When Joan came into Rose's room, she took a step back and collided with the door frame, stifling her gasp with her hand. The Doctor raised his head from where it had been bowed down, kissing Rose's knuckles. He grinned at Joan, wanting to burst with the good news, but then he noticed Joan's expression of bewilderment and awe.
Rose gave his fingers a little squeeze. Although Joan knew who the three of them were she doubted that she would easily accept the fact that Rose had cheated death. “Doctor, give her... she needs to know,” Rose whispered to him.
“Yes, right, of course. Sorry,” he said. He let go of her hand and stood to go to Joan. Hadn't Donna told her why they needed her in the private ward?
Joan's hand was still clamped over her mouth, and her eyes were wide as she shifted her gaze from Rose to the Doctor. When he closed the distance between them Joan came back to her senses. She smoothed her pinafore and took a steadying breath. “I'm sorry, you must forgive me for my... for... it's very unprofessional,” she said, brushing past the Doctor and going to the bedside table where her stethoscope lay. Rose closed her eyes as Joan examined her by discreetly lifting the sheet and slipping her hand underneath. The chest piece was cold on her skin and it brought her further back to her senses.
“This is quite... there seems to be no damage to your lungs after all,” Joan said, taking off the stethoscope.
“It's the first thing she healed,” Rose whispered, locking eyes with Joan.
Joan tugged at the sheet. “She?”
“Bad Wolf,” Rose whispered. The pain was increasing now that the rush of adrenaline had abated somewhat. Bad Wolf would heal her, but it was going to take time — less time than a therapy, much less time — but she would still be in a lot of pain.
“Who's...” Joan began, then interrupted herself with a sigh. “I do not know who you are any more. I'll do anything to help you, of course, but... I'd appreciate it if you let me do what I do best.”
“Of course we will,” the Doctor said. He'd joined them at the bed. “But we owe you an explanation.”
“Like how Rose came back from the dead?” Joan said, the sarcasm in her voice unfamiliar and stinging.
“I'm sorry,” Rose said. “For scaring you so.”
“Answer me this, just one question. That's all,“ Joan said, drawing herself up to her full height. “If the Doctor had never visited us, if he'd never chosen this place on a whim... would anyone here have died?”
The Doctor didn't answer her. Clearly, he had not expected this question at all. And really, Rose thought, it was a rhetorical question, but it was worse than any accusation or slap in the face.
“I see,” Joan said, raising her chin. “You'll excuse us while I take care of Rose.”
The Doctor nodded slowly, but before he left he dropped a kiss on Rose's forehead.
Joan busied herself with her instruments for a while. Rose closed her eyes as she tried to keep the pain at bay and listened to her move around the room. She could breathe again, freely and without pain, but the burns on her right side hampered her movement a lot and the need to moan became stronger the more Bad Wolf began repairing the nerves, making them shoot pain-filled messages to her brain. Or was it the damaged nerves in her spine? Was it a combination of the two? Rose wanted to curl up into a tiny ball and will the pain away but she felt unable to move. All she could do was vent the sensation, and she began to groan.
“I'm here, love,” Joan said, her hand cool on her cheek. “I can't give you any more morphine, but I hope what I have will help you.”
Rose's eyes fluttered open and found Joan's expression as calm and kind as when she'd first met her. “I'm so sorry,” Rose murmured. She had made Joan's life such a misery, and now she was showing her so much kindness. Her mind was too fuzzy to decide whether Joan was just being professional or if she really cared. It doesn't matter, Rose thought, as long as she helps me. She could deal with contempt and fear; she'd learned that working for Torchwood, back in Pete's World. But she had done much more to Joan than just rock her view of the world. She had come and stolen her love; that was not easily forgiven, and for a frightening moment she felt she was very much at the mercy of the nurse.
Joan paused briefly, then exhaled. “We do not choose with whom we fall in love,” Joan said.
Rose swallowed; it was painful because her throat was so dry. “This wasn't supposed to happen. It's all my fault,” she insisted. If it hadn't been for her bad timing the Doctor might have been able to sit out the threat from the Family and nothing would have happened, no one would have had to die, just like he had planned. “It's not the Doctor's fault.”
Joan looked at her hard. Rose could see that she was mulling things over, that she was trying to make a decision but ultimately was unable to form a coherent thought. “We'll see about that. Now take this,” she said, pushing her hand beneath Rose's head to support her as she tipped a small bowl against her lips. Rose opened her mouth and felt two pills tumble onto her tongue. Joan replaced the bowl with the spout of the nursing cup. Rose drank eagerly and washed the painkillers down.
