The ruins she’d seen, the ones that had seemed familiar though she’d not been able to identify them…that must have been the Citadel.
Nyssa couldn’t breathe. Oh, she ought to have been able to–it was the same recycled air she breathed every day but drawing it into her lungs was suddenly painful. Her ribs felt too small, her body as though it were being pressed down upon on all sides. It was a feeling she knew all too well–she’d felt it the first time watching Traken disappear from the viewscreen of the TARDIS. That memory, which had never gone away, never faded, now seemed as vivid and immediate as if it were happening all over again, as if Lasarti’s machine had brought it back to life.
“Lady Nyssa?” Emar asked urgently, the concern in his voice drawing her slowly back to the present.
It was like being dragged through razor wire.
“What…what happened?” Yurek asked, just as confused and concerned as his compatriot. “Is he…?”
The Doctor. She had to focus on the Doctor. This was no time to wallow in her own ever-present grief. She needed to be strong for him, as he’d been for her.
“The Doctor will live,” she promised, her voice sounding very far away to her own ears. Like an automaton, she crossed to a linen cupboard and found a sheet which she then brought back to drape over the unconscious Time Lord. The act made her feel strangely maternal towards him. “For now, at least, however he might wish otherwise. Take him to my quarters, please. I think it’s best I keep an eye on him, just in case.”
Emar looked mildly ill, and truthfully she didn’t blame him. She was feeling more than a little…unsettled herself. “That was…that was a suicide attempt?” he asked, reading between the lines. She couldn’t blame him, either–if one wanted to commit suicide, there were surely easier ways than the heat and radiation burns that the Doctor had suffered.
Nyssa looked at the Doctor again. “No,” she answered truthfully. “But I don’t think he meant to survive, either.”
While Yurek and Emar carried the Doctor to Nyssa’s quarters, the same quarters she’d once shared with Lasarti and Nica, Nyssa frantically pondered what her next step ought to be.
In spite of what she knew now, she was determined not to let the Doctor die, certainly not by neglect of the regeneration process. After all, surely if she could find a reason to go on after the death of her world, eventually he would be able to as well. But she was also deeply aware that Terminus might not be equipped for what he needed: she certainly hadn’t a zero room, or anything suitable for building a zero cabinet. And the TARDIS, if she’d suffered the same damage as her Time Lord, might not either.
That thought made Nyssa catch her breath all over again. It might not have been by choice, but nonetheless the TARDIS had been her home for many years. She knew they would have to see how bad the damage was, but a part of her dreaded it. There might be nothing left of the ship she remembered. It didn’t matter that she’d already moved on and found a new home: the thought of losing another one still hurt.
She could imagine how much more intense that hurt must be for the Doctor.
Her eyes drifted over to him, relieved to find him still apparently unconscious, or at least pretending to be. They would need to talk–likely more than once before she felt safe letting him out of her sight–but not yet. Not with Yurek and Emar still about, two men the Doctor would consider strangers. No…when they were alone, then she’d face him.
She had no reason to fear his anger. A man who’d given up the death he so badly wanted for himself to save her life would never deliberately harm her.
Of course, she couldn’t imagine the Doctor–at least not the Doctor she’d known–deliberately harming anyone unless he was forced to. The difficulty would be in remembering that this wasn’t the Doctor she’d known.
She’d never had quite so much in common with her Doctor.
When they reached her quarters, Nyssa helped Yurek and Emar lift the Doctor off the pallet and ease him gently onto her own bed. She left the sheet draped over him for some illusion of privacy, even though she’d already seen enough to know that yes, everything had grown back. With his lower body temperature, he shouldn’t need much more than that sheet in the constantly regulated atmosphere of the station.
It took some doing, but Yurek and Emar were eventually persuaded to leave her alone with the Doctor. Nyssa understood the reason for their questions–likely they’d never seen someone spontaneously regenerate at the point of death before. There certainly weren’t many species that could, possibly not any beside the Time Lords.
Still, it was a relief when they finally departed with stern admonitions to send for them if she needed anything. It always amused her, a little, how easily the younger Vanir forgot she wasn’t fragile.
But then, they knew only a fraction of what she had survived and endured in her lifetime.
This man, however…
Nyssa seated herself beside the Doctor on the bed, taking one hand in her own as she studied his still form. It came as something of a shock to realise that he looked a bit like he had when they’d first met on Traken, if you took away the wild curls and sharpened all the lines and angles on that younger incarnation’s face. That was what he looked like: a harder version of the man she’d met all those years ago.
Fitting, she supposed, considering that’s likely exactly what he was.
