Tegan stared into the glowing embers of the campfire as darkness closed in around her. She felt as though she was a lot closer to home than she should have been. She didn’t understand why, since Earth was several million light years away, and her home era several million years in the future from where they were now. Or so Adric had told her.
Sensations of home had, it seemed, become something she took when she could get them these days. The Doctor had never been one to deliver them all to places that looked like home, and she doubted that he would ever start just because one of his companions felt a little homesick once in a while.
She wondered if he ever felt homesick. Probably not.
The whole distance thing seemed slightly unreal to her now, although Adric still persisted in telling her just how far away from Earth they really were. But then, Adric was a brat. Just like her mum’s friend Megan’s son, in fact. The one who ended up getting a doctorate in Physics at the age of 16, in half the time normally taken to complete one. She’d even dated him for a while, before she’d decided that he cared more about physics than he did about her. Sooner or later, Adric would grow out of it.
She followed the flames up until they were the sparks that the fire was throwing up into the atmosphere along with the smoke, which was itself invisible now in the dying minutes of dusk. Above them, stars were appearing in the night sky. The atmosphere was as clear and as pure as a mountain stream and, with no other source of light in the area, the stars numbered in their thousands.
They were all finding Lyora somewhat depressing, and being out in the wastelands was not helping. The Doctor in particular seemed to be finding the whole experience somewhat of an ordeal, although he had so far refused to acknowledge it.
Once upon a time, Lyora had been almost entirely occupied by city. Now, it was almost entirely occupied by rubble and decay. All that was left of the planet’s former glory was a domed city that was located more than a day’s march from where they currently sat.
“This place is depressing,” she said to the others.
“Tell us something we don’t know,” Adric sighed.
The Doctor gave no sign that he’d heard her.
She shifted the wood around on top of the red hot coals, and put a billy full of water down amongst them. The Doctor sat on a mossy lump of concrete, staring moodily into the fire. Nearby, Nyssa and Adric were arguing quietly about some obscure piece of scientific theory. A cup of tea would do them all a world of good right now.
“We’ll get the Tardis back,” she said to him.
“Of course we will,” he snapped. “I can think of a dozen ways to sneak into that city.”
“Then why are we still out here?” Tegan demanded.
She waited for his answer, but he merely grunted and went back to staring into the fire. Instead of insisting on an answer, she pulled her canister of tea out of her handbag, and dumped several large pinches of the contents into the billy she had constructed from a lump of something that had been discarded years ago. Then, as she waited for the tea to brew, she produced the makeshift mugs she had also found.
As the odour of the tea wafted under their noses, she lifted the billy off the fire and set it down. The Doctor frowned at it. “Tea?” he asked.
“Where did you get it?” Nyssa asked.
“I put a canister in my handbag before we left the Tardis,” Tegan explained. “You never know when you’ll need a cuppa.”
They stared at her.
“What else do you keep in your handbag?” Adric asked curiously.
“This and that,” Tegan replied evasively. “Some basic first aid supplies. A packet of boiled sweets.”
“Where did you get those?” Adric asked.
“I found them on the Tardis,” she replied with as much of a smile as she could muster.
“She likes to be helpful,” the Doctor said, an odd note in his voice.
Tegan picked the billy up by the wire handle she’d put on it, stood up, and swung it swiftly around in a big circle several times.
“Why did you do that?” Adric asked as Tegan poured the tea.
“It’s to settle the leaves to the bottom,” she replied.
She handed mugs to them all, and then settled down on the concrete block next to the Doctor while Adric and Nyssa went back to their earlier debate.
“It’s so sad out here,” she said quietly.
“The ruins of a civilisation are always sad,” the Doctor agreed. “Just sitting here, thinking about all the lives that were lived in this place, is enough to make a person want to weep.”
“Even you?” Tegan asked.
“Surely you’d have seen this sort of thing before, though,” Tegan replied, somewhat confused by his clear melancholia. It was uncharacteristic of him to be depressed over things — normally he flitted around the universe like a butterfly with an unexpected streak of anger, righting any wrong he happened across, and leaving again displaying no evidence that his brief landing had had any effect on himself at all.
