It's time to return to her everyday life and Grace knows it, but she finds herself in the Cloister room instead, just as he found himself there - like a sleepwalker shuddering to wakefulness in a completely unexpected place, dazed for a moment and searching for familiar lines and shapes and a sense of where and when. Was it all a dream? Is it still a dream?
The Doctor is sitting up on the stone ledge around the Eye, leaned back against the nearest of the four posts, head canted back to search the incomprehensible heights of the room. She comes to sit beside him, carefully, not making a sound in this echoing, cavernous space. A long moment passes.
“What ended up happening?” she asks finally, gaze drifting up to the balcony she'd fallen from, sticking there like a gummed-up gear, always trying to roll onward but forever twitching back to the same position. “I didn't see, I was...”
“He fell into the Eye. The end.” It's an uncharacteristically short reply - not irritated, but seemingly unwilling to dwell on the details. Or let her finish her sentence.
I was dead at the time.
His fault, again. Another Katarina and Sara, another Adric. Almost. If not for the grace of the laws of time and one sentimental old ship, and he can hardly be credited for that. Not even a full day in this body and he's already nearly killed someone. Two someones. Careless.
“Deserved it though, didn't he?”
Grace brings him back to himself, and he turns his head to regard her. Nearly killed someone innocent. Accuracy in his condemnations; the least he can do. A laugh, quiet and humorless and tired. “Probably, yes.”
The uncertainty says things, implications between the spoken and unspoken, and he sees the question form on her face before she asks it. “You tried to save him, didn't you?”
Silence, stretching almost a beat too long - and somewhere in a distant part of his mind, the Doctor finds it frightening that he's getting this predictable. Predictability is how they get you, and he did come very close to ‘gotten’ this time around. His voice is soft with self-recrimination, eyes sweeping up into infinity. “Grace. You’ve only known me for a day, and you already know me too well.”
The slightest grin on her face. “I'm perceptive.”
“That you are.”
The silence really does stretch too long this time, sprawling out to swallow the space between them. The Doctor slides one foot forward slightly along the stone ledge, restless. Grace looks at her hands, flexing the fingers, seemingly entranced by the feel of skin over bone. There’s amazement on her face at the fact that she can still move at all, that she is alive, now, after being thrown-
“Why?” There's a sudden unforgiving sharpness in her tone, hands still held open-palmed in her lap. One word, interrogative, applicable to a thousand contexts and subject to even more grammatical ambiguities. But he knows what she's asking. Why waste the slightest effort to save a monster like that, the monster that killed...
No. Don't say it. Don't even think it.
The Doctor moves suddenly, swinging his legs down off of the ledge to sit squarely beside her, facing out into the room. Looks at her pointedly, all deadly earnestness. “It's not my place not to, is it? Defend myself and my home,” A nod to the room, “...the people I care for, the innocents who stumble in, yes. But judge and executioner?” He lets out a harsh breath through his nose, eyes focusing off in middle distance, soft. “I haven't that right. Not now, not ever...”
And there’s more to it than that, but he can’t really explain why it’s so impossible for him to not offer his hand — why he can’t give up on people. Why no one deserves to be given up on.
Grace isn't listening anymore regardless, as he trails off. He can see her sailing out into empty space — see the frictionless unrestraint of freefall in her downcast eyes. Feel in her gaze the stuttering, agonizing loss of control when the Master slid into her mind like black syrup, violating her, turning her hand against the one person who’d ever shown her magic. He can tell that she wants to scream and rail and condemn, to tell him that he did have the right, to say she's glad the black hole tore the bastard to pieces. That she hopes it hurt.
But all she does is nod, and he’s never been so grateful.
There's the space of a heartbeat and he's in motion again, slipping from the ledge and wandering in a slow circle around the Eye. Grace turns where she's sitting to follow him with her eyes, watching him stop at a point across from her. Steps up onto the ledge, slight form and long legs collapsing together like a folding chair as he crouches there on the stone surface, balanced lightly on the balls of his feet. He reaches one hand out to brush over the Eye's covering, tracing its rough contours. She can't help but watch the movement of his hand, almost hypnotized.
“We were friends, once.”
Grace snaps her eyes up from his hand to his face, shock written clear on her own.
