Rose is dreaming. She knows this dream well, and in spite of the pleasure, it haunts her. She does not know whether to feel joyous or heavy of heart. Her dream self knows that she will have to wake. She has woken from this dream many times before, she knows the drill, she struggles to stay asleep in spite of consciousness tugging at her, lifting her to the surface. The surface almost satisfies, but she would prefer the calm, thick, drifting bliss of the life she experiences with such clarity beneath.
She opens her eyes. Blinks. Closes them again in the hopes of returning to the dream. It's too late—she's awake. In disappointment, Rose curls up facing the wall and remembers:
The Doctor's fingers are in her hair.
He cups her face with one large, warm, thin hand. So gentle. He's so very gentle.
Rose lowers herself down beside him, one hand on his bare chest, her fingers exploring the softness of his flesh.
He strokes her bare back, her shoulders, brings her closer, clutches her to him, and she rests her face against that warm, soft chest, feeling his lungs expand beneath her cheek.
He is warm.
The Doctor is warm and real against her.
And that's when she wakes up. When she always wakes up.
Rose again feels the chill of disappointment pooling in her stomach and sits up in an effort to dispel the remnants of the hope given her by the dream. She realizes that this particular kind of hope is dangerous and will tear her apart if she allows it to. She realizes that dreams are impossible unrealities and that she must not continue to think on the latest in a series of similar dreams. It is a dangerous hole in which to find oneself, and not a danger that the Doctor can save her from.
He can. He can save her from it. But he won't, he wouldn't. Holding hands and hugging and smiles and jokes, but nothing more.
Rose stands and pulls her tangled blonde hair from her face. In spite of the pain of such dreams, she still has the Doctor there with her, and their adventures make her heart pound with excitement and pleasure. This is not the life in the shops she thought she would be trapped in. This is not a life of alarm clocks and forced politeness. This life she has, here with the Doctor—wherever and whenever "here" may be—is, she thinks, truly living. There remains one gap in the spirit of her existence with the Doctor, but she can ignore it during the day. When they run together, she feels that she is flying. Rose and the Doctor, running forever. And they'll never stop.
She smiles. This knowledge is a comfort to her, despite her loneliness. Rose pads over to her closet in her bare feet, the soft red carpet filling the spaces between her toes. She chooses an outfit, though she doesn't know where or when they will be today. Maroon top, white sweater, black trousers. Maybe today they will travel to Antarctica, or a blazing desert planet. Maybe to see the very first, magical performance of Peter Pan. Anything could happen. The thought puts a spring in her step and vitality to her movements, all vestiges of drowsiness gone. Today is going to be extraordinary, she thinks. The Doctor always makes sure of that.
Rose climbs up the five steps to her bedroom door and steps out into the corridor. She loves this part of the TARDIS. The lights are cozily dimmer here, the floor is carpeted. Rose suspects that the TARDIS customized this section according to her preferences, and she feels welcomed every time she walks this route.
She strides into the control room, knowing the Doctor will be here as usual. If he's not here, he's in the kitchen or chuckling at alien television programmes in the living room. She never understands the jokes on the telly—they're too foreign for her and she doesn't know the context—but he finds them all uproariously funny, of course. "Corallis!" he'll cry delightedly. "What a hoot!"
Now he stands at the controls, fiddling with dials and casually glancing at the monitor. He hears her feet on the grating and turns, beaming. "Hello!" he says. "Woo! Bed hair!"
Rose wrinkles her nose at him and glares. "Someone borrowed my hairbrush for calibrations and didn't give it back!" she scolds him teasingly.
"Needed something prickly," he says, matter-of-fact.
The Doctor spins a wheel and turns to give her his full attention. "Where to today, Rose Tyler?" he says, bounding over to where she stands. She grins up at him.
"Got anythin' in mind?" she says.
He wiggles his eyebrows. "Anything. All of time and space. It's all out there."
"You think you're all that," she says.
