Eleven - Constantinople - 1713
The Doctor paces around the walkway and absently presses buttons as the TARDIS hums back consoling.
There’s an immutable restlessness enveloping him, and he finds it hard to sit still in the console room now that Amy and Rory are gone. It's not the quiet in the room that bothers him. It's that their absence is so loud, so deafening, so big of a gap in his life now.
It's always the same, the way his hearts ache when his friends leave.
"Earth?" He asks aloud eventually and the lights on the panel flicker back at him. "Where? When?"
He gives up a grin to the time rotor and bounds back around to drag the screen across. Although it squeaks loudly, it only adds to the musicality of this age-old dance. He slides sliders, flips levers, and releases the brakes. Suddenly, there's a cacophony of sounds as the time rotor gets going and the scanner’s screen shows a myriad of twisting timelines spanning across Earth history.
Between the lurching, a small alarm pings off and the TARDIS wheels sideways meaning he has to cling onto the console or risk sliding right off the platform. “What is that?”
He hauls himself back to twist at a dial, feels the swing of the TARDIS correct itself, and then reaches out a hand to pull at the screen. “Oh, now that’s interesting. Who’d have thought you’d be around?”
The Doctor follows the trail through the time vortex, lands, and finds her easily enough, seated at a table inside one of the many squares within the bustling Grand Bazaar. Constantinople is a thriving city at this point in time, a heady thrum of humanity. Around him there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people hawking their wares to locals and travellers alike. Each and every one of them going about their everyday lives in that ordinary human way. It’s easy to get lost in the flow of it all.
As he skirts around a fountain spraying cool mist into the air, the Doctor straightens his bowtie and smoothes down his hair. Once he’s satisfied with his appearance, he beelines right for the seating area of an outdoor cafe. He parks himself down opposite the solitary woman who stiffens but makes no move to leave her table.
She does, however, glare at him with some confusion.
"Hello, Andromache! It must be, ooh, maybe a hundred and twenty-three years since we last saw each other? But how time flies!” His fingers twitch an excited wave at her.
The familiar frown of her face doesn’t lessen. For all intents and purposes, it looks like it's been chipped out of marble. And he knows that there’s a good many statues scattered around history that bear a striking resemblance to her, a smattering of mentions of a warrior woman with the same name or something thereabouts, but they are few and far between, and it’s not like he’s had the time to connect the dots properly between his own adventures.
But he can’t help but comment on it, “And I gather you had a whale of a time in the Renaissance! Good travel tip, from moi!"
After a few silent moments of merely staring at him as the words sink in and then she asks, "Doctor?"
Her frown fades slowly and a wry grin lifts her lips. “I saw that Galileo had a few sketches of your blue box.”
“Oh, he’s always wanted to have a sneak peek inside. Every second Thursday I drop by for tea, and he’s always coming up with some way to try and distract me for long enough.”
“I spent a good weekend in North Italy in...oh must have been 1584? Saw a brilliant masquerade. And I got taught the Canario by Cesare Negri himself-”
“Il Trombone?” Andromache’s grin falls as she snorts. “I was at the Duke of Joyeuse’s wedding, saw the first ballet.”
The Doctor pauses, frowns, and then snaps his fingers. “Wait, I’ve heard of it. Five hours long. Wasn’t it dull?”
“Not when the wine flows like the Volga.” Her eyes narrow, and her confusion returns. “You look different.”
“I do. Improvement?”
He plucks at his own cheeks, eliciting a tired smile from her and despite the years between them, she seems visibly older, no, more aged. It lies in her eyes, old eyes like his, and there's a fathomless sorrow trapped within them that he can't linger too long on, for fear of ripping open his own wounds.
After all, like recognises like.
“But underneath it all, I’m still me.” The Doctor says it brightly, like the amount of emphasis laid onto the words could make them mean exactly what he wants them to mean.
There's a rustle of fabric, quite possibly a knife being stowed away again, and then Andromache leans back in her chair to turn her full attention on him. “It’s different. But how have you changed your face, again?”
He leans in to whisper, “It’s a Time Lord thing. A trick, of sorts. It comes with a cost. It changes everything about me. But enough about me, how are you?”
"I'm changed again too.”
