A/N: Thank you for the support and the reviews for the last chapter. I know this has been a long wait, so I hope you all enjoy reading.
“Why do you wear a ring around your neck?”
It wasn’t the best greeting. In fact, it wasn’t a greeting at all, but Rose had to know. After her conversation with Michelle that afternoon, she’d made a promise to herself: to understand. To understand exactly what was going on, sort out her memories and make sense of this confusion. She hadn’t meant to start with the ring. He just happened to be playing with it when she answered the door.
His face morphed into a look of startled amazement.
“Can I come in or do you want me to answer on the doorstep?” he replied, his signature half-smile appearing. Rose hesitated, then moved aside, allowing him into her flat. She closed the door behind him, staying a short distance away as he entered the room and shrugged off his jacket, making himself perfectly comfortable. It was times like this she could tell that despite his insistence he lived somewhere else, she could see his real home was here.
The thought warmed her, but she pushed it aside quickly, forcing herself to stay on track. He dropped into a chair and stared up at her.
“You want to know about the ring.”
“Yes,” she replied, keeping her tone as neutral as possible.
“Any reason?” he asked, but lent forward so he could reach behind his neck and unclasp the chain.
“I was just...wondering,” Rose finished as he pulled the chain free and held it out towards her. She stared it as if it might explode for a few seconds, before moving forward and taking it out of his hand.
She placed the ring on her palm, automatically knowing something was wrong. She blinked, confused and then lifted her head to meet his eyes.
“It’s plastic?” she said, what was meant to be a statement escaping as a question. He smiled, a strange expression somewhere between amusement and sadness.
“Yes. Looks very real, doesn’t it? I couldn’t have made it better myself. Well, I probably could have if I ever wanted to make plastic rings that looked like metal. Which I don’t.”
This line of thought didn’t help her, so she waited until he realised his digression. It didn’t take him long to return to the topic.
“It’s a running joke really. Your brother gave it to me. It was some sort of toy prize he was given from a very expensive cracker. Instead of turning his nose up like we thought he would, he told me to give it to you. Said I needed a ring to marry you, and I needed to marry you because I loved you. I’d blame the fairy tales, except I bought them for him, because every human child needs fairy tales...”
“So you wear it,” she said, cutting him off before he could run away with his thoughts again.
“Yup. It was a present. So I wear it. It doesn’t fit my finger, so it goes on a necklace. Now the real question is, why did you need to know about the ring.”
He sat back on the chair, observing her quietly as Rose found the blood rushing to her head. Her assumptions flew to mind, and even now they seemed more rational than the actual explanation. That appeared to be a pattern in her life though. Neat, logical explanations like car crashes and wedding rings gave out to aliens and plastic toys.
“You thought it was a real ring. Your ring,” he supplemented for her. While Rose was glad she didn’t have to say it, even hearing it out loud still caused her to wince.
“We aren’t married. Or engaged. It’s not...us.”
The sentence sounded odd, and Rose automatically found herself questioning it. Dr Smith seemed to sense this, for he immediately stood up and walked to the window, his hand pulling at his hair.
“We’re just not like that. It doesn’t mean I don’t...” he stopped, visibly having to take a breath to steady himself. “That I don’t care. It’s just how we were.”
Rose felt her patience start to leave her. She was so fed up with this, cryptic comments and double crossing thoughts. Why did it still take so much to get a simple answer from anyone?
“And how are we exactly? Because I’m really confused. It seems as if we’re two different people, or at least you seem to be. So I’d really like you to explain it to me, because I all I seem to come up with are toys and aliens, which makes no sense at all. So what is it? Are we chips or are we pasta?” she demanded, her words tipping out of her with no warning.
Dr Smith, to his credit, didn’t back away in horror. “I like both?” he answered like it was a perfectly normal question to ask.
Rose rolled her eyes, almost angry that he couldn’t keep up with her train of thought. “Our first date. Which was it, chips or pasta?”
He paused, the hand returning to his hair, leaving more of a tousled perfection in its wake.
“The first time was chips. The second pasta. So it depends on how you look at it.”
