"You're thinking about the Doctor again, aren't you?"
The woman at the porthole started, tearing her eyes away from the yawning darkness beyond the glass. "Lasarti. What are you doing up at this hour?"
"Panic attack in ward three. Someone's heard stories about the old Terminus. She's afraid we're going to irradiate her. I think we've got her sorted now." The young man settled beside her, removed his hands from his pockets, hesitated, brushed his fingers through his unruly curls, and jammed them right back into his pockets again. "And why is our illustrious director stargazing at 04:00?"
"A bad dream." She rested a hand against his arm. "And no, I don't need to talk about it."
He lowered his voice. "Or about the Doctor?"
Her eyes flicked back to the stars beyond the glass. "I... no, not really."
"You know, you never do talk about him. What's the big secret? A chap starts to wonder."
"Lasarti." Nyssa's fingers tightened. "Don't. He was just a friend, although very dear to me."
"Come on, love, give me a little more credit than that. Right hypocrite I'd be to begrudge you caring about anyone before I blundered into your life. Besides, he saved you. I'd buy him a drink, if he ever dropped in. I'm just curious. You were thinking about him then, yes?"
"Good memories, or bad?"
"The best ones were always both."
He waited, patient. "In what way?"
"Lasarti," she said, suddenly sharp. "Stop that."
"What?" he said. "What've I done now?"
She turned towards him, reaching up to touch his eyelids. "Switch off the analyst, and I'll answer all your questions, all right?"
"Oh." He ducked his head in apology. "Sorry. Look. Let's get back to your quarters before someone spots us and decides we're on call. If... I mean... if that's all right?"
"Of course." She gave him a reassuring smile. "When are you going to stop asking me that?"
Falling into step half a pace behind her, he muttered, mostly to himself, "When this stops feeling like a dream."
Sooner or later, the gossip would metastasize all over the station, but for now the station's youngest counselor was another anonymous nonentity trailing in the Director's wake. So far, their discretion had only been pierced by one pair of large, luminous eyes. Unsurprised to find those eyes fixed upon him as they approached Nyssa's quarters, Lasarti gave the Garm a meek salute. The shaggy giant inclined his head and stepped aside to let them enter. Lasarti let out the breath he was holding only after the door had fallen shut between them and Nyssa's unofficial bodyguard. A formality, nowadays, but during the early rough-and-tumble days before the Vanir disbanded, she had slept easier knowing he was there.
"You don't have to be scared of him, Lasarti. He approves of you."
"Sez you. First time you and I have a proper fight, he's gonna peel my head off and use it for a test tube stopper. Oh, hang on, let me do that."
The Garm's uncanny instinct for Nyssa's erratic sleep patterns meant there was a kettle keeping warm on a hot plate and two clean cups set out on a tray. Lasarti poured the tea with his back to the room while she undressed and bundled into a fluffy robe. Following her into the partitioned nook at the end of her long cabin that served as a bedroom, he set the tray on a nightstand and stooped for a shy kiss before shucking his shirt and shoes and settling down next to her.
"You really ought not to sleep by a window," he grumbled, leaning against the cold glass and curling an arm around her shoulders.
She snuggled comfortably against him. "The one advantage of Terminus over the TARDIS: I can see out. So." She blew lightly on the tea before taking a sip. "Are you sure you're still up for storytelling?"
"If you are, love." His fingers rested against one of the white lines tracking through her faint freckles, a sober souvenir of her former travels. "I want to understand."
"It's not only the Doctor, you know. It's Tegan. I wish I could reassure her that I'm all right, and show her what we've made of this place."
"I know," he said. "She'd be so proud of you."
Nyssa shook her head. "I can claim very little credit for all our achievements. But as for the Doctor... Sometimes it's as if all my memories of those years aboard the TARDIS wash over me in an instant. I left off traveling with him twenty years ago, yet at times it feels like yesterday. I wonder if some of his time-sense wore off on me."
Lasarti wrinkled his nose. "Is that why you never let yourself get enough sleep?"
