The doors to the TARDIS flung open and out staggered Yaz and the Doctor, choking on smoke and fumes and struggling to gasp in as much of the clean, outdoorsy air as they could.
A fire extinguisher hung from the Doctor’s loose grasp, much of the contents already expelled onto a fire that had threatened to ravage the entirety of the console room. She had been on her way to drop Yaz off home but, because she was the Doctor, she had decided to multitask. Whilst navigating the TARDIS into present day Sheffield with one hand, she’d been using the other to tamper with the ship’s old Hostile Action Displacement System - figuring it needed an upgrade.
However, due to her complicated relationship with the mechanics of her beloved time machine, the TARDIS had initially resisted her attempts at rejuvenating the defences in place. It fought back. The Doctor had yelled, and tampered even further, and forgot all about present day Sheffield. Sparks began to fly from the wiring and a range of panic inducing noises like miniature explosions, followed by plumes of thick grey smoke, had the Doctor running for the fire extinguisher.
Amidst attempting to keep her ship from spontaneously combusting while also insisting that the changes she made to the HADS stay in place, the Doctor figured the best course of action would be to land the TARDIS as hastily as possible. All the while, Yaz was gripping onto the railing for dear life.
By the time they had arrived, the fire was out but the smoke had settled like a thick fog, threatening to choke the life out of them. The Doctor shouted for the extractor fans to turn on, then shouted for Yaz to follow her as they fled the clutches of her stubborn ship. Hence why they were currently kneeling in a patch of grass, hands clutching throats, sweat dripping from foreheads. It was a moment before the Doctor recovered enough to return to an upright position.
“You daft old thing,” She said, whacking the side of her TARDIS half-heartedly.
Which is when the TARDIS doors slammed shut.
“Oh, no. Oh no, you don’t,” The Doctor pulled at the handle but the door wouldn’t budge. She tried again, a little more aggressive this time, and again her efforts were fruitless. “Don’t you play games with me or you will be in big trouble.”
Apparently, the Doctor’s warnings did little to hinder the TARDIS’ current taste for mischief, for as soon as the words left her mouth the engines began to wheeze, groan, roar to life. The Doctor fumbled for her key but it was no use; the TARDIS began to dematerialise, phasing in and out of existence, before vanishing once and for all and leaving behind nothing but a gust of mocking wind.
Mouth agape, the Doctor stood there like the furious parent of a rogue child. “That was not hostile action! Get back here, you big baby!”
So furious was she, in fact, that she had failed to notice what Yaz already had. Yaz said the Doctor’s name again but she was too busy grumbling to herself and checking the sonic’s link to the TARDIS and grumbling to herself some more. “Well, at least I got you home in the end. Good thing, too, given where—“
”Doctor,” Yaz repeated herself for the third time.
Finally, the Doctor looked up from her sonic and remembered to pay attention to Yaz. “Yeah?”
”Look around,” Yaz said. “You didn’t get me home. Not by a long shot.”
The Doctor took this time to finally gauge her surroundings and get a proper look at where they had materialised. The pair were standing beneath a tall palm tree, on a grassy patch between bits of warm pavement. The street was lined up and down with 80’s era vehicles, closest to them a garish, bright red station wagon. Across the street, the matinee advertised a showing of The Return of the Jedi. Those queuing at the ticket booth had big hair and wore loud colours, leather jackets and lots of double denim. The Doctor turned around, looking through the bars of the gate they were standing on the outside of, and proceeded to read the sign above the tacky, green and pink hotel whose doorstep they had arrived at.
Sunset Motel! The finest in Florida!
“Ah,” The Doctor cleared her throat, somewhat embarrassed. “So, not Sheffield. Not 2018. Ha. Well. This is a bit of a predicament.”
”Doctor,” Yaz’s voice was low, a measure of apprehension quite tangible. “Where exactly is the TARDIS? Or should I be asking when the TARDIS is?”
The Doctor’s mouth smiled but her eyes didn’t get the memo. “Right. Thing is, the TARDIS is a tiny bit mad at me for messing with the functionality of HADS, er, Hostile Action Displacement System. See, I thought it’d be cool if the TARDIS moved in time and space when it came under extreme attack. Only in, like, the most severe cases. But she didn’t like that idea very much, possibly for good reason, and now she’s trying to prove what might be an incredibly valid point by doing exactly what I programmed her to do. Which is to reappear, in the near future, somewhere very far away.”
”Doctor...” Yaz was growing impatient.
”Namely, she’s going to show up in approximately a month on the other side of America. Montana, I believe. Rather near Yellowstone Park. That’s exciting, eh? Not been down there in ages!”
”Are you telling me we’re stranded in 80’s America for a month? A month?” The Doctor’s efforts at banter had done little in the way of softening the blow. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, sonic your TARDIS and tell her to come back here?”
”Wish it worked like that, would’ve gotten me out of some pretty nasty situations truth be told,” The Doctor said, still laying her optimistic tone on thick. “Least we’re together, though!”
“So we’re stuck? Actually, properly, stuck?” Yaz clarified, still holding out hope that somehow the Doctor had a handy solution to fall back on in times such as those. Which, given how often the unexpected happened where the Doctor was involved, didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to believe.
”Pretty stuck, yeah, ‘fraid so,” The Doctor nodded.
Yaz groaned and hit the back of her head softly against the gate behind them. “In Florida, of all places. Why couldn’t it have been the Caribbean? Or Hawaii?”
”Oh, get off it, I’m sure Florida’s not that bad. They’ve got,” The Doctor desperately scanned her surroundings for some form of inspiration as she scrambled for positives to pull from this wholly negative situation. She knocked uncertainly on the bark of the palm tree, frowned, then looked past it and saw- “Oh! They’ve got diners!”
”Doctor, I’m pretty sure the whole of America has diners,” Yaz pointed out.
”Yeah, but I’m starving,” The Doctor said. “Shall we?”
The Doctor was crossing the road towards the diner before Yaz could even form a reply. Then, because Yaz literally had nowhere else in the word to go, she peeled herself off the gate and followed close behind, bitter still about their present dilemma.
Yaz’s bitterness had eased, if only slightly, by the time she and the Doctor had finished their generous helpings of waffles and bacon and had set to work on their respective milkshakes. Yaz had chocolate, the Doctor strawberry. The Doctor’s had come with whipped cream, fruit, and sherbert (because she had asked for whipped cream, fruit, and sherbert) and she was presently enjoying it with a very pleased look in her eye. The Doctor was able to pay for all this using the illegally acquired currency she had obtained from a nearby cash machine using her sonic screwdriver. At least, Yaz thought, they still had that.
They were sitting at a booth by the window, sunlight streaming through in a way that enhanced everything, made the world around them seem bright and HD and a little hard to look at. Yaz was sweltering in Florida’s summer heat but the Doctor wasn’t fazed in the slightest. In fact, she thrived in the heat. Her bright blonde hair caught the sunlight, creating the illusion of some kind of golden halo crowning her head, and the warmth she felt betrayed itself in a slight, almost holy, sheen.
Yaz envied the way anything bad turned around on itself at the mercy of the Doctor’s impossible good-ness. Until she remembered she was supposed to be mad at her.
”So what are we gonna do then?” Yaz eventually asked. “I mean, how are you gonna get me home?”
”I’m not,” The Doctor replied, oddly cheerful.
”Told ya, we’re stranded. No plan B, no quick fix,” The Doctor shrugged as if all this were inconsequential. To her, it may have been, but Yaz was struggling to share in that sentiment. “We’re gonna have to take the slow path. Wait it out. Like normal people. Ugh. I hate standing still.”
Yaz watched as the Doctor took another sip of her milkshake, accidentally (or perhaps intentionally, for Yaz’s sake) giving herself a whipped cream moustache. Despite herself, Yaz laughed.
“Here,” She picked up a napkin and wiped the cream from her upper lip, thinking nothing of it until the Doctor went very still, eyes carefully tracking the movement of Yaz’s hands. Now feeling a little sheepish, Yaz withdrew, dropping the napkin onto her plate. “You had a... moustache. Anyway, uh, what were you saying?”
This was one of several reasons Yaz had bemoaned getting stuck - with no fire doors, no escape routes - with the Doctor for a whole month. She loved the Doctor, she did, but there was something that always seemed to get in the way. Whenever they shared a laugh, or confided in one another, or even touched in the most innocent of ways, it was as if something stirred to life in the air around them and it was a thing which neither woman particularly wanted to address or admit to.
Yasmin didn’t know what it was, or why she could never completely feel at ease with the Doctor, but she dreaded the exposure to this uncomfortable feeling which was bound to accompany spending four uninterrupted weeks in her company. If Graham or Ryan had been around, perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed so daunting. As it were, they were alone, and very far from home.
Yaz knew what they needed. The Doctor, apparently, felt the same way.
“...slow invasion. Longest I ever stayed put. A month should be easy compared to that,” The Doctor was saying, Yaz having only just tuned back into the conversation. “What we need is a thing. A good thing. Something to do, a destination, a goal. Something to make the time fly, eh?”
That’s when it struck Yaz.
As the Doctor carried on about needing a destination, a yellow, 70’s style camper van rolled on by, bumbling along the road and carrying a group of free spirits who looked like they probably stunk of weed and invincibility. The Doctor’s words and the startlingly periodic image meshed together, compressed by Yaz’s own need for a distraction from her tension with the Doctor, and as a result a single, brilliant, life-changing thought formed in the forefront of her mind.
Ayy so just a heads up I know nothing of geography or america or the 80’s so i’ll be winging a lot of this but as long as u don’t get caught up in the details we’ll be fine x
(i can’t wait to throw these two into every intimate and unbearably romantic situation ever)
Chapter 2: zig zag
“You have got to be joking.”
”Nope. Isn’t she gorgeous?”
Yaz had sold the Doctor on her plan to use their free month to road trip across America with far more ease than she had been anticipating. In fact, the words had barely left her mouth before the Doctor’s bright eyes widened and she broke out in an eager, ear-to-ear grin. The Doctor had complimented Yaz on her genius and soon enough, what had just been a spur of the moment suggestion had become a real, definitive plan, the Doctor enthusing about all the things they could see and how much fun they would have.
It wasn’t long before, over second servings of tooth-rottingly sweet milkshakes, the pair were comprising a list of things one would need to acquire for an all out road trip. Chief among them: a car.
Yaz should have known, really, that leaving the Doctor in charge of finding them a car whilst she went off in search of various other essentials (clothes, a map, suitcases) was a questionable move at best. What did the Doctor know of driving anything that wasn’t bigger on the inside and didn’t have infuriatingly whimsical tendencies to run away to the other side of the country without notice? Not much, Yaz ventured.
Not much turned out to be correct.
Yaz and the Doctor were standing on the sidewalk, beholding the once bright red Mini Cooper parked haphazardly on the curb before them. Two white stripes decorated the hood. The roof was white, too, although ‘white’ was rather a tad generous. Grey probably fit the bill a bit better. Dirty, faded grey. It was clearly a second hand vehicle, which Yaz honestly wouldn’t have minded - if it hadn’t been a banged up, miniature eye sore with an impressive dent in the passenger side door and a blemish of rust creeping up along one side.
“Doctor,” Yaz was at a loss. She didn’t even know where to begin. “Did it not once occur to you how small this car is?”
”It’s cosy, yeah,” The Doctor nodded, still smiling at the car.
Yaz looked down at the bags and suitcases she’d set down on the floor beside her, then back up at the boxy red vehicle. She opened her mouth and then closed it again. She shook her head, an amused smile threatening to tug at the corners of her mouth. “I suppose you’ve already paid for it, now?”
”Absolutely. Got the paperwork and everything,” The Doctor confirmed proudly, as if feeling a genuine sense of achievement. “I just thought it looked really neat. I love the stripes. Very now. Very trendy.”
Yaz blew out a resigned sigh. “Keys?”
The Doctor handed Yaz the keys. “The man said the lock requires a bit of jimmying.”
”Of course he did,” Yaz said, wondering exactly how and where the Doctor had found this car and how much cash she had thrown at its seller. However much she paid was too much. Yaz wouldn’t have forked out her change from the chip shop for that heap of scrap. She approached the car, inserted the key, jimmied vigorously, and eventually the lock clicked and she pulled the car door open. Yaz slid into the driver’s seat.
The interior smelled strangely like chlorine, as if somebody had left their soaking wet swimming trunks beneath one of the seats all summer. Aside from a cigarette burn in the upholstery between her legs, however, everything seemed to be in pretty good nick. Still, it certainly wasn’t any bigger on the inside.
The Doctor crossed her arms over the window ledge and leaned in. “So. New home away from home. What do you think?”
Yaz surveyed the dirty windshield, cramped space, cig burn, low roof. She looked at the Doctor, who was positively beaming, and said “I love it.”
And she did. Because it was theirs, now, and because she’d be sharing it with the Doctor, and because it couldn’t really ever have been any other car, could it? No. It was always going to be that banged up old Mini carrying the pair of them along on this, their most epic adventure to date. Yaz felt sure of that.
Just as sure as she was, when she looked up at the Doctor then, that this was going to be different to their usual escapades. She couldn’t put her finger on it but there was an electricity emanating from the pair of them which felt pregnant with the promise of something bigger to come. Earthbound they might have been, but they were travelers all the same and even there - so very far from the stars - Yaz knew this was going to be a journey to remember.
“Let’s break her in.”
Dusk was approaching fast. The pale blue of the sky darkened, melted into a bruise-hued purple somewhere just above the tops of the buildings they drove by. It was a while before Yaz realised she had been following the signs leading them to the beach; her mind had been too occupied by the Doctor’s frivolous, excited chatter to really pay too much mind to where she was going. Twenty minutes flew by, and then Yaz was parking the car in front of a walkway by the beach.
People were cycling, skating, rollerblading along the walkway. Some sat on benches, enjoying the view and basking in the low light, while some dried themselves off and dusted sand from their clothes as they returned to their cars and set off home for the evening. The beach was still busy at this time, but not rammed. Not crowded.
Yaz and the Doctor took a walk toward the beach, Yaz’s eyes lazily tracking the setting sun as they spoke. Soon, it would fall off the edge of the Earth, right at the point where ocean met sky. For now, however, it still burned a lovely orange and red, casting an otherworldly glow about their surroundings.
They walked past a young couple who were sprawled out on a large towel, playing music from a boom box and bathing in the light of a sun that was soon to desert them. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sang of romance and sailing to other worlds and Yaz couldn’t help but feel like she was taking a stroll down somebody else’s memory lane, experiencing a nostalgia she had no claim over for these years were not hers to reminisce.
”So, are you still mad at me for losing the TARDIS?” The Doctor asked, hands clasped behind her back, after a brief lull in conversation. “‘Cos I really hate it when you’re mad.”
Yaz smiled, watching as her shoes kicked up sand and small pebbles. “Nah. I’ll let you off.”
Yaz was never really mad at the Doctor to begin with. This was a fact she had realised earlier that day, whilst shopping for clothes the Doctor might actually consider wearing (which was a task, because the Doctor literally never wore anything save her one outfit, barring slight variations on the colour of her shirt). Yaz had found an era appropriate sun hat, navy with a wide brim, had pictured the Doctor wearing it, and had smiled to herself because she could so imagine the Doctor loving it. Big, flowy hat to match the rest of her big, flowy clothes.
That small moment was all it had taken for Yaz to realise that oh, who was she kidding, she couldn’t stay mad at the Doctor - not even if she dropped her in the wrong country thirty five years too soon and told her she’d be stuck there for a month.
Yaz had bought the hat.
The two of them wound up sitting beneath the shade of a nearby palm tree, a map of the states open in front of them and a stack of brochures scattered in a semi circle around it. Yaz had picked them all up at a travel shop earlier. Currently, Yaz was attempting to map out a logical route to Montana, one that would be time efficient whilst still enabling them to see some of the sights on the way.
”But if we cut through... Doctor, are you listening?” Yaz looked up from the map at the Doctor, who was presently blowing bubbles from a bottle Yaz hadn’t even seen her take out. She wondered exactly how much unnecessary stuff the Doctor kept in her pockets at any one time. Were they bigger on the inside, too?
The Doctor held the wand over her mouth and blew out an impressive stream of bubbles which glistened like crystals in the light. “Course I am.”
”Well, what do you think?”
”I think,” The Doctor started, pulling her legs under herself so that she was now sitting cross legged. “You’re thinking too much. Do you wanna blow some bubbles? It’s dead fun. Promise.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Yaz said. She took a brief respite from poring over the map and rested her back against the trunk of the tree. “Am I being too intense? Sorry, I get like that sometimes when I get too invested in something. Getting a bit carried away, I suppose.”
”Never apologise for getting carried away. Personally, I think we should all carry ourselves away a little more,” The Doctor said, speaking half nonsense and half truth. “Anyway. Great plan, Yaz, but let’s scrap it.”
”Scrap it?” Yaz blinked in confusion. “The whole plan?”
”Yep. Toss it out the window,” The Doctor screwed the cap onto her bottle of bubbles and tucked it into her pocket. “Let’s just wing it. We don’t have to go in a straight, narrow line. Straight lines are boring. We can go sideways, diagonal, backwards - oh! We could move in a big spiral. We’ve got a whole month and a whole word waiting for us to see it.”
”True,” Yaz frowned. “But if we do it your way, it could take longer than a month.”
”Yeah, well. The TARDIS will wait,” The Doctor smiled warmly at Yaz.
“So, you’re saying—“
”To hell with the plan. Come on, Yasmin Khan, when do I ever have a plan? We have a super cool little red car and we have each other and we have a box of cassette tapes in the trunk that I’m pretty sure the last owner may have forgotten about. Do we need anything else? Really?”
It occurred to Yaz then that this road trip, to the Doctor, had become about more than simply finding their way back to the TARDIS. It had been about more than that to Yaz, too, but she wasn’t sure the Doctor had viewed it as anything more than an agreeable way to pass the time. The Doctor’s disregard for the time limit suggested otherwise. It suggested she was just as excited about this trip as Yaz was; that it was less about the destination and more about the adventure itself. The idea that the Doctor simply wanted to spend time with her, to travel a world she already knew well just for the sake of seeing the sights in her company, touched Yaz in a way she hadn’t foreseen.
“We’ll zig zag through the states, then?” She asked, laughing as she glanced over the map once more. Laughing - because this kind of carefree, relaxed rationality probably would never even have occurred to her otherwise.
“Yes! Zig zag! Love a good zig zag, it’s my favourite shape. Plus, it’s really fun to say.”
Yaz nodded, stole her eyes away from the map at last. “Alright, then. You’re on. We’ll just take it state by state and see where the road takes us.”
”To not having a plan,” The Doctor said, raising her hand, palm facing outwards.
Yaz gave the Doctor a high five, unable to resist sharing in her childlike ebullience. Yaz was aware that, by agreeing to the Doctor’s proposal, she was going against her own nature. Yaz simply felt better when she had spent time preparing for all possible outcomes, planning things with an acute eye for the smallest details, and organising a well-structured timeline in advance. Exposure to the Doctor was changing that; changing her. It was as if Yaz had been infected by the Doctor’s loveably chaotic personality. Yaz liked it. She liked thinking that there was a part of the Doctor inside herself now, a growing likeness in mind and heart.
”I do have one condition, though,” Yaz said. The Doctor pulled a face. “Don’t worry, I think you’ll quite like it.”
“What is it?”
“It’s probably gonna sound really silly.”
“Great,” The Doctor sat up straighter. “I love silly.”
”Well, you see, I’ve always kind of dreamed about one day going on some kind of epic road trip,” Yaz began. “Thing is, even though we technically have unlimited funds, I always pictured myself slumming it in those cheap, tacky motels with the bright neon signs, you know? And eating questionable food in tiny shoebox restaurants that have been owned by one family for generations...”
The Doctor listened to Yaz, her soft smile growing the more she spoke. The nodding of her head was a subtle, subconscious thing but it encouraged Yaz to press on.
”I’m just saying,” Yaz shrugged. “I think we should try and keep as close to the real road trip experience as possible. I don’t know. Am I making any sense at all?”
”As always Yaz, you are making perfect sense,” Said the Doctor. “And I think it’s a brilliant idea.”
“Oh, definitely,” The Doctor adjusted herself so that she was now leaning against the trunk beside Yaz, both of their eyes on the docile waves lapping at the shore. “You’ve one rule, and it’s that we act skint? I really do choose my friends well,” She said, sounding a mixture of both amused and pleasantly surprised.
“Won’t argue there.”
“Oh, look, the sun’s setting. I love this bit,” The Doctor announced, as if the cycle of nature were nothing more than a rerun of a show she’d lovingly watched a thousand times.
Backs to the palm tree, feet buried in warm sand, shoulders pressed together, they sat in relative quiet and watched the sun setting. Yaz should have been taken by the way the fiery light cast liquid glitter far across the waves, by the burning monster in the sky succumbing to the fluid, temperamental monster in the horizon. When the vibrance of the evening gave way to the darker, richer shades of dusk, her mind should have been occupied by the welcome emergence of stars and moon.
What really shouldn’t have been playing on her mind was her proximity to the Doctor, or the way she could still smell smoke clinging to the Doctor’s hair and coat from the TARDIS fire earlier and how that somehow made their proximity even more suffocating in the best of ways. Nothing should have been able to tear Yaz’s gaze away from the stunning show being put on for them by the elements in the sea and the sky. So why did Yaz find herself staring sidelong at the Doctor and watching the sun set in the reflection of her golden-brown eyes instead?
Yaz might have known the answer, had she thought to ask the question.
Not long after nature’s spectacle was over, Yaz and the Doctor made the mutual decision to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Tomorrow was to be a big day, after all. Yaz, in the spirit of embracing the Doctor’s lax and occasionally indulgent way of life, suggested that they have one last blow out before putting a cap on their funds for the road trip. The Doctor happily agreed.
Yaz drove them to a nearby hotel. It was certainly more high end than the motel the TARDIS had dumped them at that morning, its art deco style appealing to the intrigue of both women. The Doctor booked them into one of the biggest rooms the hotel had on offer, which turned out to be a lavishly decorated penthouse suite that looked more like an apartment than anything else. Floor to ceiling windows, leather sofas, two king sized beds. The decal, while in vogue, left something to be desired to their more modern tastes - but neither of them cared much.
Donning silk robes and drinking their fill of the complementary champagne, Yaz and the Doctor curled up on the sofas, ordered room service, and stuck a cheesy 70’s horror flick on the not-yet-vintage TV, laughing at all the parts they were supposed to find scary. The Doctor intermittently interjected with her opinion on whichever A-list actor appeared on screen, having allegedly known several of them on a personal level. Yaz didn’t mind that she talked through most of the movie; that she missed out on much of the plot as a result. She really, really didn’t mind.
As the film drew to an end and their excitement gave way to exhaustion, Yaz became painfully aware of the fact that the Doctor was looking at her instead of at the screen, though she pretended not to notice.
“Yaz?” The Doctor eventually said.
Yaz looked at her friend. “Yeah?”
”I’m a little bit glad the TARDIS ran away,” She confessed. Then, in a whisper, “Don’t tell her.”
Yaz just looked at the Doctor in response, a delighted gleam in her eyes, letting the Doctor know she felt exactly the same way without needing to actually articulate the words. By the time the credits rolled, Yaz had drifted to sleep, the ghost of a smile still adorning her face even as the Doctor laid a blanket over her, traced her hairline with the tips of her fingers, and turned out the lights.
The Doctor slept only a few hours, waking at the same time as the sun.
She found that Yaz had moved herself from the sofa to the bed at some point during the night, covers tossed aside and blanket in a heap on the foot of the bed. Even Florida’s summer nights were humid and thick; the Doctor thought it a blessing Yaz was able to sleep at all, what with her being accustomed to the considerably lower Sheffield climate. The Doctor, actively making as little noise as possible, crept past a sleeping Yaz and headed for the shower. It was early yet. She figured Yaz would appreciate as much rest as possible before they were to spend all day on the road.
Following a brief, cool shower, the Doctor towelled off, put on her usual striped shirt and navy trousers, and used the suite’s facilities to make herself a cup of coffee. The Doctor was a sucker for caffeine, though her friends loved to point out that she was scarcely in need of it. Hair still wet, she headed out onto the balcony.
Resting her elbows on the glass barrier, coffee mug in hand, the Doctor stood sixteen storeys over Florida and surveyed the town. Between the buildings, in the not-too-far distance, she was able to steal glimpses of the ocean and the sand. The water looked calm this morning. The city, too. Saying that, the sun was still quite low in the sky; much of the population hadn’t risen from slumber just yet.
Peering over the barrier, the Doctor tried to spot their little red car with the white roof amongst the dozens parked in the lot far below. Even from a distance, it wasn’t difficult to pick it out. It was definitely the runt of the litter, parked beside luxury vehicles for those living a luxurious life. One she and Yaz were to leave behind very shortly. She smiled to herself when she remembered Yaz’s one road trip rule. They could have stayed in the most lavish accommodations, dined at obnoxiously swanky restaurants, hitched rides on jets, and even bought a different car for every state. Yaz didn’t want any of that. The Doctor didn’t either, really. She was content to just be with Yaz; to see the sights and throw caution to the wind.
However, she would have been lying to say she wasn’t experiencing a modicum of apprehension. The Doctor was accustomed to fighting aliens, protecting worlds and galaxies, running for her life. Without any of this going on around them, without any further company to act as buffer, she and Yaz would simply be two women on the open road. Tourists. Sightseers.
The Doctor didn’t know what to expect. Which was fine, really, because she was the Doctor and she never knew what to expect. That’s how she had always lived her life. So why did this time feel so different? Why was it that this time, she felt a kind of exhilarating fear stirring up a storm inside of her - a kind of fear she usually only associated with mortal danger?
She sipped her coffee, noticed the sun’s position in the sky, and headed back inside to wake Yaz.
They had breakfast at the hotel.
Each of them piled their plates high with buttery croissants, fresh fruit, french toast, bacon, eggs. It was only now that they realised how little they had eaten the day before, and their appetites were catching up to them with a vengeance. The Doctor smiled into her glass of freshly squeezed orange juice when Yaz made a satisfied sound after forking the last of the scrambled egg into her mouth.
”This is so good,” Yaz remarked, washing it down with a swig of coffee.
Yaz, whom had previously been ambling around like a dead eyed zombie, had become far more alert since that first sip of coffee and was now more or less her usual self again. The loaded breakfast probably did her some good, too.
“So then,” The Doctor said. “Where we off to today?” It was strange, she thought, that it was usually her answering such questions.
“The next state along is Georgia. No idea what there is to do in Georgia,” Yaz shrugged, cleaning her fingers on a napkin and leaning back against her chair. “Guess we’ll find out when we get there. Really wish they had trip advisor in the 80’s.”
”Ah, come on,” The Doctor waved a dismissive hand. “There’s no trip advisor in the TARDIS, is there?”
”Yeah, you’re right, and how many times have the locals tried to kill us again?” Yaz countered with a laugh.
The Doctor pursed her lips. “Fair point.”
”Anyway, we can always pick up some brochures when we cross the state line,” Yaz went on. “Assuming that bloody car makes it as far as the state line. Won’t be surprised if it croaks out its last breath before we reach the interstate.”
”Shouldn’t call her ‘it,’ that won’t help matters,” The Doctor chastised. “Oh, and I’ve been thinking, we should give her a name.”
Yaz quirked a brow. “The car?”
”What exactly did you have in mind?”
”Oh, no, you don’t rush these things,” The Doctor said, implying that she had a level of experience in the matter. “We’ve got to get to know her personality. Then she’ll tell us her name. Just takes a bit of time, is all.”
Yaz smirked and shook her head, and the Doctor smiled back - though she hadn’t actually been joking. Making Yaz laugh was great; unintentionally making her laugh was even better. The Doctor wished she knew what she did that was funny, that she might take note and use it again whenever she was in need of another of Yaz’s smiles.
Which was always.
Before setting off, Yaz drove them into town to do one last shop.
‘Essentials only’, she had said before leaving the Doctor to her own devices whilst she went to fill up the tank. By the time Yaz came to meet the Doctor, she’d filled the tank, stocked up on water bottles, bought tins and boxes of food, a cool box, plus various other road trip necessities.
“What did you get?” Yaz had asked the Doctor.
A polaroid camera and a packet of custard creams, as it turned out. The Doctor had thought them essentials; Yaz had not. Fortunately for the Doctor, her annoyance lasted the whole of three seconds before Yaz was laughing about it and loading the custard creams into the car with everything else.
”What on earth would you do without me?” Yaz had asked.
The Doctor had no good answer.
Car loaded, seat belts on, mirrors adjusted, Yaz and the Doctor sat in the front of the car waiting to begin their month-long journey. The engine was running, Yaz’s hand on the stick shift. She was looking right at the Doctor. The Doctor grinned.
She placed her hand over the hand Yaz was gripping the stick shift with.
Then, just like that time they had first pulled the TARDIS lever together, they simultaneously shifted the car into drive. Then Yaz’s foot hit the gas.
Then they were flying.
Yaz had to remind the Doctor to let go of her hand.
Hour one limped by.
The miserable southern heat was getting to them both. The Doctor had tossed her coat onto the mountain of cases and bags on the back seat a mere ten minutes in, and now Yaz was struggling to shrug off her denim jacket whilst still keeping one hand on the wheel. She managed, eventually, and as the Doctor took it from her and put it in the back, she wiped a light sheen of sweat from above her eyebrows with the back of her hand.
She and the Doctor had been talking intermittently, though the Doctor was beginning to sense that the heat was hindering Yaz’s energy so much so that it soon became a chore to talk or laugh or even nod her head.
Opening the windows had proved futile, as they weren’t yet moving fast enough for any kind of breeze to blow through. The air conditioning was on, but the air it blew out felt more like a weak cough. The Doctor made a mental note to fix it later. At present, she could hardly even be bothered to rummage around for the screwdriver in the pocket of her discarded coat.
Wordlessly, she offered Yaz a biscuit.
Yaz accepted it.
When they crossed the state line, they did so to the soundtrack of one of the left-behind cassette tapes. Instead of being labelled by genre, by artist or year or by any discernible system, each of the tapes was labelled with a first name. Laura. Alfie. Joan. etc. After experimenting some with the tapes, they came to realise that each tape had a different mood.
They settled on the first cassette they found which wasn’t totally depressing, though it soon became clear that the previous owner had an affinity for the melancholy. Obviously he had some issues to work through.
As it happened, Yaz and the Doctor had one or two issues of their own. First among them was the fact that the Doctor was laughably dreadful at reading maps for someone so well versed in travelling. The Doctor pointed out that she was not used to relying on a load of squiggly lines on a piece of paper to navigate the universe, so Yaz constantly ended up having to pull over, study the map herself, make several U-turns.
She took it on the chin, though, and when she called the Doctor useless it sounded more like an endeared compliment than an insult.
In fact, now that the car was moving along a little faster, and the journey was in full swing, the mood between them had picked up considerably. So much so that when they played the cassette titled ‘Laura’ and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love came on, Yaz turned up the volume and began to sing shamelessly along to every word.
The Doctor found herself watching Yaz’s performance as if entranced by the sight of someone so carefree. Indeed, with her long, dark hair rustling in the breeze, with her hands drumming the steering wheel and her smile taking up half her face, she was a sight to behold. A pair of wayfarer sunglasses rested atop her head, painting the perfect picture of the happy vacationer. The Doctor couldn’t resist.
She retrieved the polaroid camera from the back seat and, before Yaz got a chance to protest, snapped a candid shot of her at the exact moment a bright ray of sunlight fell over her eyes.
“Oi,” Yaz said, cutting herself off mid chorus.
“Oh please, don’t stop on my account,” The Doctor laughed, fanning the photograph. “I was really quite enjoying that.” Not a lie. Unsurprisingly, Yaz had a great singing voice.
Yaz cast an amused, sidelong glance at the Doctor. “Yeah, whatever. How’s it look?”
The Doctor examined the polaroid. It had captured Yaz at the perfect moment: hair blown back, sun on her face, mouth half open as she sung along to the music. There was a flash of blue sky framing her beyond the window. If the Doctor could have summed up the image in one word, it would have been free. “Oh, look at you. This one is definitely a keeper.”
Yaz smiled humbly to herself as the Doctor opened the glove compartment and placed the polaroid safely inside. Her eyes caught something just before she closed it again. She reached inside and picked up the object that had piqued her attention.
“Is this a cork? What’s a cork doing in the glove compartment?” The Doctor queried.
”Oh, uh, that’s me,” Yaz said, sounding halfway to embarrassed. “It’s from that bottle of champagne we had last night. I dunno, I thought it’d be cool to hold on to it. Day one, you know? A memento. It’s daft.”
“You kept the cork?” The Doctor clarified. She looked down at it, smiling the hugest smile. “Yasmin Khan, you are wonderful.”
“So, he was definitely in love with Laura?” The Doctor asked.
”Oh, big time,” Yaz nodded. “But you know, it was one of those really fleeting, intense infatuations that dies out quick. Bet you it ended badly.”
”Oh,” The Doctor nodded like she understood whilst frowning as if she didn’t. “If you say so.”
It was early in the afternoon.
As their car ate the highway, Yaz and the Doctor found new ways to eat at the time. Presently, the Doctor had the box of cassettes balanced on her lap. So far, they had listened to several of them, and were now attempting to decide who each of the people listed on the cassettes were to their previous owner.
The Doctor slotted Laura back into the box and plucked another cassette from the collection. “What about Alfie?”
”Alfie, featuring such classics as Do You Really Want to Hurt Me and In The Air Tonight,” Yaz recounted, imitating the voiceover of a TV advertisement. “I mean, either Alfie’s a mate who stole his woman or our poor guy got rejected by him.”
“Aw, I hate an unrequited love story,” The Doctor returned the cassette to the box. “I’m all about happy endings, me.”
”Yeah?” Yaz glanced at the Doctor. “What does an ancient Time Lord know about endings?”
It had been an a throwaway remark; a joke, really. The Doctor knew this. Still, she frowned, suddenly hit by a wave of remembering. She remembered tearing out the last page of a book, she remembered River Song calling her out for hating endings, she remembered one coming for her anyway. “Oh, you’d be surprised,” She said, before turning her face towards the window and fixing her now distant eyes on a nondescript spot in the distance. Through the corner of the Doctor’s eye, she saw Yaz briefly switch her focus from the road to her, but was glad when she asked for no further elaboration.
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac was the next track to play. The Doctor watched the way the the air nearest the tarmac shimmered; observed the way the clouds visible past the top of the hill they were driving up appeared distorted in the heat. She listened quietly to the lyrics.
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
The Doctor turned her face towards the vast stretch of blue above them as Yaz hummed softly along.
Can the child within my heart rise above?
She refused to allow herself to admit to the almost painful relevance the song had to certain aspects of her life, because that would mean admitting to something she was far from ready to see at the time being. If she’d been ready to open her ears and mind to it, she’d have heard a message about change, about new love, about actively working on oneself. As it was, at that moment in time, the song was just a song. Blissful ignorance worked for her.
Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Though for how long, only time would tell.
Yaz had slowed to a stop in front of a sign by the road. Civilisation wasn’t far now, and Yaz was asking the Doctor to choose their first destination from a list of places on the sign.
“Lot of pressure, this,” The Doctor said, squinting up at the road sign. “What if I pick somewhere and it’s really shabby or there’s a load of massive spiders taking over the place? I have a habit of gravitating towards massive spiders. You know this.”
”Hey, you’re the one that was opposed to the plan, remember?” Yaz reminded her. “Go on, there aren’t gonna be any mutant spiders ‘round here. I hope.”
The Doctor exhaled through her nose. Knowing nothing of the destinations listed on the sign, she decided she would go for the nicest one to speak aloud. Appealing phonetics seemed as good a deciding factor as any.
”Savannah,” She decided, straight away turning to look at Yaz with a raised eyebrow as if double checking she had made the right choice. Which, of course, was absurd. Her companion knew as little as she did about the various towns and cities situated within Georgia. Less, probably.
Nonetheless, Yaz gave an affirmative shrug. “Savannah it is.”
The pair had spent almost six uninterrupted hours on the road when they finally arrived at Savannah. Driving past the sign (The city of Savannah welcomes you!), felt a lot like driving into another world. Or, more accurately, another time. Yaz said out loud what the Doctor had been thinking.
”Are we sure this car isn’t a time machine after all?”
It was like they had just stepped into the past. The antebellum architecture, while striking, was remarkably reminiscent of a less progressed era in humanity’s recent history. Lining the roads were lush, green trees that arched overhead and created a cool shade; a lovely escape from the overbearing sun they had been running from all day. The occasional rays of sunlight that did snake their way through the leaves did so in small smatterings, as if somebody had dipped a paintbrush in the sun and flicked it with reckless abandon about the streets.
The main road was made of tarmac, but the women didn’t fail to notice the cobbled side streets which passed them by. Nor did they fail to notice the pretty, pedicured parks, complete with pristine benches, water fountains, statues of historical figures, and - they both looked twice at this - horse drawn carriages.
”This place is gorgeous,” Yaz breathed. “Even if I do feel like I’m driving head first into the plantation-era South.”
The Doctor hummed her agreement, eyes hitching on an especially large antebellum home spotted through the trunks of the trees. It closer resembled a mini mansion. Huge pillars had been placed periodically around the balcony, which wrapped around the entirety of the house. The bushes in the garden were trimmed geometrically - not a leaf out of place - and a gardener currently tended to the already vibrant lawn. “The architecture’s very pretty, I just hope the people have progressed a little where the buildings haven’t.”
”God help me if they haven’t,” Yaz muttered. “It’s a good job Ryan isn’t here, can you imagine? He’d be bricking himself.”
