Saving herself or saving him: was that what she was doing, then?
Truthfully, Nyssa wasn’t sure what she’d been thinking, to take the Doctor of all people into her bed. Thought likely hadn’t entered into it at all–hers or the Doctor’s.
That said, she didn’t regret it. It might have been easier, once, to despise the Doctor for the devastation that he’d heralded, but she’d always loved him, this stranger who’d burst into her life bringing destruction in his wake. If that love had taken different forms as the years passed and they both changed, well, that was only natural.
If they needed to be lovers this time around, then she would treasure that as much as she’d treasured every other relationship they’d had. Just like every other time she’d known him, this interlude would end soon enough. When the TARDIS was repaired, he would give in to the impulse to move on and she would have to choose again to join him or stay behind. That restlessness was one facet of the Doctor she couldn’t imagine changing, no matter how what face he wore. Only now he was running not from his people, but from their memory. Perhaps he would run from the memory of her and what they shared as well.
If the thought of that inevitability hurt just a little more than it ought…she’d become expert at carrying her wounds well concealed. He need never know how dearly she would miss him when he was gone, for this would probably be the last time he ever returned. She’d no doubt he wouldn’t have this time if he, rather than the TARDIS, had chosen their destination.
Nyssa wondered: if he asked, could she say those fateful words again? “I’m not coming with you”? She still had no satisfactory answer to that when she rapped lightly on the TARDIS door.
“Busy!” the Doctor called out grumpily from within. “Go away.”
Nyssa smiled, pushing the door open the rest of the way. She marvelled at how much the control room had changed in only a few short days. The white walls she remembered were still absent, but they were echoed in the earthier construction with its smaller roundels and tarnished golden gleam. She’d heard from the Doctor that they were grown, TARDISes, like the coral that spread across the ocean floors of a thousand worlds. It was something entirely different, however, to watch it happen.
The Doctor looked up from where he was sitting at the foot of the console. He was doing…something to the wires draped across both shoulders with a new sonic screwdriver he’d recently constructed. “Oh, it’s you.”
“You were expecting Yurek?” she asked almost pertly.
The Doctor shrugged. “Could’ve been. We’re a bit of a curiosity for your lot, the TARDIS and me–more than one have poked their head in.”
She hadn’t known that, but it didn’t really surprise her. “And promptly pulled it out again, muttering something about the inside being impossible, I imagine.”
His eyes gleamed with mischief that she’d missed. “Well, not every civilisation in the universe can just take the idea of dimensional transcendence in stride. The number of my companions whose first words were ‘It’s bigger on the inside’…”
“And you love it,” she pointed out astutely, smiling. “I rather suspect I was something of a disappointment, in that regard.”
The Doctor looked at her again, and the heat in his gaze made her shiver. “You? Never,” he vowed quietly.
Nyssa closed the door behind her and joined him on the edge of the grate that had grown up over the TARDIS floor like a net of seaweed. She handed him a laser spanner and he gave a brief grunt of acknowledgment.
They lapsed into a companionable silence, only speaking when the Doctor needed Nyssa’s help with the repairs–either her technical knowledge or just a spare hand. It moved her no end how quick the Doctor was to trust her to help him. He was as protective of his ship as the TARDIS was of him: allowing anyone else to touch her, especially a species other than a Time Lord, was not an easy thing to do. If she had that trust, it meant he expected her to treat the TARDIS more like a patient than a machine. The ship was, after all, a living thing.
Her people didn’t always quite understand why she cared to spend so much free time with this apparent stranger. It helped a great deal that when the Doctor wasn’t tinkering with the TARDIS, he wandered about the station lending a helping hand where needed with repairs, improvements, or anything that suited his rather broad skill set. He probably saved them quite a bit of labour and money.