She takes in a deep breath, and then picks up her tea to slowly sip at it. Her eyes pass over the crowds behind him, flicking sideways as a particularly loud merchant cries out about his textiles, “The finest in all of Constantinople, you’d be mad not to look!”
He waits, and eventually she speaks again. “I have lost...someone dear to me. Someone who meant more to me than anything in existence."
Then she lets out a hollow laugh, “Everything I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t save her. I was a god once, I commanded armies. I could part legions of soldiers with my own hands...And I knelt there in chains and I heard her screaming, and there was nothing I could do.”
The Doctor reaches out a hand across the table, but hers remain tucked around her tea glass, so he taps the surface gently and pulls back. "I'm so sorry, Andromache."
“Sometimes,” her voice drops to a whisper, “I still wish for the impossible. I pray to names I have long stopped believing in.”
He almost lets the words run away from him there and then, in the corner of the square, timelines be damned, "I circle the stars. I see breathtaking wonders that come and go once in a million years. You've spent your time here on earth, seen frontiers fall under your feet, explored every inch of history as its written and rewritten before your eyes. Why not come with me, and see something new. All of time, all of space, your choice."
She might have even considered it.
But there’s another set of words that sits on the tip of his tongue too; that her timeline is weighted more heavily than anything he's ever seen before.
And he knows that if he tries to prise her from the set path she's already been on course for a millennia, it would send ripples of shock through the timelines in possibly unfathomable ways. Despite everything, Andromache of Scythia was intrinsically human at the end of it, and all the more important for it. He could no more move her than shift the Himalayas with his bare hands.
So he keeps his mouth shut, until he finds something he can say, “I’ve lost people too. I’ve ranted and raved at the universe. Tried to find the loopholes in time paradoxes. I’ve burnt up stars, and watched the gap between universes seal up, and I’ve had to let it be. Sometimes, the worst thing of all is standing still.”
“I hate it.” Andromache whispers.
“It comes with the territory, and even though I’m trying not to think of it, Amelia and Rory Pond, they might have broken my hearts.” The Doctor sighs, “We move forward, because we have to. Because we can’t go back.”
Eventually, she tilts her head up to ask, “Not even you, Time Lord? Your title implies more.”
“No, not even me. There are some things we have to learn to live with. No matter the guilt or heartbreak.” He trades her small smile for another tired one, and then claps his hands together. “Tell me, Andromache, how long have you been knocking around here for?”
“Constantinople? About five years. My family...we’ve spent a long time in the north before coming southwards. They said I needed a change of scenery. I found it harder to argue as time went on. But answer this question of mine, when did you learn Pecheneg?”
The Doctor’s mouth drops and then his smile returns, broader than before. When he leans forward, he’s gleeful at the thought of being tested. “You were switching languages, weren’t you?”
“Pecheneg, Dardani, and Azeri. You have travelled, Physician. But you speak without knowing. How is that?”
“It’s a little knack of mine, helpful trick. Saves the headache of learning grammar. Besides, what’s a past participle when you can literally pop back to last week?”
Andromache hums back, unconvinced, and finishes off her tea. “Your accent’s still off.”
"Oh, hang on."
When he freezes mid-thought, Andromache’s eyes quickly dart around her surroundings, taking in the people milling in the square behind, the other patrons in the cafe, even the windows of the buildings around them. It startles him as she shifts in her chair, suddenly tense and ready to strike as if she’s expecting an attack. It clicks to him, her corner spot at the cafe, the subdued blue of her dress, even the nondescript cut of her hair, everything about her is set to blend into the surroundings of the city.
She hides because she must.
He sees his mistake immediately and slows his movements as he pulls out a garishly bright, red fez. Then he jams it onto his head. "My accent might be off, but I've got the right hat. Like a local, right?” It squashes his hair into his face, and he struggles to bat it out of his eyes while scrunching up his nose.
Her alertness gives way to bewilderment which then dissolves into a bark of a laugh.
Once Andromache’s shoulders stop shaking, she shakes her head. “No, you’re not a local until you’ve tried Gülbahar’s baklava. Come on, I’ll show you around.”
“Great!” The Doctor stands as she does, and he leans across to confide in her while his fez slides further down his forehead. “You know, I’d get completely lost if I was left to my own devices. I haven’t been here since thirteen thousand and eighty-five!”