Brave Hearts

by Lurky McLurklurk [Reviews - 1]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Angst, Femslash, Romance

Author's Notes:
written for kowarth in the dw_femslash ficathon on LJ

Leela stalks through the forest with a deliberate stride. She is light years and millennia from the place of her birth, yet perfectly at home. The tall spiny trees, huddled together in dense packs against the cold, are nothing like the sinuous jungle creepers among which she learned to hunt. But in all the important ways, this is her place. She understands its rhythms, knows the secret places where the predators lie in wait.

Rodan follows nervously, casting her head from side to side, watching, but for what she does not know. This is not her place -- there are no people here, nothing made, and all the history is buried deep beneath their feet. Every few minutes Leela hears a smattering of running footsteps and cracking twigs, as Rodan notices that she is lagging far behind and, forgetting her caution, breaks into an uneven run. Her progress is impeded by the need to hitch up the impractical robe she insists on wearing.

"I think," she says, panting for breath, "that we should go back to the TARDIS; we can rematerialise a few kilometres closer still ..."

"We're as likely to end up further away as we are closer," Leela says with just a tiny hint of scorn. "Half the universe away if we're not careful."

"You really must stop judging these things by your experiences with the Doctor and his rickety Type 40," Rodan retorts. Her lips twist into an amused pout. "You know I can be very precise."

Leela feels a flush of warmth at the innuendo, at the memory it provokes. She is always faintly shocked by Rodan's forthrightness; it seems so unbecoming in a Time Lady, but she remains as insatiable now as in the first blush of their passion. "The exercise will be good for you," she says straight-faced.

"I'd rather be doing a different type of exercise."

Leela tolerates her wife's entendres as she does her impractical choice of clothing, with something between affection and amusement. They make a good team -- a better one still with their husband, but Andred's new duties as Castellan render him unable to accompany them on this particular mission.

The mission is supposedly a simple one. There is something wrong with time, here on this planet -- Rodan uses words like "anomalous", "distortion", but Leela knows that she means a wrongness, a deep instinct that Rodan feels in the same subliminal way that Leela would know that something had passed by recently, from a dozen tell tale signs on the forest floor without needing to think about them at all.

There is something wrong with time. Leela wonders what it would be like to feel that, to sense the tiny gaps between each moment, to exist in the impossible realm between the ticking seconds. She is of Gallifrey, now, as much as she belongs to anywhere or anywhen, but in many ways she will never be like its people. Rodan and Andred accept her unconditionally, and for that she is grateful, even if she will never admit how much. Their friends view her with a kind of benign bemusement, welcoming but never truly understanding. The more progressive elements in the political caste -- rare, but in the ascendancy -- seem to see her as some sort of trailblazer for the changes they wish to make, but are never able to treat her with anything other than enlightened condescension. The others, the vast majority, call her "savage". She knows that.

But sometimes, Gallifrey needs a savage. For all the things the Time Lords do that she cannot, there are things she can do that they have forgotten, in their mastery over reality.

Rodan's next headlong rush to catch up stops abruptly when she runs straight into Leela's back. When she has recovered, Leela points into a gap between the trees, wordlessly. There is a grey-white glint at the far end, almost lost amongst the fading twilight.

Leela waits impatiently while Rodan takes readings with various pieces of technological frippery, seeking confirmation of what Leela's instincts have already told her. Finally, she nods, and Leela leads on again.

As they approach the clearing, it becomes increasingly obvious that the object within it is not a natural outcropping but something carved. When they reach it, Leela sees that what she previously took as some sort of floral pattern engraved into a rock is the curly hair on top of a woman's head, severed at the neck.

"You told me no one had lived on this planet for eight billion years."

"Oh, yes, it's completely impossible," Rodan says. "There's no way any manufactured object should have been able to survive this long."

There is a strange edge to her voice, and Leela thinks of the stories of Rassilon, of the supposed agelessness of the Panopticon. "This world is like Gallifrey," she says.

"Why do you say that?" There is fear now, in her wife's tone. Leela wonders.

"So ... ancient."

"Not just ancient," Rodan says, and Leela shivers. "This planet formed in the time before time, Leela, in one of the densest concentrations of matter in the universe, where the earliest stars burned fast and hot, forging heavy elements that would not be seen in such concentrations in the universe at large for billions of years to come. Siabar was one of the first stars that even had the possibility of forming planets. This planet already existed when life arose on Gallifrey, when the Time Lords became the Time Lords. It may be just a quirk of fate that the life forms did not end up becoming them first."

