“I never thought- I- I mean-”
“Tegan, you weren’t to know. It’s not your fault.”
“Not my fault, how can you say that?”
Tegan’s own face was reflected back at her, saying such cruel things in that halting and deformed voice, and it felt chillingly to her like the Mara again, the first time it was in her head, but this time she couldn’t pretend that the things that were coming out of Kamelion’s facsimile of her mouth weren’t words she had said herself. And it had taken the Doctor, crumpled and broken on the floor and not going to get better by his own words, to show her the damage. Of course it was her fault! Something wasn’t just ‘not her fault’ because she didn’t know about it.
It was all getting too much, Kamelion’s blank face, Turlough’s perpetually judging eyes, the Doctor... kind even while in devastating pain. She could feel her hands beginning to shake, heart thumping as if she had run a marathon, and suddenly she couldn't breathe, all those eyes weighing on her. She turned, and fled into the TARDIS corridors, her words of escape unintelligible even to her own ears.
And Kamelion had been the one to notice her arms. Between the damp discomfort of her water soaked clothing and the shaking exhaustion that came after the moments of running with the Doctor, the scrapes on her arms were nothing. They really were nothing now and it was Kamelion who saw the significance, who pointed it out to her so she could tell the Doctor, Turlough, to feel useful again after it was her own stupid fault they had been in danger from him. His posi-whatsit electronic brain would have ticked through the potentials far faster than her own, and it should have been humiliating to be condescended to in such a manner but she was so caught up in the rush, the possibilities, that she hadn't had the time to be angry (and it was only the knowledge that this could help the Doctor after all he'd done for them, for, well, everyone, that made her hurry) and by the time she had enough space to stop and think about it, it seemed more of an olive branch than a taunt.
The Cloister Room was empty, the leaves that twined around scattered and crumbling pillars rustling quietly in an imperceptible breeze that did nothing to stir the heavy weight that fell over her on stepping through the door. It was like standing outside on an Aussie night on the farm, the ground still warmed from the sun, but long lost from the night air, the skies overhead so full of stars that it seemed like the milky way was where it was tearing thin, sagging under its own weight. The feeling of being desperately small and insignificant to history, but still safe in the knowledge that only that metres away was escape, a warm bed with comfortable blankets made from sheep she herself had shorn, her uncle cuffing her around ear for sneaking off when no one was looking. The landscapes themselves may have been nothing alike, endless plains of velvet darkness and stars above against cold white walls and crumbling overgrown masonry, but still the same weight, comforting yet chilling at the same time. And, after a bath and a change into a thick quilted dressing gown and slippers, it was somewhere no one would think to look for her.
She tucked herself in against a cold stone bench, bum on the floor and legs enveloped in her dressing gown, then tipped her head back for a good, strong and not very friendly think.
Because it was her fault. And yeah, as an Australian, she tended to call a spade a spade, but she didn’t think she was so… well, like that. Paranoid, the Doctor had called her. Well, there was lots to have to worry about, travelling with him. It was only natural that she’d go for the worst possible explanation. Had it been something she had ever considered back home, before falling in with the Doctor and all this craziness, the universe was a lot less kind than she would’ve expected. Or maybe it was just everything around the Doctor. And if everything around them was like that, then maybe it was no wonder Kamelion- no. She shivered and drew her dressing gown tighter around her, the idea of such malleability still chilling. They had made up, as much as they could, tidying the console room together, but she couldn’t shake the unease. It was her head, and while she made a point of saying what she meant, it didn’t mean she wanted everything she thought broadcasted to the world, or even to just her friends. And maybe sometimes what she said annoyed people, but she was a proud card carrier of the brassiere burning branch of feminism (and okay, while she had been too young at that point to actually own a bra, she had supported what little of it had made it onto the home airwaves) and she reckoned a fair lot of the people they met deserved a good talking to. Bloody rabbits, she was getting tangled up in her own head now. This was the kind of thing she used to be able to talk through with Nyssa, but now she had to come out here to think alone, and why hadn't Nyssa's advice ever tied her up in knots like this? Tegan suddenly missed her desperately, and closed her eyes, trying to picture her friend as she had last seen her, grown up and brave and leaving them-
A footstep echoed between the pillars, putting a thankful stop to that train of thought, and the Doctor stepped through the trailing leaves, stopping short as he saw her and they stared at each other like a kangaroo caught in the headlights. Tegan recovered from the surprise first, resigned to the fact between aliens and mysterious portals and explosions, no one was really safe in their own solitude in the TARDIS, and not unhappily abandoned her plans of self-flagellation in exchange for a chat.
“Ah, evening, Tegan.” He looked slightly taken aback as he seemed to actually notice her state of dress, and lifted a wry eyebrow. “Get lost on your way to bed? The old girl’s a bit rattled, I expect, after a landing like that.” He patted a nearby pillar, at first fondly, then with slightly more force, resting his hand against it as his knee buckled, taking a sharp breath before managing to speak again, normally amiable tone contorted by sudden pain. “She’ll show you back to your room soon enough.”
“Are you okay?” she blurted out, ignoring his false cheer, and he glowered, a brief flash, before self consciously removing his betraying hand from the wall and tucking it into his pocket. “Right as rain. Be batting for England,” his face blanched again suddenly, the hand in his pocket disturbing his coat as it attempted to catch his balance against the pillar but had gotten tangled, and Tegan half-rose, reaching an arm out in case he actually fell, before he drew himself up again, “Tomorrow, perhaps.” he amended, voice clipped.
