Gallifrey Records: The Human Nature EP
We polled, and y’all picked a Human Nature AU set in the Gallifrey Records ‘verse as our next prompt, so here Jamie and I are launching our eighteenth round of fic tennis. We’re going to touch on the theme of memory loss in this story, so please savior “fic tennis” if you want to avoid the topic.
Rose Tyler sits in the office chair in front of the neurologist’s desk, staring blankly at the framed pictures arranged on the bookshelf behind the woman’s head – in one, she’s smiling and holding two little boys; in another, she’s beaming on top of a cliff with her arm around a handsome bloke, her husband or partner, probably. A happy, normal woman; a happy, normal bloke; a happy, normal life.
The neurologist herself sits at the desk, her face somber now, no trace of a smile to be found. A patient file is spread out in front of her, films and x-rays and scans of every conceivable type, all accompanied by notes in indecipherable handwriting, like some sort of alien script.
“Spit it out, then!” Donna barks from behind Rose. She’d refused a chair, when the neurologist ushered them into her office; she’s been pacing non-stop for the last five minutes, a frantic counterpoint of movement to Rose’s paralyzed sense of dread. “A full day’s worth of tests, medical fees higher than the GDP of a small country, surely you’ve got something in that file to tell us!”
The neurologist leans forward, practiced sympathy in her every expression and movement. “Considering the possible causes of the problem, what I have to tell you is basically good news.”
Rose frowns, her dry eyes stinging and hot. “The Doctor can’t remember my name, can’t remember who I am, and you’re telling me there’s some good news in all of this?”
“He doesn’t have any abnormal growths, and there’s no damage whatsoever to his brain tissue. That’s part of the good news. The Doctor’s suffering from a condition called transient global amnesia. It’s usually triggered by migraines, especially if they’re compounded with profound stress.”
Donna has stopped pacing, Rose hears her grow very still. If there’s one word to describe Rose and the Doctor’s existence in the last few months, it’s stress, and Donna knows it. In every single aspect of their lives, nothing has gone quite right in a long while. They’ve both been overbooked, overworked, overwhelmed. And the Doctor had been bearing through it all with his usual flippant attitude – on the surface, at least – even though Rose could see the exhaustion underneath, even though he refused to talk about his frustration and disappointment. And then two days ago, the news about Sarah Jane came, and the Doctor had clammed up even tighter.
“While he’s suffering from this condition, the amnesia shouldn’t affect most of the Doctor’s long-term memories or his personality. He still knows his own name, and could probably tell you where he was born and his parents’ names. He can still perform complex learned tasks like driving a car or shopping at the market. Only a few of his long-term memories appear to have been affected, and he’s unable to create new short-term memories, the way he repeats his statements and questions with the same intonations and gestures, like a skip on a record.
“But he’s going to be disoriented in time and space, perhaps not knowing the year nor the location where he resides. And it’s going to make him upset, as you’ve seen – when he senses things are out of place, that he’s out of place, he might get perturbed. Emotional.”
“Is this permanent?” Rose says, her lips hardly moving, the words hardly a whisper.
“That’s the other good news,” the neurologist replies, the corners of her mouth lifting in a flat smile that’s likely meant to be reassuring. Donna’s fingers rest on Rose’s shoulder, squeezing gently, and Rose reaches up to hold her hand. “The condition is almost always temporary, and should correct itself, given time. There’s only a five percent chance of this sort of amnesia ever recurring again. What the Doctor needs now is a peaceful, calm environment where he can carry out as much of a normal life as he’s capable of, until his brain recovers.”
“How long?” Rose says.
The neurologist shrugs. “A few weeks, probably; at the most a few months. It depends.”
“There isn’t a pill or a procedure or something?” Donna asks. “Acupuncture or aromatherapy or a rabbit’s foot? Anything to bring him back right now?”
The neurologist shakes her head. “It’s a matter of waiting.”
