A/N: Thanks for being patient, you guys! I have finished uni for the semester, so I am now free to write a lot more than I have been. I hope you enjoy this chapter! As always, please review and let me know what you think. Also, if you think the story's worthwhile, link your friends to it.
'In Media Res'
5. Emergency Measures
The Doctor wasted no time at all, rolling Sophie onto her back and immediately checking that her airway was clear. It was, and so he put his hands above her heart and began to press rapidly. His own hearts were racing, blood pounding in his ears.
He couldn't lose her. He couldn't lose another companion. Not after all they'd been through together, not after the scrapes they'd survived, the near misses they'd lived through.
"No!" he cried, as he continued to pump his arms, trying to get some blood flowing again. "No, no, no, no, no! Not this time!"
Sophie's face, an ashen, waxy mask, gave no sign of life.
"No!" he roared, pushing harder and harder. He knew he was about to start cracking her ribs, but he didn't care. He needed to bring her back. He just had to. "Sophie, please! You can't die now! You can't die here! Not in this place."
Not with me.
He realised with a start, as he continued trying to bring her back from the jaws of death, just why he was so adamant that she mustn't die here. She was already supposed to be dead. He'd known it, he'd felt it, for months. Now, only here, did he realise that it was absolutely, positively what was supposed to have happened.
Unbidden, images and memories of the other companions he'd lost came to mind.
Katarina, Sara, Adric, River, Lucie, all the others. Faces and voices he'd long ago put out of his mind but never forgotten. People he'd left behind because he'd had to, because the universe and history had decided to follow a certain course.
Once, he'd proclaimed himself the Time Lord Victorious. Once, he'd taken history into his own hands. He'd been desperate and scared and so old, afraid of his destiny and shrinking from the inevitable passage of time. But now, in that dark and dank place, he wasn't the Time Lord Victorious. He was just determined.
Any other time, he'd have been able to rush Sophie back to the TARDIS, use its medical technology to heal her or, failing that, set the coordinates for one of the innumerable miraculous hospitals dotting the universe. The TARDIS was down for the count, though, leaving him with only his own somewhat sketchy medical skills and the body of his companion.
"No!" he roared again, and slammed the side of his fist down on her breastbone.
She lay still.
He shut his eyes as tight as he could, reaching back into his own subconscious. The body of a Time Lord was a miracle, whether he was Victorious or not, and all the Doctor needed to do now was reach deep, deep inside himself and pull off one more miracle.
He touched a reserve centre of power and felt a tingling in his fingertips. He opened his eyes, to see motes of golden light dancing around the fingers of his left hand. Regeneration energy, the power that allowed a Time Lord to survive a catastrophic injury, to undergo the complete, irreversible change that altered the make up of every molecule in his body. He was sacrificing some of it now in the hope that it would bring his friend back to life.
Reaching down, slowly, he brushed Sophie's cheek with his glowing hand. The energy seemed to be soaked up by her skin. A few moments later, the luminescence was gone and all that remained was the light of the fire and the shadows of the abandoned dining room.
The Doctor held his friend in his arms, praying to every entity he could think of to come through for him just this once.
For long, painful seconds she lay perfectly still.
Then, in a moment he would remember for the rest of his life, he felt her body tense. As though emerging from a deep, intractable sleep, Sophie's eyes snapped open. She took a deep, shuddering gasp and her back arched.
"Sophie!" the Doctor cried, grabbing her by her shoulders. "Just breathe, just breathe! You're okay!"
She gasp desperately, like she'd just been pulling from water, and her eyes remained wide and terrified. It was as though she couldn't hear the Doctor, let alone see or understand him. Having lived through plenty of near-death experiences, the Doctor understood perfectly. He scooped her into his arms and held her close to him.
"I've got you," he insisted, speaking into her ear. "I've got you, all right?"
Slowly, surely, she began to calm down. Her breathing resumed a normal pace and instead of heaving in his arms she began simply shuddering. "Doctor," she said, as though tasting the word for the first time. "What happened?"
"You were right," the Doctor answered. "There's something in this house."
"What is it? What happened to me? Why does my chest hurt?"
The Doctor was about to tell her the truth, but he bit it back. There was no need to tell her that he'd sacrifice some of his own life for hers. "There's some sort of spectral entity in the area. It stopped your heart."
