Characters: The Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, Rory Williams
Edited by: The inimitable dr_whuh
Summary: It's not erasing things, the Doctor explains; it's cleaning them.
Author's Notes: This was written for ravenskyewalker for this year's fandom_stocking . I like to think of the Doctor teaching his companions about the dimensionally transcendent Companion who shares his life.
Disclaimer: As much as I wish it were otherwise, no Whoniverse characters are mine. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin. I do, however, love them all, and thank the BBC for letting me play in their sandbox.
"You're kidding, right? You clean the TARDIS?" Amy started to snigger, and even Rory put his hand to his mouth in a polite effort to hide his own amusement.
The Doctor crooked a half smile in their direction, while he leaned against the upper-level rail, reading a comic book. "Why is that so hard to believe? I mean, you're not the first people who didn't believe me - the Brigadier rolled his eyes so hard I thought he was going throw himself out of his chair, but that's the military mindset for you - still, you've seen me restart the universe, why does a Saturday wash up generate such disbelief?"
Amy wagged her finger at him from the other side of the console. "Don't you think it's a bit daring of you to talk about restarting the universe, as if you didn't get a boat load of help from yours truly?" She looked at her husband. "And Rory?" Rory beamed at her.
"Oh, when you put it that way ... certainly. Certainly, I didn't do it alone," the Doctor said, looking, briefly, a tad taken aback. Then he brightened. "But - but - that's not the point. The point is, that I tackled the universe. And one of the reasons I could do that - really, this is quite important - is that I regularly tackle jobs like cleaning."
"You obviously don't have a regular go at the wardrobe room," Rory muttered. "I wouldn't go in there without a dust mask on."
"Yeah, well, there is that." The Doctor abruptly pulled himself erect, rolled the comic book up and stuffed it in his jacket pocket, and walked over to join Rory. He put his arm around the younger man and bent his head conspiratorially toward Rory's. "You see, that dusting and scrubbing sort of thing, isn't quite the type of cleaning I'm talking about," he said in what he must have thought was a whisper.
Amy crowed. "Oh ho! I heard that! Now we get to it. What's the latest bit of lawyering, then, Doctor? That 'cleaning' actually means, oh, I don't know, 'clog dancing'?"
The Doctor looked at her obliquely, with that ineffably alien friendliness that still made Rory nervous. "Would you really like to know what I mean when I talk about cleaning the TARDIS?"
"Of course we do, don't we, Rory," she said, glaring at Rory when he started to shake his head. He stopped. "And you know you brought it up in the first place because you want to show us!"
The Doctor "Come along, then, you two," he said. "Gather round the console."
"Where we spend most of the time. Right." Amy sounded disappointed.
"Hush," the Doctor commanded. "Stand by me, Amy, Rory. Watch the screen."
Rory was going to snipe under his breath; Amy might have been readying another glare, this one for the Time Lord. It faded. "Oh, no ... oh, no."
On the screen, a planet shimmered in a roseate glow that looked beautiful in the instant before it blossomed into an obscene planet-wide inferno.
"That was Ericssen's World," Rory said, his voice faint.
"It was. Just after we escaped," the Doctor said. "The TARDIS recorded it all."
"That's cruel," Amy said. "Doctor, that's cruel."
"We couldn't save them," he responded, quite calm. "Keep looking."
The scene changed, and the three of them watched terrified people trying to break into the TARDIS, as heavy grey gas billowed from the ruins of a city behind them. The first to die were the first it touched. Amy reached blindly for Rory, biting back a whimper as she watched tiny blue-skinned mothers try and fail to keep their babies' heads above the gas. "Stop it, Doctor. Why are you -"
"The time lines were set in stone in Ahker Shil. Even a Time Lord with no good sense and an inflated idea of his own abilities couldn't avoid seeing that," the Doctor said. Now his voice was a little rough. "And the TARDIS felt them die."
"Felt it?" Rory's voice shook.
"She feels more than you can imagine. She's not just a ship. And She's lived a very, very long time. Hold on, just one more thing to show you."
Amy started to pull away, then stopped herself. Rory put his arm around her. The pictures on the screen were initially fuzzy and streaky, like old newsreel footage. Rory peered at the tiny figure on distant dais, then snarled as he recognized who it was. "Shel Ivet - that murdering wanker!"
"Yes indeed," the Doctor said. "He snowed us completely, didn't he? Snowed me, tricked me into giving him the plans. And he betrayed the resistance. Half the leaders were disintegrated before we dematerialized. I've kept an eye on the entire Parabus system since then, and ... what's that song? Meet the old boss, same as the new boss? Hope deferred at least one Earth century, and 42.76 million lives.
