Jack got to the TARDIS just ahead of the Doctor and quickly unlocked and opened the doors, standing back to admit the Time Lord and his precious burden.
“Is she going to be--” Jack started.
“I don’t know.” The Doctor’s voice was brisk, rough, and he didn’t even pause as he headed for the infirmary. Jack followed.
It had been an average day for them. They’d landed on a strange new world called Arriseb, interacted with the locals, had some fun, foiled an Evil Plot, and then proceeded to run for the TARDIS. As they were running, though, Rose had tripped and fallen. She’d got right back up--and then turned white and staggered toward the Doctor as he’d reached for her.
Embedded in her palm was a thorn. A thorn that, as the Doctor quickly discovered, contained a highly toxic compound, one that would shut down Rose’s entire nervous system if he didn’t act quickly.
Back in the TARDIS, he laid her limp, unconscious body on the examining table and grabbed an injector, nimbly plucking an ampoule from the shelf and clicking it into place. The injector hissed as he pressed it against Rose’s neck. Almost immediately, her breathing, which had become alarmingly shallow and labored, deepened and relaxed.
Jack breathed his own sigh of relief. “She’ll be all right now?” It was half a question.
“Don’t know,” the Doctor repeated. They were not his favorite words, especially when Rose was at stake. “That was a broad-spectrum anti-toxin effective against a number of neurotoxins in humanoids. It’ll at least buy me some time while I try to pin down this specific one.” He swabbed her wounded palm and began the process of analyzing the sample.
Jack was still moving around, grabbing a few items from the cupboards. At the Doctor’s look, he said, “I’m feeling useless, so I’m at least going to patch up her hand, if that’s okay.”
The Doctor nodded, feeling his expression soften. It helped to remember that there was someone else on board who also loved Rose. “That’s a good idea. This shouldn’t take long, anyway.”
While Jack cleaned her hand and used the dermal regenerator to heal the wound in it, the Doctor took a closer look at the toxin. He used the TARDIS’s computers to run a search on times and places where there might be an antidote for it as he examined its molecular structure.
The computer beeped. The words on the screen nearly stopped his hearts:
NO KNOWN CURATIVE.
He’d already concluded that though the broad-spectrum anti-toxin had neutralized part of the compound, what was left would be fatal all by itself--just more slowly.
“Don’t tell me that!” he growled at the computer.
Jack was over his shoulder in an instant. He drew in a sharp breath at the words, but just as quickly, he squeezed the Doctor’s shoulder. “You’ll find something. I know you; there’s no way this is getting the better of her.”
“Couldn’t be more right about that.” The Doctor went back to the molecular structure and began to run simulations. A few minutes later, he had his answer. He grabbed the injector again and fitted it with a new ampoule.
Jack perked up. “Find something?”
“ ‘Course I did. Genius, remember?” He favored Jack with his usual cheeky grin, marred somewhat by the tension he still felt. “The toxin is vulnerable to temperature. Cold planet, Arriseb. Rarely gets above thirty degrees in the region we visited, even in summer. Human body temperature is already a bit uncomfortable for it, and if I can push Rose’s temperature up to thirty-nine degrees, the toxin will start breaking down. This is a pyrogen,” he said, indicating the ampoule. “It’ll raise her temperature in a controlled manner. Theoretically. I’ll have to watch her carefully.”
Jack nodded his understanding. “If there’s anything I can do . . .”
The Doctor gave him a tight smile, and then he injected Rose with the pyrogen.
Rose awoke, and she immediately wished she hadn’t. She hadn’t felt this bad since the morning after her eighteenth birthday, when she’d woken up with one hell of a hangover and the odd suspicion that a good portion of the Powell Estates knew what color of knickers she’d worn the night before.
Every muscle, every joint, every bone in her body hurt. Her head felt like it had grown three sizes while she wasn’t looking, her stomach was roiling and she was definitely running a temperature. She considered opening her eyes and decided she wasn’t quite brave enough to take that step at the moment.
“Doctor?” she croaked.