“A calm environment,” Rose says, turning to look up at Donna. “We can’t take him back to the flat, not until everything’s fixed.” A water leak last week meant a good portion of the drywall and all of the floors were being replaced; their home was a chaotic construction zone. She doesn’t even entertain the idea of taking him to Jackie’s mansion; she can only imagine what a nightmare that would be, having to re-introduce the Doctor to her mother every few minutes. “What are we going to do?”
Donna stares down at her, drawing in a slow breath, her grip on Rose’s hand tightening and her face shifting into an expression Rose knows well: project management mode. “I’m going to clear out both of your schedules, cancel your appearances for as long as necessary. And in the meantime I know a place for you both, a perfect little village. It has all the peace and quiet the Doctor could need.”
The Doctor swings his legs back and forth as he sits on the examination table, waiting for Donna to return. Well, Donna and Rose, but he’s not as keen for Rose to return.
She seems like a nice woman, very pretty, and he understands he’s supposed to know who she is, but he doesn’t. And the searching, pained looks she keeps throwing him aren’t helping anything.
He keeps his legs elevated on the next pass, extended all the way, and he can see his trainers, the sloppy knots he tied in the laces before they left for the doctor’s.
It seems weird — frustrating — that he can remember how to do that, remember loads of things, actually, but not this woman he apparently loves. Or the last couple of years he spent with her.
There hadn’t been much time between the forgetting and now, but it’s been long enough for him to realize something is very, very wrong. He trusts Donna with his life, and if Donna is this concerned about anything, it’s never good.
Not that he’d have taken the loss of his memory lightly, not exactly, but Donna — and Rose, he has to remember to think about her, too — shuffling him right off to a neurologist seems especially bad. He may also have gotten just a little, tiny, minuscule, bit upset. And maybe yelled some. But then, that’s normal, isn’t it? Told you’re missing years of your life? Little anger seems natural.
He wishes they would come back already, put a name on all of this and tell him it will be over soon. He’s just begun fantasizing about all the things it could possibly be when there’s a short knock on the door and it opens to reveal Donna and Rose.
They’d kept him away from the small office in the back, concerned whatever news was about to be delivered would be too traumatic and make things worse. It had seemed silly, because he was going to find out eventually, and now, with Donna giving him a small, tight smile, he can’t decide if it’s better or worse to hear it from her and not the doctor.
“Why don’t we go back to mine, Doctor?” Donna says, and gestures to the door. “We can explain everything there.”
He nods, and forces down a snap of irritation. He is a grown man, not some infant to be coddled, but in the middle of the neurologist’s office doesn’t seem like the place to make a scene. Especially not with the new album dropping soon. He’s pretty proud of this one actually, the ‘Suit Album,’ it’s got a nice ring to it.
Gesturing for Donna and Rose, who’s clutching a thick stack of papers, medical information, he’s sure, to go first, he follows them out.
The car ride back to Donna’s is quiet. They’d had the radio on at the start, but when the DJ had introduced a song apparently from him and Rose, Donna had shut it off with a forceful jab of her finger. Any lingering hope that this was all some elaborate prank had vanished then.
He spends the rest of the drive trying to remember what he knows of Rose Tyler. It’s not much really, just a few YouTube videos of her playing in small clubs, hardly the sort of artist you’d hear on Radio 1. Adam had fancied her a bit, and the Doctor had filed her away as someone to look into when it came time to book an opener for the tour to support the new album.
Clearly he’d gone on to look into her plenty, if they were recording singles together now.
Donna parks the car and they all pile out. Rose’s hand brushes his as they walk to Donna’s door and she yanks it back with an apologetic look. Right, hand-holding, that must have been something they did a lot of, must be normal, if they’re together.
Once they’re all settled in the living room, things get a little muddled. He takes in everything, all the information, the diagnosis, the plan, all of it, a current of rage rising steadily in his chest.
Well, everything’s all set then, isn’t it? Shuffle him off to some bloody little village and wait ‘til he gets better. There’s that sorted, hardly worth asking him what he wants to do.
