Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: David Tennant, original characters
Word Count: 3012
Summary: (The Actor AU 2) Will's friend becomes terminally ill and there's nothing he can do about it.
Author's notes: This is set about two years after Neighbours and before Repercussions. The entire story is novella-length and too long for a single LJ post, but it's not a chaptered fic; more like a sectioned fic. I'm going to post all of it in bite-sized pieces over the next day or so.
Will dropped his beer on the end table and flopped onto the couch. “Kevin said it shouldn’t be long now. Two weeks, three at the most, the doctor said.”
“And they’ve found nothing to give even a sliver of hope?” David queried.
“They haven’t figured out a bloody thing,” Will growled. “It’s all the usual signs of sleep deprivation, but they’ve induced sleep and she keeps getting worse. No pathogens in her blood or abnormalities in her brain, other than what’s expected. It looks like she got it from Gareth, but they can’t even figure out how.”
Frowning, David peered at his friend, who sat biting on his thumbnail as he thought. Whilst it was perfectly reasonable that he was worried for Mary, David sensed that a good part of Will’s frustration, which brimmed in every word he spoke, was with her physicians and not the situation.
“You think they’re not doing enough, don’t you?” he asked.
Will threw his hands up. “Who’m I to say?” he barked, his voice unusually shrill. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know any more than they do. They’ve got a couple of researchers working on her case and they’ve confirmed that it’s going the same way as Gareth’s did, but that’s it. I mean, they’ve got her in a hospice. That means they’ve given up.”
David’s lips curved in a sly smile. “But you haven’t.”
Will looked up and met his eye. “No, I haven’t. I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Me?” David sighed. He’d known it would come down to this, and had dreaded having to face the simple truth that there was nothing he could do to help his friend. “I told you, Will,” he groaned. “I can’t just wave my mobile around and cure her. And I don’t know anything about actual medicine beyond what I can find on Wikipedia.”
“You don’t need to, mate. I’m not asking you to fix everything. I need you to help me piece together what’s been going on.” Sitting up, Will perched on the edge of his seat and steepled his fingers in front of himself. “I’ve done a bit of research and I think Gareth and Mary aren’t the only two cases of whatever this is. I can’t see anything new in the ones I’ve found that might help, but you have different tools and a unique perspective, so you might be able to find things I can’t. Willing to take a look?”
A hesitant smile spread across David’s face. He’d been so caught up with the idea of providing a cure for Mary that he hadn’t considered other ways in which he might help. “Of course, anything, but I’ve got to say,” David murmured, “don’t expect miracles.”
“I’m not.” Will grabbed his beer and took a long drink, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I just want you to look over what I’ve found and see if I’ve missed anything, ‘cause if anything’s there, you’re the one who’ll find it.”
“I’d be delighted to,” answered David, nodding.
“Brill. Lemme grab my laptop.”
Depositing the bottle back on the table, Will hopped to his feet and stepped toward the door, but stopped at David’s remark, “I didn’t know you were this close to Mary.”
He turned to look at his friend. “‘Cause I’m doing this? I’m not, really. She and I rarely even talk outside of work. But…” Will shook his head. “She’s not even thirty-five, and she’s gonna die without even knowing why.”
“It’s not fair, is it?”
Will slapped a hand over his eyes and rubbed tiredly at them. “Here I am talking about the fairness of life with the bloke that got dealt the worst hand ever.”
“At one point, maybe, but I got a second chance, and this hand’s not so bad.”
“Yeah, well,” and Will glanced down at his hands as he picked thoughtfully at a fingernail, “I thought some time and effort on my part was a tiny price to pay for a shot at getting Mary that second hand, even if the chances are next to nil.”
David smiled. “Throw in my time as well, see if we can’t figure this out together.”
Flashing his friend a grateful grin, Will trotted out of the house, returning a few minutes later with his computer. He set it up on the coffee table and pulled his chair closer. “Mostly I was just looking into Gareth’s case,” he commented as he pulled up his files. “I thought that though he died from it, maybe his doctors had, I don’t know, found things that eased his symptoms, or anything. I asked Mary’s doctor for his medical records, and of course he said no.”
“So you hacked into the hospital computers?” David asked.
Rolling his eyes, Will snorted. “This is not one of your television shows, mate. I’m a programmer. That doesn’t mean I can hack into computers willy-nilly. But I can make a search engine sit up and beg.” He grabbed his mouse and start clicking and typing whlist he talked. “I found a discussion of a case history, a bit too old to be Gareth’s and not enough detail to be traceable, but that made me think of checking the medical journals and other professional communities. I had to drop a few quid to get access, but I found some things. Here.”
With a few more clicks, he pulled up a document and starting summarising it for his friend. “These are my notes. Ah, yes, this first one’s a woman in Köln, so definitely not Gareth.” The two friends exchanged grins. “She had the same symptoms. Amateur photographer, and she’d quit her job so she could roam around taking pictures, sleeping wherever she could find a bit of shelter. That’s how they found her. In her last few days, they kept her in isolation, and she left thousands of pictures of the furniture and walls of her room on the stack of memory cards she left behind.”
