It had become easier over the years, the decades. The sight of blood on his sword, or staining the regal trim of his uniform, no longer turned his stomach. The grasp of power when he, Martha and Peri flawlessly executed a strategy no longer intoxicated him, and he no longer needed to find some sick compromise between those extremes to live with himself.
He told himself that it would end. One day, they would find the ultimate solution, or else they'd find their way out of the political labyrinth- step into the TARDIS and never return. He longed to watch the fall of this contrived throne, to flee it as he'd fled Gallifrey long ago. It often occurred to him that he couldn't quite determine how he'd brought himself to this position to begin with. When had he decided that his course had become acceptable? When had he been locked into the Supreme Coordinator's inexorable grip? Where, and when in fact, would it end?
Would it end?
"Supremo!" He was drawn from the grim reverie with vague exasperation, but was relieved to find nothing more than an Ogron guard's bark of respectful acknowledgement.
"At ease," he ordered curtly, slipping past the stationed pair to his private chambers with a nod. The moment his door was locked, the sword was discarded, the gloves and decorated sash pulled away and laid over the back of a chair to be taken for cleaning later.
His aching mind was soothed and cradled by her hum, bidding him enter and rest. She saw time, and him with it, and invariably bore no judgement. The wood of the door was warm, and when he was welcomed in, the air wafting into the console room smelled faintly of Earth's wild-flowers. The aroma bore an occasional trace of rain, her version of a lover's comforting and distracting touches. He stood at the console for a moment, hand on the locking lever and a faint smile on his face. The door to the inner corridors opened expectantly. They had company.
Ever obedient, he followed the guiding panel lights, led to his library. A tea tray was waiting on the main desk, and Martha sat beside it, absorbed in one of her favourite collections of Shakespeare's sonnets. He remembered her story of meeting the man, and gave a terse chuckle as he recounted it, stepping in when when she looked up. Her smile warmed him, just as her subsequent frown crumbled him: even without the sash, the remnants of arterial spray across his front were prominent. When their eyes met, he knew she didn't blame him, but that was little comfort, as she hardly ever did.
"He was charged with genocide," he murmured- less of an explanation, really, and more of a wool-gathering moment. "His family brought him to my main hall in shackles. To let him come to justice by standard procedure would dishonour his world." His voice was exhausted, even if his unease was well hidden. For a moment, she didn't speak, but nodded and set her book aside, preparing their tea with practised ease. He didn't sit, afraid- ridiculously enough- of ruining the furniture with blood.
"Did you feel it?" she finally asked, pointedly pushing a cup toward his chair: and then it was acceptable to sit.
"No, thank goodness." He sipped his tea gratefully, head lowered.
"Good." It was the one and only thing she'd never forgiven, and it had only taken the one time to mend him of the habit: the bloodlust. It had taken a long time since to mend the wound between them into a scar.
"Would I be a coward," he wondered, "if I proposed we run this moment?" It was a tired question, but had become something of a ritual. Some took tea together, or read together, to maintain their solidarity. Some found it in sex, or daydreams, or families. And some... some found theirs in hope, and in somedays.
"You've never been a coward," was the same answer, warm and encouraging.
"No, and you won't be. Sarah Jane's told me about you, you know. About that Tower and the group of you, and you've told me the same things she did, so I know that part's the same. You're not a coward."
"Sarah Jane..." He rested his chin on one hand, remembering. "...d'you miss them?"
She paused a moment, frowning into her tea. This wasn't part of the ritual. "I... I'd be lying if I said no. I miss them all, very much."
"We've got the technology now to create a sister rift," he intoned, not raising his head. "You could-"
"No." The heavy finality in her tone warranted a glance up from his tea. "That timeline's gone for me- I've done too much here. I belong here now." She smiled then, and the last grisly hour was washed away as easily as mud in the rain- and the rain was shot through with cinnamon, a psychosomatic swirl of his lovers around him and a welcome haze of intent and emotion. "With you. Right?"
This was no ritual, even if the basis was the same. He played at the embrace in the air, and the coppery tinge in the collective scent was replaced with the ever odd mix of dust, ink and exosphere. Martha's smile widened, and she opened her arms. To his knees, and he was enveloped by them: his sanctuary and his agápē. This kiss was a creature in itself, a thing of healing and a joy, however small in the heart of the war around them. He was accepted, blood and all, the tyrant loved out of him in moments, and he sank to rest his head in her lap, their fingers locked.
"Absolve me," he whispered.
"Of course, Doctor."
[a/n: a future-set ficlet in an AU of 'Warmonger' by Terrance Dicks. Hush, I like surprise fluffs in the midst of angst.]