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Hypochondria in Metacrisis

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“Rose,” the Doctor whispers into Rose’s ear as soon as she answers her phone.

“Doctor? Why are you whispering?” Rose inexplicably whispers back, tucking the phone under her chin and freeing her hands to straighten the mess of paperwork on her desk.

“I need you to come home immediately, Rose. I’m finding it very hard to breathe! That’s why I’m whispering. It’s imperative that I conserve the miniscule amount of oxygen that I have left. I don’t want to alarm you but I think I’m suffering from hypoxemia and --”

“Slow down, Doctor. When did you start feeling this way?”

“It came on very, very suddenly and I --” He pauses, wheezing loudly. “Rose, I think I might be dying!”

It’s the terror in his voice that makes Rose freeze mid-task, causing her to drop several pieces of paper onto the floor. Her hands fly to her mouth to prevent the growing nausea in her throat from manifesting into sick and when she tries to respond, the words refuse to come out as audible sounds.

“Are you still there?” he asks, his voice barely above a whisper, sounding small and scared.

“I’m coming home. Don’t move -- I’ll be there in a few minutes, okay?" she manages to say, dashing out her office door and running all the way down the stairs to the garage below the building.

“Okay.”

“Right. Stay on the line but don’t waste your breath talking unless you’re feeling worse.” She pauses, standing on her tip toes to make sure she’s walking down the right aisle in the parking garage. “Doctor, you have to tell me if you’re feeling worse, okay?”

“I will, Rose. Just hurry.”

When she sees her car, she unlocks it with the key remote and pulls the door open, quickly pushing the speaker button on her phone and placing it in the cup holder.

“I’m in the car now. Traffic shouldn’t be an issue at this hour so I’ll be there soon.”

Thankfully, the drive to the flat takes only five minutes.

Slamming the car door, Rose runs into the building, past the porter’s desk and into the miraculously open lift. She pushes the number ‘six’ several times until the door closes and brings the phone to her ear.

“I’m here! In the lift. How are you feeling?”

“Hrngggg,” he groans.

“I’ll be right there,” she says, tapping her foot against the wall in agitation as she watches each floor button light up, willing them to move faster.

When the lift finally starts to open, she squeezes through the widening crack and sprints down the hallway until she reaches their door, immediately shoving her key into the lock.

“Doctor?” she yells as she walks into the flat, pocketing the phone.

“Over here,” he replies in a raspy whisper.

She walks through the kitchen and into the living room, trying to follow the source of the sound. Just as she opens her mouth to call out to him again, she sees a head of brown, spiky hair poking out on the floor next to the sofa.

Rushing to the Doctor’s side, she crouches down next to him and takes in the sight in front of her. His eyes look slightly sunken in and are wide open in what looks like panic. An oxygen mask placed over his mouth covers half of his face, a hand clutching it tightly to keep it in place. And he’s wearing nothing but a sloppily tied silk, navy blue bathrobe that gapes at the middle and exposes his naked torso and hipbones.

Fighting the automatic impulse to look away, she bites the inside of her cheek and focuses instead on taking his pulse and counting the rapid beats of his single heart. Satisfied that it’s still working, she places the palm of her hand on his forehead to gauge his temperature and gasps when she feels how hot he is.

The Doctor removes his oxygen mask and takes in a few shallow breaths.

“Hello,” he whispers, the corners of his lips turning up into a gorgeous smile that makes Rose’s stomach swoop and causes her to forget for a moment that he’s ill. Schooling her features, she runs a hand through his hair, smoothing it back and wiping away the beads of sweat at his temples.

“Hello, you,” she says, smiling back. “I’m going to ring my dad. I know we can’t take you to hospital, but you need to be seen by someone and he’ll send over a doctor from Torchwood straight away.”

He frowns, eyebrows furrowed in protest, and opens his mouth to respond. But instead of speaking, he sneezes three times, directly into her face.

“Sorry I --” he tries to say, another sneeze interrupting him and she manages to turn her head this time. “I can’t seem to help it.”

She reaches for a box of tissues sitting on the table next to the sofa and pulls two out, handing one to him and using the other to wipe her face. He takes it from her, lifting his head up slightly, and covers one nostril with his thumb, blowing the other into the tissue, alternating back and forth until seemingly satisfied that he’s gotten it all. Then he plops his head back onto the wooden floor with a thud.

