in her absence

PART FOUR: Of Recovery and Reward 

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In deaths dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.                                                 The Hollow Men
                                                                          Thomas Stearns Eliot 

Time passed strangely in the twilight world Vastra found herself in.  There were moments of light, hazy, as if something covered her eyes.  She heard bits of voices, mostly unfamiliar, but occasionally a few words that she could make out as being Tsugu.  Even more occasionally she thought she could hear the Doctor’s voice, distant, as if she were hearing him through walls and many rooms away.  She struggled most then, and then she’d hear his voice, closer, right next to her. 

‘Rest…you need your rest, Vastra.  Just rest now.’ 

Usually it was enough to calm her.

 She settled back onto her bed and slept. 


'You’ll have to burn the corpses.’ 

Tsugu and Prince Taisei looked at the Doctor in shock.  It was Tsugu who dared speak first. 

‘Kyoujyu,’ he began, slowly, as if speaking as teacher would to a particularly recalcitrant student, ‘you know our ways.  That would only be granting them honour in death, when they intended to act without honour.  You saw that they would have killed those children had your dragon…’ 

‘Friend,’ interrupted the Doctor, and even Taisei flinched at the cold edge the Doctor’s voice had taken on.  ‘She’s my friend, and her name is Vastra.’ 

Tsugu sighed.  ‘Vastra then, as you would prefer it.  Had she not risked her life, the children would be dead.  Would you call their death honourable?  Would you call the action of those…monsters, whatever they are…honourable?’ 

Tsugu looked at the Doctor with disgust. 

‘Sometimes I do not think I even know you.’ 

Taisei leaned closer.  ‘Explain to me, Kyoujyu, why you feel this is necessary.’ 

The Doctor sighed. 

‘If I even tried to explain to you my reasons for this, I doubt you’d understand.’ 

Taisei leaned back, tenting his fingers together.  ‘Tsugu may be an old man, but he advised my father well, and I often sat and listened to him as he offered counsel.  He spoke very highly of you…said you had arrived out of nowhere in a strange blue shrine, and seemed the wisest man he had even known.  ‘He had the eyes of a boy, yet the wisdom of an old man,’ Tsugu told me.’ 

He leaned forward again.

‘So tell me why I should disregard tradition and counsel now.  Show me your wisdom.’ 

The Doctor sighed.’ 

‘You saw what they looked like.  You know that they were not from this planet…they weren’t even from this solar system!  They’re alien, and they don’t belong here!  I’m not saying that they deserve to be shown honour the way you’ve honoured your father…just that even leaving their bodies here creates questions and paradoxes that your people don’t need!’ 

The Doctor looked around, searching for just one set of eyes that believed him. 

‘Think past yourself, just this once.  Think about what may happen in three hundred or four hundred years, if someone were to find the remains of those Metatraxi.  Or further on…imagine, six hundred or more years from now, someone finding that armour and those weapons and trying to figure out how it worked.  You think your wars are terrible now?  Imagine how much more so they would be with weapons and armour like that?  Just think!  Would there be honour in that?’ 

The Doctor’s shoulders slumped in fatigue, his face openly displaying his frustration and pain. 

‘Right now my friend lays two rooms away.  She risked her life for your people, not because she had to, but because she knew that it was the right thing to do.  Because she didn’t want to see your children hurt.  Would you dishonour her actions by allowing something far worse to happen in the future…even if it does not affect you right here and right now?’ 

He finally slumped back in his seat, rested his head on his hands, and waited.  He could hear the whispers, the recriminations, the arguments.  He didn’t hear the words, but he knew how hard it would be to break tradition for these people.  And he would not blame them, would have to accept it, and would somehow have to find another way to remove all evidence of the Metatraxi presence here, long before they had any reason to find this planet of interest.

He thought, bitterly. 

If only Torchwood were here…Jack would Retcon all of them just as quick as you please, and I wouldn’t have any of this mess to worry about. 

He shook his head sadly, his smile not one of happiness but of inevitability.  Torchwood was gone.  Jack was gone.  He was, as seemed so often the case, alone, and would have to handle this on his own.  His thoughts continued to wander. 

Once all this is done, what am I going to do with Vastra?  I need to get her back to London, but there’s no way she’ll be able to go back into hibernation.  And there’s no way the people there will accept her.  I’m just lucky we ended up here…at least there’d be some way to excuse how she looked.  I suppose… 

‘I said, are you still with us, Kyoujyu?’ 

The Doctor looked up and saw six sets of eyes staring at him quizzically.

‘Hmm?  Oh, yes.  Sorry.  I was just thinking for a bit.’ 

Taisei folded his hands in his lap.  ‘You know how strongly we hold our traditions, Kyoujyu.’ 

The Doctor nodded. 

‘We do this not out of stubbornness, but because our fathers, and our father’s fathers, expect us to.  They expect us to steward our land and our people for many years to come, and what is a group of people without tradition?’ 

Taisei did not give the Doctor a chance to respond. 

‘I will tell you what they are.  They are a horde, much like the Mongols who threatened my father’s rule all those years ago.  I know you know this, because Tsugu tells me you were there when they arrived and demanded our fealty.’ 

‘I know, Taisei, but this…’ 

Taisei held up one hand, and the Doctor quieted, more out of respect than any real urge to do so.  He knew his position was weak and gentle nudging, rather than harsh words, would win this debate. 

‘However, there is merit in what you speak.  I am reminded of a story my father told me in my youth, of a man who died suddenly, leaving his family without anything.  The gods saw this and allowed him to be reborn in the form of a swan with golden feathers.  He returned to his family and told them that they may pluck from him one feather to sell, so that they may support themselves, and that they may return to him from time to time to do so as their need demanded.  The family grew greedy and plucked from him all his feathers.  Do you know what happened when they grew back?’ 

The Doctor smiled. 

‘They were all plain feathers, weren’t they?’ 

Taisei looked at the Doctor in amazement.  ‘You know the story?’ 

‘Oh, I know at least two dozen different versions of the story.  Nearly every world has its own version, its own…tradition,’ the Doctor said, the smile almost reaching his eyes. 

Taisei nodded.  ‘This is why I see some wisdom in what you say.  The gods offered the family something to keep them all their days, and they squandered it for comfort in the present.  I tell you that my job is to steward the land and its people, but that does not mean just now.  It means, as you say, for my people in hundreds of years.  I must think of them as well.’ 

Taisei looked to Tsugu, who nodded almost imperceptibly. 

‘It will be done under cover of night, and far from the city?’ 

The Doctor nodded.  ‘If those are the wishes of the Prince…King…and his court.’ 

‘And what about the remains?’ 

The Doctor shrugged.  ‘Let the wind take them, or bury them as you wish.’ 

‘The armour then,' 

‘I’ll see to that,’ the Doctor said.  ‘I have a place I can keep it and make sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.’ 

Taisei rose.

‘Then it is settled.  I will summon half dozen men, along with horses and carts for this nightfall.  You will, I trust, accompany us?’ 

The Doctor looked in the direction of Vastra’s room. 

‘What about…’ 

Tsugu finally smiled.  ‘Do not worry about her.  I will sit with her.  My bones could not take the ride, and I have seen too much these past days.  I could use the rest.  She will come to no harm.’ 

The Doctor nodded.  ‘Thank you, old friend.’ 

Tsugu laughed.  ‘No…thank you, for teaching an old man something.’ 

The Doctor smiled.’ 

‘Don’t expect it to happen very often…not while you are here, and not while I am still your teacher.’ 

‘Of course not,’ the Doctor agreed, allowing himself a small, sly smile.  ‘I wouldn’t even dream of it.’ 


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