I Love, and Yet Am Forced to Hate by LN29 [Reviews - 14] |
I'm back! I was watching a documentary on Queen Elizabeth, and it got me thinking about how much I disliked the way the 50th anniversary left Elizabeth's story arc. She deserved better. So I decided to do something about it.
In an episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures, Eleven tells his former companion Jo that when he was facing his regeneration..."I looked back on all of you. Every single one. And I was so proud." So it wasn't just the NewWho companions we saw in EoT. There were others. So why not her, too?
The title is a paraphrased line from one of Queen Elizabeth I's own poems, called "On Monsieur's Departure." Look it up, and tell me it couldn't have been written about a certain Time Lord she once loved.
The throne room of the Palace of Whitehall was dark and nearly deserted, and as the Doctor sat and waited in the silence, he couldn’t help but think he might not have been completely honest with Wilfred about his intentions.
'Where are you going?'
'To get my reward.'
Yet here, awaiting an audience that might not even be granted, radiation damage and regeneration energy waging war on his very cells, it felt far more like he was awaiting punishment.
He wasn’t even sure what he was doing here…he’d certainly never intended to return, having done his duty and certainly having done enough damage here for several lifetimes. His memories of his last visit here were spotty at best (and practically nonexistent for a time afterward, which should have probably troubled him more, but impending death had a way of putting things into a certain kind of perspective), but he remembered enough to know that she would be well within her rights to throw him into the Tower…again…for his actions.
Certainly within her rights to refuse to see him.
Yet, somehow, he strongly suspected that she wouldn’t. In spite of it all, he knew her…better than he should have, better than he’d planned to…and so as he stumbled his way through his so-called reward, revisiting old friends and putting off death for as long as this body would hold out, somewhere between an anonymous donation to Ben and Polly’s orphanage (well, it wasn’t like Al Capone was using the money in that old vault) and setting Captain Jack up on a date, he’d found himself unavoidably drawn here, one last time.
The echo of approaching footsteps proved his suspicions correct.
The Doctor didn’t rise…wasn’t entirely certain he’d be able to disguise his current condition for long if he did…but he sat up straighter as the doors to the throne room flew open.
If he’d roused her from sleep, she bore no sign of it, fully dressed and every bit the queen she was.
She barely faltered at the sight of him, hardly skipping a beat before turning to the guards who accompanied her.
“Leave us. I would speak to him alone.”
The guards didn’t look remotely pleased about this…they never had liked him much, or approved of his familiarity with their monarch…but they nodded obediently, unwilling to disobey their queen, and withdrew.
The doors swung shut with an ominous thud.
Elizabeth stared at him for a long, inscrutable moment.
“Husband,” she said finally, voice echoing in the empty room.
The Doctor shook his head.
“No. Not that.”
“No,” she agreed, willingly enough. “Though it was great fun to pretend, wasn’t it? For you, anyway.”
She continued to study him, and he found himself utterly unable to read the expression on her face. It was as impassive as a mask, shutting him and the whole world out, and that was no more than he deserved.
“Why are you here, Doctor? I assumed you’d be long gone by now.”
“I was in the area.” He tried to sound casual. Failed miserably. “Thought I’d stop by.”
“Why? So you can make a mockery of me once more…lord your victory over me? Or was your plan to grovel at my feet and beg for my forgiveness?”
“Neither, your majesty.”
“Oh, it’s ‘your majesty’ now? To what do I owe this sudden respect?”
Her eyes blazed, the same fire he’d always so admired in her roaring to life, and part of him was unspeakably glad he had not managed to quench it.
“And since when do you remain seated in my presence? Rise, and face me like a man, Doctor.”
The Doctor winced inwardly, but forced his aching limbs to do the queen’s bidding, willing his feet to stay under him. Collapsing at the base of the throne wasn’t exactly part of his plans tonight, and if he lost his momentum now, he wasn’t certain he’d be able to hold off the inevitable any longer. And he still had more to do before the end…miles to go before he slept, so to speak.
He stood, and they faced each other, Queen of England and Lord of Time, and the Doctor recalled a time when she would look at him with nothing but open affection. She’d allowed him to glimpse something precious few had ever seen, and what had he done in return?
