I had a dream which was not all a dream.
He wasn't sure what that meant, but as he woke from a dream the phrase rolled around in his mind. He vaguely thought that someone that wasn't him thought that thought, or spoke those words. He couldn't quite remember who that would be, maybe a book or a film or a friend. It really didn't matter though, did it? Just a phrase that someone said once, he didn't need to know anything more than that.
A dream stuck out though, more than anything he really could remember. It was just a dream though, and nothing really worth dwelling on either. Dreams come and dissipate because that's the way they work. It was something he knew, though he couldn't tell you why he knew it. He also knew that he should get up and find the kitchen, and he thought he liked coffee, black with extra sugar. He couldn't say if he liked that since forever, but it felt like he did.
There was another feeling as well, a feeling outside of his mind and his body and surrounding him in a way that felt familiar, but couldn't possibly be right. It felt like the walls around him were somehow sad, in a quiet way he couldn't quite figure out. A strange thing though, sadness in the walls. It was strange enough that it could be pushed aside to the corner of his mind where useless notions were sent.
And men forgot their passions in the dread of this their desolation.
He wondered briefly where strange thoughts and words like that might come from, but just as quickly he questioned this, he banished the thoughts and words and strange dreams and despairing walls to the place in his mind where useless things belong. There were more important things to focus on, things like coffee and finding kitchens. So that is what he did, moving himself along and through the motions which felt comfortingly familiar.
He never had a dream.
He never dreamt.
It didn't work like that.
Not for Him.
And when things were over and he was tired and wanted to rest, He let the only companion who stayed---the only one who could---take the bed.
And He could not sleep.
There was envy, that night, while the Companion slept and He could not.
There was also relief.
Because the Companion dreamt and did not die.
It would all make sense later.
He watched him working. Or was it Him? He was the Doctor, he knew that because he (He?) said he (He?) was the Doctor, the Proper Doctor, and of course he (He?) was right.
The Doctor was the one in charge and he was the companion. The idea clicked into place, and was only too right, it must be. Despite the rightness, it still felt wrong, like he should object. He nearly did, but then shut his mouth. There wasn't any real reason to object to the title, so he just pushed down the thoughts inside his mind that told him he wasn't a companion.
There were more important things going on, anyway. They were going somewhere he had never been, and that was exciting. It had to be, because the Doctor's voice and movements were too excited for it to be anything but brilliant. The Doctor bounced around the room, and he watched him (Him?) curiously. He thought maybe he should say something clever or cutting, but he couldn't see any reason for that, so he just watched him (Him?), responding only to his (His?) chatter when addressed directly.
Still it felt like something was missing, but he didn't know quite what that something was. It bothered him for the briefest of moments, but then he went hurtling into the console (It's the console, you remember that! The Doctor had sounded so certain of that, that he couldn't question the fact that he remembered, and he had just nodded and said Of course.) as they landed wherever they were going. Somewhere he had never been, so it was exciting. Too exciting to dwell on useless thoughts, it seemed.
It could not have been more than a week, now, but so much was different. There was too much going on to think about how things had changed in such a short time. To think about the man who had become the Companion. Too much going on to think about how much was slowly changing.
He did not like him. Too much like Himself, he had too many of His memories. They had nothing to talk about. What would they say? They both stood opposite each other in the room, wanting desperately to fill the space with mindless chatter as they both knew well.
"You remember that time that I---"
It made for dull late evenings, except when they fell into vicious argument, which was always an excellent diversion. Afterwards, He would stay up and work on the ship while he dreamt in the soft bed. And when he woke up, he would go to Him and talk about what he had dreamt of. It was something new. A new memory. Something special and unique. Swirled consciousness dripping over his senses as he slept. More than memories, they were new things.
It was enviable, the dreaming. He longed for it, but He was loathe to admit such a thing to him.
They were companions, but they were not equals. Not in His mind.
He sat across from Him in the kitchen, a headache that felt far too numb to be a headache. He ate his dinner, almost silently. His head hurt and he didn't know why, and the more he thought the more it hurt, it seemed.