“We had two first dates?” Rose asked, wondering where the logic was in this. Dr Smith sighed and returned to his seat, falling heavily into it.
“Yes, I suppose we did. I was...different back then though. It was me, but it wasn’t me, not the me I am now, but the me I was before, which is still me, just not original me...”
“Please stop saying ‘me’,” Rose begged.
He nodded, looking contrite as if he’d only just realised what he’d been saying. Deciding it was probably best to say something before he started rambling again, Rose spoke.
“Michelle told me aliens are real.”
She expected him to laugh. To make that adorably confused expression she was so familiar with, scrunching up his face and mocking the ridiculous statement. Except he didn’t react in any way. He looked as if he were waiting for her to continue, that she should have added more to the statement.
In the silence that followed he shook his head. “What do you want me to do Rose?” He sounded tired, exhausted even.
“Tell me the truth. Tell me what’s going on. I can’t just flick a switch and remember, and things are getting too difficult. I think...I think there’s something wrong with me.” Her voice dissolved into the air, and Dr Smith looked up sharply.
“I must be ill.” Rose continued, unaware of his movement. “ I can’t have memories this different. I know I’m meant to remember, but the more I remember, the less it makes sense. I hate it, I don’t understand it, and I’m terrified.”
Saying everything aloud helped, but only a little. She found her throat closing at the end of her sentence, the words barely escaping. Before she could really register what had happened, Dr Smith was out of the chair, across the room and standing before her. He gently took her head in his hands, framing her face so she was forced to look into his eyes.
“Rose Tyler, believe me when I tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you. Nothing. I promise you. Okay?”
Rose found herself nodding at the commanding yet comforting tone of voice. In return, he gave her one of the wide, all encompassing smiles, and a kiss that almost made her forget why she was upset. Almost.
Within a few moments, the tension had returned, despite the fact that they kept one hand tied to each other, a lifeline in the middle of the confusion.
“I need to know. Please. Whatever happened, whatever is in the past, I need to know. I can’t keep waiting until I trip over it one day.”
He closed his eyes, inhaled deeply once before looking at her again. “It’s a long story. Obviously, as it’s years of your life. Well, there are gaps that I can’t fill in for you..”
“Short version,” Rose replied, this time smiling fondly at his tendency to ramble. Her grin faded as he continued to look uncomfortable rather than pleased.
“It’s a strange story.”
“I gathered that.”
“You’re going to have to believe what I say, even if it seems impossible.”
“I trust you.”
“Thank you! But I really do mean it, this is an almost unbelievable tale. I say almost as, well, it really happened.”
“Can you please just tell me?” Rose groaned, not sure how many more reassurances she could give.
He nodded, finally giving into her request. He inhaled once and then told her everything. The summary of events ended up in two tangents, one about eighteenth century France that involved him looking flustered and moving onto a rant about alcohol, bananas and ice, followed by another about the dangers of dinner ladies. At the start of a tale about stone angels, she held up her hand to pause him.
“So, what you’re saying is, me, mum and you are from a parallel universe, and you’re the clone of a time travelling alien I knew?”
His face fell. “You would pick up on the clone part,” he muttered.
“And an alien. An alien clone. In a parallel universe.” A thought struck her. “That’s why I kept thinking dad died. He must have died in my universe, but is alive here.”
At this, he smiled. “Always a quick one, my Rose Tyler.”
Rose smiled. “So, what happened with my memories? It obviously wasn’t a car crash.”
The lightness from the previous moment was gone in an instant. “The car crash wasn’t a complete lie. It just wasn’t the cause of the memory loss. It was minor, and the reason you did have a few injuries. The memory loss came a day later.”
Rose went to ask a question, but it disappeared before she could, as Dr Smith, well apparently ‘The Doctor’ started speaking again.
“We’d argued, I can’t remember why now, but I know it was something about him.” The venom in his voice was startling, and it didn’t take long for her to connect it to the original him. “Then you went off on a field mission a few miles away. I don’t know what happened, but it ended in a car crash and a hospital visit. I barely saw you, and the only time I did, you told me you were too tired to talk about it. Less than two days later, you had no idea who I was, and no idea what had happened between us.”
