Beauty and folly are old companions. – Benjamin Franklin
Amidst a haze of well-wishers, the Doctor found himself being dragged deftly through the crush and out, around, through, to an alley... a blue shape... and then he did not need Nyssa's small hand clutching his wrist any longer. He was running, reeling, nearly slipping and falling before he reached the TARDIS doors. She said nothing, only stepping up to his elbow to press her key into his hand, waiting while he fumbled with shaky fingers to turn the lock himself.
He staggered through. Pure, crisp light smote his eyes, neither the sunlight in which he'd baked for a lonely year of near-immobility nor the dingy, bug-stained panel lighting of his prison cell before that. The musical hum of the TARDIS systems washed over him like a benison. Purring, the doors swung shut behind him. Even the humble shape of the hatrack was an old friend. Like a sleepwalker, the Doctor moved to the controls, fondling buttons and switches in loving apology for his long absence. As he started to program in the dematerialization sequence, he finally registered Nyssa staring at him with a troubled expression.
"What?" he said. He gave a dry-mouthed laugh, feeling matted bristles dragging at his lips. "Oh, yes, the beard. I'll have it off shortly. But first, fly far from human ignorance and Folly! I could swear the old girl's pining for the vortex."
"You are, at any rate," said Nyssa. "But let's not leave quite yet, shall we? Food first. Then rest. You're exhausted, Doctor. You've spent a year of your life forcing your way through that time barrier. The ordeal would have driven an ordinary person mad, to say nothing of killing them in minutes. What if you make a mistake? Get some sleep. Your mind will be sharper by morning."
"Anyway, I've removed the dematerialization circuit."
"You what?" he stared, outrage snapping him fully awake. "You... my... Nyssa, I'm astounded at you. Bring it here at once!"
"No, Doctor." She set her hands on her hips as he opened his mouth to bellow. "Shouting won't change my mind. Find me when you've calmed down."
"You had no right to disable my ship! Nyssa, I've taught you about the inner workings of the TARDIS, and this is how you–" He found his voice booming in an empty console room. The inner door had shut. Shaking with wrath (or fatigue, if he were being honest with himself), he wrenched it open and hurtled down the hall after her, barely noticing his hands slipping on the roundels as he jostled against them. He caught one glimpse of her stricken, tight-lipped expression as she drew her door shut in his face. There was a clack of bolts being thrown. "Nyssa!" he said, in real anguish now. "Be reasonable!"
He couldn't believe it. After all he'd been through in the past year, pushing ahead millimeter by agonizing millimeter, budgeting wretched cafeteria food and ghastly fizzy drinks bite by bite and drop by drop to keep from falling in his tracks, pinned in endless sunlight and a heavy, oppressive stillness as if the air itself had ceased to vibrate– even drawing breath had been a battle of supreme willpower without end– to come home to a crippled TARDIS and a friend behaving like a jailor?
"Now look here, Nyssa," he said finally, striving to keep his voice level. "Stop being hysterical. I appreciate your concern, but as you saw, I've just finished engineering a rather neat bit of temporal mechanics on the fly. Piloting the TARDIS is child's play in comparison. Anyway, I can fly her in my sleep. So let's take it that you were concerned and say no more about... this... this... theft..." A squeak of rising anger broke through the steady, placating tones he was striving for.
"I'm truly sorry, Doctor," she said, her gentle voice muffled by the door. "Please eat something, if you can."
He gave her door one hard rap, but it was not in the least satisfying. In the end, standing in the deserted hallway with waves of nausea washing over him, he grudgingly obeyed. There was no point in passing out on the floor from dehydration, after all.
In the kitchen, he discovered Nyssa had been tinkering with a simpler form of temporal mechanics. The stasis field on the sideboard had been expanded to suspend a three-course meal of soup, salad, Altairian fleisch in a light seaweed sauce with all the toppings he found tasty, fresh warm bread, wine, and even lit candles. Ignoring the peace offering, he left the tempting feast untouched and moved to the food machine for tea, toast and eggs, nearly dropping his plate before sinking into his chair. His first proper meal in a year was a solitary, morose affair. He kept glancing towards the open doorway, expecting her to join him at any minute, but apparently she meant to hide until his bad temper had abated. Unusual cowardice on her part, he thought sourly, although he was in no mood to deal with her civilly just now.