"You remember that time I --"
The Doctor stopped short and looked up at him curiously.
"Time you what?"
Yes, time he what. What did he do. He did something, but what was it? He thought it had something to do with the stars, but it couldn't be very important or else he would remember.
"It was nothing. Never mind."
He went back to eating. Eating didn't take too much thought. When he didn't have to think too much the strange feeling in his mind seemed to drift into a pleasant nothingness.
"You remember that time Donna --"
Now it was the Doctor's turn to remember something. He looked up from his food, his gaze now on the Doctor, curious.
The Doctor stared at him for a moment, a strange expression which he couldn't quite place. He didn't look away, and the Doctor broke their stare first.
"It's getting late. Best you get some sleep, you'll need it for tomorrow."
He would have argued, but sleep did make sense, and at least with sleep there would be the chance to escape the dull pounding in his head.
He believed, later on, that he should've noticed it sooner. He should've figured, he should've realized.
It was before they ate, when he insisted on trying a recipe and He insisted that he was a far better cook. Naturally, some of her cooking skills must've come out in him, for his copy of the dessert turned out perfect while His had exploded. He began to blame the oven, but His Companion would have none of it.
"There's too much filling," he said, with a teasing tsk, tsk to his voice. "You've put too much in, it can't handle all of it."
He stepped back in that moment, and the dessert in his hands, sitting on a beautiful piece of china (Thomas Jefferson, Christmas gift, chip in the corner), tumbled from his hands. It fell to the floor and shattered, the pieces of the dish embedding themselves in the sticky filling.
"Are you all right?" He asked, stepping forward. When His Companion did not respond, there was a moment of panic.
"What happened?" he asked and he sounded, for the first time that He could remember, to be genuinely confused. Almost lost. "Did you knock it out of my hand?"
"Do I look that childish? You dropped it," He replied with an irritated tone. "You dropped it, after a rather impolite lecture."
An argument was about to form (and He would never admit to enjoying these fights, the fights he used to share with her) and there was that lovely little spark of irritation in the air. It hung for a long moment, then fizzled away. The Companion did not reply quickly enough. In fact, he did not reply for a long moment.
"I think...I'm going to bed."
"Too tired to fight?"
The Companion shot Him a look. "Not tonight, I have a headache."
He thought to argue as His Companion left, but sleep did make sense. Clearly he was tired. That's all it was. Tired.
He knew better.
He knew better.
He knew what it was, so why couldn't he name it? He turned it over in his hands, trying to just think but the slow steady pounding in his head made that too difficult. The more he tried to think the worse it felt. Still, he had the strange knowledge that it had probably been worse yesterday. He probably would've been able to name the object in his hand yesterday, too.
He could feel his heart speed up just a bit, an anxiety sinking in that he knew all too well. An anxiety he knew would no longer exist tomorrow, forgotten with so many other things that once seemed so important. He wasn't sure if this thought was comforting or terrifying. He knew the answer was terrifying, he knew it with his entire being. There was that pounding in his head though, pounding back against even that thought, insisting that it would be so much easier once the pain of it all disappeared, like a bad dream.
A door opened and shut, and the object fell from his hands. He had jumped, startled by the Doctor, startled that there was anything else existing right now outside of himself. It was hard enough getting a grasp on his own mind, the idea of others around him felt foreign right then. He shook his head, readjusting, remembering where he was.
The Doctor looked at him, measuring him up. He hoped the Doctor might not have noticed anything off about his behavior. That was the last thing anyone needed.
The Doctor looked down where the object had fallen, smiling and picking it up.
"That's where it went. I spent half the morning searching for this."
The Doctor waved it in his face to emphasize His point.
"How should I know what you're looking for and what you're not?"
His head hurt too much to argue, but it was the way things went, and he didn't want the Doctor suspecting anything. Apart from that, the statement was true in its own odd way. He didn't know what that was, and he knew that he should know.
"You should know better than to nick my sonic. Humans, bunch of thieves you lot. I think I'm going to have to start locking my things away with you onboard."
"Sonic, right," he said quietly to himself. He knew that, so why didn't he know that now?