“Now, don't worry about a thing. Just get some rest and... let your body do its job,” Joan said with a small smile.
“Can... I don't wanna... be alone,” Rose mumbled.
“You won't be alone, Rose, don't worry,” Joan said, taking her hand and giving her a squeeze. “Don't worry.”
The Doctor slumped, for once caught in numbed silence, into the chair he had occupied earlier. He had been warned about the traumatic effects of using the Chameleon Arch. Memories of excruciating pain made him wince as he recalled having his biology rewritten, and they were closely followed by the confusion he had experienced upon waking in the body and life of John Smith. Donna had been there for him, a kind stranger then who happened to start work at the same school as he did. He had taught History and led the normal, uneventful life of a school teacher of 1913 until he began to fall for the Matron, only to fall even harder for a mysterious young woman who happened to look like the elusive girl from his dreams. As John Smith he had been in love with Marianne Prentice, knowing that it would have to come to an end when she had to leave. And then the Family had found them and he'd been forced to give up his life as John Smith. He'd wanted to save the woman he loved and had given up a good life for, but it turned out that, once he had regained his consciousness, it had all been for nought. Rose had died anyway.
Rose Tyler had done the impossible and made her way back to him, the Doctor, only to find him as John Smith, hiding from a band of megalomaniac murderers. She had fallen in love with him, and that was what had gotten her killed.
His head snapped up as the door opened and Donna came in. She looked shocked and exhausted as she put the picnic hamper on the floor by the table. “The school's in chaos, you'd better go and make yourself a little useful,” she said, beginning to unpack the food Cook had put together for John and Marianne. “Then we can talk.”
Grateful for her pragmatic approach to coping with situations like this he rose and went below stairs to see what he could do. “Thank you, Donna,” he said on his way out of Joan's office.
“You did what you had to do,” she said. “Now go.”
The teachers had herded the boys into the dining hall, where they tried to assess any possible injuries. The Doctor decided that it would be best for the moment to pretend he was still John Smith to avoid further distress to anyone. It was bad enough that the school had lost its headmaster, two teachers, a maid, a student and the groundskeeper's daughter to the Family, to say nothing of the victims in the village. Or Rose. And all that because of him.
Most of the boys were still shivering with horror because of their fruitless fight against the Family's army of scarecrows. None of these boys, he thought, were ready to fight, not now, not when the Great War would eventually inflict death and suffering on the country. The rest of the staff were just as shocked, but they knew how to deal with it better. Surprisingly, they looked to him for guidance. Slipping back into the fictional life of John Smith was easier than he'd expected, and, he had to admit, it was comforting.
“Any casualties?” he asked, running his hand through his hair. He noticed that, in contrast to everyone else, he was only in his waistcoat, with the arms of his shirt rolled up and his collar undone.
“Only minor ones; bruises, cuts and burns from handling the guns or retreating,” Mr Foster, the Maths teacher, informed him. “Matron has already taken care of them.”
“Good, yeah,” the Doctor replied. “What of the village?” As he'd gone to fight the Family he hadn't paid much attention to the damage there, and inquiring after it now was painful but necessary.
“Clarke's outbuilding, a barn and the Town Hall,” Mr Foster said. “Dr Bennett returned just in time to treat the injuries. They say it was the same fireballs that destroyed the outbuilding.”
That, at least, didn't sound too bad.
The geography teacher, Emmerson, spoke up. “I don't mean to pry, Mr Smith, but is it true what they say about your fiancée? That she was in the fire in Clarke's outbuilding?”
The Doctor squared his jaw and looked at the tips of his dirty boots. “Yes, yes it's true.”
“How is she?”
“She'll make it, but she is severely injured and we can't move her for the time being. She's above stairs, in the infirmary,” he said.
“If you'd like, Mr Smith, I can take care of things here so you can be with her,” Mr Foster said. “I take it you agree that it's best to close the school for the time being and send the boys home for a week or so?”
The Doctor smiled, turning to go. “Excellent idea. Thank you.”
“Thank you,” Emmerson said.
He looked up in surprise.
“For whatever you did to those poor possessed people. You saved a lot of lives tonight,” Emmerson explained.
His smile waned. “Not enough, I'm afraid.” Just then the doorbell rang, accompanied by banging on the door and muffled reassurances that it was the police. He nodded at the men, then he turned and went back to the infirmary.
