She burned like a sun when he met her, with flaming red hair and strong hazel eyes that held no room for argument. He was just passing by a tiny town in the middle of America, but people had started going missing, reminding him painfully of his visit to the Olympics. While he was investigating, he found her hugging a crying child in the street, reassuring the little boy that his daddy would come back so convincingly even the Doctor believed it.
“I’m his babysitter, now help me find his dad.” she’d said, and after handing the boy over to a neighbour, she followed him through the streets, into the sewers. As he faced the big bad of the week, she stood by his side and pulled the right lever at the right time, sending everyone back to their homes. He hadn’t thought they could be saved, but she’d refused to believe anything else.
It was a beautiful day, where everybody lived. He didn’t get enough of those. Immediately, he’d offered her the universe. How could he not? Like every companion of his, something about her was so unique. She’d said yes, grinning wildly, on the condition that she could stop at home first.
But something had changed. The adrenaline had faded, and by the time she’d returned to the Tardis, she was timid, edging through the door and appreciating the interior in silence. It was normal for his companions to seem a little different from their first adventure, but this was strange. When he asked her where she wanted to go, she just shook her head, backing up to the railing. “Anywhere is fine, is there somewhere you were already planning to go to?”
The Doctor shrugged it off, aiming for the biggest waterfall in the universe, something similar to home, but still extravagant. Just ease her into it, he thought, she’s only a little nervous. And she seemed to perk up during the ride, giggling at his excited hoots and shouts. He could see some of that radiance again. But she never ventured toward the console, or even sat down on the jumpseat. She just held tightly to the railing and soaked everything in.
The waterfall was as spectacular as he remembered, and they snuck away from the tour group to get a closer look, but before they went inside, her watch beeped. Looking worried, she asked the Doctor, “If we’ve traveled in time, will it have changed my watch?” So he took a closer look. It was an analog watch, just some gears and a little alarm, no microchip or anything fancy. So no, without her manually changing it, it would always show her the time from her life on Earth.
She looked relieved, and pulled a couple small bottles from her pockets. He’d heard them of course, every step she took rattled slightly. But only now could he see that they were clearly prescription, but he couldn’t get more than a glimpse before she’d popped one of each and stowed them away again in her jacket pockets.
“June, is there something I can help you with?” He wasn’t sure how to go about asking something like this. His other companions, well they’d never really needed anything like this. “I am a doctor, it’s not just my name. Certified by a least 4 different galaxies during my earlier years, yours included.”
She just shook her head, like in the Tardis. Staring at the jungle ground and backing up a step. “I’m fine, I just really wanna get a look at this waterfall from the inside.” And she was off. There wasn’t time for him to question her again, because something had been living in the waterfall and picking off tourists one by one. With some fancy footwork and the help of a broken down rocket, they sent the monsters on their way, straight back to their home planet halfway across the galaxy. It was less of a good day, but how could he blame them for trying to feed themselves on a foreign planet? It wasn’t until they’d stepped back in the Tardis that he noticed June was swaying.
Holding her shoulder kept her steady, but she kept squeezing her eyes shut, and couldn’t seem to focus enough to respond. “I’m...sorry. I just, I...just need a minute.” So the Doctor scanned her, desperate to figure out what was wrong. Pain receptors going off all over her head, but no underlying cause. It was, to put it simply, a migraine. But she opened her eyes again before he could go get something to help. “Better, see? I’m sorry if I worried you, I just get those sometimes...is that alright? I promise it won’t interfere with anything, or put us in danger. I can deal with it really well-
“No, June, it’s fine. I’d love to help though, if it’s serious I can-
June stood up and moved away from him, “It’s not. Really, I know exactly why I have them, and it’s nothing to worry about.”
If there was anything he’d learned over more than nine hundred years of time and space, it was to trust his companions, so he stopped pushing. “Perfect, now do you have any ideas about where to go next?”
She did, in fact. It seemed easing her in had worked. So they visited Tudor England for a while, and managed to run into King Henry the VII, which very nearly got them beheaded. Then it was off to the planet of emeralds, where they accidentally started a revolution. Each time, it wasn’t until things really got tense that the Doctor could see June’s radiance. Once the danger was over, and both she and the Doctor were safe, it faded, and she became distracted and distanced, and exhausted. She slept more than most humans he’d been with, at least he thought she did. He didn’t pay enough attention when humans were asleep, that was his time to work on the Tardis.
