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here…Doctor…I…’

Vastra winced and groaned as the pain hit.  She slumped back against her pillows and tried to slow her breathing.

‘Welcome back, Vastra.  You’ve been mostly asleep a while.’

Vastra looked at the Doctor through narrowed eyes, trying to bear the pain.  ‘What happened?  How long have I been here?  The last thing I remember…’

‘Yes?’

Vastra struggled to think through the haze of pain.  ‘This…thing…had my throat in its hand, crushing it.  Everything was growing darker.  I could barely breathe.  And I heard a bell.’

She tried to smile and chuckle, but it looked more like a wince and sounded more like a cough.  The Doctor waited for her to catch her breath and continue.

‘That is the strangest thing…I heard a bell.  And he turned to look where the bell came from, and…’

She exhaled and looked up at the ceiling.

‘It’s all I remember, Doctor.’

The Doctor reached out and took her hand gently.  He was initially surprised to see that she didn’t recoil from him, but then through that was most likely because she was too tired and in too much pain to do so.  He held it nonetheless.

‘What you did was very, very foolish.’

He paused.

‘Incredibly brave. Madly, impossibly, incredibly brave, but also amazingly foolish.  You could have been killed.’

Really, tell her the truth, he thought as he waited for her reply.  She should have been killed.  No single fighter has gone toe to toe with a Metatraxi general and walked away the victor, not unless they were a…

‘I could not allow the children to be hurt!’

‘But Vastra…they’re only human.’

He was shocked at the look of hate he got for that response.

‘You speak of a people who took us in, offered us hospitality when their king has died, who showed us kindness and respect in such a way?  How dare you!’

She turned her head to face away from the Doctor, missing the smile that spread on his face.

‘You’ve changed, Vastra.’

‘Of course I have!’  She spat the words out as strongly as she could.  ‘How could I not have?’

She tried to pull her hand away but the Doctor held it more firmly in his.  She struggled but could not find the strength to fight him.  She finally turned back to face him.

‘How is it that I am still here?’

The Doctor smiled.  ‘You’re a hero to the people of the kingdom…do you really think they would let you die?’

She looked at him, confused.

‘Once the Metatraxi general fell, the people swarmed you.  I had to fight my way to your side, along with Tsugu, Taisei, and the priests.  We brought you immediately here to your room, and Taisei called for the royal physicians.  I guess he felt one doctor wasn’t enough.’

He chuckled at his joke.

‘We’ve been watching over you day and night.  They’ve been tending your external wounds, treating your burns…’

‘Burns?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied the Doctor.  ‘burns.  Metatraxi blood is notoriously acidic and caustic.  You got sprayed, and it burned you.’

He looked around nervously.

‘There will be a few…scars.’

Vastra smiled weakly.  ‘I can accept some scars so long as I breathe.  Go on.’

‘As I was saying,’ the Doctor continued, ‘they tended your external wounds while I scanned you for internal damage with this.’

He held out his sonic screwdriver.

‘Thankfully, there were no broken bones, no internal bleeding.  I’m afraid you’re going to be hurting for a while though…when you got thrown up against the stone wall you hit it hard enough to actually bruise your ribs.  It could have been a lot worse.’

Vastra looked at him.

‘How much worse?’

The Doctor tilted his head to the side slightly, asking ‘Do I really have to explain this?’ in as non-verbal a manner as possible.  Vastra nodded.

‘How long will I be stuck in this bed…and why do those people keep looking in at me?’

The Doctor smiled. 

‘Well, in answer to your second question…like I said, you’re a hero to them.  You saved their children and fought with skill that I doubt any of them have seen before.’

Vastra looked directly at the Doctor.  ‘And as for my first question?'

‘Of course, you know that no one will be able to tell the story or pass it down.  Sadly, Vastra the slayer of giant, black armoured insect men won’t be a legend they’ll be telling their children or grandchildren.  One of the nice things about humans is their ability to forget things that make absolutely no rational sense whatsoever.  Why, once I saw the Loch Ness Monster swimming down the Thames River!  Do you think anyone talks about it?  Of course not!  They all forgot, because it…’

‘Doctor,'

The Doctor looked at Vastra and saw the determination on her face.

