A/N: Thank you so much to my lovely beta, Latessitrice. Thank you for to everyone reading and supporting this story.
He had a habit of running his fingers down her spine when he walked past. Rose liked it, the ghost of a touch that she could just about feel, like a memory through the cotton of her top. She wasn’t particularly reactive there, not in the way that he was. She’d returned the favour just once, and he’d yelped, back arching and dropping a box of books onto the floor. She’d laughed hysterically when he’d said it felt like an army of ants were on the way to taking over his brain. It was the deadly serious look that really caused her bout of hysterics, as if he actually had a fear of ants climbing up his spine towards his brain. Either way, she left the spine touching to him.
His hair was divine. She found excuses to touch it often, but in her defence, he seemed to enjoy having her hands in it. He almost liked to be petted, which she found strange in an endearing way. When he got soaked one evening after forgetting to bring an umbrella, he spent just under an hour in the bathroom trying to get it to go back to how it had been before. When his attempts failed, he spent the rest of the evening frowning each time he caught sight of his reflection. Which was often.
He didn’t live in the flat or stay the night. Their relationship failed to progress beyond heated kissing and wandering hands. Which was all at once frustrating, confusing and understandable. There was probably some sort of issue about jumping into bed with a girlfriend who had amnesia, but she was finding it difficult to rationalise that when he kissed her like the world was ending and left within seven minutes. Yet at the same time, she didn’t even know his birthday, favourite food or how long they’d been together.
Her mum had called her three times since she’d left the house for the last time. Rose was putting up with it only because the first two times had actually been necessary, seeing as her brother had managed to sneak into her box and be carted halfway across London. Then he’d left his lunch in said box, which meant Rose had travelled all the way to his school as Jackie didn’t trust the school to actually provide him with a decent lunch. Rose had found this hilarious, considering that her brother went to the most prestigious private schools in Europe, but she had a feeling Jackie was recalling the slop they’d passed up as food when Rose was his age.
But now she’d politely asked her mum to leave her alone while she unpacked her things. Most of them were still in their original packaging. She didn’t have too many belongings, but since she was moving out, or moving back home as was more accurate, she’d bought things. None of them matched anything, not the current decor or even each other. They were just things she’d liked and bought on impulse.
It was almost lunch time when he knocked on the door. She smiled that ridiculous smile that followed her everywhere since she’d remembered she loved Dr Smith. Granted, there were still a few strange aspects to their relationship, but that was to be expected. She barely remembered anything, and he’d had to watch her for months, knowing that he couldn’t tell her what they were.
“I brought food! Chinese. Well, as close to Chinese as you’d get here, as they don’t really call it Chinese here. Well, I say really, I mean at all. But it tastes exactly the same. Well, I say exactly, I mean relatively.”
Rose laughed and took the bag from his hand, managing to somehow link their fingers for a few moments before they pulled away.
“Food is good,” she announced, and he practically bounced on his heels before going to collect plates and cutlery.
“Why did you knock?” Rose asked when they’d settled at the small breakfast bar, pouring artificially coloured food onto their plates.
He frowned as he chewed. “What else would I do?” he asked once he’d finished his mouthful.
“You live here, right? Don’t you have a key?”
His fork hesitated in a pile of sauce-soaked rice. Rose waited, her body tensing in anticipation of what would happen.
“I technically don’t live here anymore. I did, and I still have my key. But I moved out. I live with J..a friend.”
“Oh,” Rose mumbled, stirring her food with her fork. She watched the colours and substances merge into slush as the silence stretched out between them.
She grudgingly looked at him, his no-nonsense tone of the voice drawing her in.
“You didn’t know who I was, and you had no memory of this place. If our positions were reversed, would you stay by yourself in this flat?”
Rose shook her head, and then went back to her lunch, not really sure what to do or say now. It was an odd situation. She found herself hating the things she remembered more than what she didn’t know. She could recall in horrific detail some vile memories of her first relationship with Jimmy Stone when she was sixteen, but nothing about a man she’d been living with. It was frustrating, and meant that she now found herself in an awkward position in her relationship with Dr Smith. She preferred referring to him as Dr Smith, or just as Doctor rather than John, another puzzling trait she couldn’t explain. She’d moved back into their old flat, and confessed her love for him, and they’d fallen into a quasi-relationship without any sort of discussion. Occasional kisses, lunches, and dinners were all fine, and she understood why they’d kept each other at arms length. But would it be like this forever? Was he hoping she’d eventually remember more, and they could go back to how they once were? There was no guarantee she would remember anymore than she had done, and what then?
“I don’t know,” she answered, giving up pretending to eat and picking up her plate ready to clear up. She heard him sigh from behind her, and she knew she couldn’t keep walking away from confrontation.
“I’m sorry,” she began, turning once she’d put the plate into the sink. “I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you, and I know I come off as insensitive sometimes. I just...I don’t understand anything. I’m living someone else’s life, and I can’t remember what I’m meant to do as her. I can’t be me, or who you remember as me because I only know who I was and I know I’m not her!”
