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Five Times Lord Braxiatel Had Occasion to Regret The Doctor’s Exile Very Deeply Indeed (And One Time He Wished The Doctor Would Just Sod Off Forever)

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Title: Five Times Lord Braxiatel Had Occasion to Regret The Doctor’s Exile Very Deeply Indeed (And One Time He Wished The Doctor Would Just Sod Off Forever)
Author: x_los
Rating: PG
Characters: Braxiatel, Susan, Delgado!Master, Four, Five, Tegan, Turlough, Ainley!master, Six, Peri, Evelyn, Romana II, Leela, Narvin, Eight, Benny
Pairings: suggestion of Doctor/Master, and Braxiatel/Romana
Summary: The Doctor is many things to many people, but to Irving Braxiatel he is the universe's most annoying little brother.
Beta: aralias
A/N: THE LAST SECTION HAS SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE 'GALLIFREY' SERIES. I started this when aralias was having a bad day, and it is for her.

 

Five Times Lord Braxiatel Had Occasion to Regret The Doctor’s Exile Very Deeply Indeed (And One Time He Wished The Doctor Would Just Sod Off Forever)

 

The sound of something expensive breaking beyond all repair was well known to Lord Braxiatel, rising political worthy of the Panopticon, learned art critic and collector, and extremely reluctant long-term child-care provider.

In the wake of her parents’ passing, Braxiatel had agreed with the Doctor that the life of a wandering exile was an inappropriate one for Susan. Foolishly, he’d not suspected his brother of ulterior motives at the time. Burdened with actually rearing a girl who occasionally seemed as short on sense as name-syllables, Braxiatel now strongly suspected that the Doctor simply hadn’t wanted a youngster hanging about his TARDIS, cramping his style as he embarked on his career as a galactic adventurer and general dilettante.

“Oh, Granduncle!” Susan could make any utterance a plaintive cry. Her ‘please pass the cereal’ took on several exclamation points and made Braxiatel feel vaguely guilty for not having donated generously to the ‘Save the Aggedors’ foundation.

Susan hobbled into the room. She was hopping up and down on her right foot like a flamingo that had just won the lottery, gripping at the wainscoting for leverage. “I think I’ve sprained my ankle again, Granduncle!”

Braxiatel leaned back in his chair. “I gathered as much. I remain, however, entirely ignorant of what you might’ve managed to do this on, Susan.” He’d long ago removed anything she could conceivably trip over, switching out his elegant, spindly-legged Rassilonate Restoration furnishings for ugly, modular designs. The only virtue to recommend the pieces was that they had no limbs that could conceivably catch an exceptionally clumsy young foot.

“Well, my other foot, Granduncle,” Susan admitted, placid and unembarrassed. “I was dancing—”

“I heard. To the Monkees’ "Tapioca Tundra," if I am not much mistaken.”

Enthusiastic, genuine Susan was about as capable of detecting the sardonic distaste in her guardian’s voice as a potted fern was of picking up on radar blips. “Oh Granduncle, Michael Nesmith’s poetry is beyond anything! I should so much like to see Earth in the twentieth century. One day, I want to know all the mysteries of the skies!”

“Yes, Susan, that’s very interesting. What did you break this time?”

“…the jeweled vase on the pedestal?”

Braxiatel’s stiff upper lip fought a harsh campaign against the pathetic mewl clawing its way up from the depths of his very soul. He managed to quash the rebellion, suppressing his cry of distress ruthlessly.

“The ancient, irreplaceable and incredibly historically significant jeweled amphora of the Sisterhood of Karn, Susan?”

Susan’s brow furrowed. “Was there more than one jeweled vase, then?”

Braxiatel’s face spasmed into a tight smile. “Susan, how would you like to visit your grandfather and… assist him, in his travels?”

Susan clapped her hands together at the prospect and disappeared out the door in a flurry of chatter about packing Earth-appropriate robes with minimal ceremonial collars (preferably less than seven inches wide).

Braxiatel sent her off via Time Ring with an over-burdened suitcase and a note to his brother, saying that if the Doctor couldn’t handle the results he should never have engaged in procreative intercourse in the first place. In Susan’s absence he tried stasis fields, glues, resins and isolated temporal regression, all to no avail. The vase was irreparably broken. Its priceless shards, which Braxiatel couldn’t bring himself to throw out, remained an indelible souvenir of Susan’s time with him.

 

***

 

“Ow, OW!”

Braxiatel’s right eye flicked open. Someone was in his apartments. Someone had bypassed his labyrinthine security arrangements, then the traps hidden under those, and then the codes nestled under the traps. Someone had managed all of that, and then proceeded to stub his toe on the credenza.

His list of suspects was a relatively short one.

Robe firmly tied and stun-pistol tucked discretely into his left-hand pocket, Braxiatel rounded the corner and trained his weapon on the intruder. The thief had gone right for the credenza’s middle drawer. There, under an old-fashioned physical lock that, by virtue of its baffling simplicity, might have thrown off a burglar capable of dealing with the prerequisite sophisticated electronic mechanisms, Braxiatel kept the symbols of his current office.

His house-breaker was straining, through narrowed eyes, to force the two bleary circles in front of him to coalesce into a single combination lock that he could pick with the tweezers he wielded in an unsteady hand. His moustache tweezers, Braxiatel noted, stolen from his bathroom, now probably bent and ruined. Recognizing the burglar, Braxiatel rolled his eyes, slipped his hand off the hilt of his stun-pistol, and cleared his throat.

