Summary: They can say he existed because they were there, if only in dreams. [Major spoilers for Cold Blood]
I have always been amazed at the way an ordinary observer lends so much more credence and attaches so much more importance to waking events than to those occurring in dreams... Man... is above all the plaything of his memory.
-Andre Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism," 1924
The Doctor wasn't happy.
Of course, it wasn't like he wore his feelings on his sleeve all the time, but she was getting to know his face. To an outside observer, he would appear no different, but Amy knew something was wrong.
There wasn't any subtle way to go about it, or if there was she wasn't patient enough for it, so she just came out and asked: "Hey, what's with the face?"
He glanced at her irritably. "You tell me, you're the one who hit it with a cricket bat."
"That was over two years ago," Amy countered. He hadn't even bruised, anyway. "Don't change the subject."
He looked at her, and no, he wasn't angry, he was just…tired? There was definitely something off about him. "Which was what, again?" he asked.
"Last I checked, it's still there."
"There's something wrong with it."
"Good enough for you to snog the daylights out of, if I recall." The memory only gave him an instant of smugness, before she saw it give way to even more sadness.
"Okay, you are telling me what is going on," she insisted. "Right now. Because you keep looking at me like…like, I don't know."
"Like you've lost something."
"Yes!" Amy agreed instantly. "But…why?"
"Because you have," he told her.
Amy smiled. "Don't be so dramatic! What could I have possibly lost?"
He didn't answer her, he just fingered something in his pocket she couldn't see.
"What've you got there?" she asked. "Is that what I've 'lost'?"
"It's nothing," he said, and pulled his hand away. His pocket didn't even show a bulge—like the TARDIS, they didn't seem to lack for space.
"Yeah, like what I lost," Amy said. "Nothing." She paused, mid-grin, and touched her cheek gingerly. "H-Hey, Doctor?" she asked, her voice suddenly shaking. "Why am I crying?"
He didn't even exactly look at her, his gaze just sort of skirted around her, like how the perception filter makes you look at everything but the TARDIS when seen from the outside. Like something you see, but don't want to see. "That's probably my fault," he said. "I tried to help you remember."
Amy wiped at her face. "This is…this is ridiculous. You're saying I just forgot something?" she hesitated, at the look in his eyes, "someone?"
The Doctor muttered something under his breath that sounded like, "You're probably better off," and turned to the controls. "Don't worry about it," he said, loud and confident. "You're absolutely right, there's nothing to worry about. Come over to this star chart, pick a planet, any planet. If you pick one without a breathable atmosphere, we'll get to use spacesuits and everything."
Amy shook her head. "No…you can't just do that! Tell me. It's going to drive me mad if you don't."
"You wouldn't believe me if I did."
"Fine, try me."
"More like you can't believe me. Because, in a sense, for you it would be a lie, because for you it never happened. Your timeline has been rewritten, and it's probably not good for you to exist in two timelines at once."
"How many timelines do you exist in?"
"That's different, I'm a Time Lord."
"So, I have a third strand of DNA which is time-sensitive. I can wrap my mind around these kinds of things. Humans have…a different coping mechanism."
"Forgetting," she finished for him.
"That's not the only reason you wanted to forget, probably," he said. "It...hurt."
Amy pieced together the parts of the puzzle she already had. "So, there was…something. Or someone. Or several someones. And I changed history so that it never happened, or they were never born? But no, we were in the future. Unless I met them even further in the future. Or…" she focused. It was hard for her to grasp this concept, so she knew she was on to something, something her brain didn't want to understand. "The clerics. One by one, they went into the crack." She covered her mouth. "There was a crack there. You reached into it. But I didn't lose you. What did I lose?"
The Doctor hesitated. "Amy, what's your earliest memory?" he asked.
She thought on it. "When I was four. The neighbors had a big dog, that always ran up to the fence and barked at me when I went by. I was afraid of it."
He smirked. "Amelia Pond, afraid? Of a dog?"
"I was only four," she said defensively. "And that was before the crack in my wall."
"Do you really remember it?" he asked. "Think harder."
"Of course I remember it. My mum used to tell me all about it. It made it hard for her to take me anywhere, because the fence ran right by the walk, and the dog barked at us the whole way from the pavement to the door. She had to carry me into the house, and make a second trip if she had any packages." She paused. "I thought about that a lot, because after she died, I treasured any memory of her."