Rose bites her lip, resisting the urge to comment on his nose blowing technique. Best saved for later, really. Now that the oxygen mask no longer covers half of his face, she can see the redness around his nose and eyes and the flush that colors his cheeks.

“Doctor, what are your other symptoms?”

He points to his nose. “Can’t breathe -- this part human body lacks a respiratory bypass. And when I try to stand up, my head feels funny,” he says, still whispering, and pausing to take a few raspy breaths. “I was on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water but it was just too far away, Rose. Not enough oxygen in these rubbish lungs to make it. So I grabbed the mask and rang you, and then I collapsed onto the floor.”

“Oh my God, you collapsed?! Can you move your legs?”

“Well, I say ‘collapsed’ but I meant I lacked the energy to keep walking so I…” he trails off, looking down.

“You, what?”

“I decided to have a bit of a lie down right here. And then I couldn’t quite make it to the tissues and I kept sneezing and, oh Rose, it was awful!”

“Oh, my poor Doctor,” Rose says, smiling down at him in relief. “I think you’ve caught your first human virus: the common cold.”

He shakes his head and the effort of it seems to almost be too much for him. “There’s nothing common about this. I am intimately familiar with over 10,000 different virus strains, human and otherwise, and this is something else entirely.”

“Right. But have you ever actually experienced any of them?”

“Of course!” he says in a loud whisper. “But nothing quite like this, no.”

“Well, I have. Loads of times. And what you’re feeling right now looks and sounds very much like a respiratory virus of some sort.” When he opens his mouth to respond, she places two fingers over his lips to quiet him. “I’ll take your temperature with a proper thermometer and help you onto the sofa. Rest and lots of fluids -- that’s what you need right now.”

The Doctor sticks out his bottom lip, mumbling something under his breath that Rose can’t understand.

“What was that?” she asks, trying not to laugh at his pathetically adorable pout.

“I said, I think I can make it to the sofa on my own, thanks. I’m not that far gone.”

“No? But you just finished telling me that you couldn’t make it before.”

“Well, the mask helped and… you,” he averts his eyes. “You being here helps.”

“I’m glad,” she smiles, planting a kiss on his fevered forehead.

“So it takes falling ill with a deadly human virus to get Rose Tyler to kiss me again,” he says, exhaling a breath into the crook of her neck that makes her shiver.

She pulls away from him, averting her eyes. "That's not… we agreed to take it slow. To, you know, get reacquainted, and it's only been a few weeks.”

Ignoring her, the Doctor's eyes glaze over and flit to her mouth.

"I know that I’ve never told you this, Rose, but you’ve got the most gorgeous lips I have ever seen,” he says, his voice barely above a whisper, sounding soft and deep and sexy despite his nasal congestion. “I’ve always thought so. And really that -- that's saying something. Lived over nine hundred years; seen a lot of lips during that time, you know. On some planets, I'm even considered somewhat of a lip expert.”

Rose looks down at the hand still absent-mindedly petting his hair and brings it to her mouth to bite her thumbnail instead, a habit she thought she'd broken long ago.

"Thanks. I... I think the fever has made you a bit loopy. I'll just... do what I said I was gonna do a few minutes ago and also get you some paracetamol to bring down your temperature." She wraps her arm underneath him and around his back, pulling him into a sitting position.

“I am not loopy,” he whines, lower lip protruding again.

Not wanting to embarrass him, she tucks her chin into her shoulder, stifling a giggle.

“Fine, not loopy, then. But you still need rest and fluids and, trust me, the sofa is quite a lot more comfortable than the floor.”

She starts to stand, extending her hand to him. He stares at it for a moment, as if contemplating his chances of standing up on his own without her help and then shrugs and entwines his fingers with hers, letting her pull him up with her.

Seeing that he’s a little wobbly and hunched over, Rose holds him tightly around the middle to keep him steady and encourages him to walk towards the sofa.

He leans into her touch and pauses to gaze down at her, waggling his eyebrows up and down in a way that makes him look slightly manic.

“I’m naked under this robe, Rose. Totally and completely starkers.”