The Master whipped around, leveling his wobbly, drunken gaze on Professor Braxiatel, the current Keeper of the Matrix. The effect was akin to an over-filled fishbowl being spun on a plate: bits of the Master probably splashed out on the carpet.

“You!” the Master slurred, sounding petulantly put-out. “You’re supposed to be asleep, from the gas.” The Master blinked, considering this. “I forgot to bring the gas, didn’t I?”

“So it would appear.”

Damn. You look very tired. Perhaps you'd like to go back to bed?” The Master considered Professor Braxiatel drunkenly.

“Oh, thank you, but no.” Braxiatel’s tone was so unnecessarily dry that any nearby sand dunes would have found it uncomfortable, and would have endeavored to shift themselves to more forgiving climes.

“I don’t suppose you’re susceptible to hypnotism?” the Master tried, hope giving the end of his sentence a lift.

“I’m afraid I’m not, no.”

The Master fished in his pocket, pulled out what looked like a cigar, and, after glancing at it, turned it around so the lighted end was aimed at Braxiatel rather than himself. It was unrecognizable as any sort of gun.

“Then crude physical threats will have to suffice.” This might have sounded dignified, threatening, even, except for the soupy, drink-sodden tone and the slight hiccup punctuating the first syllable of ‘suffice.’

“I take it you mean that device of yours. May I ask what it does? I should hope to be entirely cognizant of the horrible fate awaiting me.”

“You may indeed.” Enthusiasm overcoming his annoyance at Braxiatel’s continued consciousness, the Master brandished the stick in the direction of Braxiatel’s end table. He considered it blearily for a moment, and then aimed at a far less attractive coffee table—the Master was too much of a connoisseur to destroy a Rassilonate Restoration piece just to make a point. His device activated, and the silver-wood shrank in on itself, which was disappointing as Braxiatel had considered the coffee table, while not a fine piece in itself, important to the room’s over-all decorative scheme.

Despite this blow, he remained unimpressed. “It makes dollhouse furniture.”

“It compresses and eliminates organic tissue! Wood, Time Lords. Imagine, if you can, the indignity of your tiny death.” From the Master’s cheerful leering, it was clear he could imagine such a thing in panoramic detail. Even now he was picturing miniature funeral pyres, bemused acquaintances, and the inevitable terrible puns about death finally having brought Braxiatel ‘down to size,’ etc.

Braxiatel only rolled his eyes. “Surely you might just shoot me.”

“You lack imagination,” the Master sneered. “Death is always more frightening when it strikes unusually. The Doctor will no doubt be suitably cowed!”

Braxiatel might have pointed out what a net loss the shrinkage of the Doctor’s entire body would represent to the Master, but he did not wish to ‘go there,’ as Susan would have put it. “Perhaps instead of demonstrating your toy you’d like to explain why precisely you’ve endeavoring to steal the Keys to the Matrix, Master?”

The Master sobered abruptly, sharp eyes glinting at the other Time Lord in the murky dark of the dining room. “My dear Braxiatel, I’m fueled entirely by a disinterested, passionate pursuit of knowledge, unhindered by the petty censorship imposed upon my research by moldering old Academy grandees.”

“Well, naturally, in that case.” Braxiatel pulled out his stun-pistol out, idly waved it at the Master, and silently invited his colleague to proceed to Round II of the feeble excuses.

The Master huffed. “Come now, surely you can understand why a man of my academic standing might have legitimate business making a few discrete inquiries, off the record. Perhaps I harbor unresolved questions I suspect the Matrix of holding the answers to. Alternatively, I might simply desire the opportunity to examine a competitor’s research. The attractions of unfettered access the repository of all knowledge on Gallifrey can’t have escaped you.”

“All quite possible, but I’m afraid I believed you more when you were wallowing in your romantic disappointment,” Braxiatel admitted. “You mentioned ‘cowing’ the Doctor—may I take it that your entire aim in this not unimpressive breaking and entry is to gather sufficient information to severely complicate my brother’s life in the near future?”

The Master’s expression was sulky, but he knew an in when he heard one. “If I said yes, would you let me have it?”

Braxiatel thought hard for a moment about the trouble and willful embarrassment the Doctor had caused him (before he’d been forcibly regenerated) during his tenure as a CIA operative. The incident in which a panda bear had become inextricably trapped in his bedroom was still quite fresh in his mind.

Nor had he forgotten how, during the high council meeting in which he’d been asked to prepare and deliver an address on the topic of Academy funding (which had promised to be a great step in his political career) he had been upstaged by the unexpected return of the Doctor from a mission on Planet Chikunfot, clad only in native garb—that is to say, in a chicken suit.

He might have changed, of course, or come in quietly through the back, but the Doctor had been determined to punish the CIA for conscripting him with a series of irritating, ridiculous displays. In his typical bright, blustering, maddening manner the Doctor had just swanned in, bringing the entire gathering to a halt. After months of work, Braxiatel hadn’t even made it to his section on Grants. It had been an inspired synthesis of the messy sea of policies that, thanks to the Doctor’s untimely intervention, persisted to this day.

With this in mind, Braxiatel silently took the key from his belt and unlocked the drawer the Master needed. He helped the man to a steadying cup of tea, and saw the Master safely away. Braxiatel then called the Palace Guard to alert them of the security breach, far too late for them to be of any use.

The Master’s plans for the Matrix data were assuredly harmless: having spent centuries now trying to impress and win back the Doctor, the Master was hardly likely to do more than posture threateningly. Braxiatel just hoped this round of schemes was especially over-complicated, exasperating, and ultimately embarrassing for his brother.

