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Exquisite Corpse

Chapter Text

“Tell us about ourselves.”

The Doctor blinked. He was standing in the burnt wreckage of a house. He remembered walking there and deciding to poke around because the ruin didn’t seem to fit into the small town American image that the rest of the town seemed so keen on pretending to be. He also remembered that, up to about a second ago, none of that had actually happened. Now, of course, that had always been what had happened.

He also remembered seeing the man in front of him. He had taken him for a statue, at first. Not because it looked like he was made out stone, but because he sat so still. He didn’t breathe, he didn’t blink. There was no flush of blood in his face as his heart beat. The breeze didn’t even stir his clothes. He just sat there, on a burnt chair that was so damaged that it looked like it couldn’t possibly hold his weight.

“Who are you?” The Doctor asked.

“We… aren’t sure. That is why we’re asking you. You said that you’ve seen us before. Tell us what we’re like.” The way the man spoke was odd. For one thing, only his mouth moved. His eyes remained expressionless and his face didn’t shift. For another, each individual word seemed to stand by itself, as though it was taken from the brain, put on the tongue and then withdrawn again. It seemed as though he knew the forms of language but hadn’t quite grasped the spirit.

“You’re the statues.” The Doctor didn’t comment on the fact that he didn’t know of any way that the angels could speak through a human like this. He certainly didn’t comment on the fact that this was yet another person speaking to him in plurals.

“They call us the guardian angels.”

The Doctor paused for a second. “What do you call ourselves?”

“We have no voices. We call ourselves nothing. We say nothing. We only listen.”

“But you’re speaking through… whoever this is.”

“We are a thought that grips his vocal cords. He died long ago – we are merely a thought more powerful than those that still run through his mind. Our words with his voice.”

“He’s a vampire.”

“Yes.”

The Doctor opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. They’re waiting for their story, nameless man. They could wait a little longer. He didn’t know everything, not yet. “Why don’t you tell me about yourselves first?”

“Why? You know us. We saw the way you looked at us, when you arrived in our box. We have heard you speak about us, so many times now. Tell us about ourselves, nameless man.”

“Why did you call me that?”

“Because you have no name. None that we have heard. We told you, nameless man. We listen. We hear everything that happens in this town. We hear every curse, every lie, every threat. We hear every prayer. But not once have we heard your name. Nor have we heard our own. Only your vague allusions. Tell us about ourselves.”

“What do you want to know?”

There was, for the first time, a pause. Previously, the man had made his replies almost before the Doctor had finished speaking. Now there was a hesitation. A tiny, almost imperceptible hesitation, but a hesitation nonetheless. “Did she lie? She said… she said such horrible things about us. We are mewling newborns, nameless man. We know nothing, except for what we hear. And the first thing that we heard upon being born was… she said that we were lonely assassins. That we were supposed to spread fear and terror throughout the universe. Is that true, nameless man? Are we monsters? We have saved… so many from the monsters in this town. We don’t even know how many. We even… we even saved her. Tell us, nameless man, are we doing… did we do the right thing?”

Oh.

This was her town. The blonde. The Beast. Buffy. Whichever. She came from here. She was the sister, the one that the girl with the tired eyes had been scared of. The one that seemed to have scared everyone in this town.

The one who had made, in this place where the entire universe seemed to not exist, a race so cruel and so deadly that they would one day destroy entire worlds.

“Before I do. Before I tell you anything.” The Doctor said slowly. “I have to ask you one question. The vampires. What do you do with them?”

“We touch them. When they are about to feed, we touch them, and for a brief moment…” the man trailed off.

“And?”

“We cannot speak, nameless man. We cannot look at each other. We are, always and forever, entirely alone. Even this man, with his fingers that smell of nicotine and screams, even he is less lonely than us. But when we touch them, for a brief moment, we feel… we do not know the word. We think it is happy.”

The Doctor leans forward intently. “Why?”

“Because they are gone. Because, wherever they go, whatever it is that happens to them, they are lonelier than us. Their world is torn away from them in a blink of an eye, and… we don’t feel as bad.”

They didn’t know. They didn’t even know what happened to people when they touched them. They didn’t know what was happening.

When an angel touched a human, they went back in time. Not far, in the grand scheme of things. Usually not even a hundred years. They lived long enough to see the day that they were touched by an angel, and that was it. The human, if they were lucky, found a new life in the past.

But a vampire? If you sent a vampire back even a hundred years, then it would spend that entire time killing people. The Doctor didn’t have even the slightest clue how often a vampire needed to feed. But send a vampire back a hundred years – even if it only killed one person, then every relative that that person might have had was wiped out in an instant. Their family, their friends – the entire course of their lives would change.

But vampires didn’t age. You could send them back as far as you liked, and they would spend the entire time killing. Thousands, millions of lives changing. And the angels had said that they didn’t even know how many vampires they had touched.

No wonder time was breaking. It was changing, over and over again. Things that should have been fixed no longer were, people whose descendants would have done something hundreds of thousands years later were killed before they could have children. History was falling apart, killed by a thousand cuts.

“Wait… wherever you are. I’m not going to tell you about yourselves. I’m going to show you instead. Wait. I’ll open the door to my… box for you when I’m ready.”

The Doctor went back to his TARDIS. About five minutes later it vanished, and then promptly reappeared again. By this point, there were several angel statues watching it that hadn’t been there earlier.

The door creaked open. The angels went in. The TARDIS flew away.

The TARDIS then not only opened its doors but shifted the gravity, causing the angels to go flying out through the door to land on the world below.

It was not the same world that they had left. It was a barren, molten world, with a sky filled with ash.

A voice, the Doctor’s voice, a recording came blaring from the TARDIS.

“You want me to tell you about yourselves? You are killers. I’ve seen you force a girl to count down the minutes to her death, just because it amused you. I’ve seen you kill a man and use his vocal cords so that you could use him to taunt us. I’ve seen planets that you’ve killed. I’ve heard you laugh while you hunt. And none of that,nothing compares to what you are doing to time. You're killing whole universes, over and over again. So yes. You are monsters, made by a monster. You spread fear and terror across the universe… or at least, you did. But, now, time is so broken that I can take you and put you on this dying world at the end of the universe, where you’ll never be able to harm anyone ever again. You’ll be alone, weeping, right until the universe ends.”

And then the TARDIS faded away, back to Earth, to pick up the Doctor from where it had left him. Five minutes after the angels had entered the TARDIS. Five minutes after the Doctor stopped time from completely falling apart. Five minutes after he left the angels stranded on a dying world in a dying universe.