But surely they didn’t sleep this much. He often found her in deep sleep only minutes after she’d disappeared into the library, curled up on the couch, under a blanket that should have been much too hot for her. And the migraines continued. All the time it seemed. Sometimes it was the only thing that woke her up, after he’d been knocking on her door, or tapping her arm. He’d give up and sit near her to wait, and only minutes later she’d sit straight up holding her head. She wouldn’t let him give her anything for them, just asked for a minute, and took only that. Only ever a minute, though he could tell it was never enough to make the pain go away. She simply pushed it down, gritted her teeth and smiled and it was back to their regularly scheduled programming.
She was true to her word. It never put them in danger, or at least she never let it. Her fervent, exhilarated energy never dipped until they were truly safe. The Doctor never lost her attention during critical moments, even when he could see the wincing, the flickers of pain. It was so constant, and she made it look so minor, so unimportant, that he got used to it. He stopped questioning her, simply offered excuses if any locals got confused, and things felt normal.
He was having fun. June was brilliant sometimes, so clever in the way only humans seemed to be. More than once she saved the day while the Doctor was unconscious, or stuck behind bars. They laughed and ran and went to outrageous parties. And he desperately ignored the unshakable niggling in the back of his mind that said something was seriously wrong.
June made accomodations for him as well. He hadn’t expected her to understand so quickly when he just needed to be alone with his Tardis, or when he couldn’t find the strength to speak. But she did, always backing off, never questioning, never pushing. Like she understood what he was feeling even better than he did. And she helped, in her own ways. When he’d pulled himself out of the dark spaces his mind often drifted to, there was always a steaming mug of tea waiting on the small table outside his room that had appeared a few days after she arrived. Instead of pushing him to speak, she left small notes around the Tardis with jokes, or crudely drawn pictures of wonderful places they’d been, sometimes just a little poke remember that jungle planet? Remember the trojan nebulae we flew by? Tiny things that shifted his mind from thoughts that he worried would burn out of him, to reminders of beauty, of relaxation, of excitement and joy.
He wasn’t used to this.
Like his other companions, June had a craving for travel, for seeing new and beautiful things. But she didn’t have that itch. She liked when they took breaks in the vortex, and he took more that he’d ever done before, secretly deflating in relief whenever she mentioned needing a day off. The Doctor loved his traveling life, but he often felt pushed to go and go and keep impressing his companions. June seemed content to take her time.
June seemed a lot of things. Most the time the Doctor guessed her feelings from her facial expressions, or the tone of voice she had. She rarely said that she liked or disliked things. With the former she just went wide-eyed and stared like she was trying to memorize it all, and with the latter she suffered in silence. She never complained, not even when she was hurt, and sometimes it frustrated him. He had to pay so much attention, checking regularly that she was enjoying herself. But slowly, he learned what she liked.
She loved parties, but only rarely got the courage up to dance. He loved making his friend laugh, twirling her until she was dizzy and gasping for breath. He hadn’t laughed so often in years. She loved uninhabited planets, looking infinitely more at ease with plantlife, and landscapes and small, non-sentient creatures. It was a bit of a conundrum, but it worked out brilliantly. They would spend a few days exploring worlds that had never been touched by another species, then he would drag her off to a bazaar, or they’d follow a message he received to go save a world or three, and he’d coax her to enjoy herself there as well. Then they’d go to a ball or a village dance, and laugh at the customs and outfits, and learn new dances.
There were bad times too, when someone couldn’t be saved, or when they were both injured, or scared. Those times, they followed an interesting pattern. It all depended on who broke first, who showed the first sign of weakness. If she did, and she did more often than not, he ushered her into the library, her favourite room on the Tardis, and they wrapped up in soft blankets that the Tardis conveniently left for them. He would read to her, forgetting his own worries and anger in the words on the page. He read her Earth works, and some novels from faraway galaxies she could never remember the names of. She usually fell asleep, and he would drift into his own nap on the other end of the couch, feeling comforted that he wasn’t the only one struggling.
When the Doctor broke first, when he hugged her tighter than normal, and got that wild look in his eye, and began to rant and rave and shout his righteous anger at the Tardis’ coral walls, she listened. Beckoning him to follow her, but letting him keep talking, she would take him to the kitchen and make his favourite tea, a dark mossy green tea that he kept boxes and boxes of in the cupboards. He always expected her to shut him up, to leave him to himself, but she just sat there and listened. He began to let things slip. Normally the Doctor had strict rules, certain topics that didn’t need spoken, but when he was so angry and so scared he couldn’t help it. And she never flinched. He told her about the Time War, about his past, about losing Rose. He just barely kept from crying when she chanced a hand on his arm.