“I had noticed that, actually,” she says, laughing as she helps him onto the sofa.

The Doctor lifts an eyebrow, a retort half formed on his lips, but then another sneezing attack overtakes him. Luckily, Rose has tissues ready this time and hands him one, which he takes eagerly, blowing his nose into it in the same way he did earlier.

Afterwards, he curls onto his side, facing her, arms automatically wrapping around one of the decorative pillows that her mum gave her when she moved into the flat. His too-long legs hang off of the cushions and his robe gapes open, barely concealing his groin.

Rose bites her lip, leaning down to smooth back his hair. “Better?”

A lopsided smile spreads across his face, and he looks up at her, long lashes obscuring half lidded eyes.

“Yep. You were right -- much better than the floor and it’s more spacious too.” He frowns, eyes rolling up to look at the ceiling, tongue darting out of his mouth and tapping his top lip. “Well, not more spacious. Suppose, even in this tiny flat, the floor’s got more space. They generally do, floors. But --” He pats the space next to him, gaze returning to her. “There’s a perfect Rose Tyler shaped spot right here. For snuggling."

The look he gives her is almost seductive, his brown eyes going from playful to intense in the span of a few seconds. It makes her feel dizzy and unsteady on her feet and, without realizing it, she starts to sit down next to him, nearly giving into his request. But then he sneezes, breaking the spell, and the contrast almost makes her laugh.

“Maybe later. Rest and fluids first, remember?”

He furrows his brow and squints, appearing to give the question a lot of thought before answering. “Nope. Can’t say I do,” he says, smacking his lips. “But now you mention it, I am quite parched.”

Rose shakes her head, smiling, and then noticing the gooseflesh on his arms, she grabs a warm, fuzzy pink blanket from a basket and places it over him. He tucks it under his chin and closes his eyes with a soft smile frozen on his lips.

Before pulling away, she leans down to kiss him on the forehead again, the heat from his fevered body transferring to her lips.

On her way to the kitchen, she breathes out a sigh, relaxing her shoulders and releasing some of the pent up tension that had been building since his phone call. It’s not like he meant to frighten her -- he seemed genuinely convinced that his cold was something much more serious -- but it doesn’t help that she already spends too much time imagining all the different ways she might lose him again.

Resolved to talk to him about proper ways to alert someone of an illness, she pours some tepid water into a glass and then retrieves a couple of pills from one of the containers in the cabinet.

When she returns to the living room, the sight of the Doctor curled up and asleep on the sofa looking peaceful and more than a little bit adorable makes her swell up with affection for him, and she forgets her former irritation.

The soft light of the overhead lamp illuminates the smattering of freckles on his face and casts uneven shadows over the outline of his body underneath the blanket. She can’t help but stare for a few minutes, just memorizing his features and marveling at the miracle of his existence. When a lump begins to form in her throat, she swallows it down and finally looks away.

Still, it’s a moment she doesn’t want to forget -- not after years of trying to recall every detail of his face, the memory of the way he looked when he smiled or laughed or had a particularly brilliant idea fading against her will, dependent only on a few blurry photos she’d retrieved from her old phone and her imperfect human recollections.

She places the glass of water on the table and reaches into her pocket for her phone, tapping until she finds the camera application. Because of his stationary position, she only needs to take one picture but she can’t resist taking several from a few different angles, including a close-up of his face.

Her proximity seems to startle the Doctor awake and he looks up at her in wide-eyed confusion just as she’s about to take a picture of his hands wrapped around the pillow.

“Sorry Doctor.” She bites her lip, feeling a little embarrassed at being caught and guilty for disturbing his rest. “Needed proof to show mum how much you love these horrid decorative pillows she gave me.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “Don’t you dare -- I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Oh, she’d not tease you. More likely, she’ll be so pleased that you like them that she will give you another every Christmas,” she says, laughing and then she frowns. “Mind you, that’s not exactly a good thing -- I already have more than I can handle. Guess I’ll be keeping these to myself, for now.”

Rose pockets her phone and then retrieves the glass from the table. Crouching down, she hands it to him and he greedily swallows down half of the water.

“Here, take these too,” she says, holding out the two pills.

He looks at them, grimacing. “I don’t need those.”

