It was a garden.
Or had been once, long ago.
Nyssa trod carefully along the path, stepping warily through the ashen mist that hugged the ground. Crisp brown leaves crunched under her boots and unseen roots pressed into her soft soles, their dry spines snapping with each step. The moon overhead was full, its silvery light licking at the bare branches of the tall shrubs and bushes that lined the path beside her. Frost etched crystalline cobwebs into the few remaining leaves that shivered on the twigs, causing them to sparkle in the shifting lunar shadows. Here and there the limbs were stained with an inky blackness, a crusty coating of carbon that crumbled and splintered with the cold, shifting breeze; there had been a fire here once, hungry and ravaging.
This was a place of death, where no spring would ever come.
For one unsettling moment, when she'd first found herself here, Nyssa thought she'd returned to her lost home world of Traken, and that its ruined corpse, hanging lifeless in space, had brought her back. Come to claim her.
Time seemed not to exist here. She counted in her head, her footsteps matching the seconds, one every two, yet she walked and walked, and very time lost count. There were no landmarks to steer by, no stars in the sky above. Indeed, even the moon was unremarkable, indistinguishable, with no features across its smooth, white surface.
Nyssa carried on, guided by the voices.
They were all around her, but indecipherable, distant, their speakers unseen.
The breeze died suddenly then, and left an echoing silence in its wake; Nyssa paused in mid-step as the world around her seemed to give, to fade slightly.
The moon overhead had dimmed.
She remained motionless. Her moist breath fogged the air before her, and instead of dispersing, the faint cloud seemed to settle at her feet, sighing into the perpetual mist that ebbed and flowed around her.
Something had changed, she could see it now, a gaping maw of shadow up ahead had deepened, hollowing out the shifting growth of the plants; the fire had gnawed its way through the blackened bushes and left a wide hole.
Mist simmered through the bottom of the scar, creeping toward her and splashing silently across her feet and legs.
Immediately, Nyssa felt slightly better, more assured. And something else slipped into her, quietly, unseen, like a shiver, skimming up upon the skin of her arms and neck.
There was a shadow before now, tall and solid, unlike those of the maze of shrubs; familiar and kind, as was his voice that she could now plainly hear, calling. "Ian!" She stumbled toward him in her excitement.
Ian Chesterton caught her by the shoulders and smiled back at her with a smile she hadn't realized she missed. He seemed so young, somehow. The corners of his eyes crinkled up in concern. "Nyssa! It's so good to see you. Are you all right?" Myrtle, his golden retriever, was by his feet, barking in excitement.
Nyssa pulled herself back, glad of the shadows of the night that might hide her embarrassment. "Yes, I think." She knelt down and rubbed Myrtle's neck who lapped adoringly at her hand in return. Nyssa preferred plants to animals, as a rule. Plants were far more restrained in their affections; she found she could relate to them more. But now, she felt unexpectedly grateful for the large furry dog and his twapping tail. She gave him a couple of reassuring strokes on the nose before standing up again, brushing stray curls out of her hair with her damp fingers. "I'm not certain of where we are though, or how I came to be here."
To her surprise, Ian laughed. "Yes, bit like déjà vu, isn't it? I'm sure the Doctor's around her somewhere, as usual." He straightened his jacket and stared into the mist around them. "We don't seem to be in immediate danger, but you are the first person I've found here. I must have been wandering around for ages, calling myself hoarse. Maybe we'll have better luck now that we're together, eh?"
Nyssa shrugged, as if something within her was telling her that it wasn't that simple. Yet seeing Ian's face, so hopeful, so determined, so... so tired, made her force a smile instead and agree to his suggestion.
"Can you remember anything?" Ian asked. "Before we arrived, I mean."
"I remember..." Nyssa concentrated, but found nothing in her mind except the same white blankness that roiled around her feet. She looked again at Ian and... and the dog. "I don't remember anything." She found the words easy to say, as they were true enough. Yet something was wrong.
"Nor me..." Ian scratched at the back of his head. "Still, there must be a reason... There's always a reason."
Nyssa nodded at the word. It sounded familiar. Reasonable. She started to walk slowly through the garden again with Ian at her side, the mist sliding up about her knees as she did so. Myrtle danced and leaped around them, the only sign of his presence often was his tall amber tail that waggled through the fog like the fin of a drunken, shaggy shark.
"It would be reasonable to assume," she continued hesitantly, "that we're here for a purpose. It must have required energy to bring us here..."
"Nothing in life is free..." Ian called out again then, a large, hearty, "HULLO!" into garden, but all he got in return was his own echo before it was swallowed by the thick fog leaving nothing but the perpetual grumbling and muttering that bubbled around them.
They moved through the garden, listening, trying to discern a single voice, a focal point.