The Doctor looked at him concerned. He kicked himself, he was giving himself away. Now the Doctor would know something was off. He would know and then --
"Sorry, sorry about your precious sonic. Don't we have better things to do than sit around with you whinging about me borrowing your things?"
He gave the Doctor a look, then moved around Him to get out of the room.
The Companion looked down at the sonic screwdriver in confusion.
"I've made a new one. You can have that," He was trying to tell him. "Now, don't go off taking things apart, though, I can barely handle you such as it is---"
It's only a moment before the Companion slumped, and He could only barely catch him before he fell. Blimey, He didn't realize how leggy the two of them were. Long and heavy in an awkward way. He lowered the Companion down to the ground.
"I've---I'm fine," the Companion said, but his voice came out thin. It came out quiet. He knew what he was trying to hide.
A Time Lord mind inside of a human brain. The Companion was a cake with too much filling. And He was so sure that his mind could take it. That He wouldn't have to---
Excuses. They've always been excuses. He watched as the Companion developed, earned his own memories, become his own man. He watched and he came to admire him, see him as more than just the inferior thing with His face. He had and yet he'd known this could happen. Hed known and now, well, now it was too late.
"My head. It's killing me."
He couldn't tell if that was a memory, leaking out, or the way the Companion felt.
"I know. I'll fix it, I promise."
He couldn't lift him, so He stayed. Let him sleep. Let him dream one more dream.
He wakes up for the first time fully refreshed. It's a strange feeling, like he hadn't slept in weeks or months or forever. He had a headache once upon a time, but he couldn't remember why. There was a minor nagging feeling there, but the sense of calm seemed to overshadow that.
He nearly bounced out of his room to the kitchen, making himself a cup of coffee. His happiness faded a bit, there was some sort of sadness, he could feel it around him, in her walls almost. A bittersweet sort. He laid a hand on her walls, a soft stroke and then got back to the business at hand. Coffee. Black, extra sugar.
He looked up as the Doctor entered.
He grinned brightly at Him.
The Doctor barely looked at him, that same sort of feeling he felt in the TARDIS resonating in the Doctor.
"Yes, I slept brilliantly, thank you for asking. Best night of sleep I can remember in fact."
He watched as the Doctor moved around the kitchen, not saying anything quite yet. That wasn't right.
"Did something happen?"
The Doctor finally looked at him, a strange panic resonating in his expression.
"You two, you're both, I don't know. I don't know what has gotten you two so depressed. You all right, need to talk about it or anything?"
The Doctor sniffed then began moving around the kitchen again.
"I'm always all right."
He sighed, focusing on his coffee.
"Course. Well, seeing as you don't want to talk about it, whatever it is I'm sure it will all work out. Things usually do, one way or another."
He was about to say something else to the Doctor, but the Doctor beat him to it, prattling on about their next destination ceaselessly. That was a little more familiar, although he couldn't help worrying about Him just a bit.
“I’m sorry - “
“You’ll die if you don’t. Do you understand that, die? No second chance, no regeneration, just death.”
“I don’t care. Please.”
“It’s not like - it won’t be like Donna. You’ll have time. You can stay. There’s no danger -”
“There’s no danger of me remembering. Exactly. Just decay, over and over and over until there’s nothing left.”
“Have it your way. You’re your own person, you can decide for yourself.”
“Good, thank you That’s um, that’s good. Brilliant even. Fantas - “
Memory is a fragile thing.
It was not even as simple as computer memory or hardware. No, no, the memory of the mind, the memory of a human mind was very fragile.
He was not impatient. He knew what he was doing. He'd done it before.
Fingertips to temple. Slicing the tendrils that hold the memories together.
A Time Lord was one hundred times a human in mental capacity.
Nearly 900 years had to go.
He pulled it away. The duplicated memories. The copies. The unimportant things. Recreational mathematics and subbinary star systems and the color of David Bowie's eyes.
The memories vanished. He felt like a surgeon.
Not enough. Other unimportant things. Boring planets, finite planets, planets that were visited more than once. Planets that were visited once but weren't too terribly interesting.
The memories vanished. He felt like a butcher.
