The TARDIS knew him too well, she did. Knew he handled enforced inactivity about as well as he did solitude. More often than not, she indulged that particular quirk: taking him where there were worlds to save and wrongs to right.
This trip, though, had been for Nyssa’s sake. So for Nyssa–and likely Tegan too–they had arrived at their destination precisely as planned. Unless something were to fall out of the sky right on top of them, there would be no invasions to foil whilst they were here.
Consequently, he was fast going out of his head with boredom.
Not that he had anyone to blame besides himself–he’d been the one to decline going down with Nyssa to see Tegan. But he still had no desire to say goodbye to her yet again. The first two times had been more than enough, especially knowing what lay ahead–what lay ahead for all his companions, ultimately. With his own death so recently denied, it made it that much more impossible to face theirs.
“You’re a ruddy coward, you are,” the Doctor muttered to himself in disgust.
He could face down whole fleets of Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Silurians, Ice Warriors: you name it. For that matter, he’d destroyed whole fleets of Daleks. That he’d been driven to it by desperation and would be forever haunted by the consequences didn’t change the fact. But he ran away from the people he loved. He ran away or he clung to them like an overturned lifeboat from the RMS Titanic.
A chill of fear stole through him. Maybe he oughtn’t to have left them alone together after all. After the way he and Tegan had parted, not just the first time but the second as well, who knew what ideas she might be planting in Nyssa’s head? She wouldn’t do it deliberately, but she mightn’t have to. Tegan telling her story might be enough to remind Nyssa of all the grief and danger that lay ahead if she chose to travel with him again.
Oh, fantastic. Not only was he a manipulative bastard in this incarnation, but it appeared he was also paranoid.
Still, if Nyssa refused to come along–
He’d do what, exactly? Deny her the choice at eighty that he’d respected when she was thirty? Or would he just conveniently fail to arrive at Terminus, as he had with Tegan and Heathrow all those years ago? Not that such a ruse was likely to work–she’d already told him as much in no uncertain terms.
The hard truth was that if she said no, he had no choice but to let her go again. And then what? Where would he go? What would he do? Travel around the universe, saving worlds as he once had?
Right. Like he’d tried to save his own? No. Time deserved a better champion than a broken down old failure like him.
The Doctor heard the key in the lock and turned. Before he even saw Nyssa, he started to speak impatiently. “Well, it’s about time! Was beginning to think you’d decided to move in instead of just drop…in…” His voice trailed off and all the blood drained from his face as someone else followed Nyssa into the TARDIS.
Tegan looked almost exactly as he’d seen her last: the same unchanging bright eyes, the same almost imperceptible lines around them and around her mouth. The only real change was that she looked even more ill. Her hair appeared brittle, her skin sallow and delicate. There were worlds and times in the universe where a brain tumour was a simple enough matter to heal, but this was the best she’d accept.
For an instant, he hated Nyssa for bringing her here.
Tegan just gave him a sheepish smile. “Heya, Doc. Long time no see, I guess. You look…different.”
“Do I?” he answered distractedly. “Haven’t really had a look.”
An awkward silence descended between the three of them. The Doctor’s emotions were in a turmoil. He was relieved that Tegan was still alive but angry at Nyssa for bringing her aboard when she knew why he hadn’t come down to the flat. Grief for what he knew was coming mingled with self-loathing at his own helplessness to prevent it.
Looking uncomfortable, Tegan cleared her throat and stepped farther inside. She looked around the control room. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it’s gotten even bigger in here.”
“Since last you knew her? It has.” Resentment grew while she explored until it finally bubbled over just enough to elicit a brusque, “What are you doing here?”
Nyssa answered instead. “She’s coming with us. To Terminus.”
The Doctor let out a disbelieving laugh. “What, just like that? What happened to ‘No more aliens,’ even if it killed you?”
“Last I checked, it was a woman’s prerogative to change her mind,” Tegan answered pertly. “Besides, Nyssa has some treatment she wants to try on me, that she swears is foolproof.” Before he could protest, she interrupted. “And yeah, I know you said more or less the same thing a few months ago, but…well, let’s just say I trust her word that I’ll be able to come straight home afterward more than I do yours.”
The Doctor wondered sourly for a moment if all his companions had him figured out, or just this lot. It didn’t last, though. In spite of himself, he was cheered by the news that Tegan was going to accept help–even if not from him. It didn’t lift the weight by a long shot, but bit of the old bounce returned to his step as he moved to the console. “In that case, we’d best be off: time’s a wastin’.” He looked at them both and grinned. “Mind shutting the door before someone else decides to wander in?”
It never ceased to amaze Nyssa how easily one person could turn another’s life upside down. As a child on Traken, she’d thought she and Tremas would always be the centre of each other’s universe. She could never have foreseen the changes that lay ahead: her father’s marriage to Cassia or election as Keeper, Cassia’s betrayal, Traken’s destruction. Nor could she have dreamed that one man would be the cause of all those changes: the Master.
