Disclaimer: I don't own them; I'm just borrowing.
To the doubting elms I whisper
Small light lies about you,
About us being together.
"What does it feel like?" Mickey asks one evening, handing her a Dixie cup of water and a palmful of pills.
She considers it a moment before answering him. "You know that feeling, right, where you're just about to fall asleep, and… suddenly it's like you stepped in a ditch, or skipped a stair? And you jolt awake?"
"It's… a bit like that."
"A bit?" He looks at her seriously. "You're not telling me something."
"Does it hurt you?"
She takes the pills from his hand and swallows them all in one gulp, looking anywhere but at him. "Every time."
She's found a world with stars, which means either she's overshot or maybe—hopefully—she's finally on the right track.
But oh, it has so much more than stars.
Auroras dance above her and Rose Tyler breathes deep, willing her stomach to settle and her head to stop spinning. She's in a corn field, she thinks, as the plants tower above her head and smell fresh and… well, an awful lot like corn.
She closes her eyes, counts to ten, opens them, then glances at her watch—she has twenty minutes until the Cannon will jump her again. (Hopefully soon they'll be able to communicate back and forth, so she can tell them where she is or how much time she needs. Until then, she's at the mercy of the countdown.)
There's no immediate commotion except the chirping of crickets and the could-be-Northern Lights, and she takes that to mean she's early. She's never once had a completely peaceful jump—using the Cannon is an awful lot like TARDIS travel in that way. Though she doesn't exactly land in a war zone every time, there is inevitably a mystery to solve, a victim to save or a cause to fight for, no matter how safe and fun a place seems when she first arrives.
Sometimes, he's there.
But of course, he's never really there.
"Hello, Doctor," she mumbles, staring resolutely at her feet, wishing she had the strength or desire to ignore the voice behind her.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" he asks, stepping up next to her and jerking his chin at the phenomenon lighting the sky. His hands are buried deep in his pockets, but then, she knows better than to try and touch him by now.
Rather ruins the illusion, when her hand goes right through his.
"Gorgeous. How… how do they work?"
He starts rattling off a speech about ionization and magnetism; things she already knows, or he wouldn't be able to tell her in the first place. It doesn't matter; it's nice just to hear the sound of his voice.
It wasn't always like this.
At first, the jumps had been… more than painful. Excruciating. As if she'd been pulled apart atom by atom and then haphazardly smacked back together, which in a way she supposes she was. So Pete had had the chemical cocktail developed, and using the Cannon became bearable. As far as Torchwood is concerned, there are no side effects.
It's something of a white lie.
The technical term would be hallucinations, but she prefers to say she dreams him. For better or worse, these are actually the moments she feels sanest: by his side, seeing the clever glint in his eye, hearing the swooping highs and lows of his speech. At first, she'd been worried—how will she know when she finds the real Doctor, if she's constantly imagining this one?—but the answer'd seemed clear to him: there is no power in any universe, he'd said, that could keep him from touching her once he has her in his sight.
(Which isn't strictly true, she knows from experience, but she'll take what she can get.)
"…but I'm boring you," the Doctor says, snapping himself out of his—her—reverie. He looks around worriedly. "How much time do we have?"
"Enough," she says with a sad smile, and his lips twitch in return.
"Oh, I could never have enough time with you, Rose Tyler." Realizing how close he's skirting to meaningful conversation, he clears his throat. "How's Tony, then?"
You don't know he's called that. Stop it. Let me pretend. "He's… he's fine. They're all fine."
"One big happy Tyler family."
"Something like that, yeah," she says, reaching for levity and barely scraping exhaustion, and suddenly it hits her all over again that she's lying to a figment of her imagination in an attempt to make it feel better.
This has gone far enough.
"Don't. Please don't."
"I don't… oh, I wish I knew," she sighs, cradling her head in her hands and rubbing at her temples. "I feel like I'm going mad, Doctor. I am going mad. You're not even real."
"I am to you."
"That's exactly the point. I'm nothing but Rose Tyler's fairy tale, in this universe. You make me real. The stars go out, and you go and give them something to believe in." He sounds fond and proud, but his eyes are far away; for a moment, she can almost convince herself he's remembering—making a reference to something or someone she hasn't heard of. Which is impossible. (But what about them isn't?)
Finally, she mumbles, "you're not a fairy tale."
"Princes are supposed to be charming."
"Oi! I'm plenty charming, I'll have you know!" he says, but his accent's gone Northern and suddenly she wants to cry.
"It would help," she says slowly, "if you could… not do that. If we're going to talk about this."
He changes back before her eyes. "Right," he says, hand reaching to scratch at the back of his neck, "sorry about that."
She doesn't know why she's doing this to him. She has so few comforts, these days, and questioning this one hurts. But god, she's so tired of lying to herself. "I just," she sniffles, pausing in hopes of evening out her voice, "I miss you. So much."
"Would you like me to go?" he asks quietly, shuffling his Converse into the soft dirt.
"No. Yes. Not… oh, never, Doctor, but—"
"It's fine. I'll see you soon," he says, and her heart skips a beat because he's never said that to her before, and maybe it's a sign, and maybe—
Stupid. Stupid, to let a thing like that give her hope.
The breeze turns cold, and it strikes her all over again how very alone she is. She checks her watch once more: five minutes left. (She always loses all sense of time when he shows up like that.)
Taking another look around, she zips her jacket as high as it will go and settles down on the ground to wait. The wind blows stringy ears of corn into her face, and she bats them away, grateful that they were the only witnesses to her little mental breakdown. She looks up at the aurora and barks out a laugh as she imagines herself, shouting and crying at nothing but thin air. It's ridiculous.
The Doctor loves me. She doesn't mean to think it, but once thought, the very idea warms her up again; gives her focus. For a while there, she'd tried to deny it—an experiment, to see if she was capable of surviving. But there are only so many ways he could have ended that sentence, and "Rose Tyler, you left that one shirt I like hanging on the railing" just doesn't seem very feasible in context.
He loves me. He loves me. He loves me.
Thirty seconds; she's never had to wait this long before. Why hasn't anything happened? She stands up.
Ten seconds to go and a beautiful, haunting sound she hasn't heard in years starts echoing through the corn. The TARDIS, around her and within her and under her very feet, which means—which means—
Oh, no. No. No no no no no no no no no…
—which means he's here.
She fades out as he fades in, and for a fraction of an instant, hand brushes hand as they occupy the same space.
She vomits violently the second she materializes in the lab.
"Rose!" a voice shouts. Mickey. "Are you alright, babe? What happened?"
"Nothing," she coughs, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. "Nothing happened."
"Must've been some kind of nothing," he says, rubbing her back.
"Honestly, Mickey, I'm fine. It just… hurt more than usual this time; that's all."