Before she’d even blinked he’d crossed the room and hugged her, one of his signature crushing, suffocating hugs that she was sure she’d adored in the past.
“I know exactly how you feel,” he murmured into her hair, his voice so sincere and heavy that she knew he really did. Yet she had no idea how he possibly could know what it was like to live the life of someone so like you, but not quite. Yet another piece to add to the never-ending mystery.
Rose wandered down her street, her steps lighter due to the unique feeling that only comes with a just-handed-in essay. There was one less item on her to do list, and one thing she didn’t have to keep obsessing about. At least until the inevitable end of term essay, and the results of this essay...but for now, she was content to just buy into the moment. Celebration, seeing as it was Wednesday and she had to work in the morning, would consist of eating something tremendously bad for her. There was a fish and chip shop just five minutes away, and as it was so close to home, it seemed like the the perfect place to go.
It was the smell that started the feeling. She’d been in the shop long enough to collect the beige paper-wrapped package, mingled with salt and vinegar and deep-fried food, but it didn’t start then. It was only when she walked home with the plastic bag clutched between her fingertips that the nagging feeling began to itch under her skin. She tried to ignore it as she made her way back to the flat, but by the time she was inside, she couldn’t avoid it.
“What is it?” she muttered to herself, putting the food on a plate and trying to figure out why she felt so off. It was...painfully nostalgic without the memory, and she had no idea why fast food would be causing this.
She turned the TV on to some film she’d seen a thousand times in an attempt to block out the sensation, but of course it didn’t work.
It would be nice just to have one evening where I didn’t have to think about the gaping hole in my memories. Eventually she gave up, and let her thoughts run.
She rarely ate fast food, or at least tried her best to avoid it. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had fish and chips. It wasn’t something she usually considered, but in the wake of this strange nostalgia, she realised she’d not eaten them in her recent memories. Was there a reason for that? Had she avoided them unconsciously?
“Ridiculous,” Rose muttered as her thoughts took a dangerous turn towards obsessiveness. She forced herself to concentrate on whatever was still on her screen. She watched someone get left at the altar, run off to Africa and somehow meet an ex-boyfriend on the way. It was at the point when the ex was treating the heroine to an exceptionally romantic date that a memory popped into Rose’s mind. This time there was no trigger, no pain, no sudden flash. It fluttered through her mind, as if it had just been a misplaced past event, caught up suddenly in the rush of a less than usual feeling.
It was a conversation, or at least a tiny segment of one she had with Dr Smith. He was wearing that brown suit she’d seen in the picture, and they were standing in what she assumed was a field, the grass incredibly green and the wind incredibly strong.
“Our first date,” the old Rose said, all smiles and memory and very blonde hair.
He grinned, a smile that was a shadow of the one she’d claimed as her own.
“We had chips,” he’d replied.
Rose stopped paying attention to the television. She stared off towards the screen, no longer seeing the predictable ending of the film. That felt like a memory. She could smell the air, knew the way her pulse raced as he smiled...but she knew that something was wrong with it. Because she knew that on her first date with Dr Smith, she’d eaten pasta. It wasn’t a memory, and try as she might, she couldn’t bring it to the surface. Yet he’d mentioned it as an offhand comment, so she was certain that it was true.
So why did she have this memory?
Things had never quite added up. There were the dates of historic events that were either slightly wrong or didn’t happen. There were places she thought she remembered that didn’t exist, or streets that were different or wound in the wrong direction. She’s always assumed that her memory had just been off, an obviously effect of the accident. But now, it appeared that it was more complicated than that. It was as if she had two sets of memories. Two dates for the French revolution, one father who died and one who was alive, and one boyfriend who took her chips and another for pasta. It still lead back to the accident, and she wondered why her mind seemed to have two different versions of events for some parts of her life, but not for others. Her mother, for instance, hadn’t changed. She was still the same slightly mental woman who’d picked her up from school when she was five. So why only these specific events, places and people? What was so special about them?
There was another slightly more disturbing question that she couldn’t help but ask herself. Which set of memories were real? The obvious answer would be what she was living now, but she couldn’t help but wonder if that were true. There were certain facts that she was absolutely certain were true, yet she was constantly being told they weren’t. Of course, this could all be in her head, but she felt that if this were the case, surely her doctors and family would be more concerned about her? She only went for check-ups, but surely someone creating a whole new set of memories needed more help?
Of course, she couldn’t really know if this were true or not. And the part of her that wanted to know was also too afraid to ask Dr Richardson in case the truth turned out to be her greatest fears. So she was left with few alternatives. Either risk finding out she was more damaged than she already seemed, forget and see if she remembered naturally, or attempt to find out exactly what was going on another way.
Her third choice currently was her favourite, and there was one person who she believed might be able to help her. Michelle. She’d given Rose the closest thing to a hint of what happened out of everyone, but she had no idea how to contact her again. She couldn’t find her number, and her old email account was locked away with a password she couldn’t remember. The only other option was to ask Pete for her contact details. She assumed that if they were friends as she claimed, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for her number? She debated it, the thought running through her head until she couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Making her mind up, she picked up her mobile, and dialled.
