If she thought about it, really, this was all Ryan’s fault. He was the one who’d touched the statue. Though, to be fair to him, she should have known the temple would have some kind of psychic defence system. And now her head felt like it was cracking open.
The Doctor flung the TARDIS doors open, almost falling through them before catching herself on the railing inside. Her fam followed quickly, obviously concerned but hesitant to get too close. “Nobody touch me,” she barked, just in case.
“Doc, what was that thing?” Graham. His mind was a mix of confusion and concern, and something else - fear, maybe? Was he scared he’d be affected too?
She shouldn’t have been able to feel that much. Her psychic barriers were already unravelling. “It’s not contagious,” she said, and felt Graham’s fear go down a tiny fraction. “Humans can’t catch this. It’s a psychic thing. I just need-” -she cut off as the rising emotions in the room hit her like a wave, crushing an ache into her bones and a copper taste onto her tongue. “I need some time. A couple of days, probably. Maybe less. Maybe more. Just-” -she lurched between Yaz and Ryan and made a beeline for the corridor- “don’t follow me!”
The echoes of too-loud thoughts behind her told her they wouldn’t- at least, not for a while.
The Doctor had a room for things like this. When she was sick, or hurt, or just too tired to keep doing what she always did, she came here. The TARDIS had jokingly labelled it the Panic Room, but she liked to call it her safe haven. The door appeared just where she needed it, the same deep blue wood of the front doors appearing to her left, etched with gold writing. Gallifreyan spirals. Safety. Home. Healing. They changed every time, the TARDIS rewriting them based on what it thought she might need. “Bang on,” she said, and lifted the latch.
Inside was a huge, soft bed. The Doctor flung herself down onto it with a sigh and let the world go black.
“We can’t just leave her there.” Yaz had her arms folded, glaring at Graham indignantly.
“Look, right, she said it was a psychic thing-”
“So it’s not even dangerous for us!”
“Yeah, but we’re way out of our depth!” Ryan cut in. “Graham’s right, we shouldn’t get too close. What if we, I dunno, make it worse? She’s said we think too loud before.”
“...Fair point.” Yaz said, nodding. “But if she’s gone more than a day we should at least try and get her some food.”
The bed was soft, with a huge, puffy duvet the colour of the night sky. Constellations were embroidered into it in clean white thread - Gallifreyan, maybe, but she couldn’t be sure. Her vision was swimming too much to look at them closely. She felt like this wonderful soft bed was full of glass shards, dragging at her skin, splitting her open, and what would drain from her would be a mess of blood and pure, glowing energy. She was buzzing, crackling, jolts running between her fingers and making her arms spasm.
This was really, really bad.
Never in her life had she felt like this. Not when the Ood reached out to her, not when the TARDIS had almost failed, not when the Master-
And he was there, his mind a mix of surprise and- was that joy? He quickly slammed his walls up, though the Doctor could feel the cracks in the barriers. She could never usually see past them, but how his worry bled through like dye through hessian, a deep blue-green that made her feel cold. She hadn’t meant to reach out. He could see that as clearly as she could.
The Master examined her mind, swirls of green and blue drifting around the corners of her consciousness. She reached out to meet them instinctively, too far gone to be embarrassed. Her barriers were in shreds, drifting vaguely in front of her like tattered scraps of sheer silk. To his credit, the Master didn’t brush them aside.
Where are you?
Graham had made tea. It always helped. The three of them sat quietly on the floor of the control room, leaning against railings and crystals. It was quiet, and had been for a while.
“How long’s it been?” Yaz asked.
Ryan looked at his watch. “Couple hours.”
“Shouldn’t we get her to some kind of hospital or something?” Graham said. “I mean, if there’s a whole species of people like her out there, they’ve gotta have some kinda medical set up, don’t they?”
“How would we even get there, Graham?” Yaz asked. “We can’t fly the TARDIS.”
“We could try. We’ve seen the Doc do it often enough, can’t be that hard.”
“It’s a spaceship and a time machine rolled into one.” Ryan looked at them. “If we try and fly it we’ll probably just blow ourselves up.”
It was at that point that they noticed the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside. Ryan and Yaz stood up. Graham didn’t bother.
“We locked the door,” Yaz muttered. She instantly regretted saying anything when the latch turned and the door swung open.
The Master strode into the TARDIS like he owned the place, calm and purposeful, paying them absolutely no heed. He put his hand on one of the crystals and the TARDIS made a low warning sound, like a gong. “Shut up,” he said, “and tell me where she is.” Another gong, this time quieter, and he started moving again, towards the corridor deeper into the TARDIS. The three humans stood frozen, deer on the edge of the road, staring up at a set of terrifying, unknowable headlights.
