In the boiling steam and underneath the rushing sound of water he finally allows himself to weep – with terror, with rage. With the utter despair of a mortal man faced for the very first time with his own mortality. 1,414 words.
A/N: So basically I’ve rated this one because of the sensitivity of the content. It doesn’t include character death but it DOES have somebody living and coping with a rather nasty illness that has a lot of potential to become terminal. Speaking from my own experiences of having had loved ones with terminal illnesses (read: cancer), I would probably be cool with reading this if it was written by somebody else. HOWEVER. You doubtless all have different experiences with diseases like this and I certainly don’t want to badly upset anybody needlessly so I think it only fair to give you plenty of warning. If you find yourself shying away from the idea of reading about a character (even if they are totally fictional) who is very sick and possibly heading towards terminal illness? This is probably not a good one for you to read.
Also, my apologies in advance to professor_spork for the angst overload. Does it help at all that I wrote two fluff fics for the challenge already?
The tests come through positive in the worst possible way. Being a medical man – or at least a man of great learning – he demands x-rays and access to the Torchwood labs for his own tests and a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion.
The diagnosis however, is too clear cut for excuses or denial.
In order to help the children understand, Rose tacks the x-rays up in the windows so she can show them the dark, angry patches that need to be removed and then chemically treated. He feels ill at the very sight of the images and can’t stand watching her explain it for them. Instead he goes and turns the shower up as hot and high as it goes.
In the boiling steam and underneath the rushing sound of water he finally allows himself to weep – with terror, with rage. With the utter despair of a mortal man faced for the very first time with his own mortality.
He never quite forgives her for telling the children without consulting him first though. From a man indestructible to this weakened, part human metacrisis, he can’t quite shake his pride enough to admit that he really is infallible now – and in the worst possible way.
They row so furiously about it afterwards that their eldest rings their grandmother and Jackie arrives and stealthily ships the children out of the house.
“You can’t just not tell them!” Rose insists over and over. “That isn’t fair.”
“But it wasn’t your place to tell them!”
“It is my place to tell them if you refuse to!” she blares right back and then suddenly she’s crying. “Do you really want them to keep on believing that everything’s going to be fine when any day could be your last? You could die Doctor. And if they don’t understand that you might not get through this then I’m the one who’s going to have to deal with the fall out if you don’t make it. Not you.”
He is abashed when he realises what her justifications were and although he still doesn’t like the idea, he forgives her. Well, enough at least to help her explain it to the kids. But he still withdraws from them all. He doesn’t mean to, but it’s how he’s always dealt with his problems and he isn’t about to stop a habit like that with nine-hundred plus years of being stuck in his ways behind him.
From there he mainly skips stages one through three and winds up sloping through his treatment, quieter and sadder than she’s seen him in years. Maybe since she first met him. She holds his hand and tries to make him smile and cuts his glorious hair an inch at a time to ease him into the day when it all begins to fall out.
“Horrible things happen sometimes,” he explains to his children. Somehow, he manages to do so without crying. “Even to good people. That’s just how life works.”
During visiting hours they clamber around on his bed like a litter of puppies. Their cuddles are so careful though that he thinks they might be worried that he’ll turn brittle and shatter like glass if they embrace him too tightly. Instead they pat his bald head fondly and knit him horrid things to wear to hide it. Multicoloured monstrosities with tassels and bobbles – the kind of things even his Seventh self would have baulked at.
When the treatment ends his hair grows back curlier and thicker than before and he goes into remission as easily as he went into treatment in the first place. The horrid beanies are hidden in the back of his sock drawer and he triumphantly buys his first tube of gel in he can’t remember how long.
It isn’t until he’s been back home for a few weeks that he realises just how far into himself he has grown. His children have started to grow up and he’s missed so much of it already. They are interested in different things now, they don’t look up to him in the same way. And Rose is so much more self sufficient, so much closer to the kids.
They don’t need him anymore, he realises. He has become obsolete by his absence and god but it hurts.
They try their best to include him of course. The children invite him into their games and Rose invites him back into her bed. But he finds that he can’t fathom the point of either anymore. His efforts from thereon in to reconnect with his family and friends are no more than half-hearted.
What’s the point if he’s going to be dead within the next five years anyway?
Quietly, bitterly, he all but puts his life on hold as he waits for the day when he’ll be given the all clear or dragged back in for more treatment.
The tests have been sent and they’re waiting on the news when Rose comes into the lounge where he is watching a massive storm brewing off the coast.
“Test results’ll be in soon.” she says softly. She clambers onto the couch and curls up beside him, laying her head against his still-emaciated frame. “Tomorrow maybe. Or the day after.”
“Yeah.” He says blandly and she stares at him – pityingly he thinks, with disgust at himself for allowing himself to become so wretched that the woman he loves should pity him.
And then she stands up and pulls him to his feet.
They get in the car and drive. The kids are with their grandmother or their friends for the weekend so it’s just the two of them for miles and miles of silence.
When they arrive the sky is black and ominous with storm clouds. Lightning crackles overhead as Rose drives them up a steep road and the very edge of a cliff.
It’s a sheer drop down to the storming ocean and the rocks below and the Doctor wonders briefly why she’s brought them here of all places.
When he turns to ask he finds her stripping off her jumper, then her undershirt. Finally she toes out of sneakers and shimmies her jeans off.
Wondering, he strips down too until they’re both shivering on a craggy cliff top in the middle of winter in their underwear.
It’s almost like the old days.
He nearly loses his composure entirely when she reaches out to thread their hands together and tugs him to the edge of the world.
“I just want you to know.” She tells him quietly. “That we’re gonna go down fighting this thing together. You and me. No matter what. Yeah?”
It’s not quite as snappy as, “Run!” but his face creases and the wind whips his tears right off his cheeks as he nods his assent at her.
“Yeah.” He says, voice cracking and before he has a chance to prepare himself she’s coiled to spring and he has to hastily follow suit or risk being left behind.
Together they jump hand-in-hand into the storming, thrashing seas below. There is a rush of air, the briefest sensation of weightlessness and then...
It’s like an explosion.
There is a whoosh! as the ice-cold water engulfs their bodies, mingling with the tiny pockets of air that they have dragged down with them.
For the longest moment they are in suspended animation, the water churning and bubbling around them...and then Rose gives a powerful kick and he is following her to the surface and when they reach the air, still hand in hand, the Doctor feels more alive than he has in years. Rose bobs next to him, grinning her head off and he laughs and laughs and laughs until he gets a mouthful of salt water and almost drowns himself on the spot.
They swim back and walk up the steep road to their car in their underwear, get dressed and drive home shivering to make love in the quiet light of an early dawn.
They barely let go of each other’s hands the whole time.
And when his mobile buzzes and wakes them later that morning, the Doctor reaches for it and actually manages a hopeful smile for Rose before he answers it.
There is no sense of dread in him anymore. Because finally he trusts that he will always have her hand to hold – unto whatever end.
She will love him for the rest of his days, under fair blue skies or weathering the worst of storms.