Since Jamie and I are on our eighteenth round of fic tennis, y’all should know by now that we’re going to need more than one post to get through a story. Because if there’s one thing we’re predictable with, it’s our wordiness. Here’s the completed Part One of this ongoing fic, if you need to catch up. We’re touching on the theme of memory loss in this story, so please savior “fic tennis” if you want to avoid the topic.
Rose is a few steps further along, reaching for a jar of pureed carrots, when she does the same as the Doctor. Freezes in her tracks mid-grab, fingers pulling away from the baby food like it’s given her an electric shock.
The Doctor shoves his hands into his trouser pockets, rocking back on his heels to gain momentum before he forces his feet to move, coming alongside her and staring down into the basket. “I managed to brush my own hair and teeth this morning, so you’re probably being a bit overcautious with the nappies. Anyway, that’s hardly my size, and purple isn’t my color. I can pull it off, sure, but I’m kind of doing this” – he shrugs, nearly nudging her arm with his shoulder – “pinstriped look now.”
Rose’s face has gone pale as a sheet, her lips white. She snatches her hand back to her side, briefly reaches for the nappies, then rests her hand on the basket handle instead. “We’ve got company coming later this week. Just stocking up on things they might need.”
The Doctor’s mind is moving a million miles a second, and there’s that irritation and anger churning in the pit of his stomach again, because she’s being so careful, like she’s going to break him if she puts a foot wrong. Coddling him. Shielding him. From what? What sort of life is he supposed to have with this woman, that she feels the need to hold things back? Does she do this normally – hide things from him? What sort of person has he got himself tangled up with? What sort of relationship is this?
Rose starts moving again, and the Doctor spins around, walking backward to face her. “Oh that’s brilliant, I love kids. Whose little one, then?” His eyebrows lift, and a broad grin spreads across his face, too many teeth behind it. He’s decided he won’t let her coddle him, no matter how hard she tries. “Not ours, is it?”
“Mickey and Martha had a daughter,” Rose blurts out, followed by a sigh.
The Doctor trips over his own feet, toppling backward, and ends up on his arse in front of a large man with a basket full of lager. Squinting up at him, the Doctor peers at his supply. “Hello, I’m the local … lager inspector. Making sure these bottles are up to snuff.”
The man’s eyes narrow right back at him, and something like recognition glimmers in them before they pop back open wide, his mouth making an O shape to match. His lips work silently, his finger pointing right down at the Doctor, and just as his vocal cords catch up with his mouth, Rose appears beside him.
“Hey, mate,” she cuts him off with a smile and a nod toward his cart. “This one’s on me. Just so long as …” She places her finger over her lips, mouth pouting in the most fetching manner, and the Doctor finds himself staring, speechless, as she shushes the man back to silence. She’s not pale anymore, she’s flushed and glowing, blond hair cascading across her forehead and hiding her features from almost everyone else as she helps him unload his cart, right beside their own groceries.
The man takes a moment to gather his wits, then whispers, “But he’s–! And you’re–!”
“You’re next in line,” Rose says, expertly herding him forward while she gestures for the Doctor to get up off the floor. He obeys, watching with fascination as she manages this bloke with the skill of a lion tamer. “I’m sure you’ve got somewhere fantastic to go tonight, what with the party supplies. Wouldn’t want to be late!”
“Are you really–?”
“Naaaah,” she replies, and the Doctor himself almost believes it. “If we were, d’you think we’d be out here in the back of beyond? It happens a lot, though, that mistake. We’re professional impersonators out for a job, that’s all.”
The bloke surveys her face, surveys the Doctor, and nods, his belief clicking into place. “Well, it explains the retro style on him. Don’t get me wrong, The Suit Album was beyond brilliant, but he hasn’t worn that getup in a while. Otherwise, you’re amazing, both of you!”
“Hold on,” the Doctor interjects, eyebrows drawn together. “Beyond brilliant? Really? You liked it?”
