legolas looked like he had just been smacked between the eyes. The Doctor looked up for a brief second, then back down.
"Right. Sorry about that- 51st Century pheromones. You can buy them as cologne where he's from. They've got a knack of… well, lowering boundaries." He smirked at Jack. "Strong stuff, innit? Didn't even wash off…"
Aragorn managed to push down the uprising tide of questions, kneeling next to Jack and trying hard not to breathe in. "Is he alright?"
The Doctor's fingers twitched, and he shook his head. "No. He's not. Vortex-travel is hell on the human body without a ship. And we've just dragged him through more time and space than few have ever gone before. Soft tissues collapsing, organs failing under the strain. Like inflating and deflating a balloon one hundred times fast." The Doctor raised his eyes to find Aragorn staring blankly at him. "In short? He's dying."
"Dying?" Legolas asked, sounding almost frantic. He quickly adjusted his posture and lowered his voice. "Dying?"
"What can we do?" Aragorn asked, running through any and all remedies for… whatever this man was suffering from. As he spoke, Jack coughed wetly, and blood shown on his lips.
"Nothing," the Doctor said simply. "We do nothing." The other four looked at him, alarmed. Jack wheezed out an attempt at speech, but violently coughed instead.
"Nothing?" Gimli said finally, outraged. "We sit and wait for him to die in front of us?"
The Doctor considered the question, and responded with a thoughtful: "Yes."
Jack was staring at him in full now, as though seeing him for the first time. "You…"
Aragorn shook off the hysterical questions below the surface. A man was dying, and the Doctor wouldn't help. "Don't speak." Jack nodded, then exploded into a frenzy of hoarse coughing that bent him double. Blood dripped from his mouth. But his eyes never left the Doctor, who had settled down onto a nearby rock to wait.
The Doctor gave Jack a long look. "Hello, again."
Jack gaped at him. His eyes, before so charmingly dazed, were steel-sharp. "You left me."
The Doctor winced. "I'm so sorry, Jack."
With that, Captain Jack Harkness slumped to the ground, took one last shaky breath, and died.
A sailboat. In the middle of the ocean, rocking comfortingly back and forth. Rose tilted her head back, enjoying the feeling of the sun on her face. It was so quiet; no noise except the rushing of the waves.
She stretched, opening her eyes and grinning at the other passengers. Jackie, curled up beneath a blanket next to her. Mickey at the helm, dark and beautiful in the sun. Jack, dangling a hand over the side.
And there, sharing a seat with her, was the Doctor. Which one? She thought it was the Old Doctor, all long angles and big ears. But as he smiled she saw the New One. His hair was blowing in the wind, and he winked at her.
All the people she loved. Together. Safe. Rose sighed and rested her head on the Doctor's shoulder. Peace. At last.
Rose's eyes opened. She turned to find Jackie looking at her pleadingly. "Miss Rose!" she echoed, and now Mickey was taking up the call. Then Jack. "Miss Rose!"
Confused, she looked up at the sky. The sun had gone. A whirlwind of dark clouds and salty spray rocked the boat violently, and she clung to the Doctor's coat in terror.
"Miss Rose! Wake up!"
She tried to yell to the Doctor to save them, but the wind ripped the words from her lips. He merely stared at her, uncomprehendingly. And then, he started to dissolve. The Doctor became nothing more than dust, blowing away in the wind. And in her horror, she saw the rest of them vanishing too.
Rose was alone, in a storm. Forever.
"Miss Rose! Please wake UP!"
Rose's eyes snapped open, immediately swallowing a scream even as it hit her throat. The boat was gone. One nightmare replaced another.
Orcs. Everywhere she looked, their craggy outlines lumbered past and snarled at each other. She tried her best not to shake, at once understanding that no one knew she was awake yet. Rose took a deep breath, taking in the situation.
She had been captured by orcs. The Doctor was gone. Her hands were tied. She had been thrown into the back of a cart that was lumbering along. She had no weapons.
Life had been better.
"Miss Rose," a voice hissed, and she managed to turn her head and see Pippin looking at her, alarmed. He was lying close by, bruises dotting his face, but he seemed to relax minutely upon seeing her move. "You're awake," he breathed in relief. His panicked expression returned quickly. "Merry isn't movin'."
Rose turned to find Merry unconscious next to her. The Hobbit was still, and a nasty gash colored his forehead. But his chest was moving steadily up and down, and Rose inwardly sighed. "Is he…" Pippin asked, horrified.
"He's just knocked out," she assured him. "He's fine." Pippin relaxed further. After a moment, he spoke again.
"D'you think they're comin' to get us?"
Rose felt her stomach sink, but tried to look confident. "Of course they are. Except…" she tried to word it delicately. "Let's give them some help."
"Like what?" Pippin hissed.
"Leave them a clue." She jerked her chin at Pippin's cloak clasp.
He looked down, and immediately began gnawing at it. After working it off, he began inching towards her. The angle they were lying meant she was closest to the edge of the cart, and he rested the broach on the straw near her bound hands. She managed to grab it and rolled over, back to him and arms almost dangling off the end of the wagon. She squeezed her eyes closed in case orcs were behind them, but luckily no one seemed to be paying any attention. With all the hope she had, she raised the leaf-shaped clasp to her mouth and kissed it.
Then, quickly, she shoved the clasp through the back slats of the wagon. They lay in silence, and to their relief no one put out an alarm. The two of them lay quietly, not facing each other. Rose listened to Merry's shallow breathing and some snuffling sounds that must have been Pippin's muffled crying. She swallowed hard past the lump in her throat, and repeated her prayer to anything listening.