"It what?" Sophie barked, pushing herself back. She rubbed her chest, which would no doubt bear some dark bruises soon enough. "You mean I was dead?"
"Only in the clinical sense," the Doctor nodded, finally tamping down his own panic. "I'm sorry about your chest, but I didn't have any other option."
"You kept me alive, Doctor," Sophie said, swallowing and closing her eyes. "I'm alive."
"Of course I did," the Doctor said, and though he tried to sound nonchalant he knew he sounded relieved.
"My head is killing me," Sophie said to no one. She slumped forward, pressing her face into his chest, and he gently encircled her with his arms once more. Then she stiffened. "I'm not cold anymore. I was covered in cuts and bruises before. My hands were grazed."
She lifted the palms of her hands to show the Doctor. The skin was smooth and unbroken.
"What happened?" she said, eyes boggling. "What did you do?"
The Doctor sighed. "I used a very small portion of my regeneration energy to... well, resurrect you."
Sophie's eyes widened even further. "You can do that?"
"Only rarely," the Doctor admitted. "It requires a great deal of trauma, physical or emotional, to activate. I have to be about to die, usually. My body too ravaged by radiation to recover or expel it normally, for instance. And it takes its toll. I... I'm afraid I had to sacrifice a small portion of my own life."
She looked instantly guilty, but she pulled him into a hug. "Thank you, Doctor. Thank you so much."
She released him, and they helped each other to their feet. "So what do we do now?" Sophie asked. "I don't want to run into... that thing, whatever it is. Not again."
The Doctor nodded. "Understandable. I tracked some energy readings to a room upstairs, but I don't think we should investigate any further. We need to get out of the house."
Sophie, her breathing still ragged and unsettled, nodded. She seemed to be considering something, though, and even her close brush with death hadn't managed to shake her powerfully enough to disrupt her focus. "All right, that's fine. But you said 'spectral'. Did... did you mean, like, a ghost?"
The Doctor fought the urge to scoff. "There's no such thing as 'ghosts'."
Sophie was taken aback. "Daleks, time-altering leeches, a blue box bigger on the inside, and you're dismissing the notion of ghosts?"
The Doctor caught himself. He sighed, shoulders slumping. "There are... things similar to ghosts out there in the universe. Psychic echoes, temporal or holographic projections, certain non-corporeal alien species. This was... I'm not sure what it was."
Sophie frowned. "Doctor, can I be honest?"
"Of course," he blinked, taken aback.
"I'm asking because sometimes I feel like I shouldn't be," she went on, swallowing a lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. "Sometimes I feel lke I should keep my head down, like I should just keep moving and hope for the best."
The Doctor felt a tightening in his chest. "Go on."
"I'm scared, Doctor," Sophie admitted, and her brittle voice cracked. Unshed tears shone in her eyes and her lips were trembling softly. "I'm terrified. I want to go home."
The Doctor's eyes widened. For months now, they had travelled together and this was the first time she had ever suggested returning to her old life. "Sophie, I..."
She shook her head, taking a steadying breath. "I nearly died, Doctor. Right now, the universe is falling apart around us. For the first time in a long tine, I just want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head."
At that, the Doctor had nothing to say. Sophie Freeman was an endlessly impressive young woman, but now, for the first time, the Doctor was seeing just how vulnerable she was; just how scared.
Sophie pulled a deep breath in her nose and exhaled through her mouth. With an effort, she brought her shaking under control. She pulled the Doctor's coat tighter around her shoulders and straight herself up. Setting her jaw, she nodded an instant, she had been transformed "Let's find out what that thing that killed me was, huh? And let's stop it from doing it again."
The Doctor, as surprised as he had been before, was now utterly speechless, floored by a newfound respect for his companion. He revised his opinion of her upwards once again and extended his hand toward her. Waggling his fingers, he made it clear that he was offering her not just his hand but his support, his friendship and, of course, adventure.
"I tracked rogue energy emmissions to the widow's tower," he explained as her hand closed around his. "I couldn't get inside, though, because of a deadlock seal."
"A what?" Sophie asked as the two of them headed for the door.
The Doctor quickly outlined what had happened after she'd fallen asleep, starting with the sparks and ending with returning to the formal dining room and having their enemy reveal its identity to him.
"Death?" Sophie repeated, shivering.
"I'm afraid so," the Doctor said, "and its tone was quite grave."
