Word Count: 2484
Warnings: violence, noncon in some original characters' backgrounds, PTSD and associated flashbacks, and wounds and medical issues.
Characters: Jamie McCrimmon, the Doctor (eighth)
Summary: Jamie McCrimmon is wounded, exhausted, possibly doomed, and has an old song running through his head as if it's trying to tell him something.
Author's note: The song quoted in this story is a traditional ballad (Child Ballad 37, as it happens), but I've been mostly listening to the version by Steeleye Span. Brit-picking and beta-ing by Persiflage.
In the gloaming, with a slight mist rising, the moorlands looked like another world. For a moment, Jamie imagined he could see a different landscape overlaying the real one. Jagged rocks, all in varying shades of gray, and sharp-edged black shadows that looked like someone had cut pieces out of reality. If he were there, he could bound across the landscape like a jack rabbit—
Jamie hurt too much to try to shake his head clear, so he settled for blinking several times.
He was too tired to hum to himself, but he had a scrap of music in his mind nonetheless. It took a long moment to put words to it. For forty days and forty nights, they rode through red blood to the knee . . .
Well, no need to wonder why he was thinking of that.
Kirstie appeared by his side, ghost-like. "We have to stop soon," she said softly.
"Nay." This time Jamie did shake his head, and winced. "The only way for a man to outrun a horse is to keep going. Take it from someone who's marched."
"We're women, though," Kirstie pointed out. "Except Rob, and he's only ten."
It was true. Jamie wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up leading a ragged band of camp followers, washerwomen, and other army tagalongs. Well, he'd single-handedly charged a trio of Englishmen, intent on rape, who had already ripped Kirstie's dress from bodice to waist—and killed them all, but not before acquiring a nasty head wound that hurt as horribly as any toothache and kept him from seeing out his left eye, and he wasn't even going to think about whether the eye itself was damaged. Not yet. From the look on Kirstie's face, he must have been a frightful sight, bloody and wild-eyed, sword in hand. But he had helped her up gently and asked if she was hurt at all, and it turned out Kirstie had been fleeing with a group, and Jamie was the closest thing they had to an experienced fighting man, which meant they were safer with him than without him. So here they were.
Some obscure impulse had made Jamie search the English kits for a flask and pour whatever inferior whiskey it contained onto the strip of his kilt that he used to bandage his head. Even before the head wound, he'd felt strange.
"Annis canna keep on like this," Kirstie said. "Neither can Old Mairead, or Rob." Rob was a boy who'd done odd jobs in the camp. Rather to his own embarrassment, Jamie couldn't remember which one Annis was. "We're nobodies. The English will be chasing lairds and officers, not us."
"The order was nae quarter. I saw them bayoneting injured soldiers on the field." And why did he feel as if he'd lived three lifetimes since then? "God only knows what they've been told about us. That we're all ravening devils who eat Lowland babies with our porridge, most likely. They'll be wanting us all dead. We keep moving, and I'll carry the lad if I have to."
Kirstie gave him a very odd look before she faded back to urge the others onward. Jamie knew how she felt; if he could have given himself an odd look, he probably would have. He'd never thought about it before. He'd never wondered what the English had been told. They hated everything good and true because they were English, and why look any closer than that?
Mud. Cruel, cutting wires and a smell like the sewers of Hell itself. A battleground, but not the fields of Culloden. Here, it was Englishmen mired in hopelessness, Englishmen manning strange cannon, and an Englishman Jamie had to talk into trusting him because they were all victims—
He hurt and he was tired enough to be almost dizzy. But that didn't account for the odd sensation of double vision. Part of him, the old familiar Jamie, saw English soldiers through the tales of his fellow soldiers: monstrous semi-humans, full of chuckling, casual cruelty. The new, strange Jamie saw ordinary mortals, some wicked, some not. If the battle had gone the other way, would some English drummer boy have found himself leading laundresses and prostitutes across unfamiliar moorland, struggling to stay ahead of (to him) villainous Scots? Jamie knew perfectly well he hadn't marched with an army of angels. Somebody would have volunteered for the pursuit, very possibly for the same reasons as the men he'd killed—
And it was more than just uncomfortable thoughts about the English. Take Claudette, one of the French officers' women. Old Jamie just noticed that she had lovely blonde hair and was quite—well, he had a suspicion that men didn't often talk to her face. But New Jamie wondered how much choice she'd had about being an officer's woman, and thought about how it must be, lost and alone in a land so far from home that it might as well be the moon. And Kirstie—an ordinary camp follower, a woman he might have blushed at and looked away from before, but now he saw a person so stubborn that it became almost a virtue, a person who would have kept walking if the Devil himself had been riding on her back. Everything around him seemed layered, somehow.