David grimaced in horror.
“Her case was maybe a year ago? Not sure. I also found this man.” Will trailed his finger down the screen as he read and paraphrased his notes. “This was a case study in a journal, written by a doctor in York. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but mostly it said that he seemed to be dying from the effects of sleep deprivation though he slept a fair amount. It discussed the treatments they tried, none of which worked. There was no mention of any strange, obsessive behaviour, but it sounded similar enough.”
David nodded. “Aye, I agree. York’s not far. If we need to, we can hop over there to talk to the doctor and be back in time for dinner.”
“Yeah, almost did that myself, when I found this.”
“That’s it.” Will pushed his laptop away with a disgusted snort. “That’s all I could find.”
“Not even their names or when they started treatment?”
“Nope.” The drumming of his fingers on the table next to his computer revealed his frustration at the dead end he’d reached. “They don’t mention that kind of thing in journals and discussions. Patient confidentiality and all.”
David bit his lip. “Then we need to get that info, so we can figure out how this fits together.”
“Can you?” Will asked with a sly smile.
“I might.” He dug in his pocket for his mobile. “All right, let’s see what we can do. I’ll need everything you’ve got.”
“What are you doing?”
“Well,” he drawled as he tapped on the screen, “I’ve got the TARDIS data banks.” He bit his lip with a sigh. “She might be silent, but she’s always recording. She should have data back to when I moved in here, and she might be able to match it up to what you’ve found.”
Will spent the next hour reading his notes to his friend and looking up details he hadn’t written down. At first, he felt like he was wasting both their times, searching through records that the doctors must have already combed through, but when the first discovery came though - the TARDIS pinpointing the woman in Köln - he whooped a quick cheer, then grinned at his friend, embarrassed.
“Oh, I do think it’s worth celebrating,” said David with his own proud grin. “Now we might actually get somewhere. Anna Meier. She was a nurse. I’ve got the date of death, but not much else relevant.” He closed his eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to trace her timeline, now that I have a lock on it, but I’m rubbish at this. I almost didn’t graduate from the Doctor’s Temporal Science Academy and Ten-Pin Alley because of it,” he pronounced with a smirk. “My sense of space and causality is almost non-existent, so I can’t get much more than dates of birth and death, but I might be able to spot some contemporality.”
“Well, that’s more than we had.” Will typed the dates David gave him into his notes. “Died a little over a year ago. Matches what I found,” he murmured to himself.
“Oh, that’s interesting,” said David.
Will frowned. “Why?”
David’s eyes popped open. “No, not that. I thought I might check timelines related to Anna’s, to see if anyone she knew died around the same time, and, well, her brother died three months later.”
Will’s jaw dropped. “Of the same thing?”
David shrugged. “No idea. That’s what we need to find out, I’d say.” He began tapping on his phone. “Let’s see. Yes, there he is. Friedrich Kerwath.”
“Friedrich Kerwath,” repeated Will as he typed. “How do you spell that?” He murmured his thanks after David told him, then added, “I hope you can read German. I took French and I don’t remember a word of it.”
“I speak most of the major Earth languages. The Doctor insisted I learn them, as well as the most useful galactic languages.” He wagged a finger at his friend. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t study Klingon.”
“Well, we won’t be needing your translation,” declared WIll with a triumphant grin, “because Mr. Friedrich Kerwath lived and died in Slough.”
“Slough, eh? That brings it to this side of the channel.” David tapped the information into his phone.
With a poke at his laptop screen, Will threw his hands up in frustration. “Died at home of natural causes, it says here. How does a thirty-nine-year-old man die of natural causes? I’d say that’s suspicious enough to note.”
“I agree,” David murmured as he sat with closed eyes. “Bloody hell. He’s a dead end for me. His timeline during the period he might have been ill only touches others tangentially. What did he do?”
“The obituary says ‘self-employed’.” Will fell silent as he worked his computer. After a couple of minutes, he slumped back in his seat. “I can’t find much else about him on the web.”
“Did he die alone?”
He shrugged. “He died at home, so I’d think so. If he had what Mary has, well, if we hadn’t forced Mary to go to hospital, she’d probably be home now, oblivious to the world.”
“Yeah.” David sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. “Well, this thread was useless. What else?”
“I don’t know. Why is it so hard to find these cases? I mean, it’s been around for over a year and it’s obviously contagious.” Sitting up, Will pounded the arm of the chair, then gestured rudely at the computer. “There should be plenty of examples, either of successful treatments or discussions of the disease in the medical literature.”
“Wait,” cried David. “You said contagious.”
Will popped up in his chair. “Yeah?”
“Where did Gareth catch it from?”