"So, you don't actually remember it happening. You remember remembering your mum telling you it happened."
"I don't know. I can sort of remember it," Amy said, uncertainty creeping in.
"What color was the dog?"
"I…I just remember feeling scared."
"How old were you when it stopped? Did the dog move away, or did you, or did you stop being afraid of it?"
"I don't know. I just have this one sort of snapshot."
"How big was the dog?"
Amy held her hand up at about waist-height.
"Have you ever seen a dog that big?"
Amy's hand lowered to a more reasonable height. "Lay off me, I was four."
"You constructed a memory. It's probably built mostly on fact, on a real memory somewhere deep down of feeling afraid, and of your mum's stories. You told yourself the story again and again so you wouldn't forget it, and you've reconstructed a facsimile of it, but you don't actually remember being there, with the dog. You might have even added details, over the years, to breathe new life into the fading fragment of memory. It was a black dog, can you remember it now?"
Amy frowned. "How did you know? I sort of imagined it as a black dog, but I wasn't sure…."
"I didn't know. I gave you new information which filled a void, and you pictured it in your mind. Because you didn't have anything better to go on, it felt real to you. But it wasn't. So you see, I can't tell you what you've forgotten. You'll make a false memory out of it, and it'll feel real, but it won't be, and the fake memory will get in the way of the real one. You'll build around that seed of loss, the same way you built around the seed of fear. If you're to remember, it has to come from inside of you."
"What, so no hints? I have to remember it on my own? But you said that in my timeline, it never even happened!"
The Doctor nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Amy, I am. Go to sleep, try not to think about it, and when you wake up, don't try to remember this conversation. Your brain will realize it doesn't belong in the narrative of your life, and eventually, it too will fade."
Fresh tears were coming down her face. "I can't just forget someone. I can't. There's nothing worse than being forgotten."
"You can, and you have," the Doctor said. "And there are worse things. Sometimes remembering is worse."
"I've lost enough," Amy said. "First my parents, then, when I was seven, I lost you." She looked at him, her eyes wide and searching. "But I didn't forget. I kept their memory alive, and yours too. Remembering gave me strength, made me who I am. If I've forgotten someone, then I've lost a piece of myself, too."
The Doctor's expression was heavy. "I did try, Amy." He brushed her tearstained cheek with his hand, tenderly. "I did try."
"Well, try something else," Amy said stubbornly. "What jogs the memory—a song? A scent? Give me some kind of hint, at least. Remind me of something that doesn't ring true."
"Doesn't ring true," the Doctor repeated, thinking. "Do you remember when I told you to look out for that?"
"It…feels familiar. But I can't quite recall it, almost like something I dreamed."
"Yes, a dream!" he said, his excitement building. "You do remember. Well, you should at least remember some of it, not everything was erased. The Dream Lord, do you remember him? He gave you a choice."
Amy frowned. "There was…some kind of pollen, right?"
"Yes! Think back."
"I dreamed of a star. A cold star." She shivered involuntarily.
"Very good. And what was the other choice?"
"I don't…." Amy said, putting her hands to her head. "I can't. It's a dream. I'm no good at remembering dreams, they always fade the moment I open my eyes. It's like the memory exists on a separate reality."
And here the Doctor stopped, as if struck. "Well, of course they do. Dreams have nothing to do with reality. You remember people who never existed all the time, in dreams. And who's to say they really don't exist?" He stopped, just as suddenly. "This is your last chance, Amy Pond. If you go on with this, there's a chance you'll remember something that will make you very sad. You can choose to go on, to not remember, and I won't hold it against you."
Amy shook her head. "I want to remember. It's like there's something following me, out of the corner of my eye, and every time I almost-see it I want to cry, then I forget it again and that's somehow worse."
The Doctor's face was serious. "Very well then. I hope you understand that there's no going back." He set the controls and pulled a lever, and the TARDIS sang.
When they stopped, Amy walked towards the door, without asking where they'd gone, but the Doctor called out to her.
"Don't go out there just yet," he warned, "Or I'll never get you back."
Amy hesitated. "What's out there?"
The Doctor smiled, that sort of smile when something is very, very cool, but also very, very dangerous. "Dreams."