 

***

 

The Doctor did not respond to the first terse demand for Romanadvoratrelundar’s safe and immediate return. Cardinal Braxiatel had sent it on behalf of the House of Heartshaven, at the request of the High Council, and, if he were being honest (something he occasionally indulged in—in the privacy of his own home, of course), in his own interest.

The second, still more achingly polite-but-firm note seemed to never have actually reached the Doctor. Despite having been sent via the Council’s most reliable channels, it was eventually returned to them, marked ‘return to sender’ in Judoon runes. The envelope was coated with a thin, still-sticky orange slime that smelled like organic melted tires. Something appeared to have nibbled along the missive’s left side.

Brax sent a third, positively cordial missive, including copies of the fully filled-out stack of paperwork necessary to forcibly extradite the Doctor back to Gallifrey by wrenching him out of space time. He tacked on some extra, highly suggestive legal briefs related to penalties for the abduction and corruption of a minor still in her second century, just for the sake of thoroughness.

A week and a half in Gallifreyan-relative time after this, the Doctor finally bothered to respond.

Braxiatel was lingering over tea and the post-auction reports from a particularly eclectic sale held in the Venusian Fifth Dynasty. Several of the happy purchasers would soon be caught up in the market crash that would reduce Venus from a cultural capitol to an abandoned rock blanketed with the toxic emissions of its own hastily abandoned industries. Braxiatel intended to show up and kindly offer to relieve the Venusian aristocracy of their burdensome artifacts in exchange for a very little liquid cash. They were going to need the money too desperately to argue, and Braxiatel wanted that Hieronymus Bosch, as well as any other items of interest he could get his hands on. He pulled up the auction house’s images of the painting in question on his view screen to examine its condition.

The Doctor’s maddening, madly-grinning face appeared without warning in the middle of the screen, super-imposed over a group of nude maidens hugging a giant strawberry. Braxiatel started back, spilling his tea all over his robes.

“Hello there, Brax!” the Doctor boomed, as if he were delighted to find him at home. “Sorry to disturb you, this new transceiver has absolutely no sense of discretion. You know, I find myself popping up in the most surprising places. The other day it was a mirror in Queen Elizabeth’s bath—she didn’t seem very pleased to see me either. Still, I expect she’s calmed down about the whole thing, good Queen Bess—”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Braxiatel interrupted him to stem the flow of blather, brushing at his robes and suppressing a glare. “I take it this is in regards to young Romanadvoratrelundar?”

“Ah, Romana!” the Doctor beamed. “Lovely girl. Blonde now, incidentally—”

“She’s regenerated? She’s only one hundred and twenty six!”

“Well, yes.” The Doctor didn’t even look abashed. “You know I never could figure out why she did that—”

“What have you done to her?” Braxiatel had not sunk his time and energies into mentoring the promising young Time Lady so that she could swan off with his irresponsible brother and waste a perfectly enchanting body on him. In any sense.

“Vanity, I suppose,” the Doctor continued to muse, seeming not to have heard him, “eager to show me up with her skill at switching forms.”

Doctor,” Braxiatel grit through his teeth, “when can we expect Romanadvoratrelundar back? Her House is deeply concerned. I assure you the High Council’s threat to track you is far from idle posturing.”

“Ah,” the Doctor finally managed to produce an abashed expression, “I don’t think that’ll be necessary after all, Brax. I’m afraid that’s what I was calling about. Now, she’s perfectly safe, but I told Romana all about your message. ‘Romana’ I said, ‘there’s nothing for it, you’ll just have to go back and tell them what you’ve been up to.’ Poor girl, it broke her hearts, the idea of giving up the adventuring life in the TARDIS with me—”

“Are you approaching anything like a point, Doctor?”

“Elliptically!” The Doctor gave him a wounded look, which Braxiatel humored with about as much open-minded consideration as he’d spare for a Dalek personal ad.

From an upper desk drawer, Braxiatel pulled out the remote capable of hurtling the Doctor’s TARDIS into the center of the Panopticon. He raised an eyebrow. “I feel certain the remainder of this story can be compressed into one sentence.”

Recognizing the remote, the Doctor swallowed. “Romana didn’t want to come back to Gallifrey and chose to stay behind in an alternate universe with a robot dog.”

Braxiatel blinked, exceptionally slowly. “An alternate universe.”

“Ah, yes,” the Doctor was still baring his teeth in that ridiculous manner, though now his eyes were flitting nervously. “E-space.”

“A robot dog.”

“K-9 is a very good dog,” the Doctor said, soothingly.

There was not a conciliatory enough tone in this or any other alternate universe to make ‘cast aside after years of devoted mentoring in favor of a strange, inescapable alternate dimension and your little brother’s introductory robotics project’ palatable. The Doctor hadn’t had the decency to stop grinning. He did it with the invulnerable aplomb of a man who’d cheerfully taken control of and abandoned both the presidential office and his brother’s protégé all in the same regeneration.

