The Doctor didn’t like the room he was in. The window was too small, for one, and the only view was of the rest of the hospital building and the parking lot below. The rest of the room tried too hard to combat the stiff sterility and clinical feel. The potted plant in the corner, the curtains’ bland design of pale gold, cream, and dull pink, the soft, dimmed lighting, the too-firm armchair…they all made it worse, not better.
But then there was the reason he was here, and even in her fragile state, she took his breath away. Rose laid there on the bed, peaceful but for the tangle of tubes and wires surrounding her and the harsh lullaby of steady beeps and ticks accompanied by the soft whoosh of the machine that was breathing for her.
He shifted restlessly in the armchair by her side, unable to get comfortable and unable to discern if this was the chair’s fault or how his mind was trying to string together the words he wanted to say.
"You know," he started,"you know I don’t want you to go, Rose. But you don’t have to stay…for me. I’ll be all right. ‘Sides, I’ll be right behind you—Oi! I already hear you fussing and moaning. No, not like that. I wouldn’t dream of offing myself. The number of times you saved this sorry hide? That’d be quite rude, wouldn’t it?"
He took a deep breath.
“‘Course, that’s what I am…rude and not ginger…except that one time, d’you remember? Came home late from the salon, and you, you laughed at me, Rose Tyler! And I don’t care what your mum’s friend said, I did not cry when they turned my chair to face the mirror…unless those were manly tears of joy! I liked it.”
He was quiet for a moment, reflective. He sighed. “No, I didn’t.”
He sighed again and looked down at his hands in his lap. They were old hands, tired hands, hands that hurt when it rained, hands that had done so much and could do so much more but didn’t feel up to any task if one of them could not hold Rose Tyler’s hand. So they did. He took her hand—the one unfettered by tubes and wires—in both of his, rubbed the back of it with the pad of his thumb in slow, careless circles. Then he carefully interlaced his fingers with hers and squeezed gently.
She didn’t squeeze back. He counted five-and-a-half slow breaths and tried again. It was faint, just the barest fluttering of her fingers, but it was there. The corners of his mouth tightened and lifted slightly, not a full smile; he wasn’t capable of that.
This was how they’d been communicating for days, weeks now… when she was not in the medically-induced coma, that is. They kept her in and out of it as her condition wavered. Still, the damage from the stroke and the medication doing its best to treat it kept her from fully surfacing. She could hear him, though; he was sure of it. The doctors had said there was a good chance she could, and whether it was the truth or a kind lie, he believed it.
"No, look at these old bones. They’re weak. They’re tired. I’m tired, Rose.”
He leaned over and gingerly rested his head on her thigh.
"Still," he said, "if it’s time to go…you can let go, Rose. I know how stubborn you are. I know you never want to leave me but….Look at us. We’ve had a fantastic life, haven’t we?
"And…you shouldn’t stay…not like this; you said so yourself. Made me sign a paper and everything, oh, such a long time ago. Because you knew, didn’t you, my clever girl. You knew I could never let you go. Well, I’ll have you know, Rose Tyler, that I am at least two-hundred eighty-seven-point-three percent less of a wanker than I ever was, and I am perfectly capable of being sensible and reasonable and—oh, Rose. You did make me better.”
He lay there still, unable to find any more words and too drained to even cry, and eventually succumbed to sleep.
He awoke with a start. For one terrifying moment, he thought he’d missed her, that she’d listened to him for once and quietly admitted defeat…but he hadn’t even said goodbye! Not really, and the two of them, they had a thing with proper goodbyes—a distinct lack of them.
But no. His sleepy haze dissipated, and he realized the quiet beep…beep…beep meant she was still here with him, still being strong for him. The orderly looked up from where she was checking Rose’s vitals.
"You should get some proper rest," she said. "Your Rose is in good hands here."
"Mm." He nodded vaguely.
"Can I bring you anything? Water? Tea?"
He shook his head.
"Okay then." And she left.
The Doctor resumed his position, resting his chin against Rose’s leg.
"Look at me," he said, "asking you to do something I’ve never done—dying, that is, passing away, meeting your maker, buying the farm, ceasing to be. No. That last one’s not quite right. I’ve never died before. You asked me once what regeneration felt like and I was too much of a mighty Time Lord back then to tell you the truth, so I said it tickled.
"It’s scary, terrifying, and it hurts. The light consumes you, all of you, everything you are, and you want to scream but your lungs are busy changing and you can’t even breathe. You’re sure you are going to die this time, that this time it’s not going to work, and then as suddenly as it begins, it stops. And you can breathe again, only your lungs are a different shape, so even breathing feels wrong somehow and—Well. I don’t think dying’s like that but I still…even if it means to remain living in a world without you, Rose, I—I don’t know how to do this.
"But." He swallowed. "But I can do this. I can do this for you. I can live out the days I’ve got left and I can die without you by my side…because I don’t want you to have to fight anymore.”
He was quiet for a long moment. Finding nothing more to say, he added, “Goodbye, my love.”
He turned his head to rest his cheek on her leg, listening to the machines’ steady rhythm. He slowly drifted off to sleep again, and in his dreams, they ran.