This is the last section, y’all. We swear. We’re just writing slightly longer rounds on our last turns, and since Part Four was already at more than 5k words, we figured we’d do this for ease of reading. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four if you’d like to catch up, or you think you missed something. We’re touching on the theme of memory loss in this story, so please savior “fic tennis” if you want to avoid the topic.
Mapping out the scheme in his head is easier than breathing; the Doctor has been manipulating the media for ages, since the first time he and Koschei deliberately got arrested at a performance for singing profanity on live television.
He doesn’t tell Rose the entirety of the plan – she’s in on most of it, on the important bits that involve Joanie and their public appearance and the way they’re going to stage everything.
The other part of the plan, the part that involves him finding a few minutes in the far end of the garden to spend on his mobile, he’s filled with a quiet certainty that Rose doesn’t need to know. The wheels he’s set in motion, reaching out to entertainment media contacts, calling in a few favors, making sure the man who stepped foot in the garden will never be able to sell another photograph to anyone again, ruining his prospects at a career in photography, setting fire to every single bridge that man has ever built in the business.
Afterward, the Doctor jabs the disconnect button on his mobile with a grim sense of conviction, a weight of inevitability that is surprisingly bearable.
Rose and the Doctor are packed before nightfall and, at one in the morning, they bundle a sleeping Joanie into a cab and head to the airport, and the private plane Donna has arranged for them. The paparazzi have come to expect a certain schedule from Rose and the Doctor in this little town, apparently – they generally don’t go out often in the evenings, because of Joanie’s early bedtimes and the lack of readily available babysitters, so no one is waiting to take pictures of them; no one even suspects they’ve left at all.
They sleep on the flight, Joanie sprawled across Rose’s chest. The Doctor spends some of the time resting, most of the time watching them, because every time blinks he sees more of those still pictures behind his lids, snapshots of a life he’s desperate to remember. The profound instinct to protect this existence, here with Rose and Joanie, is so strong that he can only imagine the depth and breadth of happiness locked away in those memories.
There’s Rose’s smile, and the sound of laughter in the kitchen of a flat he doesn’t recognize, as he throws pasta against the wall to see if it’s done, and she tells him it only works with spaghetti, not cannelloni. There are long nights sleeping on a couch, but not alone – Joanie’s with him, so tiny she practically fits in the palm of his two hands, little bow-lips and pudgy cheeks that turn red when she wakes him up, wailing, and he has to fetch Rose to feed her. The way the wood floor in front of the refrigerator squeaks – in the flat he doesn’t recognize, the one where Rose lives with him – and he has to stand to the side when he’s sneaking extra pieces of cake before supper, so as not to give himself away.
Sound. He’s remembering sound. All the little fragments that add substance, depth and emotion to his visual memory.
In the early hours, just after dawn, they land in London. Rose is handling Joanie, and the Doctor is handling the gear, and he’s so preoccupied with pushing at these memories, trying to force them out, chasing down scent and touch and taste, that he leaves the diaper bag onboard the jet, and the steward has to chase them down the corridor to hand it over.
Donna has assured them that construction at the flat is finished, and when they step foot inside the front door, Rose makes a noise of pure happiness.
“They even put the furniture back!” she says, letting Joanie down so she can go toddler-stomping across the brand new wood floor as Rose tosses her purse and the diaper bag onto the floor in the entry.
“Smells funny,” the Doctor replies, nose wrinkled as he surveys the flat. Just inside a nearby door he sees the kitchen from the memory of cooking lasagna; straight ahead is the couch where he slept with Joanie on his chest.
“That’s just the new drywall and plaster, all the construction dust hasn’t settled yet,” Rose says, squeezing his arm reassuringly before she heads right after Joanie.
Rooted to the spot, the Doctor closes his eyes and draws in a deep breath through his nose. The scent of tea and overripe bananas should be coming from the right, through the kitchen door. The Doctor always buys more bananas than they can eat, because he knows that as soon as they’re covered in brown spots Rose will make banana bread. And the cabinet full of Rose’s favorite tea, always looseleaf, Darjeeling for morning and chamomile for evening; little specks of dried leaves were always dropping from the cabinet, as though there was a perpetually wilting miniature tree inside, the Doctor had stopped trying to keep the tea contained and simply swept the escaped flakes into the sink without thinking about it anymore.
And fainter than that, the scent of chemical deodorizers is missing, the disinfectant they use to keep the pail where they throw Joanie’s dirty nappies from smelling too foul (it only partially works, the Lemon Fresh Scent is always tinged with a hint of stale wee no matter what, even if the Doctor takes out the bin liner every day).
Sight, sound, smell. All of it trickling through the veil in his head at an ever-increasing speed, like cracks in a dam giving way to the inexorable pressure of water behind them, concrete flaking away and metal supports groaning under the strain of holding back the deluge.
