Quill stood in the open doorway of the TARDIS, legs apart in a steady stance, fists at her side. So many stars, a silver-bright necklace laced across the vastness of space.
"This isn't real," she said. "It's a dream. Only Quill don't dream."
"You're half-right," the Doctor said. "Well, more like a third-right. Quill mostly don't dream. But this isn't a dream. It's real. Or real enough, as far as your consciousness is concerned."
Quill's head snapped round to look at him. "My consciousness."
His eyes flicked towards her belly. "I see congratulations are in order."
"Congratulations? For –" Her hand traced the unfamiliar curve. "But I can't be … he wasn't even Quill."
"Lots of species are more compatible with each other than they think. Ask the humans."
"No. No, no, no, no, this is not what I asked for, this is not part of the bargain!" Wherever that Ames woman was, she was going to regret this, and certainly at the point of a gun, one that worked properly this time.
"You're in hibernation," the Doctor said softly. "The one time a Quill's unconscious mind is apt to wander – all those hormones racing through your veins – and next thing I know, it's knocking at my door. If a mind can knock on a door, that is. No hands."
"I'd almost forgotten how deeply stupid you are sometimes," Quill said, kicking the TARDIS door shut. She stalked towards him, planting herself only a few inches from his face. He didn't blink. "So I have to ask myself, why you? Why did my mind take me here?"
"Maybe because it's the best place in the universe for chocolate-Branston pickle ice cream? You wouldn't be the first expectant mother onboard to crave a bowl of it. Okay, you'd be the second, which is literally two more people than I ever expected might want it, but I find it best never to argue with a woman willing to stab me if I get between her and a bowl of ice cream. You're not feeling stabby, are you?"
"Whatever brought me here, I am certain it was not for ice cream," Quill said. "And I don't care for pickles. And I have no idea whether my unconscious can stab you, but I'm perfectly willing to find out."
"All right," the Doctor said. "It's probably that there are a limited number of places you feel safe now, circumstances being what they are. And there are a limited number of people you feel safe with. So you could either go wandering on Earth among your students –"
"Not bloody likely."
"– or your mind could take you somewhere that symbolises 'rescue.' 'Safety.' Not 'home,' I don't think, but, well, I know what sort of hole that leaves in your head and your heart, for a very long time."
"I don't need comfort," Quill said. "I don't need you, or Charlie, or April, or any of them."
The Doctor shrugged, slid past her to the console, dabbed at a few buttons and levers. "Suit yourself, then. I'll see you when you're ready. Or not."
In her sleep, Quill balled her fists, drew her knees to her chest. She dreamt her incisors shattered from grinding her jaw, enamel gemstones rattling through her mouth and down her throat. The last defence of a Quill, their teeth, destroyed through happenstance weakness.
A dream, she sighed in her sleep.
But of course, Quill don't dream.
Thousands of years before the Quill gave up on their gods, they passed down legends, like any other culture, of how this or that river was formed, of why the seasons turned, of how the moons were the oldest gods of all, banished by the Quill goddess. Here is the legend of why Quill dream during hibernation:
The Quill goddess had grown weary from carrying her first litter, for the god who'd fathered them was now a moon orbiting Rhodia, and children of the moon are heavy as stones. She lay down to rest for a while, and as she slept, her unborn children began to plot against her. Who was she to hold them captive inside her? They latched their tiny hands and wished for the old gods to help them, but because the children were yet inside their mother, she could hear their thoughts. Dismaying as it was to know her children resented her, the goddess took this as proof they were worthy descendants, for no true Quill can be held captive for a moment without a desire to kill their oppressor.
So she let her mind bolster theirs, and together, they reached out to the moons and wished for freedom. The moons responded, "We are no longer powerful enough to grant your wish. But we control the tides, and we use that power now to move you to the birthing womb and bring you one step closer to your desire."
The Quill goddess felt her children shift inside her. Soon they would be born, and then all of them, offspring and mother alike, would learn whether they were strong enough to survive.
And this is why childbearing Quill can dream: so they can speak with the moons. Though usually, their dreams keep to themselves rather than travelling halfway across the universe.
Quill's teeth were intact and her fists were sore from clenching and the Doctor, the Doctor was sat in his armchair with a fountain pen and a thousand-year diary.