Still stewing, he started to nod off, beard brushing the edge of his plate before he jerked upright with a start. Best to retire before she found him next morning with eggs in his beard. Abandoning the washing-up, he stormed back to his room, giving her door a peevish thump in passing. He could hear her shower running inside. Dazed, surly, and distantly aware of his disheveled clothes and pungent state, he slumped into his quarters, stripped and hosed down just enough to make himself bearable, shuffled out and toppled face first across the mattress.
Unknown hours later, he awoke, groggy and inert. Darkness, true darkness: another luxury he had missed. The TARDIS hum was a resonant lullaby, urging him to close his eyes once more. But why had the gravity been set double what it ought to be? Only when he struggled to rise did he realize the environmental settings were normal; it was his own bone-tired condition that made him feel like he was on Jupiter. Even the soft blankets tucked around him weighed on his back like sheets of lead.
Hadn't the lights been on when he passed out?
Nyssa. She must have covered him while he was asleep.
He should have been embarrassed at the intrusion. Instead, it was only more fuel to sustain his ire, banked while he slept, quick to flare up once he remembered what she had done. Minor sabotage was unimportant in the grand scheme of things, except that he could not get over the fact that Nyssa, of all people, had broken faith with him, denying him freedom after so long a wait. He had thought she knew him. She should realize that some lines were not to be crossed.
Despite his leaden limbs, he forced himself to his feet, called for the lights and shrugged into his dressing gown. The sight of his ribs pressing through his skin, which was pale and almost translucent where it wasn't sunburned, gave him pause. So too did the haggard, gaunt, shaggy face peering back at him from the mirror. He looked dreadful. No wonder she had been concerned.
Ordinarily, he would have been chagrinned for her to see him in this state. Now simmering outrage cut through exhaustion.
Stepping out into the corridor, he blinked, blinded. The TARDIS hum sounded forlorn, now that he knew a vital piece of her was missing. He waited for his eyes to adjust. "Don't worry, old girl," he said, patting the nearest wall. "I'll soon have you sorted."
Crossing the corridor to pound on Nyssa's door again, he altered course abruptly. Her stubbornness was as much a fact as hydrogen. He'd have more luck pushing through another time-wall than trying to budge her. Best to search for the hidden dematerialization circuit himself, before she awoke. It was ridiculous that he should have to beg for it.
Scowling, he turned and headed back to the console room. Perhaps Nyssa had merely been bluffing to forestall him from taking off. It could be that the circuit was right where it belonged, where it ought to be.
It took him ten minutes of fumbling to prize the hatch off. She wasn't bluffing. True to her word, the dematerialization circuit's socket was empty. A faint dust-free outline showed where it ought to be. He scowled. Nyssa had scolded him so often for maintenance, yet she had not even bothered to clean the socket while putting fingers where she shouldn't.
He was soon staggering back into the maze of corridors, scouring supply cabinets and utility rooms, the laboratory and Nyssa's work bench, shovelling instruments aside and dumping bins carelessly onto the floor. Thwarted, he was forced to search farther afield. His mood began to mellow. It was impossible to maintain a fit of pique at full volume while ambling the shining corridors, poking his nose in on the cricket pitch and the rain room, scanning the new Zero Room where he was sorely tempted to fall asleep again, the ballroom with his first incarnation's grand piano, and the wardrobe, which Nyssa had apparently reordered by planet and chronological period. Her scattered touches were in evidence, but lightly: doors that had squeaked or stuck in their frames swung smoothly, dead plants had been swapped for living ones, auto irrigation systems were in working order, and he did not pass a single burned-out light, even in side passages and spare rooms. The Cloisters garden was burgeoning, every trellis pruned and flowering, benches and pathways swept, detritus cleared away.
It was his ship. But it was hers too, for now. For all his irritation at Nyssa's meddling (and Romana's, and Zoe's, not to mention Victoria's extravagant interior design projects), he genuinely enjoyed stumbling over traces of the friends he brought aboard, past and present.
At last, half dreaming on his feet, the Doctor trailed back to the residential corridor. As he stood swaying between his door and hers, he suddenly realized that the latter was open a crack. Was Nyssa awake, or had she forgotten to close her door after tucking him in? He had no idea of the hour, but he was determined to have this out with her.