He left the console room, up the winding stairs to the TARDIS's labyrinthine hallways, and Amy followed quickly, knowing how easily she could get lost if he got even one turn ahead of her. Navigating the TARDIS was more difficult than navigating any network of tunnels or hallways on Earth, because the distance you walked didn't seem to have much relation to how far you actually went. The same space could be occupied by two different rooms, and shortcuts could take what felt like several kilometers off a trip—or add them, if you were careless. The only thing comparable to it was a text adventure game she'd once played, which she tried to map out on a piece of paper, and found that the way the rooms connected to each other was entirely without rhyme or reason, and could not be depicted on a physical map. The only way to navigate it was by rote memory, disregarding one's natural sense of direction, except she wasn't sure the TARDIS actually kept everything in the same place all the time, and had no idea how the Doctor managed to find anything.
Yet, find things he did. Soon they came to some sort of infirmary, with beds curved as though warped in some surrealist painting, and cabinets full of bottles and implements she couldn't name. "Oh," the Doctor muttered. "That's where the swimming pool went." He didn't seem pleased. "Part of it, anyway."
The floor was recessed, and about shin-deep with sparkling, chlorine-scented water. The Doctor waded right in, without bothering to take his shoes off or anything, and pulled an old-fashioned mortar and pestle from the cabinet. After mixing several ingredients to a fine powder, he stuffed the powder in clear, hollow capsules, came out and handed Amy one. "Don't take it just yet, but hang on to it," he said.
"What's it do?" Amy asked.
"Wakes us up." Without explaining further, he plunged again into the tunnels, his shoes squelching this time. They went to the wardrobe, and he dug through a box of assorted hats and masks that, like just about everything else here, seemed to be bigger on the inside—the box was only about knee-high, but while digging, nearly all of the Doctor disappeared in it. Time Lords, Amy thought, unimpressed. What a lot of showoffs.
Eventually, he emerged with two gas masks, looking like they came from completely different eras, and tossed Amy one. He dashed back to the console room, and Amy followed.
"Okay now," the Doctor said. "Take your pill. It's controlled-release—no effect for about twenty-four hours, then a dose of powerful stimulant." He swallowed his pill, and Amy followed suit.
"Out there is loaded with psychic pollen. We won't so much as get out the doors without falling asleep without these," he said, putting on his gas mask. "We're on another planet, might as well sightsee a little," he continued, his voice now slightly muffled.
Amy put her mask on, and he opened the doors. Before her was a stunning sight: the first landscape she'd seen that really drove home that she wasn't on Earth anymore. The sky was a mottled, stormy grayish-purple, and around them spread a meadow of tall, waxy grass, the spikes of which gave off a silvery luminance, collectively giving off more light than the sky. The air seemed thick and dusty, faintly glowing with drifting pollen. When the wind blew, the luminous fields waved, and bright tracks of silver floated into the air, spiraling and curling and slowly dissipating.
"I'm not asleep yet, am I?" Amy said, breathless.
"Not as long as you have that mask on," the Doctor said, closing the doors of the TARDIS behind them. "Welcome to Karass Don Slava, the land of dreams. It's a rare privilege to see it while awake."
As they walked out into the strangely glimmering grassland, the Doctor slipped easily into the role of tour guide. "This is the only place in the universe where the psychic pollen can grow, and there are no interstellar-travelling species on Karass Don Slava, but other species collect the pollen for various medicinal and recreational uses. Probably picked up our pollen on Alfalva Metaxis."
The Doctor reached down, and picked up something resembling a frog, with closed eyes, or possibly no eyes. "There are native life forms here," he said, "but they're all asleep. All dreaming. Maybe even dreaming the same dream. So their bodies wade through a reality they're never aware of in their existence." The frog-thing walked off his hand, oblivious, and the Doctor caught it in his other one, and laid it gently on the ground.
"How do they not starve to death?" Amy asked.
"They dream about eating, probably. Could be triggered by smelling something good. Nearly everything here's herbivorous, since they lack the ability to hunt. Some, like our friend there, just absorb nutrients through the mud. It's a more relaxed way of life than you have on Earth. Less direct competition. Everything is born asleep, lives asleep, and dies asleep."
They walked further, and Amy gasped at what she saw crouched together in a clearing. "Doctor…are those people?"
