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The Doctor spun in place, and behind him above the ramp was the light. The light was remarkable enough—swirling colors and shimmering—but what was more unbelievable was the owner of the voice standing below on the ramp itself. He gaped for a bit before he could get anything out.
"I don't understand…"
"It's all right…I'm real, and no holes in time and space because I'm here."
He didn't want to be standing here asking questions—he really didn't—but the part of him that knew his duty to the universe wouldn't allow him to move until he was certain of what he was seeing.
"Few new friends—interdimensional."
"But that's impossible."
A breath the Doctor didn't realize he'd been holding came out in a rush, and it wasn't particularly easy getting another. "Rose…" he managed finally.
Finally she smiled, and it was like a switch that kicked him into motion. He was down the ramp with his arms around her before he was quite certain he'd moved at all.
No complications, no Daleks, no one else this time. He went to her and he threw his arms around her and nothing stood in their way this time. They stayed like that for a long while, maybe because neither of them really wanted to get to what came next…the rest of the hows and whys.
She was alone. Why was she alone? Why did she look older than what the few months gone would have done to her? When they pulled back enough to see each other he saw it in her eyes.
"Rose?" A hand went to her cheek, stroked it with a thumb as he studied her, and she knew what question he was asking.
"Bit of time shift during the transfer. It's been almost six years for me."
That in itself was a bit of a shock, but—
"No, not that; you look wonderful—god, you look wonderful—but I don't understand. You're here alone. What about…?"
He didn't really know how to refer to the human copy of himself he'd left her with, but before he could search for the correct term Rose's eyes had filled and she was looking away. She pulled in a sharp breath, and her hand came up to grip the one he'd rested on her face.
There wasn't time for her to answer him. In the next instant she shouted and doubled over.
"Rose!" The Doctor caught her, shifting so when she went down she was doubling over his arm so he could lower her carefully to the ground. "What's happening to her!"
Dimensional shifts, time shifts, and his mind raced with what might be wrong and the light was still there and he hoped they knew. When Rose shouted and the Doctor cried out to it the light reached out to her; touched her as if examining her.
"What is it! What did you do to her!"
We did nothing purposefully. We wished only to help her. Dimensional travel is always dangerous. We warned her of this. Still, we believed she was unharmed. The light still played over her as he held her, squirming in his arms and gasping in pain.
"I know!" He held her tighter as the light flared brighter and red.
That is why. There are cells that are unstable from the transfer. A condition we were unaware of caused difficulty in re-integration. We must apologize deeply; were not aware she was with child.
"I'm with WHAT!"
"What!" the Doctor echoed.
The light became a swirling mass of activity over them. We are attempting to compensate. We are failing.
Rose was crying now. "Oh god…"
She cut off in a scream, and the Doctor couldn't breathe. "Hold on!" He looked up into the light desperately. "Let her go then! Maybe I can help her!"
We are once again supporting her now. If we release her and you fail, she will die with the child.
"What's the alternative?"
If we take her back into us they will live. They will remain with us, but they will live.
"No!" Rose protested.
"That's not a life! Not a human life. You have to let me help her. I have a medical bay—technology humans could only dream of. I should be able to stabilize her, but you have to let her go!"
The danger is too great.
"Listen, I know you care about her! I can feel that. I know it, but I promise you I can help her." He wouldn't allow anything else to be true. He couldn't lose her again. Not like this. Not now. "Please!"
After another moment the light drew away, and the Doctor scooped Rose into his arms and he ran. The medical bay wasn't far, and the light followed but it did not intrude. It let him bring her there and put her on a bed under a scanner. She was still shouting and everything in him ached because if it.
He pinpointed the area—oh god, she really was pregnant—and he knew what he had to do but he didn't like it.
The punch of a few buttons on the side of the medical bed brought the multi-function scanner down over her midsection. He was calibrating it to admit the right type of pulse when a hand clamped around his wrist.
"What are you doing? Can you fix it?" Rose gasped. "Tell me you can fix it!"
"I can. I can!" Last calculation. There. It was ready. It was a good thing, too, because the rest of her body would begin to break down within moments if she wasn't stabilized. He leaned over her. "I can fix it. You'll be fine, I promise. But we've got to stabilize the cells—the fetus and surrounding tissue, all out of place because yours friends didn't know about it to watch for reintegrating it."
"Ne-Neither did I." She was shivering from the effort of focusing on what he was saying rather than on the pain.
