Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

In death's dream kingdom

'The Hollow Men' – T.S. Eliot

***

"To sleep, perchance to dream-

ay, there's the rub."

Hamlet (III, i, 65-68)—William Shakespeare

***

The Doctor didn't sleep much--how could he, when all of his cells were constantly being reborn, filling him with energy? Sometimes he thought he would go mad with the energy that boiled through his system, forcing him to do, do, do--he poured energy into just being so that it would have something to do. It made him a nuisance to the people around him, of course--just yesterday an inexplicably cranky Donna had told him to sit down before she amputated his legs.

He had sat down. Then he had started fidgeting. He still wasn't sure what he'd done to warrant the tea kettle on his head.

But he didn't mind the jittery energy steaming out of his cells--he needed it. When he sat still he was so tired. So ancient. If he sat still he could feel himself burning, like a star--like a red giant, slowly eating away at itself, burning itself up until all of its insides were scorched away and it collapsed in on itself...

So he didn't sleep much, generally. And it was just as well. Sometimes when he was asleep the TARDIS got...ideas. She could be pushy, but she was also sneaky, and there was no way to be sure of what she might do, if she picked up on his dreams.

The Doctor made a point of not dreaming.

Usually.

Today was different. Today they had landed, accidentally, in an obscure, tiny little county on Earth, 1300s (give or take a century or two), a place that history would forget--Florish? Flaren?--and run into a man with six fingers on his right hand. One thing led to another, and the Doctor had ended up strapped to a brilliant (if crude) cell degenerating torture device. It had been very interesting--the six fingered count had been very clever--but having the regenerative powers of your cells sucked out hurt, even if you were having an interesting conversation while it was going on.

Donna, once she had found him (a little hampered by the dress and rather flattering bodice that someone had squeezed her into), had needed to half drag him back to the TARDIS, even after she got both hearts going again. On the plus side, he would be fine--eventually. On the negative side, his cells had had their energy forcibly sucked out, instead of burning it off, and they were struggling to gather the energy to continue regenerating themselves at all.

The fact of the matter was that the Doctor was exhausted.

He had sent Donna to bed--after finally resorting to the sonic screwdriver on her dress, when neither of them could figure out the complicated lacings--and waited until she was out of sight before he collapsed onto the jump seat, shaking with the effort of keeping himself upright.

"All right," he mumbled. "All right." He cocked an eyebrow at the engine core. "Don't do anything silly, just because I'm not looking," he said sternly. The lights on the console blinked innocently. "I'm watching you," he muttered, and then he slumped over on the seat and was asleep. The TARDIS hummed peacefully to itself, until heavy snores began drifting up from the heap of sprawled limbs. The console lights flickered giddily and gently, softly, the engine began to sing to itself as it picked a direction and went for it.

The Doctor woke up when he was halfway between the tattered jump seat and the floor--just in time to fully appreciate the impact between his face and the grate of the deck.
"Nrrgh!" He sat up and prodded gingerly at his nose--maybe eventually he'd have a regeneration that had learned not to protrude so much. The TARDIS settled itself with a smug little thump. The Doctor scrambled to his feet and checked the monitor. Outside of the TARDIS was a strange, shifting landscape. No little trigger in his brain told him where he was--he reached inside for his awareness of the time vortex, to place himself in time, at least, and found...nothing. There was a great stillness where there should have been a hurricane.

The Doctor staggered. He slumped against the console, which beeped comfortingly. "What have you done?" he whispered. "Out of reach of the vortex...it shouldn't be possible." The TARDIS beeped at him again, and he swung around to scowl at it. "You are meddling again," he said.

The replying hum did not sound repentant.

The Doctor glanced warily at the door to the hallway, but the jolt that woke him didn't seem to have affected Donna--honestly, she could sleep through a supernova. "All right," he said, feeling for the reassuring lump of the sonic screwdriver in his pocket. "Let's go see where you've landed us."

He nudged the door open and stuck his head out. He sniffed. Then he stuck his tongue out. The air tasted strange...bitter, almost. And it smelled...it smelled like...something. Something that he should remember. The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS, and nudged at the ground with the toe of his trainer. It looked like dirt. He bounced experimentally. It was solid like dirt, with plenty of gravity, except...
He couldn't feel it moving. It wasn't revolving. It wasn't orbiting. It didn't even feel round. It just...was. He kicked at the dirt again. Did it...glitter?