“Doctor,” Rose says. “I know this must be hard for you. But you’re going to get better, it’s just a matter of time. And I’ll wait for — I’ll wait with you. Donna thinks she can get us on a plane tonight.”
He glances at Donna and she gives a small nod, “All the accommodations have been made. I’d go with you, really I would, but someone has to stay here, run the defense. Wouldn’t do to get you back to normal and everything’s gone to pot, would it?”
She’s right, they’re both right. He just has to wait it out.
Rose hates keeping secrets. Especially from the Doctor. Especially like this.
It’s for everyone’s own good, Donna had assured her. Standing in the kitchen just before the car arrived, Rose took Donna’s hands in her own and stared into her eyes, blinking back tears, and said, “Tell me. Tell me it’s the right thing to do. Because even if the neurologist says it’s temporary, it’s like I’ve lost him, and leaving her here now, even just for a few days, it feels like – it feels like both of them are slipping through my fingers.”
Donna’s confident face never wavers, her mouth set with firm resolve, but she can’t keep the fear and pain from her eyes. “This is the right thing to do. For him, and for her.”
“How can I leave without –” Rose sucks in a breath. “I haven’t even said goodbye.”
“You’ll call from the plane. Rose, Joanie’s with your mum. Besides you and the Doctor, there’s no one better to look after her. You’ll need these few days to get the Doctor settled, to ease him into normal life. Anyway, if Rock Boy’s really reverted back to his Suit Album days, take my word for it, you’re going to have your hands full. You don’t need a second toddler to look after.” She forces the words out with a smile, pulling Rose into a hug. Rose wraps her arms around Donna and leans into her, letting out a long, shaky breath and closing her eyes. Donna continues, “Just a few days, and we’ll bring her up to you. It won’t be long.”
Rose’s feet are numb, her legs trembling like the earth is shifting on its axis. Two days, alone with the Doctor who thinks she’s a stranger. Two days without Joanie.
Donna’s arms tighten around her. “You’re not alone,” she says, as though she can read Rose’s thoughts. “If it’s too much, any one of us is just a phone call away – Martha and me, we’ll drop everything and come running the minute you give a shout.”
“I can do this,” Rose says. The Doctor needs her, and she’ll move heaven and earth for him. She always has, she always will.
She loosens her grip on Donna and steps away. Just then, the intercom buzzes. The car has arrived.
The ride to the airport is full of thick silence, and the private plane ride isn’t much better. The Doctor makes few attempts at conversation, between restlessly rifling through all the seat-back pockets for reading material, calling to order a remote-controlled spider and some battery-heated slippers for Donna from Hammacher-Schlemmer, and charming all the peanuts away from the flight attendant. He’s polishing off his eleventh bag, swiping his long finger into the little foil package and licking the salt from his skin, when Rose excuses herself and makes a beeline for the lavatory.
She’s on her mobile before she even locks the door, punching in Jackie’s number.
The Doctor has nearly drifted off to sleep when the lavatory door clicks open. A woman walks out, beautiful and petite and blond. Her eyes are red, and she rubs her nose with the back of her sleeve before giving him a smile. It’s a brave one – he’d know the look on anyone – and he’s on his feet in an instant, walking down the aisle toward her. (They’re the only two on this plane? Must be the off season for … wherever it is they’re going.)
Something like relief flickers in her eyes at the sight of him, coming toward her.
He extends a paper cocktail napkin – covered in peanut crumbs, he realizes a second too late, but she takes it anyway – and he winks and says lightly, “Here now, I’ve been in some pretty dingy transports in my day – rickety old blue tour bus, most of the time – and surely the loo on this posh plane isn’t as bad as all that. Should we call the captain and complain?”
The relief in her eyes gutters out, and she crumples the napkin in her fist.
