by TemporalPhoenix [Reviews - 0]Chapter or Story
Rose was jolted back into consciousness by a telepathic shriek of alarm.
For one horrible moment, she was certain she was still in the alternate universe and had simply fallen asleep at her Torchwood desk. She didn’t want to open her eyes, didn’t want to see that she’d only dreamed of finding the Doctor and the TARDIS. It was too cruel a dream to face waking up from.
Then there was a distant clatter, and a quiet murmur of a voice that had only existed in her memories for so, so long.
Another piercing telepathic cry reverberated through her temples, screaming at her to ‘WAKE UP NOW!’
Rose’s eyes flew open. There was the TARDIS sickbay, as solid and real as it had been in her dream.
She bolted to her feet, pinching herself and rubbing her eyes just to make sure she was really, truly awake.
Cosylian hadn’t been a dream. The bed in front of her was streaked with dried, indigo mud, and the second dose of anti-Creeping Night medication lay out on the bedside table. The monitor on a stand against the wall flashed urgently at her. Rose’s eyes widened.
“Doctor!” she shouted, whirling around, searching the sickbay for the Time Lord.
He was gone. The door to the sickbay was wide open, just as she’d left it earlier.
She cursed, rushing out into the corridor. “Where is he?" she demanded aloud, looking frantically up and down the hallway.
The TARDIS hummed worriedly, projecting an image into Rose’s mind of the door to her old bedroom. It had been moved closer to the sick bay, just out of view down the curved hallway.
Rose ran toward it, berating herself for leaving the Doctor to his own devices while he was under the influence of the fog of death. She should have closed the sickbay door and not fallen asleep. Her mistakes now meant she had to track down a mostly naked Time Lord who was wandering around his ship doing god knows what, possibly still hallucinating aspects of his worst nightmares and memories.
The door to her old room was ajar when she got there, and she shoved it the rest of the way open with a shout of, “Doctor!”
He didn’t answer. She ventured inside, eyes darting around the darkened room for any sign of him.
It was beyond surreal to see this place again. It felt like stepping into a museum exhibit of her own life as it had been so many years ago, before the fall, and the end, and the forced new beginning. It didn’t fit the person she had become after being forced to leave it behind.
She took in the pale pink and white hues of her old pillows and bed covers, still half-buried under a messy pile of clothing she’d left out while deciding what to take to her mum’s to put in the wash the day everything had gone wrong. She frowned, turning on the lamp on the nightstand to make sure she wasn’t imagining the humanoid-sized indent in the middle of the pile.
She wasn’t. There was a distinct dip in the centre, like someone had curled up in the pile of clothing and stayed there for a long time.
The Doctor must have come into her room sometime after Canary Wharf, possibly more than once. That thought made her twinge with old regrets and heartache as she checked the rest of the room.
He wasn’t here anymore. He must have wandered off to somewhere else shortly before she’d arrived.
The last thing Rose noticed before she left was a handful of new gaps between some of the photos on her vanity. She knew immediately that one of her favourites was among the missing, could visualize it in her mind’s eye. It was a framed photo of her and the Doctor, taken by a neighbor at the Powell Estate on New Year's Eve after the Doctor’s regeneration and the mess with the Sycorax.
'Where did he go? Can you contain him somewhere, lock him in?’ she asked the TARDIS. The time ship was massive. She could never hope to find the Doctor if he was coherent enough to sequester himself away in a distant, dusty corner somewhere. She’d found that out the hard way once or twice.
The TARDIS rumbled negatively, projecting an image of the sonic screwdriver. Her pilot had managed to get around her main passenger containment protocols when she tried to keep him in the sickbay. He was still disoriented, and he would be, to varying degrees, for the next ten hours until he could receive the second dose of the anti-Creeping Night medication.
Rose groaned as the ship sent a hazy impression of a garden full of trees with silver leaves over their bond. A second later, the image changed to a dark, silent room full of millions of tiny points of light. It was a planetarium of some kind.
‘Show me where it is,’ she pleaded. The time ship obliged.
A faint coughing noise echoed around Rose as she careened into the final hallway. She had no idea how the Doctor had managed to get this far away from the sickbay, but she knew she was not going to make the mistake of leaving him unsupervised again until he was back to being himself.
Another cough reached her ears. This time, she could tell it was coming from a room a few doors down the corridor.
She ran to it, pausing at the door to catch her breath and collect herself. Then she turned the coral-encrusted handle and pushed open the door, quietly slipping inside.