“Hi Dad, it’s Rose. I have a favour to ask.”
The lie she’d come up with seemed to have worked. Instead of actually saying she’d met Michelle, she’d instead described her to Pete, claiming she’d remembered her. She felt exceptionally guilty when he’d seemed so pleased she’d made a breakthrough, and gave her Michelle’s number. Rose sighed into her scarf as she walked towards the cafe, trying to focus on the present.
Michelle was waiting inside, already seated in the corner of the cafe. Rose found herself marching to join her, the determination in her steps compensating for the nervousness she was drowning in.
Michelle offered her a small smile as she sat, but stayed silent as Rose settled. Rose looked around the cafe idly as the silence stretched. Now she was here, she wasn’t sure what to say or do. For all her bravado and planning, she hadn’t actually thought she would get this far. Luckily, Michelle quickly put her out of her misery.
“I guessed it wouldn’t take long for you to track me down. I shouldn’t have said anything to you.”
“Why did you?” Rose asked, jumping on her train of thought.
“I suppose I thought I wouldn’t get another chance to speak to you.” she said slowly, as if working it out as she spoke. The answer was simple enough, but Rose could detect something in there, as if the words themselves had more than one definition.
“Because I wouldn’t remember?” she asked, jumping to the answer that seemed to summarise everything lately. Except Michelle’s face twisted in a way that made the real answer obvious but impossible.
“Because I would remember,” Rose said with certainty.
Michelle nodded. “You will, in time. That’s the problem that I guess you’ve encountered. They didn’t think it would take this long, but equally they can’t do something in case you don’t remember. It would be easier, that way wouldn’t it?” she asked, turning to Rose.
Rose tried to stutter out a reply, but Michelle continued. “If you were never going to remember, something could have been done. Your parents could have tried to introduce you to your past slowly, or just simply tell you what happened. But they can’t. You will remember, it’s just a matter of how much and when. This has never happened before, and they need to..document it.”
Rose frowned at the strange use of words. “What are you talking about?”
She grimaced. “How many times have you been to the doctor, Rose? Especially when you were first released. Do you really think that’s necessary?”
Rose sat back in her seat, pin pricks of fear creeping through her spine and touching each nerve in turn. She’d just assumed that her mother’s worries and fears had been the cause for her constant visits to Doctor Richardson. It had never crossed her mind that it could be something else.
“Why did I go so often?” she asked, her voice taking on an edge that seemed familiar but unused.
Michelle clammed up instantly, and Rose sighed as the boundary was overstepped. She slumped in her seat, wondering why she seemed doomed to take one step forward and another three back.
“Did we work together?” Rose asked suddenly, guessing something that she’d thought about before. While the strange job title she’d recalled still meant very little to her, she had tried to think of ways she could know Michelle. It was a long shot, but it seemed to be a pattern in her life. Her only friends at the moment were who she worked with - no one at her university, and apparently no one from her past. She couldn’t imagine she worked for Torchwood, but there were so many years missing from her memory that it was possible she had Michelle had worked together in the time she was missing.
“We did. In different departments, but we crossed paths almost three years ago. I’m still in the lab, but you were more...well, being stuck in front of a computer isn’t your thing.”
“So I did work for Torchwood?” Rose said slowly, not really sure how she should process that piece of information. Michelle looked stricken for a moment, obviously unaware she’d given that away, so Rose quickly jumped in. “I was head of defence and relations?”
Michelle visibly relaxed and nodded. “I’m in research and development. Yes, it’s usually as dull as it sounds.”
Rose smiled, a quickly lived expression that lasted but a few seconds.
“And we were friends.”
Michelle nodded. “Still are, I hope. Although when you remember...” She trailed off and looked out of the window.
Rose followed her gaze, and stared out at the characteristically grey London skyline. “I doubt that will change. I seem to be pretty limited in the friends department.”
“You had your reasons for that.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “I suppose that’s true. I seem to have reasons for everything, but it doesn’t feel as if I’ll ever know that reason. Why I’m so isolated. Why my family are so overprotective. Why I have two sets of memories for most of the important aspects of my life, and can forget the person I love. Why I work in defence. What could Torchwood even need defending from?” she asked, throwing her hands up in exasperation.
During her tirade, Michelle had turned from the window towards her, regarding Rose carefully. She smiled as Rose finished, leaning back in her chair and picking up her cup.
“Aliens,” she replied, then sipped her drink.
Rose glared at her, struggling between the need to laugh at the ridiculous answer, and cry at the inappropriate nature of the response. That was until a sudden quiet came over her mind, her stomach cramping in that unpleasant way that was so familiar and frustrating. It’s not meant to be like that it said, all the while the same phrase echoed in her mind, this time intoned by a familar voice.
“Rose Tyler, Defender of the Earth.”