He could sympathize. He'd changed every cell in his body once, to become human to hide from the Family of Blood. He knew how much it hurt.
"It's going to hurt, to fix it."
"Can't b-be worse than-th-than this."
The Doctor swallowed. "It can. I'm sorry. But only for a moment, and you'll be fine. I promise you'll be fine."
"Then do it!" she hissed through clenched teeth.
The hand around his wrist moved enough to squeeze his hand instead, and he didn't have the heart to pull it away before he had to punch the initiation button on the scanner. The stabilizing pulse ripped through both of them because she had his hand. It wouldn't really harm him, but it hurt just the same. He heard himself scream and opened his eyes on the ground beside the medical bed.
"Ohhh…" He groaned and sat up, disoriented. "All right, that was worse than I expected." What was? It took a moment for his memory to reassert itself. "Rose!" He snagged the edge of the bed above to pull himself up more quickly, and found Rose unmoving on the bed.
She is merely unconscious. You have succeeded. She is well. It was the multi-voice of the light, still nearby.
The Doctor punched at the scanner for a moment. "They both are," he murmured.
And we thank you.
He turned to look at the light. "And what about you, then? What are you? How do you know her?"
Very few of our kind remain. We had banded together, but were separated when the rifts in the universe closed so suddenly. We were weakened by the collapse…unable to travel as freely as we are usually capable of. Rose Tyler and her companions at the place called Torchwood assisted us…harbored us until we were strong enough to travel home.
"And…you can travel freely between dimensions—between universes. How can you do that without causing damage to the fabric of space-time?"
There are things that even the Time Lords never understood, Doctor. That is why we kept our existence from your people. You were not ready.
The breath he released was almost a laugh. It was difficult to contemplate what the light was telling him, but should it really be? Who were the Time Lords to think there was no one above them?
"Thank you," he said finally, because there was nothing else he could say. "For looking after her."
It was all that we could do. You are welcome. We hope that she finds some happiness here, in the least.
"What happened?" the Doctor asked anxiously. "Why did she come looking for me? She wasn't supposed to be alone where she was; she was supposed to be happy. I wanted her to—"
It would be more pertinent for her to tell you what has occurred herself.
He scowled, but they were right.
We must be on our way. Please convey our gratitude once more to Rose Tyler when she wakes.
"Right…right, of course. I won't keep you then."
The light shimmered away, and he was alone with an unconscious Rose.
He turned back to her. Her left arm was hanging off the bed from when she'd been holding his hand. He'd fallen…pulled it down with him, he supposed. Gently he lifted her arm and draped it across her stomach. He held her hand there for several long seconds, just wondering what was wrong and at the same time still amazed she was really here.
It wasn't until then that he saw the wedding ring on her finger, and he swallowed hard.
"Oh Rose, what's happened?" he whispered.
Rose couldn't quite remember what it felt like, to be dematerialized like that. Once one wasn't there anymore it was hard to fathom. But she was at Torchwood, and then there was…a time. They were traveling. It wasn't exactly instantaneous, but it wasn't really time, either. They were moving through time, though, to some extent. She could feel the answer. She knew, as they came to where they were going, that it had only been a few months here.
Then she was there, on the Tardis. She was just…standing there, watching the Doctor from behind as he tried to make out his scanner readings and it was funny and it broke her heart all at once.
When she woke she opened her eyes to the room she'd used when she lived here. From what she could see lying on her back on the bed it hadn't changed at all.
"I'm right here."
He was. He was right there, in a chair at her bedside. She reached out a hand and he took it, and he smiled uncertainly. "I didn't think you would want to wake up in the medical bay."
"What happened?" She remembered most of it, but some of it was a blur. She remembered that it hurt.
"We fixed it. You. You're fine. I promised you, didn't I?"
She sat up quickly, when the rest came to her. "God…!" She'd moved too quickly. She slumped over, dizzy, but the Doctor caught her and he moved to the edge of the bed to sit to keep her upright.
"Take it easy, Rose. You're stable but you might feel a little under the weather for a while. Don't…overdo it, or anything like that."
"Might have said something sooner," she grumbled.
"Sorry. Bit scatter-brained at the moment, myself."
Rose swallowed. "I don't blame you." She rubbed a hand over her middle and her breath caught. "Oh my god…am I really pregnant?"
She heard him sigh a little; she wasn't really focusing on him. "Yes. Just about four weeks. If the morning sickness hasn't started—and I assume it hasn't because you didn't know—then it will soon enough."
