Story: Hearts and Moons Recall the Truth
Previous Chapter: Seventeen
Summary: A cold and beautiful world, a market, a bolt of silk, and three people walking through the doors of their memories.
Author's Notes: In which the Doctor is forcibly enlightened through silk, and the experience may be life-changing.
Edited by: Partly edited by buckaroobob , aka /dr_whuh, bless him. For a number of reasons, the final version was unedited, save for a read through by my First Born. All mistakes and emotional inconsistencies are mine.
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.
(Twelve hours in. Gauges measure and catheters invade and intravenously-delivered lamia insults a system for which its delivery could not possibly calibrate. Bright light in a cool metal and porcelain room. Light filters pale blue through dark blue cloth into pale blue eyes. Eyes see nothing of the light.)
The sun was still bright, the wind very cold, when the Doctor found Rose Tyler and the Captain sitting silent and lost in the Memory Market of Abela Fort’leza, a length of blue silk cloth stretched between them.
It had taken hours for him to find them.
He’d awakened with a start, flinching in anticipation of Inverno’s next move and craning his head to spot the Rani. Neither of them were there; he lay alone in a white room.
Then he had blinked and realized he was in Sampaio’s dirty foyer. Inverno and the Rani receded to inconsequentiality as he leapt to his feet. That should have been his first clue, but he ignored it.
Instead he’d searched the oddly empty house, expecting to see Rose — expecting to see Jack for that matter, until he remembered with sharp discomfort that he had left Jack back in the TARDIS. He’d fancied he heard Her disapproving hum in his head as he headed to the front door and threw it open on a day filled with cold blue light.
He couldn’t quite figure out how long he had been asleep or unconscious although it must have been hours, since darkness had given way to the light of day.
Nor could he quite make sense, once he ran from the house and onto an empty pavement, of how he so easily maneuvered through the various alleys and streets of the city without Sampaio guiding him. He knew he should be worried about that as well; that, and the way people around him seemed to blink in and out of his perception. But Rose’s absence, and Jack’s, concerned him far more.
They were in danger and he was sick with worry. Someone had obviously abducted Rose. He tried not to think of what she might be going through, and castigated himself for not being more careful.
Jack was in trouble, too. He knew it, even though that made no sense at all. Jack was safely back at the TARDIS and She would see to him, wouldn’t She? But he couldn’t shake his apprehension. What if Jack got lost in the TARDIS, what if he strayed into some of Her stranger, more perilous depths?
When the Doctor had abruptly found himself free of the warren of side streets and standing right in the middle of the Memory Market without a clear memory of how he’d managed it — when without warning he had seen his companions directly in front of him, sitting together with their backs against the central square fountain like puppets with their strings cut and not one of the suddenly inescapable crowd paying one iota of attention to them — he’d realized that everything around him was an illusion of some sort.
He was certain it was the silk. Reasonably certain.
And yet ….
Above his head, Lizhbau’s three moons were pale hints in the faded blue sky of the planet’s high summer. The wind blew frayed and icy ribbons of cloud across them in a fruitless attempt to hide their coming brilliance, as this side of the planet hurtled toward its brief dusk and spectacular night.
Behind him and beyond the city, snow-capped mountains faded with the afternoon light; the cold rivers that branched around the city tumbled into great ravines beyond its walls. Inside the walls, lamps flared to life. Slender trees along the avenues and boulevards of Abela Fort’leza cast shadows, their feathery leaves moving with the constant wind and the shadows dancing across the walls and windows of the market.
Music spilled from some nearby café, providing a final lovely touch. As the artists told the tourists, as the tourists told their friends when they returned home: “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the market in cold Lizhbau’s great city.”
It was a dream, but he could feel the wind blow against his cheek and the back of his neck. He could hear the echo of wind chimes dancing to its rhythm. He could hear snippets of conversation, phrases of song and melody floating on it through open windows in the buildings around the square.
He had to be hallucinating, but he smelled the market; perfumes and onions, sweet oils and sour vinegars and meat grilling and gasoline fumes and charcoal and the sweat of animals and people.
It was surely lamia poisoning him … and yet, he felt the ground beneath his feet; paving stones, and under them dirt, then vast deep miles of rock that surrendered to fire, and turned in thrall to the harsh blue sun above him.
And he felt time as he always did, radiating and whirling like light or tides around everything in the universe. Time had never played him false, had it?
Everything around him and inside him was increasingly palpable, insisting upon its own substance. The harder he tried to find his way out of illusion, the more everything rang true to more senses than humans could apprehend.
So perhaps it was not a dream, he thought, and that made his hearts clench in fear, his head pound with anger and frustrated self-loathing. Because if it was real, then he was here, looking at his companions, and they had been taken from him.
His breath hitched. He couldn’t deny the evidence of his senses, even if they were, somehow, playing him false. He kneeled before Rose and Jack and stretched out his hand to touch Rose’s cheek, Jack’s hand, but pulled back at the last minute. If he touched them, and felt their skin hot against his fingers … who could tell what would happen to him? Or to them?
He should focus on waking up. He should get to the TARDIS, bring Her here and rescue them. He should do something, he knew, but he could not bear to leave them alone and unprotected.