For want of conversation—possibly not even the Doctor could be entirely insensitive to the tension underlying Braxiatel’s long silence—the Doctor took a look around him at the screen. He was surprised to find his head surrounded and apparently being embraced by a number of painted naked women. “Isn’t this Bosch’s ‘Garden of Delights?’” He lowered his voice a touch conspiratorially. “I used to pose for old Hieronymus, you know. I’m actually in this one you know, over by the—”

Feeling his world had been sullied more than enough for one day, and knowing that he could never again appreciate Bosch’s ‘Garden of Delights’ without being disturbed by a paranoid suspicion that his brother was cavorting somewhere amongst the nude figures, grinning at him, Braxiatel hung up on the Doctor. He wished the ungrateful bastard had never been exiled and forced by circumstance to live the sort of renegade existence that otherwise perfectly rational young women found more ‘piratical’ and ‘romantic’ than centuries of calculated maneuvering in (fruitless) pursuit of the presidency.

 

***

 

After scouring cricketing events in Wales, South Wales, New South Wales, New New South Wales, and New^15 South Wales, Braxiatel tracked down the Doctor’s fifth incarnation. Predictably, that meant he found himself sitting in a white wooden lounger watching the Old Trafford Ashes Test of 1956. Jim Laker was due to take nineteen wickets today. The Doctor beamed at the stands, the pitch, and Cardinal Braxiatel (who’d dragged a light summer suit from the far reaches of his TARDIS wardrobe for the occasion, and was feeling somewhat exposed without his high collar).

The Doctor seemed well disposed today towards the world and everything in it. No crisis was occurring, during the course of which he might not manage to keep everyone alive. No one was forcing high political office on him, and the only Master he expected to hear anything about today was W.G. Grace.

After handing the Doctor an unusually alcoholic Pimm’s Cup, Cardinal Braxiatel sensed that the opportune moment to ask a favor of his brother had arrived.

“You know,” Braxiatel said in a pleasant tone, pretending to pay a good deal of attention to a brisk bowl, “it’s unheard of for a President to leave office without officially naming his successor.”

“Hm? Oh, well done!” the Doctor twisted around towards his companions. “Turlough, did you see that? Anthony Lock is rightly famous for his left-arm orthodox spin—that’s it there, the one I was trying to demonstrate for you by the TARDIS pool with the tribble Tegan brought aboard?”

“I can’t believe you tried to drown my pet,” Tegan groused. “Bad enough you wouldn’t let me keep it—Nyssa and I let you keep Turlough!”

“Excuse me!” Turlough, a sulky lad in a public school uniform, sulked indignantly at the pert Australian girl. “I’m hardly a hairy little menace with a ravenous appetite and a dangerously hyperactive sexdrive to match!”

“Oh don’t worry Turlough,” Tegan said with faux sympathy. “I’m sure puberty will happen for you eventually. You’ll manage to find a nice girl someday.”

“I’ve told you before, I wasn’t drowning your tribble, Tegan.” The Doctor gave her an impatient look. “Tribbles are perfectly good swimmers. The cold water simply slows down their rate of reproduction. If I hadn’t bowled it into the deep end it might’ve eaten its way into the TARDIS’s wiring. We’d have never been rid of the infestation! Vast as she is, the entire TARDIS would have been roundel-deep in tribbles within the week!”

“As I was saying, Doctor,” Braxiatel forged on, “you were, in the wake of President Borusa’s treachery, again our President.” He was determined to drag the Doctor away from his housemate drama and back to (hugely) important matters of galactic politics, even if he had to pull him there by his ludicrously fluffy blond hair.

“Yes, I think Flavia mentioned something to that effect before I managed to dash off.”

Braxiatel counted to three and continued in a calm, undisturbed tone. “While you did temporarily give Chancellor Flavia emergency custody of your office, that’s hardly the same as naming her your rightful successor.” He left it to the Doctor to take his meaning.

The Doctor gave him a bemused look. “Surely it’s all one. I’m free of Gallifrey, and they’re well rid of me. I’m afraid I wouldn’t make a terribly good president, Brax. Best left in Flavia’s hands, I think.”

The Doctor’s obliviousness took Braxiatel’s cunning out behind the tea tent and throttled it to death slowly.

“I’m suggesting, Doctor, that perhaps rather than deciding to dump the position in the lap of the last surviving council member, you might make a more considered appointment.”

“Oh, Aunt Flavia is a pleasant enough woman, I’m sure she’ll do the office credit—”

“You might,” Braxiatel continued through grit teeth, “nominate anyone you choose.”

Finally, like sunlight returning to Siberia after months of winter, it dawned on the Doctor. His expression became disgustingly kind.

“Oh Brax,” the Doctor put down his Pimm’s Cup, “shouldn’t the President be someone… already on the High Council?”

“I have more than enough experience with Galifrey’s labyrinthine political culture, Doctor. I’m certainly no less qualified than Flavia.”

“It’d be grossly nepotistic, if I named you!”

“You’ve already named a relation. And presidential appointments always are, Doctor. Do you think the proud Sash of Rassilon passed from Adelbrick the Grossly Incompetent to the Butcher, and then onto Salzbat the Largely Innocuous because each was the best qualified for the position?”

“And you want me to participate in that tradition of corruption?” The Doctor shook his head.

“All you have to do,” Braxiatel persisted, “is return to Gallifrey, stand in the Panopticon, and declare me your rightful successor.”

“Brax,” the Doctor looked as if he might’ve hugged his brother, were he in any other body, “you don’t want the presidency on these terms.”

Braxiatel was relatively certain he wanted the presidency any way he could get it, but his deluded brother continued to spin his candyfloss day dreams.

“You want to earn it, you want to be elected by due process of law, you want—oh, howzat!” The Doctor’s head had swung 180 degrees with no apparent warning, as if he could smell cricket history in the making. His impassioned speech on the democratic process was entirely forgotten in favor of the beginning of Jim Laker’s legendary streak.

