Story: Of All her Pictures, the Finest of His Mistress
Characters: The Doctor, Eighth and Ninth by quasi-canonical inference
Edited by: the incomparable dr_whuh
Summary: When you think you know him, find the picture that will teach you otherwise.
Author's Notes: written for yamx , in the wake of her lovely gift to me, and just because, as a Happy New Year wish to her. The story grew from a fragment that was once part of another story. The perspicacious ljgeoff pointed out that it didn't belong there, and suggested I save it out for a future story. You were right, my dear, and thank you!
Disclaimer: The old year turns to the new, and still I can't claim any characters in the Whoniverse as my own. They are the sole properties of the BBC and their respective creators. I intend no copyright infringement, and take no coin.
When you think you know him; when you make that mistake; this is what you must do.
Go down the smallest, darkest hall you can find in the TARDIS. It won't be easy; She'll try to route you to other places, via wide and well lit corridors. You'll find the library, the kitchen and the swimming pool, the secondary control room and even the occasional well-equipped bedroom before She'll let you find this hall. Persist, though; go toward the darkest corners in each room, and the most uncomfortable doorways, and don't take "no" for an answer. You'll find the hall.
Go straight down the hall, to the end point. There's a narrow mahogany door with a heavy brass handle on it, set deep into the wall. Open the door.
You'll find nothing inside, except a painting on the wall opposite the door.
It will rest in a dark frame, densely carved and formal, and the light in that room will throw shadows across the canvas, and the shadows will move even when the light doesn't. Underneath the shadows, on the canvas, you will see a a richly intricate portrait of the last days of Gallifrey.
Look at the painting for as long as you can stand, then beat a quick retreat. Head back up the dark hallway into Her saner and kinder environs. Find your bed. Fall asleep. And dream:
This was madness.
The Senate in full civil war, snarling over strategy while the universe pulsed and torqued into hell because of their earlier mistakes.
Romana deposed, Leela dead, Andred dead, loyalists imprisoned. Sociopaths like the Rani recalled or revived – dead gods and non-existent demons, would they wake the Master next? Were all the horrors they’d fruitlessly unleashed on the Daleks not enough?
No, oh no; they had greater ambitions. He found that out.
By the time they awakened the Master, he seemed a very small evil indeed. He didn't approach the other, wouldn't speak ... still, he said nothing as he watched the Master lie to the Council and proclaim his loyalty to the cause. He raised no alarum when his old enemy disappeared. When the Castellan reported his apparent death, he mourned the loss of something which could be fought and controlled, and the shade of childhood friendship.
He walked down hallways and corridors and never looked anyone in the eye, and kept on living because of that strategy. What else could he do in this place? He counted down the minutes — like some single-hearted human he counted, as if he was no longer a ruler of Time — waiting for his moment.
Romana had made him listen, demanded that he dissemble, ordered him to play for time. He had tried to make a joke of that, but she had refused dissuasion. He was the last Great Renegade who’d come when called, who’d stayed. They’d keep him, she said, they’d try to use him. Do it for her, obey her in this one thing because he was her last weapon. Find a way to stop them.
He had agreed. For love of her and belief in her, he would do it. He had done it.
The march to Rassilon’s tomb, Romana marching with him under parole, oh he remembered it. It was a gorgeous progress, it was. The vanguard marched behind them, Time Lords and the mass of regular Gallifreyans – long since stripped of true citizenship, but bound in the servitude of war – through the death zone and into the Dark Tower.
And Rassilon was awakened, and walked among them. And they all bowed. He, too, had bowed his head so that Rassilon would not look into his eyes and see the truth.
He had kept his silence. And then he had lied, and they had let him move about unwatched, let him prepare for the deed without knowing they did so.
He last saw her – last saw the both of them – in the Panopticon, as Rassilon readied himself for apotheosis. They could no longer speak, but they told him with their eyes. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it, like four heartbeats. It was a silent order from Romana, a plea from the other —
And now the minutes were gone, like mercy, and there was no longer any time to play for.
He had kissed them in his mind, with his eyes, had held them both and tried to freeze and burn every touch, every breath, everything, into his memory.
Then he had killed his guards; no need for mercy now. He had blasted the sycophants into unconsciousness with one crude and endlessly amplified mental shriek, powered by the terror and madness he kept barely in check.
Finally, he had thrust a psychic knife into the mind of Rassilon, and trusted it would slow the monster's reaction and counterattack just long enough for him to reach the TARDIS.
It all worked. She had been right; he was the only one who could have planned it, and carried it out successfully.
He'd fled and he'd done the thing.
Wake up. Realize the rest of the story.
Fresh from the dying flames of everything, and painfully new in his regeneration, he stalked through the TARDIS. He renegotiated their relationship and Her reality — so fragile and infinitely precious after the great burning — and She had taken the measure of this new companion. Each knew the other was mad; each danced around their own insanity.
One day, She showed him a room, with oil paints and an empty canvas. He came in to the room, and circled the easel, eying the table of supplies as he did.
He returned to the door and shut himself in.
She hummed to Herself for some immeasurable time, something uncomfortable to hear that partook of song and wailing.
Years later, perhaps, he opened the door. The painting was done, and he could not bear to look at it.
When he went to destroy what he had painted, She would not let him. Eventually he understood.
Time passed, and they regained their sanity.
The painting remained.
And now you have seen it.
And when you are most afraid of him, when he is cruel and capricious, or when he is kind to those who least deserve it, remember the painting.
It will make life with him easier. Perhaps.