The Doctor had changed her life in other ways. He’d given her somewhere to go when the only home she’d known was destroyed. He’d been her friend, her teacher and her confidant at a time when she needed those qualities most. He’d brought her here, to Terminus, the place where she’d found a new purpose for her life. He’d left her here. Then he’d come back into her life when she least expected it, all unwittingly bringing with him the old grief and uncertainties she’d suffered in her youth. He’d thrown her world once again into chaos, made her question her beliefs and her choices and, more importantly, her priorities.
Then there was Tegan. If the Doctor had brought confusion into her life, it was Tegan who restored Nyssa’s clarity. Nyssa knew what she had to do now and with that certainty came the courage to do it.
She didn’t regret a moment of her relationship with the Doctor. For a little while, they’d been what the other needed: a place to grieve where each could know the other truly empathised. But if the past few weeks had revealed anything, it was how quickly that comfort could become something else entirely, something poisonous. What she and the Doctor both needed now was to surround themselves with people who reminded them what they had to live for. That was what Tegan had done, why the return trip from Earth to Terminus had been so different.
The Doctor’s life had never really suited either of them, for all they’d enjoyed it for a while. Nyssa even dared to believe that the second time Tegan had joined them it was because she wanted to. In the end, though, they’d both chosen a life that was more sedentary but no less meaningful.
In spite of everything, Tegan still glowed with a fearless, unquenchable fire that gave light even when it burned. More importantly, when she knew what she wanted, she didn’t hesitate to seize it. If she’d truly wanted to die, nothing Nyssa said could have swayed her otherwise.
Nyssa stood in the gallery now, looking down into the theatre where Tegan underwent the procedure that would hopefully save her life. It seemed to be going well. She knew, though, that in medicine as in life one could never be entirely sure. Even for a place so far in advance of anything Earth had to offer, a brain tumour was a delicate thing. One had to be very careful not to inadvertently damage healthy tissue.
She heard the door to the gallery open and close and turned, expecting the Doctor. Instead, a young woman with short brown hair stepped through. Her face was more familiar to Nyssa than any other.
“Nica?” she exclaimed in surprise, greeting her daughter with a hug. “What brings you home so soon? I thought you had some time left on your term.”
Nica shook her head. “Those of us who had the farthest to travel were allowed to take our exams a bit early, if our marks were high enough to qualify.” She squeezed her mother’s hand. “I arrived yesterday, only to be told you’d swanned off with some stranger in a big blue crate. Where did you get to?”
Nyssa nodded towards the still figure on the pallet in the room below. “To find an old friend,” she answered quietly.
Nica followed her to the window and peered down curiously. “Who is she?”
“Her name is Tegan–” Nyssa started to answer. She glanced at her daughter. “Surely I mentioned her in my stories?”
Comprehension dawning, Nica looked again. Idle curiosity turned intent in a heartbeat. “So it was the Doctor you left with, then. I thought it must be, but then Gilbehr didn’t describe him anything like you always have.”
Nyssa laughed softly. “I imagine if you asked fifty people who had known the Doctor, you would likely get at least forty-five different descriptions of him.”
Her daughter looked at her, puzzled. “From what you told me about him, I would imagine he’d be unforgettable.”
“He is,” Nyssa agreed with a smile. “But he’s not always the same man.” She briefly explained the concept of regeneration to Nica.
“That’s…incredible,” Nica exclaimed breathlessly. “Does he know how his species evolved the ability? If it could be duplicated, think of the advances we could make in the treatment of–”
“Nica,” Nyssa interrupted, her tone only mildly chastising. Truthfully, she knew her daughter too well to believe Nica would ever lose herself in the science and fail to consider the welfare of her patients.
Nica looked embarrassed. “Is he here still? Could I at least meet him?”
“You may have already,” was the wry answer. “Last I knew, he was waiting just outside this room.”
“In the black hide jacket?” Nica asked. Her expression turned crestfallen when her mother nodded. “But he looks so ordinary.”
Nyssa couldn’t help but laugh at that. It echoed her own reaction to the Doctor’s choice of attire a little too closely. For the first time since she’d known him, if they were to walk down a street together, no one would pay him any mind. No one would stop to stare: to wonder why this peculiar stranger was wearing a twenty-foot scarf in the midst of summer or cricketing gear so far from the pitch. She knew him well enough, though, to know that the plainer attire only concealed an equally extraordinary man. Nica didn’t.
Friga’s voice filled the gallery, interrupting Nyssa’s thoughts before she could voice them. “Lady Nyssa?”
Friga was probably the best surgeon Terminus had, which was why Nyssa had asked her to personally attend to the procedure. As capable as all her staff was, Tegan was too important to her to trust to anyone but the finest. Nyssa moved immediately to the comm unit and pressed one button with her finger to respond. “Yes?”
Friga’s eyes met Nyssa’s through the glass even as her voice stated, “The tumour is gone: we managed to get it all. If I’m not mistaken, it was caused by an extremely slow-acting neurotoxin, but I’m fairly certain we’ve managed to neutralise that as well. Barring any further incident, your friend should live to the normal age for her species.”
Nyssa closed her eyes in relief. She thanked Friga in a voice barely above a whisper, then turned back to her daughter. “I promised the Doctor I’d notify him immediately when there was any change. Come along–I’ll introduce you to him.”