The Doctor blinked. Somebody was flashing a bright light in his face. He couldn’t focus. The Interrogator again? Round face, brown hair, inflated eyes. Whoever it was was undoing the straps that held him into the rack. Not the Interrogator, then. He made an effort and focused. Oh. Clara.
“Hi,” he said. His voice sounded completely wrong. “How was your day? Mine was–”
And then he pitched forward into her arms. When he came to a second time, he was in the TARDIS, half slung over her shoulder. His feet were dragging on the floor. He got them under himself with an effort. He could walk, it turned out, if he leaned on her more than he wanted to. Medbay, onto the bed, and the blue light of the scanner ran over him.
“Get us out of here,” he said to her. It came out raspy. He tried to clear his throat.
“Already did. Before you woke up. We’re headed back to earth.”
“No. Don’t land us. He’ll be waiting.”
“No! You can’t.” His throat hurt when he yelled but he had to. Had to. They’d find him again.
“Okay! Okay. I won’t land us. You gotta breathe more slowly here. Slow, deep breaths.”
“Yeah. Okay. Okay. I can do that.”
Clara was doing something with a hand-held light-generating thing that was warbling. He tried to sit up to take a look, but that went about as well as the throat-clearing had gone. She rested a hand in the middle of his chest, between his hearts and he let it soothe him.
“What did they do? You have burns all over. Every cut is a burn.”
“Lots of things,” he said. “Electrical, mostly. Not very inventive. I’ve had worse.”
“That’s not very reassuring,” she said.
Fair cop. He fell silent, squeezed his eyes shut. He wasn’t very happy to be reminded of what the Interrogator had done. The chair. He was right back in that chair, straps at wrists and ankles and waist and throat, the needles driven into his flesh. The smile on that scaled face, the teeth. The delight when he’d finally made noise. He opened his mouth, let it out, tried to go back inside.
Clara’s hand on his face again, shaking him gently. “Hey hey hey I’m here. It’s over.”
“I promise.” Her voice was faulty, it seemed. All wobbly. She should have that looked into. He had to say something to make her feel better. What, though?
“Your face is very round today,” he said. “Like the full moon in the sky over Doringen IV at harvest time. Atmospheric effect. Makes it much larger than usual. Like your face.”
She laughed, a bit of a watery odd laugh, but it was something. He must have done it right.
His body was feeling different than it had before. Less like his enemy. More like usual. Maybe a bit number than usual. He tried to sit up again. As with all his previous attempts to do things, it failed, but Clara’s hand propped up his back and he managed it. He looked down at himself: bandages, the silver tracery of nano-stitches, some livid marks covered in a shining ointment. Legs, chest, arms. It was, he thought, hurting a lot less. On the outside anyway.
Something occurred to him.
“What happened to my clothes?”
“Cut them off you,” Clara said.
She held out a t-shirt to him. Black one, concert shirt from Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour. Good choice. He couldn’t quite close his fingers onto it, so she helped him. Put it on him. He was starting to feel rationality return. It was, he had to admit, fairly awful to be rational. No wonder he’d fled from it. Rationality was bad. Rationality hurt. He still hurt. He hurt deep inside. Nothing amount of medical equipment could touch that ache.
The whimper he’d been holding onto for all that time in the chair bubbled up and it was out before he could stop himself.
She cupped his face between her hands again and that ache eased a tiny bit. “I’m here.”
“You were there too.”
“I was there?”
He said, “I just thought about you. All I could think of was you. Went inside, found you, talked to you. You touched my face just like you’re doing now. Only inside my head there was less screaming.”
“Yeah, I bet.” Tears on her face. More of her impossible kindness, aimed at him this time. A pointless target, but she would keep doing things for him.
“We’re in the vortex,” he said. He could feel it now, feel time flowing and the universe wheeling around him. It felt almost as good as her hand on his face. He reached up and laid his hand over hers. He was trembling.
“Yeah. We’re safe. You’re safe.”
She said that, yes, and the rational part of him believed her. The irrational boy inside him didn’t quite. Not yet.
“I think I need a cup of tea and a bit of a sit-down in the library.”
A smile on that round face, now, and the eyes were less inflated than usual. Good, good. She said, “Are you sure you’re an alien?”
“You’re the alien here,” he said. Then, plaintively: “Tea?”
Clara leaned forward and kissed the end of his nose. “You need to put some trousers on first. Then tea.”