"And my TARDIS, my beautiful TARDIS, receives and records echoes of each year lost, each life snuffed out. They're all lodged inside her. She can't get rid of them."
"She's lived a long time? How many years?" Amy sniffed hard, then fished in her pockets for a hanky.
"Enough time to record a lot of those?" Rory asked. There was something in his eyes now, the sorrow and outrage of a healer faced with something he couldn't heal.
The Doctor's smile matched Rory's eyes. "Yes."
"She records every time you can't save the day?"
"She records the times I lose the fight," he agreed.
"All that pain ...." Amy didn't sound sad. She sounded furious.
"And it builds up after a while, as you can imagine," the Doctor said, spinning away from the screen. "It builds up.
"And I can't allow it, you see," he continued. "Not all that heartache for my old girl."
He didn't stop moving until he came to rest at another console section. "So I clean Her. I clean Her memories."
Rory gaped at the Time Lord, but couldn't think of anything intelligent in response.
Amy's brow knit, though. "She lets you clean Her memories?"
He pursed his lips, perfectly aware of what she was close to saying. "Yes. She does. I ask Her," he said, flat comments he might have thought were explanation. Then he smiled again, that crooked half-smile. "Oddly enough I've made the mistake of not asking about memory questions before, with ... with other beings. If I'd paid the same attention to their rights that I pay to Hers, things might - but there you are, you see, I didn't. And I'm working hard on not making that mistake again."
Rory was chewing his thumb. "Doctor, if you take away the bad memories, doesn't that - I mean, don't we need all our memories? I mean ... I know we do. If we can't remember the bad things, we can't try to avoid them in our future. And besides, they're all part of what we are."
The Doctor looked at him with complete delight. "You are remarkably not stupid, Rory Williams. That's precisely why I don't take the memories away - not because you're not stupid, but because She needs Her memories."
"But you said -"
"I didn't say I take them away. I said I clean them. It's not something I could do with a human, or many other species. But Her? I can clean Her memories."
"What's that even mean?" Rory wasn't irritated, just curious.
"When I'm done, She still has the information. She still has the knowledge. And I don't - I can't - erase everything She feels. But it's the sadness and the anger of memory, not the memory as an always-and-immediate experience that Time creatures suffer. It's cleaning, you see?"
Rory sighed. "No. I can't say I see. But I think I understand. I wish we could do it for ourselves."
"Oh, no," the Doctor said softly. "Humans wouldn't be humans if they could do that. Not really."
"Huh. Suppose not."
Amy coughed. "So ... all this philosophizing aside, are you going to do it?"
They both looked at her. "Yes."
For the next five minutes, Amy and Rory watched in fascinated incomprehension as the Doctor worked around the console. Then, for another wonder-filled five minutes, they looked around themselves in delight as lights rippled across and through the walls, the floors, and into the halls beyond the console room.
Eventually the lights faded back into the ship's regular radiance. They looked at the Doctor for at least two full more minutes in happy silence.
"Now that, that was Her, thanking me," Her companion finally said to his companions.
Rory smiled, but Amy turned to him, looking at him perilously. "And just why did you want to show us all this? To make us wish we could have our memories cleaned?"
"Pond, did you hear anything I said to Rory? Isn't it good enough to have learned something about this marvelous creation in which we travel?"
"Not nearly. Not after you made us watch those disasters all over again."
The Doctor didn't answer for a moment. Then he looked up. "It wasn't for you. It was for Her. I wanted Her to know that I was teaching you about Her. And I wanted Her to know that the lesson would hit home. It did, didn't it?"
Amy didn't, as Rory half-expected she might, explode. She sighed, then addressed the air around her. "Hey! TARDIS! I learned. Rory learned, right, Rory?"
"But you tell that flop-haired navigator of yours that if he wants to teach us more about you, he should try another strategy. Because if he shows me anything like what he did just now? I am going to break his jaw."
With that, she stalked off down the hall.
Rory didn't. "I, uhm ... I appreciated it. I'm glad you can heal Her, a little bit at least."
"Yeah, figured you might."
"No you didn't - but I'm still glad. Amy'll be, too, when she's over the shock. You could try being a little less dramatic the next time you play teacher."
"I suppose I could."
With that, Rory and the Doctor nodded at each other and headed off to the kitchen for a pot of tea.