The Doctor looks affronted. "I am all that," he says. "Coolest groovester in the galaxy. Voted Best Personality by the 3089 F.T.M. Committee of Hartridor. Brightest smile in all of Mellamar—though, of course, they do have rather black teeth, don't they. Met a man there who had purple teeth, actually. Xampa." He pops the p with his lips. "Quite an interesting man. Well, I say 'man.' Interesting fellow. Well…slug. Well…" He is lost in thought for a moment, then sniffs and jumps to the controls, reaches underneath the ledge of the console, and tosses something to Rose.
"Hairbrush!" he says.
She catches it, unsurprised by the suddenness of his actions after all this time traveling with him. "Go make yourself presentable, Miss Snarly-Haired Pink-and-Yellow Beastie, and when you get back we'll go somewhere absolutely amazing," he says.
"Absolutely! Over nine hundred years old and every day is still the most exciting day of my life. Mister Adventure, that's me! Never sit still. That's the rule."
Rose laughs and heads back to her room to brush her hair and get ready for whatever lies in store for her today. "Surprise me!" she calls over her shoulder.
Ten minutes later, her hair brushed and makeup applied, Rose rejoins the Doctor in the console room.
"So," she says, grabbing his arm and leaning towards him. "Where to?"
"Destination set at random!" the Doctor grins. "No idea where to, or when, or what—brilliant, isn't it?"
"Spectacular," she says, imitating a posh accent. Her eyes are twinkling with the fun of it.
"Allons-y, Rose Tyler! Hold on!" he says, and with that he pulls the lever and they're off. The TARDIS lurches and spins through the vortex and Rose and the Doctor make wide-eyed, delighted faces at each other as they are thrown to and fro. They've done this so many times, but it still excites them both. Even the Doctor, who has lived so many human lifespans.
The TARDIS grinds and bumps to a halt on an unknown planet in an unknown galaxy. "Oohoohooooo!" the Doctor cries in excitement. "Adventure awaits!" He grabs Rose's hand and runs across the grating to the door. He raises an eyebrow at her cheekily. "Shall we?"
He offers his arm. She loops her own arm through his, and with his free hand he opens the door. Still arm in arm, they have to walk sideways to pass through it. They shuffle and chuckle, feeling like children in their glee.
That is, until a familiar noise drives itself into their ears.
That's all it is, a one-syllable noise, but god, it scares Rose. She freezes for a moment. "What was—" she begins, but she doesn't finish her sentence. The Doctor's arm is limply slipping out of hers.
"Doctor?" The word becomes a shout. "Doctor!"
He is falling to the ground, his hand clutched against his stomach, and she can see—oh, please no—she can see blood slick on his fingertips, spreading across his shirt, no, no.
The gunman is no more than two dozen yards away, his gun still raised, pointed at them, a look of pure malice on his distorted, craggy face. Rose throws herself over the Doctor, protecting him, her Doctor, even while her mind screams at her to run, and waiting in terror for the next shot to take her. Her heart is pounding, her breath comes quickly. Everything seems too bright, too hot.
A hand tries weakly to push her away. The Doctor's hand. Pushing her away from him, out of the way of the bullet.
"No!" she cries, rapidly looking from him to the gunman, whose weapon seems to have jammed. The alien curses and wrestles with the gun, shakes it, hits it against his palm, and it seems to be working again because he lifts it once more, and, with a sickening sneer, points it at the two travelers.
Even as the Doctor grabs at his shirt, tries to press the blood in, curls his body around the wound, he is shakily scrabbling at his inside coat pocket, reaching for something. The sonic screwdriver. He takes it out of the pocket and fumbles, still trembling. His face is pale, his eyes crinkled with the pain. His breath is coming in tight gasps. The sonic almost slips from his fingers, but he grasps it tightly with white knuckles and rams his thumb on the button. It whirrs, there is a crack, and Rose whips her head around to see the gun in their assailant's hand spark and fall to the ground. The Doctor's hand goes limp and Rose can see him struggling to remain conscious. She springs into action, taking the one opportunity she has, the one the Doctor has given her with the last of his strength.
She grabs the sonic screwdriver—the Doctor would be appalled if it were left behind—and hates herself for wasting this one valuable second or two in stuffing it in the pocket of her trousers while the Doctor pants in agony on the dusty ground. She darts a glance at him as she shoves her hands under his shoulders and takes him by the armpits. His forehead glistens with sweat. His eyes are closed tight. He yelps at the sudden motion, and she mutters rapidly—her voice cracks with emotion and fear—"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
The gunman is approaching them, a long knife now in his hand, and Rose uses all of her energy to heave the Doctor, inch by inch, back towards the TARDIS. They are a mere three feet from the still open door, but she is small and afraid and he is a dead weight in the dust.