"In a manner of speaking," the Doctor said. "Am I 'people'?"
Amy smirked. "You told me once that you weren't."
"They're not human, anyway, if that's what you mean. Though, who knows if they have some human blood in them. Enough have been lost here, crash-landing or trying to harvest pollen, breathed a whiff of the air and fell into the planet's dream forever."
"Well, I figured they weren't," Amy said. "They are blue."
The group of blue people were hunched together, uncommunicative. Some idly chewed on grass, others just stared ahead blankly. Amy found their gaze very unsettling, but in the low light, couldn't make out why at first. As she got closer, her breath caught in her throat.
"Their eyes," she whispered.
"A mutation, maybe," the Doctor said, sounding somewhat unsettled himself. "Logically, they should be blind, or at least have sight that they use on some vestigial level of consciousness." But they didn't. Their eyes were turned around in their sockets, pointed inwards.
They hurried away from the blue dreamers, and saw one apart from the rest, stumbling blindly, without the tranquility every form of life on this planet seemed to possess. He stopped and angled his head in their direction, listening to the sound of grass crackling under their feet.
Amy poked the Doctor's arm suddenly in alarm. "Hey. Is that blue guy watching us? Well, not watching…listening?"
The Doctor looked at the strange blue man, and she could see pity in his eyes. "It's an evolutionary war of sorts," the Doctor explained. "The pollen makes everything sleep, and uses the psychic energy for its life cycle. But sometimes lifeforms develop a resistance to it. They wake up. For all the good it does them—the entirety of their culture's dreaming without them, and they're locked out, stuck in a reality none of their kind can see."
"He must be so lonely," Amy said.
"Oh, yes," the Doctor agreed. "For them, there's nothing left in the waking world. They're always alone. Rare enough that they're unlikely to find each other, but worse, so feral and unsocialized that they wouldn't know what to do with another like them if they did find one."
Amy stared at it, and the blind creature shifted uncomfortably, as if it could feel her alien gaze on this world where nothing had sight. "He has more in common with us than he does with his own kind," she said. "Can't we…do anything for him?"
"I don't think so," he said. "Even if we tried to help, he wouldn't understand. And we don't have the right to make decisions for him. Even if he's lonely, that doesn't mean he wants to leave his home, or be forced asleep. This is the only world he knows."
He turned to walk away, and Amy followed.
When they'd come to a quiet, gently rolling valley, the Doctor sat down, and motioned for Amy to sit beside him. She joined him, thrumming with anticipation.
"Just, one last warning," the Doctor said nervously.
"I told you already, I'm serious about this. I don't care if it hurts. I want to remember."
"It's not that," he hedged. "If you recall from last time, what we'll be dealing with is primarily my own inner darkness."
"Yeah," Amy said, then thought on it. "I do remember a piece of it—your inner darkness fancied me."
"No, it didn't," the Doctor said. "If it fancied you, it would have had you. But, it will try to hurt you. Well, really, it will want to hurt me, but it knows seeing you in pain is a good way to do that."
"Wait, why did you think this was a good idea, then?"
"Because, remembering will hurt you," the Doctor said. "And if you knew…it would hurt me too. I have faith in my own inner darkness to take the straightest course to that pain. The 'Dream Lord' will be able to hurt you in ways I can't, ways that are necessary for you to remember."
"What do you mean, it would hurt you too?" Amy asked. "What did…what did you do?"
Without answering, the Doctor grabbed his and Amy's masks at the same time, and said, under his breath, Geronimo, before pulling them both off.
Amy's first instinct was to hold her breath, but by then she'd already gasped. She looked suddenly around herself, at the Doctor, at her hands.
"Nothing's changed," she said. "We're still awake."
The Doctor also looked around himself, "What makes you so sure?"
"If it's a dream, it's exactly the same as reality," she said. "Could it be from those pills we took?"
"Oh, I don't think we're awake, Amy," the Doctor said, touching her shoulder lightly. She followed the direction of his gaze.
Standing awkwardly, his hands in his pockets, was a man about her age. He was rather normal-looking, very much human, wearing clothes that wouldn't look out of place walking down the street on Leadworth. He had short, light-brown hair and a strong profile which might have seemed more commanding, if not for his self-effacing body language and downcast eyes. "Hello Amy, Doctor," he said, his tone somewhere between apologetic and resentful.