“I can’t tell if I’m here,” the Doctor whispered to them. He heard his own desperation. “I can’t tell if you’re real. I think you’re in my head, but I don’t want to risk the chance that I’m wrong. I can’t risk losing you—”
They gave no sign of hearing him. He fought panic and something else, as his throat grew thick and he looked away from their sightless eyes.
He couldn’t lose them.
He told himself he’d felt this before, with others. He’d lost too many. All of them. All of them garnered his affection and respect, sometimes his love. All of them claimed some small or large part of his hearts. From Zoe to Turlough, from Jamie to Sarah Jane, to Ace, to Fitz … they had always taken parts of him away with them when they left.
It had always hurt to see their beautifully, brutally evanescent lives part from his, but in the old days there had always been someone else to come along to capture his interest, to inspire him to be something better. The hurts of goodbyes could heal when someone else said hello. He’d always been able to live with the one as long as he had the other.
After the War he had tried to avoid becoming close to anyone else, for fear of what chaos and destruction he could bring down on them. Death had always trailed in his wake, and he could no longer take shelter from that. Even now he fought not to see Romana’s eyes pleading with him, not to hear the vanished voices of those he had loved and hated so dearly, all lost at his hands — his hands, bloodstained hands, oh how could he live with it, why couldn’t he bring himself to die—
Enough! He almost snarled, and resisted the self-loathing. He couldn’t die. Not with Rose here, not with … with Jack here. He forced himself to look back to them and was stunned at his own yearning.
These two were precious to him.
Rose was so much more now than the curious shop girl he’d pulled from the Auton’s grasp. She was fearless and open to the often fearful universe he showed her. She was kind and empathetic, with a backbone of steel, a wicked grin, and a fiercely intuitive intelligence. She never hesitated to stare him down and tell him when he was wrong; withal she trusted him deeply and completely. She smiled her glorious smile and laughed with him as if he wasn’t a damaged and homeless wanderer, but someone who mattered to her.
As for Jack … for all the jibes and insults he aimed at Jack, he’d come to realize that the Captain’s matinee smiles and guile-rich machinations hid a soldier’s honorable heart and a boy’s desperate need for support and respect. The one time conman already watched him with more trust than he deserved, and lifted his spirits with every flirtatious glance and quip. He was indeed larger on the inside, and he could no longer imagine the TARDIS without him.
And look what he’d given them in return.
Somehow, something he had done had turned them into silent marionettes. He was afraid that somewhere inside their heads they knew he was there and blamed him rightly for their situation. He could not abide that possibility, but knew it was true.
He’d done this. He’d surrendered to the lure of Rose’s excitement, had both led and followed as they walked right into an ambush. He’d belittled the Captain, trying to resist how Jack made him feel, then left him alone in a place beyond his understanding.
“I’m so sorry I did this, I promise I’ll save you,” he said, looking from deep and vacant brown eyes to unseeing blue. “I can fix this, but you have to help me do it. I need you to hear me. Can you? Can you hear me?”
His senses would not turn off; he heard Rose’s and Jack’s strong young hearts beating first too fast and then too slowly. He heard their shallow breaths, and felt the blood running ever more sluggishly in their veins as the lamia contaminating it paralyzed them, and the silk they held between them erased who they were.
“Come back, please come back,” he whispered, while around him flowed a never-ending parti-colored stream of people: laughing, talking, coming by foot, in carriages, by two-wheeled carts and floaters, all looking for bargains, or heading home after finding them.
“Rose, Captain … I need you, I need ….”
What did he need? He stared at the sky, trying to find the words that would bring them back to him.
“I can’t … what you’ve done for me, what you’ve ….”
“I —” He stumbled. As he tried to catch some sort of emotional balance, the words came before he could catch them and force them back behind his teeth.
“I love you.”
He shook, stunned at what he’d said, terrified they had heard. Terrified because what he said was true, and he hadn’t known it before now and how could that have happened? And how could he live with it?
It couldn’t hurt, something whispered in the back of his head. It couldn’t hurt to be honest with them, because surely this was illusion and they weren’t there to hear him.
Yes it could, though. He knew it could.
He always did it, he never learned. How could he be so old and never have become wise?
What possible good could his love do for anyone? Why would anyone ever accept such useless and dangerous desire?
Did he not remember what happened to anyone and anything, he cared for?
He gasped at the pain, at the fearful, longing tenderness that burned through every rationalization and barrier he’d raised against it.
It burned in his mind and in his hearts; brighter, hotter, and more dangerous than the lamia. It threatened to consume him.
Perhaps, he thought in his agony, he should let it.
(Twelve and a half hours, or maybe thirteen. The silk drapes beautifully, making the gurney a catafalque. The cloth glows purple and orange with the light from beneath it. Somewhere, perhaps a mile away, perhaps closer, the flames ignite inside another mind.)
(This was a difficult chapter for me. It was always intended to be a crucial one, but I realized that it required a slight but perhaps not unsignificant change to the beginning of the story (Constant Reader may note the callback to the prologue in this. Constant Reader may also note the change I've undertaken. My apologies if it gives anyone pause; I've decided it better suits the way the story has developed.)