The Doctor woke to the soft, reassuring sound of low voices. One voice tried to stifle a giggle, while the other chided, friendly. For a few fleeting moments he was in his home on Gallifrey, and he knew when he turned around he would see his wife and granddaughter playing with chemical blocks, while his daughter stood at the door saying, I really must get these results back to the Cardinal, you won't mind having her for a few weeks, I know it.
Instead, he felt the hum, the subtle temporal vibration that permeated the air, travelled up through his back, his hands, that told him he was aboard his stolen TARDIS, that he was far away from Gallifrey, and that his wife and children were dead.
So who was making Susan giggle?
Now the Doctor did turn. He was in the infirmary, and two beds away from him sat Susan, laughing again, holding the hands of a dark-haired young man with a prominent nose and heavy-lidded eyes. One corner of his mouth was turned up in a crooked smile, which faded somewhat as he looked toward the Doctor and saw that he was being watched. Their eyes met and the Doctor's hearts each skipped a beat.
Susan jumped down from her seat and almost flew to the Doctor's side, a happy bounce in her step.
"Oh, Grandfather! I'm glad you're finally awake." She helped him sit upright. "I was beginning to worry about what those horrible blue people might have done to you. Thankfully your friend was able to help us and get you back to our ship." Susan patted the wall affectionately. "She's a very clever ship, she helped to heal you."
"Are you all right, Susan?" He reached out and touched her cheek, and she smiled.
"Yes. Just a scraped elbow." She raised the part in question to show him the rapidly healing scab. "Your friend showed up at just the right time; you're heavier than you look, you know. He's helped me since you've been ill." She hesitated slightly, seeming to notice the stiffness of his manner. "Would you like a glass of water? I could get you some from the dining area."
Always such a clever girl. "Yes, thank you, Susan," the Doctor replied, trying to mask his relief with appreciation. She smiled again, but the Doctor caught the slight glance she gave their visitor on her way out. The man walked slowly to the bed next to the Doctor's and sat down, regarding the Doctor with unfamiliar dark eyes.
"Don't hurt her." The words slipped unbidden from the Doctor's mouth. The other man's eyes narrowed and his lip curled slightly in contempt; the Doctor realised with an unpleasant start that he had hurt his old friend.
"Koschei --" he began, but the other cut him off sharply.
"Koschei is dead." His voice was flat, the same voice that had chuckled with Susan mere minutes before. "He was executed, or don't you remember?"
"I do," the Doctor replied, softly. "I do."
Koschei looked away, but his new eyes remained dark and unreadable. They held none of the bright, cold terror that had filled them when the Council first pronounced his sentence.
"Susan says that you have been helping to look after me these past -- days, is it?"
"Two days, or thereabouts. And yes, it does seem as though I fell into old patterns and helped to look after you. An irksome habit, even after long absence." His voice held more than a trace of bitterness.
The Doctor remembered Koschei's eyes, his blue eyes, meeting with his across the Council chamber. I did this for you....
"I never asked you --" the Doctor began.
"I didn't think it needed to be asked," Koschei interrupted, bristling. The Doctor looked away, familiar frustration welling within him. He was not sure if he would have said, I never asked you to help me.
Or, I never asked you to hurt anyone.
Koschei pressed the tips of his fingers against the wall and let them slip down its surface, then back up, his touch light, delicate.
"I've been on this planet for seventeen years," he began, and his voice was as soft as his touch. "Before that I spent forty-three years on an uninhabited rock, orbiting a cold, distant sun, far from any other inhabited system, far from any of the normal intragalactic spaceways." He let his hand drop. "My only company was the semi-motile botanical life, and the little, brainless organisms that alternately pollinated the plants or were eaten by them."
"How did you come to be here?"
"A small survey vessel. Movellan." He smiled. "Apparently they were investigating an anomalous life-form reading on the planet's surface. They were quite surprised to find a Time Lord in a worn jumpsuit waiting for them on the surface. It was the type of situation that an enterprising type of fellow could use to steal a ship. Unfortunately that piece of trash only made it as far as this primitive world before it broke down completely, stranding me again."