The thing about exhaustion was that your mind wandered. He realized that the tune was running through his head again. Oh, they rode on and farther on; the steed went swifter than the wind. Until they came to a desert wide, and living land was left behind.
He could almost believe that was where they were. Beyond the mortal realm, in a strange twilight country full of impossible things, like roads that led straight to heaven and hell, or springs that flowed with all the blood spilt on Earth. For forty days and forty nights, they rode through red blood to the knee. And he saw neither sun nor moon, but heard the roaring of the sea . . .
For a delirious moment, Jamie thought he could hear the sea.
And then he heard something he was quite sure of, something that made his stomach clench and his blood chill instantly. Voices, somewhere behind them, and jingling tack.
"We're going to die here," Old Mairead said. She sounded very nearly calm about it.
For an instant, Jamie agreed with her, and it felt almost like a relief.
But it was only an instant. "Over my dead body." He drew his sword. "Kirstie, keep them moving. The English are losing the light. They canna track you in the dark."
"I can take care of myself." The rest of the women were hurrying past him. The land was rolling and hilly around here, which was good; the English wouldn't dare take their horses any faster than a walk, not without light, not over country like this. If they could keep marching—if Kirstie and the rest didn't stumble into a bog in the dark—
They would probably still die.
"You'll die," Kirstie said, an unconscious echo of Jamie's mind.
The thought lay like ice in his stomach. Jamie forced a smile. "Aye, well, if the Devil wants me, he'd best send for reinforcements. Go on, lass."
Kirstie shook her head. "Why? Why—for us? We're nothing."
"Because," Jamie said, "you're all people. Because terrible things should be fought. Because you're here and I'm here, and what else would I do?"
Kirstie hesitated, then darted forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Jamie McCrimmon, you're the bravest man I've ever met. Thank you—"
That was when Claudette shrieked.
Jamie and Kirstie whirled together and rushed toward the noise. The women hadn't got far. They had gone around a sort of a rise, and—
For an instant, Jamie thought there was a door into the hillside.
It wasn't, quite. There was a small structure set close against the rise. But the light coming out of it was as bright and gold as afternoon sunlight—it definitely wasn't firelight of any sort—and all of Jamie's instincts, every bone in his body, still said door into the hill. What's more, there was a man in front of Claudette, talking softly and urgently to her—comforting her—and Jamie's heart said, with utter certainty, not a mortal man. He was dressed very finely, for a start, a velvet coat and pure white ruffles at his throat, and no mortal born would be daft enough to wear that when tramping around a moor. His hair was long, brown, and curly—too long for a fighter—and there was something a bit too clean about him; he hadn't spent the day pushing through knee-high heather. Which meant that he had come out of the door. Which meant—
The man turned and saw Jamie, sword still drawn. And the look on his face—it was as if he'd seen his children gutted in front of him.
Jamie thought, and see ye not that bonny road, which winds about the ferny brae? That is the road to fair Elfland, where you and I this night maun gae. No-one ever walked that road and came back unchanged, but some—like Thomas the Rhymer, so long ago—were changed for the better. What would have happened if he had followed a faerie jester instead of a faerie queen, and had gained true sight instead of true speech?
Was that what New Jamie was? Not quite second sight, not the ability to see the invisible, but the gift of seeing things as they were?
