"Did you see that? She just moved her hand! Can you hear us?"
"Finally! Honey, open your eyes, Rosie, open them!"
"I'll go fetch the doctor – she's waking up!"
Rose heard the voices – a man and a woman – and a machine beeping in the background. Blimey, she was tired. She shook her head slightly, silently willing the voices to stop so that she could go back to sleep. Wait a minute. Sleep – had she been sleeping? She couldn't remember … how the hell had she fallen asleep? Where was the Doctor? She and the Doctor had been taking a walk in the Anti-Gravity Gardens on Naija 6, feeding … some kind of tiny intergalactic creature that looked remarkably like a squirrel.
Panic suddenly set in as she realized she had no idea where she was, or how she'd fallen asleep. Or who these people were. Nobody calls me Rosie …
Oh my God, where am I? she thought, eyes flying open and quickly surveying the room around her. She was lying in a bed – it looked like a hospital bed, and she was covered by a thin blue blanket and a starchy white sheet. There was an intravenous needle sticking very painfully into her left hand, connected to some sort of medication bag. Did I have an accident? Where's the Doctor? Have I been drugged? Someone was holding her right hand, stroking it. She flicked her eyes over to the man seated at the right side of her bed, thinking it must be the D –
Her heart dropped into her stomach.
"D – dad?" Rose whispered raspily, barely getting the word out. Her mouth was so dry she could barely open it. Her lips were chapped and almost seemed stuck together like they hadn't been used in a while. "Dad?"
Time seemed to slow down as the realization hit her. It can't be, it just can't be – I must be dreaming, or going mad, or …
Pete Tyler grabbed her hand, a smile etched with heartbreak on his face. He looked completely overjoyed, and yet somehow grief-stricken at the same time. He looked so much older than she remembered seeing him – he looked almost as old as the Pete Tyler from the parallel world, except without the expensive suit. For a moment she thought it might be that other Pete, but she quickly dismissed the thought: he had never looked at her with the fondness that this man was. His face was haggard and unshaven, like he hadn't slept in days. Tears began to well at the corners of his eyes. "I'm here, baby. I'm here. Everything's going to be OK now."
Dad, you shouldn't be here …
Tears crept up into Rose's eyes too as she grabbed his hand and clutched it tightly. She bit her lip, hard enough to almost draw blood, trying to stave off the panic beginning to set in. She loved her dad, she wanted him here … but this was wrong. She heard the beeping on the nearby machine speed up, matching the beat of her increasing heart rate. This couldn't be happening. Was this a paradox? Oh God no. Had she done something horrible and brought him back to life again? No no no … She had seen her father die – held him in her arms as he died. The world had almost ended because of the paradox created when she saved his life.
"Dad? Where's … where's the Doctor?" Rose asked, trying to keep her voice deliberately calm and steady. And failing badly, even to her own ears. This is BAD. She gripped Pete's hand tightly. He shouldn't be here – but that didn't mean she wanted to let go of him.
"He's coming, baby, just hold on tight." Pete's eyes darted to the beeping machine, alarmed, and then back to Rose's face. "Just … just calm down, angel. He'll be here soon."
Pete stroked her hand gently, trying to give her a comforting smile though his tears, and Rose gave him a tight smile back. Even though she couldn't – shouldn't – believe he was here with her, she opened her arms, and Pete fell into her embrace. The last of his calm resolve faded as he collapsed into sobs against his daughter's shoulder.
"I wasn't sure you were ever going to wake up. I'm sorry, I'm sorry … I just …" Pete said as he pulled away from the hug. He swiped at his eyes with the sleeve of his wrinkled grey jumper, then kissed Rose tenderly on the forehead, regaining his composure. "I don't know what I'd do without you. I love you so much, Rose, I –"
"I love you too, Dad," Rose said, choking out the words through her own tears, now flowing freely down her cheeks. She drew him back into a hug and they clung together through their tears. She hugged him tighter – this could end at any moment, he'd be dead, and she'd never see him again. She took a shaky breath.
"Dad? Where's the Doc –"
The door to her hospital room burst open, and in strode the man she was waiting for, all spiky hair and pinstriped suit and Converse and … a lab coat? She couldn't hold back a smile even though she had no idea what was going on – she was so relieved to see him! Had something happened to her? Was any of this her fault? If anyone knew, it would be the Doctor. He flashed her a brilliant grin as he approached her bed and leaned down over her. Knowing him, maybe he even has it sorted already …
"Rose Tyler!" he whispered, his smile permeating the tone of his voice and infusing it with the warmth and fondness she had grown to crave in her months of travel with this new-new him. "You had us worried there for a while!"
"Blimey, you're one to talk! Had me pretty worried there, too!" Rose gushed, her smile growing as her heart sped up even faster out of sheer relief and joy. He could turn her world around just by looking at her like that … "What – what happened, Doctor? The last thing I remember – "
Something in his eyes changed. They became less joyful, more … serious.
"There's time for that later. First, I need to make sure you're alright. You've been in a coma for almost two years," he said softly, his smile fading completely. Rose stared at him … What's he playing at?, she thought.She couldn't read the expression on his face for any explanation: he looked … impassive. "Mr. Tyler, can you give us a moment please?" the Doctor said.
Pete hesitated, still gripping his daughter's hand. At her nod, he rose from his chair, almost hesitant, and nodded his head.
"I'll be right outside, love," he said, giving Rose one last squeeze and nodding to the Doctor as he made his way into the hallway, his eyes fixed on Rose with a relieved smile until he was out the door.
The door clicked shut behind him. Rose was left alone with the Doctor.
She wasted no time, lurching up to a sitting position and grabbing the Doctor's hands tightly with both of hers, pain from the IV in her hand be damned. The Doctor seemed startled by her action, his posture stiffening in response. In a coma for two years? He has to be making that up as some kind of a lunatic cover story … Rose tried to ignore the panic that was starting to set in again in her stomach. Something about the look in the Doctor's eyes was making her very uneasy. He had never looked at her with such a detached gaze before … and he had never tensed up like that when she took his hand.
"OK. OK. He's gone. Doctor, what's going on? This is scaring me. The last thing I remember, we had left the TARDIS in the courtyard of that Crespallion palace and spent the day in the Anti-Gravity Gardens on Naija 6. We just fed that … that … squirrel-thing, and we went for a walk, and you were making some sort of a joke, and … and the next thing I know, I'm here. What happened to me? Two years – you're just saying that, right? It seems like minutes ago! That's just another joke … right?"
The Doctor paused, staring at her. He opened his mouth slowly, as if trying to choose the perfect words to say.
Rose held her breath and willed herself to remain calm. This couldn't be good, whatever it was. Her Doctor was never at a loss for words.
"Miss … Tyler. I think there's some confusion. You had an accident two years ago that put you in a coma. My name is Doctor John Smith. We haven't met before today – I'm your neurologist. I'm only … your doctor. That's all I am – I'm your doctor."