“Put the knife down, Mara, you don’t need to do this,” said Yasmin, holding her hands up in a defensive gesture.
“You’re right, I won’t need to do this if you let me go,” said the Mara, still firmly holding the knife to her neck.
“We’ll let you go, Mara, easy. You can slither off back outside and we’ll never bother you again. But you have to let the Doctor go first.”
Yasmin had basic training on negotiation, even hostages, Hell, she’d been to too many Crisis Hostage Negotiation seminars, but nothing prepared her for handling a creature in possession of her friend’s body. Her mind raced as she wondered what she could use from her training, and if any of it even applied when you were on a planet millions of miles away from Earth.
“Interesting tactic, but I rather need a host body. Also, it’s much easier to hurt your friend from the inside. I can hear her screaming, but you can’t. It’s such a sweet sound,” hissed the Mara.
Yasmin bit her lip. She tried to tune out the Mara, but she couldn’t.
“You must want something. I mean, beside the body and the…torture. Otherwise you would’ve killed me already, right?” asked Yasmin.
The Mara smirked, “Clever girl. But it’s not something I want from you, specifically. I will make all of you realise that you’re better off dead than with the Doctor. And then, without you all, she will be vulnerable enough to destroy.”
“You realise explaining a plan never really works out?” said Yasmin.
“I was born from chaos, I fed on destruction, and I lived in the burning shadows of the sand. Telling you my plan will change nothing of the outcome,” hissed the Mara.
Yasmin took a deep, frightened breath. She opened her mouth, but the Mara silenced her by repositioning the knife. She twisted it in so Yasmin could see the tear she had made in the skin.
“Don’t,” said the Mara darkly.
But Yasmin ignored her and screamed, “Graham! Ryan!” at the top of her lungs.
“Shouldn’t have done that,” growled the Mara.
Yasmin whipped her head around to where she thought she heard Ryan and Graham in the distance. A small whimper made her turn back to face the Mara, in time to see her raise the pocket knife away from her neck and drive it down into her hand. Except, it wasn’t her hand, it was the Doctor’s. The Doctor’s small, pale hand that had grabbed Yasmin’s on so many adventures. Seeing the hand that she held stained with free-flowing blood made her hunch over, feeling dizzy.
“What did you do that for?” screamed Yasmin angrily, holding herself back from lunging towards the Mara.
“To distract you,” said the Mara.
The Mara pulled the knife from her hand, despite Yasmin’s desperate protest, and used her uninjured to pick up the rope that had been discarded to the floor earlier. Before Yasmin had time to react, the Mara wrapped a length of rope around Yasmin’s neck, holding her from behind. Yasmin let out a strangled cry.
The Mara’s hand was still bleeding, though it was beginning to slow, and the blood dripped from the rope onto Yasmin. She shuddered. Yasmin wondered what was going on internally, and it hurt her that the Doctor was in pain but she couldn’t see it.
“Alright Mara, take a step back from the girl right now or so help me God!” said Ryan as he skidded around the corner. Yasmin noticed he held a hammer threateningly in his hand.
“What the Hell did you do?” said Graham breathlessly to Yasmin as he appeared behind Ryan.
“Oh good,” said the Mara sarcastically, “everyone’s back together again.”
Yasmin reached up to ease the itch of the rope as it scratched up her neck. She clawed at it with her hands, but the Mara was stronger than her. Black seeped into the corners of her vision and she gasped.
“Doctor-” began Graham.
“It’s not the Doctor,” hissed the Mara.
“Doc,” said Graham, ignoring the Mara, “I know you’re in there. I know you’re in pain, and you don’t know what to do, but listen to me. Your hands are being used to hurt Yaz. No matter who’s in control of you, you’d never let that happen.”
The grip on Yasmin loosened slightly, but she still struggled to breathe.
“Yeah, that’s it. Fight through it mate,” encouraged Graham.
Almost immediately, all of the pressure on Yasmin was removed. The rope still hovered around her throat but she felt instant relief. More so because she knew the Doctor could still hear them.
“She’s weak,” hissed the Mara, “she used her power to stop me hurting a human, and now she’s weak. What a waste of a fight.”