The landscape was strange, too. Everything held still while he was looking at it, but everything else--everything on the fringes, everything on the peripheral, seemed to be shifting...until he looked at it. The TARDIS had landed just inside a pair of gates. The Doctor walked over and prodded them with a fingertip. "Horn," he muttered. "Horn and ivory." He looked up at the arch of the gateway. "Interesting."

"It is indeed," said a voice behind him--a dark, resonant voice. "It has been many ages since one of your kind has stepped through my gates."

The Doctor swung around. A man--or what looked like a man--was sitting cross legged on a rock nearby. A rock that hadn't been there when he looked before. The man was pale and thin, with a messy shock of black hair and eyes that seemed to vanish in darkness. Black robes swirled around him.

"Your gates," the Doctor said. "They remind me of something." He paused. "What do you mean, my kind?"

"The Time Lords," the man said--and then he called the Doctor by a name, a name that he had not heard spoken aloud...not even to himself...a name that he had kept shut up in a silent place and never let out, not even when an innocent French girl had looked into his mind, and this man had plucked it from him without any effort. He slumped back against the gates, staggered. Between one dizzied blink and another, the man was standing over him.

"I apologize, Doctor," he said. "I was not thinking. It has been so long."

"Who are you?"

The man cocked his head. "Don't you know?"

The Doctor stared at him. He squinted. "Noooo," he said, eyes widening. His sonic screwdriver clicked on of its own accord, scanning the stranger eagerly. The pale man didn't look amused. The screwdriver let out an alarmed bleep and turned itself off again. "You are," he said. "You really are. I thought you were a legend, this is brilliant."

This time Dream did look amused. "There are many who say that about you as well, Time Lord."

"I suppose that's true," the Doctor said, "but...you're an anthropomorphic personification. It's all too...abstract. I can wrap my brain around quite a lot, but this is...well, really quite a lot." He sat down on a conveniently materialized rock.

"Is it?" Dream said. "More than absorbing the Time Vortex?"

"Well, no, but...I didn't believe in you. I'm not used to suddenly believing in things."

"But I do not require your belief. The living know without needing to believe that I exist, and I do. I am not believed in. I only am, Doctor."

"So you are." They sat quietly on their respective rocks.

"You have nothing to fear in my kingdom, Time Lord. You need not dream of them if you don't wish it," Dream said.

"What do you mean?" the Doctor said softly.

Dream didn't answer immediately. "I knew a Rose once," he said.

"Oh?"

"Yes. She was a vortex."

"Ah."

Dream stood from his rock, his robes rippling and settling around him. The Doctor stood up too. "I think we will see each other again, Doctor," he said. He paused. "You might try to get some sleep occasionally. Your friend would appreciate it."

The Doctor blinked. "What, Donna?"

Dream smiled. "No, Doctor. You did know that a TARDIS can dream?"

"Huh," the Doctor said.

"Good-bye, Doctor," Dream said.

"Hm?" the Doctor began, busy thinking.

"I said," the sharp voice above him said, "you've been asleep for ages, and the TARDIS keeps beeping at me!"

There was a jolt. The Doctor woke up when he was halfway between the tattered jump seat and the floor--just in time to fully appreciate the impact between his face and the grate of the deck.
"Nrrgh!" He sat up and prodded gingerly at his nose. "Maybe eventually I'll have a regeneration that has learned not to protrude so much," he muttered.

"I tried to tell you," Donna said. "It's meddling."

"So it is," the Doctor said, still feeling his nose. Had it always been this lumpy? He paused and took a good whack at the console with his mallet. The TARDIS beeped reproachfully and stopped rolling about. He plopped onto the jump seat next to Donna.

"Sweet dreams?" she asked. "I don't think I've ever seen you sleep so deeply." She paused. "Actually, I've never seen you sleep at all."

"Hm?" the Doctor began, busy thinking. "Oh yes. Dreams."

***

Doctor Who belongs to the BBC

Sandman belongs to DC Comics and Neil Gaiman

All errors belong to me.