“Oh...” The Doctor groaned and squeezed her eyes shut. “I am so stupid. God— Yaz, why do you never tell me how stupid I am? Stupid and selfish!” She waved her hands around, fingers curled in frustration. “I didn’t even think. Deep south America, thirty five years in your history. Present day America is bad enough for, well, basically everyone who isn’t a well-to-do white man. And I’ve just rewound the clock! Oh, Doctor Stupid.”
The Doctor felt an overwhelming surge of guilt at not having considered this before. Her mind, as always, had just been so busy. Which isn’t to say she was naive to the racism, sexism, and overall bigotry her companions were constantly at risk of being exposed to whilst traveling with her - it’s just that she’d never before gotten one of them stuck in a more difficult timeline without some means of emergency exit on hand. She’d never before had to consider the potential consequences of such a scenario.
”Doctor, really, it’s fine,” Yaz reassured her, forehead creasing. She forced a dismissive laugh which the Doctor saw through. “I sat on the same bus as Rosa Parks in 1955 Montgomery. If I can handle that, I can handle the 80’s. Yeah?”
The Doctor, dubious, observed through the side view mirrors just how much of Savannah’s population was white. “It shouldn’t be a problem, really,” She muttered, trying to convince herself more than she was Yaz. “I mean, it’s the 80’s. Everything's totally tubular in the 80’s. ‘Course, my experience has always been as a white man. Oh—“
”Doctor, seriously, chill,” Yaz jokingly hit the Doctor’s arm with the back of her hand. “I know you’re probably undergoing some kind of self-aware crisis now that you’re coming from a place of slightly less privilege, which is great, but it’s really gonna put a damper on the road trip if you start getting worked up about stuff that might not even happen. Why don’t we just take things as they come, all right? Nothing we can’t handle.”
The Doctor couldn’t tell if Yaz was genuinely unbothered or if she was simply saving face. Either way, she admired the bravery it took to boldly and happily go where no woman of colour would typically venture of their own volition - Southern America: confederate flag emporium.
In this instance, she was not ashamed to admit that Yaz was braver even than she. The Doctor was frightened for Yaz; she never wanted to have to sit back and endure it as she witnessed malicious, hateful acts of racism ever again. Oh, how it had killed her to do so in Montgomery. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to hold her tongue - or her fists (which was saying something, for a historically nonviolent person) - were it to happen again. It wasn’t in her nature to stand by, keep her mouth shut, accept acts of evil.
This time around, thankfully, there were no fixed historical events for her to protect.
Which meant the Doctor had Yaz’s back, no matter what.
Yaz and the Doctor soon pulled into the City Market, a place which once again was laden with remnants of prewar history. It looked a lot like a marketplace of old, and the Doctor half expected a gaggle of tattered-clothed farmers to step out and offer to trade their livestock for shillings. The streets here were uneven, tarmac having totally given way to cobbles a short while back. They would be hard pressed to carry on in those conditions in their car, especially with the bustling nature of the market and the way the locals meandered in the middle of the streets.
So Yaz found somewhere to park it and, at long last, they climbed out of the cramped vehicle. The Doctor made a big song and dance about stretching her limbs and shaking herself loose, to which Yaz made the very valid point that they could have gone with a bigger car had she had the foresight.
“Ah, s’alright,” The Doctor said. “My past two bodies would’ve had a hard go at it but I’m pretty sure I’ve shrunk in the wash since then. Just need to get used to it not being a big old time machine, that’s all.”
”Well, you’ve a month to do that,” Yaz pointed out. “Just don’t go changing bodies again, will you? Quite like that one as it is.”
As soon as Yaz said the words, she turned around; began to load a few things from the trunk into a more portable knapsack. She’d looked away too fast (out of embarrassment?) for the Doctor to be able to read her expression or attempt to figure out exactly what Yaz had meant by what she said. So the Doctor assumed that precisely nothing had been meant by it. They were just words like a song was just a song.
After Yaz had successfully jimmied the lock, the pair began to explore the market.
The old buildings and warehouses had been rehabilitated. What looked from afar to be a slice of the past, frozen in time, was in fact a quirky but modern commercial area boasting several trinket and antique stores, bakeries, grocers, you name it. In place of lampposts, there were electric lanterns, which no doubt would flicker to life much later in the day. Apparently, Savannah’s resistance to modernisation was considered part of its charm, as there were plenty of tourists abound throughout the odd little town. Yaz and the Doctor included.
Standing by for said tourists was a horse and carriage rental service, manned by several chauffeurs dresses up in ridiculously old fashioned suits and top hats. The Doctor, subconsciously, veered towards the horses. The nearest to her, oak-brown with a sliver of white along its forehead, unflinchingly ducked his head and allowed her to gently pet his mane.
Perhaps the creature was incredibly tame. Perhaps the Doctor just inspired that kind of instinctual trust.
“Oh, I love horses,” She gushed to Yaz. “Once visited a planet where the horses had evolved to walk on two hooves. Imagine how tall— oh, the natives would never have dared trying to put a saddle on one o’ them, believe me. Lovely beasts, horses.”
Yaz was stroking the mane of the same brown horse, but her undivided attention was taken totally by the Doctor. Some small part in the back of the Doctor’s brain registered how close they were standing when she next settled her eyes on the attentive gaze of her friend, but that small part didn’t stand a chance against the Doctor’s readiness to quell it.
”D’you know what I’m thinking?” The Doctor asked, glancing helpfully at the horse.
Yaz tilted her head. “I can probably guess.”
Inside the carriage - a dark, surprisingly cool box with cushioned seats and deep purple curtains drawn aside in favour of displaying the view beyond - the Doctor’s shoulder occasionally bumped up against Yaz’s.
Neither of them minded.
Yaz was watching the world go by; the Doctor was watching Yaz watch the world. She was wearing that same smile she always wore whenever the Doctor took her to visit a new world or a different era for the very first time. That subtle, astonished smile, which was more in her eyes than on her lips.
Savannah, the Doctor decided then, had been the right call. Any choice which resulted in a reaction like that from Yaz would forever be the right call. The Doctor thoroughly enjoyed knowing that she had played a role in the way Yaz was smiling in that moment.
Seemed she never did anything, lately, without hoping it would make Yaz happy.
“We should stay here tonight,” Yaz said quietly without averting her eyes from the pretty, historic park the carriage was leading them through.
“We can stay as long as you like,” The Doctor said, but her voice sounded a million miles away in her own ears because all she could even think about was what happened in her chest each time their shoulders brushed together again.
”Don’t tell me that,” Yaz laughed. “I’ll end up asking you to stay forever.”
Then that small, terrifying part in the back of the Doctor’s brain resurfaced and spoke up once more, catching her entirely off guard.
So ask, it said. Ask me to stay forever.
hello!! so i know there’s not much substance to these chapters yet but i’m slowly building up to it and tbh i’m just kind of having a bit of fun with the fluff/developing their chemistry right now so i hope ur enjoying it xx
(also what do u think the car will be called)
After their carriage ride around the park, Yaz and the Doctor booked themselves into a hotel in the historic district. It was a quaint building with lots of character, ivy climbing its white walls and a frail old lady in place of a concierge. Inside, the place looked like it had been in need of a refurbishment for about two decades, but then the old lady was half blind - her glasses magnifying her eyes tenfold - so what would she know of modern taste or how it had progressed? Several cats prawled about the establishment, hopping up onto banisters and furniture and leaving behind malted fur wherever they went. This pleased the Doctor to no end. She took every opportunity to stroke and pet and baby-talk their furry new companions.
The Doctor booked them into two separate rooms. Yaz didn’t know why that niggled at her so much. She said nothing, of course; it would be strange to object.
So why did she want to so badly?
After settling in and cleaning up, the pair decided to head out and explore the city some more. It was incredibly hot out - a kind of thick, wet heat that made Yaz feel as if she were wading through swamp water. They walked slow. Thankfully, the historic district was slightly cooler due to the shade granted by the buildings and the trees, keeping them both out of direct sunlight. Yaz was grateful for this, she wasn’t certain she’d have been able to cope otherwise.
Which is why it astounded her that the Doctor was still so chipper and sprightly, practically bouncing on her heels as she talked a mile a minute. Yaz wondered exactly what it would take to dampen the Doctor’s spirits, before deciding a split second later that she didn’t want to find out. She loved the Doctor’s perky nature far too much, as if she were bottled sunshine. Why waste time pondering its limits?
It was too hot for proper hunger so they stopped at an ice cream parlour per the Doctor’s suggestion, eating their cones at a table outside the shop and watching the people and cars pass them by. The frozen dessert eased the warmth in Yaz’s face some.
The tower clock struck four.
The Doctor looked at Yaz over her cone.
”I’ve been thinking about your cork,” She announced out of the blue.
“You’ve been thinking about my cork?” It took Yaz a moment to realise that the Doctor must have been referring to the cork from their shared bottle of champagne; the one she had held on to.
”Yep,” The Doctor licked an errant drop of ice cream from the corner of her lip and Yaz had to stop herself from watching her mouth so closely.
“What about it, then?”
”Well, think about it,” The Doctor prompted. “A cork is just... a cork. You don’t look twice at a cork. Why should you? Nothin’ special to it. But then you attach a memory to this not-very-special thing and, in doing so, the thing becomes more special.”
”Well done, Doctor. You’ve just described sentimental value,” Yaz joked, adjusting her chair to evade the shaft of sunlight impairing her vision. She had to keep doing so each time the sun lowered a little more, as if the light were chasing her, and each time she did she shifted that much closer to the Doctor. Their chairs were inches away now. Yaz failed to acknowledge that she had a habit of always coming as close to the Doctor as she could get away with.
“Yes, sentimental value!” The Doctor exclaimed. “It’s so human. I love it. I don’t think I’ve ever met a species more sentimental. Anyway, well, it just gave me an idea, is all. I reckon we should take little keepsakes from each place we visit, you know? Tangible memories. Flashbacks you can hold. Thought it might be a neat thing to do, what do you think?”
Yaz, briefly, had a sham vision which took her entirely by surprise. It was a vision of the Doctor, many years in the future, travelling alone in the TARDIS and poring over a little box of souvenirs from some long ago road trip with a friend she’d said goodbye to lifetimes ago. In her mind’s eye, she saw the Doctor smile sadly as she cast her mind back to this one small blip in her timeline, before once more shelving the box somewhere among her vast collection of forgotten things and leaving it to gather dust.
Yaz’s heart hurt; she suddenly felt as if she herself were a memory, a frozen moment of nostalgia. She expelled the image from her mind and forced a smile.
”I think it’s a great idea.”
Yaz and the Doctor ended up meandering into an art gallery whose glass facade overlooked the river. There was an event on, showcasing the work of several up-and-coming new artists. The art ranged from the bizarre to the melancholy to the totally ambiguous. They soon gravitated toward one particular collection, a range of oil paintings which relied heavily on rich, romantic shades of pink and red and often depicted specific areas of the female anatomy.
Yaz was studying a piece that, after some looking at, revealed itself to be two women wrapped up in bed together. It was difficult to make out at first, as the sheets and skin all seemed to melt into one. And besides, it was only a partial picture, for flames at the edges of the canvas threatened to devour the bodies of the lovers.
“Oh, this one’s amazing,” The Doctor said, coming up behind Yaz.
Yaz started as if she had just been caught doing something wrong, not having realised that the Doctor was right there. She cleared her throat and nodded. “Yeah, it’s...”
”Beautiful!” The Doctor finished.
Yaz didn’t know why she was blushing.
”I’m glad you like it,” Came the cool reply of a stranger Yaz hadn’t noticed standing there; a woman in her mid-twenties with traditional tattoos sleeving her arms, a streak of grey in otherwise jet black hair, and several piercings in her ears and nose. Yaz couldn’t deny how striking she was; she wondered how she had possibly missed her before. “I’m Luna Hui. The artist.”
She extended her hand toward Yaz. Yaz blinked, still slightly taken by those bright hazel eyes. She looked down at her outstretched hand, remembered herself. “Oh, sorry, yeah, I’m Yaz. This is the Doctor,” She introduced herself as she shook Luna’s hand.
”The Doctor?” Luna shook the Doctor’s hand, too. “Is that a pseudonym? Are you an artist, too, or just eccentric?”
The Doctor grinned. “Ah, bit of both. Every eccentric person is an artist in one way or another, eh?”
Luna smiled. “Very true,” Her eyes glided back towards Yaz. “I noticed you looking at this piece. It’s one of my favourites; I call it Passion of the Damned.”
”It’s amazing,” Yaz remarked, eyes falling over the canvas once more. “Where do you get your ideas from?”
“Well, with this piece I wanted to celebrate the sinners like me who are paving the way to hell with a damn good time. Two women making love as the flames of hell set their bed ablaze around them seemed as good a way as any to get that concept across,” Luna explained, eyeing Yaz as she admired the artwork. “It’s a fuck you to anyone who’s got a problem with love in any of its countless forms, basically.”
“Do you encounter a lot of people who have a problem with who you are?” Yaz asked.
“Oh, sure, I get it a lot. Existing itself becomes an act of bravery when there are so many out there who hate you for it,” Luna said. “Well. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”
”Sorry?” Yaz did not know exactly what she meant.
“Well, the two of you...” Luna looked pointedly between Yaz and the Doctor. “It’s in the energy you both exude. I felt it the moment I first saw you both.”
Yaz breathed a laugh and looked to the Doctor for some kind of mutual assurance that this was a ridiculous notion, but the look on the Doctor’s face suggested she didn’t entirely understand what Luna was implying.
“Energy?” The Doctor asked.
”You know,” Luna smiled and raised an eyebrow, as if waiting for Yaz and the Doctor to give up the game and admit to it. “Sapphic. Romantic.”
”Oh, I - that’s,” Yaz was at a loss for words. Her cheeks felt hot. The worst part was that she couldn’t even explain why this conversation was making her feel so awkward, only that it was.
Luna appeared amused. “My mistake, then. The two of you are just friends?” She looked straight at Yaz. “Both single?”
Yaz faltered. Was Luna flirting? With her? She thought she might die on the spot, and it was a good thing for her that the Doctor spoke next because she didn’t think she had it in her to articulate a proper sentence with the way Luna was staring at her right then.
“Yeah, just mates,” The Doctor confirmed. “Doing a bit of travelling. Road trip. Aren’t from ‘round here, as you can probably tell.”
”I figured,” Luna finally tore her eyes away from Yaz, mercifully releasing her from their hold. “Well, you can consider me a friend in this town. In fact, I’m having a party later on a boat down by the river to celebrate the success of my first art show. I’d love it if you both could come. You seem like interesting people, and I adore interesting people.”
”Oh, mega, we’d love to,” The Doctor accepted the invitation on their behalf.
”Great. Here,” Luna pulled a pen from the pocket of her shirt, took hold of Yaz’s hand, and wrote the dock number and time on her skin. Yaz hoped Luna couldn’t feel how clammy her palms were. She glanced at the Doctor; the Doctor smiled knowingly back. Yaz didn’t even realise she’d been holding her breath until after Luna let go of her hand and she started to breathe again. “Can’t wait to see you there. Bye for now,” She winked at Yaz - only at Yaz - then turned away and rekindled with her crowd of artists and art lovers alike.
”She were nice,” The Doctor mused. “Think she fancies you a bit.”
Yaz didn’t say a word, though the tops of her ears continued to burn for a good ten minutes following the encounter.
Yaz was in the Doctor’s room.
The Doctor didn’t know exactly what kind of attire she might be expected to wear at an artsy boat party, and though Yaz wasn’t exactly certain what to expect either, she didn’t hesitate to offer a helping hand. All the clothes Yaz had bought for the Doctor were laid out on the bed, most of them colourful and expressive like the Doctor herself. None of them were particularly formal - Yaz hadn’t anticipated needing formal clothing - but she hoped it would be more of a relaxed atmosphere than a typical soirée, given that it was hosted by a young artist and apparent free spirit.
“These clothes are awesome,” The Doctor commended Yaz as she perused the choices laid out before her. “You know me well, Yaz.”
”Where better to shop for the Doctor than a thrift shop in the 80’s?” Yaz quipped, pretending like the Doctor’s remark about how well she knew her didn’t make her feel as smug as it really did. “Try that shirt with... those jeans. Oh, and this jacket.”
The Doctor took the clothes handed to her by Yaz and obediently disappeared into the bathroom to change. Yaz sat on the bed and waited, trying not to think about the fact that the Doctor was undressing only a few feet away from her. Yaz had been having a lot of intrusive thoughts lately, mostly pertaining to the Doctor, and she wasn’t sure what to make of them.
She only wished they would go away.
The Doctor reappeared moments later, wearing a short-sleeved, button down shirt with colourful, vertical stripes running down the length of the fabric. The shirt was tucked into a pair of high waisted denim jeans, and her raggedy brown boots had been replaced by a pair of burgundy Doc Martens which Yaz hadn’t been able to resist buying for her. She slipped a matching blazer over her shirt to complete the outfit, then held out her arms and gave Yaz a twirl.
“Very 80’s,” Yaz said, nodding approvingly. And also, she thought, very attractive. “I love it.”
”The stripes are very me,” The Doctor said as she studied herself in the mirror. She met Yaz’s eyes in the reflection and smiled a wide, gleeful smile. “Now let’s get you out of those clothes, shall we?”
Yaz felt her heart stop.
Not an hour later, Yaz and the Doctor were walking down a street overlooking the river, headed towards the boat. It was almost eight; the sun had been down for a while. Instead, their source of light came from glowing windows, from moonlight and electric lanterns guiding the way. There were still quite a few people out and about, a pleasant din emanating from the city around them as people dined out in restaurants by the water, or oozed out of a late showing at the theatre, or hung out on balconies sharing cigarettes and quiet conversation.
It was cooler than before, but still warm. Still humid. Yaz wore a light, airy blouse and a cropped pair of jeans, which she had chosen with the Doctor’s assistance, but even that felt like too much. There was no escaping Savannah’s heat.
Following a brief but pleasant walk along the riverbank, Yaz and the Doctor soon located the boat. Yaz stopped. The boat was not a boat, it was a yacht, and a damn big one at that. She read the writing on her hand again and looked up to make sure they were in the right place. They were.
“That boat is huge,” Yaz said, head tilted back as she took in the enormity of the vessel.
The Doctor made a noise of indifference. “I’ve seen bigger,” She shrugged. “Ooh, I ever tell you about the time I stopped the Titanic from crashing into Buckingham Palace? Well, space Titanic.”
Yaz listened to the Doctor’s tale of bodiless villains and heroic martyrs as they made their way up the ramp, which had fairy lights woven through the railing and which led them to the deck. There they found a whole host of quirky, young, artsy partygoers drinking champagne from flutes and, as Yaz overheard, discussing the merits of creating art whilst under the influence of various class A’s. Luna’s friends all looked like the kind of people who had money to burn but enjoyed acting like they didn’t, wearing tatty clothes and appropriating the hippie lifestyle because they thought it made them seem interesting. She’d met her share of students in Sheffield who were more or less the same.
Yaz might have felt more out of place had she not grown accustomed to visiting foreign planets as an actual alien.
Luna spotted them arriving and detached from a circle of friends to greet them. “Yaz, Doctor, I’m so glad you made it. I hope you found it all right?”
”Kinda hard to miss a boat this big,” Yaz said.
“Not the starving artist you expected?” Luna asked, smiling. “I promise it’s not as hubristic as it looks. All of the money I made from my art is going to a charity for LGBT youth; this party is really just a thank you to my friends and family for supporting me.”
”Lot of friends,” Yaz looked around at the countless people, both those on deck and inside at the bar whom Yaz could see through the glass walls.
“That’s right. I try to make a new friend wherever I go,” Luna leaned in to Yaz. “And I usually have pretty good taste.”
Yaz saw the Doctor subtly roll her eyes, out of view of Luna. She wasn’t sure the Doctor had intended for Yaz to notice, but she did notice, because she noticed everything the Doctor did. Yaz realised that the Doctor rolling her eyes at Luna’s flirting stirred up more of a response within her than the flirting itself. She gave Luna an awkward smile. Yaz was not used to being hit on by intimidatingly attractive women, and somehow the fact that it was happening in front of the Doctor made things worse. Yaz didn’t understand why.
“Anyway, enjoy the party,” Luna touched Yaz’s arm lightly. “There’s a band on inside. Do check them out.”
She left them to it.
“D’you think I should drop a hint that I’m not into girls?” Yaz asked once Luna was out of earshot, turning to face the Doctor just in time to catch a frown that altered her features for no more than a fraction of a second before disappearing in lieu of a smile.
“Something tells me it probably wouldn’t matter much to her,” The Doctor speculated. “Drink?”
They headed inside, taking advantage of the complementary champagne and sitting at the bar as a band at the far end of the room played experimental rock music Yaz found hard to listen to. The band members all had long, greasy hair and looked like they hadn’t showered in a week. Unsurprisingly, everybody else seemed to be enjoying it. It took several drinks for Yaz to stop minding it so much, at which point she started to loosen up, mingle a little with the crowd, spend less time judging everybody.
Yaz discovered that she was amongst a very diverse group of people from varying cultures and backgrounds, most of whom carried with them an admirable amount of confidence when it came to expressing their beliefs, their sexuality, their individual identities. She thought perhaps she had been a little hasty in her assumptions about the eighties and the people living in it. This was quite a liberal scene for the deep south of America.
So liberal that the people they spoke to continuously mistook them for a couple. It got to the point where Yaz stopped correcting them, and she and the Doctor would laugh about it after, but Yaz’s laughter felt hollow in her own ears because there was a kind of unease which had settled in her chest that only kept growing the more they played pretend. Yaz didn’t know how to describe it, or what to name this feeling.
It ached, though. It ached something awful.
An hour or two went by and Yaz was champagne-tipsy. She and the Doctor were out on the deck, a way away from everybody else. They leaned against the barriers, eyes on the water, quietly contemplating. A mild breeze combed through their hair, tugged at Yaz’s blouse, carried the flavour of salt and seafood drifting toward them from a nearby restaurant.
The water looked black as coal. Yaz peered into it and tried to locate that aching unease inside of herself. She was pretty positive that it lived inside her heart, and when she poked and prodded at it with questions of where it had come from and what it meant, the only answer she received was the sudden urge she got to turn her head and glance at the Doctor. The Doctor, eyes on the horizon, looked pensive, calm, beautiful. Yaz frowned and lowered her eyes. It hurt to look at her.
”Yaz! Look!” The Doctor pulled Yaz from her thoughts, tugging her sleeve and pointing at something in the water.
Yaz followed the direction of her finger and squinted. For a moment, nothing. Then the surface of the water broke and a grey shape, wet and smooth, revealed itself to Yaz. It disappeared, reappeared, disappeared again. The shape was quite far away, but it was unmistakable. “Was that a dolphin? No way.”
”Looks like it’s swimming away,” The Doctor said. “Bit too close to the bank.”
”It’s beautiful,” Yaz said, watching moonlight glisten in the water clinging to its skin as it swam further and further from their line of sight. She smiled. “It’s mad, I’ve seen so many incredible things while I’ve been travelling with you. I’ve been on other worlds, met major historical figures, and I still get excited when I catch a glimpse of a dolphin in the water.”
“Just because there are an infinite amount of wonders out there beyond the doors of the TARDIS, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty right here under your nose. I’d be bummed if you didn’t get excited when you caught a glimpse of a dolphin, dolphins are awesome.”
”You just forget, I suppose, to appreciate the little things,” Yaz watched the dolphin vanish beneath the surface of the water for the last time. “The things right in front of your eye.”
“Yeah,” The Doctor fixed her eyes on Yaz. “S’pose you’re right.”
It wasn’t much later that Luna interrupted the band in order to give a speech, as prompted by her friends. Yaz and the Doctor watched from the bar and listened as Luna spoke about what her artwork meant to her, about how difficult it was for her to come to terms with her sexuality but how freeing it had ultimately been when she made the decision to accept herself. Yaz felt strangely emotional by the time the speech was over, as if Luna’s words had struck a chord in her. She brushed it off as empathy.
After the speech, while the Doctor was off impressing a crowd of people with her vast knowledge of art history, Luna approached Yaz at the bar.
“Having a good time, Yaz?” Luna asked after ordering herself a drink.
“Oh, yeah, party’s great. You know a lot of interesting people,” Yaz sipped her drink and surveyed the party with her back to the bar. “Loved your speech, by the way. Emotional. Can’t imagine what it must be like to have to constantly justify your existence.”
”Can’t you?” Luna asked.
“What do you mean?”
Luna glanced at the Doctor, who Yaz could see was animatedly waving her hands about as she no doubt recounted some epic story about Picasso or any other art legend. Yaz smiled, noticed Luna watching her, and stopped smiling. It was an involuntary thing her face just did when she looked at the Doctor, and now for some reason she felt self conscious about it, maybe because Luna was looking at her with an expression almost resembling sympathy.
”To want and not to have,” Luna mumbled.
Yaz thought she was probably quoting someone but didn’t want to embarrass herself by asking who. “I don’t want the Doctor,” She said, but the words left a bitter taste in her mouth like burnt coffee or poison.
“Okay,” Luna let it go. She leaned against the bar next to Yaz, their arms close to touching, and looked sideways at her. “I’m glad.”
Yaz swallowed when she fell into the trap of meeting Luna’s gaze. Her hazel eyes were so much like the Doctor’s. If Yaz had still been sober she probably would have taken this chance to insist that she wasn’t into girls; to let Luna down gently. As it were, Yaz was toeing the line between tipsy and drunk, and Luna was doing no harm, and she was very pretty.
Luna reached out for Yaz’s hand. Yaz looked down at the rose inked onto Luna’s skin; did not protest when she tugged her towards the dance floor near the band. “Come dance with me.”
They joined the gaggle of drunk twenty-somethings as the band played an upbeat song about youth and rebellion. Luna danced against Yaz and Yaz let her, laughing between bits of conversation shouted over the music. It was strange, but Yaz felt a little nervous whenever Luna looked up through dark lashes, set those wide eyes on her, smiled like she knew all of Yaz’s secrets.
Which she did a lot of.
Each song melted into the next until eventually, a softer song accompanied by lyrics about falling in love and dancing under overpasses began to play. Luna, drunk and a little clumsy, almost stumbled into Yaz when she put her arms on her shoulders as if to slow dance with her. Yaz was drunk too, so she smiled and allowed it, though those nerves had reached a new extreme. Luna’s hair smelled like watermelon and Yaz wasn’t sure why that mattered but for some reason it did.
Halfway through the song, Luna looked at Yaz and Yaz knew that she was about to kiss her.
She had time to stop her. She saw the kiss coming, watched Luna leaning in with her eyes glued to Yaz’s lips, felt her warm breath touch her cheek moments before their lips met. She could have stopped Luna, but she didn’t. In fact, it was Yaz who closed that last bit of space between their mouths when Luna paused to ask, with her eyes, if Yaz wanted this. Yaz answered by way of cupping Luna’s face and pressing her lips firmly and a little sloppily against hers.
Luna’s lips were sticky with lipstick and she tasted like cola and rum. She was a good kisser, Yaz thought, but when she closed her eyes and dissolved into the kiss it wasn’t really Luna she was thinking of.
Yaz was usually opposed to PDA, and yet she and Luna kissed, scarcely coming up for air, for the remainder of that song. When it ended, they broke apart, and they looked at each other, and they started to laugh. Luna wiped a smudge of lipstick from the corner of Yaz’s mouth, winked, and started to dance again. Yaz was about to keep dancing, too, until she glanced at the bar and saw the Doctor standing there, watching her.
The Doctor smiled at Yaz but the smile didn’t reach her ears.
Yaz froze. She suddenly felt impossibly guilty, though she knew she had no reason to. She had done nothing wrong. So what if she had kissed that girl? So what if the Doctor had seen? Why did it matter? More to the point, why did Yaz feel like she’d just been caught cheating?
She didn’t feel much like dancing anymore.
In fact, she and the Doctor left the party shortly after. The Doctor had gone quiet and Yaz was pretty tired; it was getting late and she’d just spent the past hour dancing. They didn’t bother saying goodbye to Luna. Or anyone, for that matter. They just slipped quietly away and began the walk back to the hotel in silence. The Doctor had her hands clasped behind her back and her eyes on her boots. Yaz, drunk, kept getting distracted by the stars instead of watching where she was going and so kept occasionally bumping into things.
The next time it happened, it was the Doctor she bumped into. Yaz stumbled backwards and the Doctor steadied her by placing her hands on her shoulders.
The Doctor raised a brow and tilted her head in an accusatory fashion. ”Little bit tipsy, are we?”
“Little bit,” Yaz confirmed, thinking about the Doctor’s hands on her shoulders, thinking about how she and Luna were in a position very similar to this one before they had kissed. For one fleeting, petrifying moment, Yaz found herself wondering what the Doctor would taste like were they to kiss right now. The second she thought it, Yaz extinguished that line of thinking and stepped back, letting the Doctor’s hands fall to her sides. Where did that come from?
“You okay?” The Doctor asked.
”Good. Let’s get you home, eh?”
They kept on walking, but Yaz didn’t want to go back to that strange silence that had settled between them so she attempted to make conversation with the Doctor.
“How did you like the party?” She asked.
”It were all right. Shrimp was amazing, did you try that shrimp?” The Doctor made a satisfied sound. “Then, I s’pose you were too busy letting the host entertain you to pay much mind to the shrimp. Fancied her back then, did you?”
The Doctor sounded like she was trying to come across as indifferent, but there was a strain on her voice which Yaz heard quite clearly. What it meant, she had no idea.
“I didn’t fancy her. I’m not- It was just a kiss,” Yaz insisted. “It doesn’t have to mean anything. Kisses don’t have to mean anything.”
”You’re not being accused of anything, Yaz,” The Doctor assured her, voice soft. “It’s okay.”
”I know. I just...” Yaz didn’t even know what she was defending herself against, or why it mattered to her so much that the Doctor knew that the kiss meant nothing. “It was just a kiss.”
”Okay,” The Doctor’s smile seemed, if Yaz wasn’t mistaken, more genuine that it had before. “Good.”
”I mean,” The Doctor added quickly. “Yasmin Khan deserves only the best.”
Except Yaz wasn’t sure that was what the Doctor had meant. She had sounded relieved. Or Yaz was drunk and imagining things, which she wagered was probably closer to the truth than the alternative. She laughed the remark off, and the remainder of their walk home felt softer, complemented by a silence they shouldered comfortably.
But when Yaz said goodnight to the Doctor fifteen minutes later, and crawled into bed, and stared at the ceiling with eyes wide open, she found that all she could think of was that one word.
Yaz didn’t sleep much that night.
come on yaz... the clues are all there buddy... writings on the wall pal.... do u think maybe ur a little... not straight.. perhaps?
The Doctor spent much of that first night in Savannah sitting cross-legged atop the floral print sheets of her bed. She left the light on low, dug the TARDIS blue journal out of her coat pocket, and read the thing cover to cover. Again, and again, and again. It was one of those nights. A night for reflection, for remembering, for reminding herself why she didn’t put herself through the agony of falling in love anymore.
She kept circling back to one entry in particular:
“On one hand, I know it’s a dangerous thing to travel alone when you are as old and as clever and as unhinged as I am. I know what I can become; I’ve met all the ugliest parts of me and still I fear there’s worse to come. On the other hand, letting people through the doors of the TARDIS is the same as letting them in through the walls I’ve built and that only ever leads to more heartbreak, more loss, more ugliness. Everyone I have ever loved, I have lost. Everyone I will ever love, I will lose. Timelessness is a curse. I don’t know that love is worth it, or if it’s simply easier to stop holding my own darkness at bay; let the oncoming storm roll on. Perhaps we’re all overdue for a little rain.”
It was her previous self that had written it, and had done so on a very dark day indeed. Namely, the Doctor had written this passage as Darillium’s twenty four year night finally succumbed to the break of dawn and she had said her farewells to River Song for the very last time.
River had been good.
Oh, River had been so good.
But the library had always been waiting for her, and the Doctor had known that since the first day they met. So why did she ever deem it a good idea to let herself love that maddening, beautiful, quite possibly insane woman? Did she ever really have a choice in the matter? Somehow, she doubted it.
Things were different now, though. The Doctor’s wife, for all intents and purposes, was dead. She’d never put herself through anything like that again; it almost ruined her. It did ruin her.
Yes, the Doctor had allowed three shiny new human beings past the doors of her big blue box, but her own walls remained intact. Every day, the Doctor made the conscious choice not to let them through, not to talk about herself in any way that mattered, not to give them anything. The Doctor loved them freely, sure, but not totally. Not so much that she made herself as vulnerable as she had been in both distant and recent history.
Only, she worried that was beginning to change.
Her new friends were fast becoming family. Occasionally, her mask would slip - if only for the briefest of moments - and she would betray parts of herself she’d vowed to conceal, to protect. It was worse around Yaz. Even back on the TARDIS, she found herself bending the rules of time just because Yaz asked nicely and blinked at her with those wide, glassy eyes. She should have known better than to take Yaz back along her personal timeline. The last time she had done that was for Rose.
The last time she had done that the fabric of space and time had almost ripped itself apart.
But Yaz had asked nicely.
And now, she felt that every moment spent in Yaz’s company cemented her place in the Doctor’s hearts a little more. She’d have such trouble digging her out now, and the problem was, she wasn’t even trying. After all, it wasn’t really her that had written that passage, it was a grumpy Scotsman with furious eyebrows. It wasn’t her who had contemplated surrendering to the darkest parts of herself. Not really.
But then, to deny that she and him were one and the same was to deny her love for River Song, and she would sooner die than do that. Which begged the question: underneath it all, how much had she really changed? Did she really still view love as a curse, a doomsday countdown, a thing to flee from?
Something shone directly into the Doctor’s eyes.
She squinted, shielded her vision, looked up. The sun was up, glinting off the reflection of the mirror on the door right into her eyes. The Doctor hadn’t even noticed that it was light out now, morning tap tap tapping at the window and prompting her to close the journal and climb out of bed. After showering and changing into a T-shirt and jeans which Yaz had called ‘mom jeans,’ she headed downstairs to the communal area. Yaz, she assumed, would welcome a lie in. She let her sleep.
Once at the communal area - a lounge complete with two floral sofas, matching floral wallpaper, a boxy TV and a set of glass doors overlooking a small garden out back - the Doctor fixed herself a cup of tea. Nobody else was around.
She shoved one hand into the pocket of her jeans and looked around with a soft sigh. If she had been on the TARDIS, there’d be so much to do. Something to fix, systems to amend, a time vortex to navigate, refurbishments to make. Here there was just... waiting. Lifting her mug to her lips, she glimpsed something through the steam, beyond the glass doors. She paused. Smiled.
The Doctor crossed the room and opened the door out onto the stone patio. At her feet was a cat. It was grey with bright green eyes and a white spot on the end of its tail. The cat watched her intently as she closed the glass door behind her and sat down on the edge of the patio beside it. The stone step felt cool under her, a welcome respite from the typically unavoidable heat.
“Hello,” She greeted the cat. “You are very pretty. What’s your name, then?” The Doctor tentatively reached for the collar around the cat’s neck; it did not shy away from her touch. She read the engraving on the tag and a small breath of disbelief escaped between barely parted lips.
“Oh, that’s just not fair.”
Rose. The cat’s name was Rose.
“Still watching over me, eh? Making sure I don’t get into any trouble?” She smiled at it, trailed her fingertips gently over its spine. The cat began to purr and pressed herself into the Doctor’s palm. “Well, I’m in a spot of trouble right now, as it happens.”
Her new furry friend proved to be a great listener as the Doctor recounted the series of events which had led to her losing the TARDIS and getting herself and Yaz stranded in America in the wrong era. Before she knew it, she was telling Rose all about last night’s party on the boat. Specifically, she talked about Yaz, about Luna, about the kiss.
“Don’t get me wrong, she were nice enough. Pretty, sure. Tall, yes,” The Doctor listed these attributes like it pained her to admit to any positive characteristics associated with Luna. “She was only 1.8 inches taller than me though. Not that I noticed, really. Oh, don’t look at me like that. This is Yasmin Khan we’re talking about, all right? She deserves only the best. She deserves...”
The Doctor trailed off. Her hand stilled mid-stroke and her eyes latched onto a cloud she couldn’t even see for how deep in in her own line of thinking she was. Rose meowed at her, tugging her back into the present.
”Oi, no! I didn’t mean it like that. ‘Course not. Me and Yaz are mates. Good mates. Best mates!” She glanced at Rose, whose wide eyes were fixated on her. The Doctor scrunched up her face and scoffed. “Don’t you give me those eyes, Rose. I’ve seen that look before, okay, I know it well.”
The cat only continued to look at her, which the Doctor took as an accusation or personal affront.
“I don’t do that anymore, alright?” She defended herself against Rose’s unblinking silence. “I’m a changed ma- woman. Oh aye, in plenty of ways, let me tell you. Straight and narrow from now on. Trust me.”
At the sound of Yaz’s voice, the Doctor sprang to her feet and spun around. She looked up to find Yaz leaning out over the ledge of her window, hair a knotted mess, eyes sleepy and confused. The Doctor’s eyes widened for a moment before she thought to mould her features into a more pleasant, less dread-filled expression.
“Mornin’ Yaz!” The Doctor lifted her hand to wave at her friend, then changed her mind halfway through the motion and smoothed the back of her hair down instead. “How long you been standing there? Just woke up?”
”Were you talking to the cats again?” Yaz asked, tone resembling that of an exasperated parent who had just caught their toddler in the act of doing something peculiar but slightly amusing again. Yaz had a habit of adopting this tone semi-frequently around the Doctor, because most of the things she did were peculiar and slightly amusing. At least to onlookers.
“Absolutely! Cats are brilliant conversationalists,” The Doctor shouted up. “Fancy going into town for some breakfast?”