“The Doc would never consider that a waste, it’s a reason to keep fighting,” argued Ryan.
The Mara stuck out her tongue and scrunched up her face, but the characteristically Doctor-ish act seemed so unfamiliar, “Oh blah, blah, blah.”
The Mara wound her finger around a strand of light blond hair, twirling it as she watched the three humans. Her other hand dropped the rope, letting it clatter to the ground. Yasmin heaved a breath and found herself being pulled by each arm away from the Mara. She found herself pressed between Ryan and Graham, both eager to keep her at a safe distance.
“The Doctor didn’t like our game, Yasmin,” said the Mara, eyes trained on the mark the rope had left on the companion’s skin.
“Yeah, well, neither did we so back off,” said Ryan, waving the hammer above his head.
“I’m not worried,” the Mara flicked her tongue, “after all, all of your friends believe you couldn’t even swing the hammer, let alone aim for me.”
Ryan bristled but Yasmin turned to face him, “You know I don’t think that’s true. You’ve proven to us all that you’ve got more skill than the lot of us combined.”
“Thanks, Yaz,” smiled Ryan.
The Mara sighed, “So boring. How about we liven things up, hm? I can sense that the Doctor is a mystery to you all, and she hides herself just as a snake in the sand. I want each of you to tell me the truth about the Doctor, whatever you can remember.”
“What kind of sick game is this?” asked Graham.
The Mara ignored him, “Ryan, you start.”
Ryan shrugged, “Easy, she’s a Time Lady.”
“Very good, now you Graham,” encouraged the Mara.
“Uh, she’s from a planet…called Gallifrey,” said Graham nervously.
“Correct. Now, Yaz, it’s your turn.”
Yasmin began to sweat. The Mara had honed in on what of her fears; she didn’t know much at all about the Doctor. She didn’t know about her people, or her adventures before them, or her life. She racked her brain.
“Oh! She has two hearts instead of one,” answered Yasmin, proudly.
“No. The correct answer was that the Doctor is a murderer,” growled the Mara.
“I thought you said truth,” said Yasmin, crossing her arms.
“You don’t believe me? Ask the Daleks, or the Cybermen, or the Zygons. Or, in fact, my own people. Doesn’t matter what you believe, anyway, because you got the question wrong and must now deal with the consequences of losing.”
Before they could ask what that was, the Mara retrieved the bloody knife that she had hidden in her pocket. She held it in the opposite hand to her injury, positioning it above the wound. The previous wound sat at the base of her palm but this time, the Mara buried it just beneath the base of the fingers. She carved an ‘M’, not too deep, but it would’ve likely scarred if the Doctor had human skin.
“What are you doing?!” shouted Graham.
“Oh, hush, it’s just a little something to remember who is in control. The winner should always be remembered,” said the Mara.
The Mara was distracted as she spoke to them, and she strangely seemed unaware of her twitching fingers, and her hand that shook with the effort.
The three companions tried not to stare as the Mara’s hand reached wildly for the psychic paper in her pocket. Yasmin was about to question what she was doing, but she realised that the Mara was doing it subconsciously, and that the Doctor was the one moving her hand.
“Mara!” shouted Yasmin to distract her, once she had started to look down.
“What, child,” she answered.
Yasmin waited for the Doctor to throw the psychic paper to Ryan before responding, “Er, how many of you are there?”
“Thanks to your Doctor, there are barely tens of us left. We were once magnificent and feared. Now, we’re nothing more than a myth or lost legend,” hissed the Mara.
“Shame, that,” quipped Graham.
Ryan walked over to Yasmin as subtly as he could and raised the paper to her eyes so that she could read it. In scribbled, childish handwriting, the Doctor had left them a message. He showed Graham, too, who looked on in confusion.
The message read: ‘Use reflection. Block her vision with mirrors. I can do the rest.’
“Simple, but effective. Where are we gonna find mirrors?” whispered Graham.
“There’s like one hundred bathrooms in this place. I’m sure we can find something, let’s go!” said Ryan.
