Rose stared blankly at the bloodstained piece of cloth. It was the missing piece of the Doctor's shirt, but how? She didn't remember seeing any marks or wounds on his body while they were in the Chamber of Candles, but then again, she hadn't seen his back. Surely the Sisters would have treated any injuries he might have sustained in their flight from the Shrine? She hesitated, her fingers on the crimson blanket, wondering if she should check to see that the Doctor wasn't injured. The object of her concern moaned softly in his sleep, rolling up on his side away from her, and Rose decided that she really should look for herself. She slowly drew both blanket and sheet away from his back and leaned in to take a closer look.
The Doctor's back was smooth and unmarked, with a light dusting of freckles on the tops of his shoulders. Lean cords of muscle ran the length of his back on either side of his spine, tapering gently into the slight swell of his buttocks. Rose couldn't see where any blood might have come from, but she did notice a small, dark mole, right between the Doctor's shoulder blades. She smiled, remembering his sensing of it shortly after his regeneration, and wondered if his skin remained that sensitive. On a whim, she blew lightly across it, and was startled as she heard his sharp intake of breath. She sat back quickly, heart pounding with the fear that her exploration might have been discovered. The Doctor remained still, however, his breathing even and deep. Rose relaxed and slowly let out the breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Still sensitive, all right.
She sat back, looking at the piece of the Doctor's shirt clutched in her hand. If the blood wasn't the Doctor's, where could it have come from? Her eyes widened as she remembered... she'd woken in this room... after they'd left the shrine and made a run for the TARDIS.... Lyra had said that the Doctor had stayed with her... after she'd been given the new soporific by Valna. The pain of her injured lower lip returned tenfold with a rush of hazy memory and realization. He'd stayed with her. Blotted the blood from her lip and held her gently while...while he was the perfect gentleman. Without taking advantage of the situation, he'd brought her to the brink and relieved her suffering.... But then, he'd left her, to offer himself up as a kind of sacrifice to save not only her, but Lyra as well. She'd been so weak that she had gone right along with it, going so far as to even help the Sisters take what they wanted from him. For a moment, she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t breathe because of the tight band of guilt slowly constricting around her chest. She wanted nothing more than to crawl back to the TARDIS to hide rather than to see the look in his eyes when he remembered what she'd done. As she dropped the bloodstained cloth to the floor, a half sob escaped her and she wiped at her eyes with a reddish-orange sleeve.
Taking a shaky breath to steady herself, she looked down at the Doctor's still form. He was so beautiful, and so different from anyone she'd ever met. He doesn't need this, Rose thought, trying to get herself under control. She wasn't doing anyone any good in the state that she was in. There was only one thing that mattered to her right now and he was snoring softly, his nose buried in the sheets. She'd gone to the chamber to protect him as much as she could, and while she'd kept him from Melina, he'd still been hurt - possibly even damaged - and she was going to do whatever she could to make it right. She needed to stay strong for his sake.
"Doctor, please wake up," she said, addressing his still form, "because I have a few things I need to say to you. I want to say I’m sorry for not protecting you. But I really didn't have a choice and I won't always be there to help you, like you can’t always be there for me. So yeah, it hurts that I screwed up, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I mean, I pretty much have already, and I’m done doing it. I'm sorry."
Rose took a deep breath, pausing momentarily.
"OK, one more thing and I’ll shut up," she said. "There's something I want to tell you, something I say to you a lot, really, just never out loud. It’s hard for me to say it, but you've stuck by me, been more than patient with me when I've messed up, and helped me when I needed it the most. I think about you, I think about how you'd react, knowing that I like... looking at you and... touching you. I like talking with you and making you laugh and listening to you, even when you're teasing me. Maybe especially when you're teasing me, yeah? I like traveling with you and just being with you. I more than just like it." Rose swallowed hard and leaned in close to the Doctor's ear.
"I want you to know," she said softly, "that I lo…"
The Doctor suddenly jerked slightly and rolled to his back, his eyebrows twitching. Rose lurched back, startled.
His voice, hoarse and low, whispered to her. "I made that bond to you before I regenerated." The Doctor sighed, shifting in the bed, his eyes remaining closed.
"What?" Rose asked, confused.
"At the game station - had to take the time vortex out of your head," the Doctor said groggily. "I couldn't lose..."
Rose, overjoyed to hear the Doctor's sleepy confirmation of a bond, pressed her lips to his, briefly silencing him.