Yaz stirred her coffee absently. The Doctor’s eyes followed the slow, circular motion the stirrer made, her chin resting in her palm. They were in a little café not far from where they were staying, sitting at an indoor table in the corner of the room. It was only mildly cooler inside than out, a fan nearby whirring as it turned where it stood, occasionally gracing the Doctor and Yaz with an artificial breeze. Other patrons were scarce; it was still early.
The smell of fresh pastries, of butter and roasted coffee beans and various sweet cakes, was thick in the air around them. A waitress made her rounds, wiping down tables and humming along to the stereo behind the counter. It was a Springsteen track.
“So, what were you talking to the cats about?” Yaz asked, still peering into her coffee, the remnants of sleep not yet entirely eradicated. “Get any decent gossip about the neighbourhood dogs?”
The waitress brought their food over. Beans on toast for Yaz and a fried egg sandwich for the Doctor. They each thanked her as she filled their coffee.
“Should always respect a feline, Yaz. They could be cradling your distant descendants back to health on New Earth one day,” The Doctor warned, picking her loaded sandwich up with both hands. “Or breeding thousands of human clones only to inject them with every disease known to man. It’s always either one way or the other with cats, isn’t it? Precarious creatures.”
Yaz stifled a yawn and shook her head at the Doctor’s nonsense, while the Doctor set to work on her food.
“How long were you awake before I woke up?” Yaz asked after the Doctor had polished off the first half, blowing the steam from her fresh coffee. “Don’t think I’ve ever woken up before you.”
”Oh, I was up all night.”
”What? All night?” Yaz set her mug down. “Well, what were you doing?”
”You know. Some light reading, little bit of self refection,” The Doctor chewed at a bit of crust and shrugged. “The usual. Well, not the usual. I’d usually be mending the TARDIS, but...”
Yaz frowned. “Aren’t you tired?”
”Nah, not me. I can go a very long time with very little sleep. Overactive brain, y’see,” The Doctor explained. “So many new thoughts to think, I’ll hardly be able to grasp onto them in my dreams, will I? Dunno how you lot get any thinkin’ done at all, losing a third of your life to unconsciousness.”
Yaz huffed a laugh but her brow was creased. She poked at her beans with the prongs of her fork. The Doctor noticed that her food hadn’t been touched; she wasn’t eating. Perhaps her stomach still felt a little queasy following the amount of champagne she’d consumed the night before, but the Doctor didn’t think she’d been that drunk. And she hadn’t been complaining of a hangover.
“So, is that why you booked us into separate rooms?” Yaz glanced up at the Doctor through her lashes before returning her gaze to her plate.
The Doctor sat a little straighter.
“Didn’t wanna bother you. I’m a pretty restless soul, can’t keep meself still. Or quiet,” The Doctor said. “I’d only keep you up. Didn’t think you’d want that. Didn’t think you’d mind the space anyway.”
”You should have just said,” Yaz dropped her fork. She clasped her hands together between her thighs and looked across at the Doctor. “I wouldnt mind, you know? I’m kind of used to the sound of you tinkering at the end of the corridors in the TARDIS, anyway. Bit like white noise to me, now. Quite enjoy it.”
The Doctor looked back at Yaz. A delightful warmth spread across her chest when she envisioned Yaz lying in bed, half asleep, drifting away to the sounds she made as she mended and repaired and occasionally chatted to the TARDIS. The Doctor always tried to be as quiet as possible but even the slightest noises had a habit of echoing along those cavernous hallways, of bouncing around between opposite ends of the ship.
Sometimes, rarely, the Doctor would even catch the end of a tune sang softly by Yaz as she showered or cooked. Whenever that happened, she’d pause her tinkering, would lie on her back with her arms still buried into the guts of her TARDIS and take the time to close her eyes and listen.
They were moments both small and huge, because though they were fleeting they gave the Doctor another in a long list of reasons not to travel alone. She hadn’t, for a second, considered that anybody else sought a similar solace in the familiar din of the vessel or its pilot.
“Okay then,” The Doctor nodded. “Same room next time?”
Yaz smiled. “Same room, yeah.”
Yaz and the Doctor visited a few shops in the district. It was in one of such shops - a charming secondhand book store tucked away in the corner of town - that the Doctor found herself (as she often did) following Yaz with her eyes.
Yaz didn’t know the Doctor was watching; she’d perched herself on a window ledge, back to the wall, nose in an old leather-bound book. The Doctor watched adoringly from across the room as Yaz stroked the spine of the book, inhaled the scent of old, dusty paper untouched in years, flicked through the pages with delicate fingers. Yaz handled the books as if they were forged from glass. The Doctor loved that Yaz had this way about her that was just so tender.
Which is when a shaft of light, from between a gap in the heavy red drapes, fell over the scene. A million particles of dust revealed themselves to be suspended in the air around Yaz, hovering, dancing, alive... but only for as long as the golden beam illuminating Yaz allowed them to be. Her hair shone like silk, her skin glowed as though starlight itself coursed through her veins, and oh, her eyes—
The Doctor took the camera from her knapsack and stole a picture of Yaz.
However, when the image developed and she studied the polaroid, her suspicions were confirmed. Yaz, right now, was so beautiful in a way which surpassed those two dimensions and demanded to be whole again. That glossy piece of paper could never have hoped to capture Yaz in this, an ephemeral yet somehow time-stopping moment. The Doctor wished she could just stop the clocks, savour these seconds before they ticked inevitably by, bleed the hues of the painting that was Yaz into the frame of the picture.
She wanted to hold on to this so badly.
The Doctor recognised this feeling. It came around every once in a while, usually while she was in the company of a close friend. It was time, tapping her on the shoulder, reminding her to cherish what she had while she had it. It was grief, tugging at her heartstrings, promising to one day claim this person whom she held so dear.
It was each of her past loves, looking over her shoulder, shaking their heads, asking if she really wanted to put herself through it all again.
They took a walk through the park.
Something was amiss with Yaz, the Doctor could see. She hadn’t been as responsive to the Doctor’s tales as usual, hadn’t really laughed at her jokes or asked any questions, hadn’t said much at all. It was getting to the point where the Doctor was struggling for material - and that never happened. After spending all day respecting Yaz’s right to privacy, she finally gave in to curiosity and genuine concern.
”Y’alright, Yaz?” She asked, while they passed a busker playing guitar along their path. “You’ve been very quiet today.”
”I’m good,” Yaz stopped to listen to the busker so the Doctor followed suit. “Bit tired, I s’pose.”
The Doctor, a woman so well versed in lying and deceit, felt pretty certain that Yaz was not being honest with her. She had one or two subtle tells, but the dead giveaway was her reluctance to meet the Doctor’s eye. The Doctor pursed her lips and watched the performer lean into his mic and begin to sing.
”If something’s wrong, I promise I’m a very good listener,” The Doctor said. “Won an award for it once.”
”It’s nothing, Doctor. I just...” Yaz sighed, hooked her thumbs into her belt holes. “Do you ever doubt yourself? Like, have you ever found yourself wondering if a thing you always thought was true about yourself might not be true after all?”
The Doctor’s eyes flitted sideways, studied the conflict on Yaz’s face, then returned their focus to the busker. He was singing a sad song. She fished a few dollars out of her pocket, dropped them in his guitar case, then nudged Yaz’s elbow and gestured for her to keep walking. After a moment of carrying on in silence, the Doctor replied.
”Part of being a Time Lord, as you know, involves regeneration. But it’s not just my face that changes,” The Doctor explained. “It’s my entire personality. I spend a lot of time working myself out before I properly know who I am again. Even then, sometimes I surprise myself, and not always in the right ways. Be impossible not to doubt myself, really.”
Lord knows the Doctor had made some terrible choices, had directly contradicted her own morals and values, had looked in the mirror and seen a face she was frightened to wear. She had been terrified, the last time she was about to regenerate, because she had been making so much progress. So much time spent moving away from the version of herself who would wipe out two species with the push of a button, or interfere with fixed points in history just because there was no one around to stop them, or think themself a god. She was lucky, she thought, that this face was a happy one, these hearts hopeful, these hands healing.
Even if sometimes the strain it took to keep it all up felt like a little too much.
Before Yaz could think to ask any follow-up questions about the sliver of truth the Doctor had just let slip, she turned the conversation back around to her. “Why d’you ask? What are you doubting?”
For a split second, Yaz looked like she might have been about to tell all to the Doctor. The Doctor prepared herself to hear Yaz’s truth. But then the Doctor saw, on Yaz’s face, the precise moment she decided to close herself off and tell another lie.
“Nothin’, really,” Yaz forced a smile. “Don’t worry about it.”
The Doctor deflated a little. She couldn’t help but feel a little rejected by Yaz’s unwillingness to trust her, if only because she knew what it was like to be incapable of opening up and she wished Yaz saw the Doctor as some kind of exception. Bottling things up was lonely. Still, she wasn’t going to push the matter. If Yaz wanted to talk about what was on her mind, she’d no doubt do so when she felt more comfortable.
“Whatever the case, I personally often find that I already have all the answers I need up ‘ere,” The Doctor tapped her temple. She pressed on, wanting to offer some kind of advice though she knew little of the problem. “Somewhere. Buried under mountains of useless information and rather a lot of bizarre anecdotes, usually. I mean, if it’s an issue of the self then only the self can really solve it. You just have to, y’know, either move the mountains or climb them. Make sense?”
”Yeah, actually,” Yaz nodded. “For once.”
”Good. But that said, talking’s brilliant, too. I love talking. Give me any subject and I’ll rattle you off a whole thesis,” The Doctor raved. “So, like I say, y’ever need anything Yaz, give us a shout. I’m all ears. Well, I haven't been all ears for a few regenerations now. Was a bit chinny for a while. Then came the eyebrows—“
”I think I get the picture,” Yaz interrupted with a laugh, and the Doctor felt a little better at having finally gotten a real smile out of Yaz. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll be sure to let you know if I need you.”
”I really hope so.”
When they passed a street artist offering cheap caricatures along their walk, the Doctor had begged Yaz to let them sit for one. A laughing Yaz had given in, but when the artist revealed the finished portrait to them, it was all the Doctor could do not to blush red as the Crimson Nebula.
Aside from drawing Yaz with a bright white smile which took up half her face, and drawing the Doctor with a vaguely mushroom shaped head, he had also painted hearts in place of the Doctor’s eyes and had her looking longingly at her friend. Of course, it was only a cartoonish imitation, and Yaz had barely seemed to notice as she’d rolled the painting up and tucked it away, but the Doctor began to wonder why it was that so many people constantly mistook them for a couple.
The Doctor went a little stiff after that.
Right until Yaz jokingly called her ‘heart eyes’ a few minutes later, and then the Doctor was so soft again.
“Don’t know what it is about this city,” Yaz said quietly, trailing her fingers over the surface of the water. “It’s so...”
They sat on a wall surrounding a tranquil water fountain, resting. A young girl ran past them, yellow balloon trailing behind. Her laughter lingered with it. The surface of the water rippled where Yaz’s fingers skimmed over it. The Doctor looked up at her, sharing in that same meditative state the park, and these people, and that sun, and those trees, had put Yaz in.
”Romantic,” The Doctor finished, without even thinking.
Yaz looked at the Doctor.
Pinned to a tree, the pair found a flyer promoting an outdoor screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho in the park that evening. Yaz suggested they go; finish their stay in Savannah with a picnic and a black and white picture of Norman Bates stabbing naked ladies to death. The Doctor, forever a fan of picnics in the park, happily agreed.
By the time they arrived, thermal bag and blanket in hand, the field was already filling up with fellow picnic goers and 60’s horror flick lovers. They laid their blanket out in the quietest area they could find and settled down.
It was still light out yet, but through the canopy of leaves overhead, the Doctor could see the blue sky gradually darkening. God, setting the scene for the movie. Or nature, taking its natural course. While they waited for the movie to begin, Yaz took out her map book and declared it time to choose the next destination.
”How many surrounding states are there?” The Doctor asked.
”Uh, four. Not including Florida.”
The Doctor held her hand out for the book and Yaz passed it to her, pointing at the four surrounding states.
“Right, I’ll number the states in me head, you pick a number between one and four. Got it?” The Doctor asked, clearly still keen on the idea of keeping this adventure entirely random and untethered to the usual rules of a road trip.
Yaz chose three.
”Three for Tennessee!” The Doctor announced merrily, as if she knew a thing of Tennessee. “Got a coin?”
Yaz searched herself for a quarter while the Doctor opened the book to a map of Tennessee and spread it out flat on the grass. She instructed Yaz to flip the coin onto the map. Yaz, now understanding what the Doctor was trying to do, did as instructed. When the coin landed, both women leaned in to get a better look.
”Nashville,” They said simultaneously.
"Music city,” Yaz sat back. “Better adapt my tastes a little. Been a while since I’ve listened to country music without plugging my ears.”
The Doctor opened her mouth, getting not a syllable past her lips before Yaz cut in-
“I swear to god, if you try telling me you think country music’s ‘brilliant’ I’m walking away right now,” Yaz threatened in jest. “And telling Ryan.”
The Doctor scrunched up her face but said nothing, eliciting a playful eye roll from Yaz just as the huge screen across the field lit up with the projection of the movie. The Doctor stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned back with her hands flat against the ground on either side of her, and when her little finger overlapped with Yaz’s, she let it lay there right up until Yaz reclaimed her hand in favour of opening up their thermal bag fifteen minutes later.
Two thirds of the way into the film, Yaz rested her head on the Doctor’s shoulder.
She could not have said how that film ended, because the Doctor spent every second that followed focusing every shred of attention she had on staying entirely still, on keeping Yaz’s head right there nestled between her shoulder and her jaw. She hardly even breathed (but then, breathing was always hard when Yaz was around.)
The Doctor wasn’t sure if it was the perfume clinging to Yaz’s skin intoxicating her, but she forgot herself for a moment and unthinkingly reached up to run her fingers through a small kink in Yaz’s hair. Yaz stilled at the touch for one torturous moment, before adjusting herself a little and nestling further into the crook of the Doctor’s neck.
The Doctor released an almost imperceptible sigh of relief, thanking the heavens that those cats couldn’t see her now.
if the doc is deep in her feelings then so am i :-(
hope u enjoyed the chap x
Chapter 6: i killed, i killed
cw for racism (no slurs)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yaz awoke to discover that, after an apparent ‘wink and a half of sleep’, the Doctor had not only fixed the car’s air conditioning, but also tampered with the already well-functioning radio so that it could now play music from any era thirty years on either side, as dictated by a position on the dial.
That wasn’t all.
“Played around with the hotel’s wiring a bit and got those flickering lights sorted, too,” The Doctor told Yaz as they carried their cases to the car. “Babs at the desk gave me a Werthers for me time. Lovely woman.”
That wasn’t all, either.
”Croissant?” The Doctor offered Yaz a brown paper bag from the passenger’s seat. “Got a bit peckish. Thought I’d swing by the bakery and get us some breakfast. Didn’t know what you wanted so I got you one of everything. Well, almost everything. I may have eaten your cinnamon roll. Sorry.”
All this before Yaz had even rubbed the sleep from her eyes. All she could do was blink at the Doctor, at that brown paper bag, at their radio which now had a small glowing fixture attached to it, and shake her head. The Doctor really was something special; a hyperactive insomniac, a beautiful brain with a severe attention deficit, a whole universe perpetually in motion.
Really, by now, Yaz should have been used to it. But then, Yaz thought, one never really gets used to the Doctor. She was like a present wrapped in a hundred layers of bright, colourful wrapping paper. Every time Yaz thought she’d finally gotten to that last sheet, every time she thought this woman had no surprises left to offer, the Doctor went and proved her wrong.
She was, as Yaz was soon to learn, quite unknowable.
By eight thirty, they were on the road.
Yaz was appreciative of the fact that any residual weirdness following her strange behaviour at the boat party had all but dissipated now. Granted, she herself had been a little out of sorts the day before, but as always the Doctor had been on hand to cheer her up. Good thing, too, because they were due to spend a solid seven hours stuck in that car together on the way to Nashville.
It wasn’t long, however, before Yaz’s thoughts started to drift. Specifically, they drifted to past relationships - few though they were.
Yaz thought it odd that she was beginning to doubt them all, to doubt things about her own history which she had once been so sure of. This new lens, this new perspective, was it clarity? Or was it just that the feelings she once had for certain people in her life had faded with time and now she found it difficult to associate any romantic inclination with them at all?
She cast her mind back to Danny Biswas, to sneaking in through bedroom windows, to groping, fumbling, useless hands, to the grim aftertaste his lips left behind (his dad’s cigarettes, Mountain Dew, the hint of a breath mint he’d had the courtesy of sucking on a good hour before she arrived). She’d been just fifteen, and a relative stranger to the dating game, but she’d been so sure then that it was real. Now? Now, she couldn’t recall that kicking heartbeat or any pre-date jitters. She couldn’t recall him plaguing her dreams, conscious or otherwise, or think of a single time when she had walked away from him smiling and giddy and blushing like the lovesick teenager she was supposed to have been.
The dates she’d been on since, none of them had done it for her either. Yaz had always struggled with the idea of the ‘spark.’ Her friends gushed about it, the characters on those cheesy American dramas raved about it, even her sister claimed to share a spark with every guy over six foot she made eye contact with. Yaz had never felt that.
At times, she’d wondered if it was a collective lie conjured by humanity; a conspiracy they all shared in but never spoke of. Of course, when she realised exactly how much like her father she sounded, she quit that line of thinking immediately. There was no conspiracy. Her spark was out there - it was just waiting for some kind of friction to ignite it. That’s what she had told herself, anyway, until she grew up a little more and finding ‘true love’ became a very distant priority in the long list of responsibilities she had to take on.
But here, now, those responsibilities were thirty five years down the line, and she had seven hours with nothing to do but sit and think, and some aspects of her past were beginning to shift under close scrutiny.
Yaz thought of her high school best friend. She’d been one of those girls who wasn’t exactly a part of the in crowd, but was still somehow friends with everybody. She’d had an effortless energy about her, Yaz recalled fondly. Not a mean bone in her body. Yaz remembered how her own eyes would linger on her long neck, defined jaw, full lips. She remembered coming up with any excuse she could just to be near her, to touch her, to feel the pressure of soft skin on soft skin if only for a heartbeat.
Back then, Yaz had thought that was just what it meant to be close to your friends. Intimacy was normal among girls, right? Now, she wasn’t convinced.
What’s worse was that Yaz could see a startling parallel between her high school best friend (and, potentially, crush) and the Doctor. Moreso, she saw a parallel between the way she acted around the two of them. The casual, platonic touches, the lingering looks, the deeply embedded desire to just exist in the general proximity of this person. Yaz idealised the Doctor, this she knew, but if ever there was a woman worth idealising...
Yaz cut off that line of thinking the moment she realised the implications behind what she was considering.
She turned up the radio and bit back a groan when a love song came on.
Halfway along the journey, they made a pit stop at a gas station to refuel.
It was remote, the first hint of civilisation they’d seen in a little while. Yaz was at the fuel pumps when a heavy set trucker type strolled out of the store, chewing tobacco and scratching the scruff of hair on his chin. The Doctor was in the car, music on loud, head in the clouds. Yaz didn’t look at the man; only filled her tank. She heard his boots kicking up gravel as he made his way back to his vehicle, listened with painful awareness as they grew nearer and nearer.
He had a kind of look about him, a meanness in the eyes. And those eyes were on Yaz. She had a bad feeling.
Not today, she thought. Not now.
”Long ways from home, ain’t you?” The man shouted over the pumps, leaning against the side of a semi with his arms crossed.
Yaz glanced at the Doctor, at how much fuel she had left to go. She urged the thing to go faster. “Uh, yeah,” She answered politely. “This place is quite a change from England.”
The man grunted. “England?” He grunted again. “Where you from ‘riginally?”
Yaz squinted through harsh sunlight at the man. His eyes bore into her. She didn’t dignify his question with a response, and the second the tank was full she hooked the pump back up and made towards the store to pay.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you!” The man shouted after her.
He followed her a couple of steps. As Yaz picked up the pace, her brain flooded with a million horror stories she’d seen on the news about similar encounters gone wrong, and she swore she was on the verge of running or swivelling around or, hell, having a panic attack— when the man simply spat his tobacco at the ground near her feet then returned to his truck, grumbling under his breath.
Yaz couldn’t have articulated the relief she felt when she watched his truck drive away through the storefront window if she’d tried.
”Y’alright?” The Doctor asked her when she returned to the car a minute later.
Yaz looked across at the Doctor, smiled as easily as she knew how. “Yeah, ‘course,” She lied. “I got your Coke.”
”Oh, brilliant. Thanks Yaz.”
Yaz handed the Doctor her can of Coke, started the car, and drove away. Best to leave the nearly-ugly ordeal in her rear view mirror. It was nothing she wasn’t used to. Nothing she couldn’t deal with.
Nothing the Doctor would understand, anyway.
Soon enough, Yaz found herself high in spirits once more. Something about the open road, about those endlessly lush green hills sloped at either side of the highway, about having the Doctor by her side, all made it nigh on impossible to retain a negative headspace. Humidity still sat heavy on their shoulders, but Yaz was learning to ignore it. Her window was rolled all the way down, one hand stuck out, mimicking the up-and-down motion of waves. The tendrils of a breeze snaked through her fingers.
Currently, the Doctor was attempting to stretch out using the little legroom she had, awkwardly propping one boot up onto the dash and crossing the other over her leg. Yaz wasn’t sure exactly how comfortable that must have been, but the Doctor had missed her opportunity to stretch her legs at the gas station.
”Stretch my legs?” She had said at the time. “Yaz, I once spent a billion years locked in a confessional dial the size of my palm. Think I can hack a few more hours in this car.”
She soon ate her words.
While Yaz, amused and a little smug, watched the Doctor struggle, a thought occurred to her.
”Have you ever actually done this before?” She asked.
”This,” With one hand, Yaz gestured broadly at the car, at the view beyond, at the road. “A proper road trip, I mean. Have you ever spent so long travelling without the TARDIS?”
”Oh,” The Doctor frowned, thought about it. “Amazingly, Yaz, I don’t think I have. Not like this. Ha, and here was me thinkin’ I didn’t have many firsts left. Who better to do it with though, eh? Me and Yasmin Khan taking the states by storm. Who’d have thunk?”
Yaz and the Doctor both cringed at the Doctor’s use of the word ‘thunk.’
”Remind me not to—“
”Yeah, no, you can’t say that again.”
“Still, that’s exciting, isn’t it? A first. For both of us!” The Doctor beamed at Yaz. “We best do it right, eh? And a little bit wrong. It’s not really a first unless something goes wrong, is it?”
”It’s not really a day in the life of the Doctor unless something goes wrong,” Yaz amended.
“Oi,” The Doctor uncrossed her legs and switched their positions, staring at them angrily as if she might glare them into a more comfortable arrangement. “You call it going wrong, I call it... The scenic route to right.”
”If you say so.”
The Doctor glanced at Yaz. ”What’s that smile for?”
Yaz hadn’t realised it, but she was smiling a rather complacent smile, more to herself than anything. “Dunno, it’s just, our roles have been reversed. You’re the passenger - the tourist - and I’m the pilot. I’m you.” The thought definitely made Yaz feel some type of way.
”And being me looks great on you, Yasmin Khan,” The Doctor poked Yaz’s shoulder. “I’m a little jealous.”
“Have you noticed,” Yaz started, some time later. “That for the past six hours, this radio has played nothing but love songs? Seriously, look.”
Yaz demonstrated her point by turning the dial on their upgraded radio, switching from 70’s to 80’s to 90’s era music and each time unfailingly arriving at another love song, the vocalists all singing of heartache and heartbreak and soulmates. She switched the dial to 00’s music; Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours fit the bill, too.
Yaz looked pointedly at the Doctor. ”What’s that about?”
The Doctor sat forwards, tapped at the glowing attachment she had installed. She stuck her bottom lip out a little, confused. “Must be broken...”
”What is it?” Yaz asked.
”Oh, it’s... It was supposed to be a mood receptor,” The Doctor began to unscrew it. “Plays music that matches the general mood and atmosphere by reading the chemical balances in a person’s brain. Like I said, must be broken.” She detached the receptor and scanned it with her screwdriver.
Yaz quirked a waiting brow. “Broken, right?” Her palms were beginning to feel a little sweaty against the vinyl of the wheel.
”Uh, yeah,” The Doctor didn’t sound as convincing as Yaz would have liked. “Broken.”
She didn’t reattach the receptor.
Nashville was very different to Savannah in a lot of ways.
Driving through the city, they found that it wasn’t exactly more lively per se, just that it presented a whole other kind of life. Perhaps a little wilder. While Savannah had been a relatively tame area of leisurely strolls through the park and relaxed visits to museums and galleries and bookshops, Nashville was a thrumming hub of music and food and the promise of an exciting night life.
Through a crack in the window, the various smells - rustic BBQ, fried chicken, that faint polluted city aroma - filled the volume of their car until Yaz found her stomach growling. It was only around four, but already she could see that the restaurants, honky tonks, and various other venues were starting to fill. If Yaz had taken a shot for every stetson or flannel shirt she drove by, she’d have blacked out a while back. Or potentially died of alcohol poisoning.
The hotel they found wasn’t far at all from the beating heart of the city, and was on a strip accompanied by several shops, eateries, and bars. They booked themselves in (one suite, two single beds), grabbed a few brochures from the lobby, and headed up to their room on the third floor.
The Doctor collapsed dramatically on to the bed, bright hair sprawled out around her head like a golden mane. She flicked through some of the leaflets with her feet propped up on the headrest as Yaz cracked open their window and leaned out, allowing the vibrations of the city to weasel in through the opening and stir to life a renewed energy between both women.
“So, what we feelin’ then?” Yaz asked, referring to their plan of action. She leaned against the desk by the wall.
”Positively elated,” The Doctor answered without skipping a beat, switching one brochure out for another. As soon as she saw the cover, she sat upright instantly. “Nashville Parthenon? Wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait!”
The Doctor jumped to her feet, studiously reading the information enclosed within the brochure. She paced as she did so. Yaz knew what that meant. She was thinking, remembering, trying to sort through the millennia’s worth of memories and knowledge scattered haphazardly across her brain. Yaz watched patiently, knowing to expect the coming epiphany.
“Athens of the South! Yaz, we’re in the Athens of the South!” The Doctor announced. Epiphany realised. “Oh, of course. How’d I forget? Silly, silly Doctor.”
”You’ve been here before?” Yaz inquired, waiting to be clued in.
”Yes. A long time - lifetimes - ago,” The Doctor looked down at the leaflet, exhaled a short laugh through her nostrils. She jerked her head up, planted wide eyes on Yaz. “Tomorrow! We’re going! Oh, have I got a surprise for you, Yaz. Just you wait.”
”What, you’re not gonna read me in?”
“Nope,” The Doctor pointed the brochure at her. “But this is gonna be amazing. Trust me.”
And she did, of course.
Yaz always trusted the Doctor.
The two of them drove around the city searching for a place to eat, eventually settling on a restaurant called The Smokehouse fifteen minutes from the hotel. Aptly named, for as soon as they entered through the saloon style doors, they were bombarded with a thick, smoky aroma which made the air feel dense and a little suffocating.
It was loud, too. Music played from a jukebox in the corner, something by Johnny Cash if Yaz wasn’t mistaken. She thought it a little cliché. They were seated near the kitchen doors, so that whenever a member of the wait staff walked through them, they’d briefly be able to hear the sizzling of meat and the shouting of the chef and cooks, as well as being treated to the mouth watering smells of the various dishes being prepared.
Though it was dimly lit, and though the dark wood panelling and overabundance of patrons at the bar made the place seem smaller than it was, Yaz found that she quite liked the hearty atmosphere. She liked that it was a little rough and ready, and she liked not having to worry about feeling underdressed.
Yaz was starving, so she ordered a big meal. The Doctor claimed not to have been so hungry, so only asked for a rootbeer and a portion of onion rings which had been listed under starters. Of course, she soon polished them off, and then she proceeded to nick half the fries from Yaz’s plate as she talked, probably not totally conscious of the fact that she was doing it.
”D’you mind?” Yaz asked, watching the Doctor dip another fry into her ketchup. “Order your own bloody fries.”
”Nah, not that hungry,” The Doctor said without a trace of irony as she popped the fry into her mouth. “These are really tasty though, don’t you think?”
The Doctor’s smile was half apologetic and half cheeky. Yaz didn’t actually mind. On the contrary, she caught herself thinking that it was kind of cute the way the Doctor felt she didn’t have to ask, because obviously what was Yaz’s was also the Doctor’s (be it a french fry or her entire, beating heart. In a totally platonic way). Yaz let the Doctor finish off her fries.
They chatted some about the trip so far, about the things they’d like to see if they were able to make the time, about how they missed the TARDIS but not as sorely as they had anticipated. Yaz, frankly, hardly even thought of it. She was in no rush to get home, no rush to say goodbye to the Doctor or wrap up their vacation.
”Honestly,” Yaz had said. “It’s like I’d even have fun exploring a supermarket with you.”
”Oh, supermarkets are dead fun. Love riding around in the trolleys,” The Doctor enthused, and Yaz couldn’t be sure if she was joking. “Do get a few funny looks, mind.”
They’d been at the restaurant for over an hour when the Doctor excused herself to use the facilities and Yaz found something she wished she hadn’t. The Doctor had left her coat on the chair, and Yaz thought she would find her psychic paper and use it as ID to get herself another drink at the bar. The Doctor wouldn’t mind.
Only, when Yaz reached into her inside pocket and pulled out the ID, something else slid out onto the floor with a thud. A book. A book that looked like the TARDIS. Yaz picked it up off the floor and ran her finger across the cover, curious. If she had known what it was, she would never have opened it. As it was, Yaz allowed intrigue to get the better of her. She flipped the book open to a random page.
“l killed Amelia Pond. I killed Rory Williams. Somehow, their daughter continues to love me. I’m still trying to figure out how that could be when I’m struggling even to love myself. How can I when every time I close my eyes, I’m standing over their grave again?”
Yaz slammed the book shut.
She scrambled to put the book back in the pocket, confused by the words she’d just read, struggling to hear them in the Doctor’s voice. That didn’t sound like her at all. Maybe, Yaz entertained, those weren’t her words. Maybe the journal was not hers. Yaz realised she was being naive. The book looked like the TARDIS, it was in the Doctor’s coat, and Yaz was certain she recognised the Doctor’s unmistakable penmanship. Who else’s would it have been?
But the Doctor didn’t kill people.
The Doctor was a pacifist; words and a winning smile were her only weapons. She was not a murderer. Was she?
When the Doctor returned, she was none the wiser to Yaz’s inner turmoil or the fragment of a secret she’d just stumbled across. The Doctor continued to talk happily and excessively, while Yaz only had it in herself to nod numbly to whatever point she was making. In truth, she didn’t hear a word, because she kept turning over two words in her mind as if they might then start to make sense.
I killed, I killed, I killed.
Yaz desperately didn’t want her perspective of the Doctor (her happy-go-lucky, bottled sunshine Doctor) to change, so she decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Yaz had only read a couple of sentences and for all she knew they had been taken vastly out of context. The Doctor was always the hero - never the villain. Yaz forced herself to remember that.
So she said nothing of what she had read, and when the Doctor proposed with no small measure of giddiness that they hit up one of the nearby honky tonks, Yaz let herself be pulled through the front door by her keen hands.
She justified giving in to the whimsy of the Doctor by reasoning that it was still semi early, and she wasn’t likely to sleep much anyway. Not now that the number of things plaguing her thoughts and causing her emotional distress had doubled. Alas, the honky tonk was heaving, the band (country, of course) played loudly, and the hillbilly crowd danced and laughed and swore and drank and all of it helped Yaz to forget what it was she was supposed to be upset over in the first place.
But then the Doctor would do something, like place her hand on the small of Yaz’s back while they queued at the bar, or lean in extra close to her face so that she could talk directly into her ear, and where usually Yaz would feel a mellow warmth, now she only felt cold. It spread, this coldness, and it swelled and it festered. Yaz pretended she couldn’t feel it.
This is fine, she told herself. We’re having fun.
Somehow, the Doctor ended up with a stetson on her head. In an effort to make Yaz laugh, she tilted the hat, pulled at her suspenders, and tried her hand at an abysmal Southern accent. Yaz’s responding laughter was reluctant, but it was there. Nevertheless, the Doctor seemed to sense that something was off.
”Somethin’ wrong?” She asked, shouting over the racket of the bar, once again leaning in close enough that Yaz felt the Doctor’s hair brush against her cheek.
Yaz didn’t want to fess up. She’d put on a performance if she had to.
“No, nothing,” She hooked her fingers around the Doctor’s suspenders and backed up towards the dance floor, tugging a now diverted Doctor along with her. “Let’s dance!”
The Doctor took no more convincing than that. Half the crowd were partaking in a line dance, and soon enough both Yaz and the Doctor were mirroring the rhythm and steps of those around them and getting into the full spirit of the south. The Doctor was very much enjoying herself; Yaz convinced herself that she was, too.
It wasn’t a total lie. But it wasn’t the whole truth.
The truth was that when the Doctor planted her hat affectionately on Yaz’s head, and sidled up beside her so that they might dance a little closer together, Yaz experienced such a conflict of emotions that she couldn’t have named a single one if she’d tried.
When the dance ended, Yaz and the Doctor returned to the bar. At this point it was standing room only; every seat in the house was taken and much of the floor was, too. Yaz, therefore, was standing with her back to the bar and her arm pressed against the Doctor’s. She kept on smiling that faux smile. In fact, Yaz believed she’d been doing a good job of saving face thus far. Until the Doctor called her out.
”Right, are you gonna tell me what’s wrong or am I gonna have to whip out my southern accent again?” The Doctor’s words were playful but her tone teetered on the brink of anxious. “I’m not afraid to do it.”
“What d’you mean?” Yaz feigned ignorance.
When the Doctor looked at her then, she did so with a dose of disappointment Yaz found hard to swallow. They both knew she was above playing dumb, so why was she so intent on doing so? Was keeping the Doctor up on her pedestal really so important to Yaz?
”Did I do somethin’ to upset you?” The Doctor asked. “Y’know what I’m like. Big mouth. Always yapping. Don’t even register half the things I say most of the time, but if I’ve said anything—“
“You haven’t said anything,” Yaz said.
”What is it, then?” The Doctor searched Yaz’s eyes for some kind of truth. “‘Cos I know there’s somethin’. You’re not a great liar, Yasmin Khan. Which, by the way, you should definitely take as a compliment.”
”And what about you?” Yaz felt an honest answer threatening to come out. “Are you a good liar?”
The Doctor blinked. Yaz watched as her features changed, eyebrows knitting together, lines around her eyes revealing themelves as an expression both wary and confused coloured her face. Yaz felt pinned to the spot by the way the Doctor studied her then, as if she were an object under close examination. She did not flinch away from the Doctor’s unfaltering stare.
Just as the Doctor opened her mouth to speak, and just as Yaz prepared herself to have a conversation she’d been running from all night, somebody walked right in to Yaz. She stumbled backwards, righted herself, looked up. It was an old white man donning a tattered cowboy hat and worn flannel. He’d spilled his drink all down himself upon colliding with Yaz. He and his friend, another old white guy, leered down at her.
”Keep your filthy fuckin’ hands off me,” The man growled. “You just went and cost me a whole new shirt!”
”Oi!” The Doctor stood between Yaz and the man. “Watch your mouth.”
“Sorry mate, but you walked into me,” Yaz said matter of factly. She had a sneaking suspicion that the ‘accident’ had been staged; that this man was likely drunk, racist, and looking for a fight. She looked around. People were starting to turn their heads, scowl at her. She felt her heartbeat quicken. “Look, Doctor, why don’t we get going?”
”Yeah, why don’t you? All the way back to where you came from,” The man’s friend chimed in.
”You know where the hell we’re talking about,” The first guy leaned his head in menacingly. When he spoke next, it was a mocking whisper. “Back to where they churn your kind out of a bomb factory.”
“You want to think twice about talking to my friend like that,” The Doctor’s voice was low and filled with controlled rage. “About talking to anyone like that.”
The man sneered. “This your girlfriend?”
Yaz didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t spot a single person in the bar who wasn’t white, couldn’t spot a single friendly face in the sea of old fashioned southern stereotypes. She and the Doctor were outnumbered. Yaz had police training, of course. She’d been prepared to deal with similar situations; to diffuse them before they could escalate. Only, that training wouldn’t be so handy without her uniform and badge. She had zero authority here.
The best thing to do, she knew, would be to just get the hell out. Yaz was smart enough to know not to give them the excuse. Besides, the tension between them was infecting those in their immediate proximity, and she felt that someone was liable to start swinging soon.
But that’s when he said it.
Yaz didn’t actually hear the word come out of his mouth, what with the band’s racket still ongoing and the more oblivious patrons still stirring up a tremendous clamour, but Yaz recognised the shape his mouth made. It was a word Yaz had heard a hundred times, one that made her skin crawl and her insides twist as if being wrung out like a damp rag, but ultimately it was a word she was used to.
The Doctor, apparently, was not.
“Really wish you hadn’t said that,” The Doctor said. Then, swift as a swooping bird, she jabbed the man with her index finger in three points on his neck, back, and side.
Nothing happened for a second. Then the second passed. The man’s face went red and his body turned stiff as a board. His friend said his name, to which he said nothing before collapsing to his knees and falling face down on the floor. The growing audience looked on in shock. The man’s friend toed his limp body with his boot, then turned furiously to the Doctor.
”Not to worry,” She said, totally cavalier. “It’ll wear off in an hour or so.”