Sophie's jaw dropped at the pure cheek of making a terrible pun given their situation. The Doctor, though, looked quite pleased with himself. "I can't believe you just said that."
He giggled and shrugged. "Just trying to lighten the mood."
"Try harder," she said, shooting him a dark glare.
They began to climb the main staircase, being careful to avoid any sections of the stairs that appeared to have rotted. Finally, they reached the landing and the Doctor was about to lead Sophie to the deadlock sealed door when she froze beside him. Squeezing his hand, she directed his attention to a hooded, robed figure watching them intently.
In a shuddering, hideous voice, it crowed "You survived."
"It's talking to you," the Doctor whispered to Sophie. "Best not to be true. Answer it."
"What am I supposed to say?" she said through the side of her mouth, not taking her eyes off the menacing creature.
"Just buy me some time," the Doctor said, and surreptitiously took the sonic screwdriver from his pocket.
"Uh," Sophie said, letting go of the Doctor's hand and stepping forward. "You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to kill me!"
"How did you survive?" the creature asked, taking a menacing, creepy step forward which, disturbingly enough, was more of an undulating glide. In its voice, which sounded distant and oddly processed, Sophie thought she heard a note of yearning curiosity. It genuinely had no idea how it had failed.
This revelation made her smile.
Emboldened, she said "You have no idea who I am, do you? I made the Trickster run in fear. I made the Daleks go crying to their mummies. I cast a Vrigillian back into hell and I had champagne with Bill Clinton! I am Sophie Freeman and I am not scared!"
The creature didn't seem to understand what she was saying, but the Doctor gave a triumphant cheer. "Aha!" he roared and Sophie swung back around to see what had gotten him worked up.
"What?" she insisted.
"Delta waves!" he answered, holding the screwdriver up and grinning. "Delta waves!"
"What are delta waves?"
"Brain waves, generated during the REM stage of the sleep cycle," the Doctor said and pointed to the creature. "Our friend over there is a dream, amplified and given substance by low-band varion energy. No wonder the screwdriver couldn't identify the energy signature: no one's used varions for millions of years."
"That thing's a dream? A living dream?" Sophie asked, looking to the spectral being. It had disappeared, however. "Where did it go?"
The Doctor, though, was unperturbed. "A living dream is exactly what it is: an imprint cast by a sleeping... something. Varion waves generate power by bending dimensional laws. They have a tendancy to be adversely impacted by various mental energies including delta waves. That's what made them so undesirable, since whenever someone fell asleep anywhere nearby a varion power source, their dreams would make the varions go crazy."
"But it told you that it's name was Death," Sophie insisted. "It actually killed me!"
"When I first returned to you, you wouldn't wake up," the Doctor answered. "The creature was manipulating your sleep cycle, via the projected delta waves. All it had to do was use that same system to shut down your autonomic nervous system. Your heart stopped beating because the nerve messages from your brain telling it to beat stopped. When I poured regeneration energy into you, it rebooted your brain, forcing out the projected delta waves and reactivating your brain."
"Like a computer being restarted," Sophie surmised.
"Exactly!" the Doctor said. "The only reason the creature could have any power over you whatsoever was that you were asleep. If it hadn't been for that, it wouldn't have been able to do anything."
"It's harmless," Sophie said, shaking her head in disbelief. "For all that, it's harmless."
"As long as you stay awake," the Doctor nodded. "Perhaps that's why this house is abandoned. Maybe there's something sleeping up in the widow's tower, maybe it caused people to die in their sleep."
"Victorians would have thought this place was cursed," Sophie said, nodding in agreement.
The Doctor arched an eyebrow, impressed. "How would you know that?"
"I studied literature, Doctor," she answered dismissively. "Including Victorian literature. For all their moralising and heavy-handed religiosity, Victoria's Britain was a superstitious place. If otherwise healthy people started dying in their sleep, people would run a mile."
"And never tell anyone about it besides," the Doctor agreed. "Can always trust a Briton to keep tight-lipped about something they should really be talking about."
"I can relate to that," Sophie said lightly, shrugging. The revelations about their adversary had done a lot to rehabilitate her mood, but the Doctor was caught off guard by her innocuous statement.
She had literally, physically died and had he not acted fast enough she would have stayed dead. Still he was keeping a secret from her...
"So what do we do now?" Sophie asked, dragging his attention back to the present.