“Better than The White Album – I know it’s cliché, right from that Rolling Stone review, but everyone says so. I mean honestly, the things you two – well, not you two, the real you’s – put out together, it’s all right and everything, but if I’m being honest, the Doctor’s solo work has always been my favorite.”
The Doctor is beaming, and he reaches out the grasp the other man’s hand and shake it enthusiastically. “I am always honored to meet a fan. Better than The White Album? Cor, I never imagined – Rolling Stone said that? Really? What else did they say?”
Rose nudges him from behind, right in the ticklish dimple beside his spine, with such precision it’s as though she can see right through his clothes. He lets out a small yelp and leaps forward, propelling the large man right along, and still working like a lion tamer, Rose herds them both out of the store. She’s got a receipt in her hand – apparently she’d paid for all their groceries while he was talking.
“We’ve got a proper do planned for tonight, starting at eleven o’clock just down the street at the big house on the corner – you two would be the hit of the party, if you wanted to come! You’ll fool everyone into thinking you’re really – them! Anyway, it can’t hurt to have a lager inspector on the premises, in case someone calls a noise violation on us!” He elbows the Doctor in the ribs, and the Doctor makes a soft oof noise.
“Our night’s pretty booked up,” Rose interjects, just as the Doctor’s opening his mouth to accept the invitation. “Thanks ever-so.” With that, she shoves the basket to the Doctor and leads him away by the elbow.
“My name’s Craig!” the bloke shouts from halfway down the block, as though he’s just realized he hadn’t ever introduced himself. The Doctor waves back enthusiastically, but before he can shout back “I’m the Doctor” right down the street, Rose twirls him around and steps on his toes, and he’s fairly certain it was on purpose. While they’re loading the groceries into the boot of the car, she murmurs, “That was a close one.”
“It could be fun!” The words pop out so fast and so forcefully, the Doctor surprises even himself. Is that the sort of man he is now, one who turns down the opportunity to go to a party and entertain some people who enjoy his music? Does he avoid getting right into the thick of it at every turn?
Rose gives him a long look, shoves the last grocery bag into the boot, and reaches for his hand. Her fingers thread with his and she squeezes. “It’s cold enough, the milk will keep. There’s a pub across the street, and if I don’t get some chips, I’m going to die.”
“Oh. Life and death, is it?”
“Chips are always life and death, Doctor,” she replies, and he can’t tell whether her solemnity is mocking or not.
“I agree, but only if you tell me everything about Martha and Mickey, including how they happened to find themselves in possession of a baby,” the Doctor says.
Rose agrees and they finish walking to the pub and settle in, two separate baskets of chips between them. When she drowns hers in vinegar, he understands why.
It’s a nice enough story, the Mickey and Martha one. He only vaguely remembers Martha, months ago — or that’d be years now, wouldn’t it? — Russell handing him a stack of files to pick out a new tour physician for when they finally left. He’d narrowed it down to Martha and a woman with a distinctly feline face, from a Catholic hospital. Obviously it’s clear who he ended up going with. Probably for the best, that other woman gave him an uneasy feeling, even if her qualifications were impeccable.
It’s not the story he’s interested in though, it’s the way Rose’s face lights up as she tells it, pausing to give him a tongue-touched grin at the particularly funny parts, eyes sparkling at him like he’s the only bloke in the pub, the only bloke in the whole damn world, even.
If she pulls out that look a lot, he has no trouble believing he fell for her.
In fact, he might just do it again.
By the time they’re in the car and heading to the house, Rose feels slightly more relaxed. That’d been a massive slip up, back at the shop, and she doesn’t understand how she could’ve let it happen.
Joanie hasn’t even eaten baby food for months, and one of her new favorite tricks was shoving pieces of actual, un-puréed carrots right up the Doctor’s nose (something she suspects the Doctor may have even been encouraging, just for the giggle Joanie lets out every time she does it).
