“Sit still, would you?”
Rose’s voice is sharp, sharper than she would like if she were thinking about it, but no amount of soap and water seems to get the blood and ash out of her skin, and the small involuntary keening noise that slips from the Doctor's lips when he moves makes her angry. Furious. Angrier than she can remember being before. She holds onto that and scrubs her hands until she thinks her skin should wash away, but the stains remain until she gives up.
The Doctor perches on the end of the exam table where she guided him, hunched over himself. He has his right hand clapped over his left forearm, trying to cover the worst of the burns. She can tell it is excruciating for him to touch it and just as painful to let go. Nearly full-thickness, that one; horrific injury to skin, muscle, and nerves, but not quite deep enough to have destroyed sensation. He tries to keep silent, but the tears trickling into his split lip give the pain away. The angry weals that lash up the left side of his face are not nearly as bad as his arm. Most of the other places the explosion touched were protected at least a little by his clothing.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?”
He shakes his head mutely. Rose wants more than anything to reach out and touch him as she once might have, another body or a war ago. But touching him as little as possible lets her avoid the question of which of them it would hurt more. She feels as though she might break if she let herself, if she put down the shield of her stone rage. Instead she moves brusquely, picking up the trauma shears.
“Can you let go of that arm so I can get a look?”
She chooses not to remember the expression on his face as he pulls his hand away and watches her carefully cut back his gory sleeve and apply the dermal mender. She chooses not to absorb the sound he makes when the device contacts what is left of his skin. Instead, she fixes the shape of the ugly, uneven scar that remains after the treatment in her mind. It looks like a feather, a broken feather crushed against the street.
Rose memorizes every ragged edge of it before she can manage to look him in the eyes. The expression there is so fragile, so near the edge, that she jerks her gaze away and turns the mender to his ravaged cheek instead.
It takes some time before she is satisfied that she has addressed every hurt she can find. The Doctor’s face has healed with only an inflamed red area that will fade in a day, but he will carry the scar on his arm until he regenerates. If he regenerates.
She forces that thought away.
“You need a bath,” she says quietly, clinging to her own steady voice. “And new trousers. Your coat’s ruined too. Do you–”
The Doctor rises, peeling away the scorched and bloodied green velvet. The remnants of the shirtsleeve beneath are no better. A sickening stench of burnt flesh reaches Rose’s nostrils, and she fights down her roiling stomach.
“I’ve a few things in my room. I’ll be fine. Are you hurt?”
“No, not really.” The long cut on the back of her leg she can mend herself. “I’ll have a shower too, and then…” Her voice trails off.
“Come up to the console room when you’ve finished. I’ll need your help, I think.” The Doctor takes hold of her chin gently and raises it until their eyes meet. His face is streaked with soot and dried tear tracks, and the kind fond smile she loves is marred by a tiny tremble. Rose supposes she must not look much better, and if he stays any longer she knows she will dissolve completely.
“Thank you,” he whispers, and lets her go.
She waits a long moment after he leaves the infirmary, holding out until his footsteps have faded down the corridor. Then she runs for her own room and manages to make it, fully clothed, into a scorching shower before tears take her.
The Doctor stands in water barely lukewarm and thinks fixedly about nothing, serene surface tension holding back a howling sea. He washes until his soap dissolves into shards, and still does not feel clean.
Dripping on his bedroom carpet, he rummages briefly in his wardrobe. Finding new clothes is no problem. There is a full set of them, which he has collected piece by piece over the last few weeks, never acknowledging that they were for a day like today. A day ending, or beginning, with a whole new kind of dying.
He pulls them on clumsily, fumbling new buttons and missing the comforting tension of his old waistcoat. This one is simply utilitarian–plain, coarse, and too loose. The weight of the clothes lands in all the wrong places, pulling his posture into a stance he barely recognizes as his own. Another man stares back at him from the mirror–not a new face, but unfamiliar nonetheless, hard and beaten and surrounded by uneven burnt hair.
Nothing else can be fixed–it will never be fixed–so he supposes he might as well start with the hair.