"Come on!" she screams, at herself more than at him, and he groans piteously as she drags him the last few inches inside. When she slams the door behind her and rapidly locks it, she catches a glimpse of their attacker little more than three yards away. His face is contorted with fury, and she just sees him hurl the gleaming knife at the door before it closes. She hears the knife thud into the wood and, trembling, puts her head in her hands.
A stifled moan from the Doctor makes her fling herself to his head and clutch his face between her hands. His eyes open, and she can see that he is breathing far too quickly. His breath is shallow and frightening. Their eyes meet, though his seem out of focus.
"Rose," he manages to say. "Help."
"I'm here. I've got you. We're safe. You saved us." She is babbling. She brushes a strand of damp hair from his forehead and frantically takes a peek at his bloodstained abdomen, which he is trying to cover with his hands. They are covered in blood.
She cannot cry. If she allows herself to cry, she tells herself, then she won't be able to save him. She remembers words from what feels like so long ago: I want you safe. My Doctor. Rose swipes hair from her own eyes and bends over him. Carefully, gently, she draws one hand and then another from his stomach. The Doctor whimpers when she unbuttons his shirt and pulls it aside. He screams when she tears her sweater from herself and presses it to the gaping hole in his abdomen, pumping blood.
The sound breaks her heart.
She has never been so afraid.
"Shh, shh, I'm here," she says, still shaking. She thinks she will never stop shaking. Her voice, her hands, her legs. She is made of something that threatens to fall apart and become a fluid. She is disintegrating, she thinks, while she watches her Doctor shout and moan and try to protect his wounded body. She thinks he no longer knows he is making sound. She thinks perhaps the pain has blocked out this part of his consciousness.
"Don't regenerate. Stay with me," she pleads, still pressing the sweater against him although it is quickly becoming soaked with his blood. Red against red. "Doctor?" She lightly caresses his face with her hand, which is now bloody, and her touch leaves a streak of red along his cheek and chin. "Doctor, I have to move you," she mutters frantically. "You're losing too much blood. I have to get you to the Med Bay. You have to stay with me. Doctor. Please stay with me. Please, please."
Rose fights back the tears as she goes once more to pick the wounded Time Lord up by the underarms. When she lifts him again, he screams, a cracked cry that reverberates horribly around the room. She begins to pull him deeper into the TARDIS, and as she struggles to move him she notices that he has stopped screaming and is quiet and still. He has passed out.
"Help me," she begs the TARDIS, and the beautiful, faithful machine hums in return. Lights flicker along the corridor, illuminating a door halfway along. Rose grunts with the effort of dragging the Doctor, but she can't stop now. She's so close. She struggles to get a better grip and continues on, at last reaching the door. The TARDIS has directed her here for a reason. The Med Bay, it must be. She enters with the unconscious Doctor. Blood has now soaked his shirt entirely, and she notices with horror that there is a thin trail of it along the ground where she has dragged him.
"Please, please, please," Rose repeats, knowing no other words to convey her panic. The Med Bay is full of bright, sterile light, and there is a simple hospital bed in the middle of the room. She doesn't know where the strength is coming from, but she heaves him to it and, with great effort, lifts him onto the bed.
"What do I do now?" she wonders aloud, petrified. She realizes that she has no idea how to fix this man. What if she can't save him? What if he doesn't regenerate in time? And if he does regenerate, will she be able to love the new him as she did the last time?
Of course she will.
Rose frantically scans the room for something, anything, that might save him. What do you do for a man who has been shot and is losing blood? IVs, bandages, blood transfusions…she has no idea what she is doing. She isn't a doctor. He's the doctor, she's just the girl from a shop! Christ. Now the tears come, stinging her eyes. She whimpers and sniffs. Now is not the time to fall apart. She needs to save him. She needs…she needs to—
"Rose," comes a weak voice. She spins around and meets the Doctor's pain-clouded eyes. He reaches a blood-encrusted hand out to her.
