Even though Alison desperately wishes to call Uscheschua to her, she is too sick with rage and grief over what the Doctor said -- and then what he said -- to do more than sleep and eat for the next day or so. She keeps herself in her room, which she is able to do because, even though he has been cruelly disrespectful, he at least has enough sense to regularly leave food outside the door. That way she can sustain her privacy without having to deal with either him or the Doctor.
Finally Alison feels like she might be able to leave her room and call Uscheschua -- or open a channel with her or whatever. She uses TARDIS TV to make sure that the hallways where she wants to go are free of both him and the Doctor.
Shit! There he is in the control room. But wait! Is that… Uscheschua’s here! What’s he saying to her? Alison tunes in.
“I have gravely offended your Miss Cheney,” he speaks to Uscheschua, the two of them standing by the center console. “She has told me that she must have time by herself, and yet she feels lonely for a solace that neither I nor the Doctor can provide. I have seen the affection between the two of you -- your presence would comfort her greatly. --Not immediately, of course, since she must be sleeping now, but, perhaps, when she wakes, would you -- “
“Uscheschua!” Alison calls.
The TARDIS turns the monitor into a two-way radio, and Uscheschua hears her name. She looks around the console room, her branches quivering with anticipation. “Ellischuan! Ellischuan, where are you?” she cries in English. “Come to see me!”
“Wait -- wait -- I’m right here -- I’m coming!” Alison bounces up from her bed and races down the hall. She runs through the console room door…
--And right into Uscheschua’s arms. “Ellischuan!” Uscheschua pulls Alison to her, and Alison wraps her arms around Uscheschua in return. “I am so very happy to come to see you, Ellischuan,” Uscheschua says in English, “wood of my heart, taproot of my body, mate of my grove.”
But Alison does not feel safe yet, not with him watching, not when the Doctor could enter at any second. “C’mon, Uscheschua, please,” Alison whispers to her. “Let’s go to my room.” Taking both of Uscheschua’s hands, she pulls her away from the control room and him so that she doesn’t even have to see him out of her peripheral vision.
The two of them go into Alison’s room, along with the only other TARDIS passenger permitted entry into the sanctum at this time: the jade-colored cat. Alison and Uscheschua sit on the bed, leaning against the headboard, pillows at their backs. The jade cat rears up under Alison’s hands so that she might receive her requisite hourly quota of head scritches. Once satisfied, she rubs her face on Uscheschua, marking her as under her protection just as much as is Alison. The cat then rolls and wriggles all over Uscheschua’s legs, not leaving scent this time, but luxuriating in a back massage on the wonderfully rough surface of Uscheschua’s bark.
“This moss ball likes me!” exclaims Uscheschua in English. “It is making my trunks pet it.”
“Well, yeah.” Alison puts one arm around Uscheschua’s back and presses up against her. Her skin is not splintery or lumpy or anything, more like textured, as if a fine-grained sandpaper. Her wood is sturdy, but her bark feels soft. Alison wishes that she could always hold onto her and feel her strength. “That’s because everyone likes you. You’re amazing and wonderful.”
Uscheschua stiffens in Alison’s grasp. “Ellischuan...I wanted to come to see you because...I need to tell you something. I need to tell you the truth… I have hidden something from you, and it has been a blight inside me. You are such a lofty tree, with such a generous canopy that you will offer to anyone and a strong, true heartwood, while I…” Her branches all droop downward.
“Awww, Uscheschua, what’s wrong?” Alison cuddles her closer.
“Well, I am an ambassador in truth now, but…” Uscheschua sighs, switching to Schuaschen for her story. “When I accepted sanctuary from you, I was not. I have been a part of the Schuelle and the Flower Grove for nearly all of my life. I have only ever been a communications specialist, though, working on the communications rootmass with the guidance of Grower Publivocis. I had never done anything ambassadorial when you saved me, so...our lellayschiiya… It was built upon rotten wood from the beginning.”
And Uscheschua tells Alison what he learned much earlier and then told Alison. Uscheschua, without formal diplomatic imprimatur, had been communicating unofficially with Gallifreyan fans of Grower Publivocis. Trading on the popularity of Publivocis’ impassioned broadcasts on behalf of Schuaschen civil rights, Uscheschua’s communiques asked Publivocis’ Time Lord fans to extend their support of Publivocis to include her favorite cause. One fan replied, saying that they would pass Uscheschua’s plea to a relative on the High Council, and so Uscheschua assumed that Alison had come in response. She wanted peace so badly that she misrepresented herself as an official diplomat of the Schuelle and entered into a lellayschiiya with Alison under false pretenses. She begs Alison to understand that she did so without malice, but only with the best of intentions. However, she knows that Alison, being such an upstanding tree, will certainly -- and rightly -- condemn her as --
“Uscheschua! Uscheschua, stop!” Alison interrupts before Uscheschua’s dramatic self-abasement descends any further. “Please -- look at me.” As Uscheschua turns to her, branches still hanging low, Alison says, “I know that you’re sad and that you didn’t tell me the truth, but don’t worry. It’s okay. I’m not angry at you at all.”