She never joined him until her own duties were done, of course, but that only made the hours working together all the more precious. Most of the technical work they completed was on the console, but also the other circuits, wires, bits and bobs that made up the ship’s systems. The damage to the control room, though, the dead-end corridors and empty rooms all regenerated on their own. It awed her to watch the TARDIS heal around her, just as the Doctor himself had.
Or at least…just as his body had.
The TARDIS was alive, but was she self-aware enough to comprehend and feel the loss the way the Doctor did? Nyssa didn’t know, but she rather hoped not.
It was one of many questions she wouldn’t ask because she didn’t expect an answer. As long as she’d known him, the Doctor had never been one to talk about his past. What little she knew about the man he’d been before she met him, she’d learned from Adric: the lady Time Lord named Romana, the peculiar metal dog named K-9 that the engineer in her rather wished she could have met. Similarly, whatever companions he’d had after Tegan and Turlough left the TARDIS most likely never knew that Nyssa existed.
It might have been a disquieting thought if she weren’t similarly reticent about her own past. No one on Terminus knew where she came from. All who would remember her arrival were long dead.
Some things were simply too painful or too precious to speak of with even the most intimate of friends. She’d told Lasarti, but now he too was gone.
As far as she knew, the Doctor had never had a true life partner. Romana might have come close, from what Adric had told her, had she not chosen to stay behind in another universe. That choice might have spared her from the destruction of Gallifrey, for all Nyssa knew, or even from knowing of it.
Not that it made much difference for the Doctor: Romana was still just as lost to him as Tremas had been to Nyssa once the Master took him over, for all that she’d clung to the hope she might one day banish him and regain her father–
Nyssa’s breath caught in her throat. Suddenly dizzy, she fumbled for purchase, gripping the edge of the TARDIS console when her hands found it. Her father. If Gallifrey was gone and all the Time Lords were destroyed…
“Nyssa?” The Doctor looked at her, alarmed. “What’s wrong?”
It was hard to speak past the sudden knot in her throat, but she forced the words out. “The Master…my father’s body…”
It took a little while, but she saw a terrible compassion dawn in his eyes. It hadn’t occurred to either of them that, in a way, his loss was hers as well. All she’d had left of Traken was the shell of her father. “Dead,” he admitted softly. “Like all the rest. But that…particular life ended for him long before the Time War. He was executed.”
So, even that hope was dead at last. Nyssa heard a soft sob, only belatedly realising it had come from her own throat.
Setting down the laser spanner he’d been using, the Doctor pulled her into his arms. The dam broke as her face touched his chest and suddenly she was crying, sobbing as she hadn’t done in decades for her lost childhood.
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor whispered into her hair, his own voice just as agonised. “I’m so, so sorry.”
The worst of it was knowing how easily this all could have been avoided. If he hadn’t hesitated all those years ago on Skaro, the Daleks would have been killed in the cradle before they could ever come close to threatening the power of the Time Lords.
But the self-righteous infant he’d been had waited just a moment too long, long enough to fail. He’d saved himself from one act of genocide only to be driven to two all these centuries later. Of course, the actions of his seventh incarnation on Skaro likely hadn’t helped matters either: master manipulator, Time Lord, and too short-sighted to see the far-reaching consequences of his own arrogance.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Nyssa’s voice interrupted him quietly.
The Doctor twisted his neck around to look at her where she was lying on his chest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’d wound up in bed together again. This time it was his bed aboard the TARDIS, which he used so rarely it was rather a surprise it hadn’t been dumped along with the rest of the detritus to get them here.
“The Master. Logopolis. Traken. None of it was your fault.” She sighed deeply. “The Keeper summoned you because he thought you could save us. And you did, for a little while.”
That little while could’ve been a good deal longer if he’d just thought to clean up his mess, to make sure the Master was gone. “Wasn’t really thinking about that,” he answered honestly.
“You were feeling guilty about something.”
The Doctor sighed. “Doesn’t matter. Couldn’t change it if I wanted to.”
“The laws of time?” she asked.