Donna had laid out the food John and Marianne were supposed to have had that night. The bottle of wine he had picked up in the village a couple of days ago, he noticed, remained in the basket. Joan was there too, and she looked just as tired and bewildered as Donna. They deserved an explanation, which, after checking on Rose and settling at the table with them, he began to address.
“Just who are you?” Joan asked, her fear stronger than her good manners. “You look the same.”
He looked at her, feeling slightly nauseous at the sight of the food on the table. The picnic that was never meant to be.
“Goodness, you must forgive my rudeness, John. Doctor,” she said, covering her mouth with her hand.
“John is all right. I... I've decided to play his role for the time being,” he explained softly. Donna's eyes went wide in surprise.
“Where is he? John Smith?” Joan asked.
The Doctor touched his chest. “Somewhere in here.”
Joan took a deep, steadying breath. “So the man from his dreams turns out to be real, and the real man is just a story.”
The Doctor nodded.
“Why did Rose come back to life, Doctor?” Donna asked gently.
“She carries a tiny part of the heart of the TARDIS inside her. She looked into it to save my life,” he said, smiling wistfully. “I guess that when I took it from her I missed a bit. It's what guided her back to me. It's what alerted the Family to my presence here.”
Both women nodded as silence settled in the room. The food on the table between them remained untouched. Only the sounds from the police moving around downstairs and the ticking of the clock marked the passage of time.
“What now?” Donna asked eventually.
“I'd like to stay here until Rose is well enough so I can take her to the TARDIS,” he said. “Moving her now would only cause her more pain, and... and I think she's in very capable hands here. The best.”
“So there's nothing in your magic blue box that can cure her?” Joan asked in disbelief.
“Yes, there is, but Rose has already started healing herself,” he said. “The damage to her lungs is gone already. It will only be a couple of days, and there is nothing on the TARDIS she doesn't have here.”
“Apart from the comfort of her own bed,” Donna pointed out.
“We'll move her as soon as possible. I'll sit with her during the night so you can get some sleep,” he said.
“What about you?” Joan asked kindly. He was surprised at her readiness to take care of Rose when she could have insisted they leave in that blue box of his.
“I don't sleep much, I'll be fine,” he said, casting her a grateful glance.
Eventually, Joan nodded, sighing. “All right. But come and wake me if there's any problem.”
When the pain killers began to wear off in the small hours of the morning Rose felt close to tears, not because of the pain she knew would set her entire body on fire, but because of the cruel tricks they played on her mind. The hand that was holding hers could not be John's, because John was gone. And yet it was the right shape, and the motion of his thumb on the back of her fingers was so soothing and reassuring. The hand was warm like John's, not cool like the Doctor's. Why was John there instead of the Doctor? What had happened? What if John hadn't opened the watch but somehow managed to defeat the Family? What if... but hadn't he told her John was gone? If only the pain didn't make her so fuzzy. But the pain was becoming unbearable again, and what... she was beside herself with pain anyway, what did it matter if she...
She felt a tear trickle down the side of her face and into her ear. It tickled and she would have laughed if it didn't hurt so much. She gave the fingers in her hand an experimental squeeze. Maybe they weren't real, maybe there were just something her mind came up with to make her feel a little better. The warmth and solidness surprised her as her fingers tightened around the sensation of someone's hand in hers.
“John?” she mumbled, turning her head in his direction before opening her eyes.
Fabric rustled and wood squeaked. “No, it's... I'm the Doctor, Rose.”
Rose forced her eyes open. The man by her bedside looked like John, and as she squeezed his fingers again they still felt warm in her hand. “Don't... do this to me, John.”
He looked stricken, but also a little desperate and hopeful as he said, “I'm the Doctor. I haven't changed back yet. I still have his body.”
“You're so... warm,” she managed to say, looking at their joined hands.
He chuckled. It was a sad little sound, and when she looked at him she saw that his eyes were filled with sadness as well. “Don't you believe me?”
Rose didn't know what to believe. Could it be possible to be the Doctor and only have one heart and warm hands? “I...” she moaned.
He let go of her hand, leaving it empty and cold. She wanted to reach out for him, panicked. “Don't go, please.”
He sighed. “I'm not going anywhere, Rose.”
“I've come so far,” she blurted, not reassured by his words at all. Why had he let go of her? Why was he so sad? She was going to be okay. She loved him. She had promised him forever. She couldn't leave him. Ever. She had come back for him. Or was he not the Doctor after all, but still John? Or John again? Had something happened that he kept from her? Something horrible that made it impossible for the Doctor to return, to get back his consciousness and his body? What had they done to him?