A rustle of leather, and then his hand felt like cool heaven on her forehead. “I’m here, Rose.”
The gentle concern in his voice eased her misery, if only slightly. Since they’d become lovers, he was much more open about how much he cared for her.
“What the hell happened to me?” she demanded as forcefully as she could. She was pretty sure a kitten would have been more menacing.
“You got injected with a neurotoxin from a plant on Arriseb. The fever’s burning it off, and you’ll be fine, but I can’t say it won’t be unpleasant in the meantime. I can give you a painkiller that might take the edge off if you feel--”
“Yes. Painkiller. Now.” Rose forced one eye open. “An’ maybe somethin’ to keep me from throwing up all over your shoes.”
Too late. The Doctor, to his credit, stepped out of his shoes and socks without a word and fetched the promised painkiller, some ginger pills and a glass of water.
“Here,” he said, working an arm around her shoulders and helping her sit up enough to take the pills. “Sip slowly. I don’t want to give you any more drugs than I have to; you’ve enough chemicals competing for space in your bloodstream already. The ginger will settle your stomach, though.” After she’d swallowed the pills and a little water, he injected her with the painkiller.
She leaned into him, closing her eyes again. The painkiller would work quickly, she knew, but at the moment, she felt like curling up in a little ball of misery and rolling herself right out an airlock.
The Doctor stroked her hair and pressed his lips to her burning forehead. “Is there anything else I can do?”
“Can you take me to my bedroom? Think I’d be happier in my own bed, if that’s all right.”
“ ‘Course. TARDIS’ll put the infirmary right by your room so I can get anything you’ll need.” He lifted her with no apparent effort, and she clung to him, pressing her face into his shoulder trying to ward off another bout of nausea. In a few moments, she was in her room, and the Doctor was laying her on her bed and divesting her of her clothes.
Once she was in a clean sleep shirt, the Doctor sat on the edge of her bed and stroked the hair back from her forehead. “Try to sleep. It’ll probably take at least eight hours for the toxin to break down.” His smile was gentle and loving. “I’ll be right here if you need anything.”
The painkiller had kicked in, making her slightly more comfortable, and Rose decided to take the Doctor up on his advice. She rolled onto her right side, facing him, and threaded her fingers through his. A few minutes later, she was asleep.
For a time, Rose slept peacefully. Soon, though, it became obvious that even unconscious, she still felt ill. The Doctor had been monitoring her temperature as it rose, and by the time it hit thirty-eight degrees, she was tossing and turning, throwing her blankets off and making little sounds of misery that tore at his hearts. To top it off, she became delirious.
“Oysters,” she muttered. “They’re takin’ over the world.”
“I won’t let them,” he assured her, stroking her burning face.
She keened, clawing at her sleep shirt. In seconds, she’d wriggled out of it. Normally, the sight of her naked, flushed skin would’ve been a pleasant one, but not at the moment. And the Doctor knew she’d have to get worse before she could get better.
He set up an IV to keep her hydrated, hoping it would make her at least a little less uncomfortable, and used a cool cloth to wipe down her face and neck. If this had been an ordinary fever, he’d have been able to bring her temperature down quickly. Sadly, that would defeat the purpose in this case.
“Don’t feel good, Mum,” Rose complained. “Don’t wanna go to school.”
Being mistaken for Jackie Tyler was one of the more disconcerting experiences of the Doctor’s life, he thought. He continued to use the flannel, murmuring soothing nonsense to her.
The door opened behind him, admitting Jack. The Doctor considered trying to cover Rose up, but decided it was unnecessary and would only cause her distress. One happy byproduct of Jack’s cultural background was a blithe unconcern about the naked human body.
Indeed, the younger man didn’t seem fazed at all, though his eyes did darken with concern as he picked up on Rose’s discomfort.
“Can I help?” he asked.
“A glass of water would be nice. I’m sure she’s thirsty.” It wasn’t that the Doctor couldn’t have got it himself, but he knew Jack would appreciate being given any task, no matter how small.