“Yes you do. Your temperature is still quite high and these will help. They won’t hurt you; promise. It’s just paracetamol.”

“Alright,” he says, looking up at her. “But, Rose, you told me that you would snuggle after I rested. And I slept for exactly ten minutes and thirty-five seconds. That qualifies as rest, I’d say.”

He looks so adorably petulant and vulnerable that she doesn’t have it in her to say no again, even though she knows he will get more rest on his own. “Fine, I’ll lie down with you for a bit, but take these first.”

The grin that lights up his face tells her she has said the exact right thing. He takes the pills from her, eagerly swallowing them down with more water.

She laughs and starts to sit, but he sticks out his hand, stopping her.

“Hold on -- weren’t you going to change first? That does not look like proper snuggling attire.”

Looking down at her outfit, she frowns. She’s still wearing what she had on for work that day -- a navy blue blazer over a white v-neck tee, paired with a pleated blue and white horizontally striped skirt that hits just above her knees.

“Didn’t exactly have time to change,” she says, shrugging. “Would you rather I disappear for half an hour to shower and get into my nightwear first? Because that sounds completely lovely at the moment, if I’m honest.”

“Well,” he says, tapping the end of his tongue on his top lip. “If you skip the jim jams part, I won’t mind the wait. But if you insist on remaining fully clothed, I’d really like it if you could snuggle for a bit first.” He looks down at the spot beside him. “I mean, if you want…”

“Said so, didn’t I?” She takes her blazer off, laying it on the table, and turns to him with a smile. “Budge up.”

He smiles back and lifts his arm, bringing the blanket up with him and creating a tent like effect over his body. He’s still wearing the robe, but because he now lays on his side, she can see a lot more skin on display than when he was on the floor. Magnetically drawn to the area where the robe splits open at his stomach, her gaze lingers there for a moment and then follows the path of his happy trail, licking her lips as it dips into his pelvic area and disappears beneath the robe.

When her eyes return to his face, she is met with a smug grin that lets her know that although he might still be slightly delirious, he is fully aware that she likes what she sees.

Rose looks away and takes a deep breath, exhaling slowly. Right now, she needs to focus on his illness and helping him get better. There would be plenty of time for exploring other things later.

Brushing her hair to one side and over her shoulder so that it won’t hit him in the face, she lays down on her side, facing away from him, and tucks her head underneath his chin. He drops his arm, draping it over her hip and resting his hand on her stomach and then tugs her closer until her body moulds to fit against his.

They stay like that for several minutes, both completely still except for the rise and fall of their chests. At first, the proximity of his body makes her go rigid and she finds it difficult to relax, but gradually the rhythmic sound of his loud mouth breathing combined with the warmth emanating from his fevered body starts to lull her to sleep.

“Rose?” he says, directly into her ear, just as her eyes begin to close.

“Yeah?”

“I can’t smell you.”

“S’ normal with a cold. Shh, was almost asleep.”

In response, he licks her ear and she yelps.

“Doctor, what --” she starts to ask.

“I can’t taste you either.”

“Also normal with a cold.”

“But Rose, this is serious.”

She sighs, relenting at the sound of real worry in his voice, and flips around, scooting up, so that they are face to face.

His eyes are big and round, making him look almost childlike in his fear.

Bringing her hand to his cheek, she traces his jawline with her thumb, enjoying the feel of his stubble. “What’s the matter, Doctor? It’s only temporary. You’ll be able to smell and taste properly again as soon as you’re better.”

When his expression doesn’t change and he stays silent, an inkling of what he might really be worried about forms in her mind.

“It’s being part human, isn’t it? You’re worried about losing some of your Time Lord senses.”

He looks down, not answering her.

“Doctor, it’s alright. I can only imagine what that must be like.”

“I am a bit, yeah,” he says, focusing on a spot on her shoulder. “Well, I say ‘a bit’, but I really mean a lot. Mind you, the differences haven’t been all that apparent until now.” His eyes flick to hers. “Well, aside from the one heart. And the aging. And the lack of regenerations and a respiratory bypass. But I knew all of that pretty much straight away.”

She nods, biting her lip. “What about before you got sick. Did you taste and smell as you always have?”

