She comes back to awareness with a shock, like she’s been dunked in an ice bath. She’s freezing, cold right down to her bones, ice in her spine, all sensation lost in her fingers and toes. Someone is holding her. Enveloping her, their tears leaking into her hair and pressing her back into the dirt.
She opens her eyes but the world remains pitch black. Oxygen deprivation, supplies a part of her brain helpfully. Dead too long, she thinks.
Dead. She was shot by herself and then -
Oh no. Idiot.
“ Doctor ?” The word comes from very far away, is no more than a whisper, and she heaves with the effort of it. Broken ribs, the part of her brain that clearly isn’t as dead as the rest of it supplies. Collapsed lung, hearts failing.
“Don’t try to talk.” Its sounds wrong, like he’s shouting from a great distance. He shifts her into his lap, trails a shaking hand through her hair. His finger against her temple, a hand on her heart; white hot sparks of pain where he’s touching her.
No point, he had a it on full power-
“Shut up”, he hisses out loud, his mind hazy with the effort of trying to keep her hearts beating.
“Idiot,” she manages, golden spots appearing in her field of vision.“You dont need-”
No time. His mind, frantic now against her. He’s struggling to hold on, has been for
Stupid, stupid reckless Doctor. His hand shifts from her chest to the side of her face, cradling her head. She can see the outline of his face, features alight with an all too familiar ember glow.
You don’t need to save me. Rassilon knows she doesn’t deserve it.
He pauses then, looks straight at her. His regeneration energy burns between the two of them and she feels it pulling at her, undoing the very threads that bind her.
You don’t have enough- she starts, but he presses their foreheads together, calls on the bond they’ve shared all this time.
Consider it a gift for all the times you saved me, he manages, mental imprint fading as he burns brighter. She grasps for his hand but cannot move her arms, her muscles rendered useless by the cold.
“Don’t you dare”, she spits instead, her breath ragged against his face. “Doctor, don’t you dare-”
Look after the universe for me. Threads of golden energy dance on his shoulders and he is a blaze in her mind, brilliant and beautiful and more alive than she’s ever seen him. Together they set themselves alight, artron particles seeping into and tearing at the fibers of their being.
Her world is fire, ice, and rage, then nothing.
She cannot think straight when she first wakes, new body in wrong clothes in a screaming Tardis. His tardis. The thought makes her sick to her stomach and she heaves, the cloister bells reverberating through her skull on the metal console room grating until she is numb with it. Eventually she passes out again while the Tardis hurls them through the void. She drifts in and out of consciousness but no waking moment is better than the one before, and the days pass by unnoticed.
When she finally tries to take control, the ship burns her fingers with electric sparks and sends her a hatred so intense she staggers back and doesn’t even notice her tears.
The Tardis does not stop screaming in her mind and after a week she loses count. After two she stops trying to block her out. After three she allows herself to join in the insanity of the ship’s grief, and the two of them hurtle through the vortex together for however long it takes to burn an entire constellation. She is mad in every sense of the word; inks her despair across the heavens while the ship tears at the web of time itself, warping reality again and again until there is little left to twist. They blaze against the night sky for decades, minutes, millenia, hours, centuries; until the Tardis goes utterly silent in her mind and lands with a thud in a wasteland, kicking her out.
Somehow, the silence in her head is worse than the despair which came before it, and she screams herself hoarse trying to drown it out.
She stumbles in the dirt and the Ship goes into lockdown, leaves her alone and wounded on a war-torn world she does not remember the name of in a constellation she has not been since the last time she enslaved one of their worlds, millennia from now.
She finds new clothes, cuts her hair, gives herself a new name, and buries the raw anger deep inside. She becomes a traveler too curious for her own good, someone from the next town along. The locals appreciate her handiness with machines and for a while she lives amongst them, eats their food and keeps herself warm by their fires. She watches them fight their war, cleans the blood off their shaking hands, and wonders who the hell she is.
When she finally leaves, she burns only their ammunitions factories, and considers it a victory for everyone.
A little human girl dies and she understands that it was unjust, confronts the killer with genuine anger in her voice and does not have to fake the disgust as he gloats about his actions. Later, she feels only a little pleasure when she ends his life.