"You again?" he said.
"Why am I here?" Hands gripping the metal handrails of the staircase, vertigo swooping through her even at this low height. It was surprisingly hard to go from splayed on a bed to halfway up a set of stairs, especially while ostensibly asleep.
"Funny, I had the same question. And I'm still sorting it out, even though I'm not sure it's the right one."
"The right one? It's the only question."
"Hardly." The diary snapped shut, the pen clacking against a side table. "You could ask literally any other question and I might have an answer for you, or at least be able to form a conjecture. But 'why'? 'Why' supposes a philosophical reason I suggested the last time your unconscious paid me a visit, and maybe I was right, and maybe I was wrong, but either way, you're here again, not to mention curiously solid. I was willing to believe you were just a mental communiqué the last time, but you've actually taken hold of the railings, which means the TARDIS has given you a bit of a body. Clever girl."
Quill clambered up the last few steps and grabbed the Doctor by the lapels.
"Why. Am. I. Here," she repeated. "Did you bring me here? Is this your guilty conscience, because you couldn't fix me?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her, then gently brushed her hands away. "We discussed this last time. You're pregnant. You're hibernating. Your mind is quite literally wandering. Have you forgotten?"
"I'm …" Her belly, suddenly swollen, and how on earth had that happened? Well, she knew how, she wouldn't have forgotten that, but there were so many other questions about how she was already this far along and how she and Ballon could have been compatible in the first place and what if that bitch Ames had planned this somehow? The Governors, always three frustrating steps ahead of where Quill expected them to be; what could they want from her children?
The Doctor pulled his screwdriver from a coat pocket and scanned her. "The good news is, you're fine, and so's your young half-Quill. The bad news is some of your hormone levels are off, though who's to say what's normal in these cross-species situations? But that's probably why you're forgetting something as obvious as pregnancy when you're not awake to observe it.
"In any case," he continued, "I don't know why you're here, or why twice now the TARDIS has let your unconscious mind come calling. I'm going to have to have words with her about that."
The stairs rumbled beneath Quill's feet.
"But no," the Doctor said, "I did not request your presence. Perhaps there was a star in the sky, or three men on camelback, or something far less poetic that drew you here. In either case, it wasn't me, although I don't object, Andra'ath. Is it all right if I call you that? Or do you prefer 'Quill' nowadays?"
"'Quill' will do."
"Of course it will. Reminds you of who you really are. We should talk sometime, you and me, of what it means to adopt a name, but that will have to wait. The connection's growing weak, and I think the next time we see each other, we might have other things to discuss."
"How do you know the – ah –" The diary fuzzed through Quill's fingers. Her jaw ached.
The Doctor picked up his pen, opened his book, wrote five words Quill couldn't read and added a very emphatic full stop. "Telepathic ship. Telepathic me," he said. "See you soon. See … all of you soon."
She'd forgotten she was pregnant. She'd forgotten she was pregnant. And hormonal fluctuations or not, it had been unexpectedly easy to do, what with having spent her entire adult life up to this point not being pregnant, and much of the current pregnant part of it in a cabinet locked outside of time itself. Also, there was the whole existential annoyance of knowing one's offspring would eat one immediately after birth, because thousands of years of conditioning were a heavy burden to ignore, not that this made the existential annoyance any less annoying.
What would half-Lorr, half-Quill children be like? Would they inherit any of the human DNA Quill now had thanks to the Doctor's chameleon arch, and was that why she'd been able to crossbreed with Ballon in the first place? How many in her litter, anyway, and how many girls who'd tear each other apart in the nest if they couldn't do it first in the womb?
Would she let them eat her, or would she kill them if she had to? She'd survived so far on chance and wit, and didn't the last pureblooded Quill deserve to live as much as her children?
Why were the Governors such miserable bastards they couldn't have let Ballon, fellow wounded soldier, live alongside her?
Why couldn't she stop thinking about his hands, and how they'd transformed as they traced her body, from feathers that had caressed her nipples to velvet along her thighs to slithering fronds between her legs? They were the only part of him that could change, thanks to a god's blood, but Quill had made sure he'd used them.
