Thirteenth in the dystopian!verse series.
The Secret of Life of Daydreams
You can't believe in something if it isn't there. It is an axiom they both know well.
When: Post-Ground Zero
When her eyes flicker open on the morning of their third day in Americania, the air is cool and still around them, like last breaths and graveyard chills. He lies curled behind her, against her, his heartbeat reassuring against her back. His arm is around her waist, like a tether, or a lifeline.
She savours moments like this, when she can share his unguarded presence, when he is tainted-innocent, screaming-peaceful. He is an extraordinarily light sleeper, and so he stirs when she turns in his arms to press her cheek against his chest. The thump-thump of his heart is real and tangible, a reminder that the only ghosts they have are the ones that they imagine.
He nuzzles her hair as he stumbles, blearily and drowsily, into wakefulness. The noise he makes at the back of his throat is indecipherable, but she takes it as an unspoken question. The stubble on his jaw catches in her hair, and is rough and abrading beneath her fingers.
“I dreamt,” she begins, sighing out the words, like the weight of the world in two fragile syllables, “I dreamt that you broke my heart.”
He jerks into instant alertness, a switch so quick it is like flashes-in-a-pan or embers from fires far below. His intake of breath is sharp, searing-stabbing her consciousness. “I couldn’t have,” he says. “Not when it was never mine to break.”
She sits up, and slides out from his embrace to pad to the tiny window of the safehouse. The alley down below is squalid and filthy, and several days’ worth of rubbish are strewn about, ten heart-dropping floors away. It is messy and cluttered and haphazard, and she finds remarkable parallels between herself and it.
“But it hurt,” she whispers, and the words are almost lost in the engulfing silence. “It hurt so much.” There is a rustle of sheets behind her, and she sees him sit up on the bed from the corner of her eye. “I loved you, I think,” she continues, and the tension from his body is palpable.
She turns to face him, because the question that rests on the tip of her tongue compels her to. “Did I ever say those words – before? Back then, did I ever tell you that I lo –”
“You did.” He cuts her off, and it is like shutting a door to a dozen exits, or sealing a lost pathway. He throws off the covers, and heads for the bathroom.
She is so tired, so tired of his non-answers and blurred-mirrors-of-words. She calls out after him. “And what did you say to that?”
The snap of the bathroom door closing is finite and echoing, like gunshots that leave no trace, or cuts that never heal.
They have both long perfected the art of avoidance and running, but she really thinks he is much better than her at it. The morning’s conversation is never mentioned, never hinted at, and she wonders if he can see the hairline cracks that spider-web over her aching-damaged heart.
When they disembark from the train, her hand slips into his so easily that it is almost subconscious, and it makes her wonder if anything he can do would ever make her hate him. No, she thinks. No. She does not know the reason, and she does not want to think of one, not now.
“Why Americania?” She asks, because the din in the station around them is too quiet.
He hesitates, and she briefly wonders if he will swerve the question again, but he doesn’t, and so the pressure-pain in her heart lessens a little. “The TARDIS initiative,” he murmurs, and she almost fails to catch it. “TARDIS being –”
“The Treaty Agreement of Reconvened Dissenting Independent States,” she finishes, and the flickers of laughter and run and I only take the best hover within her reach for a brief moment, like wisps of smoke in rushing air. The fragments are lost before she finds them, like bread crumbs on forest floors.
The look his gives her is unfathomable, dark and deep and piercing, and she really thinks he means to say more, but he turns to glance in the opposite direction. She wishes she could know if they have taken steps forward or backward, but she doesn’t even know where they are going, and so she cannot be the judge. A long moment passes, but he nods in the end.
She wonders why she keeps pushing, and thinks about corpses being given peace. “But the TARDIS initiative is active in Eurasia as well, so why didn’t we stay there?”
“GALLIFREY,” he elaborates, and she tries to access The Network for this, but it is blocked to her. Some things have always been blocked to her, she thinks, and fractures a little at the thought that he is one of those things. “The General Alliance of Localised Liaisons In the Free Reconvened Economy. That’s Americania. They’re the main signatory. I was part of the TARDIS initiative, so we can claim amnesty.”
“And,” he sighs, and his breath coalesces in the cold around them, like nightmares and bogeymen brought to life. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
She is like Pandora, and she cannot resist, even though she knows that there are reasons why some boxes should never be opened, or why some lines should never be crossed. “Who?”