“No,” she says, and in spite of her red eyes there’s strength behind the word. She winks right back at him. “Not unless you think you could convince the captain to install a jetted bath before we land in half an hour. I’d kill for a nice hot soak.” Her gaze shifts to the overhead bin behind him as she seems to steel herself. “Don’t suppose you have a bath on that rickety blue tour bus of yours, do you? Maybe we ought to have taken that instead of the plane.”
He laughs, because while the TARDIS has many, many things, a nice tub isn’t one of them. Although, if that’s what it takes to get a woman like the one standing in front of him on board, he might just look into it.
“Where’s your seat?” He says, eyes scanning the empty cabin. He hopes it’s not too far from his, and if it is, that he can convince her to change it.
“I’m just there,” she says, and points at the row across from his. How had he not noticed her before?
He shuffles back up the aisle, ducking into his seat and leaving room for her to get into hers. As she sits down, he makes sure to keep eye contact, keep the lines of communication open. He’s not one for being the annoying, chatty bloke on planes, but — oh, who is he kidding? He is definitely one for being the annoying, chatty bloke on planes.
“So, have you been to — wherever it is we’re going before? Do you know where that is, actually? I can’t seem to remember. Working too hard, I guess.”
The woman’s face falls, just a tiny bit, but it’s still apparent.
“No, I haven’t been there,” she says, leaning forward. “Listen, I need to tell you something. I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you, well, again, but —”
He nods for her to continue and a frankly unbelievable story comes pouring out, amnesia, and this woman, this Rose Tyler, she’s someone to him. Actually, if the way she’s speaking is anything to go by, it sounds like she’s everything to him.
The whole thing smacks of someone taking the piss. But who? Donna? Jack maybe? Slip him something, get him on a plane with a beautiful woman and have her spin a tale about “amnesia.” Next she’ll be telling him he’s the father of her child.
“Rose, if that’s your real name — wait, I recognize you, don’t I?” Her eyes lights up and, oh, that’s it, struggling new artist. Maybe she’s just signed with Gallifrey and this is some sort of hazing ritual. Could be Russell that put her up to it. “You’re a singer, aren’t you?”
She nods and he grins.
“Brilliant,” he says. “You can tell everyone I fell for this whole thing, and we can spend the rest of the flight talking about something else.”
She’s back to looking extremely sad, and he really doesn’t want her to cry again.
“Hey, come on, it’ll be all right. Go on, you can run through the rest of the joke. I’ll play along.”
She shakes her head, a fierce, sudden movement, like she’s just found a bucket of courage, “It’s not a prank, Doctor. This — this is our life.” Bending over to get her carry-on from under the seat in front of her, he watches as she removes a stack of papers and then passes them to him. He takes the paper and sees out of the corner of his eye that’s grabbed something else from her bag, it looks like a couple of photographs.
The papers are official looking, his name and diagnosis in an atrocious doctor scrawl. There’s computer-printed literature, too, all about the type of amnesia he’s supposedly got, and something twists in his gut as he reads. This is far too in depth for a prank — uncomfortably in depth.
“You’re — you’re telling the truth, aren’t you?” His voice comes out quiet and broken, the realization settling in.
She nods, handing him the photos, and he notices she keeps one back. They’re wrinkled and worn, the sort of damage that comes from keeping a photo with you everywhere you go.
The first is a shot of the two of them, his sideburns are a bit wider, and she’s got a few more roots showing than the woman sitting across the aisle, but it’s undoubtedly them. The two of them.
The second photo is them again, but surrounded by his friends, Jack and Donna, Adam, it looks like a wrap party, the lot of them in some pub somewhere, arms slung around each other. Rose is leaning up to kiss his cheek, and he’s beaming at the camera.
“Sorry,” Rose mumbles, and it sounds like she wants to say more, like there’s something she’s keeping from him, but she doesn’t say it and he can’t find the strength to ask.
“I’m sorry, too,” he says, brushing it off, and handing her the pictures and papers back. “Do you mind if I — I’m knackered, and this is,” he gestures at the space around them, the empty plane, and then back and forth between the two of them. “I don’t know what this is. I’d like to have a kip.” She gives him a small, sad smile and nods in agreement.