“Not exactly, no. But it always changes slightly with regeneration so I thought it was just a part of the metacrisis.”

“Right, I remember,” she says, thinking back to the first time she saw him regenerate. “But you can still detect things, yeah? Hormones and chemicals and such?”

“No, Rose, I cannot. That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Whatever this -- this virus is has destroyed my senses completely and I don’t know if they’ll ever come back.”

Starting to feel like she’s talking to a five year old instead of a genius, she sighs. “I know. Doctor, I just mean, were they working properly up until today when you felt poorly?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s not the point,” he says, sticking out his lower lip.

Rose laughs, unable to take him seriously looking like that. “If you had them before the cold, I promise you, they will come back.”

“Yeah?” he says, and it sounds like he almost believes her.

“Yes.” She smiles at him in reassurance, her hand still clasping his jaw, and when he smiles back it feels something like a victory.

As seconds pass without either of them moving or breaking eye contact, Rose becomes hyper aware of the distance between their faces. If she leans forward at all, her nose will brush against his and it’d only take a little maneuvering before their lips would be touching too.

The Doctor seems to come to the same realization as his eyes travel down to her mouth and he brings his hand to her cheek, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She sucks in a breath, letting it fill her lungs in time with the escalating tension between them.

“After I lost you, I made a list, tucked it away in a drawer and never looked at it again.”

It takes her a moment to register that he spoke at all and she has to shake her head to focus on what he said. She drops her hand from his cheek, running it through her hair and finally exhaling the breath she’d been holding.

“A list?”

He nods. “Very human thing to do, list making.” He taps the top of his head. “Brilliant mind -- never forget anything.”

Rose stays silent, waiting for him to elaborate. When he doesn’t, she squeezes his hand in encouragement.

He squeezes back and gives her a warm smile.

“But after Bad Wolf Bay, the first time, all the things I never said to you, all the words I ran out of time to say…” Swallowing, he looks away for a moment, and she can see that his eyes are still a little glassy. “So many, many things Rose. Some of them thoughts I’d had hundreds of times and never said aloud, for one reason or another.”

When he pauses, she reaches up to touch his forehead and though slightly cooler now, it still feels hot against the palm of her hand. “Shh, Doctor, it’s okay -- we can talk about this later. You should get some rest.”

He meets her gaze, shaking his head. “No, I need to tell you this right now.”

She opens her mouth to protest, because even moving his head seems to be difficult for him, but there’s something insistent and pleading in his eyes that stops her and she nods.

“Anyway, I thought that maybe if I wrote it all down, and saw the words in front of me, that it would be sort of like telling you, in a way.”

“Was it?”

“No, not really, but it was enough,” he says, shrugging. “Point is, though, Rose, now I have the rest of my life to tell you that your lips are the most gorgeous lips I’ve ever seen; or that I adore the way you can’t speak an intelligible word until you’ve had your tea in the morning.”

He pauses to take in a few shallow breaths and then cradles her cheek, tracing the outline of her jaw with his thumb.

“When I say these things to you, it’s not because I’m ‘loopy’ -- I say them because they are true and because I can and because I never thought I’d have the chance to say them again.”

Rose averts her eyes, feeling suddenly shy under his gaze.

He taps his thumb lightly on her cheek in silent command for her to look at him, and when she does, he smiles. “I can wait as long as you need. I’m not a patient man, but I can be for you.”

“I’ve got a confession to make, actually -- I was on the verge of snogging you when you interrupted me.”

His eyes widen and he sticks his lower lip out. “When? Where was I in this scenario?”

She gives him a look that she hopes is pointed.

“Ah,” he says and then sticks his lower lip out even further. “Well, care to give that another go right now?”

“Nah, best saved for when you haven’t been sneezing on me all night,” she says, laughing and reaching up to touch his forehead again. “Looks like the medicine brought your fever down, but you still need to rest and, when we do kiss again -- and we will, very soon -- resting will be the furthest thing from our minds.”

“I’m holding you to that,” he says, eyebrows raised suggestively. “Care to resume our snuggling session, then?”

“Your sense of smell and taste might be dulled while you’re sick, but you know what?” She smiles, snuggling in closer and dropping a chaste kiss on his bicep. “You read my mind.”