She sipped her tea gravely, meeting his eyes over the brim. "Not the only reason."
Lasarti flushed. "Well, good."
She circled back around to her elusive subject, struggling for words to paint a picture. "The Doctor. Quite bland and ordinary, at first glance, but his eyes gave him away. They were so old, Lasarti. Meeting his gaze directly was like looking through a telescope. You suddenly realized you were seeing light from many centuries before you were born.
“He was tall. Fair-haired. Casually athletic. An open, soft, genial face. Well-mannered, most of the time, a spoiled prince when Adric or Tegan rattled him. Oddly dressed in a long-tailed beige coat with red piping, striped trousers, a hat that he was forever rolling up and shoving in his pocket, and a stalked vegetable pinned over his left breast."
"A plant?" Lasarti took a cautious sip of tea. "Symbolic?"
"I have no idea, and I never asked. Everything after I left Traken’s cradle was so baffling that I didn’t know which oddities were ordinary for the rest of the universe and which were peculiar to him. I did not realize until much later that the celery had no cultural context." She pursed her lips. "His previous incarnation wore an irrationally long scarf. I suspect he was rebelling against Time Lord conformity by wearing the most singular garb he could devise."
"Incarnation? So the legends about the Time Lords are true?"
"Oh, yes." She inhaled the steam and drank, collecting herself before she spoke. "I witnessed one of his regenerations. That's how Tegan and I began our travels with him, nursing him until his mental web stabilized. He'd... he'd confronted the man who killed my father, to stop him from destroying everything. He fell from a terrible height."
A gentle squeeze acknowledged her oblique words. "Did you know he could regenerate?"
"Not beforehand. But I did not question a patent fact. Besides, I was in shock, having just lost my father and Traken, so I simply kept marching forward like an insect that's lost its hive. Tending an injured man provided me with a purpose." She smiled faintly. "You remind me a little of the Doctor when he first awoke, innocent and excitable and brilliant and not quite sure of himself."
"Easy on the flattery, love. An addle-brained amnesiac, just how I wanted you to think of me."
"He was rather sweet. Once he regained his senses, he developed a healthy number of flaws." She gave a rueful sigh. "There are two things that stick with me most. First, I always had to remember that he had touched thousands of lives before he walked into mine. Second, for all that we were mere instants in his long life, every one of us was precious to him. He'd offer his life for the universe, or to save just one other person, even if that person was trying to murder him. He tried so hard to make things better. He cultivated an air of insouciance to maintain his sanity, but it near broke him, every time he failed to protect someone. I've never seen anyone with such a selfless saviour complex."
"Really? Funny. Reminds me of someone I know."
She shrugged. "Perhaps that's why he granted me greater latitude than some. We understood one another, on that point, at least. And on travel. Oh, Lasarti, I wish you could see some of the worlds we visited. Many were dangerous, but there are scientific wonders out there that it would take many lifetimes to catalog. Creatures. Landscapes. Star systems. I've seen liquid falls of blue flame, wind striders, crystals the size of cities deep beneath the frozen rinds of moons, the migrations of entire civilizations casting off across the void in ships of living shell."
"Have you ever thought about writing this down, love? You could be an author, if you ever tired of medicine."
"I tried it." She made a face. "It was self-indulgent."
He rolled his eyes. "There you go again."
"Yes." Nyssa set her cup on the nightstand and turned to him, eyes softening. "Did I hear a vote for self-indulgence?"
"Rather," he said, grinning and setting his cup beside hers. "A highly recommended form of therapy with very few side effects."
He blinked and hesitated in the act of reaching for her sash. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that most genetic incompatibilities are not insurmountable." She touched his lips. "Perhaps. I make no promises."
He looked faintly terrified once more. "I should jolly well say not. I mean, there's some important promises that I need to make before—"
"Shhh. Never mind that now." She leaned in. "That was the lesson the Doctor never quite internalised, for all his attempts to shake off eternity. Let the past and future rest lightly, and make the most of the present."
“In that case, love,” he said, kissing her, “I am happy to be the wiser man.”