What exactly was it he’d come here in search of anyway…forgiveness or penance, absolution or condemnation?
“Why?” Elizabeth asked, after a time.
“You know why,” he replied. “You more than anyone, maybe. You masqueraded as the Zygon leader, you heard their plans, you know what they planned to do. To your kingdom, to your world. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“So it was always about the Zygons.”
She didn’t let even a fraction of her pain show on her face, and somehow that was worse than the alternative.
“Was any of it ever real, Doctor? Did you ever speak an honest word to me in all our time together?”
He glanced away, fighting back the urge to double over as a wave of agonizing nausea swept over him. His fingertips tingled with his body’s desire to regenerate, but he forced it into submission, because no, not yet.
“Was it all a lie?”
“No,” he managed to reply. "Not all of it.”
“I did figure it out eventually. Once you proposed…”
“Then why did you insist on going through with the wedding?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I wanted to see just how far you were willing to go. And now I know.”
That stung. More than it should have.
“I think I preferred ‘your majesty.’”
She crossed her arms, pinning him with a stare that would not allow him to back down or prevaricate.
“You used me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, fully aware of how small the words were. What little weight they carried in the face of what he’d done to someone he’d once been proud to call a friend. “For what it’s worth, you deserved better.”
“I offered you something I have never offered to any man, not even…” whatever, or whoever, she might have been about to say, she trailed off and shook her head. “I let you stay by my side when all my advisors spoke against it, I indulged your whims even when they flew in the face of all reason, I listened to your council, I trusted you. I believed you. I would have given up everything I built for you. And you took all that and you threw it away…no, worse than that, you took it and used it against me. You used it against the Zygons too, which is the only reason you’re still standing here and not in a cell, but you still mocked me and manipulated me and you left me.”
It’d been easy, at the time, to put emotion aside and reassure himself that it was all for the greater good. Even now, if the same situation arose, he couldn’t say he’d do anything differently.
But here and now, with the death of all that he was looming so close on the horizon, he found any words he might have conjured in his defense drying up in his throat.
Elizabeth stepped forward abruptly, and the Doctor barely resisted a start of surprise as she narrowed the distance between them until they were close enough to touch.
“I don’t even know who you are.”
Even now, the queenly mask did not falter. All the Doctor could do was try to keep his breathing even, and hope against hope that she couldn’t see the way his hands shook with the force of keeping his ravaged body in check.
“I’m not certain I ever did. And yet, here you are, my Doctor. Here I am. Let us put aside the games and the titles and the tricks aside, and speak to each other plainly for what may well be the first time. You owe me that much.”
He met her gaze and refused to look away.
“So, husband, I will ask you again: was it all a lie?”
This time, the Doctor felt the onslaught coming, giving him just enough time to choke back a cry as the latest tidal wave of agony ripped through his body.
He could not, however, keep his expression from betraying him, nor could he stop the sudden weakness in his limbs that left him blindly reaching out for the nearest solid object in a desperate and instinctive attempt to keep his feet.
For the first time, Elizabeth’s fašade faltered in earnest, and then her arms were under his, supporting his weight even as he tried to steady himself against her shoulder.
“Doctor, what is this? What is wrong?”
“I’m all right,” he managed, a blatant lie if ever there was one.
“Don’t be absurd.” Elizabeth wasn’t fooled for a moment, not that anyone with half a brain would have been. “You’re burning up.”
So the fever of regeneration running through his veins wasn’t just his imagination. Lovely.
The Doctor would have been perfectly content to sit back down on the floor, but Elizabeth obviously had other ideas. Half-supporting and half-dragging him (none-too-gently, he might have added), she led him to the nearest seat and all but pushed him into it.
It took him far longer than it should have to realize that the nearest seat just happened to be the throne itself, and there was probably some symbolism there, if he were in the mood to look for it.
The urge to regenerate, to save his life in the only way he could anymore, was nearly overwhelming, but he fought it back because it wasn’t time yet.
He still had time.
He just needed time…
Dimly, he became aware of the fact that Elizabeth was still talking.
“Are you ill? Where are you hurt? Shall I call for the physician? I should have known from the start, you have never been this quiet. Doctor, I command you to speak to me or I shall summon the guards for help…”
“Don’t.” He looked up to meet her worried eyes. “It’s all right. There’s nothing they can do.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not what it looks like, your majesty. Not really.”