It doesn’t seem very polite, shutting out a woman who’s just told you that you and she are in love, but his head hurts, it hurts a lot, and he can’t be bothered to process all of it right now.
Maybe he’s still asleep on the plane. Maybe it’s like ‘Inception,’ Donna had warned him not to go see it again. That was — what? Last week? That’s frustrating, too, the inability to orient himself, order memories. Some sleep will do him good.
He shuts his eyes and wills it to come.
They arrive late at night, and even in the dark Rose can tell they’re in the quaintest of quaint villages, with a river bubbling alongside the picturesque downtown full of shops shut up for the evening.
The Doctor is quiet the entire ride to their cottage on the outskirts of the village. He’s pulled a little spiral notepad and pen out of his pocket – Rose has no idea where it came from, she’d swear those pockets were empty the last time she checked. But he’d insisted on wearing the pinstripes for this trip, and with that jacket in particular, Rose has come to expect any number of unexpected things. She’d hardly bat an eye if he dug in up to his elbow and came out with the kitchen sink.
He’s been watching their surroundings carefully, scribbling notes. She can feel him watching her out of the corner of his eye, too, not looking at her directly, as though seeing her properly makes him uncomfortable.
The neurologist said a month, Rose tells herself. She can do one month. After all, he put up with her hormonal mood swings while she was pregnant with Joanie, and that was nine whole months. The two aren’t precisely comparable, but this is what they do for each other, stick together no matter what.
Maybe it won’t be so bad if she stops thinking of him as the Doctor – if he’s just a bloke who needs help, just a John Doe she’s agreed to look after for a while, maybe that will make all of this more tolerable. Maybe they’ll both feel more comfortable, if she can lift the weight of expectation.
“John Doe” sounds practically criminal, though, like he’s a prison escapee without an identity or an unidentified hospital patient. One of the pseudonyms he uses to check into hotels under would be better.
Right, then. John Smith it is.
Rose takes the last turn on the winding road and pulls into the driveway of the little cottage. It’s as charming as the village, bougainvillea growing up one wall, thatched roof and manicured garden. It’s late winter, so nothing’s blooming yet, but the overall impression is still enchanting.
The two of them sit quietly in the car for a long moment, staring straight ahead. “It’s like we’ve stepped into a postcard,” Rose finally says.
“I did that once,” the Doctor replies, almost absently. He blinks and turns to meet her stare. “Well-l-l-ll, nearly did. Recorded a music video for a song of mine, the director used bluescreen behind the band and put in postcards in postproduction.” He grins. “That was before Donna came along to help me iron the kinks out of my brilliant video ideas.”
Rose knows the one; she’s teased him about it before. “That pink lei and straw hat you wore for the Hawaii postcard montage was a good look on you. Highlighted the pink in your cheeks. Too bad you didn’t keep hold of it, you could pull it out for brunch on Sundays.”
“Oi, it’s a healthy glow,” he retorts with mock indignation, patting his stubbly cheeks with his palms, bringing up the color. “I’ll have you know, interviewers ask about my manly skin regimen all the time. Superior rock star genes.”
Rose lets out a snort of laughter. “I’m onto you, mister. You steal my moisturizer when you think I’m not looking.”
“I never!” The words slip out quickly, pitched a little bit high and accompanied by a genuine look of surprise.
For a split second, Rose had been the one to forget. Staring at his tousled hair and pinstripes, at his wide brown eyes shadowed by deep circles of exhaustion, she steels herself again, pulls that guard back up.
John Smith, it’s nice to meet you.
“C’mon, you get the luggage and I’ll find the key,” Rose says. “Donna told me it’d be somewhere by the door.”
The key is under the mat, and the cottage is cold and dark. Rose walks through a few rooms, switching on lamps. There’s only one bedroom, and the Doctor comes to a stop in the sitting room, staring at the king-sized bed through the door as though it’s a wild creature that might come charging out and attack him.
