Two hours later, and Rose had still not awoken. The nurses and doctors who had been in and out of Rose's room hadn't been very forthcoming on news regarding her condition, which worried the Doctor endlessly. Martha persuaded Jackie to go and get something to eat in the hospital canteen, and had shown her the way, under the Doctor's assurance that he would watch Rose for a while on his own.
He concentrated his gaze on the bed for a bit, due to the irremovable lump in his throat at seeing her half-bandaged head. For fifteen minutes, he kept up a babble of one-sided conversation, hoping that somehow she would hear him.
His head jerked up in surprise, then, as he felt her squeeze his hand with the slightest pressure before loosening her grip again. "Rose?" he murmured, his eyes scanning over her unresponsive face. "Rose, can you hear me? It's me, I'm here. It's the Doctor." Still nothing. "Rose? Rose?"
The Doctor hadn't even noticed that a nurse had entered the room, accompanied by Martha. The nurse glanced over Rose's notes, scribbled something down, and told the Doctor, "You need to give her time. She's slipped into a coma, remember, and there's no telling how long she could be out for. Keep talking to her though; people say it helps. Not just for her, but...for you, too."
He nodded absently, keeping his eyes on Rose. He stroked the back of her hand with his thumb and dimly registered the nurse murmuring something to Martha before exiting the room.
"Would you like a cup of tea?" suggested Martha kindly. "I can go and get us some from that vending machine we passed. It'll probably taste disgusting, but..."
"Okay," he replied quietly. "Yeah. Thanks, Martha."
"No problem." She worried her lip as she watched him staring at Rose. His back was to her but she could tell from the set of his shoulders and shallow breaths that he was desperately afraid that Rose wouldn't wake up. No wonder the nurse had refrained from telling him what she'd just told Martha. It might push him over the edge. "I'll get one for Jackie, too. She said she would find her own way back from the canteen once she's had a bite to eat. She should be back soon."
Martha sighed sadly, wondering what she could possibly do to comfort him, then left in search of probably-disgusting tea.
Left alone with Rose again, the Doctor resumed talking to her. "Rose. If you can hear me, squeeze my hand?"
He blinked quickly, trying to hold it together. "I'm going to sit here and talk to you until you answer me back, you know," he commented lightly, in an attempt to mask his anxiety. "Remember the other day, when we found that little café down that sidestreet that we didn't know was there? And we ordered chips to share and two milkshakes. I laughed because you took a long slurp out of my banana one, and the look on your face...it was hilarious! And then I stole your chocolate one in retaliation, because that's only fair. And then you laughed at me, because I had a chocolate moustache. You told me to use the straw next time. I think I told you a joke or something, but I probably wasn't listening to myself which is why I can't remember, because I was distracted by the fairy lights reflecting off your hair.
"By the time we stopped laughing, the chips had gone cold. Still, as you like to say, cold chips are better than no chips. But we promised to go back to that place next week, so that we could sample the chips hot and decide where the café ranks on our list of top chip-makers in London. I really don't know where I am going with this little recounting of events, by the way, but I suppose I just mean that you really, really have to wake up soon, or else we'll break our promise and...and we don't break our promises..." he trailed off helplessly and ran his hand down his tired face.
His next sentence popped out without him meaning to. "Do you think we'll be together, someday?" The silence that followed his question clenched his heart. He gave a nervous, humourless chuckle. "The only time I get the courage to ask that is when you're in a coma," he muttered. "Typical." He brought the hand he was holding up to his mouth and pressed his lips to her knuckles. "I'm sorry."
The door squeaked open and the Doctor instantly dropped their joined hands back to rest on the bed. "Hello," he greeted Jackie quietly as she entered.
"Hi," she replied, sitting down on the chair positioned the other side of Rose's hospital bed. "I just called a few of your friends, from Torchwood. Donna's on her way. I told the others I'd update them later. No point them all being here, crowding the place."
The Doctor nodded. "Mmm," he agreed distractedly. His thumb recommenced its stroking pattern against Rose's.
"Doctor," Jackie said softly.
She smiled as tears filled her eyes. "She talks about you all the time, you know," she told him, her voice cracking.
The Doctor turned his head towards her, looking surprised. "She does?"
His brow furrowed. "She keeps secrets from me," he murmured. "She's my best friend, but I didn't even know she had another job, and I've never met you before today. Why is that?"
She sighed. "I think she's trying to keep some parts of herself, of her life, away from you. She's learnt from past mistakes; she refuses to gamble her entire life, to become completely dependent upon someone else."
"I don't understand."
"She left school at sixteen so that she could get a job to help her boyfriend pay for the rent for the flat they shared whilst he 'wrote music' and 'performed gigs around London.' At one point she worked in a Chinese takeaway at the same time as working at Henriks, the place she was working at today. Then she packed the takeaway in, in favour of her job with you, 'cos that pays better."
