"You suck," said Rose softly, glowing green with worm guts. To emphasize the point, she threw up all over his converse sneakers.
"I take it back," Rose whispered, reveling in the relief she felt as the medicine the Doctor had just administered made both the pain in her head and the nausea subside. "You don't suck.
They had made their way back to the TARDIS, the Doctor supporting Rose and holding her hair back every few feet as she heaved up the contents of her stomach. Junior and John met them along the way, and insisted on providing an escort back to their transport.
The farewell had been perfunctory, but no less heartfelt. Both the Doctor and Rose were covered in gunk, and the shift Rose had been wearing was torn in several places that caused the two Bells to blush and look away.
The Doctor assured them that the witch had been dealt with and they could return home to live their lives without fear. Normally Rose would be handing out the hugs and encouragement, but she felt positively awful and smelled like sewage. John and Junior passed on the hugging, but promised to hug the rest of the family for her.
So the goodbyes were said and the Doctor pulled Rose into the TARDIS through the backdoor. Once inside, the door vanished, soon followed by the TARDIS itself as the Doctor piloted them into the vortex.
Rose was ushered to the infirmary for a complete brain scan, and then the Doctor injected her with something that made her feel much better.
"Good to know," said the Doctor. Now that Rose could see clearly, she noticed the tightness of his eyes and the slight clench of his jaw. Good Lord, he had taken her seriously.
She reached down to grab his hand in hers. "I'm sorry. I was in such pain I didn't know what I was saying. I didn't mean it."
He stared at her for a moment, then squeezed her hand. She was gratified to see the tightness around his eyes smooth out, and a genuine grin light up his face.
"Psychic backlash. It can cause quite a migraine." He moved to study the picture of the inside of her head on the monitor. "Everything looks good though, no evidence of neural failure or improperly firing synapses."
He turned back to her and looked deep in her eyes. "You feeling all right?"
Rose moved her head experimentally. There was no sudden sharp pain behind the eyes, so she sat up. She was pleased when she didn't vomit all over the floor.
"Yeah," she said softly, taking a quick glance down. Worried eyes immediately found his. "I'm sorry about the shoes!"
"It's alright," said the Doctor cheefully. "I've got 20 pairs of them."
Rose giggled, amused by the fact that he wasn't joking.
"Ahh, that's what I like to see!" he exclaimed. "A giggling Rose is much better than one that is not, in fact, giggling."
This only served to make Rose giggle more.
The Doctor smiled, but then turned serious. He bent over and looked into her eyes. "Want to tell me what happened during the attack?"
She gazed back at him, that small nugget of knowledge now at the forefront of her mind, and made a decision. "It was jumble of images and sounds. Honestly, it flashed by so fast I couldn't catch on to any one thing." She paused a moment. "And then I heard you calling. And I knew that no matter what I had to fight my way back to you."
The Doctor considered this, conflicted thoughts swirling in his eyes. There was something dangerous here, a territory that this Time Lord feared to tread. "Rose, I –" He cut himself off and stepped away from her, one hand rubbing the back of his slime coated neck.
"Oh, ick." He patted his suit, as if seeing its condition for the first time. "Rose Tyler, we are filthy."
Rose sagely nodded her agreement, as she took stock of her own condition. "That's what happens when you go about making bugs explode."
"Do you know how long it will take to wash this out of my hair?" demanded the Doctor.
"The same amount of time, it'll take me to get it out of mine?" replied Rose.
The Doctor looked at her hair as if just now noticing that it was glowing a sickly green. "Oooo, better use the industrial shampoo. Don't worry, it shouldn't turn your hair purple. I don't think."
He helped her down from the exam table. "Off with you!" he said, helping her down from the exam table. "We shall reconvene after we no longer smell like something that came out of the back end of a Plavit beast."
Rose wasn't sure what a Plavit beast was, but she was more than happy to comply. Now steady on her feet, she took off for the showers at a dead run.
"So," asked the newly scrubbed Rose, "what happens to the Bells?" She perched on the jump seat and propped her feet on the console. "Did they do alright?"
The Doctor was silent and refused to look at her, busying himself with the TARDIS controls.
"Doctor?" she persisted.
Finally he looked at her and sighed. "John dies in few months. He has a neurological disorder. Later they will call it 'Bell's Palsy'."
Rose sat quietly for a moment, a small tear coming to her eye. "Well," she said at last, "at least they were peaceful months, yeah?"
