The lift doors slid open with a ding as it reached the fourth floor. Holding a cup of coffee in one hand and anchoring an immense amount of mail with her other, Sally Sparrow exited the lift and made her way to Dr. Arden's office, the clicking of her heels echoing through the virtually silent hallway. Normally, she didn't have any trouble rising early for work, but last night had been rough. She'd spent all night trying to soothe her friend, Kathy, from a particularly rough breakup and didn't go to bed until almost after two o'clock. Now, she was silently chastising herself for agreeing to take the reins while James was away.
It wasn't that she minded helping him—far from it. Sally had always felt somewhat indebted to James since their first meeting several years ago. When she first started her clinicals at St. Timothy's, she had been assigned to work under one of the senior staff physicians, Dr. Harry Saxon. She learned right away that it was not a choice assignment. After one of Saxon's rather scathing and public rebukes, Sally had hastily and quietly made herself scarce, seeking refuge in the first unlocked room she came across. Unbeknownst to her, she had chosen James' office. She'd spent the next several minutes in the darkened room trying to regain her composure, when James unexpectedly entered. After a few moments of surprised silence from both parties, Sally hurriedly mumbled her apologies and tried to make a hasty retreat. Before she could leave, James gently pulled her aside and proceeded to encourage her, praising her for her exceptional intellect and potential as well as her forbearance in dealing with the megalomaniac, Saxon. She waved away his compliments as undeserved and too kind, but he maintained their sincerity. She left his office, still a little worse for wear but uplifted by James' kind and unexpected words. From that time on, he continued to support and encourage her through her schooling, immediately hiring her as his assistant when she received her license.
Over the few years they had known each other, they had developed a warm, affectionate friendship that bordered more on familial than professional. She had never once begrudged helping him with anything—except this. Sally despised the fact that James had decided to marry Reinette; so helping the furthering of their relationship in any way automatically put in her in a foul mood. She had known Reinette's predecessor and there was no comparing the two—Rose was by far a superior woman. Sally had met Rose shortly after that first meeting with James, and had subsequently become quite close to her. Rose had no family save her grandfather, and would often tell Sally that she considered her a part of her adopted family. When Rose disappeared, Sally was devastated—not just by the loss she felt personally, but also for James and his family's loss. When James would come into work, she could see how utterly shattered he was over losing Rose. Oh, he put on an impressive façade, but his eyes were vacant of the vivacity and love they held when Rose was still with him. For two and a half years, he had gone through the motions of living, his only true source of happiness being his little girls.
Then, four months ago, Reinette Adams began practicing at St. Timothy's and quickly set her sights on James. To those who actually paid attention, like Sally, it was obvious why Reinette was predominately interested in James. James was one of two people in consideration for replacing Dr. Harriet Jones as the hospital's Director of Medicine; Saxon was the other. Sally assumed that Reinette didn't try for Saxon because that much pomposity was too volatile, and that she sensed James was the weaker target. Reinette put prestige and prominence above all else. Even though her affections for James were flaunted and rather forced, she did seem to care for him; but, it was a fondness as opposed to an actual all-consuming love. Despite Sally and several others' best efforts, they were not able to convince James to reconsider the relationship. Sally could only attribute his blind idiocy to the desire to fill his immense loneliness. So here she was, up bright and early at 7:00 A.M. and on her way to James' office, while he was off gallivanting with the Queen of the Damned.
Sally reached the office to find a large package blocking the door. She looked from her already occupied hands to the box and groaned. She placed her cup on the package and rummaged through her bag for the keys. She inserted the key and grabbed the knob to unlock the door, but the door opened without her needing to turn the key. She frowned, worried that yesterday, in her haste to meet Kathy, she had forgotten to lock up. She placed the keys back in her bag and picked up her coffee. She began nudging the package with her feet through the slightly ajar door. As she entered, Sally flipped the light switch and was startled by unexpected groan, causing her to give a small shriek. Her eyes darted to the source of the noise which was currently stretched across the leather couch and covered with his lab coat.
"James?" she asked in surprised confusion.
He turned his head towards her, squinting as he attempted to adjust to the lights.
"Sally…what are you doing here?" he asked groggily.
She arched an eyebrow at his question. "Um…I'm working. What are you doin' here? Aren't you s'posed to be on your honeymoon?"
James looked around at his surroundings, as if he had forgotten just where he was exactly. He then sat up, swinging his legs off the couch and onto the floor. He rubbed his eyes before looking up at her and blinking several times.
"You cut off all your hair," he said randomly, slightly cocking his head to the side.
"Yeah…I was sorta goin' for the 'Daisy Buchanan' look. Wait…don't go changin' the subject! What are ya doing here?"
He scrubbed his face and then lowered his head, his hands locked around his neck.
"What is it with you women and the incessant questions?" he grumbled. "'What are ya doing here?' 'Are you going to explain yourself?' 'When are you going to tell her?' On and on and on…it just never stops!"
Sally's brow furrowed in complete confusion at James' odd tirade. "What on earth are you on about? All I asked was why you're here…it's a perfectly logical question considering you just got married yesterday!"
James ignored her question, instead continuing to keep his head down as he grumbled unintelligibly.
Sally sighed exasperatedly. She was confused. She was exhausted. And she'd only had about three sips of coffee and was in no mood to continue putting up with this ridiculousness—especially if it had to do with Reinette. She placed the mail onto the dark cherry wood desk and walked over to James.
"Budge over," she instructed, nudging him with her knee.
He scooted over, still continuing his staring match with the carpet. She sat next to him and placed her elbows on her knees. She considered him for a minute before taking a quick swig of her drink.