"Is that why time is wrong here, because it is so ancient?"

Rodan shrugs. "It may be part of it. But I think there is something else. I think this statue is a clue." She busies herself with her gadgets, scanning the carved stone, caressing the elegant cheekbones with intangible forcefields.

Leela knows that Rodan is focusing on details at the expense of the bigger picture. It is an almost endearing trait, this not seeing the wood for the trees -- one of those little phrases of the Doctor's, but particularly apposite now. "This is not all of the idol," she points out. She reaches out to touch the grainy surface of the broken neck, and leaps back, as though repulsed.

Rodan looks up from instruments with alarm. "What happened?"

"It was like ... electricity. A shock. But more than that. Like the whisper of the grave, passing through me."

"Do it again."

"No!"

Rodan turns round her little touchscreen to show her; there is much Leela does not understand, but she knows enough to see a sudden elevation in whatever is being measured at a specific moment. "When you touched it, we got a glimpse of some sort of gigantic temporal differential. If you just do it again--"

"Why don't you touch it?" Leela retorts. It is unworthy, almost childish, but she cannot help herself; she is still discomfited by the experience.

"Very well, I shall. Here, hold this." Leela takes the scanner and points it like a weapon at the stone. Rodan reaches out, tentatively, first grazing her fingertips against it, then holding on firmly. Her eyes open wide, but she does not let go. "So ... much ... time!" she gasps.

Leela drops the scanner and wraps her arms around Rodan's waist to pull her away.

Rodan's eyes roll back into her head, and she collapses onto Leela, completely unconscious.

* * *

Rodan swims in the oceans of history. Her hair streams back from her face in the currents of time, her eyes wide open as she stares all around her.

This is her native element, her assured navigation of it her birthright, for all that she came to it late in her life. She is graceful, unhurried, the apex predator of this environment.

But she has never been so deep before. Few of her people have.

She sees the seabed, the solid rock that even she cannot penetrate, the boundary of the ancient past, the true past that remains forever unreachable, unchangeable. And what she sees there terrifies her.

"Rodan!"

She gasps awake. There is a moment of confusion but it passes quickly. She recognises the trees towering above her head, the cold and muddy ground beneath her, and Leela -- fierce, untameable Leela all sweetness and concern -- cradling her in her arms, the causal links quickly reestablishing themselves even in this unnatural place.

"I thought you were--" Leela begins.

Rodan cuts her off. "I understand now."

"Understand what?"

"Siabar. The statue." She nods at the severed head in front of them. "What happened to you."

"What did happen to me?" Leela has always been good at asking questions, helping Rodan and Andred organise their thoughts. She wonders sometimes if it is something she learned from the Doctor, or what cemented the bond between them in the first place.

Rodan sits up, turns deliberately away from the baleful gaze of the statue's sightless eyes. Leela moves to sit next to her, wrapping a protective arm around her as she talks. "Before Rassilon--" She catches Leela rolling her eyes, and her lips twitch in a smile. She starts again. "The Eye of Harmony is the anchor of history." She sketches in the mud in front of her with a finger, abstract diagrams she is not sure Leela will understand, but which at least help her to explain: spirals of causality and arrow-straight lines radiating out from the Eye to bind them, but only one straight line behind it, entering it. "The anchor of history, yet it was created within history. By the very act of its creation, Rassilon forced the past of the universe up to that point into one path, and only one, unchangeable even by the Time Lords. Quantum decoherence, collapse of the wavefunction, selecting an eigenstate from the superposition, call it what you will. Your people have a theory, of the ultimate observer--"

"I doubt it," Leela snorts. "You use so many Tesh words; my people would not speak so."

"Sorry," Rodan says with a placatory smile. "I didn't mean the Sevateem, just humans, generally. There's a theory on Earth, that at the end of the universe something -- perhaps someone -- will look back on the confusion of it all and select out a single coherent timeline from the muddle. What they don't realise is that that's already happened, ten billion years in their relative past."

"But what does this have to do with what happened to us when we touch the statue?"

"Nothing happened to me, particularly. I simply saw its history, or its unhistory, or whatever you want to call it. But you, you're full of artron energy, Leela."

Leela looks perplexed. "But ... TARDISes use artron energy. How can I have it?"