“C’mon, sit down before you hurt yourself again, idiot.” She could see his face waver between stalking out at the insult or acquiescing before resignation set in, and pain folded tight creases between his brows and at the edges of his lips as he slowly shuffled his shoes along the floor, all of his usual grace and youthful bounding absent as he gingerly lowered himself onto the bench, but it was the lack of his part in their mutual grousing at each other that marked to her how truly crook he must’ve been feeling. His legs were a long cool line by her side as she settled back against the bench, the seat supporting her head.
“What are you doing in here, anyway?” she asked, chin tipped up so she could see what showed of his face, shadowed by his long hair. “You’re meant to be in bed.”
“Ah, well,” she heard a hiss as he bent his neck to look at her as he answered and abruptly thought better of it, turning it back up to face one of the stray pillars ahead of them. “I had wanted to check Kamelion’s circuits before turning in for the night. He’s been through rather a lot today. We all have.”
Her shoulders hunched instinctively as Kamelion was mentioned, her whole reason for coming in here to berate herself, but she forced them to relax.
“Sorry, guess this wasn’t your idea for peace and quiet before bed.”
"No, not quite." He ran a slow, careful hand over the creases in his trousers, a brief coolness passing close by her cheek, and Tegan looked away, fingers tangling in the ties of her dressing gown in her lap, knowing already what he was going to say. After a long breath, hitched in the middle by a pain that made her ache in sympathy, he began: "You and, ah, Kamelion-"
"I know," she cut in sharply, voice too loud. "And I'm sorry. I just- I hate things in my head. Ever since- well, you know.” The name was too much for her to speak into this dimness, the dangerous feeling of a serpent uncurling from its slumber between her ribs, eyes opening to the threat of its name. Tegan wound the cord of her dressing gown hastily around her fingers, pressing tightly until they tingled, and distraction caused the snake in her breast to coil back into sleep. Above her, the Doctor hummed an affirmative, waiting for her to continue, and for a moment, they sat in silence but for the ever present humming of the TARDIS, before she spoke again, face still turned away and voice small under the weight of the room's atmosphere.
"Why's it always my head, Doc? I know I'm, well, me," she heard him snort quietly behind her, and the cord unravelled with a nervous start "but Kamelion's got all kinds of strong personalities around here to latch on to." The Doctor, so mild until he so abruptly wasn't. Even Turlough, always squirrelly and with secondary motives, was pretty damn strongly minded when it came to keeping his own skin safe. A clumsy hand found her shoulder, fingers tightening over the thick fabric.
"Tegan," he said gently, "oh Tegan." The thin fingers gently shook her shoulder until she turned away from her fascinating study of the welts on her fingers and unwillingly tipped her head up to meet his eyes, blazing with surety in the dim room, as if they had been lit from within.
“Tegan,” and his tone was as soft and sincere as his eyes, almost too much, and it was an effort for her to keep from just getting up and running. “We’re at our worst when we’re scared. Hurt. It’s at that time it is the hardest to reach for kindness." He gentled his grip on her shoulder, turned comforting rather than demanding.
"I wouldn’t travel with you if I thought you were the type to be callous and unnecessarily cruel. Somewhere deep, deep” there was a pause, as if he hesitated whether to add another qualifier “down, there is a kind heart in you.”
Tegan sniffed, and managed to finally look away, tucking her chin into the safety of her dressing gown where he wouldn't be able to see how touched she was by the earnest tones, their compliments to each other usually couched in biting sarcasm, or alongside a slew of each’s great many faults.
“Brave heart, eh, Doctor?” the fingers tightened briefly before relaxing again, the only acknowledgment of her slightly watery tone, and the Doctor quietly huffed a laugh behind her.
“Oh no, you were always brave. It’s just taking a breath, and pushing past that to be kind.”
Her face blazed red, embarrassment at the chastisement of her unintentional cruelty, however kindly it had been couched. Her muscles tensed without permission, heart thudding, but the hand on her shoulder pressed down, holding her still, until her breathing began to slow. It wouldn't be changing who she was, it would be just… to take a breath. She took a breath, and the world didn't change. Another breath, and she let her still burning face fall to the side, hot cheek against a cool hand. Another, and her heart stopped racing. The Doctor was being patient, being kind and the prick of tears was an annoying betrayal of her own body.
"I'll give it a try," she offered quietly, then forced her lips to tilt up until it felt natural, cheeks rounding with mischief. "That's not going to stop me telling Turlough what a weasel he is, though." The sigh was forced, a long drawn out complaint of her name turning Tegan's brittle and small smile into a proper grin. She turned it up to him, and was pleased to see his eyes sparkled only with amusement now. She shuffled out from under his hand, knees creaking from disuse as she stood.
"C'mon, then. Don't need you falling over in the halls and having to sleep there." She stuck out a hand, levering the Doctor carefully to his feet when he took it. It wasn’t a promise, not exactly, and she would keep avoiding Kamelion for her own sanity, and would inevitably put her foot in it at some point in the future, but it was an attempt. The Doctor’s hand was cool in her overheated one, and she squeezed it in a wordless thanks before letting go in order to point at the portal leading to the corridor and announce in her best practised air stewardess voice “Emergency exits are this way, and we strongly recommend against fainting and forcing your stewardess to drag you across the floor” and that heavy atmosphere of the cloister room rippled when she turned to the Doctor and he was smiling back at her.