Jackie paused, watching the Doctor looking at her in confusion for a second before continuing, "She gave up her whole chance of making something better of herself. I know that working in a shop or takeaway or whatever isn't a bad thing to do in life; god knows I've worked in a dozen shops over the last twenty years. But Rose is cleverer than I ever was. She didn't like school all that much because she found the teachers boring, but she still wanted to do something in her life, and she could. That's why I think she likes her job at Torchwood so much. Sure, she's not the scientist saving the health crisis of the minute with a new vaccine or whatever, but she's part of the team that's making a difference, and she loves that."
The Doctor nodded in agreement, then cleared his throat and asked, "So...this boyfriend, then. What happened there? Are they still...together? Is that another thing she's not told me about?"
"God, no. No. He left her for someone else after six months and ran off abroad, leaving her in debt and whatnot. At the time she was heartbroken and angry. Now she realises that she needn't have felt like that, not for him. He wasn't worth the guitar he bought at a bootfair. Nearly four years ago, now, and she knows that there was no love there between them. He was in a band and she was infatuated for a tiny while, but when reality set in, she realised he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. She's had another boyfriend since then, her childhood mate, but...well. They weren't right for each other in the end. Anyway, point is, nowadays she won't let herself get too involved, in case she gets heartbroken for real, this time."
"But I'm her friend," the Doctor protested. "She should be able to tell me anything. She should trust me."
"She spends the majority of her time with you," pointed out Jackie. "You can't blame her from having some time on her own, especially with how busy she is with this other job."
"I know, I know, I just...It feels as though I..."
He tugged his ear nervously, unsure whether he wanted to admit this to Jackie or not. "I just..."
"Yeah?" Jackie prompted.
He swallowed hard. "Have you ever felt like you want to spend every single moment of your day with someone?" he rushed out.
Jackie smiled knowingly. "Yeah. But believe me, when you do, you start to regret wishing such a thing. And then after, when it's over..." she trailed off sadly and twisted the ring on her finger back and forth. "You want it back so badly, and you regret regretting in the first place, because now you'll never get the chance again, not even for the crappier moments, and..." She met the Doctor's eyes steadily. "Has Rose told you about her dad?"
The Doctor nodded. "Yes. I'm so sorry you both had to go through that."
"She trusts you, then," Jackie said definitively. "If she's told you about Pete. She doesn't tell everyone about Pete."
"I lost my family very young, too. I can empathise."
"Rose hasn't told you? Thought you said she spoke about me all the time," he said light-heartedly, trying to divert the conversation.
"She doesn't tell me stuff like that. That's your life, your personal life. She rarely tells a story that's not hers to tell."
"What sort of stuff does she say about me, then?" he asked curiously.
Jackie chuckled and rolled her eyes. "Oh, stuff about your genius and amazingness and gravity-defying hair. Oh yeah, and your dreamy smile..."
His eyes widened. "What?"
"Well, maybe she doesn't use those exact words, but that's what she basically means." Jackie paused, surveying the Doctor's surprised expression with some amusement. "Doctor, you're not feeling things all on your own. Rose feels them too."
He gulped. "Feels what?"
"The wanting to be with you all the time thing."
"But she doesn't," he countered. "Otherwise she would accept my invitations when I ask her to meet me somewhere on a Saturday evening or...or come to my place when I ask her to..."
"She just can't let you consume her life," reasoned Jackie. "Otherwise she'd have nothing left if things didn't work out. She's already given you her heart, whether either of you admit that or not. She has to make sure the rest of her life doesn't crumble if you break it."
They stared at one another in silence for ten seconds or so. "How do I persuade her to give me a proper chance?" he found himself whispering.
Jackie sighed sadly. "You've got to wait for her to wake up, first," she whispered back.
He closed his eyes tightly and squeezed Rose's hand. "She will wake up. She will. She has to." He opened his eyes and could no longer see Jackie clearly, as his vision went all blurry with moisture.
Jackie pressed her lips together tightly to stop a sob breaking free. "The doctors aren't that..." she tried, but found herself unable to get the words out.
"They said, if she doesn't wake up in the next twenty four hours or so, they aren't – they aren't - " she broke off, and inhaled deeply before concluding, "They aren't optimistic about her recovery."
"Then she'll just have to wake up in the next twenty four hours, won't she?" he replied instantaneously, his voice clipped. He looked at Rose, and reached his hand forward to tuck her hair behind her ear, trying to tune out the sound of Jackie sniffing and wiping at her eyes. He couldn't let himself feel defeated, not yet. There was still hope to be had, and he figuratively grabbed onto that hope hard.
"Where's Martha gone, by the way?" Jackie mumbled after awhile, trying to distract herself from the helplessness she felt.
The Doctor frowned. "Oh. I don't know. She said she was going to get us some tea, but that was ages ago, now."
"Oh. Well, maybe the vending machine's broken or something."