"From some points of view, a TARDIS is just a machine for rewriting your biodata. There's an intimate link between vehicle and passenger, and part of that link is artron energy. And you've not just travelled in a TARDIS, you've been all over spacetime; you're bound to so many places, and to none." She scribbles a chaotic whirlwind over the neat spirals. "You activated the rock from which the statue is carved."

"Activated? How can rock be activated? You are making fun of me now. This is all some great joke I will never get." Leela's eyes are accusatory.

"I promise you, I'm not." She takes her hand and looks straight into her eyes, sees them soften. "I would never do that. Leela, when this planet formed, time was still in flux, the whole universe was uncertain. And somehow, that uncertainty got frozen into the stone from which the statue is made. The same may have happened to the whole planet, maybe even this biosphere carries traces of it. But something about the crystal matrix of the rock made the effect particularly strong."

Leela laughs. "You mean, this is a forest of time trees?"

"If you like," Rodan says. "Or at least it might be. The point is, when you touched the head, that flux interacted with your excess of artron energy. It was as though all the different potential pasts of the stone were finally being forced into coherence. A massive release of energy."

Leela hugs her tighter, and Rodan realises she is shivering involuntarily. "What's wrong?" her wife asks her quietly.

Rodan relaxes into Leela's arms, rests her head on her shoulder. She speaks softly, afraid even to say the words. "Leela, this thing was made. It must be immune to entropy as we understand it; the breakage of the head may be deliberate. And the amount of energy it could harness from a time traveller would be enough to open a portal to the deep past, if the rest of the statue is of the same scale as this head. What if it's not just some monument?"

"But what else could it be?"

"A weapon. A weapon in a war we never knew we were fighting. Remember, Leela, if things had been just a little different, the people of this world might have ended up becoming the Lords of Time."

"But ..." Leela seems to be searching for the words. "Andred has told me of the Dark Time."

"Yes, yes, we eliminated all our rivals, secured our place as arbiters of history. But what if the Siabarans anticipated it all, deliberately hid themselves? What if this is a booby trap, to be activated by a time traveller and allow them to march through into the present and depose Gallifrey? What do we do then?"

Suddenly, Leela lets go of her and stands up, filled with resolve. She proffers a hand and Rodan grabs it, pulling herself to her feet, still uncertain what is passing through her wife's mind. "What do we do, if this is a weapon? We fight. I know weapons, Rodan. I know war. I know what to do. We take the battle to the enemy."

And once again, Rodan is stumbling after her through the jungle. She casts a single glance behind her, and wonders:

Who is the woman whose head this is?

* * *

Nyssa walked on the marble flagstones of the forum. She stared up at the blue sky, pricked with the pinpoints of the daystars, the giant fusion furnaces of the early universe, so far away yet still so bright that they outshone Siabar itself, the local star mere table leavings, inhibited from such majesty by its contamination with the same heavy elements that gave rise to the planet. She looked around at the people, locomoting forward by rolling their trifurcated lower tentacles over each other, going about their business. She looked at the stone beneath her feet; "marble" was just a useful tag, she knew it was far stranger. She looked at the architecture, and recalled Traken, a planet yet to be born, with a pang of loss and regret that had never lessened with time.

She looked everywhere except at the statue. It was ridiculous, that they had built a statue of her. She never asked for such a thing. But she was a legend in these strange, chaotic times, without ever having asked to be.

"Lady Nyssa?" Farix, beside her, weaved the words with its upper tentacles, drawing complex shapes in the air to form sounds that she could understand, modulating whip cracks of its feeding tentacle that she knew were painful for it. The effort they had to make to communicate with her was immense, absurd. She had tried to learn their colour language, understand the shifting patterns of the chromatophores on their spherical torsos, but it was too alien for her, in a way that nothing else she could remember in all her travels ever had been.

She looked, finally, at the statue, her deep unease overcome by her deeper-still sense of etiquette. "It is a good likeness," she told him.

"I will inform the masons," Farix's tentacles whispered. "They will be most pleased."

"You really didn't have to--"

"We wished to. To honour you, who were there at the beginning of everything, who gave life to the universe. And gave new life to us."

Nyssa had not intended any of it. The circular nature of Terminus's history had only become clear to her as she lived through it. And she had done nothing for the Siabarans that was not demanded of her by basic compassion, even though it had taken her years to understand even the basics of their biology, based as it was in quantum fluctuations.

"Would you like to examine it more closely?"

It was not really a question. Theoretically, she could refuse, but if she did, she would not have been Nyssa of Traken.

She walked up the steps to look at the base of the statue. Only up close did she realise its true immensity, brought home to her by the notion that she could walk easily between her own legs.