After a second the Doctor realized how incredibly insensitive his abrupt attention shift might have been perceived as. Guiltily he turned back, only to find the other seat empty. Turlough paused guiltily in the process of sneaking towards it, hoping to trade up from his uncomfortable green cushion.

“Brax!” The Doctor swiveled his head around, but couldn’t see the Cardinal anywhere in the crowd. “Brax?” No answer. Vaguely abashed, but unwilling to miss the rest of the inning, the Doctor turned back to the game. Soon he forgot all about tedious Gallifreyan politics, losing himself in the cheerful smack of bat and ball, and the invigorating smell of the freshly-manicured pitch.

Unbelievable, Braxiatel thought as he stomped back to his TARDIS. Passed over for the clueless crickety swot with a Pollyanna complex again. If the Doctor hadn’t been exiled everyone would know him well enough to realize what a terrible president he’d make, and they’d damn well stop thrusting him into positions that were more properly Braxiatel’s by all the laws of common sense. Taking a short cut back through the tea tent, Braxiatel bumped into a man sitting turned away from his table.

“Excuse—” Braxiatel began, before actually getting a good look at whom he was addressing. The Master’s hand was already in his pocket, on a weapon.

“Why Cardinal Braxiatel, I had no idea you shared your brother’s interest in these quaint sporting events.” The Master was dressed in a crisp, black, period suit and an insufferable smirk. Braxiatal took in the Master’s chair’s unorthodox position in relation to the table, and cast a glance in the direction of the Master’s line of sight.

“Whereas I was perfectly aware of your abiding fascination with the back of my brother’s head.”

The Master’s smile tightened. “I take it the Doctor agreed to place the Rod of Rassilon in your over-eager hands?” Brax narrowed his eyes. “No?” the Master feigned surprise and pity. “Really, Icicle, anyone would think you’d earned it—all those years slaving away, patiently scheming, awaiting that glorious day when finally everything perfectly aligned—” the Master’s hands swept in, an elegant gesture that invoked a plan coalescing, before they dropped limp in his lap, “for your little brother to swan in and take the prize you salivate over. And then only to treat the office as if he’d received a particularly ugly sweater in a Secret Santa exchange.”.

Braxiatel considered mocking the Master for being so thoroughly under his brother’s influence that he thought in terms of Earth-based metaphor even when the man wasn’t around to impress, but decided he wanted to live.

“Whereas your nebulous political ambitions were much more fully realized,” Braxiatel smiled with false pleasantness, dropping his tone to something confidential. “I think it’s very brave of you to come here, Master. Any other Time Lord might be afraid to be surrounded by a crowd of humans after just one of them managed to incapacitate and humiliate him by tapping him on the back of the head. But well done, refusing to be ashamed of a defeat the political class of Gallifrey will chuckle over for centuries! Whenever we’re all at dinner parties laughing about how you charged in to save the Doctor, and how he subsequently left you to die—what was it, twice?—and then how you were brought down by one punch from an elderly human, I’ll be sure to mention that, whatever your numerous flaws, no one can say you haven’t got pluck.

The Master pulled out his TCE and pointed it at Braxiatel.

“How entirely unnecessary, Master.”

“Perhaps, but I believe I shall deeply enjoy it.”

Braxiatel turned away from the Master, looking at the Doctor. He was leaning back now, hands folded behind his head, all ease.

“It may interest you to know,” he began casually, “that the Doctor’s just finished an alcoholic beverage he may not have been entirely cognizant of the strength of. He should be far gone enough now to accept more without due caution. If someone were to send over one—two more, for good measure, he’d be very drunk indeed. Defenseless, one might even say, were one inclined to crass obviousness.”

The Master tilted his head, staring up at Braxiatel, smirking but incredulous. “You’re willing to sign your own brother’s death warrant because he won’t gift-wrap the Presidency for you?”

Braxiatel rolled his eyes. “Hardly. He’s in about as much real danger from you as he is from a swarm of irate flutterwings. I am, however, amply willing to suggest you liquor him up and take advantage of his lowered inhibitions—his conscience afterwards will be a more effective agent of revenge than anything I could devise.”

The Master chuckled and slipped his TCE back in his pocket. “Thank you Braxiatel, you’ve been immensely useful to me.”

Braxiatel made a dismissive gesture. He was sorry the Master had benefited in the crossfire (again), but it would be foolish not to take advantage of the path of least resistance to the Doctor’s mental anguish.

Braxiatel made his way back to his own TARDIS whistling the Kink’s “Cricket” to himself, satisfied that even if he was leaving empty-handed, at least he was leaving the Doctor with his hands full.

 

***

 

The Doctor sighed dramatically. “Is there anything lonelier than the Raven’s Manzanita? The last of its kind, never visited, never even seen by the general public. It is rather depressing, Peri.”

“You can always go look at sea lions or something,” Peri suggested, “if you want to look at something more entertaining than me cutting twigs.”

“I think the king sea lion down by the shop where we bought the sourdough bread bowls looked quite a bit like the Doctor,” Evelyn said, just to provoke him. The skin around her eyes crinkled in amusement. She was leaning against the TARDIS to spare her arthritic knees.

“Excuse me?” The Doctor, predictably, stood and turned on her, bristling like an affronted Puffer Fish.

“You know, the one with the severe expression—the one you’re making right now.” Evelyn gestured with the hand holding her mug of Ghirardelli hot chocolate—she’d insisted on touring the factory earlier.