“Doctor? Please, I... you... not John?” she stammered, desperate to understand what was going on.
He hushed her, caressing her hair and covering her hand with his. “I'm not John. I'm all right. You will be all right, Rose.”
“Would you like some more pain killers?” he said gently.
Whatever. More tears trickled into the shell of her ear and into her hair. “I want... my love,” she sobbed.
“Here, take these,” he said softly, pushing two pills between her lips. He helped her drink, and she could feel the pills travel down her throat. The water was cool and fresh and wonderful. He let her have some more before he let go of her and brushed her tears away. “Oh Rose,” he whispered, sadness now filling his voice as well. “Nyasan'sa sam, my Rose. Don't cry.”
In the morning the remaining staff met in the Headmaster's office. The chairs normally occupied by Rocastle, Phillips and Thompson were empty now, and there was one minute's silence for them and the other victims of the previous night's events. The Doctor was among them as John Smith, and although he knew they deserved nothing less than the truth he gave them one possible version of it, telling them about a band of thieves that had taken on the identities of these poor people. This was the story they would pass on to the police and press.
Surprisingly, the majority of the boys didn't want to return home. Some of them couldn't because their parents were overseas, and others refused to leave, Timothy Latimer among them. They claimed that staying together would do more for their morale than the incredulous faces of their families when they told them they had fought scarecrows. The staff decided to continue as usual apart from suspending tests for the time being.
They were quite shocked that John Smith resigned from his job and would leave as soon as Miss Prentice was strong enough to be moved. “My contract was only temporary anyway,” the Doctor said softly.
He was very glad that classes were taking place; they were a distraction from the turmoil his life had become once more. In his room he slipped into his teaching robes and put on his mortarboard before he picked up a couple of books and went to his classroom. The boys were unusually quiet when he entered, some of the seats were empty as their owners had preferred returning home for the week. The rest of the class looked at him with a mixture of awe and curiosity.
“I would like to thank you for your excellent performance last night,” the Doctor said, depositing his books on the teacher's desk. “I hope... now that you have seen action... I hope you won't ever again.”
Some of the boys nodded solemnly, while others seemed to be defiant and even taken aback. The Doctor didn't say anything else on the topic. Maybe they had learned their lesson the previous night and had gotten a glimpse of the horrors of battle. Maybe some of them would not volunteer in August. Maybe he could save at least a few lives that way.
He decided not to teach them about the Napoleonic Wars but about the Renaissance instead, choosing to replace another war with humanism and scientific breakthroughs. There were, however, only so many lessons he could teach. Eventually, he knew, he would have to go to the infirmary to relieve Joan of her duty of watching over Rose.
When he opened the door to the infirmary he could hear Rose screaming through the closed door of the private ward. He froze for a heartbeat, too horror-struck by the images his imagination came up with in that brief moment, before he hurried to the door. There was one more scream that was followed by the relative quiet of Rose's meek protests and whimpering.
As he pushed the door open he saw Joan holding Rose down firmly and Dr Bennett slowly withdrawing the needle from the inside of Rose's good elbow. Whatever it was he had injected her with, it was powerful and took immediate effect. Rose's bed was a wild tangle of sheets and limbs and hair. The blanket had come loose around her feet and for the first time he saw how badly injured her legs were. Although they were heavily bandaged blood seeped through the white material. From an ugly bump in her shin it was obvious that her bones hadn't been set.
“What are you doing?” he yelled in horror.
Joan let go of Rose's arms now that she had calmed down and stopped him as he made for the bed. She grabbed him firmly by his arms. “It's morphine, John,” Joan said. “She was out of her mind with pain.”
The Doctor's single heart sank and his eyes went wide with horror. “What happened to her?” he demanded, hardly able to speak.
“Somehow,” Dr Bennett said, removing the rubber band from around Rose's arm and straightening, “the nerves in her spine regenerated.” He needn't say more.
“Do something!” the Doctor cried.
“I just did,” Dr Bennett said calmly. “I've given her some morphine. But I'm afraid it's the largest dose I dare give her.” The Doctor looked from him to Rose, who lay still, soaked in sweat, and softly whimpering. She was obviously still in pain. He pulled the blanket over her exposed, heaving chest. “I'm sorry,” Dr Bennett said.
He put away his instruments while Joan tugged at the blanket to cover up Rose's shattered legs. The Doctor just stood, numb and shocked, and looked at what he had done to the woman he loved. What she was going through was worse than the Chameleon Arch. She shouldn't have to suffer that much. No one deserved that kind of torture.