It was like some sort of autopilot, guiding her movements, putting her back into a life where things were comfortable and certain.
She can’t let it happen again. They’ve still got a day until her mum is supposed to arrive with Joanie, plenty of time to figure out what to do.
Once they’re back at the house, Rose realizes there are hazards everywhere. The telly, the magazines on the table, even her own bloody laptop, all of it a minefield. They’ve done a good job of keeping Joanie out of the public eye, but just last month they’d finally taken her to an event. A live show for one of those children’s television programs, all bright, fluffy characters and surprisingly catchy songs.
Joanie had only lasted half an hour, but they’d made a stop at the VIP reception to grab their party bag and there was a single picture they’d allowed, all three of them grinning toothily in front of the step and repeat. It was a rare enough shot that the photo was still making the rounds all over the internet, not to mention the Wikipedia entries for both she and the Doctor that mentioned Joanie.
No, she couldn’t let the Doctor online, and as he put away the groceries, she tore around the house looking for ways to entertain him. It was an uncomfortable thought, treating the Doctor like a child, but she just had to keep telling herself it was for his own good.
The hall closet ends up having a surprising amount of board games and she pulls a few out, hoping to appeal to the competitive streak she knows runs right through the middle of him.
She arranges them on the coffee table in the living room, taking a seat on the sofa, and when the Doctor joins her, his face lights up.
“You pick,” Rose says, and his grin grows wider as he lingers over the choices.
His eyes skate over the boxes and he seems to ponder the chess board for a while, and, oh, that’s his thinking face.
“Chess,” he finally says. “Only with a twist.”
Rose arches her eyebrows, they’d played a particularly dirty version of chess in a hotel room in Indiana once, but she has a feeling that’s not what he’s got in mind. Or is it?
“I’m listening,” she tells him.
“All right,” he claps his hands down on his thighs, “For every piece of yours I capture, you have to answer a question from me.”
A wave of panic rises in Rose’s stomach — can he tell she’s keeping something from him?
“What sort of questions do you have?” She forces herself to ask, “Thought I was being pretty forthcoming?”
He shrugs, “Those are the stakes. I’ll answer a question for you, too, if you’d like, although the odds of you getting a piece off me are low.”
“Oh, you’re on,” she says, pride getting the better of her.
It’s only when he’s taken her first pawn that she realizes just how terribly bad this could go. She waits with her breath held as he prepares his first question and it all comes out in a whoosh when he finally asks it.
“What other glowing praise did The Suit Album receive?”
She laughs and tells him everything she can remember.
The questions continue, mostly harmless, if not a little flirty, through two full games.
First kiss — “I seduced you in a hotel pool?”
First shag — “I seduced you in a pub?”
It’s a laugh and it takes them clear through to dinner. She offers to cook and he volunteers to help, delightedly throwing pasta noodles at the wall to see if they’re cooked.
They move to the living room to eat and Rose very deliberately suggests a movie, just to avoid any news programs speculating on their recent appearance cancellations and subsequent disappearance.
She’s got a handful of Pixar DVDs always stuffed into the front of her suitcase, usually more for the Doctor’s amusement than Joanie’s, and they settle on Toy Story.
Halfway through the Doctor abruptly begins telling her about his own favorite toy — a teddy bear that inexplicably stayed in the dorm he shared with the Master through all their years at the academy. He’s not even sure which one of them it really belonged to, or where it ended up.
Rose knows where the bear is — it’s on a shelf in Joanie’s room. But it’s a story she’s never heard before. He’d always been vague when she asked before, and she can’t believe it’s taken all this just to hear the truth. Although, given their history with the Master, it’s hardly surprising.
When the movie finally ends, it’s getting late, almost 11, and she heads back to the bedroom to put her pajamas on.
She calls down the hall on her way back, “What do you think, should we watch the second one?”
But instead of a smile and a nod, she’s greeted with the sight of the Doctor, her bag open on the table and the info on his condition spread out in front of him. He’s not looking at it though, he’s looking at the photo held tightly between his fingers, and Rose’s stomach drops to her knees.