"...you," he finished when Rose pulled back. The Doctor blinked, opened his eyes and regarded her in a very unfocused manner. "Knew that I might not survive, not in that body. That's when I made the bond - when I kissed you. I'm not sorry that I made it - is that all right with you?"
"Hell yes," Rose said, grinning.
"Oh, good," the Doctor sighed. "And if there's any more chocolate, bring it when you come back to bed." Then he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
Rose rolled her eyes, exasperated.
After watching the Doctor sleep peacefully for some time, Rose got up and tried the door. It was locked. Figures, she thought. The fire was still giving off a good amount of heat and she warmed her hands briefly before moving back over to further inspect the contents of the bedside tray. There wasn't any more chocolate, she noted with some disappointment. Besides the exotic-looking fruits and several other strange-looking dishes, there was what appeared to be a loaf of rustic-looking bread that she somehow hadn't noticed before. There was also a bowl of a slimy green substance that she absolutely wasn't touching under any circumstances.
"Rose - don't leave me, please!"
Rose jumped at the cry from the bed. The Doctor was struggling to sit up, his eyes still shut. Rose climbed back up onto the bed, taking his hand in hers. "Shhhh...it's OK. Lie back down. I'm not going anywhere," she soothed.
"No - she'll leave me. I can see them, the timelines - starting to come back. She's gone!" the Doctor wailed, a look of anguish crossing his features.
Rose pushed the Doctor back down to the bedding with some difficulty, her hand remaining on his chest. "What, there's a timeline when I'm not with you?"
"You're - Rose - you're here. In - in one of the timelines, you've left me - left me because of what I did," the Doctor panted. "But I had to - had to do it to help you, couldn't just watch you suffer - Rose, I'm sorry!"
Rose watched as the Doctor wrestled with his own guilt - it was as touching as it was heartbreaking. "'S ok," she said. "I know that you had to do it." She removed her hand from his chest and gently stroked her fingers along his forehead, trailing down his cheek. "It's all right. There's nothing to forgive."
He turned his face into her touch, pressing his cheek against her hand. "I'm still dreaming," he murmured.
"Why do you think that?" Rose asked softly.
"Mmmmmm..." He nuzzled at her hand. "You're touching me - feels good...."
She gasped as he began to lick at her palm. She'd no idea how long he'd slept, but surely the soporific had worn off by now? And the Doctor had said he could feel his 'extra' senses starting to come back. "Doctor...."
He slowly opened his eyes to look at her before flinching and dropping her hand, turning his head to the side. "No... wrong timeline - can't be...."
Rose was alarmed. "What? What do you see?"
He gritted his teeth, still avoiding looking at her. "You've become one of them. One of the Sisters...."
"Oh." Rose frowned, looking down at her borrowed robe in sudden realization. "Doctor - I just borrowed this. My clothes were dirty, I - "
He looked back at her, grimacing. "Still not right... timeline... so many - so many of them where you aren't there - or I'm not there... can't be...."
Rose threaded her fingers through his and squeezed. "Maybe it's because your blocked senses are coming back, yeah?"
"Yes. No. I mean... I don't know. Haven't had this before...."
Rose watched, feeling helpless as the Doctor continued to struggle with whatever visions he was seeing, and her heart went out to him. "Maybe you should try to rest and save your strength?"
"No... no, no, no...." He released her hand and rolled up onto his side, bracing himself with an elbow, his eyes downcast. "There are some things I need to tell you - tell you while I still can," he said. "I hope you'll let me, after what I did to you - "
"What do you mean, while you still can?" Rose interrupted in alarm. "What do you think is going to happen?" she asked, her heart constricting in her chest.
The Doctor shook his head and looked up at her. "I can't tell you, because I don't know," he said, pushing himself up on shaky forearms, his eyes straying from Rose's eyes to her lips. "But what I can tell you is that I am bonded to you. The bond is getting stronger - and I want your touch, I - I need it, while I can still have it."
Rose was in shock at his words, her hands flying to her mouth. A wave of liquid warmth rushed through her, pooling in her lower abdomen.
"I know that it used to be strictly forbidden, but...." His mouth was opening and closing wordlessly, seemingly at a loss for what he wanted to say. He looked away from her again, eyes downcast and head bowed. "Please," he implored, before looking up and pushing forward to kiss Rose softly and deeply. His tongue lapped at hers before trailing over the roof of her mouth and then withdrawing. When he pulled back, he did so only slightly, so that their lips were still almost touching. Rose could feel the rapid in and out of his breath on her mouth. "I'm yours," he whispered, the sheet slipping perilously low on his hips.
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