‘Do you want a friendly opinion or my opinion as a ‘doctor’?’

‘I want the truth, Doctor.’

He sighed.

‘You should be up and moving around, and in a lot of pain, in maybe another week or two.  But considering how much bumping and tossing the TARDIS makes when we’re traveling to take you back to your proper time…we probably won’t be leaving for another month.  Just to play it safe.’

‘A MONTH?’

The Doctor laughed.  ‘At least you still have some fighting spirit in you!  That’ll serve you well as you rest up and heal.  Besides, that will ensure we’re here with Prince Taisei takes the throne as King.  He’s requested we attend as his special and honoured guests…it wouldn’t do to deny him that request, especially after all we’ve done for him.  Well, you, mostly, but even you have to admit I had a pretty good aim with that rock.  All those years of cricket finally accounted for something!’

His voice trailed off slightly as he thought for a moment, drifting back into the recesses of his memory.

‘Again,'

He was roused from his reminiscing by a very agitated Vastra.

‘But Doctor…you forget my people.  By now the humans surely will have returned!’

‘You keep telling me that I forget, yet look at you with all your forgetting!’  The Doctor laughed.  ‘TARDIS.  Time and Relative Dimension in Space.  It’s a time machine.  It brought us to the past, it can return us to the future…well, the present, which is the future to the people here, but your present, and my…’

He paused.

‘It’s all really complicated, and I’d love to sit here and explain it, but frankly, I don’t understand all of it myself.  Barely passed that test when I took it…the second time.’

He looked around.

‘And speaking of time, I really must head to Tsugu’s.  In all the excitement of the funeral…and your little display, my lessons have been ignored.  I think today we’ll be going over how to hold the pick.  I’m so excited!’

The Doctor jumped up and ran out of the room, giggling quietly to himself.

‘I am sure you are, Doctor,’ Vastra sighed.  She rested her head back against the pillow and pulled the sheets back over her, wincing at the pain.

At least I’ll get some peace and quiet now, she thought.

She then looked over to the window where a half dozen people gathered, whispering back and forth to each other while looking at her with a mix of awe and reverence.

Other than the ever changing audience, that is, she continued.  She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.  It did not take long for sleep to greet her.

~~~

hree weeks after the funeral…three weeks after Vastra had leapt off the main hall landing, swords in hand, and faced down the occupants of a Metatraxi scout ship, she took her first tentative steps from her room.  Her whole body ached, and with each breath she could feel the bones and muscles in her chest burn.  Still, she hobbled into the main hall, where the Doctor, Taisei and his advisors stood.

The Doctor was the first to notice, and he quickly ran to her, arms outstretched and about to give her a hug.  She shied away, wincing at the pain from her sudden movement.  He pulled up short.

‘Oh, sorry…for a second there I forgot that a hug just might hurt.’

Vastra looked at him through narrowed eyes.  ‘Right now everything hurts, but I was not going to spend another day in that room being on display for people to view at their leisure.’

She looked up to see Prince Taisei walking over to her.  A smile lit up his face.

‘It is good to see you up.  We were very worried for quite some time, but the Doctor…’

Vastra looked at him.  ‘I thought you called him Kyoujyu.’

Taisei smiled ‘He has informed me that he prefers that only Tsugu call him that.  It is not my place to ask questions, as they have known each other longer than I have known your friend.’

Vastra looked at the Doctor, who shrugged and mouthed the words ‘I’ll explain later’ to her.  She turned back to the Prince as he continued.

‘He informed me that with time, you would recover.  And he was, of course, correct.  We watched over you until you showed signs of waking, and he…’

Taisei pointed at the Doctor.

‘…insisted he be called in as soon as it seemed you were going to wake.  And here we are.’

He looked at Vastra, and she had a difficult time making out what the look meant.

‘You have done a very honourable and amazing thing for my people, you know.’

Vastra tried to shrug, and once again winced.  I will be so very happy once this blasted pain stops, she seethed inwardly.

‘I did what was necessary, Prince.  I am sure any of your soldiers would have done the same.’

 
          

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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ISSUE TWENTY
 
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FINITE OCCUPANCY
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TWISTED
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