“There is absolutely no resemblance between my person and that, that sea-cow!” The Doctor waved his arms, presumably to demonstrate either that he was vexed, or that they were, in fact, arms rather than flippers.

“You bray a bit like him, too,” Peri put in. She liked Evelyn, and felt they girls should stick together in the face of the Doctor’s bombast. “Besides, I think a sea cow’s a manatee.”

“Perhaps my voice can be a trifle stentorian at times,” the Doctor gave them, “but I happen to think that I present a very dignified aspect.” He stroked a thumb down the lapel of his new blue coat.

“It’s certainly a better outfit than the last one,” Peri muttered.

“I quite agree,” Evelyn said soundly.

She’d been bemoaning the wily ways on undergraduates when the Doctor mentioned having recently traveled with one—the girl Evelyn had seen his last incarnation with for a moment when the Doctor was doing his ‘100 Days to Live Nostalgia Tour,’ in fact. Evelyn had, just conversationally, asked what had become of the girl—she certainly hadn’t expected to hear that the poor child had last been seen being abducted by a warlord, and that the Doctor had been relieved to hear she was ‘all right.’ Evelyn did not consider ‘last seen abducted by strange, shouty, bearded man’ to be ‘all right.’

Peri was, as it turned out, and against all odds, happily married. She seemed to be whipping her husband’s fiefdom into shape: churning out trade agreements with the Queen of Peladon (apparently an old bosom friend of hers), lobbying for universal education, and generally twining her large, gruff husband around her very diminutive finger. After a few minutes uncomfortable shouting, the Doctor sincerely apologized for having led her into peril, matrimony, and potentially perilous matrimony. Queen Peri forgave him, and they hugged. Congratulating herself on her peacekeeping abilities, Evelyn further proposed a nice visit home to Peri’s time, and a day out for all of them. This coincided (“Serendipitously,” the Doctor declared) with Peri’s own gardening schemes.

“That coat—my proper coat,” the Doctor narrowed his eyes, “is a work of art, which it seems the two of you are sadly unable to appreciate.”

“Erimen’s cat vomited more artistically than that.”

The sound of a dematerialization made them all look towards the TARDIS—but she was showing no signs of immanent departure. Indeed her sturdy blue frame seemed to silently rebuke them for doubting her reliability. In the direction they’d all just turned from, someone coughed. In unison three heads swiveled back to the plant. A man in a human business suit hovered above the manzanita.

“You stop right there, Master, that plant is endangered!” Peri yelled, standing as if she planned to fight him off the bush.

“Peri,” the Doctor sighed, “not everyone who’s made unwise facial hair decisions and wants a chat with me is the Master. Sometimes it’s only Shakespeare, or, in this case, Irving Braxiatel.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve met your—” Evelyn began.

“Anyway, what are you doing here?” The Doctor glowered at Brax, who was watching the exchange with some annoyance (and lingering horror at being mistaken for the Master of all people). Hopefully Braxiatel hadn’t come to warn him about the Master’s imminent arrival and taunt him about his grades in school again, this time in front of friends. Peri would snigger. Evelyn would never let him hear the end of it. Braxiatel had to be stopped.

“Clubbing in Castro,” Braxiatel deadpanned. “Gallifrey lacks something in the way of nightspots, I find. Oh, how I long to take recreational drugs—”

“Hah hah.” the Doctor rolled his eyes. “All the technology, none of the techno. All of the E-Space, none of the E, come to think. I ran into Romana quite recently—we made charming conversation; she wore the loveliest prison fatigues. There was something in the air—probably the acrid stench of recently-used Dalek ray guns. How did you manage to allow your protégé and my friend to be caught and held for twenty years?

Braxiatel stiffened. This wasn’t a subject for jests, as far as he was concerned. After her election, Romana had gotten it into her head that Braxiatel needed to take a holiday. He pointed out that he’d managed just fine without one for decades. She pointed out that this was exactly her point. There was no arguing with her: she had a conference to attend, and for its duration, she’d booked him a cruise on the Jolly Chronolidays tour of the Omega ruins (complete with complimentary cream tea at the Prydonian Pantry). After a good deal of argument he’d gracefully conceded, planning all the while to sneak back and hide somewhere close by in case she needed him, with a bit of paperwork to occupy him.

Before he could manage to escape the manifold horrors of his package holiday, Romana was kidnapped. She had disappeared without a trace for a score of years. Braxiatel’s sources had turned up nothing in all that time, but within hours of the Doctor’s barging in she’d been rescued, and Gallifrey thrown into a messy panic which he’d been responsible for cleaning up. Braxiatel had been attending to business at his Collection that day: between these two catastrophes, he’d decided against ever taking a holiday again.

There was nothing to say on that score that wasn’t humiliating, nor was it what he had come to talk to the Doctor about. Braxiatel forged on in pursuit of his original point. “It seems your future self has not entirely departed us.”

“The Valeyard?” the Doctor huffed. “Surely he was lost to the Matrix. And good riddance!”

Braxiatel rolled his eyes at his brother’s naïveté. “Half the people you’ve encountered in your travels only wish you were that easily disposed of. It seems the Valeyard temporarily possessed the body of the Keeper of the Matrix, managing to evade our grasp. We all thought he’d perished, but according to my information he’s been lurking in the data coils these past years. We caught slight errors in the collective memory and traced them back to him. They might be nothing, but I suspect them to be signs of a grander design. It’s vital that we learn what the Valeyard has been up to. He must be apprehended before he wreaks further distortions in the Matrix. You’ll have to return to Gallifrey and deal with him.”

