The Hidden Well

by Kalleah [Reviews - 208]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure

Author's Notes:
We pick up immediately after Rose's collapse.

Two fingers pressed into her neck and she came to with Brandon's worried face blurrily hovering over hers. "Rose? Rose? Can you hear me? No, don't try and sit up yet. Just breathe in, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Ian, go and get Miss Frances, now. The rest of you, form a circle and sit down."

She blinked a few times and tried to focus on his face, but it was like viewing telly with the brightness and contrast set too high. "What —" she began to croak, but her voice was as uneven as her vision. The world was too much sensation — too much light, too much sound, too much smell. She could almost taste the dusty red soil that was everywhere and the tangy sweat of children, and her mouth was achingly dry.

"Just lie quietly," Brandon told her in the gentlest of voices, the one he used to speak to Jonah. Even then, it was almost too loud to bear and she retreated away from it into her own head. She squeezed her eyes closed and tried to blot out the noise of children's feet shuffling in the dirt, the sniff of a stuffy nose, the murmur of juvenile voices.

Frances' voice, when it came, was a boom, and she winced. "What happened?" cried the other woman.

"Quiet now," said Brandon. "Rose fainted. Can you get the children inside and call for the medic?" There were a few moments of hubbub as Frances rounded up the children and shooed them inside, and then the world was blessedly quiet.

"Can you roll over?" he asked, in a low tone just short of a whisper. She dared to open her eyes and nodded slightly. He put a hand on her shoulder and helped her roll to one side, folding her arm under her head so she could use it as a pillow. "There. Just lie still for a moment."

She focused on breathing, and when she felt a little recovered, she asked what had happened. Her voice still felt wobbly, but the words were clear enough.

"You fainted," he repeated. "Have you ever had an episode like this before?"

"No," she told him. "It was like — like everything got too loud all of a sudden and I just blacked out."

"Well, we'll get you inside when you're able to walk a bit, is that all right? I know it's not very comfortable in the dirt." He sounded concerned, and very kind, and she was glad he was with her. She tried to tell him so but he shushed her and told her to breathe and be quiet.

She could hear the faint galloping sound of a horse, she thought, in the distance, which intrigued her even through the fog of her disorientation. A horse on Arisbe seemed as unlikely as a unicorn in the Powell Estate, although she had seen odder things. As it drew nearer, she realized it wasn't galloping after all, but someone running.

She turned her head to see the Doctor, at a dead run, vault over the schoolyard fence. The detail that struck her most was the contrast between the red soil and his white trainers, which seemed altogether too shiny and bright. How does he manage to keep them clean when nearly everything else here is dusty?

He was beside her in an instant, taking her hand and bending close to her face. "Rose," he said, and his voice was unsteady as hers had been.

"I'm all right," she told him with as much confidence and strength as she could muster.

He searched her face, and then the rest of her, for visible injury and turned his attention to Brandon. "What happened?"

Brandon had wisely backed away when the Doctor had appeared. "She fainted. She appeared to be fine until she just collapsed, and when she came to, she seemed very sensitive to sound and light."

"I'm right here," she interjected weakly. "You could ask me."

The Doctor's face softened and he cupped her cheek in one palm. "Yes, you are. How are you feeling?" His thumb traced the line of her cheekbone.

"Everything's so bright and loud. It's better, though." She wanted to erase the deep lines of worry from his face, and so she started to sit up. Both men put hands on her to keep her still. "No, I want to sit up."

"Slowly," urged the Doctor, sliding an arm behind her back and helping her into a sitting position. When she was sitting, he didn't let go.

"Since you're here, I'll go and tell the children Rose is all right," said Brandon to the Doctor. "Frances is bound to be a wreck and I don't want them to worry."

When he had gone, the Doctor shifted so he could look directly into her face. She gave him a feeble smile, but he didn't smile back. "You came quickly," she said.

"I heard it," he said with a dark look of concern. "The same telepathic communication. This time, it was so much clearer — I saw the schoolyard, just for an instant, and you."

Despite her throbbing head and general weakness, she wanted to comfort him, knowing how frantic he would have been about her. She reached out and slid her fingers between his.