"Sooo…," she sighed. "At the risk of asking too many questions, mind tellin' me why you're in here acting like a big baby?"
"I'm not acting like a baby."
Sally snorted. "Well, call it whatever you want…just answer the question."
James lifted his head up, fixing his gaze directly in front of him as he spoke.
"I…uh…I just had a bad night," he replied somewhat dejectedly.
Her concern surfaced at James' tone of voice.
"What happened?" she asked, slowly broaching the subject. James wasn't one to really divulge his innermost feelings, but that never stopped Sally from trying to get him to open up to her.
James was silent for a moment. Sally could see him mentally weighing his words before he spoke.
He exhaled deeply. "Well…I have this friend who's in a bit of a tricky situation…"
Sally couldn't help but smirk. "Y'know, about ninety percent of the time someone says they 'have this friend,' they're actually talkin' about themselves."
He finally looked at her, furrowing his brow in slight frustration.
The teasing smirk left her face. "Sorry. G'on."
"So…this friend…he…he lost something…irreplaceable. But then…he found out it wasn't lost. But now, there's this thing in the way. And he's trying to take care of the thing, but he doesn't know how to tell the thing that it's over…that what he really wants, what he's always wanted, is back. That he never felt for the thing what he feels for the other. You understand?" he asked almost imploringly.
Sally felt a dull pressure begin to form between her eyes after listening to that discombobulating tale. She focused on him, brow wrinkled in confusion and mouth slightly opening and closing several times as her mind debated on whether or not to speak. James looked at her perplexed expression and his countenance fell further.
"Of course you don't understand me. I sound like an absolute nutter."
"No…no, just give me a mo. I'm trying to work it through," she quietly insisted.
She took another drink of her coffee and then pursed her lips in contemplation. He watched her for what felt like an eternity before he spoke, no longer able to constrain himself.
"Yeeeaaah…ya lost me," she giggled lightly, bumping his side as she did so.
James chuckled in spite of himself, feeling some of the well-deserved but exhausting tension leave his body. He scrubbed his face again and then smiled over at her.
"Well, thanks for trying."
She smiled softly at him. "You bet."
He turned his face away somewhat sheepishly.
"Hey," Sally said, bumping him again to get his attention. He looked up at her and raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"Cheer up, Mopey. It'll get better. Just tell your friend that avoiding something doesn't make it any easier. Y'know…if that's what he's doing," she said with a grin.
James gave a soft snort.
"So, what are ya gonna do now?" she asked.
He looked up at her. Good question…
Apparently, the answer to Sally's question was "hide out," because that's what James did for most of the morning. He knew he couldn't roam the halls; people knew he was supposed to be on his honeymoon and his presence would raise questions he wasn't prepared to answer. What he really wanted was to see Rose, but truth be told, he was ashamed to see her. He had acted like such a jealous cad last night. He saw the hurt in her eyes at his words, and it stung more than her slap ever could. He knew he needed to get his gob in check before he saw her again. But he also didn't want to chance running into Reinette, because he still didn't know how to start that conversation.
Around ten, James' stomach started to become insistent on being fed. He cautiously stuck his head out into the hallway. On seeing it was mainly deserted, he started towards the lift, keeping his head down as he did so. James was so focused on keeping himself inconspicuous, that he completely missed seeing the tall, dark haired gentleman approaching from the other direction until they rammed into each other. The lid on the man's coffee cup popped off, causing some of the contents to spill onto the well-tailored and clearly expensive charcoal suit.
Startled, James looked up and began hurriedly apologizing.
The dark haired man brushed off James' concern. "Oh, please, it's nothing. Half an hour at the cleaners and it'll be like it never happened. Don't worry about it."
"Well, nonetheless, I'm terribly sorry. I'd be more than happy to take care of the tab, Mr.…?" James trailed off expectantly.
"Name's Jack Harkness. And I'll tell ya what…I'm running late, so you tell me where I can find a Doctor…uh," he pulled out an appointment card and looked at the name, "David Erickson, and we'll call it even."
James felt the blood drain out of his body at the realization that he was actually face to face with the man himself. He realized Jack was regarding him curiously. On noticing that Jack had obviously never met Dr. Erickson, James made a split second decision.
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't show," James said with a forced smile and as much friendliness in his voice as he could muster.
Jack's eyebrows raised in surprise. "You're Dr. Erickson? Well, isn't this coincidental?"
"Isn't it, just?" he replied and steered Jack towards the office. Erickson's office was just a few doors down from James'. They reached the door and James held his breath that Erickson was out on his usual morning pastry run. Cracking the door open just enough to check, James saw the room was empty and ushered Jack inside. As he did so, James saw Sally making her way down the hall towards him, her face scrunched in confusion.
"Uh, have a seat, Mr. Harkness," he said, motioning to one of the chairs. "I'll be just moment."
He quickly shut the door and closed the distance between himself and Sally. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off before she could start.
"I need you to keep Erickson distracted for about ten minutes."
Sally looked at James as if he had finally cracked. "Erickson? The man analyzes everything you do. He once tried to tell me that the fact I picked an apple instead of an orange, meant that I had trust issues with my father. He's a complete nutter…ironic, considering he's a shrink. So just how exactly am I supposed to distract him?"
"I don't know! Bat your eyes. Flip your hair. Whatever you can think of! Just stall him," he said and turned to go back into the office.
Sally grabbed his arm, stopping him suddenly. "James, I'm not gonna—"
"Sally, please! This has to do with Rose. I just need ten minutes!"
Sally was stunned. "Wha-…Rose? James, what…"
"Ten minutes!" he pleaded.
Without another word, he entered the office and quickly shut the door behind him, leaving a rather dumbfounded Sally standing in the middle of the hallway.