“That doesn’t...that doesn’t mean anything,” Rose protested, not believing for a second that she would deliberately want to forget him. From all she could remember, all she’d already experienced told her than he would be the last person she would try and forget. But his voice was so full of pain and hurt, so convinced that somehow this all led back to him. A sudden flash of a car, a road side, and a never-ending dark that crumbled away under her fingertips appeared in front of her. She didn’t have time to grab hold of it before he started speaking again.
“You wanted to forget Rose. You wouldn’t talk to me, you wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, and then I get a phone call telling me you’d forgotten everything. You’d forgotten me, us, everything we ever went through. You chose to do this, you made a decision.”
He sagged down, his legs folding underneath him as he slid into the chair. He looked like a paper doll, all lines and bends, pretty and breakable. She could feel him being torn to pieces between her fingers.
“I want to help you Rose. I’ve always wanted to help you. I just don’t think that I can. After all, I’m the person you wanted to forget.”
Sensing that this conversation was over, Rose retreated from the front room and into her bedroom. She pulled out her phone, dialling a familiar number. Even as the person on the other ended picked up, she was resolute in her belief that it was not Dr Smith...no, her Doctor, that she had tried to forget.
The lab was quiet and eerie, the contrast between the yellow artificial lights and the darkness seeping in through the windows doing nothing to help it. Rose stared at the strange array of objects, research and work littered around. There were coloured liquids in a variety of containers stored in a cupboard along the wall. There were several anatomy posters across one of the benches, none of which looked quite right into her eyes. There were tools, silver and sterilised, lined up on the closest bench to the door. She avoided looking too closely at them. Her mind was already stretched to its limits, and she was trying to prevent it from tipping over the edge.
“Sorry I’m late.”
Michelle’s voice was closer than Rose could have anticipated, and she instinctively jumped away. Michelle’s eyes widened.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. Is everything okay?” she peered at Rose carefully, as if the insanity of this day was written all over her face.
“I’m fine,” she lied, now so practiced at this phrase that it almost felt like truth. “What did you want to show me?”
Michelle hesitated, her gaze darting away from Rose. Rose found herself tensing, noticing the look of indecision on the other woman’s face. It could end here. She knew Michelle felt guilty for whatever part she played in the memory loss, but Rose was so close to discovering what happened. From what she knew of Michelle from the past few weeks, she sincerely doubted that she was as responsible as she seemed to believe.
Michelle straightened suddenly, as she’d needed the time to mentally prepare herself. Then she offered Rose a nervous smile, turned on her heels and walked to the other side of the room. Rose followed, avoiding all the strange and unnerving equipment and research until they reached the cabinet at the back of the room, filled with coloured liquids. As Rose got closer, she noticed that they were all labeled like medication, although she recognised none of the names. There, bottles of tablets nestled with liquids, which helped to confirm her suspicions.
Michelle pulled a ring of keys from her lab coat, flicking to the correct one with practiced ease. She pushed it into the lock and turned, sliding the glass to the right as she did. She reached up, and pulled down an unimposing bottle of small white circular tablets. A small part of Rose felt let down. She’d assumed she would have reached for one of the fluorescent bottles, or containers with substances floating in them.
“These are amnesia pills,” Michelle began, shaking the bottle for emphasis. “We try to use them sparingly, but they come in handy when civilians see something they shouldn’t. The long-term effects are still somewhat of a mystery, they’ve only been used in the past ten years. They essentially wipe out twenty-four hours of memory. Fast acting and efficient, a Torchwood favourite.”
Rose swallowed, staring at the unobtrusive looking tablets. They were tiny, smaller than paracetamol, yet somehow capable of erasing memory. She lifted her eyes back up to Michelle, connecting the dots as best she could.
“So...did I take too many? Or get a bad batch or something?”
Michelle shook her head. “You didn’t take an amnesia pill. You took this.” She turned and placed the bottle back in the cabinet, and brought a test tube of pale yellow liquid out with her.