Yes, that Ames woman was going to die for giving them that impossible choice and then rigging the game against them even further. Quill would find her and take her time with the gun, let Ames quiver in fear for as long as she'd made Quill and Ballon fight for their lives.
But first, another dream of Ballon's hands. His shifting fingertips tapping on her body like the ghost he was.
Quill murmured in her sleep and clenched her legs together as tightly as her jaw had been, and when her eyes opened in the dream, not a dream, never a dream, Quill aren't allowed dreams, they flickered long enough to register the Doctor below her, her thighs wrapped round his waist, her nails dug into the tender skin near his throat.
"Faster. Oh, God, faster, you can do this, you only look thin and weak, I know you're stronger than that …" Grinding down harder on the Doctor as he braced his feet and thrust deep inside her. "Yes. That's it. Keep going."
His hands taking her by the wrists, pulling her away from his throat, guiding her fingers and his between her legs, and hell, when had she acquired that giant belly and goddammit that could only mean one thing, and …
"Focus," the Doctor said. "Come back to me. Focus." His hand taking over for hers, finger flicking at her clit, soft as one of Ballon's fronds …
"Yes," she cried. "Yes. Yes. You owe me. You all owe me."
Light as bright as the cabinet's artificial Rhodian sun burst inside her head. Below her, the Doctor groaned and slowed. His hearts thumped wildly under Quill's hands. Two hearts, just as the old legends promised. It wasn't every day she got to fuck a mythical creature.
"Well," he said, "I guess we've learned exactly how physical your wandering unconscious can get."
"Good. Because I don't know about you, but I needed that." Quill carefully slid off the Doctor and lay beside him.
"Give the pregnant lady what she wants, I always say," he replied. "There's still chocolate-pickle ice cream going begging, in case you've changed your mind about that."
"That is never going to happen."
"More for me, then, and the next disembodied consciousness of a pregnant being that crosses my path."
The TARDIS rose above her, dark and cavernous, the only lighting in the room the buttons on the console and the neon orange glow of the Time Rotor shining across Quill's naked body. Four times she'd been here now, only once in her real or human body, and still her pregnant brain inexplicably dragged her back.
"This is ridiculous," she said. "Not this this, that was fine –"
"You'll do, Time Lord."
"I should think so."
"I've asked you before what I'm doing here, and we're no closer to an answer. Though I assume the problem will solve itself when I'm out of hibernation."
"You really don't know the answer? Come on, you're as clever as anyone else. In fact, much cleverer, or you and the Little Prince wouldn't have survived long enough to find me in the first place."
"Don't mention him. Not right now. I am going to be rid of him. I am luxuriating in the idea of being rid of him." She yawned, stretched her arms, drummed her fingers on her stomach. Perhaps there was something here after all. "I want … I want to be free. I want my people back. I want this life to be fair for a change. It hasn't been fair for a long time, not my entire life, and now there's me, just me, when only a day or two ago, I was a slave to the boy making my life so terribly unfair." She flipped on her side to face the Doctor. "I want my revenge. I've earned that. I owe it to my people, and life owes it to me."
"Take it from someone who's been somewhere not so far from where you are right now: I can guarantee that in these circumstances, revenge, such as it is, isn't nearly as satisfying as you'd think it would be."
"I don't care. Life will pay its debts to me and my people, one way or another."
"If you insist." He sat up and began to gather their scattered clothes, dropping her dress in a puddle of black cloth across her waist. "But I need to tell you that something's coming. I can't see it beyond a feeling, but I know you'll have a choice. And it may not go the way you'd hope."
"All I've ever wanted was a choice, Doctor."
He shrugged himself into his shirt and began buttoning the collar. "Then I think you know what to do next."
Quill dreamt of a tangle of cephalopods, tentacles dragging her down, shifting inside her. For a brief moment, a low-level climax rippled through her, and she sighed in her sleep.
A striped cuttlefish slid from within her upper belly to her lower one, arms planting themselves carefully along her inner flesh, quietly feeding off her. She'd felt strangely affectionate towards all the sea creatures, but this one especially.
The cuttlefish opened its great round eyes, blinked at her, stroked her with its tentacles.
"Mother," it said.
Quill woke with a scream.
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