“Doctor?” He opens his eyes. Rose is standing in front of him, looking up with a concerned expression. “You okay?”
Arms moving automatically, he wraps her up against his body, buries her face into her hair and breathes deep. “Good. Excellent. Brilliant, matter of fact!”
She holds him in response, arms tight around his middle, fingers curling into his waist, and laughs, her body shaking against him. “I thought you’d fallen asleep on your feet. You didn’t seem to sleep much on the plane.”
“I’m wide awake,” he says.
“I’d like to do this sooner rather than later.”
“Let’s get ready, then.”
They both clean up from their travels, Rose freshens her makeup and the Doctor uses enough product to make sure his hair isn’t flat (it’s the altitude, ironically, that seems to deflate it faster than anything else). Rose insists on dressing Joanie in the miniature-sized Ramones shirt that the Doctor picked up for her in Singapore. They hook up the webcam, settle themselves on the couch with their daughter, and begin to record their first weekly vlog.
Five minutes – that’s all – just them being themselves, teasing each other, the Doctor spontaneously singing an introduction for Joanie, charming their viewers in a way that isn’t too dissimilar from charming them at Wembley Stadium, only slightly less shout-y. A glimpse into their life, a promise to share behind-the-scenes moments from the upcoming tour, a plea for a reasonable amount of privacy in-between.
Joanie has little patience for the process, and wiggles right off of Rose’s lap two minutes into the recording; the entire thing ends with a loud crashing noise off-camera (the sculpture in the corner is a complete fatality, no amount of super-glue could resurrect it) and the Doctor lurches out of shot before Joanie can get close to the broken shards, while Rose waves goodbye and tells everyone to come back next week for another update.
He uploads the video while Rose puts Joanie down for her afternoon nap. Twenty minutes later, they’re on the front page of the BBC entertainment site, and the view count is already in the thousands.
“I get the idea, wanting to record from our own living room, but we could’ve posted the video from the cottage,” Rose says, when she finally reappears from the dark nursery. The Doctor’s sitting on the sofa with his legs stretched out onto the coffee table, socked feet on the glass, eyes closed. Lack of sleep is beginning to catch up with him; Joanie has the right idea, with this whole afternoon nap plan.
Rose plops down beside him, hip to hip, turning her body so she settles right against his chest. He lifts his arm so she can tuck her head underneath, then wraps his other arm around her shoulders. “You promised you’d tell me when we got here, so spill. Why did you insist on coming home?”
He closes his eyes and there’s another deluge of sensory memory, Rose sitting on this couch, in this exact spot, while he knelt in front of her. Nerves were ravaging his stomach because he was afraid she would reject him or send him away, because he was still caught in the throes of lonely terror at what had happened when his plane had crashed, still trying to atone for everything that happened in France.
Rose had been out that day, trying on bridesmaid dresses with Martha, and she’d smelled like new clothes; her feet were red from her tight shoes and the air conditioning hummed louder than usual because neither of them had changed the filter in months.
She had kissed him, and it tasted like forgiveness.
She had stayed, and it felt like he was whole.
There are words coming out of his mouth, words that don’t have anything to do with the thoughts in his head: “It’s more personable, us greeting everybody from our own home, with the spit-up stains from Joanie’s infant days right there on the couch behind us. The lighting’s much better here than it was at the cottage, too — we both look years younger on that video than we would’ve otherwise.”
Rose hums thoughtfully. “‘Personable’ isn’t the word I’d use for those spit-up stains. ‘Disgusting’ or ‘foul,’ more like. But you’re saying you dragged us all the way home just for some couch stains and lamps, is that it?”
She sounds amused and slightly disbelieving, like she’s fully aware that his babble reflex has engaged and he’s spouting nonsense.
He’s not that obvious, is he?
"Truthfully, I think … I think I missed it,” he says.
Her head lifts off his shoulder and her gaze is guarded, not full of the kind of hope she’d displayed when he first lost his memories, that wild fierce belief that he would snap back to his regular self in a matter of hours or days. This is the cautious anticipation of a woman who has learned to exercise restraint and patience, who has borne him and all his foibles and shortcomings, who is remarkable in every way.
Twice, he’s fallen in love with her – years ago on a blue bus, and during this last month, again, as a different man who had lost so much of himself. Even as those bits of his memory continue to trickle through, he knows with absolute certainty that given an infinite number of variations of the Doctor meeting Rose Tyler, in every circumstance, he would fall in love with her every time.
“You mean you missed the flat?”
His arm tightens around her shoulder. “I missed everything.” He yawns so deeply his jaw pops. Rose rests her head against him again, eyes still wide open, and his leg twitches once before he starts snoring.