“Sorry to go through your stuff,” he says, his eyes clear and dark. “Wanted to read up a bit more on the amnesia. Found something more interesting though,” and he turns the picture around to confirm what she already knew — she and the Doctor and Joanie, all wrapped around each other and smiling for the camera. It’s not the media shot from last month, it’s much more intimate than that, taken at her mum’s birthday party the very next day.
“That isn’t — it’s not —” she’s stammering, trying to figure out the best possible response, but he’s miles ahead of her.
“I remember Martha,” he says, and his tone is serious and low. “And that awfully inventive labor story you told in the pub seems to indicate she didn’t adopt. Tell me, Rose, does this look like Martha’s daughter?”
He points at Joanie in the photo, the soft, pale skin, the brown hair curling out along the bottom in crazy directions, the smile that already looks so much like Rose’s own, and the dimples that match the Doctor’s.
She swallows and shakes her head slowly.
“Whose daughter is she, Rose?” His eyes have shifted from the photo back to her, his gaze unwavering.
“You’re a great dad,” she blurts out, and her hands lift, trying to stop the words, stuff them back in her throat.
His face crumples, sad and angry and incredibly hurt. He turns the picture back toward himself, eyes tracing the lines of it before his finger follows the same path.
“Some great dad I am, can’t even remember her,” his voice is quiet and tense and she wants to comfort him, but the look he cuts her when she takes a step warns her off.
“I’m going out, going to that bloke’s party,” he says suddenly and stands, grabbing the keys from where she’d dropped them on the end table.
“Doctor, you can’t —”
He waves a hand at her and yanks his wallet from his pocket, sliding the driver’s license out.
“Still valid,” he says. “Haven’t forgotten how to drive, at least.”
And with that, he strides across the cottage, opening the door and slamming it firmly behind him.
The house is easy to find, right on the corner down from the market just like Craig had said. Fairy lights hang in the trees and across the front stoop, and shadows of people are visible through the brightly-lit windows.
The Doctor puts the car into park and lets the engine idle for a few minutes, watching. He isn’t nervous about walking into a house full of strangers – it’s a specialty of his, crashing parties. Well, crashing pretty much anything; royal christenings, presidential inaugurations, marriage proposals, KGB investigations, labor uprisings, Aboriginal funerals, he’s wormed his way into any and every sort of situation known to man. As a matter of fact, the idea of strutting into this party and making himself at home seems far less intimidating, and far more natural, than going back to the cottage where Rose is no doubt waiting for him, with her evasions and her expectations and the specter of this suffocating domestic life they’ve apparently built together.
He hasn’t even knocked on the door when Craig throws it open, huge grin on his face and a bottle of lager in both hands. “Ohhh, this is brilliant, no one believed me when I told them about you, I’m so glad you’re here!” Depositing a lager in the Doctor’s hand, he pulls him inside.
Instantly the center of attention, the Doctor is in his element. For the first time since all this madness started a few days ago, he feels like himself. And if it wasn’t for Craig going on and on about what a good celebrity impersonation he’s doing of the Doctor, it would be perfect. (On one hand, he gets it completely, the need to keep a low profile, to avoid having anyone call a media outlet and bring photographers down on this little village to document his amnesiac breakdown; on the other hand, it feels so reassuring to tell people he’s the Doctor, to be recognized and acknowledged in a way that feels natural and familiar.)
The house is full but not packed, the music is thumping through mediocre speakers, and at the first opportunity the Doctor makes a beeline for the stereo and begins tinkering. Wiring, audio levels, playback speed, he’s on his second beer when a woman slips into the corner beside him, looking him up and down.
“It’s remarkable, the resemblance,” she says. “You sure you aren’t the real Doctor’s long-lost twin or something?”