“I what?” the Doctor gawped. “You want me to return to that cesspit of corruption? That den of ignominious iniquity? Never! The last time I was there the High Council of the Time Lords nearly executed me! I certainly don’t owe them any favors. Deal with him yourselves.”

“More is at stake here than your personal pride.” Braxiatel grit his teeth. If the Doctor simply led a less ridiculous lifestyle, Braxiatel wouldn’t be stuck in this ludicrous position, begging the man to come back and sort out himself out. Braxiatel vowed never to inconvenience anyone with a tacky Evil Twin of himself if he could possibly help it. “Besides, the Valeyard is your responsibility, if he’s anyone’s.” His brother could not be allowed to mar the course of Romana’s presidency. Braxiatel had worked too hard to arrange his protégé’s ascension to power to have everything go to shambles because of some ridiculous problem people who should be dead knocking about in the Matrix.

“You cannot possibly hold me responsible for something I haven’t even done yet!” the Doctor whined, every inch the younger brother. Evelyn raised a disapproving eyebrow.

“I believe I can and do,” Braxiatel snapped back, every inch the bossy elder.

Evelyn cleared her throat before one of them threatened to tell mum on the other. “Doctor, I’d love an opportunity to see your home planet again. Last time there wasn’t much of an opportunity to do anything more than defeat the Daleks and run.”

The Doctor gave her a betrayed look, as if she’d stabbed him multiple times through both hearts. “Evelyn! I can’t believe you’d—”

“Well, why not, Doctor? We’ve certainly been to Earth often enough. We’ll just drop Miss Brown here—excuse me, Queen Peri,” she smiled at the girl.

“Just plain old Peri, please,” she corrected.

“Peri, then—home with her husband, and then we’ll nip back to Gallifrey to sort out your brother’s problem.”

“It’ll probably take eons,” the Doctor sulked. “Dealing with Gallifreyan politics always does—and you’re never not dealing with politics, not on Gallifrey. Besides, they’ll probably try and make me President again.”

Braxiatel seethed at that, but said nothing.

“Oh please, Doctor? I’d love to have a look around the capitol, you know. When it’s not covered in Daleks, I mean. What you’ve told me of the architecture sounds lovely.” Evelyn cast a conspiratorial glance at Braxiatel, who was duly impressed by her ability to play the Doctor like a fiddle.

“Oh all right,” the Doctor conceded with bad grace, sighing theatrically, “if you insist, Evelyn, but in my opinion the most exquisite architecture in the world can’t make up for the revolting people who live in it. Yourself and President Romana excluded, naturally,” the Doctor amended, as it dimly dawned on him that he was slighting his brother’s chosen mode of life.

“When can we expect you?” Braxiatel said shortly, not mollified. He knew better than to let the Doctor’s word stand without pinning him down to a specific time frame. “You hardly enjoy a reputation for promptness.”

“Brax, I’ll be there just as soon as I’ve finished here,” the Doctor wheedled. “Sooner, given the time stream! Lower the transduction barriers and smoke me a kipper.”

“We’ll be expecting you, and I’ve no intention whatsoever of making you breakfast.” Braxiatel began to dematerialize. The Time Ring warmed on his finger as it started to phase-shift him.

The Doctor harrumphed. “Now there’s gratitude for you—they offer a complimentary breakfast spread at the Day’s Inn, and hardly ask you to save Gallifrey for it.”

“Won’t you have a piece of my chocolate cake before you go?” Evelyn called out. “I’ve just made it for Peri here—it’s a very good recipe, if I do say so myself.”

Because the Doctor obviously didn’t want him to, and because Evelyn Smythe was a competent sort of woman who no doubt made an excellent cake, Braxiatel promptly phased back into existence.

“Cake, you said?”

The Doctor groaned. Evelyn blithely ignored his incivility, and planned to scold him for it later.

“I did indeed! Let me get you a slice—”

 

***

 

Gallifrey was in shambles—the Matrix destroyed, the capitol largely in ruins, the Time Lords themselves affected with a biological contaminate that threatened to destroy the species, and Romana’s sanity at an all time low. Braxiatel couldn’t say he much approved of her new ‘crawled through sewers to get here’ derelict chic look, either.

As a TARDIS heavily loaded with a cache of illegal temporal weapons, pig rats capable of destroying the Gallifreyan regenerative cycle forever, and a free time zombie headed back to Gallifrey with no hope of Time-Scooping the rogue TARDIS back to safety, Romana’s eyes darted nervously about the room.

“Right,” she licked her thin lips. “What we’re going to do is—”

She was interrupted by the sound of a TARDIS materializing. Braxiatel briefly, wildly hoped that the Time Scoop had managed to work before burning out. His face caved in—the TARDIS that landed was of a rather different aspect than the one that had just taken off.

Braxiatel groaned. He felt that, as disastrous as the situation already was, it was about to get immeasurably worse.

The TARDIS door swung open with a creak, and her pilot stepped out.

“Did you miss me?”

“No,” Braxiatel answered automatically, but he was drowned out by Leela and Romana’s relieved cries of “Doctor!”

“You seemed to be having a spot of trouble—thought I’d pop in and see if I could be of assistance.”

The nerve of him, and at such a point of crisis, made Braxiatel grit his teeth. “Gallifrey’s ruined in every conceivable way, Doctor. Thank you for wandering by, I’m afraid it’s a little late to pull your usual barely-thought-through heroics.”

