Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Tenth Doctor, Rose, Sarah Jane.
Date Written: 2007
Summary: All that is now, and all that is gone, and all that’s to come. Even imaginary friends have nightmares.
Rating/Warnings: Eh prolly PG, some disturbing imagery but not terribly descriptive.
Notes: This assumes canonicity of the Big Finish audios in a few places.
Spoilers: All over the place, but vague.
Suns are huge – brilliant and burning and forever-light, life and brightness and everything that matters. Takes such a small thing to obscure them, though- a tiny little moon, casting its tiny little shadow, wrapping the fire in darkness.
The moon only masks the brightness because the people seeing it are so much smaller still. But it is very easy to forget, during an eclipse, caught in the shifting and surreal half-light of midday darkness, that the sun ever shone at all.
It’s all a matter of scale.
Rose takes Sarah aside, just before they part ways, a conspiratorial last-minute conference. They’ve been over this before, joking and laughing and comparing notes, all necessary lightness in the wake of the tension. This time, it’s a serious question Rose has, worry ringing her eyes.
The nightmares. Did he have them before? Does she remember? He sleeps rarely enough and the TARDIS has been moving her room farther and farther away to try to let her get some quiet, but those rounded walls and corridors echo, and everyone knows what it sounds and feels like to wake up screaming.
Sarah thinks, eyes troubled in the flickering blue-green light, and says maybe. Maybe but she isn't sure, maybe now and then. But not as a rule. She draws her own conclusions from the question; is concerned, wants to know more. Wants to help.
Rose just slides her eyes off to the side and smiles that smile that is nothing but sadness.
It's gotten worse, of course it's gotten worse. Hundreds of years will do that.
The war is a convenient explanation, these days. Humans understand war, deep in their genes. It's all he has to do to mention it and they nod knowingly and mumble apologies and change the subject and they're stupid and gullible enough to believe that's all there is to it. But it's in their blood - how many wars they've waged, in their short history. How many of their own broken and battered survivors they've sent to limp home through the blood of their brethren, to live incomplete and inconsolable lives of obsessively counting ceiling tiles and waking up in the middle of lazy summer nights to the sound of imagined shellfire and the smell of mustard gas...
It's an easy excuse.
It's an easy excuse but it's a lie. The war is only a fraction of the things he's seen, only one of the horrors that drag shadows over his face at odd moments, that chase him into the darkness every time he dares to sleep.
He dreams of dying stars, entire systems winking out of existence, taking their civilizations and secrets with them. Even a Timelord’s sense of scale cannot wrap around the reality of trillions of individual lives all at once; sentient brains don’t allow such things as they would surely drive a person irretrievably insane. In the dreams, he comes close to it.
He dreams of an old friend, the oldest friend, in the moment when everything changed - but he was too young and careless to read the writing on the wall. In the dreams he has all the gut-twisting benefit of hindsight but cannot stop himself from saying the stupid things that end it; the turning away.
He dreams of watching a ship, slow and ponderous, burying itself into the crust of a planet, wreathed in fire that burns more than metal and wood. His own thoughts/actions/fears are syrupy and thick as he works controls, unable to move quickly enough to prevent the inevitable.
He dreams of the universe shining gold through the eyes of a child, tearing her to pieces in front of him with its brutal and terrible love, the intoxicating chaos an inch away from taking control and turning more than just Daleks to dust.
He dreams of walking into an incomprehensible, burning white light in a land with no time and no sense, disappearing into the person whose hand he's held for far too long.
He dreams of falling and falling, a very human nightmare, except that in his version he actually hits the ground - because his memory is perfect and exacting, and the feeling of everything inside you breaking all at once is like no other pain in the universe.
He dreams of a monster-making machine, sucking people in, pulping and mangling them, spitting mutated lumps of flesh out on the other side, single bulbous eyes still blinking in confusion as they're caged up behind a wall of metal and hatred, forever. He dreams of his companions falling in. He dreams of falling in himself.
He dreams of evil from the beginning of time, evil that will end all time, and the feeling that somewhere out there lurks an evil he hasn’t faced yet – something from outside of his vision of the universe, outside of his realm of control. An enemy he cannot work magic on; A day he cannot save.
He dreams of the memory-stealing blackness that's plagued him off and on over his life, a living and breathing mass of darkness that digs hungry claws into his mind, poking at the things he cares most about, the memories of things of which only memories remain. Gallifrey. Susan. Romana. Adric. Jamie and Zoe, alive still somewhere, but beyond his reach. Never stealing, but always threatening to, next time next time next time.
He's been collecting nightmares for as long as he's been traveling, and the collection has become unwieldy, top-heavy, starting to fall in on itself.
The images are becoming noise, nonsense, things that never happened. He’s getting his ends and beginnings confused, forgetting the causal path of his life, jumbling and rearranging. It seems completely logical and right in the way that dreams do, but his subconscious is losing its grip on time, becoming slippery and treacherous with the oily blackness of fear and pain and loss.
He sees Ben and Polly torn to shreds by Fenric’s enslaved Haemovores. He watches the Kaled dome collapse in a firestorm, knowing that he’d sent Charley in there after... something or other, he can never quite remember. Rose thrown into Chase’s lunatic compost machine, and this time, he’s too slow. Susan and Nyssa and Ace, overcome by the lurching swarm of plague-carriers, consumed, lost. Every time he’s felt that cold sting of fear, every time he’s come too close to losing a companion or losing himself, those moments have all been put in a blender and swirled around and mangled. He can’t make sense of them anymore, even in the moments after he wakes up, running one hand down his face to figure out which body he’s in now, what exactly is real.
In his waking hours, he never loses his place in the threads of time for even a moment; feeling along them, sorting, holding them in place. It's all as natural to him as breath is to humans, automatic and taken for granted. But in the dreams, time has started to slip away, and he suffocates in its absence, chokes on its lack of order and sense and causality. The shadow of fear creeps its slow and dangerous path across his brilliance, threatening to cover over it completely, obliterate it forever.
That is, somehow, the greatest nightmare of all.