Amy stepped forward and looked him over up and down.
"Do I look familiar or something?" he asked.
"Never seen you before in my life," Amy said, wide-eyed and astonished. "How did you know my name? Who are you?"
"I suppose I'm the Dream Lord," he answered. "And I know lots of things about you. Well, pretty much everything, or that's what I thought. I thought I knew that you could never forget me."
Amy turned to the Doctor. "Dream Lord? He's better-looking than last time, isn't he?" She paused at the look on his face. "Why does he look like that, though?"
"Isn't it obvious?" the Doctor asked. "To hurt me."
"Hurt you?" the Dream Lord repeated, affronted. "I'm hardly the first to die of loving you, or even the most important." He smiled, full of rage. "I thought you might be happy to see me. But if you want pain…."
Birds sang, and Amy and the Doctor fell into each other, each trying to hold the other up before they collapsed themselves.
When Amy opened her eyes, it was to an orange sky. She looked quickly for the Doctor, and found him lying next to her, a look of absolute dread on his face.
"Where are we, Doctor?" Amy asked. She sat up on the red grass. It was cold and dry, a strong but steady wind blowing, the kind of wind that had been blowing forever and would continue forever, until it pushed down the mountains. Her hair whipped around her, catching the light of the twin suns in a fiery glow.
The Doctor got to his feet. "Someplace very not good." But despite his words, there was a longing creeping into his eyes.
A child meandered towards them, her eyes lighting up when she saw the Doctor. "Did you go away?" she asked. "I've been looking everywhere for you!"
"Who is that?" Amy asked.
"A memory," the Doctor said, "Just…a memory." He turned away from the little girl, and seemed to be willing his legs to walk away very, very hard, but turned back instead, the battle lost.
"A memory of what?"
"My daughter," the Doctor said. He looked at the child like looking at her burned him, riveted.
The girl was about six or seven, with bright gingery hair and dressed in a yellow gown. She smiled innocently at Amy, and looked back at the Doctor. "Who's she, Daddy? Is she visiting us?"
"Enough," the Doctor hissed under his breath. "Even you can't want to go down this road. Even you wouldn't be so cruel."
The Dream Lord reappeared. "Why not, Doctor? After all, it's what you took from me."
They fell. When they opened their eyes again, the Doctor was breathing like he'd been holding his breath. He hadn't even taken stock of his surroundings yet, but he seemed relieved. Wherever that place was, his distant home with the orange skies, it must have been the cruelest thing in his mental arsenal, because he didn't seem to think anything could possibly be worse.
Amy tried to get to her feet, but found an unexpected weight pulling her down. With a cry, Amy's hands flew to her swollen belly. "Doctor!" she yelled. "Doctor! I'm pregnant. Why am I pregnant?"
"It's just a dream," the Doctor said.
"I…I can feel it kick," Amy said. She looked up at the Dream Lord, with his dark, sad eyes. He had a little ponytail this time. It was kind of adorable. "Is that what I lost?" Amy said under her breath. "Was I pregnant? Did I lose a baby?" Her voice was becoming panicked. She gripped the Doctor's arm. "Tell me, did I lose a baby?"
"No," the Doctor said, at the same time as the Dream Lord said, "Yes."
Amy whipped around to face the Dream Lord. "I had a baby? With you?"
"You would have," the Dream Lord said with a shrug. "Past, future, I don't have any of them anymore."
She stood up carefully, and looked at the Dream Lord very closely, searching his face with her eyes. Her belly bumped between them, an unexpected bulge, and he put a hand on it. He was wistful, and gentle, and it wasn't hard to imagine that she had loved him very much.
He leaned forward, and whispered in her ear, "Amy, what's my name?"
Amy was silent, distraught.
The Dream Lord stroked her hair. "Perhaps it will come to you." He turned to the Doctor. "Once again, there will be two dreams. But you're not in this one." He raised his hand imperiously, and the Doctor struggled, his eyelids fluttering. "This is the dream of what my life would have been if you had never existed." The Doctor collapsed on the ground, asleep.
Amy knelt by him, with difficulty. "Where did you send him?"
The Dream Lord's smile made her shiver. "I just want a quiet day with my family. I granted him the same." He stood over her like a god, and the world grew dim.