Romana whirled back at him, displaying some of the hope, fire and cogent bright-eyed sanity he’d so missed in her of late. “Have you got a better plan then, Brax? No? I thought not.”

That stung. Brax clapped his mouth shut.

A second occupant emerged from the TARDIS. “Braxiatel,” she said coolly. “You and I are due to have an excruciatingly long talk.”

“And hello to you too, Bernice. Are we? How delightful.

Glancing around her, Professor Summerfield was thrown right off. “What the hell’s happened to the Collection?”

Braxiatel winced. “I’m afraid I had to sell it.”

“What, all of it?” She looked around her, as shocked as and horrified as she would be if the sculpture collection had been replaced by a pile of especially dodgy sex toys. Actually a good deal more shocked and horrified—Benny was too much a woman of the universe to be greatly discomforted by the Sequined and Feathery Nipple Pasties of Omega.

These last months had exhausted Brax’s patience. “No, I’ve hidden it all in the broom cupboard. Surprise! Oh, what japes we get into here at the Braxiatel Non-Collection. Brought along for the scintillating company, were we? Or did you hear about this debacle and come running for the spectacle of it all? As a soon to be dead civilization, Gallifrey has no doubt peaked your archeological interest.”

At her hard look, he switched tracks. “Oh, Bernice—

“Don’t you ‘Bernice’ me!”

“Catching up, are we?” The Doctor obtrusively obtruded back in. “Good, good. Actually I think you might be interested in hearing what Bernice has stumbled upon.”

“Discovered, thank you.” Even when she glared at the Doctor, Braxiatel felt it was at least 30% less venomous. “I’m a professional archeologist, I don’t stumble on anything except pavement obstructions.”

“Yes, yes,” the Doctor waved it off. “Apologies Benny, but you found something, didn’t you? Something terribly interesting? Something terribly interesting to the President of Gallifrey here?”

“Oh, are you?” Benny blinked. “Well! Delighted to meet you.”

“Likewise, I think,” Romana nodded. “If the Doctor thinks this is important, I suggest we get on with it.”

“Right. I discovered the Repository of Rassilon.”

“Surely that’s just a myth,” Narvin sneered.

“Yes, thank you Narvin. I’m sure our guests have been thoroughly entertained by your party trick of stating the blindingly obvious. What makes you think it’s the Repository?”

“What is this ‘Repository?’” Leela put in.

“Leela, what’s happened to your eyes?” the Doctor asked, having suddenly noticed her failure to focus on his face.

“They did not change their color,” she said shortly. “I do not wish to speak of it any further. Tell me of this ‘Repository.’”

“Well,” the Doctor clapped his hands together, “it’s a fabled trove of knowledge—complete with an arcane, highly-illegal reset switch. At every presidential election, via a signal broadcast by the various artifacts of Rassilon, it takes a snapshot of Gallifrey. I say snapshot, but it’s really more of an instant of frozen time, seconds out of phase with the real Gallifrey. Not the surrounding universe, but Gallifrey, with her own special relationship to larger time. If we go there and act now, before that temporal weapons cache I caught on my sensors destroys the planet, we can operate the Repository’s Over-Ride switch, using all the power in the Eye of Harmony to snap that reality into the grove of this one. Except for you all—the Collection, like Gallifrey, is isolated from the Time Stream. Anyone and anything that stays here won’t be affected.”

“Are you sure it works?” Romana considered it.

“We can but try,” Braxiatel signed, resigning himself to his brother being infuriatingly right. Again.

“Think of it,” the Doctor cajoled. “You could have the Matrix, a healthy population—Leela has no one thought of taking you forward in time to a really advanced human hospital? I know a place in New New York that could have you patched up in no time—”

“But then every election, that image is replaced by a new one,” Narvin countered. “What use is the dawn of Methias’s presidency?”

“Did Methias wear the totems of Rassilon as his inauguration? The lost totems of Rassilon? Did Pandora?” Romana shook her head. “The last person to wear them was me, shortly before I took a long vacation in a Dalek prison. We’d be resetting Gallifrey to that point. We’ve already dealt with Free Time off-planet. We’d only have to sort the ambitions of Inquisitor Darkel and Pandora, and this time,” she said darkly, “I know exactly what to expect from them.”

Braxiatel fought the urge to remind Romana that he had ‘dealt with’ Free Time, in the end, and as a sort of gift to her.

“What are we waiting for?” Bernice looked around the room, impatiently. “If we don’t have long until that weapons cache you mentioned detonates—”

“You are not Gallifreyan, are you,” Leela asked rhetorically. “They will want to debate who will push the button until everyone is dead.”

The Doctor turned his snicker into a cough. “Who’s with me?”

At that signal every living woman Braxiatel remotely cared about trooped into the TARDIS.

Having some experience with his brother’s driving, and feeling decidedly unnecessary, Braxiatel hung back. The TARDIS dematerialized. The room was still and empty.

Months of his life spent in worthless striving and planning, undone by a series of unforeseeable events. And then, to have his efforts thoroughly shown up by his brother, all because of a random, lucky find, was beyond the pale. Everything was so bloody easy for the Doctor.

“I’ll just stay here, alone, then, shall I?” he muttered bitterly.

From behind him, Coordinater Narvin coughed. “I’m still here, actually.”

At that, Braxiatel groaned and looked for a handy piece of furniture to slam his head down onto. Sadly there was nothing suitable in the entire stripped-down building. He headed towards Bernice’s favorite pub, intending to drink himself into a stupor so deep he could forget the Doctor existed.