“Wait, but what about the Mara? We can’t have her follow us,” said Yasmin.
“You stay here and keep her company, then. I trust you,” said Ryan, patting her back.
“That wasn’t a good idea last time,” said Yasmin miserably.
“If anyone can break through to the Doctor, it’s you Yaz. You know that’s true. Yell for us if you need help, okay?” said Graham.
Ryan and Graham sprinted away once Yasmin had nodded numbly at them. She turned to face the Mara, who had been watching the three of them whisper with boredom.
“Have you finished your team talk, then?” asked the Mara.
“I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to my friend. Fancy giving her a call and seeing if she’s in?” said Yasmin.
“She’s too busy crying. Or screaming. Or dying. I can’t tell, emotions are very so complicated.”
“What are you doing to her in there?” asked Yasmin with a shiver.
“You see, I take the form of whatever I am occupying. Your friend is timeless, she’s so vast, that I am poisoning every corner of her mind and body. I am corrupting her two hearts, her endless memories, and whatever else I can find. She’s on fire from the inside,” said the Mara.
“How long will she last, if you do that,” asked Yasmin, her voice almost inaudible.
“That’s the beauty of it, if it kills her, she’ll just regenerate. This torture will last for as long as I do,” explained the Mara.
“Just…just stop it!” shouted Yasmin.
“Or what?” smirked the Mara.
“Or I will kill you,” she hissed back.
“If you try,” threatened the Mara, “then I will kill your friend’s body until she runs out of regenerations and use your own instead.”
The two were interrupted by the stomping footsteps of Ryan and Graham. Both struggled through the door with mirrors of varying sizes. Ryan held up a small round one, Yasmin thought she recognised it from her own bathroom, to distract the Mara. The Mara recoiled and Ryan whooped with satisfaction.
“Quick Graham, full length mirror attack,” said Ryan.
Graham lunged into action, trapping the Mara in place with his large mirror facing her. Yasmin took one of the smaller mirrors and held it to one side of the full length mirror. Ryan did the same on the other side with his one.
“Stop…” hissed the Mara, as if the reflection was blinding her.
She struggled and kicked but the three companions held her in place so that she couldn’t escape. The Mara’s breathing shallowed and she leaned against the console in a panic. In the moment of weakness, the Mara’s hand once again fumbled around.
“Yaz…sonic,” came a breathy, weak voice from the Doctor’s body.
Yasmin, after nods from Ryan and Graham, threw the sonic into the Doctor’s hand. She pointed the sonic to her own neck, frantically switching settings, and switched it on. The screech that came from the Doctor’s body didn’t sound like either the time lady or the Mara. It made all of them wince and cover their ears until the noise subsided.
It was Yasmin’s turn to screech when the snake they had seen from the beginning of their adventure slithered out from the Doctor’s sleeve. She wondered how it had gotten there, until she realised what was happening. It had switched back to its true form once it had been expelled from the Doctor.
Yasmin raised her foot as if she was going to stand on it, but the snake writhed beneath her. It squeaked, rolled over, and then disintergrated into sand. It joined the sand that had been brought into the TARDIS from the planet. Yasmin, Ryan and Graham dropped their mirrors, careful that they didn’t shatter, and stared at each other in horrified relief.
The Doctor blinked rapidly and the red in her eyes faded back to a warm mixture of green and brown. The sharpness of her teeth had gone, and the dark circles under her eyes vanished. The Doctor’s mouth fell open, and she expelled a long, pained sigh before dropping to the ground.
“Doctor!” cried Yasmin.
The Doctor blinked awake, easing herself from the floor with the help of the others. She looked around in confusion before realising that she was safe.
Yasmin grabbed the Doctor’s shoulders to steady her. She breathed deeply, like she hadn’t been able to before.
The Doctor composed herself for a minute, and the others visibly relaxed, but her minute of calm was interrupted by a dramatic shudder. The shudder made her eyes roll back and her legs gave out, sending her collapsing to the floor. Yasmin reached out and caught her just in time. The time lady felt small in Yasmin’s arms considering the strength of the Mara.
“Woah, careful,” said Yasmin as the Doctor eyes fluttered open.
