Nightmares and dreams can often be one in the same. No one knew this better than Ian. Happy memories of Barbara could dance in his head but no matter how lovely the dream, the thought of her–he’d always wake up alone.
He'd always wake up to the silence.
But one evening, a noise woke up the now elderly Chesterton from his anguished slumber. Someone, or more likely something was downstairs in his living room. The old instincts that came with traveling with the Doctor flooded back to him. Panic, self- preservation, fight and flight.
So he crept down the stairs, prepared to see some burglar or a teenager.
Instead he saw something that nearly caused him to collapse.
By the open living room window, in her blue-faded velvet armchair, smile as stunning as ever–sat Barbara Wright Chesterton.
The LATE Barbara Wright Chesterton.
Her skin was clear and had a healthy blush to it. Eyes sparkling in the low light of the lamps. She wore her favourite cream coloured jumper and leggings, not a hair of her practical bouffant out of place. She was smiling at him, like he had just came home from work.
“Hello, my love. Sleeping well?” Her voice was confident and strong, ever the teacher. Acting like nothing was wrong.
Ian stumbled closer to her, shaking his head, unable to speak properly.
Barbara laughed. God, how he missed that laugh. “I suppose you’re surprised?”
Ian practically fell into his chair, right opposite hers. “You’re dead, Barbara.” he said, blunt and full of finality.
“And yet here I am! Oh really Ian, there’s no need to gawk.” She held a hand out to him. “I’ve missed you, darling. I’ve missed your face, your touch.”
Ian stared at her hand for a moment, still shocked. But shock faded into a strange sort of smile.
“You’re a dream, aren’t you?” It wasn’t a question. But it wasn’t said in anger or fear. And that sad, knowing smile did not waver.
The conciseness buzzed with confusion. But did not panic.
Barbara blinked, though her right eye seemed to be a bit slower than the left. But you could only notice it you were staring very hard. A millisecond difference. Ian noticed.
He knew her enough to notice.
“Oh, Ian…” Barbara whispered. “I promise I’m not.”
But Ian looked unconvinced; he leaned back in the chair and looked up towards the mantle. Hanging on the wall was their wedding picture. The fact that it was black and white did not take away from the details on her gown and the light in her eyes. Besides, she had said, they were wearing black and white anyway, a colour photograph would be silly. It was the happiest day of his life.
Though the picture was tainted with sorrow: he wore that tuxedo to her funeral.
“Do you know how many times I’ve seen you here? Sitting here, as pretty as I remember. And we’d talk. Like it was any other day. But then I’d blink and you’d be gone.” His eyes turned back towards her. Her smile was gone, concern was now in its place. How she still looked beautiful even in times of panic, he’d never know
“I pretended for so long that you were here. It took nearly dying more than once to get me to accept the fact that you were gone and now–“ He trails off, the smile quivering. “Here you are again…”
Barbara held out her hand once more, imploring. “Let me prove it to you, Ian. Take my hand, I’m real. I promise I am. You’re not insane.”
The alien's nervous system twitched again. They are designed to pull at grief, tug the proverbial heartstrings and memories to get the subject to come to them. They fed off empathy. They were not empathetic. And even so. They had this human male’s entire life with this female before them to sample. Their first meeting, their only son, weddings and dates and the Doctor and adventure and loss and it was all so delicious. And yet it too felt his pain. The pain that tasted sour in it’s maw.
Genuine comfort for one human male was not the directive.
“I can’t reach you, my darling, but you can reach me. Just reach for me…you won’t be in pain anymore.” Barbara implored, her tone no longer even but taking on a tinge of desperateness. The Lan Kin was not sure if it was for Itself or for the elderly human male.
Ian Chesterton chuckled. And Barbara flinched. Laughter was supposed to be joyous, but this sort of laugh was the opposite of happy. She–IT didn’t like it.
“Barbara, even if you really were brought back to me right now–if god and the universe decided to be kind, the pain of all these years will never go away,” He stood, and the Lan Kin felt hopeful. Yes, the male would come to It. And the pain, and these odd emotions would all be forgotten.
“It will, love, it will.” Barbara’s arm out stretched more, leaning forward as much as the “trunk” of the Lan Kin would allow. “Please Ian. It will be alright. Everything will exactly as it should.”
Ian knelt before his wife, his companion. Knees creaking with strain and age, and the being that was meant-to-be-Barbara nearly cried out for him to stop, in fear of him hurting himself. “I let you die, Barbara. I lived without you. I’ll carry that with me for however longer the universe will allow.”
The Lan Kin searched the memories of the human female Barbara Wright quickly. The last of her memories. An illness, something preventable on other planets the consciousness had visited, but not on the planet of Earth. It had drained away at her strength, her beauty, her very life, and yet there was Ian, a tad younger perhaps, always at Barbara’s side. Not one day could It find them apart from the diagnosis till the end of life. He looked terrible. Emotions the alien recognized. Longing, fear, decadent pain, loss. But also blame. What was that doing there?
Ah yes. It understood now. This man, this human, wanted to be something more. Something able to save his wife from the illness that tormented her. He has saved her from metal horrors, human cruelty and the threat of execution. Defying death every other day, he had crossed planets, fallen through the skies, and stood up to kings. All in her name.
And yet something so plain as illness was the one enemy he could not defeat.
And for the first time in It’s long life, the Lan Kin felt pain in a way It did not like. It did not feel like food, delicious or even slight raw.
It tasted like ash. It did not want this pain. But it did not want this human to feel it anymore. For it felt that Ian Chesterton had felt and lived and tasted more pain than It ever would.
Barbara shuddered, neck and shoulders tense. “Ian. Ian please,” she whispered. “Just take my hand and–“
But the aliens did not need to plea to him anymore. For his hand was in hers. It was strangely soft, age weathering at hardened skin can do that, It supposed. And still he smiled, tears running from his eyes. It was only when he reached up to cup her cheek that Barbara realized she too, was weeping. Then, before the aliens vines could grip Ian’s body and tear him away from his home, his lips pressed against hers.
It was soft. And sweet. And ever so gentle.
Barbara’s eyes fluttered shut, her lips moving against his, just like she used to. Like nothing had changed.
And the Lan Kin’s vines did wrap around Ian’s shaking and weakening body. But it did not pull. It did not feed. It wrapped Itself around Barbara too. Locking them in an eternal kiss, twisting all over their bodies and pressing them together. A mockery of a lovers embrace but, it was the least It could do. Tears mixed together, breath became one, hearts beating in time.
Hours later, Ian awoke. Alone.
On the floor of his living room, still dressed for bed, head pounding.
And the beloved wedding photo tight in his embrace.