Rose runs to his side. She grabs his hand and squeezes it. He can barely squeeze back. His fingers can't manage it. He's barely with her.
"Tell me what to do!" she whispers urgently.
"The TARDIS…knows…what to do. Bring the…ah." He squeezes his eyes shut as a wave of pain hits him. His teeth are tightly clamped shut. He tries again. "Bring the Corpus Intrabulator. There…the box… Steel. Bring…bring it." He is having trouble getting the words out. His breathing is shallower than before.
She follows his gaze and sees the box. It is the size of a microwave, and she runs to pick it up and bring it to the Doctor's side.
Her gaze flicks from one eye to his other, searching for the answer. "What do I do with it?" she says in a rush.
"The button. Press it. Press…the button." He tries to gesture, but his hand doesn't seem to want to move. Rose does as he says, slamming her fingers onto a small button on the top of the box. The box springs apart into two halves. Rose is confused; she sees nothing within.
"Place one at my feet and…the other…at m-my head."
Rose hurries to obey. The Doctor's eyes become more focused, and he looks straight at her, his brows furrowed with the pain. "Stand back," he says, and a moment later the room erupts in a bright bluish light. Threads of what look like light—no, they're glowing wires—snake from both ends of the box and meet in the centre, entwining and growing, creating a cage around the prone man on the bed. The light is too bright. Rose has to close her eyes. She is frightened that if she looks away for even a moment, when she turns back he will be gone.
She clutches her arms around herself, as though this will hold her together. She is so afraid, more afraid than she has ever been, and she wants the Doctor to be all right. Needs him to be. She knows she can live without him, but all the same he means more to her than her own life, than her comfort, than her happiness. He is her happiness. He has shown her other worlds and life forms and given her more life than she ever knew before he showed up and told her, "Run." He has made her see things with such clarity. Everything is more beautiful, she thinks, when she is with him. More vivid. She can see that. She can feel it. When he takes her hand and their fingers intertwine and he grins that cheeky grin down at her, her whole being smiles back. All this runs through her mind as she huddles on the floor and the light pulses in front of her closed eyelids. The TARDIS will fix her Doctor. He said it would.
She stays with him. It is two hours before the light recedes. Once or twice she tries to open her eyes, to see what is going on and maybe even—she tries not to admit this to herself—to see whether the Doctor is still alive. Each time she opens them, the light sears her retinas and she quickly closes them again. Perhaps it is better this way.
And so when the light fades after those long two hours, Rose has been trapped in her thoughts long enough to fear, with every inch of her consciousness, the sight of the Doctor on that bed. She is afraid of what she will see. Having spent so much time worrying and waiting and useless, she has envisioned every worst case scenario. She is petrified. But she has to know.
She opens her eyes and slowly stands. She turns towards the bed, blinking. Her eyes become accustomed to the light of the room, and she can make out the dark, prone form of the Doctor lying against the starkly white sheets. Her bloody fingerprints are on the sheets from when she hefted him onto the bed. She would almost rather focus on these than examine her friend. Her breath hitches and she turns her gaze upon him. He is still. His eyes are closed. He breathes softly. She sees that his shirt is thrown open, exposing the bare skin underneath where so recently there was a bloody hole. The wound remains, but no longer pumps blood. Dried blood cakes his stomach. It looks far less horrible than it did before, and as she stares at the wound Rose wonders how much damage the machine was able to repair.
She walks carefully towards the Doctor. Oh, this is terrible. Why did this have to happen? What does she do now?
She thinks to herself, What would Mum do? Jackie Tyler, her mother, and Rose tells herself then that mothers always know what to do. She looks around her at the cabinets lining the walls and decisively strides towards one, removing from it a clean beige cloth. Finding a sink to her right, she runs the water for a moment, bringing it to a lukewarm temperature, and fills a bowl. Her head has calmed somewhat. She may not know what she must do, but she knows what she can do. The machine has done all it could and now the Doctor's recovery is up to her. For the first time since they landed on that dreadful, dusty planet, Rose is feeling confident.