In a few minutes, Jack returned with the water, and the Doctor helped Rose sit up just enough to drink. Even in her delirium, she gulped the water down. Then she snuggled into the Doctor’s cool embrace, whimpering pitifully.
Jack’s hand settled on his shoulder. “Get naked,” he said.
The Doctor’s head whipped around, and he fixed Jack with a glare. “This is hardly the time--”
“Your body temperature is lower than hers at ordinary times,” Jack said calmly. “It’ll make her more comfortable to have her own, personal cooler in bed with her.”
Put that way, it was such sensible advice that the Doctor wondered he hadn’t thought of it himself. “Right,” was all he said.
Jack squeezed his shoulder. “Glad to be of service. Call me if you need anything, okay?”
The Doctor gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you.” Jack nodded and withdrew, and the Doctor started shucking his clothes. In moments, he was stripped down to his skin and climbing into bed with Rose. She pressed herself against him, wrapping herself around his cool torso, and in minutes, she was deeply asleep again.
In her delirious dream, Rose was wandering the streets of London on an unbelievably hot, muggy day. The air was thick; she could hardly breathe or even move, and she was tired, so tired . . .
And then the skies opened up, and rain, blessedly cool, poured down on her. Around her, people scurried for cover. She didn’t. She stood still, in the middle of the street, and let the rain wash over her.
She was in arms she trusted, she knew that much. Her brain wasn’t up to processing complex data like her name or which way, precisely, was up, but her body knew the arms that held her and the voice that softly murmured comfort in her ear.
A high-pitched sound demanded her attention, and her brain came out of its torpor long enough to dub it a “sonic screwdriver.” The voice made a soft noise of triumph, and the body she’d wrapped hers around shifted enough that she vocalized an inarticulate complaint.
“S’all right,” said the voice, kicking the language area of her brain into gear. “You’re safe. I can bring the fever down now. It’s over, Rose. It’s over.”
She had no idea what he was talking about and made another noise of complaint when something pressed against her neck and stung her, but the words made her feel better, for some reason.
The arms wrapped around her more tightly, drawing her even closer, and she sighed with contentment before dropping back into peaceful sleep.
“Still feel like seven kinds of hell,” groaned Rose as she fell into bed. She’d been up, with the Doctor’s help, showered, eaten a little and had a checkup. Going by how she felt physically, she might have been slugging it out with a Slitheen all day.
“It’s just the aftereffects of the toxin and the fever,” the Doctor assured her. “Give it a day or two, and you’ll be ready to run for your life again.”
That got another groan. “Please, don’t even make me think about that right now.” She looked at him, standing by her bed and looking uncertain, and reached out a hand. “C’mon. I know you didn’t sleep while you were looking after me.”
He shook his head, smiling a little. “No, I didn’t.” He quickly stripped down to his boxers and slid into bed beside her. She snuggled into him, making a happy little noise.
For a long moment, he just held her, stroking her hair. “Rose . . . I could’ve lost you.” She raised herself up from his chest to look at her face. “When the computer told me there was no curative, I-I . . .” He trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.
She touched his face. “But I didn’t. You found a way, the way you always do.”
He stroked her face in return. “Someday, I might not be able to.”
“Shh.” She leaned in and kissed him softly. “I’m here today. Right here, right now. Isn’t that what matters?”
He kissed her back tenderly at first, but then with increasing urgency. Her body responded to him, the way it always did, and, tired as she was, she didn’t want to stop this. They both needed reassurance that, whatever the universe might throw at them, they had each other now.
“Rose,” he murmured as he slipped her nightshirt over her head and away. Just her name, nothing more, as if he needed to say it in order to be sure she was really here with him.
“I’m here.” Her voice was husky with arousal as he kissed his way to her breasts and tasted the skin there. She twisted in his arms just enough to slip a hand under the waistband of his boxers.
He stilled briefly at her touch, then stripped them away and rolled Rose onto her back. She opened up to him, welcoming him into her body.
And then she burned again, this time only for him.