Nyssa plucked a leaf from the undergrowth and frowned, idly rubbing at the frosted, waxy surface "I don't even recognize this species. It all seems so strange." She looked up at him, at his friendly face and her frown deepened. Behind him, above his head, the moon faded again, shifting, its blank face silently graying.
Ian hadn't noticed. "I'm afraid botany was never my strong point." He took the green leaf from her and examined it intently. "Always more fascinated by physics, but still, let's have a look..."
"Ian," Nyssa began, attempting to pull the thought back, tugging at a discordant memory, "what did you say before?"
"Before. You mentioned someone, a doctor, deja something?"
"Did I?" Ian looked up at her, his eyes dyed with confusion. "I don't believe I did." He fell silent as if troubled by the leaf in his hands.
Nyssa stared around the garden, but it was empty save for herself and Ian and the mist that wafted undisturbed around them. The shrubs seemed to fall away to their left as if the plants had shriveled and shuddered to the floor, giving way to somewhere deep and dark, its depths hidden from her.
"I'm terribly sorry, but I'm not sure what you're talking about. This, however," he wagged the leaf before her face and Nyssa felt the shiver again, nipping at the hairs of her skin, "is definitely a Rosa Probuzini-"
"Nyssa!" The name came as a shout, the speaker out of breath as he sprinted up to them out of the blackness. "Ian!"
Nyssa felt Jack's warm arm around her waist as he pulled her and Ian close. "Jack!" She giggled despite herself at the expression on Ian's face and at the flush of the pink on his cheeks, then caught herself once more. "I know you." She said the words slowly, as if tasting them.
"I'm so glad to see you!" Jack made to move, but seemed reluctant to end the embrace. He grinned naughtily. "You've both just made me forget how cold it is!"
"You've certainly found us." Ian removed Jack's hand from his waist and shook it heartily, firmly. "It's good to see you, Jack."
Jack's little dragon, Mephy, all shiny red and fluttery, danced through the air and sat upon Jack's shoulder,squinting down at her with glossy purple eyes. It flicked a tiny tongue at her, tasting the air before nuzzling Jack's neck, nipping at his earlobe tenderly, as if expecting to find milk. Jack stroked the slippery red tail absently as it sucked and beamed at them expectantly.
"You don't know what's going on, by any chance?" Ian hazarded.
"Nope." Jack turned and motioned for them to follow. "We don't..."
"We?" Nyssa glanced into the darkness, instinctively anticipating the chill that followed and the figure that stood in the hedge. Jo Grant stepped through the opening, a wide smile on her face and her body trailing a cape of vines and flowers that swept behind her as she came toward Nyssa and gave her a warm hug and a soft kiss. Nyssa found herself staring at the plants that seemed to cloth the young woman and sprout from the ground in her wake. While some of the flowers were white and yellow and blue, the majority of the plants were green, with five wide leaves spread like a hand, with two smaller ones near the base. She could not name it either, yet it was everywhere around Jo as she greeted Ian in turn.
Indica. The name tickled her mind as Nyssa smiled back at Jo, but then just as quickly it was gone. Like memory, knowledge came and went in this world, teasing, tasting, savoring and then gone.
"We've been walking for forever," Jo said. "But I'm not the slightest bit tired, are you?"
"No," Nyssa puzzled. "I don't feel... well, I don't feel much of anything..."
"...at all," Ian finished for her.
"Which is odd." Jack furrowed his perfect forehead. "I do hope we're not dead." His furrows deepened. "Again, I mean."
It can't be that simple. Nyssa felt it, but she dare not speak it. "I may have been mistaken," she felt herself say, the truth overcoming her other troubling thoughts. "I feel stronger somehow." She glanced at the sky and the dimming moon. "And yet weaker at the same time."
"I know what you mean," Ian said, patting her arm. "I would feel much better if I could remember more of... If I could remember," he finished lamely.
They kept on, together, walking into the deepening night. The light in the sky above darkened as they moved and their path became difficult to follow. They made their way deeper into the maze and the shrubs grew tall about them. The fire had been more severe here, the destruction rampant. Large gaping holes appeared in the crippled vegetation. Mist seeped through them like pus from a wound.
It was forever again; then it was a moment.
It was both.
And then they found themselves standing in a circle, surrounded. And alone.
Mathematics screamed in her head, defying her eyes, but it was no less true. She was standing in the clearing with Ian and Jack. But she was also standing alongside Tegan. The vegetation and the shadows near her old friend seemed angular, caricatured, as if drawn with ink upon a shifting canvas of mist. Beside her was Roz Forrester, a curious rock twisting and purring in her arms. And there was Zoë and Dorothea Chaplet. And Peri Brown. And Sarah Jane. A thousand people. And only a handful.
And Nyssa was also standing in the cobbled clearing by herself, alone.