“Oh. Thanks, Yaz,” said the Doctor, her voice hoarse.
“Are you alright Doc?” asked Graham.
The Doctor was still in Yasmin’s arms, and the companion was carrying the majority of her weight. She leaned into Yasmin, not yet attempting to hold herself up.
“I’m fine. You know what it’s like when an infinite evil spirit creature decides to steal your body and crush you from the inside. Just a typical Wednesday,” said the Doctor.
“It’s Saturday,” said Ryan.
The Doctor shrugged distractedly. She looked down at her hand and froze slightly. The wounds in her hand were still bleeding, and blood had begun to seep to her fingertips. The Doctor winced as she watched the droplets of blood.
“What’s this then? Little goodbye present?” asked the Doctor.
“Didn’t you know it was happening?” asked Yasmin.
“Oh, no. I felt what she did, and sometimes I could hear or see, but not always. I did feel a horrible pain, I guess this was that,” the Doctor shrugged.
“I-I’m so sorry…the Mara was trying to negotiate with me, I shouted for help and she drove a knife into your hand. I should’ve known better, it’s completely my fault you got hurt,” said Yasmin, looking at her feet shamefully.
“It’s not your fault Yaz, besides, if you hadn’t untied me, I wouldn’t have been able to help myself now, would I?”
“Besides, the Mara was messing with us all. I’m really sorry about what happened,” said Ryan sheepishly.
The Doctor watched on, confused, as Yasmin apologized too and pulled him into a firm hug. She looked to Graham for answers, but he just shrugged at her, as if to say it wasn’t important.
“How did you do it, Doctor?” asked Ryan curiously.
“Well, the Mara can’t stand their own reflection. This one though is extremely strong so I figured a mirror wouldn’t do the trick. But you guys managed to weaken her long enough for me to take brief control. I projected the image of a mirror into my mind, let it take over all of my thoughts, and the Mara had no choice but to leave,” explained the Doctor proudly.
“Well, nicely done,” said Ryan.
Graham noticed the pained expression the Doctor wore, and the trauma Yasmin looked as though she was experiencing. Both looked as though they were exhausted and had seen some things they had wished they hadn’t.
“Do you ladies fancy some tea? Looks like you could both use it,” asked Graham.
“Oh yeah! I might need a straw though, can’t pick up a mug with one hand, I’m probably not steady enough yet,” said the Doctor with a pout.
“Come on, Ryan, I’ll make the tea, you go and find the Doctor a straw. And probably a bandage while you’re at it,” said Graham.
When the men had gone, Yasmin picked up the Doctor’s injured hand and held it gently, inspecting the injury. The Doctor’s breath hitched as she watched. Yasmin looked up with teary eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“Nonsense, don’t be! You didn’t do anything wrong. How are you, anyway? I know you don’t like snakes, I’m sure meeting the Mara wasn’t exactly pleasant.”
Yasmin laughed, “You got possessed, and you’re asking me if I’m scared? I’m fine, really. But…there is something I want to talk to you about. We can save it for later if you’d rather…you probably want some rest.”
The Doctor’s head cocked to one side, “Ask away, Yaz.”
“When we were talking…was it always the Mara or did you…take over at any point?” asked Yasmin, scratching the back of her neck.
“I couldn’t take over completely at any point, but I managed to take back my arms at one point, I think. Why?” asked the Doctor.
Yasmin’s heart sunk briefly, “Oh, nothing. Doesn’t matter, really.”
The Doctor smiled her sad, polite smile and stepped closer to Yasmin. She cupped Yasmin’s face with her hands, forgetting about the blood. She blushed when she left a small smudge of it on Yasmin’s cheek, and wiped it away gently. The Doctor leaned into Yasmin’s ear, close enough that Yasmin struggled not to squirm.
“For the record,” she murmured, “I really do think you’re smart, funny and beautiful.”
With that, the Doctor brushed down her coat and made her way into the kitchen to help the men. Yasmin watched her saunter away, leaning her body against the TARDIS console. The TARDIS, in turn, hummed lightly, and Yasmin was convinced she was laughing at her.