Or simply talk. He had missed her. Despite his indignation, it galled him that he had begun his homecoming by shouting at her.
He set his hand on the roundel and pushed inside, stumbling over the fringe of fluffy white carpet. The only light came from the corridor and the glowing seam around her bathroom door. By that dim illumination, he could see that her quarters were more cluttered that he remembered.
The small, quiet sounds of Nyssa's breathing drew his gaze down to her pillow. The sight of those delicate, sleep-loosened features and rumpled curls made his throat tighten. She was tiny. After a year away, he was once more astounded by the scale of her: an intense, serious soul in such a compact package, although she was not quite as fragile as she looked. And still lovely, a fact he had cause to savor and rue during his lengthy incarceration. Damn this youthful regeneration and its callow instincts. If he kept staring like this, he was going to forget his reasons for being cross with her altogether.
The dematerialization circuit— of course! Nyssa must have hidden it in her own bedroom, the last place he was liable to search.
The Doctor began to prowl her quarters cautiously, mindful of trespass. It looked as if she had fallen asleep halfway through tidying. A hamper of laundry sat next to her closet. He averted his eyes from garments with which the TARDIS wardrobe was always well-supplied, but which he pretended not to see. A new pair of elegant little boots sat next to the hamper, waiting to be put away. He smiled to himself: Nyssa's organized mind insisted on stowing one object in storage each time she acquired a new treasure. Nevertheless, her dresser top was littered with colored chalk, brushes and paint tubes– paint? When had she acquired that habit? Several studies were affixed to the mirror, too small to make out properly in the dim light.
The largest seemed unfinished. It was an outline portrait, loose yet faithful to the subject (unflatteringly so, really), roughed out in quick pastel strokes. The coloring was monochrome, all golds and burnt umber and brown, apart from the eyes. They alone looked finished, worked boldy in dark, subtle colors and shading so that they seemed almost four-dimensional, compared to the rest of the picture. The startling eyes were his own: deep-set, blue, haunted. It seemed as if an ancient soul was peeking out through amiable, vacant features.
Prickles of resentment gave way to that quiet, uncomfortable squeeze of feeling too much, and trying not to.
The Doctor glanced away, embarrassed, as if he had stumbled upon someone else's secret and not his own.
His eyes fell upon a transparent deryllium box on a shelf of Nyssa's china cabinet. His hearts leapt. The dematerialization circuit lay within, cushioned on velvet like an oversized ring. Except... two dematerialization circuits? Baffled, he started to pick up the case, missed the edges of it, and nearly batted it to the floor. Frowning, he stepped back and stooped, peering through the tempered glasslike material. The left-hand nodule of circuitry and coiled wire was the TARDIS' battered dematerialization circuit, complete with stained contacts and the patina of old age. The right-hand copy resembled a delivery straight from Gallifrey. Was it a spare that had been lurking in some back closet of the TARDIS? Surely Nyssa had not risked piloting the ship elsewhere to collect parts of uncertain provenance? Or had she, over the course of the past year, painstakingly machined an exact copy?
It would have to be tested. He would never put an untried component in his precious ship. However, the discovery of that duplicate mollified him more than the sight of the genuine article. She had not ventured to repair any TARDIS systems in his absence. She knew how horrified he would be. Instead she had attempted to give him what the Time Lords had withheld for years, so that his ship could never again be grounded... did she know? He couldn't remember telling her.
"Doctor?" Her sleepy whisper carried out of the nest of blankets. "How are you feeling?"
"Marooned," he rumbled, determined to cling to the edges of his snit like a threadbare prison blanket that was more show than serviceable.
She rubbed her eyes and sat up with a lurch, studying him. "I really don't think we ought to take off yet. At least let me help install–"
"Absolutely not." He folded his arms. "I've half a mind to leave right now. Where did you find this, anyhow?" He nodded towards the replica.
Damn that self-deprecating smile. "Maybe I stole it, too?"
So she had made it. His estimation of her skills rose several notches, although he was still determined not to let it anywhere near his console. A wide yawn spoiled his next retort. "I'm going to install locks on the console access panel," he muttered.
"Tomorrow," she insisted.