Yaz watched as the man’s lip curled back. She remarked at how much he resembled a pit bull about to bite, which is how she knew to expect his next move. He swung a fist at the Doctor but Yaz moved faster. She shoved the Doctor out of the way, surrendering herself to the imposing attack in the process. His fist clipped Yaz’s ear, skewing her balance for a disorienting moment before she was able to regain her composure again.
”Yaz!” The Doctor shouted.
If the attack had been intended for her, Yaz likely would not have retaliated. But that fist had been intended for the Doctor. That wouldn’t stand.
She spun around, swung, felt a sharp pain shoot up her arm as her fist connected powerfully with the man’s face. He staggered backwards, helped none by his blatantly inebriated state. He cupped his nose. Blood. Yaz grabbed the Doctor by the shoulder as the crowd started to shout and holler, some of them making their way straight for them.
“Run!” She said.
Yaz and the Doctor fled from the bar, wrestling their way through the heavy throng of people and bursting out through the front door to the tune of at least a dozen rednecks lobbing empty threats and unoriginal slurs their way. A couple of the bolder ones pursued them just past the threshold. Yaz heard their shouts, feeble though they were, following them until they finally turned the corner and slowed to a stop by their waiting car.
Breathless, Yaz slammed her fist down on its roof.
”Don’t,” Yaz warned quietly, fumbling for her keys and jimmying the lock impatiently, a task made harder by her shaking hands.
When the door finally opened, she slid inside and started the engine. The Doctor had hardly closed the door behind her before Yaz was speeding off, hasty to leave that scene behind. The Doctor reached for Yaz’s hand.
”Does it hurt?”
”Don’t touch me,” Yaz shook the Doctor off.
Yaz could feel the Doctor watching her; knew without looking that she’d have those great big doe eyes fixed on her. Yaz was aware that she was being uncharacteristically harsh. None of what had just happened was the Doctor’s fault, after all. Yet she wanted to be angry. She wanted to be allowed that emotion for once, without fear of retribution, and there was no one else around to take it so the Doctor would just have to put up with it.
Tears stung Yaz’s eyes.
She thought of that word in that man’s mouth; of the hatred that had tainted his face.
And then she was thinking of that blue book again.
I killed, I killed, I killed.
“Where are we going?” The Doctor asked patiently after Yaz drove straight past their hotel.
Yaz didn’t know where she was going. She just drove wherever those yellow headlights led her. She drove without really seeing the road, without feeling the searing pain in her hand, without acknowledging the steely, white-knuckled grip she had on the wheel.
All of this was too much for her.
She might have been able to handle one thing. Questioning her own identity, rediscovering herself entirely? Fine, she was mature enough and capable enough to cope with that. She might even have been able to handle two things; there were racists in Sheffield, too. Plus, Yaz had fairly thick skin, and she’d been raised well enough to know how to properly digest the ignorance of others. All in all, she knew how to take care of herself.
But the third thing was the final nail in the coffin for Yaz, because the one part in all this she had always considered safe - sacred, even - was presenting itself in a new, harsher light.
The killer, riding shotgun in her car.
Yaz felt a sudden surge of nausea when she realised for the first time in her life that she didn’t actually know the Doctor at all. Here was this alien who had fallen from the sky and whisked her away with the promise of seeing the universe, here was this enigma of a woman whom had wordlessly convinced Yaz on countless occasions to walk headfirst into mortal danger for her, and Yaz didn’t know a single real thing about her.
Except that she had killed two people. At least. Yaz had two thoughts then, thoughts that hadn’t once crossed her mind since making the decision to travel with the Doctor.
The first thought: What the hell am I doing here?
And the second, far more dangerous thought: Who is the Doctor?
(sorry if the characterisation is a little off in this chap, we’ve never had any real angst between them on the show so i didn’t have much frame of reference but i did my best)
Chapter 7: healing hands
ok ok two things:
1 - i'm so sorry this took so long i had a whole thing written out on my notes n then lost my phone so i had to start from scratch plus i got the flu but anyway
2 - this was intended to just be one part of a MUCH longer chapter but for aforementioned reasons i kinda just decided to give u lot a little somethin somethin while u wait for me to write the rest between spells of fever and laziness (might be a while)
hope u can forgive me lmao enjoy x
Opposite their parked car, a glowing white sign above a storefront window illumated the faces of Yaz and the Doctor. It buzzed, flickered. Yaz and the Doctor sat in silence.
Yaz had driven them out of the city. Presently, they were in the lot of a local convenience store which boasted that it was open 24/7. This part of town was quieter and the roads were less frequented by traffic, though when the occasional car did drive by, the headlights shone harshly into the eyes of both women for one blinding moment before disappearing once more around the curve of the road.
Leaning against the wall of the convenience store was a small group of teenagers who were drinking from 40oz beers wrapped in brown paper bags. They wore sports jackets and flashy trainers, large hoops and too much makeup. Two of them were guys and two of them girls. The Doctor watched the girls laugh too loudly at whatever jokes the boys were making; watched the boys take long gulps in hopes of impressing the girls.
Their animated chatter punctuated the tense quiet which had settled between the Doctor and Yaz.
Yaz’s wintry attitude had stumped the Doctor. The scuffle at the music club had induced a kind of standoffishness the Doctor hadn’t seen in Yaz before that night; her jaw was set, her face hard, her fists clad with an iron hold on the steering wheel. The Doctor had made an effort to coax some form of communication from her friend, but such efforts had been fruitless. Yaz was a stone and the Doctor was baffled. What was the real reason for Yaz’s sudden abrasiveness? The Doctor thought it must have been about more than just that pair of old racists because Yaz had been looking at her strangely all night - ever since the Smokehouse.
In fact, she was almost positive they’d been on the verge of a crucial exchange before the ugly interruption. What about you? Yaz had asked. Are you a good liar?
For the life of her, the Doctor couldn’t think what she might have done or said to anger Yaz, to hurt her, to deceive her. She racked her brain, busy as it was, and tried to recall every word both nonsensical and otherwise that might have slipped past her filters and made its way to Yaz’s ears. She was beginning to wish she didn’t talk so much; it may have been easier to pinpoint the precise string of words she had knitted together which had upset Yaz.
The Doctor so desperately wanted to apologise to her friend but she knew the words would be lacking given that she didn’t know what she was apologising for in the first place. She studied Yaz’s knuckles. More specifically, she studied the area of skin which had split above her knuckles upon making impact with the face of the drunkard by the bar. Dried blood outlined the wound; it looked like there would be some bruising to come.
Guilt, like a fast rising tide, submerged the shore of the Doctor’s conscience. All she wanted to do was ease Yaz’s strife. How useless she felt.
Yaz looked across at her then and the second she did, the Doctor looked back at her, hopeful eyes holding Yaz’s gaze in an attempt to silently implore her to open up. A few seconds went by like that. Yaz looked a little like she was assessing the Doctor; like she was trying to figure something out. Figure her out. The words Yaz spoke next were far from anything the Doctor had anticipated.
”I found your book.”
The Doctor gave Yaz a puzzled look. “My...?”
”Your book. Your journal. I found it.”
Instinctively, the Doctor’s hand flew to the breast of her coat. She felt the journal’s familiar weight through the fabric and relaxed. Still there. Only after that initial relief had passed did she properly digest Yaz’s confession, and what that might mean. Those pages were filled with secrets; with detailed accounts of both her darkest days and her most cherished memories. Written in that book were confessions she had never even uttered out loud. “You should never have... The words in this book weren’t meant for your eyes.”
”I didn’t mean to read it, I just - it fell out while I was looking for your psychic paper,” Yaz explained, though she didn’t sound particularly apologetic. “Doctor, who are Amy Pond and Rory Williams?”
The Doctor’s eyes suddenly darkened. She leaned back and glanced out of the window at those teenagers as one of the girls let herself be hoisted up onto the shoulders of one of the boys. She hadn’t been expecting to have this conversation today. Or ever, really. Amy and Rory were a part of her past which hurt to prod at, like a wound which refused to heal but only bled when its existence was acknowledged. She didn’t like to acknowledge it much these days. The Doctor was tired of bleeding.
”Friends of mine,” She answered curtly. Her demeanour was different now, shrouded in a grave aloofness.
“Dead friends,” Yaz amended. Not a question.
The Doctor looked down at her hands, across at Yaz. “What exactly did you read, Yaz?”
”I read that you killed them. I read that you can’t close your eyes without seeing yourself standing over their grave,” Yaz’s voice was laced with an accusatory tone. “I’m trying not to believe the worst, Doctor, but I need to know... What did you mean when you said you killed them?”
”I-“ The Doctor stopped short, her mouth forming a straight line. She didn’t want to get into this, she really didn’t. “Ah. Don’t worry about that, I was a bit dramatic back then. Slightly more broody.”
”Please don’t brush this off,” Yaz asked, a hybrid of desperate and stern. “Not this, okay? I have to know, did you kill them?”
The Doctor’s chest fell. Yaz was not going to let this go. She leaned her head against the headrest, remembering for the millionth time the agonised look on Amy’s face as she turned her back on the weeping angel and, subsequently, on her life with the Doctor. She sighed sadly. So, here it was, this ticking time bomb of candour she had been running from since the moment her new companions willingly boarded the TARDIS for the first time. The Doctor was going to have to pry herself open, like prying open the clamped jaw of a dog by its teeth, else she risked losing Yaz. That was the last thing she ever wanted. Then again, finding out the truth may only have alienated Yaz further.
She supposed it was a chance she had no choice but to take.
“I was responsible for them,” The Doctor finally said. “Like I’m responsible for you. And they died, right in front of me. They died because I was selfish and I saw it fit to pluck them from their happy lives, from their happy home, and plunge them into danger. It was my fault, Yaz, so to answer your question - yes. I killed them.”
After it had happened, River had tried to convince the Doctor that it hadn’t really been death. They got to live out their lives together, somewhere, somewhen. But the Doctor had never been convinced. Their lives had become an earthbound blip when the Doctor had wanted to give them everything, endlessness, every corner of the universe and every star in the sky. She had promised to protect them and she had failed to hold up to her duty of care. Not for the first time. Not for the last.
"But you didn't- you're not a killer," Yaz closed her eyes and blew out a sigh of relief through partially parted lips.
"I didn't say that."
Their eyes locked then. The Doctor saw confusion, Yaz saw a deadly seriousness which was atypical of the Doctor's character. Yaz had opened this can of worms and the Doctor saw no use in scrambling to put them back. If she really wanted to know the truth about the Doctor, if she wanted a picture painted with only her true colours, the Doctor would give that to her. Yaz deserved to know the person she was travelling with, after all. It may have taken the Doctor a while to accept that, and it may not exactly have been on her terms, but it was happening now and she was going to let it.
"I don't know you at all, do I?" Yaz said this quietly, as if in softening her voice she might soften the blow the realisation had on her.
"No, Yaz, not really," The Doctor offered a weak smile. "You have to know, though, that I kept parts of myself a secret from you lot for your own good. I can be... Well, I've not always been..." She struggled to find the right words to explain to Yaz how she sometimes terrified herself and how it seemed easier to repress or conceal huge chunks of herself rather than risk terrifying any of her friends, too. How could she expect someone like Yaz to understand that? Yaz was one of the good ones; she couldn't possibly know what it was to struggle so much with ones own darkness. Nor had the Doctor ever wanted to burden her with this particular albatross hanging from her neck.
"Doctor-" Yaz clenched her jaw, looked down. It looked like whatever she was about to ask was something she didn't want to have to say out loud. "Are you a good person?"
Yaz's question caught the Doctor off guard. For as long as she'd known her, for as long as they'd been friends, Yaz had never once questioned the moral fibre of the Doctor. As a matter of fact, she had always treated her as if she were irreproachable. Free of sin she was not, but the Doctor had taken steps to avoid this precise conversation. Every decision she made and every action she took was done with at least some level of conscious effort to ensure the nature of her goodness was never in question. No longer did she want to have to justify any cruelties she herself had committed; no longer did she want to have to look a friend in the eye and explain away her demons. She was trying so, so hard to be decent. Harder ever than before. So how was it that she came to be sitting in that car having that same conversation with yet another friend for what felt like the hundredth time? What was it about her that invited such close scrutiny?
"I... try to be," The Doctor leaned her elbow against the car's window ledge, rested her temple against her middle and index fingers. "I don't always make the right choices. I've been lucky in the past. I've been given second chances, had the opportunity to save lives I might otherwise have- uh. But it isn't always like that. Y'see what it's like for us out there. It's as if there's no law, no one in our way, no one to tell us no. Does somethin' to a person if they live that way for so long."
"That's a great non-answer," Yaz, dissatisfied, shook her head. The headlights of an approaching vehicle lit up her features as it pulled into the lot, bathing her in yellow light. It glinted sharply in her nettled eyes as they followed the path of the car, which turned out to be that of a local sheriff's deputy. The moment the kids outside the store spotted it, they dispersed, vanishing behind the back of the building and slipping away through a dumpster-lined alleyway. When they were gone, it was as if the one remaining distraction, the one thing they had which allowed them to look elsewhere without it seeming like they were making every effort to avoid eye contact, went with them. Yaz gave the Doctor a waiting look.
"Really, I don't know what you want me to say," The Doctor admitted. "Tell me what you need to hear, 'cos right now I wouldn't even know where to start."
"Just..." Yaz threw her hands up as if to say well, I don't know either. "I need you to tell me something real. Something true. Something that hurts. I've always trusted you with my life, Doctor. All I'm after is a little trust in return."
Something that hurts. The Doctor had plenty of hurt to spare, that was for sure. Yaz, she knew, had every right to ask this of her. Truly, it was a wonder she hadn't asked sooner. Every time the Doctor whisked her away to someplace new, she was asking her to put her life on the line, and Yaz unfailingly did this each time without ever really knowing the Doctor. Now, that was faith. A kind of faith the Doctor realised, with an abrupt sense of shame, she had not shown in kind. Had Yaz not always stood by the Doctor? Had she not walked away from the life she knew in favour of travelling the universe with her and allowing her to steal all her time? Yaz was, by her very nature, loyal. The Doctor felt she owed it to her now to stop doubting the extent of her loyalties or the durability of her thus far steadfast friendship. She owed her a truth.
"The cat," Said the Doctor.
"The cat?" Yaz glanced around, obviously wondering whether the Doctor was pointing out a nearby feline or beginning one of her tales.
"Yeah. In Savannah, you found me talking to a cat in the garden. Her name was Rose," The Doctor recalled. She looked up through the car window at the sky. White clouds obstructed her view of the stars. "I only mention it 'cos, well, I knew a girl called Rose once. A long time ago."
"Who was she?" Yaz asked patiently when the Doctor paused for an extended moment.
"Oh, she was brilliant. Stubborn. Kind. Selfless," The Doctor's whole face changed when she talked about Rose. It was as if a light had been switched on behind her eyes, but still her grin seemed more rueful than joyous. "You'd have liked her, you really would. We travelled together, she and I. She was the first person to make me laugh after I - after I lost a lot of people. Like this ray of hope, reminding me that there are people out there in the universe worth saving. Probably sounds dead strange now, but there was a time when I doubted that. I were just gonna give up. If it weren't for her, I probably would've."
The Doctor felt that ever familiar dull ache brought about by acute nostalgia. Still, it felt good to say her name. To talk about her. To make her real again. She went through phases of denying Rose, because to deny her meant to deny the part she played in what happened to her, and sometimes it just helped to forget. This was not one of those times. Rather, the Doctor spoke her proudly back into existence, and felt not one iota of regret at having done so.
"Is she..." Yaz paused. "What happened to her?"
Normally, the Doctor would brush such a question off with an 'it's complicated' before proceeding to artfully change the subject. She forced herself not to do that this time. "Trapped. In a parallel universe," She turned away from the window, faced Yaz. "She had family there. Friends. She would've been alright, y'know? But I had to leave her behind. Couldn't ever visit, or hear her voice, or see her in person again. The last time I saw her, she was in the arms of some other version of me. I used to wonder which of us was luckiest. Reckon I probably know the answer now. Reckon I always did."
Yaz looked at a loss for words and the Doctor wagered that this hadn't been what she was expecting when she asked the Doctor to open up. The Doctor wasn't even sure why this, of all things, was the part of her history she had chosen to lay bare for Yaz. Maybe it was because Rose had been on her mind since her meeting with the cat, or maybe it was because sometimes Yaz reminded her so much of Rose that it hurt to be around her. They both were wise beyond their years, both so tender-hearted, and Yaz's aforementioned loyalty was unparalleled by few but Rose. Plus, they definitely shared a tenacious streak. Wayward in a way the Doctor adored. Even right now, Yaz was fixing the Doctor with the same sympathetic, puppy-eyed look Rose used to give her when she worried about her. It was uncanny.
"Did you love her?"
The Doctor's dismal silence was an answer in and of itself. She twisted the earring in her lobe absently, thinking of their final meeting on the beach in which she hadn't been able to say what Rose so desperately needed to hear. Funny, how she couldn't bring herself to say it even now. It felt wrong, somehow, to say it to some other person while Rose herself wasn't there to hear it. Like a betrayal. What did it matter anymore if she loved Rose? That all was a very long time ago; she'd since slipped through the Doctor's fingers like so many others. The Doctor never wanted to let another person she cared for go without them knowing the extent of her love for them, but then, she ventured it may have simply been better not to form such an intense attachment in the first place. Easier said than done. Yaz was under her skin now, this she knew. Nobody else could've prompted the Doctor to speak so freely on a subject so perpetually sore.
"Worst part is, Rose Tyler was one of the lucky ones," The Doctor went on. "Those who travel with me, it doesn't always end well for them. It scarcely does, actually."
"What do you mean?" Yaz asked tentatively.
"I meant it when I told you I can't guarantee your safety, Yaz. I don't know if you heard it then but I want you to hear it now," The Doctor shifted so that her body was facing Yaz's own. Yaz needed to hear this. "My friends aren't often afforded the privilege of growing old. Some die, some transition states but, well, it's technically a kind of death, and some forget. There's a woman out there in your world who did incredible things, saved so many lives, about whom songs will be sung until the end of time, and she can't remember any of it. I had to take it all away from her."
Yaz's face transformed and the Doctor knew just by looking at her that Yaz was imagining what that must be like, how hollow that missing puzzle piece inside of Donna must feel. She looked appalled. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because it hurts,' The Doctor said. "Because this is the person that I am. Y'might think I'm a hero now, but the truth is, I am so selfish. Almost everybody who loves me ends up with a fate worse than the one they were destined for before they met me and still I allow people to get close. I've allowed you... to get close. A good person wouldn't do that, wouldn't risk you."
Not you, she wanted to say. Never you.
Yaz opened her mouth, appeared to internally scavenge for something - anything - to say to this. She closed her mouth. When she looked up at the Doctor then, she was calm once more. "Doctor, you believe in forgiveness. You believe in second chances, I know you do. So why can't you forgive yourself?"
"Isn't down to me so absolve myself of all the things I've done though, is it?" Oh, how she wished she could. How she wished it was so easy.
"You don't have to be so hard on yourself," Yaz's eyes flickered between each of the Doctor's and the Doctor felt restrained by her careful regard. "You of all people."
"Oh, yes I do. You don't know what I can become if I don't discipline myself, if I don't hold myself to a higher standard than I hold everyone else," The Doctor thought of the flood and the fire and the core of earth drowning. She thought of Donna screaming her name and begging her to stop. Another dead species. Another genocide at her hands. "It's dangerous, Yaz. I can be dangerous."
Yaz shook her head. "Nah. The way I see it, you're only dangerous to the monsters."
"Yaz..." The Doctor didn't believe Yaz would think so if she knew just how gossamer a thread separated her from all those so-called monsters. "Just moments ago, you were frightened of me. You read those words in my journal and thought me capable of the very worst."
"No, don't apologise. Never apologise. My point is that, to have thought me a killer, even for a second, there must be a part of you that knows there's more to me than wisecracks and custard creams." The Doctor wasn't certain why she was dismantling the carefully constructed image of herself she had worked so hard to preserve around her new friends. Why was it so important to her that Yaz understand who she really was? Why was Yaz her constant exception? The Doctor feared she knew already. "Listen, there's more blood on my hands than-"
Yaz picked the Doctor's hands up in her own. Her hands were warm and the Doctor forgot, briefly, what she had even been saying.
"You changed recently, right, Doctor? Just before we met. You were someone else and then you transformed," Yaz turned the Doctor's hands over as she talked. Her skin buzzed and tingled wherever Yaz touched. "New body, new face... new hands. These hands are clean. Your slate is clean. I don't know much of who you once were, but I know the person you are now. I've been with you since the beginning and I can't find a single flaw in you. Not one. Be a little kinder to yourself. Please."
The Doctor looked down at their hands. She watched Yaz brush a thumb over her knuckles and squeezed gently in response, a form of communication limited only to tender touches. So Yaz's hands were healing hands, too, the Doctor discovered. Typically, the Doctor was the protector, but she felt so unspeakably safe to be herself in that moment, parked in the lot of a convenience store in 80's Nashville, her hands fitting perfectly inside Yaz's. For the first time in a long time, somebody had convinced her to be open with them, and in turn she had not been shown doubt or fear. Only comfort. Only a soft reassurance. Yaz's eyes were free from judgement, her words a long needed balm for the Doctor's many ancient, never-healing wounds. Her hearts felt a little lighter at having shared this piece of herself with Yaz.
"You're too good to me, Yasmin Khan."
Yaz reciprocated with a slight but genuine smile. "Only returning the favour."
Chapter 8: if it terrifies you
umm thank u guys for all ur lovely comments! as u know the only compensation us fic writers receive for our work is validation and let me tell u that shit is priceless!! thanks gays for being so kind to me i love u so much x
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Yaz and the Doctor returned to their hotel room that night, they did so as two people whose relationship had shifted in the time since they left the room earlier that day. Not drastically, per se. But the change was there. Palpable. Yaz looked at the Doctor and saw a newfound transparency to the persistent charm and ever-present buoyant air she carried with her everywhere. In a way, she looked at the Doctor and saw someone a little closer to earth. It was nice, she thought; comforting to know there really was a real person underneath all that invincibility. The whole drive back to the hotel, Yaz had felt as if something monumental had just taken place. Some crucial demonstration of trust. No back peddling, now. From here, there was only one direction to go. Forwards.
Yaz was running her knuckles under the faucet when the Doctor knocked gently on the bathroom door, which was ajar. When Yaz called for her to come in, she entered carrying ice from the machine down the hall wrapped in a towel.
"Here," The Doctor pressed the towel to the wound on Yaz's hand. "Hold that there for a bit. Should help with the swelling."
"How's the face?"
"It's fine," Yaz leaned against the sink, holding the Doctor's icy present to her skin as instructed. "He only clipped me."
The Doctor leaned against the door jamb, arms folded. "Should never take a hit for me, Yaz." She was employing her stern, teacher-like voice, a voice she scarcely ever directed at Yaz. "Me, I can take the punches. You lot, on the other hand, are incredibly fragile. No offence."
Without missing a beat, Yaz said "I'd take any number of hits for you, Doctor." She hadn't meant it to sound so, well, heavy - it just kind of came out that way.
The Doctor frowned at Yaz's feet and Yaz knew she'd said something the Doctor didn't like. Yaz hated that. She'd always had this inexplicable but decidedly potent predisposition towards wanting to please the Doctor, wanting to say exactly the right thing to garner exactly the right reaction. Something about making the Doctor proud and earning her appraisal put Yaz in such high spirits. A little closer to earth she may have been now, but apparently Yaz still had the Doctor up on a pedestal. Would she ever come down off it? Yaz wasn't positive she even wanted that. She'd almost fallen from it earlier and it had been agonising for Yaz to think that her hero might actually be the villain. Yes, she'd take a pedestal over a fall from grace any day. At least where the Doctor was concerned.
"If I told you not to be a hero, would you even listen?" The Doctor asked in a manner which suggested she already knew the answer.
"Probably not," Yaz said candidly. "But I will promise not to be a martyr." Because Yaz was aware that heroes had a funny old habit of becoming martyrs. She wondered how many of the Doctor's lost companions had become martyrs. A lot of them, she figured. The Doctor did not surround herself with cowards.
"S'pose I'll take what I can get," The Doctor unfolded her arms, stood up straighter. "Still, I rate it's due time we leave the south. I don't want you getting hurt again.”
Yaz was surprised at the Doctor’s suggestion. Evidently, she had taken their encounter at the honky tonk seriously. Not that she was wrong to do so. It had been a scare for Yaz, too, and she was well aware how lucky she'd been to get away before things had taken a turn for the worse. Lucky, and in good company. Yaz had a flashback of the Doctor stepping in, eyes stormy and jaw rigid, as she defended Yaz with expert but nonviolent efficiency. Yaz hadn’t really appreciated it at the time but the Doctor had really had her back, and she should have known there and then not to question her character or accuse her of the unspeakable. She cursed the uselessness of hindsight.
“You really wanna leave the south?” Yaz clarified.
“Yeah,” The Doctor shrugged. “Kind of over it anyway.”
Yaz doubted the Doctor was ‘over it’, but frankly, she was glad to have someone around who cared enough to even make the proposal. “Wait, didn’t you have something to show me? The Parthenon?”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“I want to see it,” Yaz insisted. Nothing the Doctor ever showed her was anything short of a miracle, after all.
"I dunno..." The Doctor rubbed at the back of her neck. "Kinda just wanna get you out of this place, to be honest. Thinkin' maybe a bit further east, what d'you think? Not that I actually know what's east of 'ere but I always choose east when in doubt. Works out for me about sixty percent of the time. Quite fancy those odds."
"Come on, Doctor," Yaz peeled herself away from the sink and stepped marginally deeper into the Doctor's space. She knew the Doctor had a hard time saying no to her, and she'd be a liar if she said she didn't sometimes use that to her advantage. There was just something about being able to look the Doctor (this immortal, unyielding, fearless Time Lord) in the eye, and smile at her with wide, wanting eyes, and have her inevitably adhere to Yaz's will. It was a validating sensation. Almost euphoric. "Just one last trip?"
The Doctor considered it. “Right, fine,” She caved. “But we leave after that?”
Yaz awoke in the middle of the night.
It was a soft awakening, one she may not have succumbed to at all had she not semi-consciously decided to open her eyes. The moment she did, she saw the Doctor sitting in the swivel chair at the desk beneath the window, right at the foot of Yaz's bed. Streetlights were the only source of illumination and they cast the Doctor in a strange light, tinted in an orange too pale to be considered warm. The Doctor sat with her feet up on the desk, her arms folded, her eyes on the limited view. And it was limited. Save for an almost identical grey building opposite their own, with almost identical rows of unlit windows, there was but a small bit of sky and a long stretch of road available for one's perusal. The Doctor, true to form, was gazing up at that one small bit of sky. An inkwell, is all it was. Yaz bet she missed the stars. They were her home, after all.
"Doctor?" Yaz's voice was rough with a sleep-imbued hoarseness. She cleared her throat.
"Yaz!" The Doctor swivelled around in her chair. "Sorry, did I wake you?"
"No. Surprisingly enough, the racket of you sitting silently across the room didn't wake me," Yaz propped herself up on an elbow, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, glanced at the Doctor's bed. Still made. Her pyjamas - plaid trousers and a vest - were laid neatly atop the duvet. Untouched. "Can't sleep?"
"What you thinking about?"
She wasn't just asking to be polite. Yaz really wanted to know; she really wanted the Doctor to tell her. She though that maybe, after their conversation in the car, the Doctor's penchant for evasiveness may have diminished. She didn't think it would be so naive of her anymore to ask the Doctor a simple question and expect a simple answer in return.
But the Doctor just smiled one of her dismissive smiles. "Go back to sleep."
Yaz squinted at her, her eyes still not fully adjusted to the darkness between them. "You all right?"
"I'm excellent," The Doctor assured her. "Like I said, not much of a sleeper. Honestly though, y'should go back to sleep. It's late."
Yaz realised then that even though she had partially perforated the Doctor's soft but invulnerable shell for a moment that evening, the Doctor was still always going to be the Doctor. That meant keeping secrets, it meant an unending aura of frustrating intrigue, it meant that there would always be parts of herself she'd rather not share. Yaz had come to learn that the Doctor forever had a closed fist around at least one of her hearts. There was a lot there to protect, so it was understandable. But there was also a lot to let out, and the Doctor went to such extremes with each that Yaz found it difficult to believe the balance was right. Off kilter may have been the Doctor's brand, but Yaz believed there would one day come a time when the Doctor needed an honest to god relief from it all.
She'd be ready and waiting when that happened.
For now though, it was late, and the Doctor was content with the never-quite-silence of the hotel room. The sounds of late night traffic and TV sets muffled only by paper thin walls was apparently enough to keep her company.
"Goodnight then, Doctor," Yaz said, laying her head on the pillow once more.
"Night, Yaz," The Doctor whispered. "I'll try not to think so loud."
Dreams, the Doctor once told Yaz, were like blueprints.
This, in kind, made an architect of the dreamer. Every pencilled in dialogue, every perfect, freehand curve of crescent lips or winding roads, seen through the haze of a dizzy unconsciousness, were all designs of the subconscious mind. Even the most bizarre dreams often were injected with small doses of a person's reality, of the people or worries playing on their minds, of desires embedded so deeply they hadn't yet been divined by the waking dreamer. Subsequently, dreams could be difficult to translate, more so when factoring in the ensuing amnesia suffered by those still rubbing all remnants of sleep from tired eyes.
From a whole whirlwind of absurd, fantasised events, a mind fully stirred may only be able to pluck a handful of non-chronological articles from the dream. A face, a word, a feeling, a yearning for one particular place, thing, or person. Deciphering dreams based on these things alone was nigh on impossible. Some civilisations, the Doctor claimed, had perfected this feat down to a science - but even then, it was not an exact science.
In short, dreams were slippery. Not gibberish, but simply a form of language most struggled to grasp.
Yaz could only agree.
Last night, she had dreamed-- well, she wasn't certain what she had dreamed. However, she knew Rose Tyler had been there. Some faceless girl, tucked away in the periphery of her mind's eye. Yaz didn't remember much else, save one thing: the Doctor had been there, too. Laughing. Indeed, when the ground-shaking roar of a truck speeding down the road tore her from the clutches of sleep, the one image her startled mind had been able to grasp onto was that of the Doctor, head thrown back, laughing like how she imagined angels would laugh. Despite the fact that she could recall little else from the dream, Yaz was perplexingly certain that the reason for her dream Doctor's elation was not her, but instead Rose Tyler. The girl the Doctor had loved and lost.
Waking with a vision of the Doctor so happy as a result of someone else's presence imprinted upon Yaz the irrational urge to find a way to see her smile like that again, only this time she wanted it to be because of something she had said. Something she had done. Yaz was aware that to be jealous of a dream, of a ghost, was beyond ludicrous, and yet still the feeling persisted. That is, it persisted right up until the second the Doctor emerged from the bathroom, towel-drying her hair, and saw that Yaz was awake. In a wink, her lips curved into a smile that practically surpassed her lobes and before Yaz knew it she was beaming down at her. An almost identical picture to the one conjured in Yaz's dream.
"Mornin' Yaz!" The Doctor sounded as excited to see Yaz as she might have if it had been years since their last meeting.
Yaz's ghost-envy was forgotten. She smiled slumberously at her friend, reminded that she never really needed to try to get the Doctor to smile at her that way. The Doctor always had a smile on hand for her, and to be on the receiving end of such a smile was possibly the best way she could think to wake in the universe. "Morning, Doctor."
So she allowed herself to forget her brief lapse in good sense, blaming it on the disorienting fragments of a dream as yet expelled. What she didn't do, what she dared not do, was analyse said dream fragments. Jealousy? Of the Doctor's past love? While it was true that most dreams were difficult to understand, this one in particular could only have meant a one way path towards a sudden, unwelcome epiphany.
Yaz was too tired to have an epiphany that morning.
Within the hour, the pair found themselves on the road once more. The engines were making an especially disquieting racket, which the Doctor unhelpfully drowned out by cranking up the volume on their multi-generational radio (lacking the mood receptor still). Thankfully, the Parthenon wouldn't take long to get to, though Yaz did worry that "not long" was longer than the car's prognosis. The Doctor dismissed her concerns and promised to take a look under the hood later.
"Have you thought of a name yet? For the car?" Yaz asked, wanting some distraction from the banality of this, their fourth country song in a row. The Doctor looked like she was loving it, so Yaz resisted the urge to change the channel. Instead, she opted for a subtler approach. She turned the volume down under pretence of wanting to better hear the Doctor's response.
"Hmm, nah. Y'know, I had a kind of tin dog once. K9, he were called," The Doctor remembered fondly. "Such a cool little guy. I was thinkin' something along those lines, but their personalities are too different."
Yaz tried to imagine what the Doctor could possibly mean when she referred to their car as having a personality. It was cramped and loud, the engine constantly sounded as if it was on the verge of croaking, the radio played matchmaker, the lock took several attempts to force open... Perhaps, to an eccentric person, these might all be considered personality traits. Yaz, on the other hand, saw them as signs that the car needed either selling for scrap or tossing into a furnace. Yaz had tried to love the car like the Doctor did, but every time a camper van or a wrangler or basically any vehicle moderately larger than their own passed them on the road she longed to be rid of the thing and trade up for a smoother, more spacious car.
"I have, however, thought of our next destination," The Doctor continued, sparing Yaz any further daydreams about that which she wanted but may never have.
Yaz scoffed; shot a sceptical look the Doctor's way. "New York? Doctor, you do know that's probably, like, a day's drive from here? A day's drive in the wrong direction, I might add."
"What happened to 'no wrong directions', eh?" She responded with a cheeky undertone.
"You driving, are you?" Yaz quipped.
"Hey, I can always give it a whirl. I mastered the TARDIS alone, didn't I?" The Doctor boasted. "And for your information, the TARDIS is a vessel which was intended to be manned by several pilots at the same time. When I say several-"
"Doctor, I've seen your piloting skills firsthand," Yaz laughed, flipping the car's sun visor down as the sun peeked out from behind a thick white cloud. Each time it reemerged, from behind clouds or tall buildings, its light seemed more intense than the last. Laser-like. "Best leave the driving to me, yeah?"
"Suit yourself, but y'could be missing out on the next Alexander Hamilton."
"I... I think you're trying to say Lewis Hamilton."
"Clearly you never saw Alexander Hamilton fly a stolen invisicraft," The Doctor raised her brows at Yaz. "What a slippery snake, he were."
Yaz glanced dubiously at the Doctor. The Doctor winked in response and Yaz, try as she did to maintain a straight face, couldn't contain the reluctant laugh which escaped her lips. Sometimes it seemed like the Doctor just pulled names and words out of a hat and threw them together, and Yaz wouldn't really have minded if that were the case, because the Doctor's tales (tall or otherwise) generally succeeded in heartening anyone lucky enough to be in earshot. Or so Yaz assumed. How could anyone not find the Doctor as endearing as she, after all? It hardly seemed possible.
"New York, then?" Yaz hummed, nodded her head. "All right. Let's do it."
"Brilliant! Oh, you'll proper dig New York in the 80's," The Doctor promised. "Isn't so much like it is in present day. Different energy, y'know? Ah, you'll see."
But the Doctor didn't really need to sell Yaz on New York, because the Doctor never had to sell Yaz on anything. One word from the Doctor's mouth and Yaz was there quick as a frightened fox, because honestly, if they were together, how bad could things get? While all evidence pointed to the contrary, Yaz felt that to be by the Doctor's side was to be in the safest place in the world, be they neck-deep in racist rednecks or standing atop the Empire State. That's right, this sticky, humid summer was theirs and theirs alone, and Yaz would be damned if a single force in the whole universe was going to pry this from her diamond hold.
"You do know you're going in the wrong direction?"
The Parthenon, in the midst of a large, well-kept green lawn in the park, was a short distance away. Initially, as one would, Yaz assumed the Doctor was leading her towards it. She was not. Instead, the Doctor shifted the trajectory of their path as the impressive replica grew nearer, heading instead in the direction of the trees further away from the Parthenon. They cut through a current of tourists each headed in the opposite direction. The Doctor didn't slow. Yaz would have liked to stop, admire the architecture, the looming pillars, the perfectly sculpted pediment. She might even have liked to step inside and have a look around for a while, though that may have had something to do with the sun beating down on them and her eagerness to escape it. Unfortunately, the Doctor didn't even appear to entertain her suggestion.
Upon their arrival at the park, before Yaz had even locked the car behind them, the Doctor had launched into a long-winded explanation of her affiliation with the Parthenon and its history. In typical Doctor fashion, she spoke with animated vigour, hardly stopping to take a question or allow Yaz to digest one arc of the story before ploughing on to the next.
So far, this is what Yaz could gather:
The Parthenon built in ancient Greece was built to honour the goddess Athena, a deity whose likeness was appropriated and weaponised by an alien intent on enslaving humanity that they might worship her and, in turn, make her all the more powerful. She brainwashed the Greek people and had them build the temple for her. Yaz already had a hundred questions brewing at this point, but no sooner had she thought to ask them than the Doctor had pressed on without taking a breath. She carried on to say that the Parthenon itself was, very literally, only the surface of what this faux Athena had the Greeks build. The real temple spanned miles and miles underground and was built using a combination of both earthly and alien fabrics. Again, Yaz had questions. The Doctor still was not finished.
"'Course, it ended up that the temple was to be a sacrificial temple," The Doctor said this in a way which implied that it was common sense; that there was only ever going to be some dark-sided explanation for it all. They were almost at the tree line now. "She thrived on sacrifice, on worship, on blood spilled in her name. And once she got in your head it was pretty much inevitable that your blood would be spilled. That's what the temple was for. Topside, worship. Underside, sacrifice."
"But how does nobody know about this?" Yaz got her question in fast, not wanting to miss the moment of opportunity granted by the rare second the Doctor took to take a breath. "If it's right under the temple in Greece, the one millions of tourists visit? Shouldn't people know?"
