The Doctor actually backs up a few paces at his words, she stumbles as the back of her ankles hit the dais and sits down hard.
“Doctor?” Ryan sounds worried.
She needs to move, needs to say something that will make this ok, and she can’t, can’t find the words, can’t think. Can’t forget the image of her Other with a lazer rifle that she’d hidden away in case of need as though weapons were ever the answer. Can’t forget the image of the woman, tall and strong and setting that rifle to backfire, not to distract or surprise or even wound, but to kill.
“So she was lying then,” the Doctor murmurs under her breath. “She must have known me, she’s from my future.” It would be an unlikely and astonishing coincidence for her to pick Jack if she is not.
“Doctor?” Ryan asks again, uncertainly.
The Doctor gets to her feet, holding out a hand to stop him coming closer. “I’m alright,” she lies out of habit.
“You don’t look alright.”
“Nothing a bit of positive attitude can’t fix,” she gives him a smile she hopes looks better than it feels.
“From your future?” Jack asks hoarsely. “So you wouldn’t- You haven’t-”
“No!” He flinches at the near shout, but that doesn’t stop her repeating it. “No! Jack, no! Of course not! You even have to ask!?”
Of course he has to ask.
“Tell me about her,” she insists fiercely.
“I- Doctor. I- No. I can’t.” Jack is shaking his head, breath coming short and rapid. This is why he has to ask, because she can’t treat him as gently as she should in this moment. She needs answers too badly.
“You can. What did she look like?”
“Tall. Rainbow blouse. Dark skin.” A full body shudder ripples through him. “Regal. Like a queen.”
She forces herself to take a step forward instead of hiding like she wants to. “And how did you know she was me?”
Jack shakes his head convulsively again. “She- She said- I’m not supposed to-”
“Tell me!” Around them the lights flicker and the console sparks, the Doctor’s rage rolls through the console room like wind in a bottle, a tingle of electricity over the skin. Jack’s coat fans behind him.
“Doctor! Leave him alone!” She is a Time Lord and angry enough to destroy worlds and Ryan Sinclair steps up to her and puts a hand on her arm. “He needs to rest, yeah? You can ask later.”
It’s like he doesn’t even know how dangerous she is, even with the evidence staring him full in the face. It is that fact, Ryan’s simple, easy trust, and that alone that pulls her back to herself. “Yeah. Ok. Yeah. Later.”
The lights come back up and normal flight resumes, the TARDIS hums a soft warning into her mind and the door on the far side of the room opens sharply, Yaz and Graham tumbling in.
“What happened? Are we under attack?”
The Doctor feels drained out and removed from herself. In the absence of emotion, the console room feels cold. “It’s fine. Just got a bit carried away,” she says through numb lips.
“It’s fine,” Jack repeats, and her hearts convulse in her chest, because Jack always repeats what the Doctor tells him as though it is gospel, when two thirds of the time it is wish, at best.
His words successfully distract the others though. Yaz breaks out into her open, friendly smile. “Your mouth, Jack. The Doctor figured it out then?”
He touches fingers to his lips once more. “Yeah. Yeah, she did. It’s gone.”
He nods fervently. “Yeah, it really sucked.” And, for the first time, a shadow of his usual grin crosses his face.
“Well, now that’s sorted, you want a cuppa?” Graham asks.
That raises another of those shadowy fleeting smiles. “Coffee, if you don’t mind?”
“No trouble at all,” Graham reaches out and tugs gently on Jack’s sleeve, pulling him in the direction he wants. Jack hesitates just long enough to remove the IV with a steady hand that speaks of plenty of experience, then follows, steps reasonably sure.
“You coming, Doc?” Graham glances back at her.
“No,” she shakes her head and turns back to the time column, still lazily moving up and down. “I’m going to find us somewhere to land. We all need a rest.”
She waits until they leave, then she drives the heels of her hands into her eyes and scrubs. She’s not crying, too hollow to cry. She feels like a black hole in the shape of a person, an empty void. She feels every one of her too-many-to-count years as she ascends the dais and starts fiddling around with scanners and system readings.
She’s not alone in her mind any more, at least, the TARDIS is back, radiating reassurance and concern and empathy. “You wouldn’t let me, would you?” she murmurs, stroking over the panel. “You’d take me to uninhabited places, orphan planets, dying asteroids, wouldn’t you?” The lights glow, warm and soft, but it’s a meaningless platitude. She and the TARDIS are too tightly bound and interconnected, if one of them changed the other would change in tandem. You’re not really supposed to have this depth of psychic bond with a ship, far too dangerous, far too easy to be pulled off course and lose yourself in the void, but she hadn’t had a choice. She’d been alone for so long, just wandering, and the things she had seen with no one to share with...
And then the Time War, and a whole sense just gone, a loss that could never be articulated, grief matched only by guilt.
The TARDIS had held her mind together, kept her sane. Mostly sane. But a bond like this is dangerous for the TARDIS too; they are machines, living machines, but machines, not designed for the intensity of sentient emotion. Perhaps she had driven her oldest friend mad and then been swept along in the maelstrom.
She feels old and stretched, like an old lady, or a fraying piece of string. “Let’s go to the Eye of Orion,” she says softly. It’s her favourite meditative spot. She can think there, and it’s one place that she knows for certain is safe.
She takes time inputting the coordinates, she hasn’t been in regenerations and has to dig out her old diaries. When she was younger, she’d gone meticulously through all the records she could lay hands on for the Eye, and had picked out seven weeks where everything was perfect. No surprise invasions, unexpected quarantines, nefarious cults, other visitors being characters of ill repute or any other ridiculous and unlikely problems that she (or her blasted TARDIS) seemed drawn to. Even the weather was exactly as it should be for a trip to the Eye of Orion, clear and sunny, not too warm, blossom in season, scent spreading soothingly on the light breeze.
Trouble was, she’d been visiting during these same seven weeks for millenia, and she needed to be careful not to cross paths with her other selves. If she really is mad in her future, she needs to think about setting up some kind of timelock to prevent that version of her from getting in.
Coordinates input, she wanders around the console, resetting things back to usual, instead of in the senseless restless combinations she’d put them in whilst searching for - she now realises - the wrong mad Time Lord. Half an hour later, they still haven’t landed and she wanders back to look at the navigation array.
The coordinates have changed. She stares at the new ones until she realises why they seem so familiar, then narrows her eyes at the ceiling.
“No. We’re going to the Eye of Orion, where it is restful and safe,” she says firmly, reinputting her own selection and pushing the dematerialisation lever in her very best ‘now, no more nonsense,’ manner.
Even if she wasn’t watching, she couldn’t miss it when they veer sharply left in the time stream and when she looks back at the screen, sure enough, the coordinates have reverted. She sighs. “Of course you’re soft on him. Just like every other woman in the galaxy.”
She eyes the readout for another moment, but the TARDIS isn’t going to take no for an answer, that much is plain, and she’s always trusted the old girl to take her to where she should be.
“Fine,” she agrees after a second and the high pure note of pleasure that resonates from the TARDIS can’t help but make her smile. “I still think you’re a shameless old flirt though,” she says, patting the dashboard. The TARDIS ignores the insult and the column starts to move.