He yawned again and conceded defeat. "Tomorrow. Yes. And then you and I are going to have a talk."
Tomorrow, Nyssa entered the console room just in time to see him closing a maintenance hatch with a snap. She hovered by the inner door, watching as his hands danced over the controls, adding a few extra flourishes of defiance as he jabbed the dematerialization switch and set the engines in motion. He had installed the old dematerialization circuit, of course. He had been secretly gratified to find that she had not, in fact, successfully built a component that his third incarnation had spent years trying to replicate. The flaws were only visible in five dimensions– impressive, really– and he was not about to teach her how to correct her mistakes, lest the Time Lords decide to wipe her memory.
"Where are we going?" she ventured, waiting to speak until after the ponderous downstroke and grinding chords had faded to bubbling clicks and grace notes.
"Nowhere, yet," he said irritably, stroking the hedge on his chin that a second shower had barely improved. "I need you to make me presentable before I step outside."
She smiled in relief. "Of course, Doctor."
Shucking his jumper and following her to the well-lit lab, he found she had already cleared away the mess he had left the previous night. The Doctor settled onto a swivel chair without comment.
"Are you all right?" she said, fixing the sheet around his neck and ratcheting the chair down low enough for her to reach. He had to stretch out his legs across the floor.
"I'm fine, as I keep telling you," he growled. "If you'd just stop fussing–"
"I could shape this, you know," she interrupted, brushing her palm lightly against the tips of the scraggly beard. "I rather liked you as Doctor Walters."
"Nyssa," he said, exasperated, "If you're going to mock me, I know an excellent barber in Cambridge–"
"Oh, Doctor, I'm not mocking." She picked up the clippers, eyeing his face dispassionately before starting in. "I'm from Traken, remember? With a little grooming, this might be almost consular. Beards are a sign of authority where I come from. Lordly, even."
"Clean-shaven, Nyssa, please." He raised his eyes to the ceiling and then closed them. "I'm hardly a leader." Lord President, he thought to himself, wondering what she would make of that debacle.
"Certainly not of anyone reputable," she said, alluding to his fellow inmates. "Although you almost made them so."
"Their cricket skills were appalling, frankly– even the ones with four arms." His mind started to wander. For all his grumbling, this was bliss: the buzz of the clippers, the weight of unwanted hair falling away, and the deft, efficient movements of her hands as she worked quickly around chin and ears, clearing away the dross of two years' time. It was a shame to spoil this ritual with ill-feeling.
"I am sorry, Doctor," she said finally, rousing him just before he nodded off again.
"Hm?" he mumbled. "Oh. As you should be. Nyssa, you should never, ever do anything that might hinder our fast escape in an emergency."
"I wouldn't. But Folly seemed peaceful enough, apart from the arbitrary penal code."
He sighed. "You know as well as I do that a crisis can strike anywhere. What if I'd needed to intercept that oncoming ship? Don't presume to second-guess me. And don't tamper with my ship."
"I won't. Not again." She rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment. "I promise, Doctor."
Her apology was sincere, and he knew Nyssa would never break her word. Still, resolution felt like something of an anticlimax. "I've never told you about my exile on Earth, have I?" he said.
"Exile?" Her hands paused for a moment. "You mentioned that once before. Something about the... story getting blurred on retelling?"
"I wasn't lying when I told you that I fled Gallifrey to escape the strictures of Time Lord society," he said, reading her unspoken question. "I took the TARDIS and ran. I was a fugitive from my own people for centuries. But at last they caught up with me. Or rather..." He sighed. "I had to summon them."
"Oh?" She sounded sympathetic. However, having never visited Gallifrey, she could not quite comprehend his distaste.
"Yes. I'd uncovered another renegade Time Lord, a War Chief abducting humans from all different periods of Earth history, forcing them to fight their worst wars again and again. It was horrifying. He had to be brought to justice, and I couldn't stop him on my own."
"Couldn't you?" she said, genuinely surprised.
He smiled a little at that. "Well. Perhaps I could. I was younger then, and hadn't tackled quite so many tyrants. But perhaps not. I could hardly kill him, now, could I? Even if I'd thwarted him, he might have established another scheme somewhere else."
"Yes," she said, suddenly sober. Last survivor of Traken, she knew better than anyone what he meant. There was no need to name names.