He glances up at her for a second before pulling the flathead screwdriver from between his teeth and using it to unfasten a second panel on the back of the stereo. “Could be. Six billion people on the planet, anything’s possible,” he replies, pulling his specs down from the top of his head onto his nose, squinting at the circuit board.
“Seven billion,” the woman corrects, taking a sip of lager.
He stares her, eyebrows shooting halfway up his forehead, bracing himself like he’s on the deck of a rolling ship. “What? Really?”
She nods, mouth curling into a smile. “So the census reports say, as of this year. I’m Joan, by the way. Joan Redfern.” She pauses. “You have a real name? Or is it just ‘Doctor’ tonight?”
“Just ‘Doctor’ will do,” he replies.
“Where’s your Rose, then? Craig won’t stop going on about the two of you, the Doctor and Rose at the market, the Doctor and Rose paying for his lager, you both made quite an impression on him.”
The Doctor darts his eyes down to his left hand, the absence of a wedding ring, not even a tan line to indicate he usually wears one. He vaguely remembers a ring on Rose’s hand, the way she’d twisted and fiddled with it while thinking over chess moves earlier, but it was a glittery diamond thing, no second band underneath it. Maybe they haven’t actually made it down the aisle.
His stomach churns briefly, can’t remember his daughter, can’t remember asking a woman to marry him, what good is he anyway? None of that even sounds like him.
“She’s not here,” he says. “And she’s not — we’re not — it’s complicated.”
Joan smiles, “I’ve seen seven complicated things today already, Doctor, and that sounds more like you’re having a bit of a domestic.”
He lets his eyebrows raise, a grin crossing his face, “And what complicated things have youseen today, Ms. Redfern?”
She laughs, “A bloke with third degree burns from chip oil, a woman who lost a toe in a sandals-on-the-escalator accident, and a little boy with 12 quid’s worth of change in his stomach. Shall I continue?”
The Doctor shakes his head, “No, that’ll do. Although I think if you heard the whole story, mine’s properly complicated, too.” He waves his free hand in the air, dismissing it. “Where did you see all these complicated things? Do you work in casualty or something?”
“Yep,” Joan says. “I’m a nurse.”
He takes a long sip of his beer, thoughts tumbling, and that churning in his stomach that still won’t slow. He wants to grab for something steady.
“A nurse and a Doctor,” he says. “We’re a natural pair.”
With a few quick twists of the screwdriver, he replaces the circuit board and fixes the panel back in place.
“Come on, Nurse Redfern, you can introduce me to some more people with complicated lives,” he says, and sticks his elbow out. She takes it and leads him back into the mass of people.
Rose talks herself into and out of going after him six separate times.
It’s only settled when remembers how she promised herself to look at the situation, and him — as a brand new man, as John Smith. And John Smith could forget where he is and why again at any moment.
Pulling her mobile from the bag still lying open on the table, she has herself connected to a taxi company.
Ten minutes later and the rough idling of the cab in the driveway matches perfectly to the roaring in her head.
She instructs the driver as best she can, directing him to the grocery store they’d visited and having him drive slowly until she locates the house with the party.
It’s not hard to find once they get close enough, music thumping clear and loud into the night, and Rose shoves a few extra notes at the driver when she catches him eying her in the rear view.
“I’m not her, mate,” she says and the cabbie looks at the money and back to her, nodding in acceptance.
She moves to knock on the door, but it’s opened just as she raises her hand, a skinny blond bloke staggering through it.
“Timothy, don’t puke in my flowerbed!” She hears Craig holler before he catches sight of her. “Rose! Or not-Rose! You came, too!”
It’s a bit of a relief, knowing the Doctor has made it here safely and she smiles at Craig.
“Yep,” she says. “Never could resist a good party.”
He crosses the crowd, the one noticeably missing the Doctor.
“Brilliant! Beer in the kitchen, and there are nibbles around here somewhere, although I think the Doctor got into them and did a proper job of it, too.”