“You came back.” She was standing over him, arms on his, her face filled with worry and growing apprehension, and he swallowed hard at the sight. “God above, you came back, and you don’t do that. I may not know you anymore, but I have seen enough, I know enough…men like you don’t come back. Not like this. Not unless…”
“Don’t. It’s not like that.”
She touched his cheek, and he fought the urge to lean in to the contact. It was more affectionate than he deserved, especially from her.
“You forget, Doctor, that I too have faced down death. I know such a look when I see it, and I see it in your eyes now.”
“It’s not…” he shook his head. “It’s complicated.”
“Then I shall make it simple: you cannot die, Doctor. I forbid it.”
She spoke with such vehemence that he was honestly taken aback. The words were so much at odds with her cool and utterly justified anger from earlier that he found himself entirely off-guard, uncertain of what to do or say next.
He’d assumed that they had finally reached the point of ‘sworn enemies’ that his experience with Shakespeare had already ensured would happen. This was supposed to be an opportunity for her to say what he had denied her the right to say, to give her back the dignity she deserved before they went their inevitably separate ways.
She wasn’t supposed to mourn him…
“Elizabeth.” The name slipped out instinctively, and she did not correct him. “I promise you: I am not going to die.”
“Then why come back?”
“Maybe I just wanted to give you the chance to yell at me properly.”
She didn’t react to his attempt at levity…indeed, it only seemed to infuriate her worse.
“You were supposed to be gone,” she hissed. “You were supposed to be off in your box having adventures, never coming back, never coming home, and I would be here and free to despise you for the wrongs you did me. You were never supposed to be…this.”
She gestured to him, his shaking hands and his feverish skin, at the damage she could not see but that was raging just out of sight, all the way down to his atoms. This body was dying, there was nothing for it, and he could rage and scream about the unfairness of it all until he had no breath left in his body, but facts were facts and this was his reality.
The Doctor was not dying.
But he was.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, leaning forward at last. “I’m sorry, I really am, I’m so sorry. For everything.”
“Always apologizing,” she sighed, her hands cool against his. “It doesn’t help.”
“Doesn’t hurt either.”
“I suppose not.”
He tried not to shudder as another bout of nausea assaulted him. His whole body ached, his head worse than ever. The impending regeneration process was keeping the worst of the symptoms at bay, for which he was grudgingly grateful, but the longer he put it off, the more his body succumbed to the inevitable.
Elizabeth watched him closely, with clever eyes that he suspected saw far more than he wanted to display. They always did, these clever people he’d allowed into his life and his hearts. It was why he’d done his best to keep most of these encounters at a distance, minimizing contact. They all saw too much, and this was not something he wanted to be seen.
Bad enough that Wilfred had watched him break down.
No. Unappealing as the prospect of dying alone was, the alternative was worse. This was not going to be an easy one, and the Doctor had no intention of going gently into that good night.
“You’re afraid,” Elizabeth said softly, almost wonderingly.
The Doctor shrugged.
“Aren’t we all?”
“Stay,” she urged. “You must rest, regain your strength.”
“One night. Just one night, Doctor. Surely that is not too much to ask, even of you?”
He shook his head, and she sighed, like she’d already known what his answer would be before she’d asked.
“And if I commanded it? If I refuse to let you go?”
“Wouldn’t make a difference.”
“You would defy your queen?”
“You already know the answer to that.”
They both smiled, in spite of it all, and the Doctor couldn’t help but think that all of this might just have been worth it, just for this moment.
It wasn’t what he’d expected, coming here tonight, but neither could he bring himself to regret it.
“But we both know it won’t come to that,” he added. “Because you won’t keep me.”
“Won’t? Or can’t?”
He didn’t answer.
Just like that, the moment passed.
“I suppose I never could,” she sighed. “Was there ever a chance for us?”
“You don’t need me. You never did.”
“What I need and what I want are two separate things, Doctor. But I have long been accustomed to denying myself both, for the sake of the greater good. As, I think, are you.”
He couldn’t exactly argue with that one, nor was he inclined to try.