Still not enough. More things. Important things needed to go, now. Historical dates and battles in War, those can go. He stumbles over a few things that, really, He did not want to share anyway, so He takes those. Old lovers, those can go. Guilt over the War, that can go, but guilt over the Daleks, that can stay. He picked and chose.
The memories vanished. He felt a bit like a God.
The thought made Him sick.
He'd taken enough. The Companion slept. He had taken much from him, his beginnings and most of his present. The Companion had neither youth nor age. But, as it were, an after dinner's sleep, dreaming on both.
It was a quote the Companion will not remember anymore.
Memory is a fragile thing.
He knew it would be a different experience with a human mind. Now it was beyond the basic where did I put my trainers variety. Now it was chunks of things he knew by heart that seemed to disappear without a warning. His head too, his head it was killing him, constantly.
He lost track of things, and not just objects. Time seemed to slip too, there were moments when he lost track of himself, minutes or hours perhaps lost. Most of the time the Doctor missed those moments, which was a good thing.
He knew what He would do if He found out. That couldn't happen, he couldn't let Him. He could bare the headaches, he could bare the way things slipped away like sand. Well, handle was a bit strong, because it felt like it was getting harder and harder to keep his composure, to keep himself moving and thinking the way that functioning people are meant to behave.
He had to keep up appearances though, because while it was painful this entire process, physically and mentally and every other way, the thought of it being cut away to save him was even more horrifying.
Except he wasn't very good at pretending anymore. Even that took too much focus. He remembers a cat, and it had to have been Donna's, because it wasn't the Doctors. Gone for a week and they finally found burrowed in some bushes up the hill from the house. Her dad explained it had gone off, had gotten hurt somehow and just crawled off to die. He (she?) didn't understand it at the time, but he was maybe beginning to realize the appeal in that. At least there was some peace that way, at least it was on his own terms.
The only problem is the way the Doctor was looking at him now, he could see the pieces falling into place. The Doctor had been talking about something, but he couldn't say what, his mind drifting off. The Doctor knows, He knows and now...now his mind was having a bit too much trouble focusing on even keeping him standing.
"I've - I'm fine."
It's a lie. They both know it, and he would think to argue now, but he feels exhausted, and his head, it's killing him. He hopes he didn't say that part out loud, but he really isn't sure about most things these days.
He wasn't sure about anything anymore.
There was a guilt He felt as He sat at the console. The ship around Him tried to drain the pain, but she couldn't pull it all. She empathized. She put soothing white noise into the room of the sleeping companion. She kept the halls warm and softly lit. She was trying to help.
It wasn't enough.
He took the memory of where the coffee was, but the Companion loved coffee. He set it out. He set out the sugar. Did he take the memory of how to make coffee? So much happened at once. He'd have to stand and wait and see. He made himself a cup of tea and waited. Stared at the walls.
Nothing worked out, did it? Just like with her. Just when He thought He really found a friend...
He couldn't look at the Companion. He couldn't face him. He couldn't face the missing spaces.
The Companion said he'd never slept so well. And why wouldn't he? He didn't have the same things holding him down that he did the night before. But he wouldn't remember that. Of course he wouldn't.
"You all right, need to talk about it or anything?" It was the Companion's voice, but there was something missing from it. Something solid, something real.
But he was alive.
He was alive, and that was what mattered, He reminded Himself.
"I'm always all right."
There's been something missing, something he couldn't quite figure out until now. He blames denial, it's the only thing that can be blamed. He should've known, after Donna, he should've known. It's odd the way realization hits a person. Sometimes something as simple as rubbing in a victory seemed to be the catalyst for him.
Too much filling.
That was it, wasn't it? That was why - too much and not enough space. He lasted a little longer than Donna, he had the Doctor's DNA somewhere inside him, but the spaces were still too small, still too limited. There was more room than there was for Donna, but in the end it would just take longer until it all exploded and then -
He looked down startled as the china plate (such a nice one too, now if only he remembered where they got it maybe he could replace it) that was in his hands only a second ago lie shattered on the floor.