He lowered his sword, and the man's look of shocked sorrow abated a little. "Everyone through the door," Jamie said. There was a storm of bizarre images and wild thoughts in his head, but for all that, he felt almost like laughing.
"But the light—" Mairead protested.
"Through the door, move!" The last word was a shout. "It's all right," Jamie said more softly, not taking his eyes off the long-haired man. "I know him." Exactly how or from where he knew him, Jamie decided to worry about later. His mind said stranger, but his heart said friend.
"You, too," the man said. He sounded English, but Jamie discovered that he didn't care.
Beyond the door, Jamie could hear one of the women say, "But it's—" and another say, "Oh, Lord have mercy." He wasn't worried about that, either. He was already moving towards the door himself.
"You first," he told the man.
"Jamie, listen to me. We'll all be safe inside. You aren't going to stay out here and make some heroic last stand, because you don't need to."
"And I don't mean to, but I've got the sword and that means I watch your back."
The man met his eyes for a moment—how could someone be that familiar when you didn't even know their name?—and then murmured something that sounded suspiciously like forgot how stubborn you can be. He went inside.
Jamie had already half-turned to follow him when the Englishman came around the rise. The man raised his musket, and Jamie thought, as if he had all the time in the world, just a pace away from safety? I'm not dying like that, it's ridiculous.
The Englishman fired.
For a moment, Jamie thought that either true sight or the closeness of death let him see the musket ball as it flew. Somewhere in the back of his mind, an unremembered voice whispered, time is relative.
Then he realized that the musket ball had just stopped.
It hung in the air a few feet away from him. He blinked at it.
Jamie felt someone come out of the door behind him, but he kept his eyes on the Englishman, who had gone from staring blankly to staring with rising fear.
"You have no business here," the man in velvet said quietly. "I suggest you leave.
The Englishman looked at him wildly, and perhaps he caught a hint of the otherworldly too, because he stepped back a pace. Jamie grinned, aware that with his wound it would make him look completely mad. He raised his sword and made as if to charge.
The Englishman turned tail and fled back the way he came.
It was probably relief that made the sword seem heavy. Jamie found himself laughing a little, and choked it down; if he let himself laugh, he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop. The man in velvet cleared his throat very deliberately before putting his hand on Jamie's shoulder—probably wise, considering the length of steel he was holding. "Jamie," he said, "go inside."
"Aye, I expect you're right." Jamie spiked his sword into the ground and left it standing there, quivering slightly. "Did you do that? With the musket ball."
"In a manner of speaking. You could say the TARDIS did it for me."
Inside the tiny structure was a large, richly appointed room that seemed almost as if someone had put a sitting room beneath a church. It surprised Jamie somewhat; some part of him had been expecting something different. The women were huddled quite near the entrance, apparently unwilling to venture any further into this strange enchanted place. Old Mairead tugged Rob's shirt off, over his protests, and turned it inside out before putting it back on him.
There was a comfortable looking armchair across the room from Jamie, complete with a rather disorderly pile of books next to it. At the moment, it seemed far too much work to get there, so Jamie put his back against the wall and slid down to the floor.
"Jamie." The long-haired man knelt to have a better look at him. "What happened to your eye?"
"Got shot, but mostly he missed."
The man peeled the improvised bandage away. Jamie clenched his teeth and endured. "Not," the man murmured, "by much. The eye itself is intact, although I can't promise that it's undamaged. The socket—will be a problem. It was a glancing shot at a very lucky angle for you, but the size of the musket ball means that—no, no, no, no, no. Jamie, don't go to sleep."
"Can if I want." He didn't bother to open his good eye. "It's safe here."
"Yes, it is, but you were recently shot in the head. It isn't a good idea—"
"You'll take care of it." He was mumbling slightly. "You'll take care of me. I know you will. I know you." He opened his eye just enough to see the man's concerned face. Very vivid eyes, the man had, rather older than the rest of his features. And gentle. Whatever else he was, he was gentle. "Don't I?"
"Yes, you do. We were very good friends. Although I have no idea how you can remember—"
"Thought so," Jamie said, and passed out.