“Quite dear friends,” he continues, quietly, a look both sad and coldly hard settling across his features. “Two stupid kids with stupid childish revolutionary ideas. The thing about it - and it took me a long time to figure this out,” The Doctor looks up to Grace then, tone oddly conversational for the subject matter but face painting a clear picture - centuries of 'why?' and 'what went wrong?' and 'could I have prevented this?'. He pulls his hand back from the Eye, rocking back onto his heels. Continues in a rush, the words needing to get out before he has the chance to think better of them. “The thing about it is, my stupid ideas were in my blood. His were in his head. I should have seen the sickness for what it was a lot sooner. I thought I'd met a kindred spirit, all I'd really found was a budding lunatic.”
He drops back to the floor, coat sweeping down around him, movement so smooth she can barely follow it. Leans against the ledge and is quiet for a measure. “...I don't often talk about any of this. Not terribly sure why I am now.” Long fingers push back through his hair, still not entirely used to the feel of it; and he's distant, staring off, barely talking to her anymore. Barely talking to himself. “I think I just need to explain to someone, here at the end of it.”
There's a breeze through the room suddenly, enough to unsettle his hair and hers, but comforting somehow. Warm, like an arm across the shoulders. Sentimental old thing, of course he can talk to her, the dear — and the Doctor mutters as much, too quietly for Grace to hear, grinning despite himself. His beautiful ship.
“So... that's it, then?” Grace asks after a moment, uncertainty in her voice, getting the crawling feeling that she’s interrupting something important. “He was just... crazy?”
The Doctor shifts against the ledge, hands seeking out the pockets of his coat. “Not to put too fine a point on it, yes. Dangerously so, obviously. Some would say irredeemably.” Some, but not the Doctor, because that's what the Doctor does - hands people the keys to the door of redemption, and if they deserve it, they'll take those last critical steps themselves. Very few do, in the end. There’s a painful tiredness about the whole process— how many times do you go through the motions of mercy before you run out of patience for the second chances that no one ever takes? “It didn't take a lot to be classed as a renegade on Gallifrey, you know, no need for... violence, or criminality. All we wanted was change and adventure, to get out and see things. And somewhere between then and now, I think he saw too much, and it broke his conscience. Set his sights on me, I was never really certain why.”
Grace blinks, incredulous. “Because he was insane? Possibly?”
A one-shouldered shrug. “I suppose.”
There’s barely a beat of silence before he continues, words coming in a self-conscious rush. “No, no no no, that's... that's really oversimplifying it. Does the whole awful mess no justice really. I-”
She’s still staring at him. He feels it, and stops midstream, mouth open around an unformed word.
Ancient eyes meet infinitely young ones, and he smiles suddenly, distance and amusement and sadness. “Listen to me. He tries to kill me how many times, tries to steal my ship, how many times... innocents terrorized and hurt, worlds and people sacrificed, broke every rule in the book - even the good ones,” he adds defensively, arching an eyebrow, not one to talk about breaking rules. “...and I'm worried about doing justice to his motives.” He shakes his head at himself, slumping back onto his hands against the ledge. “I've got a bit of a problem, don't I?”
Grace wanders around the ledge, stopping to lean against it alongside him. Considers the depths of alien pain playing out in front of her. “Only if you don’t have a good reason, I guess.”
Only it isn’t alien pain. It’s the universally deep and crippling hurt of friendly fire and betrayed trust, and the smile the Doctor manages now reflects it, weak and not reaching his eyes — but still genuine, in its own way. How does he always manage to run into the most perceptive and brilliant people, everywhere he goes?
“Well... we just sort of went round and round for centuries, you see. Nothing ever changed and I guess you have to want to change, but...” The earnestness is back now, with a vengeance. It surprises him in a detached sort of way; he hasn’t been so prone to such things for at least three regenerations. “...I always felt that I could save him, given a chance. Given enough time.” Given a key, given the healing hand his name implies. Given forever.
Grace smiles, curling her fingers against the stone. Willing herself to forget. “You're… a hopeless sentimentalist, who doesn't give up on people. Not the worst problem in the world to have.”
“No,” he says, his own smile fading. He stares straight up into the heart of the Cloister room, up and up and up - and maybe he can see where it ends, somewhere up there, the limitation to the magic. Grace can't. “I don't suppose it is.”
Around them, the TARDIS breathes in the universe silently, resting. Outside, time goes on in its usual path. The stone covering of the Eye is silent, unmoving, as if it had never opened, never made the ripple that nearly tore the world apart - the surface of a lake, unhurried and placid.
Black holes, like vengeful seas, never give up their secrets, and never give up their dead.