"Oh no you don't," he said. "This is my turn to worry about you." But he squeezed her hand back and pressed a soft kiss onto her forehead. "Do you feel well enough to stand?"

She considered this for a moment. "Yeah." He helped her to rise, keeping one arm tight around her and their hands clasped together. When she was standing, she leaned against him a little less for support and a little more for comfort.

Frances threw the door open and came out into the yard then, followed by two of the other teachers. "How is she? The medic's on his way."

Rose flinched at the shrillness of Frances' voice and the Doctor looked like thunder personified. "Be quiet," he snapped. Frances was taken aback and apologized, although in a much softer voice than Rose had ever heard her use. "Cancel the medic. She's fine. I'm taking her home," he told the quivering woman. "Get the door." It was a measure of how poorly Rose felt that she didn't chastise him for his rudeness.

Frances fairly hopped to open the door for them. "Frances," said Rose. "Tell Brandon I'm all right, and the kids, yeah?"

"Of course, dear," she whispered back, looking directly at the Doctor.

They walked down the hallway and out the front door, which Frances also held for them, and then back into the too-bright day. The light that had seemed gentle and muted earlier fell on Rose like bricks. She closed her eyes against the brightness and let him guide her. It was a very, very long walk.

"Can you manage the dunes?" he asked after some time.

She opened her eyes and found herself on the uneven, shifting dunes below the TARDIS. Despite her discomfort, she smiled. He had said he was taking her home. Of course that wouldn't be the habitation unit in Section 4. "I'll try," she said truthfully.

Halfway up, she was struggling so much to keep her footing in the loose soil that he scooped her up and carried her the rest of the way. He set her down only long enough to unlock the door before picking her back up again. "I can walk," she protested against his shoulder, but he ignored her statement and carried her though the TARDIS.

He placed her on the table in the med lab and gave her a quick kiss before putting on his glasses and scanning her from head to toe with several different instruments.

"Thirty seven degrees, heart rate and respiration slightly elevated?" she guessed. Familiar ground.

"Yes," he said, without any trace of response to her half-hearted attempt at humour. "Increased activity in the locus ceruleus and elevated levels of adrenalin and noradrenalin, which is all quite normal after a stressful event."

"What happened? I've never just fainted before," she said, with some distaste at the word "fainted."

"A significant telepathic event," he pronounced, and gave her a level look through the glasses. "Our telepath was broadcasting so loudly that the signal overwhelmed your nervous system for a moment. Essentially, you rebooted, to use a very simplified explanation. I assume you don't want the precise description of everything that happened?"

She shook her head. "But Brandon was right there, and all the children, and no one else fainted, or rebooted, or whatever. And you heard it." He nodded. "Wait," she said, and then repeated it. "Wait. Are you saying I heard the telepath? But I can't hear telepaths."

"Can't you?" he asked seriously.

"Except you, and that's only when you want me to," she said.

"Correct me if I'm wrong," he started, counting off his points on his fingers as he went. "One, there was an extremely loud telepathic communication today. Two, I got an image of you and exactly where you were from said communication. Three, at that exact moment, you fainted from overwhelming stress. Coincidence?"

"Maybe it was something else?" she asked. "I mean, maybe whatever it was that made me faint also made the telepath shout?"

"Ah, the old 'correlation is not causation' argument," he said, sounding absurdly pleased to be contradicted. "Good. But I will also point to number four, that you have had prolonged and repeated exposure to two telepaths, namely me and the TARDIS, and are much more receptive to said phenomena than a normal human."

A normal human. He didn't mention point number five, probably because it was at the forefront of her mind at least, that normal humans generally hadn't absorbed the Vortex, either.

"What were you doing right before you lost consciousness?" he asked.

"Pushing Jonah on the swing." She rubbed her head. "I remember —" She looked up with a start and found him watching her with a thoroughly unsurprised look on his face. "I remember what I felt, or saw, or whatever. I wanted to be on that swing more than anything else in the world. And then it was so loud and bright and I just couldn't stand it, and I blacked out." She swallowed. "It's Jonah, isn't it?"