She stepped closer--

--and there was/is/will be something in the air all around her, like a reflection of static electricity, or the iron tang of spilt blood.

A loud whip crack noise behind her, Farix incapable of speaking coherently in its alarm. She wondered what he was seeing, what the visual cognate of the sensations she was experiencing might be.

She felt a compulsion to lean forward, to touch the statue. As she surrendered to it, flickering images begin to appear in the gap between the statue's legs. No longer did she see the Great Market at the far end of the forum. Instead there was a dark forest, and two women, one touching the statue's leg on the other side, the other standing a distance behind. And she knew, somehow, that this is not an image, but reality, a distant part of space-time connected through the statue. And as that knowledge crashed in on her, so too did recognition, of the robes the woman further back was wearing: the robes of a Time Lord.

And in that instant, all hesitation was gone, and filled with sudden purpose and resolve, Nyssa ran through the portal.

Nyssa ran through the portal.

Nyssa had run through the portal.
Nyssa ran through the portal.
Nyssa was running through the portal.
Nyssa runs through the portal.
Nyssa will run through the portal.

Nyssa runs through the portal.

Nyssa runs through the portal, and before she knows what has happened, she finds her arm pinned behind her back, bent double, captured by the woman she saw.

"Who are you?" she hisses in her ear.

"Please, let me go!" Nyssa cries, but the only response is a further ratcheting of her arm. "Please! My name is Nyssa, Nyssa of Traken and ... and I need your help."

"Lies," the woman snarls. "Trickery."

The other woman finally speaks. "Leela, let her go. Look, the portal has closed again." As the woman -- Leela, Leela, why does she know that name? -- releases her, Nyssa looks behind herself and sees that it is true. For the briefest moment, she sees a ghostly echo of the forum superimposed on the trees, but then it vanishes. Her last sight is of Farix, its tentacles waving frantically.

"I am Rodan, of Gallifrey. Welcome, Nyssa of Traken."

"You should not trust her," Leela says. "She may be a spy. Who knows what subtle weapons a time warrior could wield?"

"Don't you recognise her?" the woman who introduced herself as Rodan says.

"The statue is of her," Leela says.

"Well, yes, it is. But I meant from the Public Register Video, really. Are you sure you don't remember, Leela?"

"Leela!" Nyssa exclaims, the relevant memory finally slotting into place. "The Doctor mentioned you, when we came to Gallifrey during ..."

"... the Second Omega Crisis," Rodan finishes for her. Nyssa is both relieved and disappointed that such a traumatic time has gained such an emotionless name. Though she would expect nothing different from the Time Lords.

"You know the Doctor?" Leela asks.

"I travelled with him for some time," Nyssa replies. "He spoke of you. His friend who had stayed behind on Gallifrey, for love." When she says this, Leela and Rodan reach out to one another, clasp hands briefly. The action seems unconscious, unforced. "I do not think he ever fully understood. He spent so long trying to get away from that place."

Leela smiles briefly, but then frowns again. "This could still be a trick. You could be a ... simulacrum of the Doctor's friend, a deception."

Nyssa looks to Rodan, hoping for an explanation. "We were concerned about the statue, that it was some sort of trap for time travellers. Leela insisted that the only way to find out was to try it, and that is when you appeared. We were expecting ... I was expecting ... I don't know what, really. An army. Some irruption of another mode of history into this timeline, perhaps. But not you. All the same, perhaps it would be ... reassuring to know how you came to be the other side of the portal. Indeed, it might be helpful to understand why there is an ancient statue of you."

The last of the twilight is leaving the sky, and the stars are coming out, dimmer than those she knew in the planet's past but so many more, like an infinity of sparkling jewels.

"It's a long story," Nyssa warns.

Rodan smiles. "Time is not a problem."

Leela gets up. "I shall build a fire."

And so, once the flames are burning strongly, and they are all sat before them, Leela and Rodan huddled together snugly, Nyssa tells her story.

She tells them of Traken, of Logopolis, of Adric and the Doctor's regeneration, a story of the triumph of hope over too many deaths. She tells them of herself and Tegan, a story of love, of partings and remeetings, of promises made in the middle of the night. And she tells them of Turlough and Terminus, of the duty that took her away from her lover again, after such a short reunion, of the breaking of the promise.

Tears prick her eyes, and Leela says, "You cannot be other than what you are."