"What happened?" he asks, and he feels lost right then, like a little boy lost in a shop looking for his mum and dad. "Did you knock it out of my hand?"
The Doctor, he's so annoyed at the accusation. There's a strange and desperate relief at that. At least He doesn't know, the Doctor can't know. There is silence, the Doctor must've said someting and now it's his turn to reply. He needs to say something, he needs to talk, say something now, just....
"I think...I'm going to bed."
That would make everything better, good solid sleep. It wouldn't of course, but at least...
"Too tired to fight?"
He was aware enough to still shoot Him a look. He almost fought back, but his head and really his entire body just felt so very tired. "Not tonight, I have a headache."
He didn't wait to see if the Doctor argued, he just needed to be alone for a little while. At least until he figured out what happened next.
"No, that's your sonic. I remember a time when you weren't this stupid, you know?" The words weren't meant to be callous, he was just frustrated by the day is all, but He regretted them the moment He said them. There was a time, not all that long ago. And "stupid" was too simple a term.
He didn't wait to see if the Companion heard Him, He just stormed out of the room. This was ridiculous. He only put the damn thing down for a minute, and now it was missing.
Little things like this, they irritated Him. Things out of place when He wasn't looking. Things going wrong when He didn't pay attention. And the Companion still wasn't...still wasn't quite. What should've been a cauterization in his mind seemed to still weep and pour out. He wasn't the same man that He knew.
But he was alive.
He was alive. And that had become a mantra in His mind. Alive. Alive. It was okay as long as he was alive.
He turned down another corridor and threw open a door to see the Companion. The sonic dropped to the ground and the Companion looked, for all the world, like a rabbit caught in a trap.
"That's where it went."
The Companion looked at Him in confusion.
"I spent half the morning looking for this." There was a silent plea in His voice. Remember?
But there was no memory. Not even irritation at being called stupid. Once, there was fire and anger and frustration. Once, he didn't want to admit that the Companion was an equal because of the challenge he posed. Now, there was a quiet fear from him, always. It hung heavy in the ship.
He shook his head and put on a well-worn mask. Happy irritation, nothing was wrong. He was all right. He was always all right. "You should know better than to nick my sonic. Humans, bunch of thieves you lot. I think I'm going to have to start locking my things away with you onboard."
"Sonic, right." The Companion didn't remember.
That realization hit harder than any insult.
Sometimes he didn't remember, little trivia here or there. Cramming a Time Lord memory into a human body, it was bound to happen. It still bothered him though, that sense of forgetting the things he once remembered. It was nothing major though, nothing life shattering. Just a story here or there. He never let on though, he just pretended. Pretending was something he still remembered.
He can't let on to the Doctor any of this. There is a sense of pride to protect. Saying he doesn't remember that time with the bird and the .... oh he's not even sure, but there was something, and he should remember and he just doesn't. The way he might forget the name of a star or a planet visited centuries ago. The Doctor seems to insist on filling the silence with recollections of so long ago. He wonders if He really does know, and perhaps is trying to catch him off guard.
"You remember that time that I---"
At least that seemed enough to stop the conversation. That was good. What wasn't good was the awareness of little things lost. Still it wasn't the larger things, he still had those. Maybe he should've been grateful. It could've been like Donna. That still hurt. He knew it always would because it was something he couldn't possibly forget. But that was probably what he once thought about that constellation he couldn't quite recall anymore, and that ocean on some world somewhere a hundred million miles from planet Earth. But He was the one who thought He'd never forget, and He hasn't. It was the difference between him and the Doctor. Memories make a Time Lord, so what does it mean when they slip away so unexpectedly.
Still, he knew enough, he remembered enough. Enough to hold onto some piece of himself.
Yet every time He recalled a story he couldn't remember, everytime he pretended it was an old story he still knew by heart, it hit harder than any insult the Doctor could ever throw his way.
"You were great, once," He said, sitting on the edge of the bed while His Companion slept. His voice was quieter than the Companion's snores, and wistful. "Better than great. You were brilliant. All of time and space once and you lost it, but you still saved worlds. You did so much. Oh, if you could remember."