"Bit queasy now, to be honest. May or may not be related."
The Doctor pulled her in close then and held her in an embrace she eagerly welcomed. For a while he didn't say anything, though she knew he had to have questions.
"What happened?" he asked finally. He sat back enough to look at her, but he still had her arms. He was still supporting her, and she was glad of it because she needed that now. She opened her mouth, but nothing wanted to come out. It didn't help that he had that face—the one where he was so desperately afraid that he had made a mistake and whatever was wrong was somehow his fault.
"We were…we were happy." She had to start with that or she would never get anywhere. "He—the other you…" She twisted her wedding ring on her finger. "We've been married four years…or we would have been next week." She took an unsteady breath. "But you know me…you know yourself. We couldn't just…stay away. From all of it. Donna's formula worked, but the new Tardis was still taking time to grow, and I was already with the Torchwood there. He just…joined us." She sobbed once. "But he's…he was human. Just as vulnerable as the rest of us…"
"Something happened…an alien. An accident."
She couldn't really look at him while she was saying it all, but she knew she couldn't go any further so she looked at him now. His eyes were already damp.
"I'm sorry. I am so sorry, I—" He was up in an instant, pacing back and forth in quick motions. She knew he was upset—upset that anything had hurt her. It was the way he was. He kicked the dresser leg with a frustrated sound and then he was calm again. He controlled himself and he came back to the chair by the bed. He dropped into it with his forehead in his hands.
"It wasn't supposed to be like that," he managed finally. "That wasn't what I wanted for you."
"Well of course it wasn't…" She reached for his hand again, pulled one from his face and laced their fingers. "I know that. You wanted me to be happy."
He pushed out a breath that was almost a sob, and he wouldn't look at her. He was still staring at the floor. "I'm sorry…"
"Doctor, you did the right thing. We were happy."
He scrubbed his free hand over his face and looked up again, stricken, but he looked like he wanted to believe her.
Rose wanted to say more, but that was when the nausea won. It won quite suddenly, really. It was all she could do to jump from the bed and hurry into the small attached bathroom in time.
He was dead, then, the Doctor thought miserably. His duplicate, his other self…his only means of making Rose happy…
And he would have become his own person soon enough, the Doctor knew. He would have become someone different—someone with the Doctor's memories, but dealing with them as a human. He would have been much the same, but different still. He would have been his own man—a man Rose had fallen in love with and, apparently, chosen to marry in the traditional human way.
She had clearly loved him, and now he was dead.
It meant a lot of things…that she was properly grown up now, and not the young woman who'd traveled with him, among other things.
It meant she wasn't really his anymore. Not that he'd ever laid claim…no, it was the one thing he couldn't say, and that had cost him. But to think that she was happy, in the other world, was what had kept him going since saying goodbye the second time.
He felt her hand warm in his, but he was lost in his own thoughts when she sprang from the bed and all but stumbled into the toilet.
"Rose?" He jumped up as well, but abruptly realized he probably should not follow. He didn't know how she would feel about that, anyhow, even if she were only being sick. So he waited just outside the open door, leaning heavily into the wall wincing at the sound of her retching and wishing he knew what to do. He always knew what to do…had some sort of hunch, at least. But this?
She was unsteady, trying to come back out into the bedroom. He supposed it was also the after-effects of the stabilizing beam. He'd had to wait a little while before he could carry her here, himself.
He caught her before her knees could hit the ground. He thought he should have been able to help her back up and straight to the bed, but maybe he wasn't quite as well as he thought. Whatever energy he'd used to carry her before was gone again now, so instead he lowered her gently to the floor and knelt beside her.
"Rose? Are you all right?"
She nodded, but she'd begun to cry. "He's not here. He should be here. I'm-I'm pregnant. He should be here. He wanted this almost m-more than I did. He should be here."
His chest tightened, and he didn't know what to do but hold her. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I'm so sorry." He hugged her tight and she was crying into his shoulder, and he didn't know what else to do.
"Wha' am I supposed to do?" she cried.
He choked back a sob of his own, because he didn't know. "I'll take care of you. I swear. I'm going to take care of you…"
He didn't know how, but he knew he had to. It was the only promise he could make. He kept saying it, and he didn't know whether he kept saying it to reassure her….or to tell himself he wouldn't fail this time.
"I'll take care of you. I'll take care of you. I will…"