Rose laughs, because that sounds exactly like the Doctor. The number of times her mum’s gotten after him for accosting waiters right as they come out of the kitchen at parties is too high to count.
She thanks Craig and moves further into the party, eyes scanning the room. It’s not like she has a plan for what she’s going to do when she finds him, she just knows she has to find him.
It takes a few more minutes, but she finally spots him, tucked up in a corner with a woman, and they’re looking at — CDs? She edges closer and recognizes what the Doctor’s got in his hands — it’s the liner notes from his first greatest hits album. The one released right before The Suit Album and full of drawings and hand-written lyrics collected from his entire career up until that point.
She loves those liner notes, the way they’re almost like a story, a journey of his life, doodles and scrawled words, and he’s pointing at them, telling this woman all about them with a light in his eyes.
Rose stands at the edge of the room, frozen. They’re leaning toward each other, the Doctor talking and gesturing with that unbridled enthusiasm she knows so well, the woman only half attending to the things he’s pointing at, more often her gaze sliding across his face, lingering on his eyes.
It was a mistake, keeping things from him. The crystal-clear realization hits Rose like a physical blow.
She had been afraid of doing more damage – after all, stress and overwork had brought all this on. She’d assumed that re-exposing him to those same stressful things would complicate the situation, make the amnesia worse. Springing Joanie and their domestic life on him too quickly, telling him the news about Sarah Jane again, Rose had been trying to shield him, create a void around him to keep him protected.
The Doctor, being the Doctor, is filling the void. He always has done, it’s as natural as breathing to him.
The woman plucks the CD from the Doctor’s hand, lightly stroking his palm as she scoops it away, and with a grin she leans across him toward the stereo. The thumping dance music cuts out as she opens the disc changer, and after a moment the strains of the Doctor’s song “Meanwhiles and Neverweres” come lilting out of the speakers.
The woman – dark blond hair folded up in an almost old-fashioned style atop her head, sharp features and bright blue eyes, she’s quite pretty, really – she grabs the Doctor’s hand and tries to pull him to his feet, her hips swaying ever so slightly. Rose can’t hear what she’s saying, but she’s obviously trying to talk him into dancing.
“Oi! Oi! Everybody! We’ve got the man here tonight, isn’t that right, Doctor?” Craig suddenly shouts from the couch, crammed in with at least eight people on a two-seater, a girl perched on his lap. “C’mon, sing for us! Isn’t that part of your celebrity impersonation schtick? Sing! Sing! Sing!”
Once Craig starts the chant, the others in the room pick it up, and the Doctor allows the woman to haul him up, making cut gestures near his neck with one hand and grinning like a maniac. He’s not nearly as opposed to the idea as he pretends, of course – Rose knows he’s in his element here. Normally, they’d both be in their element, feeding off the energy in the room, feeding off the energy from each other.
Still holding the Doctor’s hand, the woman pops up onto her toes and he leans his head down so she can bring her lips to his ear and whisper something. His grin widens, his eyes sparkling, and he nods.
Not once does he notice that Rose is in the room.
Rose has edged her way back to the nearest doorway – which happens to lead into the kitchen – and she slips away as the Doctor lifts his hands up, a plea for silence, and someone produces an acoustic guitar from thin air to shove into his arms. The blond woman settles down on the nearest chair, her leg practically touching his, and stares up at him with rapt attention. There’s a smattering of applause and encouraging hoots, the CD cuts out, and he starts strumming.
The sink’s full of ice and beer, and Rose grabs a bottle and uses the edge of the countertop to pop the top off before taking a long swig, just as the Doctor belts out the first stanza of “Meanwhiles and Neverweres.” She feels sick to her stomach and lightheaded, like she ought to put her head between her knees, but she hops up to sit on the counter and leans back against the wall instead, tipping her head back and listening to the sound of the Doctor’s voice.
The Doctor’s halfway through the song, and she’s halfway through the beer, when she hears movement and someone says from the door, “Aren’t you two supposed to be a double act?”