“Really?” Uscheschua perks up. “Oh, Ellischuan…”
“You maybe did something under false pretenses, but you acted out of the goodness of your heart -- I mean, because you really are a noble tree with a kind and sheltering canopy. And nobody caught you, and you didn’t make any mistakes, and you became a true ambassador, doing what you’ve always wanted to do.” Alison, beginning to smile, gives Uscheschua an encouraging squeeze.
“But...our lellayschiiya… It is a bond that forms the root of our people, and I sank it into soil contaminated with lies.” Looking down again, Uscheschua concentrates on petting the jade cat.
“So maybe you lied about your authority, but your lie became the truth, so it wasn’t a lie anymore. And the lie that you told, the power that you pretended that you had -- all of that became real. Your power became true, and you helped to plant the seeds of peace between the Schuaschen and the Agricole. Uscheschua, don’t you see?” Alison grins. “You didn’t break our contract at all; in fact, you did everything you could to fulfill the terms. I mean -- I know your twigs are really rustled by this, but...I guess...don’t think of it as a huge windstorm; it’s more like...a mild breeze.”
Uscheschua is silent for a little bit. Then she raises her head and does rustle her twigs, but as if to shake much of the sadness from them. “You are truly a kind tree, Ellischuan -- you see all the light, even in the shadows.”
“Yeah...well…” Alison chuckles a bit. “I suppose that it’s all kind of self-justification since I misrepresented myself kind of in the same way you did.”
“Oh?” Swiping a handful of green branches from her face, Uscheschua cocks her head at Alison. “You too were not an ambassador, but you have become one anyway?”
“Pretty much,” says Alison. And she tells Uscheschua much the same story. Without any diplomatic experience beyond the compassion she felt for Uscheschua, she made promises of ambassadorial resolution to the Schuaschen-Agricole conflict that she had no business to make. But her colleague supported her pretense, and so she rose to the challenge, both because she believed in the rightness of the cause and because he believed in her rightness for the position.
“I wish I could have told you the truth earlier,” she mutters, “but I didn’t know if it would jeopardize the mission.” She tries to keep tears back, but they just trickle down into her nose and become snots.
“That was the same reason I didn’t tell you,” Uscheschua says softly, putting her arm around Alison. “Don’t you know that, in war, sometimes trees have to tell little lies in service of greater truths?”
“Yeah...but...I still feel horrible about it, especially because...well...I like you so much.” The tears make her eyes feel so heavy. “I wanted more than anything to do right by you and the rest of the Schuaschen; that’s why I held my tongue. I know that it’s no excuse, but I didn’t mean to hurt you, and I’m sorry if I did. All my feelings for you are true, though. And...and now that there’s a break in the power plays, I just want to cut the bullshit and be honest.”
“Oh...your sap is running!” cries Uscheschua. “But...but...you are a wonderful tree, and I am not hurt at all. You are the wood of my heart and the mate of my grove, the one with whom I want to interchange sympathies necessary for both of our beings.”
“Is that [sniff] love?” says Alison, leaning her head on Uscheschua’s breast. “Because I like you and love you.”
“Yes,” whispers Uscheschua, switching to English. “This is love; this is what we say when we love someone. I want to grow next to you always and provide good soil for your taproot. I want to shelter your canopy with mine. I want to do everything I can to make you bloom and flower and bear fruit. I want to be with you because you are a good tree and you make me happy. I love you, Ellischuan.”
Alison is sobbing now. “I...I...I love you too. Please, Uscheschua, all I want is...is...for someone to hold me. Please hold me. Hold me fast...please.”
“Yes, yes, yes! You gave me sanctuary when I was alone and scared; now I give you shelter.” Uscheschua pulls Alison into her lap and wraps both arms around her. Her grip enfolds Alison tight, providing security against the expectations of the world. Of course, since she is a tree, Alison hears no pulse when she presses her ear up to Uscheschua’s moss-enrobed chest. But she does not need such a human sound to give her comfort.
Finally, at long last, Alison has her dream -- someone holds her. Someone lets her set aside her burdens and her power and her strength, even if only for a moment. Someone lets her be quiet, still, tearful. Someone doesn’t expect her to be strong, bearing all the weight of the past, the present, and the future. She doesn’t need to be a fighter here; she doesn’t need to be a Strong Black Woman; she doesn’t need to be tough because Uscheschua loves her all the same. Alison cries because she is relieved; she cries because she is happy; she cries because, for the first time since she has stepped onto the TARDIS, she is safe.