The planetarium was dark and silent except for the Doctor’s hacking coughs. Rose let the door fall shut behind her, squinting as she walked further into the room. What she could see of the pitch-black walls, floor and ceiling looked rounded, with corners meeting at odd angles to form a kind of geodesic dome. The floor dropped off a quarter of the way across the room, acting as an observation platform. The end of the platform was lined with a silver railing that reflected the light cast by the thousands of holographic stars drifting through the air, and the single, fiery planet revolving slowly in the middle of the room.
Where was the Doctor? She could hear him, but—
Ah. There, a small flash of movement in the far corner of the observation deck. He was sitting on the floor against the railing.
She approached him cautiously, quietly. She wasn’t sure what state he would be in (other than naked except for his white pants that she already knew left little to imagination—and that was really not what she needed to focus on right now.)
“Doctor?” she called.
He sniffed, but didn’t respond.
The closer Rose got to him, the more evident it became that the Time Lord wasn’t doing much better than before. At least he was breathing. She could each shuddering breath as he shivered, huddled against the railing with his legs drawn tightly to his chest and bare back pressed to the wall. He shifted every few seconds, left hand constantly scratching at a new itch on his rash-covered skin.
His face was turned up to the yellow-orange planet, dark eyes roving over its surface without fixating on anything in particular. Rose had never seen the Doctor’s home planet before, but what little she knew about it led her to conclude with some certainty that she was looking at Gallifrey as it had appeared before the Time War.
She lowered her gaze from the long-lost planet to its last Time Lord, beginning to understand why he might have come to this room out of all the hundreds he could have picked from in the TARDIS.
The fog of death wasn’t going to relinquish him easily. It was fighting back, latching onto the worst possible experiences it could find in the Doctor’s memory and reinforcing the entrenched pain and terror associated with them. The Cosylians had warned her profusely about this.
Rose knelt down a few feet away from him, moving slowly to keep from startling him or scaring him off. He looked more coherent than before, aware of his surroundings enough to find the planetarium in the TARDIS’ labyrinthine corridors. And yet….he hadn’t acknowledged her presence, not even glancing at her.
She worried her bottom lip for a moment, trying to come up with something to say to break the silence. “I— I was worried when I couldn’t find you," she said finally. Even as she spoke, she knew her words would fall flat.
The Doctor shuddered. The involuntary movement caused him to shift position just enough that Rose caught a glimpse of something cradled in his right hand, which still looked swollen from its contact with the Creeping Night. She pinched the bridge of her nose, letting out a slow, calming exhale. Holding something in his already infected right hand was the last thing he should be doing.
“What’s that in your hand?” she asked.
He didn’t look away from the projection of his homeworld. “I can hear them,” he croaked. “I can always hear them, if I want to. They’re screaming out for help, but there’s no one left. No one except me, and I’m the reason they’re screaming.”
He sounded so far beyond grief, trapped in the memories the fog of death was twisting a knife into for its own, fatal purposes.
Right. That stopped as soon as possible. “The Time War was not your fault,” Rose said.
The Doctor finally dragged his gaze over to her, eyes glinting in the darkness. “Wasn’t it?”
“No.” She shook her head resolutely. He was still so caught in the fog that he was actually arguing for something that was absolutely mad. It was true that he'd had to end the Time War in an unimaginably horrific way. But he hadn't caused it.
That was the Creeping Night talking, twisting his thoughts until he started believing his nightmares were real and true. She had to remember that, first and foremost. The Doctor was still suffering significantly from the effects of the fog. He couldn’t fully be himself until it was gone, and that meant he couldn’t be expected to view things around him as he normally would either.
Rose vowed to herself then and there that she would hold onto the truth for him, and remind him of it as many times as she had to until he could see it for himself. She leaned forward, scooting a little closer in an attempt to see the object hidden from her view.
“What's in your hand?” she repeated.
The Time Lord cleared his throat, left hand scratching vigorously at his cheek before dropping to cradle whatever he was holding. “You know what it is.”
“I’ve told you before.”
Alarm bells went off in Rose’s head. Of course the Creeping Night would do this too, taking his memories of her and using them against him.
“I’ve…I’ve just forgotten,” she said.
He snorted in disbelief but lifted his hands anyway, resting just the left one on his knees. Cupped in his palms was a damp clump of reddish-brown soil, out of which grew a tiny tree. It was barely six inches tall, not even a full sapling, with a golden brown stem and three little limbs with a handful of delicate silver-green leaves growing on them.
It was not what Rose expected him to show her. “Remind me what it is?” she prompted.
“It’s all I want and can’t have,” he whispered, barely loud enough to hear.
“What do you mean?” She dearly wanted to pull him into a hug and never let go, but she restrained herself, she curled her hands into fists in her lap instead.