“You took this. It’s amnesia serum, our latest project. My latest project to be precise.”
Michelle’s face fell at the admittance, the tension returning to her stance. However this time, she continued her explanation without faltering.
“The problem with the amnesia pill is it erases everything. The whole day just disappears without a trace, when all we really need is for one specific incident, one memory to disappear. There have been incidents when the effects of the amnesia pill have been reversed because having a day vanish from your memory seems suspicious. So this was what we were working on. Trying to create something that would target the specific memory and leaving everything else intact.”
Rose stared at the liquid. “Is it possible?”
“We had significant results...but to date, you’re the only human subject to have taken it. So I would say it is possible, but it needs some refining.”
Rose stared at Michelle. “Possible? I’ve lost years of my life, and you still think this magical creation works?” she snapped, her voice going higher and higher.
Michelle just looked at her sadly. “It did work, Rose. You wanted to erase one memory. Except for you, that one memory is linked to years worth of memory. The amnesia serum is meant for the general public, people who encounter something they shouldn’t have seen. Not someone whose entire life revolves around it. The technology is too good. In order to really remove that incident, it had to take every fragment with it.”
Rose blinked, feeling tears appear at the edge of her eyes, trying to stop them from falling.
“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice already growing thick.
Michelle looked as if she wanted to move towards her, but stayed put. “You came straight here after you were discharged from hospital. You told me you needed to forget something, just one incident of the day before. The serum worked, Rose. It erased that encounter with those creatures, and subsequently everything that lead you to that moment. You first met an alien when you were nineteen. It took you back to then.”
“The Doctor,” Rose murmured, the syllables barely being defined in breath. Michelle was still watching her closely, as if waiting for the inevitable breakdown.
“We didn’t have any pills on that night. After the incident, we needed most of them, and all our supply had been either used in testing or removed for use. There was only the serum left. Untried, and untested.”
Momentarily, Rose managed to block out her many questions, fears and directions her mind was pulling her in, and she zoned in on one. “I was aware of this project...what you were working on, right?”
Michelle nodded, looking taken aback at the direct question. Despite it all, Rose smiled. She walked towards her friend, and shook her head sadly.
“Knowing me, I would have taken the serum, even if someone had warned me, told me not to. Which is what happened, isn’t it? I asked you, you said no, probably told me it hadn’t been tested. Even without the years of my memory, I’m certain something like that wouldn’t put me off.”
Michelle shook her head, the distress she was feeling plain to see. “I know, but it’s my fault. If you didn’t know about it, if I had locked up more carefully...”
“I would still have found a way to get it,” Rose said gently, knowing this was true. Michelle still looked unconvinced.
“You know me. You know I would have. And if I hadn’t known anything about the serum, I would have probably done something else. Please stop blaming yourself. You have no reason to, and I don’t blame you at all. I decided to this, I did this to myself. It’s all on my head.”
Rose was suddenly grasped tightly, as Michelle flung herself into Rose. Rose smiled sadly, hugging her friend in return. She’d been blaming herself for months, worrying that as soon as Rose regained her memories, she’d blame her.
“Sorry,” Michelle muttered, pulling back and wiping her eyes. Rose smiled, then without warning, a question struck her.
“You always said I’d eventually remember. How could you be so sure?”
“Well, we aren’t 100% certain, but the serum has the same basic formula as the pills. With the right trigger, you should regain your memories. Seeing as you’d already remembered parts, and worked out when the two sets clashed, it should only be a matter of time.”
Rose’s smile was bright and painful in return. She would remember. She was already remembering, filing in the gaps that Dr Smith hadn’t told her...
“I need to go,” Rose found herself saying as she backed away towards the door. The argument with Dr Smith...no, the Doctor, still resonated in her head, and now that everything had become slightly clearer, she needed to go back to him. She needed to tell him the truth.
“Thank you,” she said, running and giving Michelle one last hug. “I’m sorry, I just need to sort things out.”
Michelle nodded, smiling and seeming lighter than Rose could remember. “I understand. Go, sort things out.”
Rose offered her a smile before sprinting out of the room, down the corridor and towards home.