She is a hundred different people with a thousand different names and does not remain anywhere for longer than a few days. Mostly she watches people live their inconceivably short lives away and prays that one day she will stop finding it so desperately, laughably sad.
There’s a planet with a village where food gets scarcer every year and when the children begin to starve she finds herself traveling from town to town, offering her services and not killing anyone when they refuse. She is always hungry now, lives off what she can forage and what little (if anything) anyone can spare. It does not occur to her to leave until she is back in the Tardis, years later, waved off by all the children-grown-adults she saved.
She runs into herself once, an early incarnation in the 70s or 80s in England. He is insufferable and so very, very young. The Doctor is there too, brilliant and alive , and she wishes she could tell her younger self time is running out for the two of them.
The Tardis stops constantly deleting and moving her rooms somewhere around the second half of the first century, and occasionally makes her tea by the first half of the next. One morning she wakes up to find a brand new garden next to the kitchen, and a grand piano in the library. She presses her hands against the walls and promises to play all her favourite symphonies.
The first human to come on board is a disaster ; arrogant and brash and completely incapable of following instructions. She drops him off right back where she found him, but quickly learns the third trait is unfortunately quite common in his species.
The Tardis is angry with her, huffing and gurgling unhappily as she works her way around the controls.
“Come on old girl,” she croons, “just work with me here. We’ll go where you want next.”
The Tardis stills under her hands and it takes her mind a second to catch up. The ship goes silent and she feels as though she’s hurtling to the ground at 700 miles an hour.
“Please forgive me,” she stutters. “I didn’t mean to call you that-”
The lights around the console room flare and a warmth floods her mind. The psychic equivalent of a hug. She sends the sensation back.
She changes again, shot by a Dalek in the 67th century while she tries to help a few of their slaves escape a collapsed mine shaft. It is in many ways a senseless death; her life for fifty-seven starving humans who may not make it to the next week. She lies in the dirt amongst Dalek corpses and feels intense relief when the regeneration energy begins undoing everything she is.
The fourth person she travels with is not human, and for a while it works. They bounce of each other’s energy and she is so glad to have someone else’s presence in her head again, another mind whispering at the edge of hers. Xe is extremely clever and they spend weeks playing chess and inventing a new intergalactic communication system. When xe proposes tweaks to blow up a sun with it, she declines.
There are songs about her now and the Tardis sings them to her sometimes, sad and hopeful and so incredibly kind. She curls up near the ship’s core and cries for the friend she lost so long ago.
The fifth human, she is pretty sure, is in love with her, in the disturbingly intense way only humans can be. It does not end well and she stays away from Earth for a long, long time.
She gives her sonic screwdriver a setting for wood.
Clara Oswald meets her eyes and calls her ‘Doctor’ in a refugee camp on a desert world. The ochre dust clinging to her boots reminds her of Gallifrey and the memory is so vivid she almost tells the truth there and then. They chair negotiations together, arranging safe passage for everyone in the camp. As she watches her deliver a speech, eyes blazing with righteous fury, she wonders how she ever thought of this human as little more than a pet.
They save a planet and she listens to Clara tell her breathlessly about everything she’s seen, and finds she does not have to feign interest in the stories.
She never does take his name but comes up with a variety of others: Physician, sometimes Sawbones for a laugh. Miss Smith, once, on earth. One of his old humans calls her ‘professor’ and she thinks it fitting, adds it to her ever-growing repertoire.
She loses count of the humans and instead remembers their names, strings them into a song and looks at the universe through their eyes. Their short lives burn so intensely it is hypnotic, and she cannot get enough of the wonder in their eyes as she throws open the Tardis doors.
She is older now that he ever was, millenia coursing through her veins as she grasps her terrified human’s hand, drags them back to the tardis and bandages their bleeding arms. She cleans the soot from their face and feeds them spoonfuls of water, brushes their hair and soothes them as they understand all they’ve lost.
Later, they sit side by side looking out at the stars, her human with big, sad eyes staring out in wonder, all of creation laid out before them.
“Why save me?” they ask, a tiny, insignificant voice amongst trillions of souls across time and space.
She looks at them, sees the stardust in their eyes, and understands.
“I’m a Doctor. It’s what I do.”