The Doctor thought for a moment. "There's a living being in this house and for all we know it may well be in pain."
"Why do you think that?"
"That thing, 'Death', is a projection of someone or something's dreams. They're dreaming about death," he explained. "Would you dream of death unless you were scared or hurt?"
"No," Sophie admitted. "But it tried to kill me."
"It killed you in a dream," the Doctor said, waving away her objection. "You can't blame it for that."
"I suppose not," Sophie admitted, though she was smarting from the Doctor's dismissive tone. "After all, if I was held accountable for everything that happened in my dreams, I'd have been tried and convicted for your murder a long time ago."
"Trust me," the Doctor said, choosing to ignore his friend's joke, "being convicted of my murder is no fun at all. Especially when you haven't actually killed me."
Sophie decided not to ask what he meant. "All right, so there's a being in pain."
"Near some piece of varion technology," the Doctor added. "The energy traces were focused on the widow's tower, so that's where we'll find our friend."
"Not sure if I'm comfortable calling it a friend," Sophie said, before adding "but go on."
"If we can help whoever or whatever it is, then fine," the Doctor said. "If not, then the least we can do is to deactivate the varion core. At any rate, the projections and spectres should disappear and no one else will have to die in their sleep. Not on this island, anyway."
"Not that there's anyone here other than us," she interjected.
The Doctor shrugged. "There will be one day. We can't take the risk that Victorian superstition will keep people away indefinitely."
"True," Sophie agreed.
Wasting no more time, they set off for the room leading up to the widow's tower. Using the screwdriver as a torch, the Doctor lit the way. They found the room, avoiding the rotted holes in the wooden floor. The Doctor mounted the narrow, rickety staircase leading to the trap door into the widow's tower, Sophie following close behind.
"If the door's still deadlocked," Sophie asked him, "then how are we meant to get inside?"
"Easy," the Doctor answered, adjusting the settings on the sonic screwdriver. "All I need to do is generate a delta wave feedback loop, overlaying an artificial wave structure onto the varion feed and..."
He trailed off, fiddling with his screwdriver and then aiming it at the door.
"Voila!" he cried a few seconds later.
"What did you do?" Sophie asked, peering around him to get a better look.
"Oh, nothing much," the Doctor said. "I just used my own psychic abilities to create a delta wave impression of an unlocked door, then used the sonic screwdriver to overlay the projection through the varion waves onto the deadlocked door. The varion energy gave the delta waves form, the same way they created our friend 'Death', which meant that the deadlocked door was replaced with a duplicated, undeadlocked duplicate."
Sophie was unimpressed. "That made no sense."
"It made plenty of sense," the Doctor insisted, nonplussed. "It just didn't make any sense to you. I dreamt the door unlocked."
"Why didn't you just say that?"
"Because technical talk is fun," the Doctor answered, before pressing his hand against the trap door and pushing. The lock, a dream made manifest, clicked back and revealed the interior of the widow's tower.
A hexagonal chamber, with windows looking out onto the storm-drenched, fog-covered island around them, it was devoid of furniture. There was just one object, sitting in the direct centre of room. It was roughly egg-shaped, its featureless metal surface glinting as a fork of lightning lit up the freezing night.
"What is it?" Sophie asked.
The Doctor stepped into the room, his companion following him. He ran his screwdriver over the egg and lifted it to check the readouts. He sighed. "It's an escape pod."
"Like, from a spaceship?" Sophie asked, peering at it. "It's tiny. There's no way a person could fit in that."
"Not a full-grown person, no," the Doctor agreed.
"What do you mean?" Sophie asked, before she recognised the Doctor's expression. "You know what's happening here, don't you?"
The Doctor nodded solemnly and stepped over to the escape pod. He pressed the screwdriver against its shell and, a second later, a crack appeared. Sophie realised that a large, circular section covering half of the pod was outlined by a brilliant glow. That section pushed out and then moved up, revealling the interior of the pod.
Lying in a small, padded seat that resembled a cradle, surrounded by wires and cables that were attached both to the seat and its skin, was a small, shrivelled looking being. With purple, wrinkled skin and ice blue hair, it looked bizarrely like a newborn baby.
"What is it?" Sophie asked, breathless.
"It's a she, Sophie," the Doctor answered. "An infant. A child. And she's a long way from home."