Slowly, painfully, he pulled himself to his feet. His whole body protested the movement, but if he stayed still much longer, he might not be able to force himself to move again. Elizabeth stayed close, ready to offer a hand should he require it, and after a few dizzying seconds, he was reasonably confident his feet would remain under him where they belonged.
Once he found his equilibrium again, he turned resolutely to face the queen.
“You will shine, Elizabeth Tudor. You will outlast them all. Your father never believed it, your mother never doubted it…your sister and cousin feared it, your friends and allies prayed for it…and someday the whole world will know what you built from this throne. They will know your name, and the Virgin Queen will be remembered long after these walls crumble to dust.”
“I certainly intend it to be so,” Elizabeth said, lifting her chin like the royalty she was.
Then she spoiled the effect with a wry little smile.
“Though, in truth, the symbol that is the Virgin Queen may be forever tarnished in the eyes of some. Your presence has not gone unnoticed, nor has our…familiarity. The wedding, small and admittedly false though it was, could not have escaped everyone’s notice, and I fear your coming here tonight will only fuel the fire. People will talk.”
And just like that, the Doctor saw the path forward.
He saw what he had to do, what they both needed to do. To secure the future, to close the circle, to put the narrative back on course.
History had a certain version of events. His own personal history had another.
He’d thought that his previous actions had already established that future. But here, now, the Doctor saw what needed to be done.
“Then use that,” he said slowly. “Use the people, the rumors. Turn them against me. Tell them the truth, just like you did tonight…that I used you, that I betrayed you, that I lied to you…tell them whatever you want.”
“I can’t stay…I won’t stay. So make the best of that. Wash your hands of me, and paint yourself as the victor, the virtuous Virgin Queen triumphing once again over the machinations of men. It won’t be hard…your advisors already disapprove of me, the Zygons left chaos in their wake, and your anger is genuine and justified.”
“Be that as it may, why should you bear the brunt of their hate?”
“Because we both know I deserve it,” he said honestly.
She made no attempt to disagree.
“And we both know the importance a symbol can have. You…you and no one else…chose to make yourself into that symbol. So choose it again. Be the queen you are. Reclaim the narrative. And, in return, I’ll be the villain.”
“It won’t work.”
“It will. I’ve already seen it.”
She considered this for a long moment, and he saw the instant the idea took root. Saw the realization, the spark of acknowledgement and determination and maybe just the slightest bit of vindictive satisfaction in spite of it all.
“So…we are to be enemies, then?”
'Doctor…my sworn enemy.
Off with his head.'
All the world’s a stage, indeed. And all the men and women merely players.
“We’ll play our parts. It’s the least I can offer you, after everything.”
“And you? What will you do?”
The Doctor clenched his fist, trying to ignore the energy surging just beneath the skin.
“What I always do. I’ll run. Until I can’t run anymore.”
“And when you cannot run any longer?”
He managed a smile, and hoped it looked as sincere as he intended it to be.
They had already been in here for quite long enough. The guards outside would be growing more suspicious the longer they were alone together, and every labored beat of the Doctor’s hearts was just more proof that he didn’t exactly have time to spare.
There was still so much he had to do. Help Donna, without revealing himself…track down Dodo, which would be no small feat considering he never had been entirely clear what had happened to her…and, of course, there was someone else he needed to see, one last time, before…
“Then we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
Just like that, the masks were back in place.
Silently, standing tall at the base of the throne, she extended a hand to him. He took it, kissing the ring she wore like any obedient subject would, and her eyes shone strangely.
“Go, then,” she said imperiously. “May God bless you, wherever your road takes you next.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” he replied, risking a bow and managing it without losing his precarious balance.
“And should we meet again…”
She trailed off, just long enough for him to catch one last glimpse of the woman behind the symbol, of the still-lingering hurt that could not be assuaged so easily, of her fear that they would never meet again, that the death she saw in his eyes would be a permanent one.
“…you’d best hope you can outrun my guardsmen. After all, you’re an enemy of the crown now.”
“I’ll do my best.”
The Doctor could feel her eyes on him as he turned to make his way out of the room, the distance between them growing greater with each step. Each one was more laborious than the last, but he was nothing if not stubborn, and he would not fall, not again.
He crossed the threshold, and never looked back.