Rose spreads her hands wider, braces herself more fiercely against the console as if it is a barricade she can force into place between herself and…everything else. Almost everything else.
But there never was much hope for anything other than this anyway. After all, she met the Doctor, the next Doctor. She met him a long time ago. She killed a half a million Daleks for him and, eventually, remembered every scream. It still knocks the breath out of her to know that what happened (is happening) to them is so much worse.
There is an unfamiliar, tentative click on the worn wood floor of the console room. Rose squeezes her eyes shut, willing them clear and unreddened by crying, willing the moment to wait, just wait. The pause is terrible. From behind her, she hears a deep intake of breath. Then the clicking resumes, heavier, purposeful, brave. A hand covers her shoulder gently.
“Rose,” he says hoarsely. “Rose, please.” Look at me.
She nods jerkily once and looks up to meet his eyes. All the laugh lines, the little crinkles that used to make her smile, droop with exhaustion. There is a cut she missed bisecting one brow. His hair reminds her of a battlefield, scorched and hopeless and soaked by rain. A battlefield she can still see and smell and feel grinding away to dust under her boots.
He raises his right hand, and after a long moment she recognizes the object there: an electric clipper.
“Can you help me?”
Without speaking she takes his arm, ignoring the flinch, and leads him deeper into the TARDIS. She has no goal in mind, but when she finds herself in the garden cloister she simply leads him to the first bench. Compost. It will be compost, or it would if this place was on Earth, ash and organic matter fixing nitrogen, and good things would bloom. Flowers. But in her mind she can still see only blood and ash.
Flowers and smiles, sunshine and laughter. Her second Doctor bemusedly holding a handful of daisies she picked on some beautiful planet whose name she has long since forgotten. Mickey laughing and trying to kiss her, refusing to stay still as she held clippers just like these above his scalp.
She barely sees her hand moving over the Doctor’s head now, but she can feel the shorn curls of hair falling on her feet. They seem as heavy as lead, even though he set the clippers as long as possible. When she is done, she drops the tool like trash, letting her hands fall uselessly to his shoulders as she stares down into the wild cropped mess that remains. It seems darker than it was before. She knows without seeing his face that he will look older, even ancient, when only an hour ago he looked impossibly young as she tended his burns.
“Are you alright?” he asks, barely more than a whisper.
The choked sound that comes out of her mouth is both laugh and sob, and neither. Nothing is that simple anymore.
“Well, come around here, then,” he offers gently, tugging at one of her hands. “It can’t be that bad, can it?” Which, of course, it already is. But she lets him pull her to face him anyway, still looking blankly over his head. It is impossible to look, to look down, so finally she just kneels in the grass at his feet, upright on her knees so they are of a height.
His face is longer like this, more weathered, his eyes more shadowed. His hair still curls, but it is wild rather than comforting–not the cultivated wildness of her second Doctor’s, but unwillingly feral.
For the first time, she truly sees her first Doctor in his eyes. The similarity of the new leather jacket is just an afterthought.
“Rose?” The open concern as he looks at her is still him, unchangeably, and she seizes it.
She swallows hard. “Not…not so bad. ‘m sorry, you just reminded me…” She bites her tongue to keep from saying too much, but for once he acknowledges it.
“Of…me. Another me.” He looks away, stares up at the false sky and blinks only a little too rapidly. “So it’s…like this now. It’s going to be like this.”
“I don’t know. I never knew, he–you–never told me. But it won’t–” she tilts his chin down to look him in the eyes “–it won’t be like…like this. You…we won’t be alone. We won’t.”
She has no idea she is going to kiss him until she already is, hard and burning. It is sloppy and fierce and there are tears collecting on their lips and then she is straddling him on the bench, pushing leather aside. What she wants is nothing, nothing like what they have had before, no teases or laughs or languor. His hands on her are desperate, shoving at her jeans as she fumbles with his. She keens when they finally meet, too fast and too slow and far too dry. But the wrongness of the rough short hair under her cheek and the pain pushing into her are right, are the only things left of them today.
Like any attempt to stop time, it is over too soon.
Afterwards, she surrounds him silently, aching, until the little shudders of sex and tears have left him. It takes a long time.