Abruptly, the Doctor stopped walking. Spun. Looked at Yaz through a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses she'd picked up at some cheap gas station or souvenir shop. "Should they? Yaz, your world and its history is steeped in secrets and conspiracy. For everything you know, there are a million things you don't. Have I told you 'bout the Zygons yet? Ha, wait 'til you hear that one. Now that's a conspiracy."
"Well, fine, but what about archeologists and that?"
The corner of the Doctor's mouth turned upwards. "Never trust an archeologist," She said, as if she were telling a joke only one of them understood the punchline to. Then she was off again, taking long strides in the other direction, soon slipping behind the first trunk of a tree and expecting without checking that Yaz was following (she was). "Anyway, I put a stop to Athena and that was pretty much that. 'Cept a small strain of her religion was left behind and I guess they held their faith, passed it on down the generations, never quite let it die. With the replica, which was made under false pretences, they hoped that the continuance of their worship in her temple would call her forth again. Seems she'd left behind some telepathic instructions in the minds of her believers and these instructions were embedded into the fabric, the genetics, of their hosts. Right, 's'around here somewhere." The Doctor was studying the floor, peering over the lenses of her sunglasses. She rapped her knuckles against the trunks of various trees, hummed, kicked up twigs and soil.
"Doctor, what are you looking for?" Yaz asked.
"Oh, well, as I was saying, they had these instructions emblazoned into their minds. Blueprints, if you will," The Doctor explained, still scanning the floor and the trees. She crouched down, picked up a handful of pebbles and dirt, sniffed them. "So they set to work on the new temple. Didn't get as far as they did with the old one, 'cos I got in their way, but they did make quite an impressive head start."
"So, you mean, the underground temple, they replicated that here?"
"Precisely! Well, it's nowhere near as big as the one in Greece," The Doctor grabbed Yaz by her shoulders, moved her two steps to the other side, examined the spot where she had been standing. "Still pretty wicked though, if you don't think about the fact that its purpose was to be a slaughterhouse for misled believers. Aha! Here it is."
Finally, Yaz saw what it was the Doctor had been searching for. She wiped away a thin layer of soil, of rocks and fallen branches, to reveal a heavy metal door inset into the ground. There was an inscription stamped into the material which Yaz couldn't read. She assumed they must have been out of the TARDIS long enough for her ability to translate to fade. The Doctor stood back, pulled out her screwdriver, aimed it at the door with a dramatic arc of her arm. The screwdriver buzzed and a sound, like that of a heavy bolt being slid back, caused the patch of earth directly beneath their feet to shudder.
"Why's there a door just lying here?" Yaz glanced around. "For anyone to find?"
"Oh, Yaz," The Doctor rolled her rose-tinted eyes, nudged her with her elbow. "You ask too many questions. Come on, let's take a look around, shall we?"
They did just that. After heaving the door open, they descended a deep and narrow stone staircase. Yaz expected to be plunged into darkness once they closed the hatch above their heads, so when a foreign material snaking along the tunnel walls lit up like her childhood glow sticks upon the last stab of sunlight disappearing, she was confounded. Electric eels sprung to Yaz's mind, though the material lanterning their path was quite clearly inanimate. Obviously not of this world, she mused. Their footsteps echoed back to them as they ventured deeper into the underground labyrinth. Though the air was damp, it was also cool, which Yaz was eternally glad of. Had the air been as humid below as it was above, she likely would have had more of an issue with the fact that the Doctor kept stopping in her tracks at every forked pathway or strange door, scrunching up her face, mumbling, turning them back around. It didn't take an exceptionally perceptive person to know that the Doctor had no idea where she was leading them.
"Maybe we should ask someone for directions," Yaz joked dryly.
"Wait. Shush," The Doctor froze and held a finger to her lips, waiting, listening. A Cheshire Cat grin spread slowly across her face. "Y'hear that? This way!"
Had the Doctor been wearing her coat, it would have been billowing epically behind her as she flew - as a blur of colourful motion - along the tunnel. Her denim jacket proved an unmemorable substitute in the area of flare. Yaz had no idea what it was she was supposed to have heard, or to be running towards, but she followed the Doctor nonetheless else she risked getting left behind. After twenty seconds of hard running, they arrived at a stone archway. Only pitch darkness and the gentle but unmistakable sound of running water lay beyond the archway. The Doctor smiled into the watery abyss.
"After you," With a broad gesture of her arm, she motioned for Yaz to enter.
Before meeting the Doctor, this was exactly the kind of thing which would have given Yaz pause. If anyone else had led her into a secret, underground, alien temple and ushered her through an opening which looked more like a hungry mouth agape than a doorway, she'd probably have them arrested. As it were, she was accustomed to far weirder than this, as all grew to be in the company of the Doctor. Without taking a beat to brace herself, she stepped surely through the archway. The sole of her boot found solid, smooth ground.
What happened next was neither an explosion nor a blinding shock of light. Rather, the thousands of intertwining vines clinging to the walls gradually, as if being adjusted by a dial, glowed brighter and brighter until the temple was awash with their golden-white light. If the darkness had been holding this room hostage, here is what the light set free: first, water. Shallow and crisp, it flowed leisurely in through low arches inset into the cream coloured stone walls at intervals around the vast room. Aside from occasional whitecaps, the water was clean as a pane of perfect glass. This water haloed an island in the centre of the magnificent temple, as if imitating a moat. Atop said island loomed a glorious, golden, twenty foot likeness of Athena. Fake Athena. Beautiful nonetheless: in the iciness of her unblinking stare, in the divinity of flawlessly sculpted jawbones and toned, outstretched arms.
Starting where Yaz and the Doctor stood, a stony pathway - mere inches above the waterline - spanned the distance between the entryway and the island. It, too, glowed. Light crystals looked to be embedded in the unbroken surface of the bridge. Grecian architecture was evident, too. Huge pillars rose up from the water, supported the high, arching ceiling overhead. Carved into the walls and borders of the room were likenesses not only of Athena but of her worshippers, too. Most were depicted as happy, dream-like, entranced. Some more disturbing depictions came in the form of the sacrificed believer - throats cut at the altar of she whom they loved the most. Still they smiled as blood flowed from deep valleys in the flesh between their chest and their chin. Yaz shivered.
Strangely, Yaz experienced a sensation she could only describe as the breaking apart of fragile air as the two of them crossed the path. Without a doubt, they had been the first to visit this place in a long time. The air hung heavy with ghosts and the water whispered long-forgotten secrets in an ancient, verbally transcendent tongue.
"Not such a bad tour guide for a non-native, eh?" The Doctor brimmed partly with relief at the temple still being intact, and party with self-satisfaction.
"Doctor - I don't even have words," Yaz came to a stop at the foot of Athena. There was a sacrificial altar, a white-stone slab supported by delicately engraved beams, behind the statue. Yaz neglected to acknowledge such a horrid thing in the presence of such beauty. Easy to see how one might fall prey to the indoctrination of one so physically holy. "What was she like?"
The Doctor considered Yaz's question, peering up into the golden, unblinking eyes of the giant presently dwarfing them. "Disappointing," Was the word she finally settled on. "False gods often are."
Yaz stole back her eyes, planted them instead on the Doctor. Watching the Doctor ease herself nonchalantly onto a raised step, brush off her hands, and lean back against the so-called goddess as if she were nought more than a brick wall, a question occurred to Yaz. "Do you believe in anything, Doctor?"
"Oh, sure," The Doctor crossed her arms atop her drawn up knees. "I believe in lots'a things."
"But you know what I mean," Yaz took a seat on the step a couple of feet away from the Doctor. "Are you religious?"
The Doctor's pupils, like twin pendulums, swung from left to right across the length of the temple. She would not be thoughtless with such an answer. In spite of appearances, Yaz knew the Doctor was thoughtless with very little she said or did. Cogs forever turned behind her eyes, betraying a wisdom only those with eyes trained to the nuances of the Doctor's erratic behaviour could detect. Yaz wouldn't go as far as to say she was fluent in the Doctor's nonverbal mannerisms, but she had picked up a few things.
"If you intend religion to mean the belief in a superhuman controlling power, I say... show me some proof," She started. Her voice, (deliberately, Yaz supposed) lacked any trace of judgement. Her words came more from the viewpoint of a scientist, open to the possibility of being wrong. "But I've got faith. Faith in people, in the universe, in the future, in my friends. We all need a little faith. Can't survive without it."
Yaz leaned forward, elbows rested on knees. "I've not been as vigilant in my faith as I'd have liked lately," She confessed in a murmur. "Dunno what it is but I've been feeling a bit... conflicted."
"Conflicted?" The Doctor offered Yaz a lollipop and when Yaz shook her head, the Doctor unwrapped it and popped it in her own mouth.
"It's hard to explain. I don't - I mean, my family'll always love me no matter what. I know that. But there's a lot of controversy in the Muslim community over certain, you know, things," Yaz, brows furrowed, rambled on without looking at the Doctor or taking a second to think more carefully about what exactly it was she was saying. She didn't know where this was coming from, only that it was coming fast and that all her words felt slippery and fluid, pouring out of her quicker than she could think to contain them. "Obviously I've never had an issue with these things. That's not me. But I never thought they applied to me, not like this. Not like... It's just different, somehow. Not bad, but-" Yaz stopped abruptly when her eyes flickered over to the Doctor only to find that she was just as confused as Yaz by this tangent.
Yaz sighed deeply. More than anything she wanted to just be able to say the words, give a voice to the lightning bolt which had struck her like a sharp crack to the head in the days prior. It's not that the thing itself was a huge deal, only that saying the words aloud made them real and Yaz wasn't a hundred percent certain she was ready yet. There was nothing wrong with not being ready. Except the more she put it off, the less ready she felt to be honest with both herself and with the people she cared about. She picked up a small black pebble from near her feet, turning it over in her hands idly.
"You're in a safe place right now, Yaz," The Doctor said after removing the lollipop from her mouth with a soft pop and opting to fill Yaz's conflict-filled silence. "If there's anything y'think needs saying, I promise you can say it and nothing bad will happen. The walls won't cave in. The sun won't explode. And I'll be right here, eh?"
Yaz didn't respond straight away. She chucked the pebble into the water nearby. The resulting ripple, in water which had lain undisturbed by outside forces for decades, crafted a kaleidoscope out of the natural light and cast it back out across the temple. The white light shimmered, twisted, glistened against ceiling, walls and skin. Yaz watched a patch of light dance on the back of her hand.
She knew she was not in the presence of a person who would ever judge her, least of all because of something so insubstantial in the grand scheme of things. The Doctor, after all, was a veteran of more than one war, a being who had peered into the soulless depths of black holes and monstrous foes. She'd witnessed the birth of stars and planets, had a front row seat to the end of the universe itself, had stood side by side and stood off against thousands of unique species from across countless galaxies. So much was out there. Miracles, horrors, all the dazzlingly unfathomable brilliance of the cosmos. Surely, the matters of Yaz's heart were peripheral at best. Except for one small detail: they mattered to Yaz.
So it went without saying that they would matter to the Doctor, too; that she would care.
She would understand.
Yaz stood up with her back to the Doctor. She took a breath, readied herself. "Doctor, I don't think I'm..." The sentence died in her throat. Yaz clenched and unclenched her jaw. This was okay. It would all be okay. "I think I like girls. Women. You know, like, romantically."
She didn't know, for sure, what she'd been expecting to happen the second the words left her lips. It's not like, as the Doctor had suggested, she thought the sun was going to explode. But she'd expected something - something other than the unbroken continuance of gently running water, something other than Athena's unfazed and entirely unmoved blank stare, something other than a skip in her heartbeat before it settled once more into its familiar rhythm and carried on beating life throughout her veins as if righting itself after an almost-tumble. Yaz felt the same. No earth shattering transformation had turned her inside out, nor had she sprouted feathered wings from above her shoulder blades or been swallowed up by a fiery hole in the ground.
All that had changed was a state of mind. Yaz felt a little lighter now, like she'd had rocks tied to her feet or a weight pressed against her ribs, and in speaking her truth those burdens had been shed. It signalled a relief she hadn't known to expect, because the impossible weight Yaz had been shouldering never even registered until the moment she set herself free of it.
The sound she made next was halfway between a breath and a laugh.
That's it, she thought. I said it. It's done.
Yaz remembered her audience. She turned to gauge the Doctor's response to find that the Doctor had joined Yaz on her feet and, at the shifting of Yaz's own positioning, was now standing face to face with her. Yaz looked up at the Doctor. The Doctor looked down at Yaz. Then, in all the time in took for Yaz to blink, the Doctor's expression moulded into one of complete and total pride. Of understanding. Of warmth and compassion and the kind of ready acceptance which lacked any apprehension at all (Yaz let go of another lead balloon).
"You're a lucky one, Yasmin Khan," The Doctor said and her voice was yellow with love. "'Cos I'll let you in on a secret. Girls are brilliant."
Yaz, eyes moist, threw her arms around the Doctor. The Doctor was already waiting to reciprocate the embrace. Seemed she had been for a while. Yaz, on the other hand, didn't realise just how much she needed to be held until she was in the Doctor's arms (lighter and lighter, still...). Clinging to the Doctor was the distinct aroma of sweet coffee and a hint of cherry - her preferred flavour of lollipop. Yaz breathed it in, breathed her in, cherished the fact that the Doctor exuded this immeasurable sense of security Yaz felt content to drown in. She was glad it was her. She was glad she had told the Doctor first.
"I'm proud of you, Yaz." The Doctor's words were muffled; she'd spoken them into the crook of Yaz's neck.
"Thank you, Doctor," They pulled apart. "Really."
"Nah, I haven't done anything to warrant thankin'," The Doctor disputed, her modesty real.
"You made it easy," Yaz said. "You made it easier for me to say what I had to say, to be myself."
"Should always be that easy for everyone. Humanity's one of the worst for getting hung up on these kinds of things," The Doctor said as she and Yaz took a seat on the step once again, closer together this time. "Well, just wait while they get a better taste of the unexplored universe. That'll knock some sense into 'em about the stuff that does and doesn't matter. Either that, or I will."
"You and your rainbow flag cape," Yaz teased.
"Pretty sure I have one of those knocking about the TARDIS, actually. Have to dig it up."
Yaz and the Doctor shared a soft laugh, and Yaz felt good. At ease. At home, in the only way a dank underground temple on another continent in another era can actually feel like home. But everybody always said that home was other people and if that were really true, the Doctor was her favourite room in the house. The hearth and the heart and the warm mug of cocoa to shield against wintry winds and external woes. Nothing bad could happen here. No wolf could blow down these walls.
"Was it... was it boat party girl?" The Doctor asked after the echo of their laughter had silenced. "Is she the reason you came to terms with yourself?"
Boat party girl, Yaz parroted in her mind. She was positive the Doctor remembered her name. The encounter hadn't been so long ago. "I don't think so," Yaz shrugged one shoulder uncertainly. "I mean, kind of. She could have been anyone, any girl in the world. Didn't matter that it was her."
Was Yaz losing her mind or was there a glimmer of uncharacteristic smugness in the Doctor's eyes just then? Probably it was the weird light, the disorienting alive-ness of it. She gambled it had a tendency to play tricks. The glimmer was forgotten. Conveniently, so was the surge of hope which had swelled in Yaz's core at having mistaken said trick of the light for something more than what it had likely been. Sure, Yaz was making valiant steps toward becoming more honest with herself, but she was still an imperfect person.
"Can be an awful thing, to struggle with your own identity," The Doctor spoke around the lollipop. "Lord knows I've been there meself a dozen times or so. I'm just glad you're on your way to figuring yourself out a bit better."
Yaz nodded, but doubt marred her confidence. "It's weird, though. I mean, it's almost like we're in a state of limbo right now and anything I say, or admit to, doesn't really matter here. We're so far from home, you know? I'm just worried that when I get back to reality again-"
"You won't be alone," The Doctor cut in. "That's all that matters, yeah? You've always got me."
"Always?" Yaz just wanted to hear the Doctor say it once.
After spending a brief while exploring the rest of the temple, Yaz and the Doctor headed back to the hotel. Neither woman was feeling eating out in Nashville again, so they stopped off and picked up takeout and a cheap bottle of wine on their way back. They stuck E.T. on in the background, spread their buffet out on a single shared bed, and took turns drinking from the bottle as they spoke through mouthfuls of vastly unhealthy food and laughed about god knows what.
Half the food, and two thirds of the wine, had already been consumed when, out of the blue, something occurred to Yaz.
"You know, technically, it's my birthday in two days," She said.
The Doctor froze with the lip of the bottle at her mouth. "What?"
"Well, I know that in a sense all of time and history is happening at the exact same moment or whatever," Yaz waved a dismissive hand at this concept, one the Doctor had attempted to explain to Yaz a couple of times before. "But if you'd actually dropped me at home when you were supposed to, I'd be celebrating my birthday in two days."
"Yasmin Khan, this is huge news!" The Doctor passed the bottle to her friend. "Why didn't you mention it?"
"Dunno," Yaz rolled the wine bottle upright between her palms, feeling silly at having brought the matter up in the first place. "Would be kinda weird to celebrate your birthday fifteen years before you were even conceived."
The Doctor's jaw dropped. "Nonsense," She dismissed Yaz's shyness on the matter. "We'll have to think up somethin' extra cool to do. Something unforgettable."
Yaz didn't doubt that it would be unforgettable, but the Doctor didn't need to go out of her way to make it so. Every moment spent in her company was another she'd treasure for as long as her mind was sound. "What about you? When's your birthday?"
"Not a clue," The Doctor answered matter-of-factly. "Besides, the date wouldn't translate properly to earth's calendar year."
"Then it's settled," Yaz set the bottle down on the night stand, as if a judge with a gavel. "We'll celebrate your birthday, too."
"Ah, I don't think so. I haven't celebrated my birthday in..." The Doctor trailed off, frowning with the strain of remembering. Or failing to remember.
"All the more reason to do it, then. If you're right, and all of time is happening at the same moment, then in some ways your birthday and my birthday are the same," Yaz reasoned, though truthfully she had no idea if the point she was making made any sense at all and only hoped the Doctor didn't either. "Technically, everyone's birthday would be the same. So, you know, we'll just call it a celebration of life in general."
The Doctor's eyes widened and she pointed enthusiastically at Yaz. "You are onto something," She nodded. "It really isn't appreciated enough how small the odds are that any single one of us even exists. The miracle of it all. Of life. Existence. What a superb idea! We can call it..."
"Big bang day?" Yaz proposed.
"Big bang day! I love it!" The Doctor high-fived Yaz. "Can be kinda like Christmas."
"Yeah, except I don't celebrate Christmas and it's the middle of June," Yaz broke part of a prawn cracker off into her mouth and chewed.
"Well, it'll be the time traveller version. Our version," The Doctor grinned mischievously at Yaz, then the grin slipped from her face and was instead replaced by a thoughtful frown. "Do we need a tree?"
"Dunno. It's a brand new holiday," Yaz leaned back against the headrest, stared up at the ceiling. "We'll make our own traditions."
Wine-induced looseness had taken a hold of each of them by now, but even still Yaz felt sure that this was more than just the empty promise made by two people giddy on grapes and Chinese food. This kind of stuff - creating her own traditions with the Doctor, making bizarre decisions which would lead to even more bizarre memories, inventing new reasons to celebrate and rejoice and take life that one bit further than everybody else - this is what she had learned to live for. Not so much the big things, like the new worlds and the time leaps, but the little moments that filled up the spaces in between.
"I'm proper excited," The Doctor said, leaning her own head against the top of the headrest.
"Yeah," Yaz agreed, a dreamy quality to her voice. "Me too."
"Oh! Fortune cookies!"
Whilst E.T. flew past the moon, Yaz and the Doctor cracked open their fortune cookies and shared their fast food destinies. The Doctor's was something fake deep about birds and freedom and wings which the Doctor was less interested in than the actual cookie, though the plainness of said cookie then proceeded to disappoint her, also. The Doctor encouraged Yaz to read hers. She did. Inside was written a generic cliche of a fortune, one she read and then tossed aside in favour of finishing her noodles. Unbeknownst to her, however, the words printed on that slip of paper would follow her long past the state line of Tennessee and become the one push she needed to change her life forever.
'If it terrifies you, do it.'
(not proofread b/c its almost 6am and i'm sleepy)
Chapter 9: insomnia
For the Doctor, there existed three different kinds of sleep.
First was the comatose-like lapse in consciousness induced by a recent regeneration. It should be mentioned, however, that the Doctor didn't consider this sleeping so much as she considered it a symptom of rebirth; necessary only in that it catalysed her recovery and the stitching together of her whole new self. True, the Doctor detested lost time, but this was one exception she was willing to grant. Regeneration rewrote the Doctor's very biodata, caused every cell in her body to effervesce and burn white hot at unreal magnitudes. Once, she had heard the process being compared to the birthing of a star, in which the Time Lord is an interstellar cloud of gas and dust collapsing under its own gravity, generating massive amounts of raw energy and heat and, ultimately, creating a brand new burning sun. Better not to experience the entire thing with her eyes wide open.
Another, more common, variant of sleep experienced by the Doctor was what she referred to as the nod-offs. Usually, these occurred during the in-between moments of the Doctor's hectic life (picture: this brand new burning sun, her body fatigued by an overdose of adrenaline and her blonde hair a wavy, knotted mess, slumped at an angle over the console of her TARDIS with her face hidden in her arms and her chest steadily rising and falling as matched by the steady, mechanical thrum of her ship). On her feet, slouched against a door frame, sprawled sideways on an armchair - the Doctor stole these brief moments of sleep wherever she saw fit, and only when she deemed absolutely vital. They never lasted long. Mostly, they were dreamless.
Finally, and this was the rarest form of all for the Doctor, came the inadvertent surrender to that real, cocooning sort of slumber her human companions fell prey to nightly. The Doctor did not actually need that kind of rest; at least, not regularly. Her fuel tank scarcely ran so low. There was always something else for her to burn, some other miraculous source of energy and life on hand to renew that unparalleled dynamism she had come to be known for. So it was that oftentimes, the Doctor could avoid long bouts of sleep, and there were a couple of reasons why she actively chose to do this. There was the more obvious reason, of course: she liked to be productive. Hours lost to the entombing black hole of sleep could be hours spent navigating new galaxies or upgrading her beloved timeship or inventing antidotes to diseases plaguing entire civilisations. Or even simpler, that time could be spent reading, brushing up on any knowledge which may have developed a thin film of dust atop its surface since her last contemplation of it, filling her hyper brain to the brim with vast reserves of information. Productivity generated usefulness and the Doctor's greatest foe (or rather, one of several) was feeling useless.
That said, there was another reason for the Doctor's apparent phobia of deep sleep. A reason she never spoke of.
The thing about sleep is that not only does it render one vulnerable to external forces, but it also disables the internal safeguards a person might have in place against darker forces at work inside their own minds. Think of these safeguards as a locked door. Now think of sleep as a skilled picklock. Nobody, not even a being boasting as much genius as the Doctor, can maintain complete control whilst asleep. So it is that the door swings open and, instead of light, shadows and ghosts and monsters pool in like a great, black, sky-eating storm cloud straight out of some biblical armageddon.
An earth doctor might have a proper diagnosis, or perhaps multiple, for both the Doctor's disinclination towards sleep and for her extreme inclination towards night terrors, flashbacks, and severe attacks of directionless distress. The Doctor, of course, would deny any and all diagnoses. Nevertheless these symptoms endured - and had done for some time - so the Doctor made every possible effort to keep them at bay for as long as conceivably possible. Sadly, 'as long as conceivably possible' did not translate into 'forever.' Not even for a Time Lord. The bad dreams always caught up with her in the end.
Such is life.
Correction: such is life for one so worn at the edges by the rough seas of time and trauma.
It always happened when she least expected it, too. This night was no exception. Lulled into a false sense of total security by both the generic familiarity of another hotel room and by Yaz's presence there, the Doctor's thoughts had started to swim further and further out of focus. She was vaguely aware of Yaz's dark hair tickling her neck; of the taste of wine still wet at her lips. Yet she could cling definitively to neither of these things. Atom by atom, her world fell away. Then a new one took its place.
The Doctor was running. Not away from anything, but towards something. In some distant way, she was aware of the fact that she wasn't running alone. Someone was by her side, just out of view, but she felt that it was someone she loved. They ran together. Up, up, up, all the way to the top of the steepest hill. It seemed normal to her whilst she dreamed that the sky above them was a patchwork sky, parts of it blue and parts green and parts orange or lilac or black or yellow. Suns and stars and moons and far off galaxies shone down from this eclectic sky and she could not discern which planet she now stood upon. That didn't matter anyway, because she had reached the top of the hill and there - a proud beacon, a fixture which seemed eternal on this landscape - her ghost monument.
The Doctor stopped a short way away from it, smiling adoringly. She looked to her right. Yaz. Of course it was Yaz. She'd been with her this whole time; nobody else existed in the universe. Yaz smiled back at her and then advanced towards the TARDIS. For some reason, the Doctor hung back, watching from a few feet away as Yaz approached the doors which had since swung open to welcome her. Something was wrong, however. With the TARDIS. With this place. Wind whipped the Doctor's hair into her face as Yaz stepped over the threshold and into the police box which both women could see was now just... a police box. Four claustrophobic blue walls. No console room, no second dimension stuffed into its rickety wooden exoskeleton, no TARDIS at all. Yaz frowned, standing in the centre of this box, and looked at the Doctor.
Glued to the spot, the Doctor called out Yaz's name but her voice was stolen by a harsh, howling wind. Tears streamed down the Doctor's face. She knew what was about to happen. Yaz made to walk towards the Doctor but the second she did, the doors slammed shut in her face, holding her hostage. Then the ground started to swallow the not-TARDIS whole. It sank into the grass slowly. Feet now working again, the Doctor rushed towards Yaz. She tried the stuck doors, banged on them with all the strength she could muster, screamed Yaz's name. Yaz screamed her name, too, and it was soul destroying.
Yaz's hand was pressed flat against the window.
The Doctor, kneeling before her sinking ship, pressed her own hand against the glass. "I'm sorry, Yaz."
One final tug and the earth yanked the TARDIS out of view, deep beneath the surface, closing the wound left behind in the ground almost instantly. The Doctor clutched at the grass and cried for Yaz - Yaz, whom now lay buried in a coffin built from the walls of her TARDIS. And when she looked up, sure enough, there was Yaz's gravestone staring right back at her, as if it had sprouted from the grass like a macabre flower.
A sudden gust of gale force wind forced the Doctor up onto her feet. She staggered backwards, wiped the moisture from her eyes, surveyed her surroundings. The hill she stood at the crest of was home not only to Yaz's grave, but to countless others. Headstone after headstone, each of them turned accusingly towards her. She read their names and each was like a sucker punch to the gut. Past loves, friends, allies, people caught up in the collateral damage. People, too, who were not yet dead. All of them alike in one single way: the Doctor had infiltrated their lives.
The hill began to shake. Marching, mechanical and dreadful, approaching from every which way. And that awful, hateful scream, a call to exterminate all life. Cybermen. Daleks. They filled the skies and, beyond the hill, they trooped ever closer. The Doctor spun on her heels as if to run, only to come face to face with the abhorrent, cracked face of a silently shrieking weeping angel.
With one stony arm, it reached for her, claws poised and ready to steal her from all that she knew.
She dared not look away.
Only, that didn't seem to faze the angel. It clamped a hand around her just as several more angels appeared behind her, clawing at her shoulders and arms and violently shaking her to the core. Strangely, they called out her name with the voice of her dead companion. Each of Yaz's shouts wrenched at the Doctor's hearts a little more. She struggled in vain, for the angels dragged her down with them, into a hole in the earth. Into an inky, black abyss until every drop of colour, every molecule of her dream world, blinked out of existence.
She gasped awake, aware only of a pressure on her shoulders and the face shielding her vision from all else: Yaz.
Yaz. Alive. Not dead.
Her hearts, which had until now been beating rapidly and out of sync, began to slow.
"Doctor!" Yaz shouted, partially relieved and partially frightened.
The Doctor blinked up at Yaz, who knelt over her and whose hands squeezed her upper arms, and then at the room around her. Through the window, she could see that the sky was that kind of warped, grey-blue which signalled the transition from dead night to early morning. The clock on the wall confirmed the Doctor's suspicions that yes, time had passed and yes, she had been dreaming. She heaved a relieved sigh, turned her head again to meet Yaz's concerned eyes.
"Doctor, are you all right?" Yaz asked. "You were, I don't know, struggling. Kept fighting me off when I tried to wake you," She loosened her hold on the Doctor.
"Sorry, sorry, I'm fine. Truly," The Doctor sat up, cleared her throat. She should not, she thought, have allowed herself to sleep so deeply. Not when she was so close to Yaz. "Just a bad dream. We all get 'em now and again, don't we? Nothing to worry about."
Yaz's concern did not appear to have subsided. Tenderly, she reached out a hand towards the Doctor's face, wiping a tear from her cheek with the back of her index finger. Both Yaz and the Doctor frowned down at the moisture on Yaz's skin. Yaz sighed. The Doctor, mortified to have been found crying in her sleep by her friend, cast her eyes away; wiped at her cheeks to ensure no double-crossing tears remained.
"What were you dreaming of? When I woke up you were just saying--" Yaz stopped herself, the muscles in her face flexing as she debated finishing her sentence.
Yaz fixed the Doctor with a hesitant look. "My name. But you sounded sad. Really, really sad."
The Doctor swallowed through the lump in her throat. She mentally cursed her inability to have a full night's sleep without succumbing to nightmares and twisted visions of her worst fears coming to pass. The image of Yaz's hand pressed up against the TARDIS window, a moment before being swallowed whole by the earth, flashed before her mind's eye and her chest ached at the very idea of it. "I'm sorry if I frightened you, Yaz. And y'wonder why I never sleep, eh?" The half-laugh she croaked out sounded weak even to her own ears. She let the smile fall from her face. "Sorry."
"Will you stop apologising," Yaz scolded softly. "And talk to me? Do you want me to fetch you a glass of water or something?"
Yaz was already making a move but the Doctor stilled her by placing a hand on her arm. "Happens all the time, honestly. No use in getting all worked up about it."
"All the time?" Yaz pulled a leg under herself, and next came the pity in her eyes which the Doctor always dreaded seeing. "I never - you never mentioned it before. Is that really why you don't sleep? Because you're afraid?"
The Doctor's eyes widened by a fraction of a centimetre and she opened her mouth, ready to defend herself against accusations of fear. But then she stopped. Yaz, after all, was right. "I mean, I genuinely don't need sleep at such an abundance as you lot anyway, so it's not that much of a big deal. I doze off now and again, get my winks in, an' then I'm fighting fit again!"
"I don't doubt that you don't need the sleep, Doctor, I just..." Yaz looked down at her hand, which rested atop the duvet a mere inch from the Doctor's. "I'm worried about you. It's not normal to have nightmares every time you fall asleep. And if I'm in them, too - seriously, what was I doing that was scaring you so much?"
"Dying." The word, broken and wobbly, was out of her mouth before she could think to clamp her jaw shut and decapitate it with her teeth. The Doctor blinked the wetness out of her eyes; made an effort to stabilise her emotions by drawing a breath from way down in the depths of her lungs. Waking after a dream like that, the only urge she had (as if it were some primal instinct she'd been born with) was to touch Yaz; pull her into a never ending embrace and personally see to it that no harm ever came to her. Largely, this impulse stemmed from her desire to be absolutely certain that this was real and that Yaz wasn't about to fall down some sinkhole in the ground while the Doctor watched on helplessly. It wouldn't be the first time she had woken from a dream into another dream in some endless succession of tormenting nightmares.
Apparently, Yaz could read minds.
Or, more likely, she was just full of empathy and had a kind of sixth sense about when a friend needed to be hugged.
She sat herself beside the Doctor and wrapped her arms around her shoulders, pulling her in close. In response, the Doctor snaked an arm around Yaz's centre mass, clinging to the fabric of her T-shirt, resting her chin on her shoulder. She felt pretty real. Solid. Warm. The Doctor could feel the bare skin of Yaz's forearm around her neck and the smooth heat of her cheek pressed up against her ear. She cherished every vivid detail because every vivid detail meant that this was reality, and this was the kind of reality the Doctor could get used to; one she definitely didn't want to have to wake up from.
"It isn't all bad, y'know?" The Doctor whispered. "The nightmares are a pain, sure, but it's nice to lead the kind of life that's better than even your sweetest dreams. It's nice to wake up to faces like yours."
When Yaz pulled away then, she did so only slightly, only enough so that they could see each other's faces while still wrapped up in one another's arms. Briefly - oh, so briefly - Yaz's eyes flitted toward the curve of the Doctor's lips. In that instant, an entire universe of possibilities existed in the narrow space between their mouths and the Doctor experienced them all in the surging of her hearts. But then Yaz looked up with eyes that luminesced like fireflies in the lamplight and said "Yours isn't so bad either, I s'pose."
A joke, and the moment for infinite possibilities was swallowed by their respondent smiles. Not that either party would have admitted that that was what just happened, that a spark of opportunity had been stubbed brusquely out as if a burning cigarette beneath the sole of a boot. Each was apparently sworn to a vow of ignorance.
Knowingly or not.
Though dawn had hardly broken, neither Yaz nor the Doctor returned to sleep.
Yaz, stifling yawns every five minutes, was clearly only fighting the urge to sleep for the Doctor's sake. The Doctor had tried to convince her to get another hour or two in before their long drive, but Yaz refused and the Doctor couldn't help but feel touched. As a matter of fact, Yaz appeared to be making every effort possible to keep the Doctor in high spirits. She talked more than she usually did, shared happier memories of her youth, asked questions about the stories the Doctor loved to recount. When the time came, she even opted to renege on her commitment to the cheap hotel breakfast and instead drove the Doctor to a pancake house nearby. The Doctor had no objections.
She was licking sugar from off her thumb when she caught Yaz watching her from across the table with a strange look on her face; a look halfway between reverence and regret.
"What is it?" The Doctor asked, sensing that there must have been something weighing on Yaz's mind for her to be looking at her in that way.
"Nothing, sorry. You're just-" Yaz's breath hitched in her throat, like she'd only just managed to stop herself from finishing a sentence she'd never even intended to start. The Doctor watched as she seemed to mull something over, then expel that odd expression from her face and smile a dismissive smile. "Nothing."
Another moment which might almost have been something else. Almost, almost, almost. The Doctor was aware that they were amassing a lot of these, a lot of scenarios which may have played out very differently had either party said or done something more or less or diverged even slightly from the comfort of playing it safe. She wasn't certain exactly how things might have been different, only that she felt as if two timelines were running parallel to one another and she was stuck in the one where she was too scared to find out. How badly she wanted to cross over into that other timeline.
How close she was to doing so.
It was still early in the morning when they set off for New York. Where the buildings thinned out, birdsong was rich in the air, tuneless and merry. Great white clouds billowed like smoke in the sky and the Doctor passed the time by imagining that she could see shapes in their unique formations, occasionally pointing out a new shape to Yaz whenever she was especially excited by one.
They'd been driving for going on two hours and had slipped into a comfortable silence.
Yaz was first to break it.
"Y'know," She started, pulling the Doctor from her fixation on the clouds. "I used to get bad dreams a lot, too. When I was in high school, I mean. The thought of having to get up every day and face the person who made my life hell just filled me with dread and I guess it manifested itself into nightmares and sleeplessness."
"Izzy Flint," The Doctor inferred, speaking her name as if it were bitter poison on her tongue.
"Yeah," Yaz looked at the Doctor, shocked. "Izzy Flint."
"So what did you do?"
"Nothing," Yaz shrugged. "The nightmares only went away when the problem went away. If I'd have dealt with the problem sooner, I might have spared myself a lot of restless nights and unnecessary suffering."
The Doctor imagined Yaz, only a few years younger than she was now, lying awake at night with a knot of anxiety in her stomach. She didn't have to imagine how lonely it must have been for her to wake from her nightmares alone in the dead of night, because she had been there herself on countless occasions. At least the Doctor always had the stars. If ever her night terrors came back with a vengeance, she'd simply fly her ship someplace happy, somewhere where the days were endless and the sun never stopped shining and the breeze always carried with it the flavour of laughter. She wondered where Yaz sought her solace. Was there any to be had?
"My point is, I kind of know what it's like. I also know that it's not necessarily permanent. There are things to be done, always," Yaz stole a sideways glance at the Doctor. "You of all people must know that."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Yaz, really. But there's no problem for me to deal with. The dreams just happen."
More often than not, the Doctor's nightmares pertained to her past. Sometimes they weren't nightmares at all, but memories. Flashbacks. What exactly was the doctor to do about that? She couldn't change any of it, she couldn't make the wrong right all of a sudden, and she couldn't bring back those who had been lost to her. Last night's dream had been about Yaz, yes, but it was only because of her long history of loss that she now feared losing Yaz so terribly.
"Hmm," Yaz considered the Doctor's statement. "You told me that you watched me die in your dream, right? And then you found yourself standing in a graveyard of all your friends. Well the problem, Doctor, is your guilt. I've said this before, but you really need to find some way to be at peace with your past. Easy for me to say, I know, but it's the truth. Otherwise the guilt'll just eat you alive. I don't want that for you. You deserve to be happy - whether you're willing to believe me yet or not."
"But I am happy," The Doctor insisted. "Right now, I'm happy."
And it was true.
The Doctor had been happier on this trip with Yaz than she had been in a while, snaking their way through the states with only a complete lack of a plan and one another. Her biggest problem, in truth, was not her guilt about the past, but her fear of losing what she had at present. This. Yaz. The feeling of unfettered happiness she had, until recently, been estranged from. If she were to lose it all now, she wasn't sure she'd survive it. But how could she confess any of this to Yaz? How could she ever expect to explain to her that the reason she couldn't sleep at night and the reason she likely wouldn't be able to for a long time was because she held their relationship so dear that the very idea of letting it go tore her apart from the inside out?