And what about the Movellans...? The obvious question. The Doctor hesitated. Koschei watched him with a strange glint in his eye, waiting, and as the silence between them lengthened the Doctor realised that he wanted to be asked.
The Movellans, did you.... The Movellans, are they.... But the Doctor found he could not say the words. Finally, Koschei smiled again, and patted the Doctor's arm.
"In any case, it doesn't seem to have been quite as long for you as it has been for me, if Susan's height is any indication," said Koschei, his hand still on the Doctor's arm, and the Movellans were banished from thought.
"No. Only twenty-two years for us. And we've only been travelling for the past four."
"Ah, yes, travelling. And how is it that you have ended up travelling so very far from home?" He laid a delicate stress upon the word. "Susan told me that you took her out of the Academy, stole this senile anachronism, and ran away. Evidence does seem to support her story, but I can't seem to reason out why you should have done such a thing." This time Koschei's eyes held the unasked question. Why now, and not twenty-two years ago...?
The Doctor sighed, and answered the spoken question. The easier question.
"Because you were right," he said. "I couldn't stand to stay. I tried, for Susan's sake -- just long enough for her to get through the lower levels of the Academy, I thought. But she hated it every bit as much as we ever did -- perhaps even more... and one day I decided I'd had enough and she'd had enough, and I took Susan and I took this TARDIS and we ran away."
Koschei stared at him, and his expression was so unguarded that the Doctor had to avert his eyes.
"How did you find me?" Koschei asked.
"I didn't," the Doctor answered.
"You didn't know I was on this planet?"
The Doctor shook his head, reluctantly.
"Did you never --" Koschei hesitated, and the Doctor felt a sharp pang of guilt. "Did you never search for me?"
The Doctor remained silent. How could you explain to your best friend that you had begun to fear him? That if only you had been alone.... But he had Susan to look after now. She was all that was left of his family, apart from the man sitting across from him, betrayal written across his features -- but Koschei was a man, and Susan was a child, and she needed him.
Koschei stood, slowly, and regarded the Doctor with dark eyes.
"Well, Doctor," and his voice was slow and cold, "have you healed yourself yet?Does it all sleep in your mind now, peaceful and quiet?" He opened his mouth to continue, but seemed to think better of it. Instead he turned sharply and strode towards the door. The Doctor watched him, and wanted to call out for him to wait, to listen to him, to stay. But he did not.
Koschei picked up a sealed glass jar and turned back toward the Doctor. The jar was filled with transparent, slightly greenish liquid, and suspended in it was a piece of budding TARDIS coral.
"I have what I came for," Koschei said, slipping the jar into a pocket. He trained those new eyes on him once more. "Enjoy your exile."
And he was gone.
A few minutes later Susan entered the room, bearing a glass of water, and the Doctor let out a breath he had not realised he was holding.
"Thank you, my dear girl," he said, accepting the glass and almost feeling ashamed of his fear. Almost.
"He's gone, isn't he?" she asked. The Doctor nodded, and she sighed. "I was hoping that we would all travel together. It would have been a bit like home." He felt an unexpected pang at these words, but he pushed it aside.
"What, that old place?" he said, raising his eyebrows. She pulled a face.
"Not the Academy or anything, Grandfather!" she laughed. "You know -- home."
"Yes, I know." He smiled at her, and it was only a little sad. "But this is our home now."
"I know. And it's wonderful." The smile she gave him was brilliant, and he basked in its warmth. If there was any sadness in her she hid it very well indeed; for that moment, at least, he let himself feel selfishly grateful. "Where are we going next?" she asked, excited. He made an exasperated noise at her and youth in general.
"Give an old man a little time to rest, my girl. Just a little rest, and then we can go anywhere in the universe."
Susan sighed melodramatically, then kissed him on the cheek; one of so many things she was now free to do away from the archaic rules and restrictions of Gallifrey. She left the infirmary, off to amuse herself with the TARDIS memory banks or one of the many rooms the old ship always seemed to be manufacturing just for her.
The Doctor watched her go and thought to himself that he was a very lucky man.