“Who knows?” Will slumped back again. David’s tone had given him hope that he’d thought of something, but that had been quickly dashed by yet another question with no answer. “He worked for a big advertising firm in London and also did commissions in various places, so he could have gotten it anywhere.”
“But what about Anna?” asked David in a leading tone. “She was a nurse, so -”
Will pointed at his friend. “So she probably got it from one of her patients!” Straightening up again, he bent back over his laptop and started typing. “That could be any of hundreds of people -”
“But it narrows it down a little,” finished David with a smile. “And if you think about it, most of the people a nurse cares for in a hospital survive. Much as I hate to say it, we’re only looking for the ones who died.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Will, pointing at his screen. “Except that she didn’t work in a hospital. She was a hospice nurse.”
“And if her hospice hosted a terminally-ill patient like Mary…”
“Then she caught it from them.”
David wagged a finger at the laptop. “What hospice did she work for?”
“Let’s see.” After a minute of searching, Will found a name. “It was… I can’t pronounce this.”
“Let me see.” David hopped around the table and sat down on the arm of Will’s chair. He began tapping on his mobile.
“What are you doing?”
David held the phone to his ear, and Will could hear the ringer clearly. “Neither of us can get into their records, or should, really, so let’s do the right thing and ask directly.”
In a moment, a muffled female voice sounded from the mobile’s speaker. David replied in fluent German, and hopped up to pace across the room. Will watched him for a few seconds, then turned back to his laptop to straighten out his notes whilst he waited. Though he didn’t understand what David was saying, he could tell from his friend’s tone of voice that he was trying to be reasonable and polite in his requests. The call transferred to another person, and then another, and finally, after a good twenty minutes, David thanked them (Will at least understood danke) and hung up.
“Patience, grasshopper,” David crooned. “There isn’t much to go on.”
“But you must have found something,”
“Much of the same. They had a patient, an older man with the same symptoms as Mary. He wasn’t Anna’s patient,” he explained as he slipped back into his seat, “not even in the same ward, but when they heard she was ill, they recognised that it was the same thing.”
“Did they have any success treating it?” Will hoped against all odds.
“No. They did tell me what they tried that didn’t work, but there wasn’t much else.”
Will punched the arm of his chair. “Damn. Well, let’s get this down. What’s his name?”
“I didn’t get that either,” David sighed. “I knew the only way they would talk to me is if I told them that I only wanted case specifics and nothing personal. All I got about him was gender and date of death.”
Will echoed his friend’s sigh, shoulders sagging. “All right. I suppose that’s something. What is it?”
“21 October, 2010.”
Will repeated it as he typed, then paused, staring at his screen. Brow furrowed, he paged through his notes, then glanced up at David. “Did you notice this?”
“What?” his friend asked, though the twinkle in his eye betrayed that he had an idea of what Will had spotted.
“That date. This man died three months before Anna did.”
Will nodded as he worked through the dates in his notes. “And her brother died three months after she did.”
David’s tongue traced the upper lip of a tentative smile. “Go on.”
“And if Mary dies when they think she will, it’ll be three months after Gareth.” Will’s mouth dropped open as he stared at his laptop.
“What do you think?” asked David.
“We’ve only a few examples, but what a coincidence.” Will shook his head. “But that’s pretty normal, isn’t it? Everyone with the same thing having it for the same time, more or less?”
“As far as I know, yes. But,” and he wagged a finger at Will, “it’s only spaced that evenly if you assume that they caught the disease the day the previous patient died. Normal contagion would have introduced a variance, as people catch it at various times during the patient’s illness, or even after death. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve never heard of anything like that, something that’s contagious only at death.”
Will frowned. “Er…”
“And that’s the odd thing. You pointed it out yourself. There are no other victims. We’ve got five confirmed cases, but no one exhibited symptoms at the same time as anyone else. It’s like the disease wasn’t contagious: it was simply passed on. And if that’s the case, then the timing’s spot on.” David scooted around the table and pointed at Will’s notes. “This German man died in October, Anna in January, Friedrich in April. Then with Gareth dying in January, he contracted it in October, leaving six months in the middle for two people we haven’t identified yet. Want to bet that the man in York is one of them? I expect that with a date of death around the 21st of either July or October in York, I can find him in the TARDIS data banks in less than five minutes.”
Wide-eyed, Will dragged a hand down over his mouth as he considered the implications. Finally, he murmured, “It’s not contagious, but passed on. Mate, is this thing alien?”
“Might be. I don’t know.” Holding up his mobile, he twiddled it between his fingers. “Best I could do is this, see what it can find. But you’d have to wonder, what’s the point? Infecting one person at a time so that they die every three months in various places around Europe? What are they trying to accomplish?”
“I don’t know, mate, but I don’t think we have a moment to lose.” Will shut his laptop.
David nodded and jumped up, stuffing his phone in his pocket. “I agree. Not a moment.”