“Of course I have. But this… It reminds me of home.”
He nodded. Tegan shifted closer to him, and caught a whiff of that lavender, rosemary and eucalypt smell that was so uniquely him. She wondered if she could get away with leaning her head on his shoulder, and decided not to try it.
“The Capitol is a domed city,” he explained, “with a wasteland around it. The only people who ever left the city were exiles.”
“So you’ve never been outside before you left?”
“Never once,” he confirmed.
She twisted around and stared at him. “How could you live like that?” she demanded.
He shrugged. “We just did,” he replied, and turned to stare into the fire.
Tegan watched him carefully. It didn’t matter all that much to her what it was that they’d done to upset the people in charge of the city — she couldn’t remember, and upsetting the people in charge was nothing unusual for them anyway. She was finding the whole experience surprisingly relaxing. The Doctor, on the other hand, was anything but relaxed.
Abruptly, she realised that he was trembling. She reached out and put her hand on his arm. “Are you alright?” she asked quietly.
He jumped, and spun around. “Please don’t do that,” he said, his voice strained.
Tegan glanced over at the others. Nyssa and Adric had fallen asleep, and Adric’s head rested on Nyssa’s shoulder. Tegan thought the boy looked absurdly young. The Doctor followed her gaze. “They’re so innocent,” he said quietly. “So trusting.”
She nodded her agreement, and looked back at the Doctor. “Nobody’s out here,” she told him.
He rested his head in his hands. “That’s the problem,” he replied. “I’d find this a bit easier if there were other people around, even if they all wanted to arrest or kill us. But the Tardis is back in the city, where there are people. And we’re out here.”
Tegan wondered what that phobia was called — the one about the irrational fear of open places. “But you’re not alone,” she said reasonably. “I’m here. So are Adric and Nyssa.” She moved over until she was sitting right next to him, and gingerly put her hand on his knee.
He looked at her for a long moment and then, equally gingerly, put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned against him, and sighed. “Back home, we used to have to go and round up the cattle so that we could sell them,” she said conversationally. “It usually took us days to find them, and then it would be a week before we got them back to the homestead, where the cattle yards were.”
“Tell me about it?” he asked. So she told him all about the ups and downs of mustering cattle, and how you went about surviving in the Australian bush. Eventually, she ran out of things to say about it, and they went back to staring into the fire.
“How did it feel when you first left?” she asked him.
“Scared,” he replied. “I was terrified that I’d never see Gallifrey again, scared that I’d be caught and taken back, scared for Susan.”
He turned to look at her. “When we stepped out into the city back there, it felt very much like home. The air smelled exactly the same as it does in the Capitol.”
She pulled him into a hug.
“It felt like I was leaving Gallifrey all over again,” he mumbled into her hair.
She rested her forehead against his neck, and wondered if she would be able to stay awake all night. “We’ll sort it out,” she said. “We always do.”
“Yes,” he agreed, and she felt his breath against her cheek. “Mind you, all we really have to do is to find the Tardis and leave.”
“Will the people here ever leave their dome?” she asked.
She felt him shake his head. “No. They have perhaps three centuries left before their systems break down and their civilisation finally dies.”
“That’s sad,” she said.
“Yes,” he agreed. “Still, this is what happens when a civilisation misuses the resources it has available to it.”
“Will it ever happen to Earth?”
He chuckled. “Earth will have its ups and its downs — but it will never revert to primitivism. Your people will never again huddle in the ruins of their own cities, scrounging for whatever they can find to live off.”
She raised her head to look him in the eye. “Good,” she said with a smile. “We have our problems, but I’d hate to think that the people of my world should decline again.”
Very much against her will, and despite her best attempts not to, she yawned. Then, she blushed. “Sorry,” she said.
He chuckled again, and she was pleased to see him a little happier. He slid down off the concrete block to the ground, forcing her to go down with him. “Sleep,” he told her. “We’ve had a busy day today. You’ll be useless tomorrow if you don’t.”
As if bidden, she felt herself sliding into sleep. Relieved by the note of cheer in his voice, she rested her head on his shoulder, and didn’t try to fight it.