The Companion was still losing memory. It was like a wound that wouldn't heal. He didn't know the Companion's biology as well as He thought he did. So much was gone of him already and now...well, now so much more was gone. He was hollowing out, becoming a shell. Forgetting that he cared about forgetting.
He knew how he felt. Inside, He is hollow, too. Eaten up by guilt. He took away his choice because he thought it would save him. He knew, at the time, that it would save him. But it didn't. And now, he's going to die. Or go comatose. Where he is, now, it's not too terribly far from the same thing. The Companion has so little of Him in him. Even less of her.
The Doctor pressed his fingertips to the side of the Companion's temple and closed his eyes, thinking about the first time he looked at the stars. It was a memory he took away, when the moment seemed so insignificant, and he regretted taking it. There was no backup copy right now, no replacement memory, and it grew more distant and faded as it trickled from his mind into his dying companion's. Eventually, all that was left was the knowledge that a childhood memory had been there with a small hole to show its loss. The Companion sighed in his sleep, and turned over.
"It's something you did, once," He told His sleeping Companion. "A long time ago."
Please. Anything. Just come back. Please.
In the morning, He made the tea for Himself and made the coffee for his Companion, who no longer remembered how he liked it or how it should be prepared. At lunch, they went to Brazil. By dinner, He took the ship around to the falling Nebula. He didn't know why, but it was somewhere He had programmed in. He had a distant memory of watching that star cluster as a child. Distant, faint. The skyline outside the doors was breathtaking.
They left, went to the kitchen. Made dinner, sat across from each other in silence, each thinking about what they had seen.
The Companion spoke first. "You remember that time I --"
The Doctor's hearts leapt. It sounded familiar. It sounded the way he used to be.
"Time you what?"
It always came back to time.
In one moment, He saw the Companion He knew, possibly feeding off of the memory He sacrificed for him. The next---
"It was nothing. Never mind."
The Doctor never had a dream.
He never dreamt.
It didn't work like that.
Not for Him. But somehow it did for him.
He didn't sleep, he dreamt.
He dreamed about the worlds he had once visited when he was still the Proper Doctor, worlds he might not remember in the morning, but worlds that were oh so real in his mind.
He dreamt of places He'd never been or she'd never been, and they might not even exist except as a strange whisper inside his mind.
He dreamt and that meant he earned a bed, because the Doctor didn't even sleep.
But dreams weren't always wonderful.
Sometimes he had nightmares, too.
Sometimes it was the Daleks. Sometimes it was leaving Donna. Sometimes it was giant spiders. Sometimes it was War or loneliness. Those were all his past though, or His past. They belonged to someone.
Those sort of nightmares he could handle.
The ones that proved much more difficult were those that played out the swirling thoughts he knew were the possibilities of what could and should be.
Sometimes he saw himself as not himself. As something less than whole. Hollow, empty.
Shape without form, shade without colour, paralysed force, gesture without motion.
It was a quote he knew now and he knows he'll forget soon enough.
Sometimes though, dreams were kinder than reality. They could prove to be a sweet release. They could also be kind enough to turn the nightmares into a haze he couldn't remember.
He liked dreaming. He liked it for the dreams he could remember and the nightmares he could forget.
Maybe forgetting wasn't always so terrible.
There were no dreams.
There were no memories.
There was the shell of a man who looked just the way He did.
Agreeing with anything because the thought to disagree never occurred to him.
Innocent, in a way.
Lost, in every other.
Things needed to be fixed.
Someone needed to be made better.
And He was the Doctor. He made people better.
He wanted to ask the man who was no longer the Companion if he was afraid.
If he could even, after all this, understand fear.
The Companion would've rather died than this. Wouldn't he?
The man who was no longer the Companion slept, now, but there were no memories to dream about.
"And men forgot their passions in the dread of this their desolation," the Doctor said. Byron. 1837. Good year.
He considered the man in the bed, and the pillow in his hands.
The ship's walls cocooned around them, sad and familiar.
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Fandom: Doctor Who
Word Count: 5,476
Concept by and co-authored with the unbelievably brilliant handysparehand