The Doctor hung his head in shame.
“Watch,” the doctor's kind voice said. When he looked up, Dr Bennett had peeled back the sheet from Rose's feet and ran his thumb along the soles of her feet. Her toes curled. “There is no more damage to her spinal cord. That's why she's in so much pain.” He covered her feet.
“Isn't there anything you can do?” the Doctor asked him, desperate.
Dr Bennett exchanged a quick glance with Joan. “As far as I understand what is happening — or at least try to understand — Miss Prentice has extraordinary powers of healing herself. I can only give her morphine, and maybe...”
“Yeah?” the Doctor perked up.
“Maybe we should help her with the fractures in her legs. I can set the bones. I'll have to do it here, however, because she is in no shape for any kind of transport,” Dr Bennett said. “It would spare her further anguish.”
The Doctor ran his hands through his hair, turning away from the bed to pace around. He had never seen anything like Bad Wolf's healing powers in a non-Time Lord before, but what Bennett said made sense. He wanted to do anything humanly possible to help Rose, even if it meant that a doctor would have to operate on her in the ward of a school infirmary in 1913. “Do it.”
The Doctor tried to be patient as he waited with Donna, for Dr Bennett and Joan to finish the operation. If he judged Rose's powers correctly she would be able to fight any infection she might pick up during the procedure. He would never be able to forgive himself if he didn't offer her the chance to heal herself properly.
Donna eventually dragged him outside into the school's grounds for a short walk. “You're a bundle of nerves,” she said good-naturedly, “There's no need for your nervousness to rub off on the poor doctor.” He smiled at her weakly. While he knew that staying in Joan's office wouldn't change anything, the idea of not being there for any news was almost unbearable. When the cool November air hit him, however, it was like a slap in the face and he was glad Donna had taken him outside.
“I'm so sorry, Donna,” he said eventually. They were behind a copse of trees, out of sight of the school.
“It's not your fault,” she said.
“I should never have come here,” he said.
“So Rose would have found you in 1969, or in 2070. She would have come and found you anyway.”
“Are you telling me it's her fault?” he bristled.
“No,” she said patiently, “I'm saying it would have happened anyway. Isn't there an expression for this? Some kind of rule?”
“Fate is hardly a rule, and it's not very scientific either,” he scoffed. To his surprise, Donna smiled. He sighed. “It could be a fixed point in time.”
“See?” she said gently, rubbing his upper arm.
“I should have seen it coming, though, Donna,” he said. “Back when... before I changed into John Smith.”
“You were kind of busy then if I remember correctly,” she said. “Look, it would have happened anyway, yeah? So don't beat yourself up too badly.”
“I...” he began, but closed his mouth quickly, ducking his head and pushing his hands into the pockets of his tweed trousers.
“Go and be there for Rose. She needs you.”
“She doesn't want me,” he said dejectedly. When he looked up and saw Donna's uncomprehending expression, something inside him broke. “She only wants John. She fell in love with him. He loved her, with all his heart.”
“Doctor,” Donna began, bewildered.
He looked up and sniffed in an attempt to keep his tears at bay. John Smith still seemed very close to the surface, and these were his tears, his anguish. Before he knew it, Donna had drawn him into her arms and was holding him, and finally, his tears were flowing freely.
When they returned to the infirmary Dr Bennett had just finished the surgery and had barely had time to wash himself. He came out of the tiny bathroom ad was about to say something when Joan broke his train of thought by stepping between them on her way to the bathroom.
“Is she all right, though?” the Doctor asked anxiously.
Again, Dr Bennett hesitated briefly. “Yes, she is.”
The Doctor felt the tension melt away from him and for a moment he thought he was weightless. Relief had never felt so exquisite and liberating before. “Thank you.”
Joan returned from the bathroom with a bowl of water, a flannel and several towels. She looked exhausted and pale.
“Here, let me do that for you,” the Doctor said, taking the bowl from her. When he entered the ward and went to Rose's bed he saw that Joan had already changed the sheets. Rose lay very still and very pale, her injuries freshly dressed and the ugly bumps gone from beneath the bandages around her legs. “Hey,” he said softly.
He started dabbing the exposed skin of her feet and legs with the warm, wet flannel and slowly worked his way up her body, finishing with her face. “I'm so sorry, Rose,” he said. “So very sorry.”
When he was finished he drew up a chair and sat, starting his vigil over her with her hand in his. It was the least he could do.
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