And those times when he parked in the vortex, and told June he needed a break. When he disappeared into the far reaches of the Tardis’ never ending hallways and stared blankly at some walls, losing himself to the memories and the sensations that came with him. Sometimes she did the same. More than once, he came back to himself and went to look for her, only to find her in the library, staring in the flames, tears running down her cheeks. It worried him, but he couldn’t exactly get upset when he’d done exactly that.
She usually tried to get away, when she realized he was there. Scared stiff of him, for no reason he could find, apologizing like she’d been the one in the Time War. At first he’d asked, then left her alone when she just shook her head, like his questions hurt. The next time, he didn’t ask what was wrong, but simply asked if he could hug her. Still she couldn’t find the words to speak, but instead of leaving her, he kept his distance by sitting in the armchair and promising he was going to stay until she felt better.
It took a while. A long while. Unsure of what to do with himself, the Doctor grabbed the book closest to him, and began reading out loud. Whether it was the story that soothed her, or just knowing that he couldn’t hear her sobs as well over his own voice, she calmed down.
The Doctor jerked his head up, stopping his recitation. Oh. She still looked scared, but he went to her and hugged her anyway. Again, she apologized, nearly beginning her babbling again, but he just held her tighter. “Don’t be sorry, you don’t have to be sorry. I just wish I knew how to help.”
Gasping a little, trying to stop from hyperventilating, she whispered, “This helps. Never had a friend do this before. They usually just got scared and left.”
He gripped her even tighter, feeling a fizzle of anger, “Those don’t sound like friends.”
And so it became their routine. Eventually he stopped asking her questions. He’d never known someone who hated personal questions as much as he did, but there June was. He stopped asking permission to hug her when she was upset because he knew she’d never feel comfortable giving it, admitting she wanted support.
They went on like this, and then one day she found the Doctor. It was his turn to be stuck, to be lost in his head, unable to process even the simplest of dialogue. He hadn’t hidden as well as he meant to, only going a couple halls over before giving in to the pain. He’d thought she was on the opposite end of the Tardis.
He barely registered her presence, and flinched at the unexpected contact, when she kneeled next to him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “I’m only gonna ask one question, alright. Can you hear me?”
He nodded, then couldn’t stop nodding, and had to hold his head still with his hands. Images were flashing, sounds of screaming, goodbyes, and crying that might have been him. Vaguely, he heard her voice filtering in. “You and I are far too much alike Doctor. I know I’ve been holding out on you since I got here, and at first I was surprised you didn’t make the connection. Of course you couldn’t understand what’s wrong with me, how could you when you’re dealing with the same thing? That’s not a question you have to answer by the way.”
She tugged him, and he went willingly, curling down until his head was resting on her leg, and one hand was pressing slowly down through his thick hair. Not light enough to tickle, just enough pressure to soothe him. “We should probably be honest with each other. Those pills I take? They’re supposed to help with this, with the depression.” She said it like the word itself was bitter. “God, I hate that word. It just doesn’t cover how absolutely shit I feel sometimes. And then there’s the anxiety. I think the letter x is the most anxious letter in the english alphabet. Scared for no reason, questioning yourself constantly, blaming yourself, always feeling like something is wrong , and it’s so hard to find the line between what’s depression and what’s anxiety because it all sucks and they feed off each other until you just want to escape.”
He could think, just slightly, just enough to protest. “I’m not..I’m not.” To his surprise, June chuckled.
“Yeah you are. You can’t deny it. It takes one to know one and I definitely know one. You see it in me too, yeah? The way I can’t stop biting my lips because I’m too scared to talk? The stupidly long naps, and of course my panic attacks. See, I’m aware of all this. I know all my stupid ticks and symptoms and I can’t do anything about them. Well, anything but take my meds. And they help. Believe it or not, I used to be so much worse. For a long time I didn’t get any good days. Even dealing with the migraines as a side effect is worth it to be able to feel something that doesn’t hurt .” He’d never heard her talk this much, not even when they first met, or when she was debating with foreign dignitaries. He’d assumed that was just how she was, never thought it might have been a forced silence, self imposed yes, but still forced.
He’d stopped crying, the screams were finally fading, replaced by June’s anchoring voice. But talking was till too hard, he was still too...scared. He was, he was scared to talk, just like June said. He hadn’t, hadn’t realized. Was he really sick? She was still speaking, spilling her guts about her past, schooling and counseling and being prescribed drug after drug to ease the suffering. His subconscious filed it all away to think about later, and the rest of him focused on the tone instead, using it to pull himself back to a state of mind he could function at. When she finally drifted off, he found words. “What do I do?”