"Yeah," said the Doctor softly. "Though they are never truly free of the Witch. The legend follows them everywhere, down through the generations and even into other states. The story gets exaggerated and more fantastic each time it is retold, such that any bad thing that happens to the family is attributed to the Bell Witch. It is said that the witch directly caused the death of John Bell and that her voice is heard mocking him as they lay him in his grave. It is even said she threatened to return to the family periodically throughout the years."
The Doctor took a deep breath. "None of it is true, though. We defeated it."
Rose nodded. "What happens to Betsy? And Lucy?"
"Oh Betsy turns out alright," he said. "She marries the schoolteacher and has eight children. Lucy lives a long life and is regarded as one of the most intelligent and capable women in the community despite her lack of formal education."
Rose nodded again, but her smile was bittersweet. It was tainted with the knowledge that though they fix problems and save the world, they are never fully able to alleviate suffering. Lives go on, and their participation in them is just a small contribution. They can't ever give anyone an eternal happy ending, because there is no such thing. It is a knowledge he wished he could shield from her.
He reached for her and engulfed her in a hug he hoped was comforting. Her arms wrapped around him and she clasped him to her tightly. And then she surprised him…again.
"I know we can't save everyone Doctor, and that choosing to save one person may mean we can't save someone else. But it's better to do what we can than do nothing." She pulled back from him a little and looked him in the eye. "We did good."
His smile blossomed and he hugged her tightly. "We were brilliant!" he added.
They stood that way for more than a minute, as if there was no other place in the universe either would rather be. The Doctor was the one who gently pulled away.
"Rose Tyler," said the Doctor hurriedly working the controls. "I want to show you something."
"Oh yes. And I promise it will be absolutely brilliant!"
She grinned at him and walked to the door. When the TARDIS rematerialized with a thump, she stood there, waiting for him. He grabbed her hand and they exited the time ship together.
The planet upon which they stood was rocky, and giant cliffs rose high into the sky. Wordlessly, he pointed upward and she gasped at what she saw.
Dragons, creatures of myth and legend, were circling in the clouds. Their majestic wings carried their powerful bodies in and out of the crevices of the rock. Rose watched with open-mouthed amazement as the dragons danced in the air.
"Those two above," said the Doctor softly, "are a mated pair. Flying, hunting, living together, for almost an eternity."
"Eternity?" Rose asked.
"Dragons live a very long time," he replied.
There was a pause as they both watched the dragons soar through the air, the red and the black. And then he asked. "How long are you gonna stay with me?"
She looked at him then and did not hesitate with her response. "Forever," she said simply. He didn't believe her even though it was the answer for which he fervently hoped. She could tell by the set of his jaw and the way he avoided her eyes.
She squeezed his hand reassuringly and looked back into the sky. It was alright he didn't believe her, she thought. She knew the truth now. She was the only person in all of creation that could make such a promise and keep it. He was much too afraid to hope, fearful of clinging to something he was sure was transitory. She would be the strong one. She would lead him down the long and twisting path before them, cautiously, dragging him inch by precious inch, and eventually, after much sadness and joy, he would come to realize that when she promised forever, she meant it.
She looked at him again and grinned wolfishly, a predator eyeing her prey. Of course, just because he moved along their shared path slower than snails trapped in molasses didn't mean she couldn't have some fun along the way.
She moved close to him and beamed a smile into his confused face. She affected a southern drawl and used some of the colorful phrases she had learned. "Well, ain't you cute as a bug's ear. How's bout you gimme some sugar?"
"Oh Rose," the Doctor said, "that was just awful. Almost as bad as Kevin Costner attempting a British accent in the Robin Hood movie. How about you not do that again?"
She moved closer and wrapped her arms around him. "I ain't givin' up till I gets me some sugar!"
She pulled his head down and placed a chaste kiss upon his lips. She held him there a moment, noting the tension in his body. When he realized she wasn't going to take the kiss deeper, he relaxed and returned it. Rose gave an internal hoot of joy. Though she already knew the outcome, she would take it slow and steady. For him.
She smiled at him when she pulled away, and slowly he returned the grin. Soon they were beaming at each other like idiots, ignoring the mesmerizing scene above.
The Doctor's stomach protested with a loud rumble effectively breaking the moment.
"Right then," said the Doctor, grabbing her hand and hauling her back into the TARDIS. "Next stop Tesco's."
Rose gave a happy yelp and rapidly started rattling off a list. "We need milk and cereal, bread, and some of those chocolate biscuits would be nice…"
The sound of her voice was overwhelmed by the whooshing of the time rotor as the TARDIS disappeared into the vortex. And overhead, the dragon and his mate continued to fly through eternity.