“It’s a Tellurian-Gallifreyan hybrid. The only one of its kind.”
“Of the Earth. It was doing so well, but now… Oh, now it’ll never make it. Another life cut short because of me.”
“That’s not true,” Rose countered. She inched closer to him, not stopping until she was less than a foot away. He shrank back the second he noticed what she was doing. “That’s not true,” she repeated. “You’ve had to make choices in the past that no one should ever have to make, in absolutely horrible situations. But— But, the amazing thing is that, in spite of that, you’re still…you. You’re brave, and you do what you can to help so many planets and people. You really care about them, because that’s who you are. Who I know you can be. And, despite all the bad bits, you love the adventure and the thrill of travelling through Space and Time, and you teach others to love it too.”
The Doctor's lip curled up in a sneer.
“Everything I just said about you,” Rose continued, “it’s true. I know you, Doctor, and I know those things are just as true as every other part of you.”
He simply wasn’t going to believe her. “You don’t know, not really. Everywhere I go, it’s all the same. Death, that’s all I’m good for. That’s the truth.”
“I’ve seen you do so many good things, fantastic things. You save people. You saved my life the day we met, remember that?” Rose gave up on trying to be subtle, moving as close to him as she dared and leaning against the railing right in front of him. From there, she could see his flushed, feverish cheeks, and wide, terrified eyes watching her from beneath his fringe. His fingers twitched every few seconds.
Rose looked him up and down, trying to gauge the current extent of his rashes. What had Jackie done to relieve itchiness when she was younger? Ice packs for the itchiest things, and cool washcloths, along with some kind of anti-itch cream that a very young Rose had once proclaimed was “the best thing ever” because it meant she could finally sleep instead of scratching her sunburnt skin all night long. Maybe something like that could help the Doctor too. Or maybe some alien had invented a better way of stopping itchy rashes that wasn’t a cream or a pill.
“The tree’s beautiful,” she commented. A faint smile might have flickered across the Doctor’s face at her praise, but it vanished too quickly for her to see it properly. Even so, it still gave her hope, and she clung to it with all her might. “It’ll be alright. We can replant it,” she offered, hoping that knowledge might comfort him.
The Time Lord’s expression darkened, becoming cold and bitter so quickly it took her aback. “It’s dead, don’t you see? It’s dead, and I killed it. Soon it’ll be gone, just like everything else! There’s nothing to be done,” he snarled, tightening his grip around the clump of dirt until it began to crumble apart, exposing and tearing through the infant tree’s fragile roots.
Rose lunged forward and grabbed his left hand, careful to avoid touching any part of the blistering rash on his right. “There’s always something we can do. The tree’s not dead, I promise. It's just beginning its life. It can recover.” She spoke slowly, tugging gently on his wrist until she felt his muscles start to relax.
He should have been cool to the touch, and the fact that he wasn’t was more than a bit concerning. Lowering his fever and stopping the itchiness overtaking him were her top priorities.
The Doctor didn’t pull away, though he briefly attempted to use the upper part of the same arm to scratch (unsuccessfully) at his sternum. Rose lightly stroked the back of his hand with her thumb, holding his gaze as he fidgeted with growing agitation. “It’s not too late. Trees can be replanted, and sometimes people get second chances, even if they don’t believe in them. Even if they think they don’t deserve one," she said. She was emboldened by the fact he didn’t jerk away from her touch like he had a few hours before.
“No second chances. Never ever, ever,” he insisted, rushing to say everything before a new coughing fit overtook him. He drew his left hand out from under hers, rubbing his chest with shaking fingers. The tree wobbled precariously in his right hand, stabilizing a little when he slumped back against the wall.
Rose let out a breath of relief when his coughing stopped. “Never say never ever,” she whispered. The words felt different now than they had when he'd first said them to her, on a street in London in 2012 while the two of them watched the Olympic fireworks. He had said a storm was coming, and he’d been right. A storm had come and ripped them apart. But she had learned to ride out some of the worst storms now. She was older, wiser, and she had fought her way back to where she belonged.
The Doctor dropped his head back against the wall, chest heaving as he scratched a rash on his collarbone. “You’re not here,” he whispered. “You always say you are, but I know better.”
Rose’s heart plummeted. Did he mean….Oh god, had something like this happened before? Had he encountered something other than the fog of death while she’d been gone that made him hallucinate her presence in the TARDIS? Or was it worse than that?
“You always say you are."
Always. Implying that something like this might have happened often enough to make him believe she couldn’t possibly be with him now, because she hadn’t been real any of the other times.