“I’ll take the couch,” Rose says, plucking her bag and guitar case from his hand. “You can have the bed.”
Something rigid in the line of his shoulders seems to snap, and he sags. It’s relief. “No, no I’ll take the couch. Plenty of pillows, a few fluffy quilts, this’ll be brilliant.” With sudden vigor, he’s bouncing around the room, pulling open closet doors in search of blankets.
They settle themselves in without much fuss. She could murder a cup of tea right now, or some chips, but this doesn’t look like the sort of place that keeps the shops open late. They’ll have to to run out for supplies in the morning.
She opens the suitcase she’s dropped in the bedroom, and even that’s a little bit painful. He’d bought it for her last year, striped and cute, big enough to still carry on, but with plenty of space to fit Joanie’s stuff, too. There’s a few outfits for her in there already, but most of the big stuff will come later, with her mum when she drops Joanie off.
The thought of that is equal parts comforting and terrifying — she misses Joanie intensely, and wishes she were here right now, but not like this, not with a version of the Doctor that doesn’t remember his daughter. Joanie’s second birthday is only five weeks away, and if she doesn’t have the Doctor back by then, she doesn’t know what she’ll do.
Stuffing that thought down, she changes into her pajamas and shuffles back into the living room. The Doctor is tucked up on the sofa, quilts lying over top of him and a pillow behind his head, but he looks less than comfortable.
"Are you sure you’re gonna be okay out here?" She asks and he jumps at the sound of her voice before shaking it off.
"Yeah, yeah, it’ll be fine," he says. "Only — is there anything I should be doing? Memory games or something? Anything I can do to help get better?"
She wishes she had something to tell him, if this Doctor is anything like the current one, he’d go after any possibility relentlessly, practically willing it to happen. But there’s nothing like that for this.
"Just time," she tells him, keeping her voice gentle. "Just a matter of time."
The Doctor wakes to the unfamiliar chirping of birds, a slat of sunlight right across his eyes. It takes a second to remember where he is — and to remember there are things he can’t remember.
A coil of anger pools in his gut again, none of this seems like real life, and he supposes it isn’t, not if what Rose has said is true, and he hates being stuck in this limbo, unable to find his own way out.
A shower should help, should make him feel like himself, and he shifts the blankets off, rising from the sofa and heading to the bathroom.
The door is cracked, but not completely shut and he pushes it open to a thick cloud of steam.
And Rose Tyler standing in a towel.
"Oh! Uh. I’m sorry," he stammers, but he’s not moving, why isn’t he moving? Instead his eyes are fixed on her, the smooth skin over the lines of her collarbone. There’s a small, fading bruise on her shoulder, just the right size for his mouth, and the back of his neck goes hot, realizing that it probably is from his mouth.
"Doctor," Rose’s voice is loud in the small space, but she’s not yelling and she doesn’t seem angry. Amused maybe?
"Right, right," he says and averts his eyes. "Was just gonna have a shower."
She giggles and it’s such a pretty sound. Does he make her do that often? He hopes so.
"There might not be much hot water left," she says. "Didn’t realize how long I’d been in there, and it started to cool down right at the end, sorry."
He shrugs, eyes darting up for one more look at her as she scoots by him to the door. Her arm brushes his and there’s another rush of warmth, lower this time.
A cold shower might not be such a bad thing.
Half an hour later and they’re out to the shop. The trip starts out well enough, she drives them to the center of town and they find a grocery store easily.
She pushes the cart down the aisle and he can’t help but notice the way she’s adding all his favorite snacks without even having to ask. Of course she’d know that sort of thing, but still, it’s jarring, a total stranger that knows him so well.
They’re nearly done, heading up an aisle to the front to pay when his world flips again.
Clearly without thought, the movement so casual, she picks up a pack of diapers and deposits them in the cart.
He stops walking.
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