Rose carries the bowl and cloth to the bed and sits on the edge, looking down forlornly at the man who is typically so full of life and energy and now does not move, does not blink, does not speak or jabber or rave. There is no cheeky grin on his white face—the deadliest white, the most horrible, waxy white. His lips are thin and closed.
Rose leans over and kisses his forehead.
"I miss you," she whispers, knowing it is absurd but unable to help herself.
She watches his face for a moment longer before she busies herself, dipping the cloth in the water and squeezing out the excess. From her seat on the edge of the bed, she dabs tenderly at the blood on the Doctor's abdomen. Again and again she wets the cloth, wipes away the dried blood, and wrings it out until the water in the bowl is pink and the blood gone. She carefully lifts his hands and wipes the blood off of them as well, and only when there are no more agonizing traces of it on his skin does she go to the sink and wash her own hands.
She reckons the machine has taken care of antibiotics, and so she decides that the best she can do is to bandage the wound and keep an eye on the unconscious Doctor. She places a pad of cloth—antiseptic bandaging, says the package—over the bullet hole before covering it with a linen adhesive, since she can't move the Doctor to wrap a bandage of sorts around him.
Now all she can do is wait.
She takes to running her fingers through the Doctor's sweat-dampened hair. Over and over, she caresses him in this way. Her mother used to do this to her when she was sick and feverish. She always found it comforting. She knows the Doctor can't feel her ministrations, but maybe some part of him knows that he is being cared for.
At some point, she realises that she is bone-tired. She needs rest, but how can she rest when the Doctor is in this state?
Still, she decides to lie down on the bed beside him. There is just room enough for her, and she settles on her side and places her hand in his. Try as she might to keep her eyes open, sleep overtakes her and she inadvertently nods off.
When she awakes, the Doctor is still unconscious. At some point while she slept she has unknowingly shifted her hand to his chest, and it rises and falls as he breathes steadily. She notes the hair on his exposed chest. Any other time, she would be interested, turned on even, but now she can't. Not now. Of all times, not now.
She waits for him to wake up. Wonders if he will. What if it's a coma? What if there's something she could be doing to help him? She glances at the white linen bandage. There's nothing she can do there, he's wrapped up. What about antibiotics? Injections? IVs? Transfusions? Painkillers? Water? Vitamins? Stitches? God, she thinks, I'm beginning to sound like my mum.
Because she feels so useless, she takes to simple tasks. There's a pair of small scissors in one of the cabinets, and she carefully cuts away the bloodied shirt the Doctor wears. She can't remove the cloth underneath him, and she doesn't even consider moving him and risking further harm, but she slices through the fabric and throws away as much of the ruined shirt as she can get at. She loosens his necktie and takes that off as well. His upper body is now completely bare, and she suddenly thinks he looks very small. Very human, even.
She bends over his feet and unties the laces on his shoes, carefully pulling off both his trainers and his socks. She unfolds a navy blue cotton blanket and covers him with it, pulling it up to his chin in a motherly fashion. She can't help but think that she is tucking in a 900-year-old Time Lord, and how absurd it is.
Rose pulls up a chair and settles herself in it. Watching the Doctor. Hoping he will wake up. Once again she takes his hand in her own. She strokes the back of his hand with her thumb and notes how warm he is. Not alarmingly warm, just warm. The warmth of living flesh. She holds his hand, and she waits. Nothing more matters. She does not leave his side. She does not let go of his hand.
When he does wake, his return to full awareness is slow. He utters a low groan, and Rose, startled, snaps to attention. Her wide eyes watch his face, stare at him. His lips part slightly to emit a long, slow exhalation, and then his eyelids flutter open. He blinks. He turns his head to look at Rose.
"Hiya," he mutters with a weak smile.
"Hey," she replies with tears in her eyes, returning his smile. She lightly squeezes his hand and he squeezes back and oh, it feels so good to know that he is awake and responsive. His hand in hers, alive, just like it should be.
As Rose knows he will, the Doctor soon turns his attention with curiosity to his injury. With a grunt he shifts to rest higher against his pillows and lifts the blanket to examine his stomach.
"I bandaged it for you," Rose says quickly. "The machine healed you partway, but the damage must've been too extensive because there's still—there's still a hole."