The Doctor knew this was one of her greatest flaws: her inability to grasp the concept of casual. If she wasn't flat out denying people entry into her life, she was clinging to them with the all fanatical fervour of a thousand religious men, in which she was the believer on her knees and the object of her affection was her god. But there would be little sense in revealing that part of herself to Yaz.
There was no telling how far she'd run.
It was mid-afternoon when they stopped for something to eat.
The place they happened across was a little off the beaten track and was actually discovered accidentally after Yaz made a wrong turn. Surrounded on all sides by tall pines - the same pines that had been lining the roads for hours now - it was a wonder they didn't drive right by it. At first glance, it looked like little more than a homely log cabin. Upon closer inspection, however, they saw that there was a wooden plaque above the door with the word "Randy's" embossed into it, and through the dusty windows they saw a few patrons eating at tables adorned with red and white table cloths. Yaz parked the car in the lot, which was big enough only for half a dozen cars or so, and they headed inside.
Beside the outer entrance, flower bouquets were displayed at a vacant stand. $5 a pop. A peculiar feat for an off-road restaurant. Business, Yaz remarked when the Doctor pointed it out, must have been pretty slow.
Inside, it was dim, a huge, unlit fireplace in one corner obviously having been intended as the main source of light. On the wooden walls were mounted a bear's head and a fox's head whose eyes tracked their movements, plus one of those singing fish the Doctor had to admit she had a bit of a secret love for. The few customers, whom the Doctor ventured were probably locals, hardly registered Yaz and the Doctor's presence. One man sat behind the counter, arms folded across his chest, totally engrossed in the TV on the wall above him. Randy, presumably.
They ordered their food, earning them several affirming grunts from the man as he took down their order, and took a seat at a table beneath the window. A haggard looking woman who must have been around forty but looked much older chain smoked in the corner over a cold cup of coffee, whilst two men in open flannel and wife-beaters scarfed down their loaded plates of food at the counter over minimal conversation. All in all, the place was pretty dead. That said, the Doctor enjoyed the smell of pine leaking in through the vented windows, enjoyed the green tint to the light falling through the gaps in the leaves overhead. The place had an earthly feel to it. Grounding.
"This place kind of reminds me of a camping trip I went on when I was a kid," Yaz said after the food and coffee arrived. "We had to stay in four person tents. Up at the crack of dawn every day. Campfires in the evening. Roasted marshmallows. Would have been great if I weren't with my sister."
"Sounds lovely. Now you mention it, I've never actually been camping for fun before," The Doctor tore open a sugar packet and poured it into her coffee. "Had to camp out in a damp cave on a jungle planet once - but that were only to avoid the acid rain. Would've melted me down to a puddle otherwise."
"Really?" Yaz crossed her arms atop the surface of the table. "So you've never just picked a place, pitched a tent, spent a couple of days surrounded by nature?"
"Y'know me, I don't sit still," The Doctor blew the steam from her mug, sipped. "Besides, isn't like I don't still get my share of nature on my travels. I just don't make a habit of sleeping in the dirt, is all."
"You don't make a habit of sleep at all," Yaz pointed out.
"Exactly," The Doctor said through a mouthful of warm apple pie. She chewed, swallowed, took another bite, then pointed her fork at Yaz as she continued to speak. "I mean, each to their own. If you lot get a kick out of hiking deep into the woods just to sleep on a bunch of rocks and twigs then, eh, who am I to judge? Me, I can hardly sleep at the best of times. Why on earth would I make it even harder on myself by removing a warm bed and four solid walls from the equation?"
"Doctor, you've got it all wrong," Yaz laughed. "We don't camp just for the sake of sleeping outside. For some people that's part of it, but mostly it's just about getting away from all the noise and escaping somewhere where there aren't any responsibilities, no real world consequences, just you and the sky and the trees and sometimes the people you care about."
"Not so different from the TARDIS, sounds like."
"In a way," Yaz said, her manner non-committal. "I better take you before the month is up. I really think you'd enjoy it."
"Me and Yaz and the sky and the trees." The Doctor's tone was laced with romance. She hummed, eyes gleaming. "This is why you are so brilliant. Look at you, encouraging me to do things I probably never woulda thought to do on my own. And I usually think of everything."
"Yeah, well, it's better not to do it alone. Better still if you do it with someone you-" Yaz scratched her jaw (almost, almost, almost). "Someone you're comfortable with."
"In which case, Yasmin Khan, you are the perfect woman for the job."
Once they'd eaten, the Doctor hung back to pay the bill while Yaz started the car. After shedding five dollars more than was necessary, the Doctor returned to the car carrying a bouquet of flowers. Specifically, she carried a bouquet of pink and yellow roses wrapped in a red ribbon. She climbed into the passenger's seat and thrust the flowers into a bemused Yaz's hands. Yaz shot the Doctor a quizzical look.
"I couldn't resist. Sorry."
Yaz broke into a resigned smile. "Doctor, did you buy these for me?"
"'Course I did. No one else around is there?" The Doctor grinned. "If I remember correctly, yellow roses signify friendship and pink is a token of admiration. Couldn't think of a better combination in the world."
"You bought me flowers," Yaz reiterated, visibly thrown for a loop by the gesture. She brought the roses up to her nose, inhaled, studied the gift with a blossoming warmth in her face. "I... We haven't even got any water to put them in. They'll only wilt."
"Ah, everything in the known universe is fleeting, Yaz. Anyway, they've been dying since the moment somebody cut them from their roots," The Doctor reasoned. "No point in letting them die without somebody appreciating them for a while first, eh?" Only after she said it, and was met with a weighty stare from her friend, did the Doctor place the unintentional double meaning to her sentiment.
"Makes you wonder," Said Yaz, somewhat forlorn. "What becomes of all the bouquets no one ever thinks to buy."
Flowers on the dashboard, the whole car smelled like roses.
Yaz kept glancing at them intermittently, and the Doctor noticed every time she did it.
The car broke down a couple of hours outside New York after a loud sputtering, like a long time smoker's chesty cough, erupted from somewhere beneath the hood, preceding a worrisome silence and a failing engine. Yaz guided the car onto a hard shoulder off to the side of a lonely highway, hit her forehead softly against the steering wheel, and sighed deeply.
"I'm gonna try really hard not to say what I want to say," She said.
The Doctor knew, of course, that what she really wanted to say was 'I told you so.' Nonetheless, she was thankful to Yaz for resisting the temptation to rub it in. The Doctor offered to take a look under the hood, and while Yaz sat on a patch of grass nearby, the Doctor rolled up her sleeves and examined the damage. It was already past six, the pale blue sky pale no more. Darker tones edged in over the horizon and the sun, as if a light at the end of a long tunnel, descended upon the centre of the road far off in the distance. The ground shimmered.
"Hmm. I think, if I just..." The Doctor meddled with the mechanics, retrieving her screwdriver and attempting to fix the damage with the mending buzz of the sonic. Except this time, her efforts earned her an animalistic hiss and a series of sparks which flew at her like fiery spitballs. The Doctor stumbled backwards with a surprised yelp. "Oi! Easy, sparky. I'm trying to fix... oh! Sparky!"
"You can't call the car Sparky," Yaz objected.
"Well, why not?"
Yaz blew out her cheeks, exasperated, and then shrugged. Giving in, she lay on her back and lowered her sunglasses over her eyes. The Doctor continued her efforts whilst Yaz bathed in the sun's last moments, listening to the familiar sound of the Doctor yelling at an uncooperative vehicle. The car did not yell back, but it did occasionally singe the Doctor with sparks and, at one point, a small flame that the Doctor only just managed to extinguish before serious damage occurred. How familiar this all was to them both.
Half an hour went by. The sun was all but gone. Yaz stood over the Doctor's shoulder, looking into the open wound that was their car. The Doctor wiped the oil from her hands with a rag and turned to face Yaz. A dark smear, like some careless brushstroke, painted her cheek from the corner of her mouth to the top of her ear. She pursed her lips, defeat written across her face,
"Pretty sure I just made her angrier," The Doctor said.
Yaz didn't look surprised. "Guess we're hitchhiking then."
It took them another twenty minutes to flag somebody down. They leaned against the Mini, suitcases at their feet, thumbs extended, when finally a rust coloured pickup slowed to a stop beside them. It was a man and a woman, early thirties, all big smiles and free spirits. The woman, dreadlocked and hazy-eyed, was adorned with cheap looking clunky jewellery and wore a breezy sundress. The man, a lanky white guy, had a mess of shaggy brown hair atop his head and a patchy scruff of stubble on his chin which was begging for the mercy of a razor.
"Oh man, what happened to your ride?" Asked the man, stepping out of the car.
"Not entirely sure," Yaz answered. "We were hoping to get a lift to the nearest town though, to an auto shop maybe?"
"We live about five miles from here, we can tow you into town," The woman, who was driving, offered. "But you'll be hard pressed to find a shop open at this time. Where were you headed?"
The couple shared a look, communicating silently.
"Well hey," The man shrugged. "You won't be getting there tonight, so why not ride into town with us? We'll take you to our trailer park. It isn't much, but there's a vacant trailer with a fold out bed and a restroom we can rent to you for as long as you need."
"That'd be amazing, thank you so much," Yaz accepted graciously.
So they hooked the car up to the pickup, and Yaz and the Doctor climbed onto the cargo bed with their luggage. Though their town was little more than five miles away, it took them almost twenty minutes to get there, what with the truck never exceeding fifteen miles an hour. Yaz and the Doctor sat with their backs to the cabin, taking in the town as it revealed itself to them.
The roads were wide, the pavements almost on par, creating the feeling of a sparse and empty town. Granted, it had character. The store fronts, and many of the houses, were styled like old-western buildings. The Doctor half expected a cowboy to come striding out through the swinging doors of a saloon. The red bricks, dusty roads, and unusual abundance of weary-faced pensioners out smoking on verandas all painted a very specific picture.
The Doctor hadn't known what to except from the trailer park, but she was rather pleasantly surprised. They were driven through a metal gate into a large clearing in front of a field. The trailers themselves were not much to look at, compact and grey and not very alluring. However, clearly the inhabitants had made an effort to make their home a nicer place to live. Fairy lights had been strung up between the trailers, creating a roof of criss-crossing light overhead, and in the spaces between trailers garden furniture was set up in such a way that it seemed everybody here shared everything. It alluded to a kind of communal living, a home that breached their own front doors and extended to each of their neighbours.
People sat out at large round tables drinking beers and making hearty conversation, laughing often over the background noise of the radio. Straight away, the Doctor could smell barbecued meat, smoky and rich and incredibly tempting. Sure enough, a middle aged man with an overhanging gut and a bald patch stood over a grill in front of his trailer, where beef patties and hotdogs sizzled away. He looked up when they walked past, nodded at them in a friendly manner. The Doctor nodded back.
"Right, this is you," Said the woman, stopping in front of a trailer smack bang in the centre of the park. It scarcely differed from the rest. "As you can see, we're having a little barbecue out here. Feel free to join us once you've settled in, I think the guys would love to meet some new faces. Oh, I'm Cherry, by the way. And that-" She gestured at the man who'd been in the truck with her. "Is Sam."
"I'm the Doctor, this is Yaz," The Doctor hugged Cherry enthusiastically. "Thank you very much for your hospitality."
Cherry handed them a key and an amused frown, and then left them to their own devices. Yaz and the Doctor headed into their trailer, surveyed their temporary new quarters. The interior screamed 70's decor, brown and cream the prevailing colours. To one side was the kitchen, which offered very basic amenities including a sink, a few cupboards, and a microwave. Right near the front door was a small cupboard which might have been the bathroom, and to the left of them was an ancient TV set and a narrow sofa which the Doctor guessed was also the fold out bed. She could see the sheets in an open compartment above the window.
"Cozy," Yaz opened the door to the bathroom, which didn't open all the way before hitting the wall.
"Ah, we won't be here long," The Doctor set a bag down on the sofa-bed.
"Famous last words," Yaz said under her breath. "Who knows how long it'll take to fix that heap of scrap we've been driving? Might just be best to-"
"C'mon Yaz, she's got a name now," The Doctor pouted. "Can't abandon her if she has a name. That's cruel."
"All I'm saying is, even sinking ships have names, and they get deserted all the time," Yaz countered, leaning against the wall near the Doctor. "But... if you think she's worth saving, we'll see what they say when we take her to the shop in the morning."
The Doctor practically glowed. "Brilliant."
"Sauce with that?"
Yaz and the Doctor joined the barbecue, deciding that it would be rude not to mingle with their hosts and neighbours. The Doctor took the balding man up on his offer of a burger, then took him up on his offer of ketchup. She thanked him and then went to sit by Yaz, who had already integrated herself into a table populated by Sam, Cherry, and two others. Presently, she was telling the story of the Doctor's hopeless bid to try and fix their car. The others laughed.
"Oi, usually I wouldn't even break a sweat, only-"
"Only you chose possibly the worst road trip vehicle known to man," Yaz chastised playfully.
They smiled at one another and left it at that. It was a point of disagreement they'd gone round and round on, but one neither took particularly seriously. More of a running joke, really.
"So how long have you two been on the road?" Asked Sam. He sprinkled tobacco onto a piece of filter paper.
"Not long, about a week," Yaz tipped back a bottle of beer. "We set off from Florida, drove to Savannah, then this morning we left Nashville headed for New York."
A woman sitting beside the Doctor, whose eyelids were painted bright blue and whose tan was very obviously artificial and overdone, frowned, creasing the foundation caked on her face. "Weird route to take. Is New York your final destination?"
"Nope. We just kinda rely on whimsy and good fortune to take us where we need to go, isn't that right, Yaz?" The Doctor explained. "No set path, no rules, it's how we've always done things."
"We've all got a set path," Chimed in the odd looking man seated between Yaz and Sam. He wore a bowler hat, had very pale skin, wore a tattered suit with so many patches sewn into it one had to wonder exactly how much of the original garment remained. "In choosing not to follow a particular route, you are only going where you were always supposed to go. A singular fate awaits us all."
"Don't mind him," Cherry said. "Mr. Sherman used to travel with the circus, fancies himself a psychic. He thinks there's no escaping destiny."
"Ooh, do you do readings?" The Doctor asked.
Mr. Sherman regarded the Doctor with narrow eyes. "Only in daylight hours."
"Lovely, might stop by tomorrow. Love getting my palm read. Get a totally different reading every time, keeps me on my toes. Oh! Speaking of tomorrow," The Doctor turned in her seat to face Yaz. "Big bang day!"
"You still wanna do that?" Yaz sounded surprised. "We're not even in New York."
"What in the world is big bang day?" Sam spoke, exhaling a puff of pungent smoke as he did so.
The Doctor rehashed the details of the conversation Yaz and the Doctor had the night before, leaving out the part about time travel. "Just think about everything that had to happen for us all to be sitting here having this conversation right now. The perfect state of conditions which had to occur for the birthing of your sun, of this planet, and for your lineage to unfold in such a way that it resulted in your existence in this world."
Cherry leaned back in her chair, jewellery tinkling with her every movement. "What exactly does big bang day entail?"
"It's out first one," Admitted Yaz.
"But it's definitely a celebration," The Doctor added hastily. "We're just gonna make it up as we go along."
"Ha, well, if there's one thing the people at Grand Oak trailer park are good at, it's throwing parties," Sam boasted, waving his lit cigarette around while he talked. "We can pitch in with the celebrations, if you like."
"I can get a rad deal on fireworks," Said the makeup caked woman.
"Oh, I love fireworks!" Exclaimed the Doctor. She looked to Yaz with wide, pleading eyes. "C'mon Yaz, whaddaya say? Big bang day at Grand Oak trailer park?"
"All right," Yaz agreed, infected by the Doctor's contagious excitement. "Let's do it."
"Awesome," Sam drawled. "I'll spread the word. The party planning committee shall commence at dawn," He joked.
The Doctor was ready to delve into all the countless ideas her mind buzzed with, felt them teetering on the edge of her tongue as if at any second they might overflow and spill out of her. Then she looked at Yaz, saw the bags under her eyes, watched her hide another yawn behind the back of her hand. The Doctor closed her mouth. She nudged Yaz subtly and nodded towards the trailer with an arched brow. It was a silent question Yaz answered with a slight nod of her head.
"Right gang, we'll see you in the morning," The Doctor announced as she and Yaz rose from the table. "It was my absolute pleasure to meet you all."
They all said goodnight, shook hands, hugged, and then Yaz and the Doctor returned to their trailer. The Doctor excitedly yammered on about the day to come as she unfolded the bed and, with Yaz's help, made it up. Once done, they both stood over it and looked down. It wasn't much bigger than a single; it definitely didn't qualify as a double.
"Not to worry, I won't be sleeping anyway," Announced the Doctor. "Bed's all yours."
"Well, I can stay awake with you. I'm not even that tired," Yaz said.
The Doctor knew it was a lie. She also knew why Yaz was lying: she was reluctant to sleep in case the Doctor succumbed to another nightmare. Or perhaps it was as simple a thing as Yaz didn't want the Doctor to be awake by herself. A needless gesture, given how accustomed to her own company the Doctor was, but still endearing. The Doctor, heart-warmed, sat down next to Yaz on the bed. "How about we put the TV on?" She said; a compromise. Because she knew even if Yaz claimed not to be tired, and no matter how hard she tried to stay up for her, soon enough her body's basic needs would take over and she'd pass out anyway.
Which is exactly what happened.
The long day caught up with Yaz and before long, she'd nodded off with her head on the Doctor's lap. The Doctor, wide awake, dreamed of a more generous universe where this might be allowed to happen nightly.
Chapter 10: big bang day
1- yes it’s been like 2 months I’m an awful person and the fiery pits of hell await me
2- everything I learned about tarot for this chap was from a quick google search oops
3- i did not proofread this
It was a sweet and buttery aroma, coiling invisible tendrils around Yaz’s subconscious, which drew her out of her slumber and guided her back into the stark morning light of consciousness. It was two opposing sounds: the sharp sizzling of the pan versus the Doctor’s gentle, melodic humming. It was the realisation that she was sleeping on a bed alone.
Yaz sat up.
After overcoming the initial headrush brought about by rising too fast, her mind and vision swam back into focus. Looking across the trailer, her eyes immediately found what they had been searching for: the Doctor. Cooking. In her trademark T-shirt and navy trousers, she stood over the hob, hands covered in flour, pouring a pale, fluid mixture into a pan with less care than was probably required. Unseen, Yaz sat and watched for a second. It seemed the light was emanating not from the sunlight oozing in through the kitchen window, but instead transuded from the Doctor’s very pores. Yaz did not recognise the tune she hummed but it complemented the birdsong well, as if the notes themselves were birds in the air, chasing one another with such freedom and playfulness. What a vision of saccharine domesticity it was. How content Yaz felt to indulge in it. Until her hunger got the best of her, of course.
In crumpled tee and sweatpants, she rolled out of bed and headed over to the small kitchen. At the creaking of the sofa-bed, the Doctor turned, noticed Yaz walking over, did a little jump for joy. The next thing Yaz knew, the Doctor had her arms around her and Yaz was stumbling back, prevented from toppling over only by the Doctor’s affinity for a tight hug. Yaz blinked in confusion.
”Happy Big Bang Day, Yaz! An’ I thought you were never gonna wake up,” The Doctor happily exclaimed into Yaz’s tangled hair before pulling apart with eager eyes and her hands still on Yaz’s shoulders. “Honestly, sleepy head. D’you know what time it is?”
”Uh, can’t say I do,” Yaz said, looking to the window as if for clues. The sun did seem a little worryingly high in the sky. “More to the point, Doctor, what on earth kind of mess are you making?”
Yaz gestured at the worktops in the kitchen, barely visible beneath a coat of flour and egg shells and myriad puddles of indiscernible goop. The smells which had woken Yaz were appetising, the visuals not so much. The Doctor looked slightly abashed, surveying the mess with a half grin but making no effort to clean or conceal it.
”Got a bit carried away, y’know me. Look though!” She picked up the pan by its handle, slid its contents onto a plate, and presented said plate proudly to Yaz. “Pancakes! Went to the shops this morning while you were snoozing. Thought I’d do us some brekky. Brunch, really, at this point, but who’s complaining? Love a good brunch, me.”
Indeed, Yaz presently beheld a plate stacked high with what looked to be an earnest effort at thick, American pancakes. Some a little charred, some a little thin, some pockmarked with chocolate chips or blueberries. What stood out to her most was that each of the pancakes was shaped like a heart. Or at least, they almost were. Yaz could see where the Doctor had struggled to make them hold their shape and laughed with good nature. So typical of the Doctor to add her own special touch to something.
“They look great,” Yaz said in earnest, taking the plate from the Doctor as they each slid onto opposite seats at the small table, the Doctor cleaning the flour from her hands with a rag.
“Was a bit of a trial and error process, I won’t lie,” Admitted the Doctor. “I were a champion at pancake making once upon a time but I guess when it comes to culinary skills I’m rustier than I thought. Go on then, tuck in. Gonna need your energy for the celebrations. Drowned ‘em in butter to mask the burntness for ya.”
”Celebrations?” Yaz asked, picking up the fork laid out for her and cutting away the corner of a pancake. Butter pooled off the side. She took a bite and the rich, sugar-sweetness of it all filled her mouth.
“Oh, yeah. Y’wanna see what we’ve been planning. Sam weren’t lying when he said these people know how to throw a party.” The Doctor got up and went to the cupboard, where she removed a glass and filled it with fresh orange from the fridge. “Half the town are helpin’ out. Oh! And I’ve got a surprise for you.”
”Yeah? What kind of surprise?” Yaz felt a little gutted at having apparently slept in so late, at having missed the beginning of this day which was supposed to have been for the two of them. She cursed her very human and very forgivable need for sleep, and tried not to be jealous of Sam and the other trailer park inhabitants.
”Ah, that’s for later.” The Doctor set the glass of juice down in front of Yaz. “For now, eat your pancakes and get ready. It’s gonna be a great day, Yaz. An epic day. Can you feel it?”
Grand Oak trailer park was abuzz with activity.
Yaz made a valiant attempt to finish her pancakes and then, after each of them was ready, she and the Doctor left the trailer to explore their temporary home some. Word had clearly spread about their proposed day of festivities, for everywhere they turned people were gearing up for a party. They strung up banners and bunting, carried parasols and loungers and blankets over to the big open field behind the park, sat on the decks of their trailers debating with neighbours about who should cook what and what they should wear and whether they ought to leave their “brats” at home. The air thrummed with anticipation. Preparations truly were in full swing - no looking back.
At some point, the Doctor looped her arm around Yaz’s and they walked as one along the spacious pathways serving as makeshift roads between the small community. They were approached by a few who recognised them as visitors and correctly assumed them to be the foreigners whom had first proposed the idea of Big Bang day.
“So is it a British thing?” One young man in an open Hawaiian shirt and board shorts had asked. “Will we have to, like, air the Queen’s speech and salute or something?”
Fielding these questions as best they could, Yaz and the Doctor soon arrived at a trailer which brought their mindless wandering to a standstill. Painted black, it stuck out ominously compared to the muted beiges and creams and baby blues of the other trailers. Even the decking attached to the side of the trailer was shielded with black tarpaulin, from which hung agitated wind chimes, cacophonous in their multitudes. Seated in a beat up armchair on the decking, a pair of circular sunglasses perched on his aquiline nose, was Mr. Sherman. Yaz had thought him peculiar the night before, a skeptic of psychics as it was. Nevertheless, he was a part of this community and she was but a guest there.
“Morning, Mr. Sherman,” She called.
“How’s it going?” The Doctor waved.
Mr. Sherman tilted his bowler hat at them by way of greeting. “I was anticipating your visit,” He announced coolly.
”Oh really?” The Doctor wiggled her eyebrows at Yaz but Yaz didn’t share in her excitement. “Did you see it in a vision?”
“Not as such. You told me last night that you’d be stopping by.”
”Oh yeah,” The Doctor’s face fell. “I did, didn’t I?”
Mr. Sherman rose from his armchair (which looked like it might possibly have been lifted from a heap of rubbish on the side of the road, as was the case with a lot of the mismatched furniture spotted around the community) and came to stand at the edge of his deck. The sun glinted harshly off the opaque lenses of his glasses. His eyes were not visible beneath them. “I suppose you’ll be wanting to come inside?”
When the Doctor turned to Yaz then, Yaz saw in her the eager look of a big puppy waiting for approval from its human before bounding off on all fours. Yaz tilted her head towards the trailer resignedly.
”Go on then,” Yaz acquiesced solely for the purpose of seeing the Doctor’s face light up. She’d never believed in mediums and psychics, but it didn’t hurt to indulge in a little fun - even if she was hesitant to dole out cash to frauds. As it stood, the Doctor seemed not to care about the legitimacy of the practice. Yaz knew she was likely aware of its limitations, and yet it fascinated her still. “You don’t actually believe in this stuff, right?” She asked quietly as Mr. Sherman, ahead of them, entered the doorway into his trailer.
”Well, it’s true that humanity isn’t proven to be psychically gifted in any obvious manner - not without modification or manipulation, anyway,” The Doctor said as she and Yaz followed Mr. Sherman across the deck and toward the open door. “But a) y’never know where you might find an anomaly and b) it’s pretty good fun to listen to someone tell you about yourself. Even if it’s all a load of nonsense. Big fan of nonsense, personally. I’m usually pretty awesome at finding a bit of sense in it. After you.”
The Doctor held the door for Yaz as she stepped inside, before closing the door behind them both.
Just as the outside had been dark and eerie, so too was the interior a startling display of theatrical melancholy. Drapes of crimson hung heavy over the windows, and the dark coloured walls were plastered in posters depicting on-the-nose symbolism of the third eye, the human soul and spirit, even the afterlife. A curtain of beads separated this room from the kitchen, making the place feel smaller and more claustrophobic than it already was. Where in Yaz and the Doctor’s trailer there had been a TV set, heater, desk, in Mr. Sherman’s trailer there was a stack of shelves littered with psychic paraphernalia. Crystals and crystal balls, decks upon decks of tarot cards, haunting figures both religious and otherwise, leather bound books with gilt edged pages, plus multifarious objects Yaz couldn’t place the nature or purpose of.
A red shade over the lamp in the corner inflicted the room with an unnatural glow which glistened off all of their faces and accentuated a previously concealed darkness in them. In particular Mr. Sherman, who was folding up his glasses and tucking them into the front pocket of his patchwork jacket, was most affected by the red light. The whites of his eyes seemed whiter, his pupils somehow beadier, the creases in the folds of his face so dark they closer resembled deep fissures than wrinkles.
He offered the ladies a wan smile, extending his arm sideways as in a gesture welcoming them to take a seat at the small wooden table at the centre of the trailer, which was draped in velveteen sapphire cloth. He sat at one chair and the Doctor sat in another. Yaz hovered at her shoulder, arms crossed over her chest.
“Tea?” On the table there was a silver tray and teapot, next to three empty cups. The three cups stood out to Yaz. Business for Mr. Sherman mustn’t have been so great if he truly had spent all morning waiting around for the Doctor based on a throwaway comment she’d made the night prior. She wondered if they were the only paying customers he’d see all day. All week? “It’s Earl Grey,” Mr. Sherman continued, already pouring the first steaming cup.
”My favourite. Cheers,” The Doctor accepted the cup of tea graciously.
”And you?” He asked, looking to Yaz.
”I’m alright, thanks.”
”She likes ‘em sweet,” The Doctor explained on her behalf.
Mr. Sherman hummed, poured his own cup of tea. His eyes flitted briefly, pointedly, towards Yaz’s. “I see.”
“So how exactly does all this work then?” Yaz arced her open hand around at their surroundings. “I’ll be honest I’ve never really understood this kind of stuff. My sister loves it, though. She has her own psychic on speed dial.”
Sonya was big into horoscopes, astrology, mediums. Perhaps because her only experience with fortunes and psychics had been through her sister, who’s insistence on it’s reliability only ever irritated Yaz, this might explain her reservations about it. It certainly hadn’t helped, listening to Sonya drone on about how Yaz was clearly out of sorts because such a planet was in retrograde when really she was out of sorts because her sister was being her sister and Yaz had had enough.
”I can see that you have your doubts. It’s easier for me to show than it is to tell,” Mr. Sherman said, pushing the silver tray to one side and revealing a thick deck of tarot cards. “Unless you have any special requests, we’ll keep it simple. Ask a question and, using these cards, we will divine an answer.”
”Any question at all?” The Doctor asked.
”A broad question, yes. Not limited to a yes or no answer or any extreme specifics,” He tapped the top card with his finger as he spoke. “Anything in mind?”
The Doctor turned her head to the left, looked at the floor by Yaz’s feet. Yaz could see that she was considering something. She craned her neck to look up at Yaz, smiled with only the outermost corners of her mouth, and faced Mr. Sherman once more. “Let’s keep it simple, shall we?” She hooked a finger through the handle of her teacup. “What does the future hold?”
Mr. Sherman stopped tapping his deck. He looked pleased with the Doctor’s question, leaning into the table with a serpentine twist of his mouth. If he wasn’t so old, so frail, Yaz might have considered him sinister. But she also knew that it was all just a part of the show they were paying for - not just the fortune but the whole charade. “The desire to peer into one’s own future is not uncommon, but the future is a design constructed by your past and present. To understand that which is to come, we must first understand that which is and that which has been. Shuffle the deck, please. However you like.”
Mr. Sherman slid the deck of cards across the table towards the Doctor, who listened attentively to his rehearsed spiel. She picked up the cards, gave them a quick shuffle, cut the deck into two, and merged them expertly once more. Yaz was impressed by the effortlessness with which she managed the cards, transfixed by her dexterous fingers until the moment she handed the cards back. Mr. Sherman nodded as if in approval of the Doctor’s methods, then spread the cards out flat along the length of the table in one swift motion and sat back in his chair, eyeing them closely. He folded his hands across the table.
”I want you to think about your question. What does your future hold? There’s a natural energy flowing through all of us, and as you move your index finger across the cards, allow that energy to choose three cards from the deck. Don’t think about it, just feel it. Go ahead.”
”Right. Well, I’m a little bit nervous now,” The Doctor confessed, sitting upright and inspecting the cards. She flexed a hand and, gingerly, pointed her index finger at the first card. “Oh, yep. Lots of energy there. Definitely that one.”
”Draw it out. Face down.”
The Doctor did so.
The Doctor moved slowly through the cards and selected two more. Once she had, Mr. Sherman arranged the three cards into a triangle. Yaz wondered if the Doctor had sincerely felt compelled to select those cards by some innate energy coursing through her, or if it was simply random. The luck of the draw.
”The first card you selected resembles your past. The journey you have undertaken which has brought you to this moment. Let’s take a look,” He said, flipping the first card over. It was hand painted. Beautifully and intricately so. The card depicted a heart impaled by three identical swords, suspended before dark clouds. “The three of swords.” Mr. Sherman’s tone of voice had shifted at the revelation of the card. Wariness? Pity?
”Well that doesn’t look great,” Speculated the Doctor.
“The three of swords tells us that your past is tainted by great heartbreak and suffering. Perhaps you have experienced a great deal of grief, and this has marred your heart and made the idea of forming new relationships difficult for you,” Mr. Sherman theorised, closely watching the Doctor all the while. He wasn’t the only one.
By now, Yaz of course knew this all to be true. The Doctor was a heartbreak veteran; all that Mr. Sherman said was right on the money. She waited for her to offer some kind of reaction, but the Doctor simply tilted her head and listened, giving nothing away. It was unnerving to Yaz how well she masked what was going on beneath the surface.
”And these black clouds? What’s that then, a storm is coming?” The Doctor asked, her voice light but her hold on the teacup tight. Yaz fixated on her white knuckles.
“Not exactly. This is a signifier of your past, remember? The clouds mirror the idea of pain, but also suggest that once these storm clouds subside, so too will the hurt you’ve been clinging to. It’s not wise to use past trauma to justify isolation or detachment. Do you find that you have issues forming close ties with people?”
”The Doctor makes friends wherever she goes,” Yaz refuted. “Myself included. Tell him, Doctor.”
But the Doctor was quiet.
She and Mr. Sherman regarded one another in silence for a second. Yaz sensed that they were somehow communicating and felt frustrated at being the one left out in the cold.
“I see. The thing to remember, Doctor, is that you can surround yourself with all the people in the world if you like, but if you don’t actively choose to open your heart to them then you’ll still feel alone. But as I said, the three of cards is your past. Why don’t we have a look at where you’re at now?” With that, he flipped the second card over. Another gorgeous design, this time a delicately painted golden wheel surrounded by three figures: the snake, the Sphinx, and the Egyptian god Anubis. Mr. Sherman smiled. “The wheel of fortune. It’s very telling that this would be the card representative of your present situation. While the three of swords reflected your struggle to overcome great suffering, the wheel of fortune indicates change and implores you to be optimistic.”
”What kind of change?” Yaz asked on the Doctor’s behalf. Though it’s true that she remained skeptical, a fleeting stab of panic jolted her as she remembered the Doctor’s tales of regeneration. She forced herself to remember that this was nothing more than a party trick; that there was no conceivable way in which a retired circus act might foretell of something so alien to himself.
“Potentially, Doctor, you are on the precipice of a turning point in your life. If I am correct in assuming you’ve been hurting-“ He said, glancing at the Doctor although she neither confirmed nor denied his suspicions. “- Then you can expect the road to recovery to be around the next corner. Even at this very moment, whether you feel it or not, the universe is acting around you and laying out the stepping stones of a path towards an inevitable fate. Put your trust in the universe and know that the hardships you are enduring will ease soon. Your fortune is changing. Has anything in your recent life, perhaps even on this journey you’ve undertaken, felt different somehow? Have you felt any changes taking place - physically, emotionally, mentally?”
Yaz awaited the Doctor’s answer with bated breath. She was scared to make a sound that it might chase away any truths threatening to slip out (although what exactly she was hoping to hear, she couldn’t be sure).
“Hmm.” The Doctor swilled the tea around in her cup. “S’pose I’ve let my guard down a little. With Yaz. She’s been good for me, actually. Encouraging me to be a bit more open.”
”You were keeping her at arm’s length before?” Mr. Sherman asked.
Yaz waited for the Doctor to meet her eyes but she never did. Instead, she took a sip from her cup and shrugged. “Kind of. She’s still closer to me than, well, anyone, really. But there are certain things...”
”Your difficult past. Right,” Mr. Sherman nodded in understanding which somehow infuriated Yaz. Two minutes alone with him and she was opening up more than Yaz had convinced her to do after months and months of travelling together. And there he was, presuming to know her already. Because of what? A couple of cards drawn at random? Please. His beady eyes found hers through the thick red light and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. “It’s my opinion that, while every individual has their own free will, the universe sometimes uses us as pawns. Yaz, for instance, may have been placed in your path for a reason. If you find yourself opening up, blooming, around her - there’s an excellent chance that she is in your life for good cause.”
”You know, I am stood right here,” Yaz reminded them. She wasn’t a fan of being discussed as though not in the room, even if what Mr. Sherman and the Doctor were saying was actually somehow a relief for her to hear.
”My apologies. Shall we turn the final card? Why don’t you go ahead?” Mr. Sherman gestured for the Doctor to flip the last card.
The Doctor picked up the card and turned it over, laying it gently down on the velveteen cloth as three sets of eyes studied it intently. Right away, it was evident what the art on the other side was supposed to represent. Still, Yaz took an imperceptible step closer just to be sure. A man and woman standing naked side by side, a heart painted in the narrow space between them as rays of sunshine illuminated them from the heavens above.
“Ah. The lovers,” Mr. Sherman translated, as if it needed to be said.
Tensions shifted in the room - or was it just Yaz? She peeked sideways at the Doctor, paradoxically both annoyed and thankful to find that she still would not turn around to meet her eye. Rather, the Doctor scoffed into the brim of her teacup: her first obvious sign of skepticism.
“Oh, mate. Been there, done that, got the three of swords to prove it,” She set her cup down, leaned away from the table and from the card, pulled her right foot up onto her left knee.
A while ago, Yaz had partaken in a voluntary course on body language and non verbal communication in interrogations. As an officer, it wasn’t much relevant to the demands of her job, but Yaz was a striver and if she one day got to where she wanted to be then she knew she’d have to go above and beyond and arm herself with all the tools made available to her. One of the things Yaz had learned on the course was that leaning away was a classic sign of self-preservation, as if in putting physical distance between themselves and the interrogator, the suspects were mirroring the distance they hoped to keep between the truth of the crime and the detective.
The Doctor, of course, was not a suspect; no crime had been committed. Yet the way she behaved - leaning away, readjusting, fidgeting with her hands - all pointed to guilty behaviour.
”What did I tell you about letting past heartbreak interfere with your other relationships?” Mr. Sherman cocked his head accusingly. “You might think you’re done with love, with intimate bonds and close conscious connections, but if this is where the universe is guiding you then you can do nothing but allow it. Resistance to the will of fate is futile a hundred percent of the time.”
”And why does fate want me to fall in love so bad then, eh?”
”Because, Doctor, it’s your turn to be happy,” Mr. Sherman replied, and it was the first thing he’d said since meeting them which had sounded genuinely warm. “Besides, the card does not strictly pertain to romantic relationships. It could foretell of any close, soul rendering connection. A friendship, a familial bond, anything of the like. It represents duality, union. Love presents itself in many forms and it is only the foolish among us who would deny love a place in our lives.”
“Mr. Sherman, I am old. Older than I look by a hop, skip and a marathon. I happen to have it on good authority that nothing lasts forever. Not the good, not the bad, defo not the great.”