The crowd at the station exit is crushing, pushing-shoving on their way out. He tugs her closer to his side, and his warmth is like a sea she tries to bottle. His lips are soft against her ear, and his breath is vaguely ticklish when he speaks.
“Mickey Smith,” he tells her, and she is sure that her heart stops for a brief second.
She tugs his sleeve, like a lost child or a stumbling infant. “Mickey isn’t –”
They are on a lonely road now, away from the bustling masses of the New York Trans-Continental Train Terminal. The air is still, and there is a quiet stirring in the streets. He turns towards her, eyes blazing and fists clenched, and she thinks oh, oh, this is what it means to push too far.
“Mickey is here, in New York, alright? He’s a Watcher, like you, and he went to the Academy with you. He’s not your childhood buddy you ran around playgrounds with, and he’s not your first love, got that? Everything you think you know is a lie. So wake up. Everything you know isn’t real. Just – just stop.”
His frustration and anger and hurt is tangible and present, like bitter pills that are hard to swallow, or medicine that no one wants to eat. His words are like crushing barbs, flaying and tearing the skin of her heart and emotions. There is a burning at the back of her eyes, tears that flash hot and searing.
“Maybe,” she whispers-gasps. “But they were real to me.”
“Just because you think they were real doesn’t make it the truth.” She wonders why they are doing this now, why here, and why they cannot talk of anything that matters without it descending into a Pyrrhic victory on either side. His words are almost-cruel, harsh and ruthless, and she thinks that this is the side of him that made him such a good Operative. This is the shadow that skirts around the edges of light, the hell-behind-heaven. It frightens her, that she understands it so well. That, she amends, she understands him so well.
“When I look back, I remember Mickey. And I remember that I loved him. A puppy, juvenile, childish love maybe – but it was still love on some small level, and the memory was – is – real for me.”
He is silent, for a long moment, drawn out into eternities and lifetimes. He is quiet, like muffled screams or the soundlessness of death.
“So if you can’t remember, that makes it a lie.” The lilt at the end of his sentence turns it into an almost-question, but his words are more of a statement that anything else. His hands are fisted in the pockets of his slacks, and he stands a scant distance away from her. She thinks they have never been further apart.
She shakes her head. “Not a lie. A – a half-truth.”
“A half-truth is nothing but a half-lie.” He looks at her, and his eyes are sad and tired, and full of things-only-he-remembers. “You can’t believe in something if it isn’t there.” He sighs, and his breath is a puff of wispy smoke in the wintry night. “And half-truths-lies aren’t there, not really.”
She opens her mouth to speak, but doesn’t know what to say. Words, she knows, are not enough. They are never enough. She inhales, and makes to speak, but he cuts her off.
“We have move on.”
She wonders if he is talking about the street ahead of them where they have stopped, or if he sees something completely different in the looping, obscured pathway of his mind. She reaches out, and tugs his hand out from his pocket. It slips easily into hers.
“Yes,” she agrees. “We do.”
They walk for hours, along snaking roads and hidden lanes, ending up on the outskirts of the city centre. The buzz of the night is a faint hum in the background, a cacophony that reminds them that they are not alone. They are never alone, she knows, but that does not mean they are not isolated. They are many paths to tread, and they have instead lost themselves in the darkness of the wood, unseeing and unseen, out of reach of any track or direction or help, and maybe, just maybe, they don’t even want to be found.
He speaks first this time, and it startles her a little. “If you cannot remember,” he begins, and his voice ghosts over the still air, like monsters they cannot see, or spirits that must be laid to rest. “Does that mean it never happened?” She wonders why he wants so many answers tonight, and why he seeks absolution for things that are not her place to forgive.
She does not reply, because she does not know the answer. Maybe, she finds herself thinking, maybe there isn’t one.
He swallows, and she watches his Adam’s apple bob, like the pull of a grenade pin, or the shifting of a life buoy in the desolate ocean.
“And if so,” he continues, “if so – then what does that make us?”
His eyes are hard on hers, almost-pleading and infinitely sad.
“And,” he sighs, “Did you love me at all?”
Yes, she wants to tell him. Yes. But his (her) words haunt her, like shattered shards of past lives. The silence is loud.
(You can’t believe in something if it isn’t there.)
Part Twelve - Folie a Deux; Part Fourteen - Another Way to Die