The Doctor's eyes glisten with tears. "Rose Tyler, you are magnificent," he says, and she realises that they are tears of gratitude. With effort he raises his hands and draws her head down to his face, planting a kiss on her forehead. Rose sobs.
"Hey. No," he murmurs, and he pulls her down to his chest and folds his arms around her while she cries against him.
"Hush, now. Shhh." He cups the back of her head in one large hand and rubs her shoulder with the other. Rose wants to stop crying but can't do it. All her fears have morphed into these thick, hot tears that run down her cheeks and nose and pool into the space between the Doctor's neck and his clavicle.
"Come on, now," he says after a time. "It's all right. Come on." Rose sniffs, lifts her head, and wipes her nose with the back of her hand.
"It's not all right," she says.
"No." She sobs again. He takes two fingers and wipes the tears from her cheeks and chin.
He smiles. "Crying for me, Rose? I do tend to have that effect on people."
Rose gives a hiccupping laugh. "You think you're all that."
"I am all that," he murmurs, his smile widening.
"You are not," she says, giving him a playful punch to the shoulder.
"Oi! Injured man here! Kill a man when he's down, eh?"
"Something like that." She sniffs and wipes her face. "Can I get you anything? Water? Tea? Juice? Er…any pain medications?"
"No thanks, Jackie, I'm allergic to mothering," he says. Rose raises an eyebrow at him. "Water would be lovely," he admits.
"Right. Don't die while I'm gone," she warns him over her shoulder as she heads out the door.
"You take all the fun out of serious injuries!" he calls after her.
"Yep!" she shouts back, already out of sight down the corridor.
While she's gone, he lifts his blankets again and peers at the bandage around his midriff. "Was this intentional?" he says aloud to his TARDIS.
Rose returns within three minutes carrying a tray. She sets it down carefully on his bedside table and turns to him. "Think you can sit up?" she asks.
"Ooh. I very much hope so. Do I smell soup?"
Rose smiles. "Chicken noodle. My mum always made it for me when I was sick."
"In that case, I will certainly be sitting up. Er…could you…?"
Rose bends to help him. Taking him under one arm, she lends her strength as the Doctor heaves himself up against the backboard of the bed. She piles pillows behind him, grabbing a few from a low cupboard. He winces when he thinks she's not looking, but she sees and pauses to examine his face. It is still terribly pale, and try as he might to hide the pain she can tell by his furrowed brow that whatever medication that box supplied him with was not enough.
"Oh dear," the Doctor says. "I'm a bit of a mess, aren't I? Useless."
"Doesn't matter," Rose says. "I'm taking care of you."
She makes eye contact with him and sets the tray on his lap. A glass of water, a bowl of soup, a napkin, and a spoon. He eyes the lot. "Spoon feeding isn't part of this program, is it?" he asks.
"Er…not unless necessary," Rose says.
"I'm suddenly feeling an extreme numbness in both my arms," the Doctor says with a wink.
"Nah. Just lazy." He grins and takes up the spoon in his hand. "And anyway, can you imagine?" He shudders for effect. "Spoon feeding. I'm nine hundred plus years old! The indignity of it!" He begins to slowly eat the soup, which—thanks to the TARDIS—is the perfect temperature.
"By the way," he says through a mouthful of soup. He swallows, puts the spoon down, and looks at Rose. "Have I ever told you? You really are the best."
"I mean it," he continues. "All this—" with a comprehensive gesture he indicates the food, the blanket, his dressed injury. Rose lowers herself into the chair by his bed. "You are—just the best, you know. And I couldn't have asked for better care, or a better friend. Thank you, Rose. For everything. For saving my life. For taking care of me. Look at me, getting all emotional," the Doctor says sheepishly. "It's just, I can't repay this." He reaches out his hand to her and she places hers in his. He squeezes it. Rose can't find words in response, but she is content to say nothing. Some things don't need saying.
They sit there together, chatting. The Doctor finishes his soup. Rose spends the night by his side on a cot. Two survivors of a terrible accident.
Even though long days of recovery await, and this incarnation of the Doctor will always carry a scar from when he was shot and bled on a dusty desert planet somewhere in the great wide universe, Rose knows that everything is going to be okay.