And then she tells them of what happened next, of curing the Lazar disease, of Terminus no longer being required as a hospital. Of the gratitude of so many, who helped her to rebuild it as what it once was, an almighty time machine, that she thought to use to keep her promise after all this time.

She tells them of the accident, of the terrible realisation, crashing in on her in a single awful moment, that this had always been destined, that Terminus's whole mysterious history was a giant time loop, that it was she herself who had jettisoned the malfunctioning engine which caused Event Zero, she herself who had ultimately been responsible for the Big Bang. And she tells them of bailing out as the ship careened forward again in time, the fate of the crew who had volunteered to help her already horribly known to her. She tells them of finding herself on Siabar three billion years downstream of the Event, and once more among people who needed her help, of saving them from the degradation of their available quantum states caused by the increase in their population.

The sky is lightening again, dawn almost breaking.

"Did they worship you?" Leela asks. "To build such a mighty monument to you?"

"I think some of them did, a little," Nyssa admits. "Their cosmogony was always based on the idea that the universe was an accident. Some of them liked to see me as proof of that. But I believed them when they told me that the main reason was to honour the assistance I had given them."

"And it was only intended as a memorial?" Rodan says. "They knew nothing of the stone's temporal flux?"

"Of course they knew of it! They had an instinctive relationship with quantum probability, in the same way that you do to time, Rodan. But at the same time, it was just a building material to them. They chose the purest possible samples for the statue, but that is all."

"Perhaps that is why it survived, then. And then yours and Leela's artron traces connected across the aeons, achieving by accident what I thought had been design." She sighed. "I have a horrible feeling we may have created the anomaly we were sent here to find."

"Please," Nyssa says, "no more causal loops."

"This is all going to make for a very complicated report, that's for certain." Rodan smiles briefly, but then looks ashamed. "But it turns out the Siabarans were never planning an invasion of the future."

"They are among the most peaceful people I have ever met," Nyssa says solemnly. "There was much there that reminded me of home."

"You must not judge yourself too harshly," Leela says to Rodan. "You were right to be concerned, such a threat--"

"There was no threat," Rodan whispers, sinking into Leela's arms. "Perhaps we are not nearly so far from the Dark Time as we choose to think."

"I have met your people, but truly I know little of them," Nyssa says, choosing her words carefully. "But I can see that you, Rodan, live up to the nobility of your title. And I think that Leela would not love you otherwise."

"Thank you," Rodan says. She clears her throat. "Anyway, we cannot leave you here on an uninhabited world. You would be most welcome on Gallifrey, Nyssa. Most welcome indeed."

"I thought ... well, that outsiders were unwelcome. Present company excepted," Nyssa says with a nod to Leela.

"Things have changed," Rodan says. A look passes between her and Leela, that Nyssa doesn't quite know how to interpret. "Well, perhaps it would be better to say that things are changing. The new Presidency is ... at least open to possibilities. We could accommodate you on Gallifrey, I am sure."

Leela looks at her appraisingly. "I think there is somewhere else you would rather go, isn't there?"

* * *

Tegan hunches her coat around herself as she hurries to the Tube station, stumbling through the slush on the pavement in her efforts to escape the sleety rain. After fifteen years, she is still unused to the British winter. The chill in the air matches the coldness in her heart, and she aches for the sun to melt away her memories.

But as she enters the station, the noise she hears is straight from those memories, the impossible, glorious, terrifying sound of the whole universe reorganising itself around the arrival of a time machine. She looks around at the other commuters: do they not hear it? Or was it always this way, that it is simply too far outside people's experience for them to be able to comprehend it? And then, as she looks around, she realises that she does not see the blue box she is expecting.

And then she realises that there is a door in the far wall where there was none before.

For a moment, she allows herself to imagine that the Doctor has finally gotten around to fixing that chameleon circuit of his. But then the darker possibilities spring to mind: she has always known of a TARDIS that could insinuate itself into its surroundings.

She is getting ready to run when the door opens, and three women step out, looking nothing like Underground employees.

Her mouth drops open in astonishment when, a fraction of a second later, she recognises the one in front.

They run towards each other, embrace and kiss, ignoring the stares from all around. The kiss is filled with passion and loss and regret. When they break apart, Tegan breaks useless fists against Nyssa's arms. "You left me," she whispers harshly.

"I'm here now," Nyssa says, and the tone of her voice is eloquent: she knows it is not enough, but it is all she can offer. Tegan wraps her in her arms again and they hug each other for a long time.