“Of course nothing lasts forever,” Agreed Mr. Sherman. “And who said it should? How can we recognise joy without misery or love without loneliness? The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain. You strike me as an adventurous type, Doctor, so tell me: has there never been an instance whereupon you took a wrong turn and somehow ended up exactly where you were supposed to be? Or somewhere better, even? If you take a look back at the events of your life, you’ll more often than not find an instance of misfortune which led you to something great further down the line. It’s all just a game of dominos. Cause and effect. Let the pieces fall where they may, and do your best to cherish the good while it lasts. Even if - no, especially if - it isn’t going to last forever.”
While Yaz found Mr. Sherman’s over abundance of metaphors and proverbs a little pretentious, the sentiment behind his words was remarkably on point. She had never known the Doctor to be a cynic, and yet a nerve seemed to have been struck in her somewhere along this line of conversation.
”Funny y’say that,” The Doctor said, looking at her hands. They sat interlocked in her lap. “Reminds me of something I said a while ago. See, I wondered what the point in being happy now is if you’re only gonna be sad later.”
“And what answer did you come up with?” Yaz asked the back of the Doctor’s head, because surely there was an answer to be found, and if anyone knew it - if anyone knew the key to balancing both the bitter and the sweet even when the bitter seemed so daunting - it was the Doctor.
”The answer...” Finally, finally, the Doctor looked at Yaz. “Is that you’re going to be sad later.”
As Yaz stared down at the Doctor, at a face which seemed so hollow and haunting in this place and after that conversation, she experienced the strangest sensation of her heart knowing something her head hadn’t quite figured out yet. It felt a lot like the ache she had experienced out on the deck of that boat watching the Doctor watch the water; an ache she’d experienced on several occasions since and before. One she still hadn’t put a name to. Yaz didn’t know if there was any truth to all this fortune palaver but for the first time she hoped it was, because if there was one thing she wanted more than anything, it was for the Doctor to be happy.
To have hope.
To feel love.
Soon after departing Mr. Sherman’s trailer (Yaz welcomed the escape), the Doctor announced that she had to go and meet a friend of Sam’s who was coming to give their car a once over. Yaz offered to join her but the Doctor had insisted she instead take some time to herself, so they parted ways. Secretly, Yaz was thankful of this, for it gave her the time she needed to add the finishing touches to a gift she’d been working on for the Doctor in stolen moments for a little while now. When better to gift it to her than on Big Bang day?
At the book store in Savannah, Yaz had clandestinely purchased a large notebook which at once had given her the inspiration for the gift: a road trip scrapbook. The idea of documenting their travels, of immortalising them in the creamy pages of this stunning leather journal, was irresistible to Yaz. So she gathered up their mementos: a flyer from the Hitchcock screening, the Polaroid pictures (of which, she was startled to notice, most were snapped by the Doctor of Yaz in totally candid moments), the caricature they bought at the park, even a postcard of one of Luna’s sapphic paintings which they’d bought at the gallery. Actually putting it all together had proved difficult, what with their hectic schedule and the Doctor’s disinclination towards sleep, but slowly she had managed it. And there in the trailer, with glue and tape and scissors borrowed from her neighbour, the components came together and her work was completed.
Which is not to say that the scrapbook was completed - not by a long shot. Many pages remained blank, unfilled. This, of course, to mean that their journey was not over. May never be over. Always another page to turn, another memory to make, and Yaz could think of no better way to convey her total glee at this prospect than with a book full of empty pages.
“That should just about do it,” Cherry said, holding the tightly wrapped gift up to the sunlight like a shopkeeper checking for counterfeit money.
“That’s perfect. Thanks again for lending me some wrapping paper. I’ve never liked giving gifts without it. Feels naked, somehow,” Yaz laughed, taking the book back from Cherry’s blinged, outstretched hand.
Yaz, Cherry and Sam were sitting on the decking adjacent to their trailer. Bits of tape and gift wrap, as well as a plate of fresh brownies, littered the table. When Yaz had approached, asking to borrow a bag or some old newspaper, the two had been more accommodating than she had anticipated. From cluttered, overstuffed cabinets, Cherry had retrieved three different kinds of wrapping paper and insisted on wrapping the present for Yaz, claiming to be an expert. That she was.
Whilst Cherry had wrapped the present, Sam brought over iced tea and brownies, and they got to chatting. Yaz learned that on top of running the trailer park, Cherry made and sold her own clothes and accessories, such as dresses, bracelets, rings, skirts, blouses, anything she fancied tackling, really. She even had her own stall at the market in town. This she claimed to love because she got to meet so many interesting people there, both locals and passers by whom she would likely never meet again. In her hippie drawl, she explained that she saw her hometown not as a destination for travellers but a pit-stop or occasional crossroads, thus opening them up to all manner of wanderer.
”People don’t stay here. Not for long,” She had said, pushing a dreadlock out of her face with her shoulder as she concentrated on neatly folding the gift wrap. “People pass through, fuel up, break down.” With this, she looked pointedly at Yaz. “Mostly, I find no one ever comes here on purpose. Probably couldn’t find us if they were looking. But people are always happening upon us. Stumbling over us. They look around and they’re like, ‘oh’, you know? ‘Where am I?’ Then as soon as they’re gone, soon as we disappear from their rear view, they forget they were ever here.”
Yaz had found this a little sad; the idea of the ghost town - appearing when people need it, vanishing once more after services rendered.
“Can’t be that good for the town’s economy?” She’d asked.
“Damn right it isn’t,” Sam had piped up. He was chewing absently on the straw in his glass, which dripped condensation onto his shorts. “Even this old place, she’s not holding up too well. Grand Oak trailer park ain’t gonna be grand too much longer. Money’s sparse. Even with the both of us working two jobs, it’s not promising.”
”Sam, she doesn’t need to hear that.”
”This place is closing?” Yaz clarified.
Cherry shrugged. “It’s not looking great. Maybe we’ve been too lenient with some of the guests, accepting late payments, allowing occasional freebies to people in need. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have mattered anyway,” She’d sighed then, shaking her head subtly, the silver plated beads in her hair catching the light. “Our lease on this land is up soon.”
”Big payment due,” Sam added, rubbing his thumb and index finger together in the universal sign for money.
“All these people...” Yaz had looked out through the balustrade. The jolly-faced man who had manned the grill the night before sucked on a cold beer, keeping a close eye on his kids who ran around in circles chasing one another with dirt on their knees and their hands and their hair. To the right, two middle aged women dressed like they were twenty years younger struggled to keep their homemade banner suspended between the walls of their trailers. Somewhere, out of sight, a group of people laughed a kind of hearty, vibrational laugh that arises from someplace deep in the stomach. “This is their home. They won’t have anywhere to go.”
”Mmm. There’s a developer after the land, too,” Said Cherry. “Always knocking on our door. Won’t they be glad to see the last of us.”
”What are you gonna do?” Yaz had asked. “I mean, have you got a plan?”
The look that was then exchanged between Sam and Cherry told Yaz that no, they didn’t have a plan. Grand Oak trailer park’s fate was sealed. So it seemed. Cherry had finished her wrapping in silence, a dejected mood having settled over them like a dark cloud about to burst, and Yaz - not wanting to harshen their vibe further - thanked Cherry and Sam for the help and refreshments and made to leave. She was on the verge of the deck when she realised she hadn’t seen the Doctor in a while. Strange, given that it was usually impossible to shake her (not that she ever wanted to).
”You don’t know where I could find the Doctor, do you?” She inquired, present tucked under her arm.
“Oh sure, she’s on the field behind the—“ Sam was abruptly cut off by Cherry’s elbow in his ribs. He instinctively reached for his side and pouted at Cherry. “Ow. What was that for?”
Cherry closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “God, I love a total idiot.”
Yaz looked between them, puzzled. “What is it?”
”Ah, hell, that was the thing I was supposed to not mention, wasn’t it?” Sam raked his fingers through his hair with an embarrassed grimace on his face. “I really ought to lay off the brownies for a bit. Heh.”
”Why weren’t you supposed to tell me where she is?” Yaz narrowed her eyes at them. “What’s with all the secrecy?”
”Uh...” Sam looked like a deer caught in headlights. “Do you want a brownie?”
Without accepting one of Sam’s suspicious brownies, which Yaz noticed made him less coherent with each bite, Yaz left him and Cherry to their devices and set off in search of her mysteriously absent Doctor. Their half hearted bickering faded from earshot as she made her way to the large field across the trailer park. The treeline surrounding the community opened up to a wide open clearing, a grassy expanse already populated with screaming kids and parents on loungers and those among them more goal-oriented who were decking the place out with seating areas and buffet tables and more mismatched furniture. People had started to move their cars onto the field, too, playing music from their radios and enjoying cold drinks from thermal bags in their trunks.
Music, laughter, screaming, the buzzing of flies, burning coal under a grill, suncream, cigarette smoke mingling with cannabis, the distinct smell of recently mowed grass, glass bottles clinking together.
As Yaz moved in and amongst it all, it was not lost on her how deeply embedded in this place the sense of homeliness was. Of shared living, of entangled lives, of free spirits and open doors. Complete strangers smiled, chatted, high fived her as she picked her way through them. Yaz and the Doctor had not been there for a day and already the inhabitants were treating them not as guests but as two more members of one big family. It upset her deeply to think that soon, all of these people would be turned away and that this solid community would be torn apart and forced their separate ways.
Her moment of sentimental reflection was cut short when she finally spotted the Doctor. Now donning a very particular 80’s getup (denim dungarees and a white top, sleeves rolled up to her elbows), the Doctor appeared to be kneeling beside a long, retro RV. Retro in that it was a 70’s issue vehicle. Not far from it was parked their Mini. A child had laid a blanket out on the hood and presently lay sunbathing on top of it, a small chubby arm draped dramatically over her eyes. The scene didn’t make much sense to Yaz yet.
”Doctor?” Yaz called out. Almost upon her now, Yaz could see the buckets of industrial grade paint, see the paintbrush in the Doctor’s hand, see that half of one side of the RV had been painted with the swirling colours and stars and constellations of the universe.
Wide eyed and frantic, the Doctor was on her feet in a flash. “Yaz? Yaz, what you doin’ out here?” She drew closer and Yaz could see the paint smears on her overalls and face. “You weren’t supposed to... Let me guess, it were Sam, right? He let it slip? Ah, I knew I shoulda just kept it to meself. Can’t shut up when I’m excited about something though, you know me. Oh well, not to worry, was always gonna be a task to hide something this big.”
”Doctor, I don’t understand,” Yaz said, looking over the Doctor’s shoulder to admire the paintwork on the side of the RV. It was meticulous. Stunning. “Why on earth wouldn’t you want me to know that you were out here painting someone’s RV?”
”Might as well tell you now, since you’re here,” The Doctor grinned, creasing the dried purple paint smudge on her cheek. She shoved her hands into the front pockets of her dungarees and turned to face the RV. “When I told you I was off to get Sparky looked at, that may have been a teensy white lie. I already had her looked at this morning and the prognosis was not very good at all. I were dead upset, truth be told. However, the man at the shop had an RV he wanted to get off his hands and I remember you saying how much you wished we had one so... Well, I got it for us. He chipped the paints in for free so I could do it up for you. You know, as a gift. For Big Bang day. You weren’t s’posed to see it ‘til it were finished, mind you. I’ve hardly even started one side.”
”This is ours? You bought this for us?” Yaz took a step closer to the RV. She shook her head. “I don’t even know what to say. Except thank you. And you’re amazing.”
”Ah, it’s nothing.”
”It’s not nothing. I’m sorry I ruined the surprise; if I’d have known what you were doing...” Yaz looked down at the paint buckets by her ankles as an idea occurred to her. “Well maybe this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We could paint it together? Don’t get me wrong, I can’t paint anywhere near as well as you but-“
”Yasmin Khan, what a brilliant idea,” Interrupted the Doctor keenly. “Grab a brush.”
And so Yaz did, and the two of them set to painting their respective sides of the vehicle. All the while, party preparations continued everywhere around them and the field filled up and came alive with the burning of a roaring bonfire. As Yaz and the Doctor worked, sometimes chatting and sometimes comfortably silent, they did so to the tune of a nearby group of teenagers handing around a guitar and strumming it lightly. On occasion, somebody would sing softly, and others would join in, and then half the party would be singing in unison with wine-flushed faces and endless summer smiles.
Something else happened, too, as the volume of people at the party grew and grew. A small crowd of people began to gather around the RV and watch Yaz and the Doctor paint. It was as if they were street performers, paid by the onlookers in cold drinks and conversation. Slowly, said onlookers began to help. Some painted their own small additions, some pressed paint wet palms to the metal, some signed their names. Yaz felt so at peace, painting side by side with the Doctor in the waning light of that hazy summer afternoon, beset on all sides by friends.
Yaz had finished painting her side of the RV, had come around to meet the Doctor in the middle. They were both covered in paint and the Doctor tried to wipe a fresh smear from Yaz’s face but only ended up making it worse. Yaz retaliated by patting the Doctor on the back with a bright red hand. The Doctor gaped, struggled to get a look at the damage done.
”Right, now you’ve done it,” Said the Doctor, mockingly stern. She then went to dip her paintbrush into a bucket for further ammunition.
“Oh, no you don’t.”
Laughing, Yaz reached the Doctor just as she submerged her brush in a bucket of green and managed to wrestle it out of her grasp. Whilst struggling to hold the Doctor back, she tossed the brush aside. The Doctor’s faux-cross frown eased only when Yaz pulled her in for a sideways, one armed hug while they admired their artistic handiwork. The right side was the Doctor’s universe, peppered in constellations and planets Yaz recognised from their adventures together. On the back, where they had received the most help, a large oak tree had been painted by the Grand Oak inhabitants, many of them having added their own small details. Their palm prints were the leaves, their names in the sky, their heart in every brushstroke.
On the left side, the side Yaz had been working on, was a TARDIS. Coiled around the TARDIS: a rose, beautiful and thorny. The Doctor saw this, instantly recognised exactly who Yaz had been intending to honour by it, reached out to touch it.
“I wouldn’t. Still drying.”
Arms still around one another, the Doctor met Yaz’s eyes and in them Yaz saw a deep appreciation. There was a strand of hair in her face which Yaz desperately wanted to brush out of the way but didn’t, for some reason she found inexplicable. Even looking like that, with paint in her hair and on her clothes and on her skin, her clothes ruffled and cheeks rosy, Yaz found the Doctor perfect. She smiled back at Yaz like it would hurt her to stop and Yaz thought how miraculous it was that she could so seemlessly go from doctor to scientist to explorer to child to artist. Was there anything she couldn’t pull off?
”I’ve got a surprise for you,” The Doctor said, disentangling herself from Yaz.
”What? I thought this was the surprise?”
”C’mon, follow me.”
The Doctor led Yaz into the RV through a door in the side. Warm oranges and deep browns greeted them both and Yaz was pleasantly surprised by the sleek interior, mostly consisting of wood. There was a booth to sit at with couches of faded orange fabric, a longer seat at the back for resting, a sink, lavatory, overhead cabinets and storage space. Cosy, homely, warm. The colour tones actually reminded Yaz of the TARDIS’ control room and instantly she felt as if she had found a home away from home.
“Seriously, Doctor, whatever you’ve got surely can’t top this,” Yaz ran her hand along the smooth wood panelling.
“Your surprise is over there,” The Doctor pointed in the general direction of the driver’s seat. “Go on.”
At first, as Yaz approached the front seats, she couldn’t see anything save for the festivities beyond the windshield. But when she sat down, and looked up at the rear view, she saw a chain hanging from it. At the end of the chain was a key. Yaz went very still for a moment. Tentatively, she unhooked the chain and held the key in the centre of her palm.
”A key to the TARDIS,” Answered the Doctor, taking a seat in the passenger’s side. “Your key to the TARDIS.” When Yaz could think of nothing to say or do except gawk at the key in her hand, the Doctor pressed on. “It’s been in my pocket for a while, actually. Since way before we got stranded. I wanted to give it to you but I never knew when the right time was. Felt like a big deal, y’know? Then we created Big Bang day and, well, it seemed like the perfect time. And I’m talking quite a lot here but you’re not saying very much and I can’t tell if you’re happy about this or not.”
”Doctor, I’m over the moon,” Yaz breathed. “I’m just speechless. I mean, this is the key to your home.”
”Nah, it’s the key to our home,” Amended the Doctor. She put her hands around Yaz’s and closed her fist around the key. Never had such a light touch seemed so intimate to Yaz, nor left her skin feeling so charged and electric as if it had just been exposed to a live wire. “Keep it safe, yeah?”
Giving her gift to the Doctor, after herself receiving such amazing gifts, Yaz had felt a little sheepish. The Doctor had given Yaz the key to the TARDIS, an incredibly thoughtful present, and Yaz in return had given her... paper. Still, true to form, the Doctor reacted with no small measure of gratitude and excitement and when she’d hugged Yaz, smelling of fresh paint and Earl Grey, Yaz did not question but instead shared in the Doctor’s reluctance to let go.
Still, they had to let go eventually.
Once they had, they cleaned themselves up and went to go and join the party. By now, tables and crates and turned over bins had all been arranged in a large square around the bonfire, with mismatched chairs and stools all pulled up on the outside. Dishes of food, warm and cold, were being passed around and people filled their paper plates to the brim. There was no shortage of alcohol, either, cheap though it clearly was. Once Cherry noticed Yaz and the Doctor pulling up a seat, she got up and banged a fork against her beer glass to get everybody’s attention. It took a minute for everyone to quiet down.
“All right people, I’ll try to keep this short ‘cause I know we all just wanna get drunk and fill our faces. But before we do, I just wanna toast the two people we have to thank for this last minute day of celebrations. Feels like we at Grand Oak have been staring down the barrel of a gun for some time now,” Began Cherry. At that, the Doctor looked quizzically at Yaz, to which Yaz responded with a look easily translated as: I’ll tell you later. “It’s easy to let your stresses consume you. Easy to forget to take a moment to enjoy what we have. Today has been a good reminder to appreciate the life we’ve been given and the family we’ve found here, because even though we don’t have much, what we do have means the world. Big Bang day is exactly the kind of break we’ve been needing from the real world, and the best thing about it is that it can mean whatever you need it to mean. It’s about every individual and it’s about life and it’s about our place in the larger universe. So thank you Doctor, Yaz. From here on out, June 25th will forever be marked on my calendar and I’ll always light a fire in your names. Cheers!”
It was then, as everybody cheered and hollered and raised their glasses at Yaz and the Doctor, that Yaz finally realised the importance of that day. Here these people were, a community on the brink of eradication, scared for their futures, and Yaz and the Doctor had given them this one night to take a breather and be with their friends and forget all their troubles. It was just one night, sure, but Yaz knew well just how much difference one night could make. She had met the Doctor in one night and her whole world had changed forever.
Suddenly, Big Bang day became not a secret kept between two friends but a new tradition open to any and all who needed to be reminded of all that they had and all that was precious to them. The Doctor, so precious to Yaz was she, gave Yaz’s hand a quick squeeze under the table. Yaz squeezed back.
She felt good.
It was about an hour later. The Doctor had gone off with her camera to capture more memories for the scrapbook and Yaz could see her, on the other side of the bonfire banquet, immersed in conversation with a pair of very attentive youths with crazy hair and lots of piercings. Yaz was chatting convivially with Sam when Cherry came up behind him, wrapped an arm around his chest and plucked the spliff from his mouth with her other hand. Sam smiled lazily up at her.
“What, you can’t roll your own?”
Cherry shrugged, took a long hit, spoke on the exhale. “You do it better. Hey, Yaz,” Cherry let on through a thick cloud of smoke.
“Hiya. Thanks for the nod in your toast earlier, I really liked what you had to say about Big Bang day,” Yaz said as Cherry took a seat on Sam’s lap and handed the blunt back to him. “Did you mean what you said? That you’re gonna keep the tradition going?”
”Of course I meant it. If there’s one thing I love, it’s a reason to celebrate.” Cherry’s eyes flickered down to the key hanging around Yaz’s neck. The Doctor had insisted on putting it on for her back in the RV. Yaz actively avoided thinking about the thing that happened in her stomach when the Doctor’s fingers had grazed the back of her neck. “Were you wearing that before? I didn’t notice it.”
”Oh. No. It was a Big Bang day gift, actually, from the Doctor.”
”What, like, to her house?” Sam asked, flicking the stub of his spliff off to the side. “Seriously?”
”Well, yeah, kind of,” Yaz fingered the key self consciously. “It’s not like - I mean, I spent a lot of time there. We’re really good mates.”
”Good mates? Is it custom in England to give all your mates the key to your house?” Cherry joked. “Seems like a pretty big deal to me. Hell, I got Sam a sweater for Christmas.”
”Hey, I love that sweater.”
Cherry ruffled Sam’s hair but ignored him. “Look sweetie, it’s none of our business but have you seen the way that woman looks at you?”
”Have you seen the way you look at her?” Sam mumbled under his breath, earning him another elbow to the ribs.
Yaz’s face felt very warm and it wasn’t just because of her proximity to the bonfire. She sat up straighter in her seat, glanced uncertainly at the blissfully unaware Doctor. “You’ve got the wrong idea, I think. Me and the Doctor, it’s... you don’t even understand how much that could never happen.”
”Why not?” Inquired Cherry.
“A million reasons.”
”And I bet there are a million more in favour of it,” She countered. “I’m sorry, it’s not my place, but you said it yourself that today is supposed to be a reminder to all of us to count our blessings and acknowledge how miraculous it is that a single one of us even exists. And if that’s a miracle, then how much more extraordinary is it to exist alongside a person you love? A person who might love you back?”
”Listen, I do love the Doctor. I do. But not like that,” Yaz insisted, and part of her really believed it.
Part of her.
That same part of her also readily dismissed what Cherry perceived to be loving looks from the Doctor as simply the Doctor’s innate affection for her friends. It was the same deal with the key. To outsiders, it might have seemed a grand, romantic gesture, but Yaz was sure that wasn’t what it was. The Doctor had her own customs, her own particular way of expressing admiration. Platonic admiration. Yes, it was intense, but then Yaz got the impression that the Doctor either formed fast, intense connections or she didn’t form them at all.
It would be ridiculous, insane, impossible for Yaz to entertain the notion that the Doctor saw her as anything but a friend. For she was the Doctor: genius, wanderer of the universe, native to the stars, selfless hero and beautiful mind. Yaz was just Yaz: copper from Sheffield. She washed that realisation down with a large swig of six dollar wine.
“I don’t get it,” Yaz said, frowning at the blank piece of paper in her hand.
“C’mon Yaz, don’t tell me you’ve never attended a wish burning ceremony?” Asked the Doctor. She had gathered everybody around the fire, introduced them all to this niche ceremony of hers, and now everybody was gleefully participating. Yaz watched them scribble on their respective pieces of paper, scrunch them up, throw them into the fire.
“No, I haven’t, because I’m fairly sure you’ve just made it up.” Yaz had missed the first half of the Doctor’s explanation. Since her conversation with Cherry and Sam, she’d been hitting the wine pretty hard and her attention span when tipsy was not exactly reliable. “What do I do again?”
”It’s dead easy. Y’just write down a wish on your piece of paper. Somethin’ you really want to come true. Then scrunch it up, burn it, and it’s supposed to grant your wish. Old superstitious stuff, of course, but it is good fun. Sort of.”
Instead of writing down her wish straight away, Yaz waited and watched the Doctor. The Doctor, it seemed, was taking this seriously. Eyes golden and ablaze, embers swimming in the black night around her like fireflies, she bit her bottom lip and scrawled a wish onto the paper using a fountain pen she’d retrieved from the depths of her pockets. Yaz was overcome with an oppressive urge to know what the Doctor was wishing for; to know exactly what she was thinking and exactly what it was that she desired most. Or whom.
Chest tight, this is what Yaz wrote:
I wish my own heart would start making sense.
Then she threw the wish into the fire and watched the words burn.
Shortly after the ceremony, Yaz found the Doctor dancing among a thin crowd of hippies and drunks. It was hard to miss her, actually, given what the Doctor’s idea of dancing consisted of. Music played from a boom box, weaved through the crowd, moved them to dance and get lost in the dance. Yaz thought it might be Bowie. The Doctor spotted Yaz heading for her and her eyes lit up.
“Yaz! You come to dance? I love this song,” Enthused the Doctor, slinging an arm around Yaz. “Oh, Yaz, you must try one of Sam’s brownies. Never had anythin’ like it.”
Yaz regarded the Doctor, her enlarged pupils, and started to laugh. “Oh, Doctor, please tell me you didn’t?”
”Oi, don’t knock ‘em until you try ‘em. Trust me on this one.” The Doctor, Yaz realised, had adopted the same lazy, vocal drawl Sam and Cherry tended to speak with. No wonder.
“Promise me you won’t have any more brownies, all right?”
The Doctor frowned with comic exaggeration. “If I promise not to eat any more brownies, will you dance with me for a bit?”
”Sure,” Said Yaz. “For a bit.”
The music playing wasn’t upbeat enough for proper dancing, so Yaz and the Doctor just kind of swayed together, which worked out well in the end because it turned out that the Doctor struggled to remain upright for long without leaning against Yaz for support. Yaz was okay with that. She’d be the Doctor’s pillar for one night. After all, the Doctor was her rock every night.
At some point, people started to set off fireworks. When Yaz asked the Doctor if she wanted to go help out, the Doctor shook her head.
”Rather stay here with you,” She mumbled.
So while everybody else went to go and find a good spot to view the fireworks, or help set them off, Yaz and the Doctor continued to dance on their own. Their bodies were pressed so close that Yaz could feel the key digging into the exposed skin at the base of her throat. She knew that the Doctor must have felt it, too; that it existed in the space between their flesh as a physical symbol of their relationship, but also potentially of doors yet to be opened and possibilities as yet unexplored.
The fireworks started.
Chin resting on the Doctor’s shoulder, Yaz watched them sail into the starry night and explode with breathtaking vibrancy. Some of them went off like rounds of gunfire, rapid but short lived, brilliant bursts of white tearing holes in the black for the briefest of moments. Some sailed high and exploded far and wide so that it looked as if the tops of the trees might catch fire. Her favourites were the colourful ones. They reminded her of New Year’s spent with the Doctor, of how New Year’s had never seemed so exciting until she experienced it in the Doctor’s company through the Doctor’s magnificent eyes.
So lost in thought (or in one another) were they, that they initially failed to notice when one of the fireworks toppled on its side, nose pointed right at them. Someone shouted for them to watch out and, at the very last second, Yaz spotted the rocket as it hurtled towards them with a high pitched scream. Thinking fast, she threw herself at the Doctor and sent them both falling hard towards the ground.
Yaz heard but didn’t see the rocket explode into the hillside. Yaz heard but didn’t process the relieved cheers of her fellow partygoers. The only thing she was actually, truly aware of was the Doctor, whom she had somehow ended up on top of. She was about to roll off her, but then the Doctor locked those hypnotic hazels on her, foggy though they were, and Yaz was stuck. Couldn’t move, think, breathe. Something was in those eyes and it was like a drug to Yaz’s vein. There was a stray strand of blonde hair in the Doctor’s face; this time Yaz had the drunken courage to tuck it behind her ear. Her hand lingered at the Doctor’s cheek, hovering, uncertain.
The Doctor swallowed. Yaz saw the contraction of the muscles in her neck. Then suddenly the Doctor’s neck was all she could see. Then her jawline. Her mouth. Her lips, her lips, her lips. She felt the quiver of the Doctor’s breath on her face. They were already so close. What was a few centimetres more? Yaz edged closer and closer still when, with an infinitesimal distance to spare, she felt the Doctor’s hand on her shoulder. Staying her.
“Yaz,” The Doctor whispered. “Look.”
Yaz froze, half came to her senses. What was I just about to do? She blinked and followed the Doctor’s gaze. It was the car, Sparky. She was on fire. Apparently the rocket had exploded not into the hillside but into their old Cooper, and now the thing was ablaze. Somehow this hardly even registered to Yaz. Somehow it didn’t matter one bit. Small flames festered and grew as the soberest of the crowd tossed water over it and ran for the nearest hosepipe. Yaz and the Doctor observed the commotion with minds far away.
“S’pose Sparky was a fitting name, after all,” Remarked the Doctor. Even her voice sounded distant. She cleared her throat. “Uh. Yaz?”
”Oh, right. Sorry,” Yaz got up off the Doctor and helped her to her feet. They brushed the dirt and grass from their clothes without looking at each other once, without daring to utter a word. Someone eventually located a hosepipe and after that, the fire went out pretty quickly. Black smoke turned to grey and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air. The pair of them took in the scene: the broken window, the scorched husk. It wasn’t pretty.
The Doctor turned to face Yaz and opened her mouth as if to speak. Yaz waited, tense. But then the Doctor evidently decided against it, for she simply looked back over her shoulder at the husk of the car before turning around and walking away, thus leaving Yaz alone with nothing but the dirt on her knees and the vaguest of senses that the wish she had made to understand her own heart might soon come true -
- and that maybe she should have been careful what she wished for.
The Doctor left Yaz standing in the thick of the smoke.
Her head was heavy, her mind foggy, and yet still she felt acutely aware of Yaz’s eyes tracking her as she walked away. Yaz, who moments prior had been pressed flush against her in the grass; whose weight on top of the Doctor had caused her thoughts to spiral and the rational part of her brain to short-circuit. The look on Yaz’s face - it had almost looked like she was about to...
And what had it taken to stop her? What had it taken for the Doctor to want to stop her? A fire. A fire, raging mere metres from them, which almost went unnoticed for how all encompassing their proximity had been. How suffocating (more so, the Doctor thought, than the fumes from the flames).
Picking her way through the crowd, eyes cast downward and hands deep in her pockets, she let her feet carry her over discarded plastic cups and cigarette butts, among sprawled out bodies lying content in the weeds. The Doctor’s limbs protested against her every moment. Each step she took caused her legs to feel heavier, move slower. She might have compared the sensation to wading through waist-high water. In truth, the Doctor had been struggling to stay on her feet all night. Since the brownies, anyway.
Sam’s ‘special recipe’.
If the Doctor had been naive to the insinuations of the term at the time, she wasn’t any longer. At this point, however, she was flying too high to grasp firmly on to any real semblance of remorse. Besides, the Doctor was thousands of years old. It wasn’t her first rodeo.
Only, four brownies was a lot, even for the Doctor’s elevated tolerance, and now her body was really reaping the consequences. Her head, too. Moving as if through a solid block of static, she almost blindly sat against the first hard surface she stumbled across. Instant relief. Sighing deeply in a manner which expressed the exact nature of that relief, she rested her head against the hard surface and looked up. A wide, almost impenetrable canopy woven from thick trunks, spindly branches, and lush leaves in their very prime confused her tired mind for just a moment. She twisted her head around. The surface she was leaning against was the broad trunk of a huge oak tree. Without realising it, the Doctor had walked way out into the field, where the noise and light and excitement of the party didn’t quite extend to.
She sank her fingers into the dirt on either side of her and squeezed her eyes shut as she attempted to draw all the wandering parts of herself inward. In spite of the distance she had put between herself and the hub of the party, a quick but steady thump, thump, thump vibrated the earth around her and travelled upwards from the tips of her fingers to all the furthest reaches of her bones, body, and skin. Or maybe that was just her pulse.
Forcing her eyelids apart once more, she made out a figure heading towards her, a man made of shadow and cool oak shade. The familiar curve of his bowler hat was all that gave him away, until he came to be standing directly over the Doctor.
”Are you all right?” Mr. Sherman crouched down beside her and now the Doctor was beginning to pick out more discernible features other than just a hat and a face shrouded in darkness. He was frowning. “You look pale. I saw you heading over here and - here, drink this.” Here he pressed a cup into the Doctor’s hand. Water. “It’ll do you some good if you’ve been taking handouts from those damned hippies.”
”Oh, life saver. Never known my mouth to feel so dry before,” said the Doctor, before tilting the cup into parted lips and proceeding to neck the entire contents within the space of a few greedy seconds.
”Are you sure you’re all right? I can run and get your friend if-“
”No, no,” the Doctor shook her head - a decision she instantly regretted when the static returned, rushing in fast through her ears. Everything buzzed. Not wanting to concern Mr. Sherman, she pretended not to feel the effects. “Be fine in a minute. Best leave Yaz to it, though.”
Mr. Sherman glanced over his shoulder, at the throng of people reduced to a fraction of their size by distance, at the rows and rows of trailers visible past the treeline. It looked so much prettier at night with the fires and the lanterns and the twinkle lights everywhere; a man made night sky. The scene was harder to appreciate up close but from a distance, where you could drink in the sights as a whole, every individual part (that person dancing like nobody was watching, the few gathered around swapping stories by the bonfire, all those retro cars and the couples tucked away inside them clashing lips and limbs and beer-sticky smiles together) became stitched together to form one breathtaking tapestry of humanity at its best. Certainly, at its rawest.
Yaz was down there somewhere, thought the Doctor, eyes lidded but dreamy. She was there, all mixed up with the nitty and the gritty and the oh so real. She belonged, too. It didn’t matter that she was from another place or another time because good people attract good people and the Doctor had seen Yaz mesh with this community from the instant they had arrived there.
”It looked rather intense down there,” remarked Mr. Sherman. He sat down next to the Doctor’s outstretched legs.
“Mm? Oh, yeah. Not to worry, we’ve got the RV, now. Sparky did her part for us.” In all honesty, though the Doctor had been fond of their quirky little Cooper, at present its fate was not the thing at the forefront of her mind. “She weren’t exactly the right choice, if you ask Yaz, but that choice got us here and here feels like exactly where we were s’posed to end up. Cause and effect. Just like y’said.”
”I appreciate you taking something away from my reading,” smiled Mr. Sherman. The Doctor noticed how his smiles never reached his eyes. She wondered why that was. “But that wasn’t what I was referring to.”
”No?” The Doctor looked at Mr. Sherman out of the corner of her eye, head still resting on the bark. “Afraid I’m not too quick on the draw right now. You’ll have to elaborate a bit.”
Mr. Sherman removed the hat from his head, ran a hand through his coarse grey hair. “Earlier, when you drew the lover’s card, it didn’t occur to me that—“ he cleared his throat, ran his thumb along the brim. “I don’t know, I may not be as progressive as most of the folks living around here. I’m an old man, you know? Still getting used to the way the world can change. But I’m not blind.”
It felt to the Doctor as though Mr. Sherman were dancing around a point he wasn’t sure how to make. She sat up straighter, drew her right knee up to her chest, waited patiently (anxiously, even, as she had some idea of what it was he was getting at) for her companion to find the right words.
”It’s just that when I saw the way you were dancing with your friend, it was as if only the two of you and the music existed in all the universe. Frankly, I was reminded of myself and my wife. We used to dance like that; used to get so lost in one another. Wherever there was music, we would be. My friends would tease me for my two left feet,” he remembered fondly. “But it didn’t matter because it was always less about the dancing and more about who I was dancing with.”
The Doctor thought about how she’d been leaning so heavily on Yaz, about their interlocked fingers and her own arm wrapped tight around Yaz’s back. Time had passed like the maddeningly slow drip of a leaky faucet and the Doctor hadn’t wanted it any other way. Easy enough, though, to blame that on how high she had been. So she did.
Her hearts were safer that way.
”Your wife,” started the Doctor, attempting to turn the subject around. “Does she live with you?”
“My wife died five years ago,” said Mr. Sherman, and just like that his character made far more sense to the Doctor. Those dull eyes, the wobbly smiles so full of sorrow... it was loss. Really, she should have recognised it sooner for how well acquainted she was with it. “Truth be, Doctor, I’m not so sure I myself wasn’t buried somewhere down in that grave with her. It’s why I’m so adamant, in my readings, that others not let their own losses or heartaches get in the way of the life they’ve left to live. Or else you only end up feeling like some barely living echo left behind by your loved ones.”
”I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand that pain; I’ve been that echo,” shared the Doctor. “But I’m not anymore. Honest. I’m out there, I’m living, I’m holding on to every scrap of joy I can get my hands on and running with it.”
“Every scrap?” doubted Mr. Sherman. “Are you sure there isn’t something you are denying yourself?”
”If you’re on about Yaz—“ The Doctor blew a huff of air out of her cheeks. “There’s a lot you don’t know. A whole world of things, actually. Besides, I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. I swore a long time ago that I wouldn’t. ‘S’for the best.”
”Says me. Says the number of people I’ve lost and let down.” The Doctor could spend a lifetime recounting that long list. “Yaz is amazing, obviously, but she’s just so young. So human, so vulnerable. What she needs, what I’m sure she knows she needs, is someone like her. We’re from different planets, y’might even say, and believe me when I tell you they do not mix very well.”
It struck the Doctor that this conversation was entirely pointless because though she and Yaz were close - forever growing closer - neither of them had ever confessed to any romantic feelings for the other and before tonight the Doctor had scarcely seen evidence of any. Even tonight, Yaz had been tipsy and the Doctor high, and all that had happened was a confusing surge of misplaced emotion in a moment neither had planned for nor anticipated. She was sure the encounter was already out of Yaz’s mind, for it wasn’t really an encounter anyway.
Just another almost.
Perhaps, granted the Doctor, she’d had too much of a vested interest in where these almosts had been heading. Natural curiosity - the desire to peek behind the curtain at the life this other version of herself was living. The more impulsive one. The less rational one. She’d put an end to that now, because the last thing she needed was to break either her own two hearts or - worse yet - Yaz’s.
Saying goodnight to Mr. Sherman outside her trailer after he had graciously offered to walk her back, the Doctor practically fell through the doorway. She was dead on her feet. She staggered into the kitchen and gripped the edge of the counter, head down and blonde hair falling in her eyes, while waiting for the room to steady itself. Four brownies, the Doctor thought furiously. That was a lot even without the extra ingredient. Not for the first time that night, she cursed her insatiable sweet tooth.
