Second Time's the Charm
Chapter One: Tabula Rasa

The head physician in the small-town Storybrooke hospital (who, it should be stated, is neither psychologist nor neurologist) described it thus: the patient's mind was something of a blank slate, a clean white page. This attempt to describe the experiences that colored John Doe's consciousness was, predictably, inadequate. The man of science could not fathom the possibility of John Doe's other identity - not, that is, David Nolan, but of Prince "Charming" James. For different reasons, David could not quite make the connection either. Even as his brain formed different connections through strenuous physical therapy and rigorous mental exercises, David could not make sense of the mental snapshots of a different universe. At least, not without help from another kind of healing.

He watches her flit through the different areas of the hospital and gets the feeling she's done this before, been here before. That she knows him and he should know something about her in return. For some reason, Madame Mayor won't let him see the security tapes of his hospital room (why his room would need security anything, he doesn't know, since they're supposed to be making him well, not putting him in further danger), but if he was allowed to view the tapes, he's pretty sure they will show his visitor. And that visitor won't be Kathryn.

The mayor told him triumphantly that the tapes revealed him saying Kathryn's name in his sleep, like that was enough information for them to track her down after so many years, like that was enough motivation for her to come see him after so many years. He mentioned off-handedly that he doesn't remember being the sort of person to talk in his sleep, but the Mayor laughed it off: that's because you don't remember anything. She actually laughed at him, at his amnesia. What kind of person does that?

After that, he doesn't tell her anything. He doesn't tell anyone anything. He just sits there quietly, a silent observer, and no one seems to expect anything otherwise; today, at least, between the rush of activity upon his awakening yesterday and the therapy that will start tomorrow, he is allowed a respite, to be undisturbed by doctors as if he had never woken from his coma at all. Undisturbed by everyone except for Kathryn and the mayor. The mayor creeps him out. He doesn't like that she was his emergency contact for so long.

Having Kathryn there isn't better by much. She tells him that they had a fight and he left and got in a car accident as soon as he left town. She apologizes but somehow makes it seem like it's his fault for leaving. Having lost his memory of these events, it isn't very nice of her to remind him of bad ones. How convenient for her that she can have a clean slate now, since he got one less willingly with his memory being erased.

The only indicator of Kathryn's sincerity is that she tells him about their fight. She could have lied to him and told him that they had a good marriage. But he would have known that she was lying because he finds her irksome even now. He doesn't want to talk to her, he doesn't want her to give him a hug that he isn't sure how to respond to. He just wants to be left alone by everyone. Everyone, that is, except for Mary Margaret.

Mary Margaret doesn't disturb him. She's there, present, but distant – not in his room. She doesn't come in and he's disappointed, because he wants to thank her, because she's a mystery to him and he wants to ask her why she saved him and because even though he doesn't know her, he doesn't know anyone really and he feels like he could talk to her. But she doesn't come in to his room. Maybe she's avoiding him because she talks to everyone but him in the hospital. She knows her way around the place, that's for sure, so he can't flatter himself and say that she's only here for him. He wants to ask questions but he can't.

There it is, that dreaded feeling of déjà vu. But he doesn't dread it, exactly; it's sort of warm and comforting, the only memory (if you can call it that) he has of a forgotten life, only the memory is so incongruous with his surroundings. Amnesiacs aren't supposed to get déjà vu. He can't place it well enough to say what should feel right to him, exactly, but he knows what feels wrong - like when Kathryn calls him "David," or that Kathryn calls him anything, because he has no idea who she is. Yes, he knows who he's supposed to think she is, but that doesn't mean quite the same thing.

He doesn't have an exact idea of who she is, either. The name given to him for his mystery savior and visitor was Mary Margaret, but it's too long, too formal. And her haircut looks off. But the way she looks at him... He catches her staring sometimes, and she glances away but he wishes she wouldn't, even though he's guilty of staring at her too. Because she's beautiful. Because they look at each other with such intensity, like they can see into each other.

It's impossible, but he feels like she's familiar to him. Maybe it's because he's tried to woo her before. Maybe the fact that he has to try a second time implies that he didn't get it right. But the expression on her face, and her face always being there, says otherwise. They might have known each other in another time, or another life, one that he remembers. Maybe she remembers something and that's why she stares.

He can't imagine that she's just staring at him because she remembers how he looked that one night vomiting up water - at least, he hopes not, since he wouldn't want such a seemingly pleasant person associating him with such an unpleasant memory. It was unpleasant for him at least. He doesn't have much memory of waking up and leaving his bed. He only recalls opening his eyes (albeit while violently choking) to see her. Why was she there? Why did she come looking for him?

The doctors ask him what he was looking for when he got out of the hospital that night. It must have been important, they joke, rather callously. He shouldn't have been able to get out of bed, since in typical cases muscles would be too atrophied, and they are reassured of his normalcy, comforted even, by the fact that he collapsed in a river face-down and almost drowned.

They seem irked by the fact that he is an anomaly. It is bad enough that he is imprisoned with incongruous ideas in an otherwise-blank mind (tabula rasa, they call it; they use scientific terms now because he is just a damn lab rat and no longer a human being). It is even worse that they try to restrain him with reminders of medical precedent dictating what is possible, and cautionary advice under the guise of being safe when he knows he can do more.

What was he looking for? Maybe he was just looking for freedom. From small-minded doctors. From an unfamiliar wife who, according to visitation tapes, did not come to see him once during the duration of his stay and, according to nurse gossip he overhears, did not much care about him before this.

But maybe he was looking for her.