“What do you want?” Ryan finally asked, breaking the silence. The Master stopped.
“Nothing. She called me.”
Yaz shifted the mug of still-hot tea in her hand. Maybe if she aimed for his eyes-
“If you throw that at me,” he said, still not turning to face them, “I’ll kill all of you, slowly, and still get to her.”
“If you kill all of us, she’ll kill you.”
“Not right now, she won’t.” The Master started walking. “Stay out of my way and I’ll let you live.”
He could feel her, pressing at his consciousness like an avalanche, individual stones hitting one after the other, leaving his mind bruised and his head aching.
Despite her grumbling, the TARDIS placed the door he needed right in front of him once he was in the corridor. He read the words. Safety. Home. Healing. The spirals were in middle Gallifreyan, the dialect they’d used to write notes to each other in class. There was a faint wobble on the leeward edge of each - her handwriting, same as it had ever been. He pushed the door open.
The psychic chaos that had been an avalanche outside was a tsunami this close, and he felt like he was drowning in it, a sea of gold and red. She hadn’t realised he was there, too scattered in her own mind to notice. He reached out a hand and touched her forehead.
She melted into him with a muffled groan, the stabbing shards of damage in her mind already subsiding slightly, to whirling spirals that wrapped around her like a tempest. She threw an arm over the back of his neck and dragged him down onto the bed, pressing her face into his chest. He felt his own heartbeat echo back to him in her thoughts. How did you get here?
Followed you. You’re loud enough to hear three galaxies away.
Huh. Coherent thought was a struggle for her. He could feel her fighting against the golden hurricane in her mind, and fought the urge to squint. She was so bright.
Not my fault your mind is so dark.
And that was true, to be fair. If she was a raging storm, and he was a churning ocean, wine-dark and impenetrable. The teachers back at the Academy had had a joke about that, he couldn’t remember it now.
"Together you average out to dry land." She pushed the memory, a small fragment of speech from their flight instructor, towards him. He heard her chuckle slightly, but then she stiffened as the shards returned, stabbing outwards and slicing through her in the process. He threw up a barrier and they deflected against it. Carefully, he probed at her mind, brushing against the chaos of her injury. She flinched, but relaxed again just as quickly.
Is this okay? He asked.
She didn’t answer in words this time, but instead pushed a sensation his way. Warm, safe, trust. Her hands formed fists in the fabric of his coat and she pulled him closer, sliding her arms underneath it and his jacket to wrap around his torso in a vice grip. Soft, she projected, as an afterthought.
The closer the contact, the clearer his already razor-sharp image of her mind became, until eventually he could see the problem. In the centre of the red-gold storm was a nexus of black, a heavy, sharp stone embedded in her consciousness. He moved towards it - as much as one can really move in a mindscape - and she parted the winds to let him through. In the shifting sands of her memory he saw flashes of colour and emotion, love, pain, joy, anger. Images of all her pets, and impressions, clear as day, of how she felt about each. Always an undercurrent of fondness, and always a stab of anguish at the end. Why do you do this to yourself? He asked.
Keeps it all at bay.
He spotted himself in the mix, all of his faces, accompanied by a whirlwind of different emotions. Calm, overwhelming joy for Missy. Frantic, scrambling worry for Saxon. His new face cropped up, too. Fear. Terror. And underneath that, relief.
She was too far gone to block him off from anything. If he wanted, he could rip her thoughts - every one of her plans, every one of her memories - from her consciousness and leave her, cold and shivering.
Carefully, he formed a door in front of her memories and closed it, blocking them from view.
The nexus was small, but sharp, a psychic bullet that had her hemorrhaging energy. It hummed as he approached, unstable and violent. He circled it, once, twice, before he found an opening. Carefully, he gripped under it and pulled.
It came loose with a scream - not its own, but the Doctor’s, and the deep red of her pain almost burning him. The storm died with an exhausted sigh, and in the physical world, he heard her sob.
They both came back to themselves slowly, as if waking up from a long-overdue rest. At some point he’d taken his coat off and draped it over her. She was still curled into his chest. He reached out to her mind and felt her mental shields in place again, layers and layers of soft silk to hide the golden glow.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“Mmmmmm.” She shifted slightly to look up at his face. “Why’d you do it?”
He looked at her, platinum hair framing wide eyes and freckles that, if you squinted, looked just like the Pleiades. Without her he was sure he’d go mad, really, properly mad. To be the last Time Lord in the universe - he didn’t know how she'd done it for so long.
She was still looking at him, waiting for an answer. “Why?” she repeated.
He closed his eyes, and pressed his forehead to hers.
Keeps it all at bay.