The elephantine groaning begins again, and Tegan looks over Nyssa's shoulder to see that the women have gone, and the door is fading in and out of the tiled wall. "You're stuck here now," she whispers in Nyssa's ear.

"No," Nyssa says. "Never. I'm finally home."

Tegan doesn't go to work that day, doesn't really care in the moment whether she ever goes again. They spend the time around the city, reconnecting slowly, gingerly. The joy of their reunion is not quite enough to fully overcome the years of pain all at once.

They spend the rest of the morning in an art gallery. Nyssa notices the oddest details in the paintings, tiny things in the background or the different types of cloud. She sees things in the abstracts that Tegan is fairly sure no one else ever has.

In the gift shop at the end, Nyssa sees a print of a picture she particularly liked and they almost buy it to put up on the wall. It is only afterwards that Tegan realises they are both assuming Nyssa will stay with her.

Later, they're walking along the street -- it's warmer now, Tegan thinks, but then she sees one of those signs telling the temperature, and it hasn't changed at all since she was heading for the Tube -- when Tegan realises that Nyssa's no longer next to her.

Looking back, she sees Nyssa staring in through the window of one of those terrible new American caf├ęs -- no, "coffee shops" -- at all the people eating their mass-produced, middle-class junk food. "Let's eat here," she says excitedly.

"Really?" Tegan tries not to let too much disdain into her voice.

"Come on," Nyssa says, taking her by the hand and dragging her through the door.

When they get to the counter, Nyssa glances up at the menu board and rattles over the most complicated order Tegan has ever heard as though she's a regular. A pedantic, fussy regular with weird tastes that make the "barista" give her a strange look but stay politely quiet. Then she orders about four times more food than any one person could possibly eat.

Tegan realises that she has been staring at Nyssa when she says, "What?"

"Nothing," Tegan says, but when they get to their table, "Did you have to order so much?"

"I wanted to experiment," Nyssa says. "All this new Earth food is very exciting." To prove the point, she takes a long draught of her drink -- you couldn't really call it a coffee, so adulterated is it -- and starts picking at all the food in front of her, taking bites at random.

Tegan drinks her own coffee, and uses her mug to hide her smile. She realises that her cynicism about these sorts of places is being replaced by a vicarious enjoyment. Nyssa is, after all, the perfect audience for this current fad for complex customisation.

The afternoon is spent in the science museum. Nyssa's amusement at the wrongheadedness of everything humanity thinks it knows is infectious, overcomes Tegan's instinctive defensiveness on behalf of her species.

But still, Nyssa realises she is running the risk of being hurtful. "Oh, Tegan, you mustn't think ... I mean, you've worked out the scientific method. The rest is just details. You'll get there eventually. In the future."

"We've been to the future," Tegan points out.

"Not our future," Nyssa says, and they weave their hands together.

As the day goes on, Tegan sees that Nyssa has not changed, and remembers all the things she has always loved about her, all the things she has missed for so long. And all the while they are holding hands, exchanging kisses, running fingers down one another's arms, remembering the shapes of each other's bodies, the ways they like to be touched.

Over dinner, a table for two in the back of a candlelit restaurant, Tegan finally summons the courage to ask the questions she has been avoiding all day long. And when she hears Nyssa's story, she finds herself feeling shame. All this time she has resented Nyssa for leaving her, but now she feels inadequate for not having made the same herculean efforts to get back to her.

"The Doctor always said you chose to stay on Terminus," she says, tears rolling silently down her cheeks. "That we shouldn't go back for you."

Nyssa clutches her hand across the table. "I did choose, Tegan. And I couldn't choose otherwise. I would have been betraying myself, my upbringing, betraying all of Traken. There were people I could help and I had to help them. If you'd come back before I'd cured the disease, I would have sent you away again." Tegan looks straight at her, distraught. "No, that's not true. I would have asked you to stay with me." And now Nyssa is crying too.

And that night, they make love as though for the first time, snug between the covers of Tegan's bed. Their bodies instinctively rediscover their old rhythms and connections, the intervening years fading into nothing as hands and lips and tongues and teeth roam wild and free, exploring all the small ways the territory they once knew intimately has changed, and finally reconquering it.

Afterwards, Tegan curls herself round Nyssa's warm form, strokes her hair resting against the pillow. All her doubts and misgivings and resentments have faded away, except the worry that this might all be some wonderful dream, and she will wake up the next morning more bereft than she was before.

"Stay with me," she says.

"Always."