She laughed again, but it was hollow, fearful. “What can any of us do? I mean, I’m sorry, I just.” She took a deep breath, like it’d been taught to her and continued, “I’m not supposed to talk like that. What you can do, is see a doctor, Doctor. Surely somewhere in space and time they have medication even you Gallifreyans can take. I doubt there’s a cure, life could never be that easy. And at some point I’ll have to go back and get more of my drugs, and deal with the consequences.”
The Doctor lifted himself into a sitting position and ruffled his hair, trying to find a semblance of normality, but it didn’t come. June had given him a revelation, but it was an awful one. Before he’d been able to tell himself that someday it would fade, someday it wouldn’t hurt so much, he just needed to ignore it. But this wasn’t something that would go away. If anything it would get worse, without help. He didn’t want help, but her words repeated in his head. It’s worth it to be able to feel something that doesn’t hurt .
“What makes you feel better, after these?” It felt like a safe question to ask, seeing as he was the one who’d been panicking, not her.
June sighed, leaning a head against his shoulder. “I could say sleep, but I know that it doesn’t. Napping when I’m upset only makes things worse most of the time. I guess, a distraction, and something that makes me smile. Ice cream, or a movie, or one of those empty planets you take me to.”
Somehow finding the strength, the Doctor stood up and held a hand out to her. “Ice cream and an empty planet it is then.” Maybe the things that made her feel better would help him too. It was better than what he usually did, sulking and hiding in his room for a few days.
So, armed with a couple tubs of ice cream that would never melt, they laid out on a blanket on a hill overlooking the river and jungle covered planet in front of them. He realized it did help. There was no one to worry about on an empty planet, no species to save, no danger. He didn’t feel responsible for anything but making sure his spoon didn’t touch the ground.
When he was feeling more like himself, the Doctor made a decision. Gripping June’s hand tightly, he led her up to the front counter of the hospital planet he’d brought her to. She sat with him as he filled out the forms, and she did her own at his request. They didn’t even need to see a proper physician, the nurse just scanned them and handed them each a bottle. June tugged on his hand, just as eager as he was to leave the clinical cold of the hospital, and they fled back to the Tardis.
Standing next to the console, he removed a small blue pill from his bottle, and she poured out an equally small purple pill from hers. The alarm on her watch beeped, and together they took their medicine.
He smiled kindly, “Nice thing about the 65th century, no side effects.”
Her eyes widened, and she tentatively began to smile back. “No more headaches?”
“No more headaches.” He grunted slightly as she threw herself in his arms, the first time she’d initiated a hug outside of their panic attacks.
It was like the sun had come back. Without the migraines to keep pulling her back down, and with the help of advanced medication, June was radiant much more often. She learned how to operate a small corner of the console, and was able to find any of the buttons on it when he asked. She didn’t sleep as much, and was often able to stay and attempt to help him with his maintenance after their adventures.
And the Doctor felt good. Not fixed, he didn’t think he’d ever be properly fixed, but he felt good. He had so much energy, bouncing around the console room, and one day getting so excited he actually went swimming again. He hadn’t used the pool since Rose, but finally entering the room didn’t make him need to hide away and he dove right down to the bottom of the pool, letting his respiratory bypass engage so he could sit quietly on the floor and just enjoy the peace.
He was feeling, so many feelings he’d almost forgotten. He’d always been silly, but now he was absolutely childish at times. He’d even attacked June with a water gun once, a mistake which had him running from her down the halls, soaked and laughing. Even the warmth of the fireplace, and the smell of books, and the nearly mindless task of fixing and polishing the Tardis’ engine was better. Things he’d lost interest in ages ago were fun again.
He still got upset, still had panic attacks that left him catatonic for lengths of time he was achingly capable of counting, but June had made him promise to at least go somewhere she could find. It was hard to push back the worry of what would happen when June was gone, and there was no one to remind him to take his medicine, no one who would stay when he felt the ooze of pure fury and that awful part of his past rising up. But he did it. Sometimes she did it, scolding him and saying she’d keep away from those thoughts if he did. Tit for tat.
They always found each other and help pick each other up. It’d been so long since he’d had a friend. Just someone to help him, that he could help. Without worrying about him feeling or her feeling anything that could complicate things. They just enjoyed each other’s company, and it just worked. If they were going to do this, it would be together.