Rose’s heart clenched, but she didn’t waste time taking his words seriously. He was, for all intents and purposes, still possessed by fungal spores. She wouldn’t know the truth about what he meant until he was himself.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “You don’t have to believe it now, but it’s true. I really am here. I found a way back from the parallel universe.” (Well, forged, more like, but he didn’t need to know the details yet.)
He shook his head. “No. No, you’re not real. You’re not, you aren’t, and I—”
She carefully touched her palm to an unmarred patch of skin between his hearts. He froze, breath catching in his throat. Ever so slowly, he tipped his head down to stare at her hand in bewilderment. She splayed her fingers, feeling his double heartbeat race beneath his hot, clammy skin.
One of his hearts skipped a beat as he slowly moved his hand down to cover hers and discovered that she was more corporeal than he'd previously believed.
There was a quiet intake of breath from him. Then, a tentative whisper. “Rose?”
“Hello,” she said, breaking out into a watery smile.
The Doctor’s eyes drifted up to meet hers, full of fear and pain, and perhaps a bit of hope. "You…You shouldn’t be…”
“I am here, regardless of should or shouldn't, and I’m going to help you get better. You have a fever. You should rest and recover.” Moving at a glacial speed, she rose to her knees and held out her free hand for the tree.
“No!” He clung tightly to her hand, keeping her close.
She smiled reassuringly. “I’m not leaving. I promise. I just want to make sure the tree is safe until we can replant it.” Not wanting to touch the blisters on his right hand, but needing to get the tree out of his grasp before he accidentally snapped the stem, Rose extracted her hand from under his and shed her leather jacket, holding it beneath the tree.
The Doctor stared blankly at the jacket.
“Put the tree in here, it’ll protect it,” she said, shaking the fabric for emphasis. She wasn’t sure he was actually going to do it until, with hesitant, jerky movements, he dropped the Tellurian-Gallifreyan hybrid onto the jacket. She carefully bundled the fabric around it, holding it closed on all sides as she clambered to her feet.
“Do you think you can stand?” she asked.
“You’re leaving already?” the Doctor rasped despairingly.
She shook her head, bending down again to take hold of his left upper arm. “I’m not going anywhere without you right now. Come on, up you get.”
It was, apparently, another revelation to him. “I’m…I get to…with you?”
“M’kay,” he mumbled, “as long as it’s…always an’….and…” He couldn’t seem to find the right word to end his list of conditions, but the tender sentiment in what he did say made Rose smile again as she helped him to his feet.
He leaned heavily on her the entire way back, almost throwing her off balance whenever he coughed or tripped over his own feet. It was unnerving to see him like this, to watch a being that was normally so in control lose all of that so completely.
The Doctor didn’t resist when Rose made him lie down on a new bed in the sickbay, only wincing when the rash on the backs of his legs scraped against the side of the bed. He had started to scratch again as they neared the front of the TARDIS, so she quickly set her jacket with the tree in it on the counter and ransacked the cupboards for anything that might help him.
The TARDIS directed her to the med kit for some things, cupboards for others, and lastly, a small ice full of solutions and ice packs in a corner of the sickbay. She didn’t let herself deliberate over anything for too long, working quickly once she’d gathered everything.
First she gave the Doctor an injection of a variant of paracetamol to help lower his fever (couldn’t use aspirin, never aspirin), then she donned latex gloves and washed the blistering rashes on his right arm and calves, applying a strong anti-itch cream to them before wrapping each in protective layers of gauze.
The Time Lord did not like the feeling of the gauze. He whined about it long after she’d finished wrapping the last of it and moved on to applying cream to his other, smaller rashes.
“It hurts, it hurts! Take it off! Off, off, off!”
“I’m sorry, but we have to leave the dressings on. Your hand could have gotten infected digging in the garden. Those rashes are going to stay covered for now."
“They have to. Please leave the gauze on."
“I don't need it."
“Mm-hmm. I can see you scratching. Stop it.”
“It won’t help. Stop. Scratching.”
“I know. But you have to stop.”
Remembering something else her mum used to do to stop her from scratching an itch, Rose raised a hand over the latest rash the Time Lord had been attempting to scratch into oblivion. “Sorry, this is for your own good,” she told him. Then, before he could properly register the note of warning in her voice, she slapped the reddened patch of skin. Not too hard, just enough to make it sting more than itch.
He yelped and jerked away from her. “ACK!"
She steadied him. “I'm sorry. It worked, though, didn’t it?”
The Doctor scowled at her. “’S rude, slapping people.”
“Must have gotten it from my mum. At least you're not scratching anymore. You’re focusing on how much that slap hurt instead.”