All at once.
And not at all.
Nyssa fought to keep her mind straight, her thoughts rational, ordered. Reasonable.
And then she looked down.
At first it was an altar, and then a column, then a pillar... imagery stuttered about its center, but at its heart, as Nyssa focused her eyes , she saw that it was a bed, made with sheets woven of many colors and fabrics that were covered by a duvet of deep blue, warm and comforting, embracing a figure of...
But Nyssa couldn't focus on the light within the bed, even though it was flickering, dying.
Vines wrapped around the base of the bed, curled around the edges, the moonlight glinting off their sharp thorns and serrated leaves, vicious and vile. No, Nyssa corrected herself, not vicious: defensive; their spikes were turned outward, protecting the occupant within and the figure that sat by its side, her long blond hair draping downward into the shifting light, a limp flower held in her hand.
Nyssa took an uncertain step closer and suddenly recognized both the plant and the woman at the same time. Rosa Probuzini and Rose. The last in the garden, kept alive by some gardener unseen. Together they sat above the light, weeping tears of dew and time.
Other knowledge filled her in that step. Nyssa gasped as she attempted to absorb it: the prick of a Janus thorn, the taste of champagne, the tearing, rending pain of childbirth. She took another step and found herself steeped in forgiveness, sorrow, betrayal and joy. Of purple suns and mountains of clouds and lust and aching grief. Thoughts and memories and concepts that were not her own.
Nyssa collated them, ordered them, rationalized them. Made room for them and accepted them, without precept, without judgment.
With knowledge came comprehension. Understanding of the task she must perform.
Step by step, she made her way closer, the voices gathering, filling her, carrying her closer, her mind bursting from within. And yet still she held them, not containing them, but accommodating them, making room in her head. Combining them. The figures around her disappeared as she walked, joining with her.
The moment has been prepared for...
The vine of thorns made way for her, twisting apart to allow her through, to let her stand beside Rose, to stare at the body in the bed. The figure lying in the bed was fading; blond, with a face that was both kind and pale and full of sadness, and fading away rapidly.
It was also brown and curly haired, with a pointy nose. eyes stared back, blank eyes, empty save for a confusion so total, so painful that Nyssa wanted to reach out, to stroke his cheek, to tell him everything would be all right. But there was fear in his eyes, fear of her, fear of everything. It was too much for Nyssa to bear and she had to turn away.
She reached for the young woman's shoulder and found that her own arm was swathed in mist, as was the rest of her body. She could no longer make out her own features and instead watched as her glowing white limb rest gently on Rose's shoulder.
"Triskaidekaphobia," the voice was a memory, not hers, not theirs, that floated above the bed between them,"is especially rampant on Gallifrey and not without reason. Of course, in Chinese, thirteen, is considered lucky be cause it sounds like..." the voice faded away, drifting into the darkness that seemed to have swallowed the garden around them.
The blackness grew and Nyssa could see stars sigh and disperse, novas curl and choke, leaving behind dust and frost. The moon above faded, lifeless and sallow. The universe outside was dying, and the life that held them here, together, was almost gone too.
"It's time," Nyssa told Rose, in a voice not her own.
Rose nodded and her tears ceased, the blinding flow of light and energy halting, leaving the figure in the bed bare and exposed. "He wanted to die a hero," Rose wept. "Wanted to be remembered..." She looked up at Nyssa. "But Time won... So many lives, he's done so much... and now he can't even remember who he is... can't remember us, can't even remember his name... There's no Reason," she sobbed, her voice raw and dry. "There's no reason for only twelve, is there? Not really." Nyssa shook her head and took her hand.
The face in the bed shimmered in that instant, warping and shifting, and Nyssa saw another face, harsh and eager, and another, sensual and warm. But even as she took in these new visages, the body seemed to fade again.
Nyssa ordered the last of the Rose's new thoughts.
Together, they started at the being within the crumpled bedsheets.
And, together, they remembered his name. Returned to him what senility had stolen.
As one form, they bent down and placed their hands on the bed and felt the energy of the TARDIS stir and twist, lapping up their legs and torso, giving form and life to what were only thoughts, memories left behind by its travelers, its occupants, their memories, their dreams, their imaginings; fragments made whole, brought together to create a new life, to give memory and life to one who had lost everything.
The bed and the figure merged before swallowing the occupant, interstitially situating within his atoms, his cells, re-designing, re-pathing, energy sparking through withered neurons with a grinding, groaning sound, the sound of Awakening.
The Universe around faded and bent, time folded. A new universe was born.
A man, coated with frost already was thawing into dew appeared on a field of grass on a world new and impossible.
The voice echoed back once more out of the darkness, falling upon ears newly-made and across eyes that blinked open for a last and first time. "...sounds like 'being alive."