Tears stung Nyssa’s eyes again, resisting her valiant efforts to hold them at bay. Some would say she’d wept far too little considering the magnitude of the losses in her life. Though she’d tried, whatever release and catharsis tears might provide had never seemed equal to what she mourned. Strange how easily they came when it was not her own loss she grieved.
Still clinging to the Doctor’s hand, Nyssa crawled carefully into the bed beside him, on top of the sheets and blankets. Curling herself against his side, Nyssa pressed his hand to her own heart and closed her eyes. Only then did she let the tears fall.
She wound up crying herself to sleep.
When Nyssa awoke some hours later, she found the Doctor watching her with cool, unreadable blue eyes. (Of course blue–it completed the picture of a more rough-hewn version of the man she’d first met.) She became uncomfortably aware that she was lying curled up in bed with a very naked man, only a sheet between them. The fact that it was the Doctor only made things all the more awkward.
“You tricked me,” he stated without preamble.
Disquieted even more, Nyssa let go of his hand and calmly climbed out of bed. She didn’t look at him. She couldn’t. Not yet, not with this new knowledge that she held but couldn’t quite process. Instead she crossed the room to the small bureau and began to withdraw some of Lasarti’s clothes; things she’d never quite been able to put aside after his death. “Yes, I did.”
“I told you to let me die.”
“You were in shock, irrational. That’s no fit state to make life or death decisions, even about your own life.” Nyssa’s voice sounded clinical even to her own ears.
“I seem to remember you being a good deal better at doing as you were asked,” he snapped.
Her lips turned up in a smile of wry affection, “Next to Tegan, Adric and Thomas, I imagine anyone might seem so.” After a pause, she added, “Besides which, I was a good deal younger then and you weren’t my patient.”
Greeted with nothing but a sullen silence, Nyssa finally found the courage to turn around. She carried the small heap of clothes over to him. “I’m sure you’ll find clothing more to your taste later, but these should suffice for the moment.” He looked at them dubiously and she surprised herself by adding, “Unless, of course, you’d prefer to wander the halls in a bed sheet.”
The Doctor snorted. “Did that last regeneration, thanks. Don’t particularly care to repeat the experience.” He turned the trousers and shirt over in his hands.
Now there was a story, no doubt. Nevertheless, she refrained from asking: if he wasn’t going to volunteer the information, more than likely any attempts to extract it would only be rebuffed.
It didn’t address the real problem, either, though she knew she’d been the first to wander off the topic. She turned away politely while he dressed, but when he was done, summoned all the Trakenite discipline of her youth to walk over to the bed and sit beside him.
Neither of them looked at the other. Nyssa took a deep breath and admitted, “You were right. I had been there before, though I didn’t recognise it. That was Gallifrey, wasn’t it?”
He didn’t answer, only shrugged, but that was confirmation enough.
“I’m sorry,” she stated in quiet sympathy.
His answer to that was a brusque, “Yeah, well, that’s what you get for messing with what you don’t understand.”
“I don’t understand?” Startled, Nyssa let out a short, disbelieving laugh. “Tell me Doctor, how is watching your world burn so very different from watching it consumed by billions of years of entropy in moments? The end result is the same.”
The Doctor looked at her. Nyssa wondered if he wasn’t seeing her for the first time, not just the companion who’d kept him alive against his will. “Nyssa, I…I didn’t…” His voice was hoarse. He stared at her helplessly for a moment before she finally gave in and pulled him into her arms.
“You didn’t think,” Nyssa finished the sentence quietly for him, burying her own face against his neck as the Doctor’s arms tightened around her. “I know. Believe me, I know.”
She could feel the moment the air in the room changed. In hindsight, Nyssa would wonder if some pheromone had been released. Right now, all she knew was that there was suddenly an electricity between them that had never been there before.
She let go immediately, putting distance between her and the Doctor as if that could ease the sudden pounding in her chest. The way every nerve ending in her body responded to his presence was almost frightening. How could she even consider feeling such a thing for a man who had been, if not a father figure (no one could ever replace Tremas), then certainly a mentor? Oh, perhaps she might have fancied him a little, all those years ago, but this was something entirely different, and entirely adult.
Of course, it didn’t help one bit that he was wearing her late husband’s clothes. (Not that the alternative would have been preferable.)
Nyssa risked a glance at the Doctor, hoping and yet afraid to see if he had felt it too. His face was once more a locked room, one that she was locked out of: strange how she could feel such exasperation and such relief all at once.
“Would you like a tour of the station?” she asked quickly, as a cover for her actions. “I imagine Terminus has changed quite a bit since you were here last.”
The Doctor forced a hollow smile onto his face. “Love one.”