His scowl only deepened.
Their roundabout argument finally ceased when Rose began applying damp washcloths and ice packs to his itchiest rashes. The Doctor didn’t even try to stifle his moan of relief as they began cooling him down and decreasing the intensity of his itches.
Rose wrapped the last washcloth around a small ice pack and laid it on his forehead, holding it there for a few seconds to make sure it would stay. He gave a full-body shudder, mumbling something that sounded like, “Feels nice.”
“Good.” She stroked his cheek once with a fond, exasperated sigh before retrieving the thin sheet she had found in one of the cupboards and laying it over him.
When the ice packs had melted and the washcloths needed to be wetted and cooled again, Rose helped the Doctor sit up properly so he could drink some water. She adjusted the pillow behind his back to prop him up, adding another from the next bed over when one didn’t seem like enough. He let her work in silence, far less agitated now that he was starting to feel better.
His head lolled back against the wall as Rose folded the sheet down to his waist and stepped back, checking to make sure he would be alright for the minute or two it would take her to get him a cup of water. She was surprised to find him watching her with dark, half-lidded eyes, the corners of his mouth turned up in a small, contented smile. She smiled back, relieved to glimpse the real him she knew and loved.
She filled the first plastic cup she came across with water and stuck a straw from one of the cupboards into it before returning to him. “Doctor,” she said quietly. He had closed his eyes while she’d been gone.
The Time Lord turned his head in the direction of her voice, blinking lethargically. “Hm?”
“Drink this, it’s water. Take small sips.” She lifted the cup for him, pressing the straw to his lips and waiting patiently for him to catch on.
It took some time, but he finally registered what she wanted— sort of. At first he just stuck out his tongue and licked the side of the straw, frowning when it didn’t meet his expectations.
Rose shook her head slightly. “Drink through the straw,” she instructed. Under her watchful eye, he clumsily maneuvered it into his mouth and took a sip. “Just a bit at a time,” she reminded him. Then she reconsidered. “Actually, rinse your mouth out first.”
The Doctor went still, releasing the straw to squint at her. His cheeks were distended with far more water than just a ‘little sip’.
Rose sighed. “I— Never mind. Just spit it out,” she said.
His expression didn’t change.
“Spit,” she repeated, nodding pointedly to the cup.
He did. She grimaced at the grey and white particles dotting the water when he was finished. She turned away and called on a strand of the Wolf’s power, cutting off the spores’ existence with a stony glare.
She inspected the cup and straw afterward, quickly deciding that it wasn’t worth the risk to reuse them. She got a new set, stifling a yawn as she filled the cup with water. She couldn’t go on using Bad Wolf like this; she’d learned that lesson excruciatingly well more times than she cared to admit. The Creeping Night antifungal injection and everything else would have to be enough for now.
The Doctor looked down at the new cup of water she offered to him with mild confusion.
“Tiny sips this time, yeah? Don’t want you to choke.” Rose brushed the end of the straw against his lips again to encourage him. (‘Patience,’ she told herself. ‘He’ll recover soon. Just be patient.’)
He took the hint, brightening a little when the water trickled down his parched throat and brought much needed relief. He sipped more enthusiastically after that, so much so that she had to pull the cup out of his reach once to slow him down.
When he was finished, Rose helped him lie down again, reapplying some of the washcloths as he gradually dropped off to sleep. She was thankful that he had stopped resisting everything she did, although his very un-Doctor-like complacency was also a bit concerning. She was looking forward to having him back to normal.
She had seen many strange (and disturbing) things in her travels throughout space and time, both with and without the Doctor. Everything that had happened on Cosylian was well on its way to ranking among the top ten— no, top fifteen— oddest experiences of her life. Ever.
The TARDIS hummed reassuringly; Rose was doing well. She had done enough to ensure the Doctor would recover. There were only seven hours left until he could receive the second dose of the anti-Creeping Night medication.
Rose dragged her chair over to the Doctor’s new bed and dropped into it, folding her arms on the edge of the bed and resting her chin on top of them. She gently took his left hand in hers, playing with his fingers for a moment. She smiled when he unconsciously curled them around hers, holding her hand in his sleep.
She had already waited for so long to find him and her original universe. If it took waiting seven more hours, then that’s what she would do.
‘Close this door this time, please,’ she projected to the TARDIS. The ship tittered knowingly at her, and did as requested.
A quiet thunk behind her made Rose twist around in her seat. A trowel and a garden pot full of reddish-brown soil had appeared on the counter. She sighed, getting to her feet once more.
She’d almost forgotten about the tree.