"Anyway, it would've taken more than the span of their own lifetimes for me to return all those soldiers to their proper times and places. The Time Lords could jolly well bestir themselves for a change to take care of that. Which they did. They also punished me."
"For what, exactly?" she said. "Breaking their laws of non-interference?"
"Exactly." His smile was wan. "Mind you, I gave them a piece of my mind."
"I can imagine. It didn't help your case much, did it?"
"No. They said they'd take my words into consideration, then forced me to regenerate and exiled me to Earth for a while."
"They took away one of your lives?" she said, voice rising with indignation. "That's worse than exile!"
"Yes and no." He raised his eyes to her as she came around to the front to check her handiwork. "Nyssa, they locked away my knowledge of the dematerialization codes, and they took the TARDIS dematerialization circuit. I was stranded for years. I tried to repair her on my own, but I... I just couldn't! Bound to one world, with the whole universe barred to me, hanging just beyond the sky. So close..."
Nyssa's expressive eyes widened, at his tone more than his words. True remorse flooded her face at last.
He shook his head, forestalling another apology; she had already given it with that look. "Never mind. I needed you to understand, that's all."
"Doctor, I'm–" She checked herself and moved back to his elbow to finish removing the fringe covering his ears. He felt her breath tickling his cheek as she released a muted sigh. "And did they?" she asked, after an awkward silence.
"Did they what?" His mind had already drifted, distracted by the tactile pleasures of her nimble fingers helping to restore his dignity.
"Take your words into consideration."
"Oddly enough, yes." He smiled in grim satisfaction. "Although it meant more headaches for me in the long run. From time to time, they ask me to intervene or at least investigate disruptions to the web of time. Renegade Time Lords a priority. In fact, it was after one of those expeditions that they unlocked my mental blocks and returned my dematerialization circuit."
"A pity they didn't award you a new one."
"I wouldn't have trusted it if they had. They'd probably have embedded some sort of remote control." He exhaled as she began to brush away the trimmings from his shoulders. "Ah, that's better. I feel like a new man."
"I hope not." A fingertip tested the smooth-shaven skin of his chin, making him jump. "I don't want you to change any time soon."
"Nyssa." He shook his head. "You're far too sentimental about this face, you know."
"Can you blame me? It took rather a lot of work getting it installed."
"Yes, well." He slapped his knees, waiting for her to detach the bib before he bounded to his feet. "Breakfast. I know a lovely little cafe by the mist lake on Cora's Planet: all you can eat, endless pastries that melt on the tongue–"
"I'll join you when I've finished in here," she said, reaching for a shop vac to sweep up the cuttings.
"Don't bother. The floor can absorb organic matter, remember." He held open the door for her. "Come along. I'm famished."
He was humming as he brought the TARDIS in to land on the waterfront with a precision that pleased him. After a questioning glance, Nyssa had resumed her place at the secondary controls, although she held off to let him operate the doors. He drew a delighted breath as a bracing gust of sea air buffeted their faces. Seizing his coat and hat, he was startled to find his path suddenly obstructed.
"Nyssa?" he said, looking down at her, perplexed. "Whatever is it now?"
"Just... I never told you..." She slipped her arms around his midsection, resting her face against his jumper. "Welcome home."
Beaming, embarrassed, and a little light-headed– evidently he still hadn't quite recovered from his ordeal– he reached down and scooped her off her feet, then strode towards the doors.
"Doctor!" she protested, a little breathless.
"Portable companions. I'd forgotten how convenient they are. I must keep that in mind when assessing future models." As he stepped out into the sunlight, his jaw pressing against her ear, he murmured, "But not any time soon." Then he gently set her down.
Nyssa stood frozen, fingers splayed across Pull to Open, gray eyes dazzled. Her face was aglow with unguarded tenderness that shamed him to see.
"Come along, Nyssa," he said briskly. "The angle of the sun should bring the lake to full spectrum any minute now, and I don't want to miss the spectacle. Later, we might swing by the emporium. I assume you'll want something new before we attend the Coronation of the High Hierophant this afternoon."
"Provided you can steer correctly, this time!" she teased, recovering her composure.
"Who knows?" He grinned down at her. "But I can't wait to find out."