The TARDIS had to eat something.
If someone had told the Doctor that a few days ago, he would've either laughed or taken the ship over a crack in the rift for a refuel. Instead, there he was, sitting across from a thin girl with golden eyes as he tried to tempt her with a plate of chips.
"It looks disgusting," she said. He could tell from the twist in his stomach that she was hungry but the concept of eating didn't make any sense to her.
"No, see, it's good." He popped a chip in his mouth and it was good, but he could feel she didn't agree.
"You are grinding it with your teeth into mash and then swallowing it all mashed up. That's going to digest and turn partially into energy and partially into waste. It is inefficient."
Well, that put a little damper on his appetite. But if she didn't eat, she would get weaker and he couldn't give her IVs or liquid nutrition until they figured out a way to turn her back. She preferred to stand near something that she could soak energy up from, or replace some non-energetic bit of her.
She was exceptionally frustrated when he told her at the grocery store that "energy pills" were not going to be enough to sustain her human body. The label was obviously misleading, then, because all she should need was energy. Trying to explain complexities like human digestion were hard enough. Trying to explain that they were happening to her was even harder.
"You have to eat. Your human body won't be able to live if you don't." He didn't want that to happen. If she died, he knew he couldn't bring her back as a ship. And then where would he be, lost without his best friend?
He didn't doubt she understood his feelings because she promptly picked up a chip and put it in her mouth. It was long and stuck out awkwardly. She grimaced.
Her grimace grew. Mashing up the food into a paste with her teeth for the first time. A completely instinctual act for humans and even Time Lords. Necessary for survival and usually not even thought about. For a being that was only just getting used to the idea of a mouth, let alone teeth? It was too much.
She spat out the chip and sighed. It sounded like one of defeat, but it was more of frustration. She hated being unable to do what she knew she should be able to. She hated feeling like she was letting him down. He could feel that; feel how annoyed she was with the situation right underneath his skin as if the emotions were his own.
"I am sorry," she said.
She shook her head firmly. "I am, Doctor. I am very sorry."
He shook his head. "No sorries, TARDIS. This is something you'll just have to learn."
"You would give Susan mashed food," she said. "Am I to face the same fate?"
The Doctor let out a laugh at that. Oh, the mashed food. He had been so frustrated with his young granddaughter when she wouldn't eat the food he gave her that he finally pureed everything. So much of it wound up through the TARDIS grates that even now, ten incarnations later, he was still picking old pureed vegetables out of wiring.
"I was much less patient then, and Susan was far from conversational, if you remember."
A little twitch hit the side of the TARDIS's lips and she nodded. It had taken her a while to realize that nodding meant an affirmative, but since she learned it the act had become one of her favorite means of communication.
"Still, we've got to get you eating while you're still human," he said. "Something else, maybe." What would she like?
Wrong question. What did he like? Her emotions were linked with his, so it was doubtless her preferences were as well. What did he want? Not really chips, but that was probably due to all of her disgust with the food.
"I am sorry," she said again. She paused, considering. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"No sorries, TARDIS," he said.
"I-I should've…could've prevented…"
"There's no way you could've known."
"But I am sorry---"
"How could I possibly blame you? Besides, I'm not convinced it wasn’t just an error with the timelines or something I should've fixed."
The TARDIS closed her inhuman eyes and the Doctor felt immense shame from her. Complete and horrible, it was confusing because of its severity. The TARDIS felt embarrassed, but never quite so ashamed.
"I should've told you," she said.
He shook his head. "What?"
"The chameleon arch was shortcircuting. I knew it. I could feel it."
"No, I would've---"
"I hid it from you." She looked up at him and wet tears shone on her cheeks. Quite literally, considering her eyes. "I wanted it to break."
"Why?" No matter how connected they were, he still couldn't read her thoughts. He couldn’t understand why she would hide a malfunction from him. That was why they were connected, so he would always know. "Did you want to become human?"
"No, never!" she barked back, quickly. Her voice was scratchy and strained, unused to crying. "I never wanted you to become human again."
He leaned back in his chair, the pieces coming together. "Oh."
"It was lonely, those months. Martha would come and you would not. She missed you and I missed you. I thought if it were to break we would never have to…but now it's all gone wrong. And I have failed. I am sorry."
He reached out and tucked a stray lock of her stringy hair behind her ear. The act was almost paternal and almost instinctual. It was as if he was doing it for himself. That was the strangeness of the bond between him and his ship. They were one, but they weren't. She made decisions he didn't agree with, but he understood them.
"We all make mistakes," he said. "Even me. Remember that time I insisted we go to Acupulco? Didn't blame me for that, did you?"
"Then how could I blame you for this?" He gave her a smile and knew she could see it was genuine. "We're gonna be all right, TARDIS. You'll see."
He hopped to his feet and offered her his hand. "You know what I could go for? A banana sundae with chocolate syrup. No mashing, just tasting and swallowing. Lots of calories, and the banana has potassium. Might be the sort of thing to get you kick-started into eating, eh?"
"Sun-dae." She formed the words with her mouth slowly, as if she was tasting each syllable. She reached up her hand and curled it within his.
"Ice cream! Wonderful stuff. They slice a banana and put the ice cream on top and the number of times I've taken you to the strangest of locations just to get bananas, you can't tell me you don't know what they are."
She looked very confused, but he was talking very quickly. Perhaps unnecessarily quickly.
"You do not wish for a sorry, you wish for a sundae."
He nodded and wrapped an arm about her shoulders. His eternal companion, how could he be mad at he for wishing to keep their bond? "Exactly. We don't need sorries, TARDIS. Not between you and I."
Muse: The Doctor (Ten)
Word Count: 1,242