He shook his head. “That too, but no. The whole War is under a Time Lock. Romana’s idea; suppose she knew, if anyone survived, the temptation to change things might prove too great. Even for a Time Lord. Can’t be done–or rather, can’t be undone. Anyone who tried might survive, but their sanity likely wouldn’t.”
He felt her shiver. “Would you have tried, if you could?”
Something about her made him strangely honest with himself. “Been thinking about nothing else,” he admitted, knowing she would understand the heresy in that statement. “You?”
Nyssa was silent for an unexpectedly long time before slowly answering, “Yes and no. If there was a way I could have Traken back without giving up everything I’ve gained, everything I’ve seen and achieved since it was lost…” She ducked her eyes. “Of course, as little as twenty years ago, that question might have been much simpler to answer.”
Nyssa looked at him and answered with just one word: “Nica.”
Ah, of course. She’d become a mother, and no mother in her right mind would trade the life of her child for anything. No proper father could, either. Not that he’d ever been a proper father, or a proper grandfather, really, but he’d loved like one.
The Doctor fleetingly considered telling her about his children, about his grandchildren or at least Susan. He decided against it for purely selfish reasons: Nyssa’s daughter was a comfort to her, not another name on the list of the dead.
He changed the subject instead. “TARDIS should be fixed in a few days. Been thinking I ought to take her out for a spin. Y’know, just to make sure everything’s working properly. What do you say?”
The rueful smile on her face seemed to say she’d been expecting this.
“One trip,” he wheedled in his most persuasive voice. “Anywhere you like. Anywhen, even. Fifty years in one place, can you honestly say there’s nothing you miss about being out there?”
“Well,” Nyssa admitted after a moment. “I would like to see Tegan one last time. To ease her mind a little–I know she worried about me staying here.”
The Doctor’s face immediately shuttered. Of course–for Nyssa, it had always been more about the people than the places. Really, he ought to have known better than to ask. “Nope. No can do. Where else?”
She sat up, looking at him in surprise. “Why not? You didn’t part on such terrible terms, surely.”
“Nothing to do with how we parted,” he answered shortly. Though truthfully, the way Tegan had left him did still sting more than a little. She was the first to walk away because of the way death followed him, or at least the first to have admitted as much. “Just not going to happen.”
Not when the aftermath of her time with him was slowly killing her but she’d rather die than trust him again.
But he would be fooling himself as well to think Nyssa would be satisfied with so incomplete an answer. The look she gave him put to shame the glare he’d once earned by accidentally teleporting her into the middle of a blizzard. “Doctor…”
“She’s dying, all right?” the Doctor spat out, the words bitter on his tongue. “Last time I saw her, she had a brain tumour from something she did, something she was exposed to with me. Most likely the Mara.”
Nyssa’s eyes softened. “I see. And there’s nothing can be done about it?”
“Nothing human,” was the bitter answer. “And that’s all the cure she’d accept. I’d have taken her to the finest hospitals in the universe, in all of history. I’d’ve brought her here, if it would help. But she wouldn’t have it. Said if aliens were what got her into the mess in the first place, last thing she wanted was more aliens poking about in her head trying to cure it. Do you really want to see her like that?”
“Yes.” Her voice was as firm as it was compassionate. “More than ever, now. I never had the chance to say goodbye to anyone I loved on Traken, not even my father. Or to Adric. If I’m to lose someone else I love…”
He’d said goodbye to Romana, at the end. And to Ace and Leela, before they were sent off to fight on the front lines. It hadn’t helped. Just like Tegan, they’d refused to let him save them from the fates he’d brought upon them.
But if it would help Nyssa…Rassilon help him, he couldn’t say no.
“Right.” Maybe if the exhaustion and defeat he felt came through in his voice, it’d be easier to convince her to come with him when he left Terminus. It was so bloody selfish it wasn’t worthy of him, but he didn’t care. Right now it was all he had to live for. “Soon as the TARDIS is fixed, we’ll drop in on Tegan.”