”Doctor, are you okay?” Asked Yaz, whom the Doctor had not even realised was in the trailer. At the feeling of Yaz’s hand on her back, she jumped and swivelled around. Too fast.
Her vision canted. Everything, the floor and the walls and the window and the lights, became warped and wonky for a hot second and the Doctor was forced to reach out and grab onto the crook of Yaz’s arm for support. This feeling was only getting worse. Yaz held the Doctor steady by her shoulders, ducking her head to get a good look at the Doctor’s face.
“You look awful,” she said, voice laced with worry. “Bad trip, I take it?”
“Terrible. Don’t do drugs, Yaz,” warned the Doctor as she slumped over the counter with her head in her hands. “Very bad idea. Very, very bad.”
The Doctor heard the sound of running water and then felt Yaz’s fingers, cool and soft, cupping her chin. She allowed Yaz to lift her head up and did not protest, in her hopeless state, as she helped her to drink down the water. Their eyes met. Yaz bit her bottom lip and looked away. It was half mortifying and half endearing to have Yaz looking after her like this, but then Yaz had always been the more responsible of the two. The Doctor waited to be chastised but no judgement ever came. Instead, Yaz filled the cup a second time, wrapped the Doctor’s hand around it, and then led her to the sofa bed with her hand at the small of her back.
“Sit,” Yaz instructed, gently pushing the Doctor onto the bed by her shoulders. She took the cup of water from the Doctor, preempting the Doctor’s next move which was to collapse backwards into the welcome plushness of the duvet with her feet still hanging down over the edge. After setting the water down on the stand nearby, Yaz crouched in front of the Doctor and began to untie her laces.
The Doctor felt a wave of drowsy comfort wash over her. “Yaz...” she mumbled.
”Doctor?” Yaz tugged her first boot off and set to work on the next.
“Don’t let me fall asleep.”
It was an impossible request - some part of the Doctor knew this - and yet still she was terrified to succumb to the tempting siren call of unconsciousness. What nightmare, what harrowing flashback of her own tortured past, would await her this time? Or would she be forced to watch Yaz die again? Forced to watch and be helpless as she slipped through her fingers right into an open grave?
Yaz yanked off the Doctor’s boot and then straightened up. She sighed and for a moment the Doctor worried that it was disappointment she saw on her face but no, it was something else. “Are you scared?” Yaz asked.
Fighting to keep her eyes open, the Doctor said nothing. Yaz sat down on the bed next to her. “I’m gonna be right here, Doctor. Okay? I’ll be right next to you all night and if you wake up needing to not be alone, just wake me. I promise I won’t mind. Not if it’s you. But you need to rest right now. Doctor’s orders,” Yaz quipped. “Now sit up for a sec so I can take off your coat.”
It was a struggle to return to even a semi-vertical position. Yaz ended up having to pull the Doctor up the rest of the way. The Doctor rested her forehead against Yaz’s shoulder, eyes closed, while Yaz pulled first the left sleeve, then the right, down over the Doctor’s limp arms. Once the coat was fully removed, Yaz folded it neatly, set it by her boots, and then eased the Doctor back onto the bed. The Doctor hummed her appreciation.
”Come lie down next to me,” murmured the Doctor, her every syllable coloured with exhaustion. She patted the narrow space beside her in the bed.
Yaz hesitated. However, after giving the Doctor another sympathetic once over, she shrugged off her jacket and joined her on top of the covers. The Doctor rolled onto her side with great effort. Yaz and the Doctor looked at each other, heads on their respective pillows, each feeling the events of the day catching up to them. The Doctor was so out of it she wasn’t quite aware of just how long she lay there looking at Yaz. It was just that, in the low light, her eyes were so dark they almost looked black and god, if they weren’t the easiest thing in the world to fall into.
Not so easy, as it turned out, to climb back out of. Briefly, she remembered something Mr. Sherman had said to her that night. “Just the two of you and the music... in all the universe.” Was there music playing now? Was it the drugs? Was it just a thing that happened whenever the two of them were alone together?
Stop, thought the Doctor. You have to stop this.
”It is better this way, isn’t it?” the Doctor wondered out loud. The question seemed to swim in the air between them, which the Doctor was sure had grown thicker.
”What do you mean?”
The Doctor shrugged one shoulder. “I mean... I dunno, we’re good as friends, right? You’re happy? We’re both happy?”
”Of course I’m happy, don’t be daft,” Yaz assured her and the Doctor was partially relieved that she clearly hadn’t grasped the full meaning to the Doctor’s question; that she hadn’t been able to get the words right and make Yaz understand. “Wouldn’t trade this for the world. You’re my best friend.”
”Right,” the Doctor nodded. “Good. Great. Friends.”
With that, the Doctor rolled onto her back. Friends. She repeated the word in her mind until it lost all meaning and until, at long last, she let her heavy lids fall closed once and for all. Though distantly aware of an unease in her stomach she couldn’t quite name, she found that at Yaz’s earlier reassurance she was no longer afraid to fall asleep.
Were anything to happen, the Doctor told herself, Yaz would be there for her.
All night long she’d be there.
fyi the Doctor’s bad trip is inspired by an experience I had with space cakes lmao word to the wise: all good things in moderation!!! or you know, take the Doctor’s advice and don’t do drugs x
Chapter 12: bitchin’
The time had come to bid farewell to Grand Oak.
Yaz, for the very first time, had stirred before the Doctor that morning. Appreciating how rare an occasion it was that the Doctor afforded herself a full night of uninterrupted sleep, Yaz carefully picked over her unconscious form - limbs splayed haphazardly out in all directions across the duvet - and proceeded to ready herself as quietly as possible.
She'd woken with a lock of the Doctor's tangled, blonde hair irritating her cheek and when she'd peeled open her eyes, there the Doctor's face had been. So close to her own. Yaz had been startled immediately out of her slumber and before she had a chance to get too used to watching the steady rise and fall of the Doctor's chest or the dreamy fluttering of her eyelashes, she'd convinced herself that she had a lot to do and that it wouldn't be wise to wile away the precious morning light watching the Doctor sleep.
Wasting time, however, was not the true issue. The true issue was that Yaz, for reasons she couldn't quite articulate, did not want to be lying there by the Doctor's side when she finally woke. Though realising this unsettled Yaz (what did she have to fear? Had they not shared a bed before when circumstances required it?), she opted not to dwell on it and instead made herself busy.
Which is why, at present, she was carrying luggage from the trailer to their brand-new yet previously-loved motor home. Many of the residents had not emerged from their own trailers yet; the majority, she figured, sleeping off hangovers and comedowns. Evidence of last night's party was everywhere, the trash and upturned furniture and fire pits somehow appearing forlorn beneath the milky moon still hanging on to its ghost amidst an acid-wash sky. She passed one or two people holding ice cold beers to their foreheads or dredging themselves home after an all-nighter, letting on with nought more than a polite nod. Each time she carried a case to the RV, she walked by the charred corpse of their old Mini. The smell of smoke hung still in the air around it.
Trying not to think too hard about what exactly she was doing when the rocket exploded inside the car, about where she was when flames lapped at the interior and melted the upholstery, Yaz instead opened herself up to a kind of sadness she hadn't been expecting to feel. The Doctor had been so excited about that car - about Sparky - and even though Yaz was beginning to resent its technical flaws, she'd been eager to make it work. For the Doctor. For flowers on the dashboard and knees knocking together and the dodgy radio and impossible-to-extinguish chlorine smell. It was comparable to a person's first home in that it could feel cramped, dysfunctional, impractical, but at the end of the day it was still once a home and there would always be happy memories associated with it.
By the time Yaz had packed up and transferred the cases to the RV, the moon had melted into the blue and the sun was higher in the sky, and yet the Doctor was not awake. This worked in Yaz's favour, however, because there was one thing she wanted to take care of first. Locating the buckets of paint she and the Doctor had used to decorate the RV the afternoon before, Yaz chose a sparse area on the hood and endowed upon it her best efforts at calligraphy. The paint was still drying when the Doctor showed up.
She looked fresh, sporting an airy, floral print chiffon blouse tucked into a clean pair of blue jeans. Nobody would ever have guessed that mere hours ago, she'd been stuck to the sheets with feverish sweats and clammy hands that Yaz had squeezed in some effort to comfort her while she tossed and turned. Fresh though she may have been, it was clear that the weirdness of the night prior had not quite been scrubbed away in the shower. Their eyes locked across the field. The look that passed over the Doctor's face may have been fleeting, but Yaz was sure of what she witnessed. Sure that it wasn't a trick of the light or a figment of her imagination.
For a split second, a moment that may as well have stretched on for several lifetimes for the dread it instilled in Yaz, the Doctor's shoulders tightened, her jaw tensed, her eyes faltered over Yaz as if they didn't know where to look or just didn't want to look at her. It was like two lengths of rope had been coiling around one another inside of Yaz's stomach all morning and only now, at the sight of the Doctor looking at her like that, was each end pulled taut enough to tie the knot.
Part of her wanted to throw up, the rest wanted to run. She stayed where she was, but even when all traces of the Doctor's apprehension appeared to subside - replaced by smiling eyes and a childish wave the likes of which would doubtlessly have fooled anybody else - that knot did not grow any looser.
"Gosh, I feel proper rested. Like a new woman!" announced the Doctor as she neared Yaz and the RV. "Maybe those brownies did me some good after all," she joked, elbowing Yaz lightly in the arm.
"Yeah, maybe," Yaz went along. Then, hearing how flat she sounded, she cleared her throat and forced a wider smile.
The Doctor frowned a little, scarcely enough to alter her features. "Er, I see you've packed already. Been busy, have we? Should have woken me, I'd have been glad to help out. Thought y'may have up and left when I woke up and saw you and all your things were missin'." The Doctor said it as a joke, but Yaz sensed some underlying candour to her words.
"Yeah, sorry about that, you just looked dead peaceful and I felt bad about waking you. Don't think I've ever seen you sleep so long." Yaz glanced behind her at the RV. "I finished painting, too."
"Finished? I thought we already finished?"
"Well, we had to choose a name for our new car, didn't we?" asked Yaz, forever indulging the Doctor in her quirks. "Take a look at the hood."
Yaz sidestepped and extended her arm in the general direction of the hood. Head tilted curiously, the Doctor followed Yaz's direction, taking a few short steps towards the front of the RV. She stood over the hood and looked down. Yaz, hands in pockets, studied the Doctor's face for a reaction. When the Doctor made a noise that sounded like the beginning of a laugh and rested her palm affectionately on the sun-baked metal of the hood, Yaz felt some of her tension dissipate. It pleased her to please the Doctor.
"That's a good one," she commended, squinting at Yaz through the sunlight in her eyes.
The Doctor came to stand beside Yaz, and as they both stood admiring their colourful new home-on-the-road, she placed her hand ever so lightly on Yaz's back. Such a gesture would scarcely have registered to Yaz once upon a time, but now it caught her off guard. For some reason, the events of the night before combined with the brief but undeniable display of trepidation exhibited by the Doctor just moments earlier had Yaz concerned that things between them might have changed - subtly. Momentously.
She wasn't sure why but she felt that maybe there was a distance accumulating between the women which only grew every time they started to get a little closer. Now, she doubted such fears. The Doctor clearly had no qualms about physical closeness; could that mean that the rest of it was imagined too? Was it simply a product of overthinking and misplaced paranoia on Yaz's behalf?
But the night before- nothing actually happened, she convinced herself. And what about the way the Doctor had just looked at her? Her eyes adjusting to the sun. If the Doctor had truly been so wary then why now did she come so close? Could anything really be wrong if the Doctor was near enough to Yaz that Yaz could smell a hint of the Doctor’s preferred strawberry toothpaste? Yaz, her worries stymied (temporarily) by weak attempts at explaining away that which she was not yet prepared to deal with head on, relaxed against the Doctor's fingertips.
"The Companion," the Doctor muttered, her voice a smile as she tested the name on her tongue. Her hand climbed to Yaz's shoulder. She squeezed it approvingly. "It's perfect."
They'd stayed a while to help the residents with their cleanup.
Desperately wanting to cling on to some semblance of ease and normalcy, Yaz did her best to keep up a constant stream of conversation and was glad when the Doctor reciprocated without any apparent hindrance affecting her flow. Their conversation soon turned to the fate of the trailer park, a matter Yaz had not yet had the opportunity to bring up. She explained the predicament to the Doctor as Cherry had explained it to her.
"How long do they have?" asked the Doctor. She and Yaz were heading towards Cherry and Sam's trailer to return their key and say goodbye. The Doctor did not look as saddened by Yaz's news as she had expected; rather, she looked thoughtful. Pensive.
Yaz shrugged. "I'm not sure. Not long, though."
The Doctor seemed to mull something over, eyes on the toes of her boots as they walked. "Well then," she said, decisive. "We'll have to do something about that, won't we, Yaz?"
"Can we do something about it?"
"Oh, c'mon Yaz, haven't you learned by now?" She and Yaz ascended the few rickety wooden steps up to the patio and the Doctor knocked surely on the front door. "There's always somethin' to be done."
Leaving the Grank Oak community behind had been a more upsetting affair than Yaz had anticipated. Cherry, maternal and warm and lovely, had hugged them and gifted them handwoven bracelets of cotton and leather. Sam, apologetic about the brownie incident, shook their hands with a smile that was half sheepish and half cheeky. They vowed not to forget the Doctor and Yaz any time soon, and Yaz and the Doctor vowed the same in return. It felt true.
Mr. Sherman, too, had been waiting on the field to wave them off. He said something quietly to the Doctor and she offered a smile in thanks. Then, turning to Yaz as the Doctor left for the RV, he shook her hand and slipped something discreetly into it.
The Lovers Card.
"A reminder," he had said. "Not just for the Doctor, but also for you."
Yaz didn't understand, but she accepted his gift, bade him farewell, and followed the Doctor into the RV. The second she closed the door behind her, the quiet she'd been artfully ducking all morning swelled up. The Doctor was sitting in the booth, looking up through the small rectangular window. Yaz lingered for a moment. Once more, the two of them were alone, and now there was no escaping that.
"I'm gonna miss it here, I think," Yaz confessed, mostly just for something to say. She did not take the seat opposite the Doctor.
"Nice people," agreed the Doctor. She smiled at Yaz.
"So, how are we gonna help them?" Yaz asked, making her way towards the driver's seat. "You want me to stop off at an ATM or something? Use the sonic and take out some cash?"
"Can't keep taking large sums of money from the bank, Yaz. If the authorities clock on then our road trip becomes a lot more Thelma and Louise than I'm sure we'd like," joked the Doctor. She stood from the booth and joined Yaz up front, leaning her forearms against the headrest of the passenger's seat and gazing out of the windscreen. "Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a dramatic exit, but I think a cliff dive's probably a little excessive even for me."
Yaz twisted sideways to look up at her, one arm draped atop the steering wheel. "I'm confused. I thought we were gonna help them."
"We will," assured the Doctor companionably. "But not yet."
"They're running out of time, Doctor."
"Then I reckon it's a good thing we've got a time machine."
New York City first appeared as a glass skyline in the distance - a skyline that stretched taller and wider the closer they got. It was past noon and muggy and the last two hours of driving had been spent in a lull of sorts. Not much was said, and though Yaz felt that maybe there was something that needed to be addressed, the last thing she wanted was to bring it up on the road. They were trapped there together. Yaz had never before used the word trapped in association with the Doctor, and it felt wrong, like a betrayal. Yet still she could not help what she felt.
The peace between them seemed precarious and Yaz was already doubting the convictions she had spun for herself earlier on the field as they did not stand up to such close scrutiny. As for the Doctor, she seemed content in the near-silence - a silence fractured only by the horns honked at them by drivers whose attention had been caught by the colourful shell of their RV or by the roar of engines in faster, slimmer vehicles passing them regularly.
As the city loomed ever nearer, Yaz raised the point that in their new vehicle they would be hard pressed to find anywhere decent to park up in the middle of the city. So, after paying an arm and a leg in advance for the RV to sit idly in a lot for a few days, Yaz and the Doctor took their cases and ventured on foot deeper into the beating heart of bustling New York.
"Never thought I'd come back to Manhattan," the Doctor said at one point, sad eyes hitching on a stone gargoyle perched above the doorway to an old building.
Yaz had wanted to ask her about the comment, wanted to dissect that sadness she likely unknowingly let slip through the cracks of her facade. Something stopped her. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the Doctor's face went stony as soon as the words fell from her lips, or perhaps Yaz knew now - from recent experience - not to ask the Doctor for the truth unless you were ready to hear it; ready to feel the weight of the Doctor's heavy, patchwork hearts in your palm.
The women didn't get to see too much of the city before they shouldered their way onto a busy subway car heading towards an area Yaz knew only for one iconic landmark: the Chelsea Hotel. As soon as Yaz spotted the name on the subway map she'd excitedly implored the Doctor to allow them to spend their stay there. The Doctor, of course, had said yes without hesitation. It was one of those moments where, surrounded on all sides by hasty New Yorkers and grim faced businessmen and frantic mothers rushing mischievous children towards the right platform, they were able to look one another in the eye and know with certainty that they were both feeling the same thing: the thrill of a new adventure.
New York City, 1983, The Hotel Chelsea, sweaty subway cars and the buzz of a city alive with a history so rich and still so young. All of it served as a much needed reminder to Yaz that whatever else was going on, she was still a traveller of time and space and none of this would even have been possible if not for the Doctor. After that, Yaz shelved her concerns and dedicated herself entirely to their new destination. Things became easier again.
The Chelsea was so much more than Yaz had expected it to be.
On the surface perhaps it wasn't much to behold: a twelve-story red brick building distinguishable by the L-Shaped sign above the entrance and the gothic, iron balconies on the facade. But that alone was enough to excite Yaz. Inside, the spectacle unfurled further like the bud of a flower blooming before Yaz's wide eyes. Notable guests whom Yaz didn't know to put a name to milled about in the foyer, scribbling poems and lyrics down in tattered notebooks and sprawling out across the faded sofa making friends with legends or themselves exuding illustriousness. From every wall hung another piece of art, including a famous moon-white horse painted stark on black canvas and the oddly eerie model of a girl on a swing. She hung silent above their heads as they passed under her.
With an upfront cash payment (many of the guests were known to loan their art as a placeholder for rent) and the psychic paper, they were handed the keys to a room in no time. “Really, any room you’ve got’s fine with us,” Yaz had said, knowing that a certain level of squalor was to be expected if the infamy associated with the hotel was anything to go by.
Up a winding, wrought iron staircase they went, brushing shoulders with the poets of tomorrow and all their many muses. Peeling-paint walls, eccentric characters, an occasionally overpowering aroma of marijuana, curious eyes, the discordant shriek of a faraway violin. The place was a labyrinth of all things bizarre and eclectic and the narrow corridors, busy with amblers and mismatched shocks of colour and art, led them eventually to their room on the sixth floor.
The room was small and a little cramped. A cheap chandelier hung from the ceiling as if to make up for the dimensions, for the two single beds shoved side by side for lack of space. There was, however, a balcony. Dropping her bag on a bed, Yaz crossed the room and unlocked the door, heaving it open with some effort before stepping out onto the narrow stretch of space suspended above the city and resting her arms on the banister. Instantly, she was bombarded by the harsh sounds of the city - a cacophony of sirens, horns, people, life. Her eyes tracked a yellow cab crawling along the street directly below. The Doctor joined her.
"Look at it, it's..." But Yaz wasn't certain how to finish her thought. It wasn't as clean, as immaculate and modern and sleek as it had always been portrayed to her back home. But in the cracks and flaws of the city, in the dirt and graffiti and noise, there was soul. Spirit. A whole other kind of beauty.
"New York's on the precipice of great change," the Doctor said, following Yaz's gaze. "Gentrification. Commercialisation. Soon, everything you see lookin' out here will be completely, radically different. Never again as it is right now, right this second."
"Everything's like that though." Yaz lifted her head, felt the sun fall warm and tender on her face. She looked at the Doctor. "You've shown me the future, we've seen it together. Nothing stays the same."
"I know," the Doctor's voice came quiet as a breath.
"D'you ever wish, I don't know, don't you sometimes wish that there were some things that could just stay the same?"
Kind eyes, patient eyes, landed gracefully on Yaz. Yaz divined an answer in that look, for here was the face of somebody who had lived too long to waste her time wanting for impossible things; here was the face of a person who understood the human desire for consistency and dependability but no longer fooled herself into thinking it could ever be an option for her. The Doctor, by her very nature, was the antithesis of consistency: a timeless being whose very DNA was liable to completely rewrite itself. Yaz kicked herself for asking such a silly, human question.
"Let's get ready, shall we?" suggested the Doctor, artfully shifting the course of the conversation. "We've got some explorin' to do!" Then she headed inside.
Moments later, Yaz followed.
When Yaz emerged from the bathroom a short time later, the morning's sticky heat washed clean from her skin, she found the Doctor standing over the bed examining something in her hand. Drawing closer, Yaz realised what it was: the Lovers Card. It had been in her jacket pocket and presumably had slipped out when she'd tossed it onto the bed. The Doctor looked up at Yaz, a flash of emotion Yaz didn't recognise carved into her eyes.
"Oh, that was a gift from Mr. Sherman," she explained, though it soon became clear that the Doctor's strange expression was not because she'd assumed that Yaz had stolen the card. It was something else.
"Yeah, thought so," the Doctor smiled. "He didn't - I mean - did he say anythin' at all to you? After the reading in the trailer?"
'No, not really," Yaz shrugged. Then froze. Why was she asking? Had he said something to the Doctor? She glanced at the card in her hand. Had he said something about that card? The Doctor seemed to be following Yaz's train of thought because she casually tucked the card back into the pocket of Yaz's jacket.
"Just wonderin'. You're right be dubious of psychics, a'course, so if he did say somethin' to you... well, just be wary." This was a definite change of tune. Since when did the Doctor advocate for closed-mindedness?
Yaz saw it coming like a fifty-foot wave, this thing she'd been distracting herself from all day, but whether or not she saw it coming was irrelevant. It hit anyway. The image of the Doctor, lying beside her on the foldout bed of the trailer, staring at her the way she'd seen her stare at art, at anti-matter, at every wonder extended to them by the universe. 'We're good as friends, right?' she had asked, and Yaz had said yes, maybe at the time not entirely understanding the question. But now... now she had to ask herself: what had the Doctor really meant by what she'd said?
More to the point, had Yaz said entirely the wrong thing in return?
"Doctor. About last night-"
The Doctor intercepted. "Brilliant, eh? Big Bang Day, definitely gonna add that one to me calendar. In the meantime - New York City! In its prime, more or less. Little rough around the edges, sure, but s'long as we keep our wits about us..." Yaz recognised avoidance when she saw it, but even if she'd wanted to do anything about it, the Doctor was talking a mile a minute and Yaz couldn't get a word in edgewise. "What d'you wanna do then? Chase down the Warholites? Model for Mapplethorpe? Top of the Empire State? What's ticklin' your fancy today, Yaz?"
A loud knock interrupted them. Yaz and the Doctor exchanged a look, before the Doctor - curious cat that she was - proceeded towards the door of their room. Yaz was close behind. They opened the door to a tall, skinny guy in matching leather vest and pants, a black Stetson on his head, and several long necklaces hanging from his neck. Both his ears were pierced in various places. He appeared, in a way, to be a living embodiment of the 80's NYC scene.
Before introductions could be made or niceties exchanged, a flier was thrust into their faces. The man, young but not particularly youthful, grinned broadly. “Downtown. 8pm. Café Red, ya know it? Of course you don’t, look at you. New in town, right? New neighbours? You staying long? Lemme guess, you’re here for the parade tomorrow. Yeah, you look the type. If so, you definitely wanna be there tonight,” the man, a New Jersey native by the sounds of him, eagerly tapped the flier in the Doctor’s hands.
Yaz and the Doctor took a beat to process what was happening. Looking over the Doctor’s shoulder, Yaz quickly scanned the flier. It was advertising some kind of music and poetry show, something quirky and underground and probably way too hip for either of them.
“In fact, you’ll meet a lotta people there tonight who’ll be showing up at the parade tomorrow. I can even introduce you. I’m performing. 8pm, did I mention? Super exclusive. Invite only. Just show ‘em the flier.” He talked fast, words running together in a crazed kind of blur. Yaz had heard tales of the hotel, of the goings on it housed and encouraged, and looking into the blown-out pupils of this man now she found it hard to deny the truth to them. “Name’s Tommy, by the way.”
”Sorry, hang on, what parade are you talking about?” asked Yaz at exactly the same moment as the Doctor asked “What will you be performing?”
Tommy chose to answer the Doctor’s query. “I’ll be doing a reading. One of my own. They say Patti Smith might be there, too. Maybe not though. You know her? She’s all right, if you ask me. She’s like you two. From far away. Another time another place.” As he said this last part, he looked down at their clothes, as if it was the two of them who were dressed peculiarly and not the bare-chested leather cowboy in their doorway.
“Stop bothering the ladies, Tommy-O,” came a sing-song voice from further down the hallway.
Drifting along after the words and into Yaz’s line of sight came a slender and ghostly pale woman in a long white dress, gossamer and lacy. She danced, not walked, barefoot. Soundless as snowfall. Fifteen years prior, she would likely have made a striking beauty, figured Yaz - a ballerina?
“It’s okay, we love meeting new people, don’t we?” dismissed the Doctor. “I’m the Doctor, this is my best friend Yaz.”
Apparently, in introducing themselves to their new neighbours, Yaz and the Doctor had invited a madness neither had foreseen. After a long stream of benign and oftentimes confusing chatter from Tommy, punctuated by airy interjections from the woman Yaz had termed the Wraith as she had failed to offer a name, they’d been whisked into Tommy’s room two doors down at his request to present to them his work so far.
His room was wallpapered in scraps of paper, lined and plain and torn from books or newspapers or the clean edges of napkins, every inch of which covered in words - most real, some not. The Wraith dropped a classical record and twirled about the room out of time with the music, weaving between them as Tommy launched into lengthy explanations about several of his pieces. Yaz felt as if she were inside the mind of either a lunatic or a genius and was only thankful that the Doctor seemed perfectly able to keep up with all the insanity.
While they were there, others wandered in and out. Tommy had left his door wide open and seemed not to care or notice. Probably he knew them all. Some talked about ‘the show’, about ‘the parade’, about poetry and music and their latest creative ventures, some simply made straight for the balcony, smoked a few, and then left. One man set up a camera, apparently inspired by the unique nature of Tommy’s decor, and performed a brief photoshoot.
Yaz’s head was spinning. The Chelsea Hotel was more than a hotel; it was a halfway house for either the burnouts or budding brilliants of the era, and here they were smack bang in the centre of it all. She’d never known an atmosphere like it, in which privacy was nonexistent and none mourned its absence. It was totally bonkers and she totally loved it.
“Have I mentioned,” Yaz said quietly to the Doctor whilst Tommy rummaged around inside an overflowing desk drawer for a missing page. “That I love travelling with you?”
The Doctor’s respondent smile, if Yaz wasn’t mistaken, was coloured with surprise. It was a smile which translated as ‘I feel exactly the same way and I’ve been meaning to say so’, and it didn’t leave her face for a while afterwards. Afforded a bout of bravery by the incredulity of the situation, Yaz reached out to squeeze the Doctor’s hand. For reasons unknown, once Tommy returned his attention to them, she let it go again.
After a while they made their excuses to go. Tommy, eyes pleading and hopeful, asked if he could expect to see them at his reading later. Sure, they said. Why not?
They left the hotel, still chatting amusedly about Tommy and the Wraith, and walked out into a city on fire. That was Yaz’s first impression, anyway. In truth, the city was not ablaze but had been lent the illusion of fire by the sun - whose burning light caught off every window; every pane of glass and every mirrored skyscraper wall. Flames leapt towards the sky, sprouting like trees from the sidewalk, like the strangest of flowers. Yaz and the Doctor walked among this garden of fire and were scorched not by heat but by beauty.
But beauty casts no shade, and before long Yaz was in dire need of some relief from the heat.
Said relief presented itself in the form of a slightly narrower side street drenched in shade. It was populated with hole-in-the-wall music stores, dingy bars and the occasional red brick apartment building distinguishable by a rusty fire escape. They ducked in and out of a few spots, perusing classic rock records and flicking through trendy magazines, until Yaz spotted a secondhand store across the street selling clothes and various trinkets. They went inside.
Loud music of the angry persuasion thudded from the speakers and the lights were turned down low. The only other patron was a kid with a neon green mohawk whose belt loops were adorned with chains, keys, charms. Clearly they were out of place, but they had some fun with it anyway.
Yaz plucked a faded leather jacket sewn with patches screaming loud phrases like EAT THE RICH and GIRL POWER from the hanger and draped it over a laughing Doctor’s shoulders. It looked a little strange with her current outfit until they located a red plaid shirt. Yaz tied it around the Doctor’s waist (“Since when is a shirt an accessory and not a shirt?” “Trust me, Doctor, it’s how all the kids are doing it.”) and pretended not to feel a pair of attentive eyes on her as she tied the arms above her belt.
She spun the Doctor around to face a mirror hanging on the wall, considered her, and then reached up to ruffle her hair some.
“Perfect,” admired Yaz. “You look like you belong here now.”
”I look like I’ve just rolled out of bed!”
It was true, but Yaz liked it. She’d never been sure how the Doctor kept her hair so straight, but she’d always cherished those moments when she’d managed to catch her in a more unkempt state: once when the Doctor had been making tea in the kitchen of the TARDIS at what felt like the early hours of the morning and had been startled out of some deep internal musings by Yaz’s greeting, another time when the Doctor, in a tantrum, had ran her hands angrily through her hair in the midst of a rage at the console, and always when it rained.
How Yaz loved the rain.
“I’m far too old for this,” disputed the Doctor, scrunching her nose at her reflection. The Docs, the flannel, the jacket, and now the messy hair - it was a look never before exhibited by the Doctor. Yaz found it all incredibly entertaining. She looked like the frontwoman of a rock and roll band, save the smoky eye and cigarette hoarseness.
“That’s never stopped you before,” Yaz pointed out. “Besides, I like it. Haven’t you ever dressed period-appropriate before?”
”Well, how about age appropriate?”
”What’s age appropriate mean to a millenniums old Time Lord?” Yaz straightened the collar of the Doctor’s jacket and beamed smugly at her in the reflection.
“A’right then Yaz, if you get to choose my outfit, I get to choose yours,” said the Doctor.
Yaz had seen the Doctor’s dress sense. She was worried. Waiting by the window display, Yaz watched as the Doctor zipped through the store, plucking various articles of clothing from racks and hooks with apparently very little thought applied. But it was not thoughtless. The Doctor shoved an armful of clothing into Yaz’s hands and ushered her towards the lone dressing room at the back of the shop: two slabs of chipboard and a stained red curtain.
When she stepped back out into the dingy glow of an overhead light, having changed to the tune of the Doctor’s vocal impatience, the Doctor was waiting to add the final touches.
Lifting Yaz’s hands in turn, the Doctor proceeded to accessorise her with rings handpicked from the three-for-two jewellery box on the counter. Yaz felt that there was something intimate about the way the Doctor slid each ring onto her fingers. Maybe it was just this: the touching of two hands, the sensitivity of the nerves there. However, Yaz could not help but be reminded of a similar act - a ceremonial one - that also involved slipping rings onto fingers. The moment the associated occurred to her, Yaz winced.
This, the Doctor did not fail to notice. “Sorry, this one too tight?” she misinterpreted.
“Nah, it’s fine.”
”Brill. Well, I think my work here is done! Take a look in the mirror,” the Doctor stepped out of Yaz’s way and Yaz could tell just by looking at her that she was proud of her creation.
Yaz studied her reflection. It was not Yaz she saw looking back at her. Instead, standing uncertainly in tartan trousers and a sleeveless AC/DC shirt, in Chuck Taylors and a leather choker, was an honest-to-god bitchin’ kid of the 80’s. Only the attitude was missing. Her braids, of course, offered a youthful edge to the outfit. An innocence. It was an oxymoron that worked in her favour.
“I knew those pants’d look good on you,” said the Doctor, and Yaz’s cheeks burned.
She regarded the pair of them. If the Doctor was the frontwoman of the band, Yaz was the drummer. Or maybe the electric guitarist. Truthfully, Yaz quite liked it - the playing pretend. She liked being able to imagine the pair of them as two different people leading two entirely different lives, so long as their respective lives were still interconnected.
They shared a laugh.
Though Yaz had assumed they were just playing dress-up, when she went to change back she learned that the Doctor had already paid for their new getups. “Like y’said, we wanna look like we belong, don’t we? Plus, this era really suits you,” the Doctor had said, and it was true. When they left the store and continued on through busier streets, Yaz no longer felt like an obvious outsider flung out of comfort but like a fixture of the moment. She liked to think that the passers-by looking at the pair of them together saw them as two people who matched, who fit together key in lock or hand in hand.
Yaz saw them through the eyes of others and liked what she saw.
A sky burnt with pollution and light leaned heavy on Yaz’s shoulders as she and the Doctor weaved through the city. With a few hours to kill before the show they had promised to attend, Yaz had suggested they simply take some time to explore the city. She’d had in mind a leisurely walk, perhaps a bite to eat and a trip to the park. Instead, the Doctor steered the way (“Left here. Straight on.”) as if on a mission. When asked if she knew where she was leading them, the Doctor denied it.
Before long, she had led them onto the subway. It was packed, humid. For lack of sitting room, Yaz was forced to hold tight to a pole and the Doctor to wrap her own hand around Yaz’s. Their palms were clammy. Bodies pressed in on them from all sides. Yaz’s head, as a result, was practically tucked beneath the Doctor’s chin. There was something charged about the twenty minutes they spent that way, occasionally bumping together, catching one another’s eye accidentally, smiling quiet smiles as if the heat forbade them to do much more. All the morning’s awkward stiffness was devoured by the mouth of the tunnels and Yaz was contentedly taken by claustrophobia.
The Doctor was distracted, though. It became so painfully obvious to Yaz once the’d reemerged on the surface. They’d be talking and suddenly the Doctor’s eyes would catch - on a middle-aged redhead, on a historical statue - and just like that Yaz would get the sense that she was an intruder on some private journey both internal and physical. Abruptly she remembered the Doctor’s earlier comment about never thinking she’d return to Manhattan. Almost, she brought it up again. Almost.
Yaz may not have been so frustrated by the Doctor’s mental absence were it not for the fact that she’d been meaning to bring something up with her. Something vital. How could she expect the Doctor to hear her, though, when she was so very far away?
At once, the Doctor came to a stop. They were on a busy sidewalk and several pedestrians grumbled at the instant nature of the Doctor’s standstill. Yaz turned to her, quizzical.
“Everything okay?” she asked.
”I fancy a pretzel, do you? Would you mind queueing up over there and getting us a couple? One of the sweet ones. And an iced coffee,” the Doctor requested, nodding at a vendor down the street. The queue was about a mile long. No wonder - they sold ice cream, too. Ideal on a day like that.
”Are you sure you don’t want to find somewhere less busy? We can sit down somewhere and eat?” Yaz suggested.
“Nah, believe me, best food in the city at that vendor. Why d’you think the queue’s so long?”
”If y’say so,” Yaz shrugged a shoulder. “You not gonna queue with me?”
”I’ll find us a seat over there,” the Doctor pointed to an outdoor seating area across the road. “Be waiting for you,” she called out over her shoulder, already crossing the street before Yaz could think to utter a sound.
Except the Doctor did not wait for her.
After queueing for fifteen minutes and buying two pretzels and two iced coffees, Yaz searched for the Doctor in the crowd. Once, and then twice, and several more times she scanned every face. None were her. Yaz was not exactly panicked (the Doctor had wandered off before in far more trying circumstances) but she was confused.
Abandoning her efforts at the seating area, she allowed her eyes to roam the remainder of the square. No sign of her the way they had come. No sign of her further down the road. No mobile phone to call her with, either.
A fraction of a second later, when Yaz was considering dumping the pretzels in the bin and initiating a search party of one, her eyes found their way to something as if gently guided there by instinct. Straight away, Yaz knew where the Doctor would be. She couldn’t offer logic or reason to explain away this innate intuition, but the moment Yaz spotted the gateway to the cemetery looming tall across the square, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that that is where she would find the Doctor.
The cemetery was vast and full of mourners. Oddly, Yaz heard the din of the city grow quiet the moment she stepped through the gate, as if out of respect for its dead the urban orchestra reduced itself to a mere whisper. A hushed lullaby.
Yaz first spotted the Doctor from a distance. She’d spent ten minutes wandering aimless through the graves when at long last she spotted the Doctor by the particular shape her silhouette made against the sky. Walking the path up the hill towards her, her silhouette gave way to more distinguishable features until it became evident that she was facing away from Yaz. Not wanting to shout for fear of waking the dead or - more likely - upsetting the bereaved, Yaz said nothing until she was almost upon the Doctor.
Expecting the grave of an old friend, of a lover or companion, or perhaps of some historic figure whom the Doctor admired, Yaz was perplexed by what it was she eventually found the Doctor transfixed by.
“Doctor,” she called softly, placing a hand on her shoulder. The Doctor turned and Yaz looked down at the patch of ground she stood upon.
“It’s not here,” said the Doctor. She was standing on an empty plot. No grave, no headstone, no sign of disturbed earth. She looked at Yaz. No, she looked right through Yaz, all the way past her to the other side of the universe. Despite the heat, Yaz felt a chill cut through her like a cold knife through hot butter.
“They’re alive,” she muttered, and those two words upset every ghost in the graveyard.