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Small Creatures

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For once, they weren't diverted by a distress call. They hadn't been attacked or jolted out of the time vortex unexpectedly. The passage was smooth, almost serene, and they actually landed where and when the Doctor had expected.


All of this was a pleasant surprise, at least to Ryan and Graham, who were not watching the Doctor as carefully as Yaz was, and therefore missed the faint frown that indicated this journey had not, in fact, gone according to plan.

"Right, then!" the Doctor announced. "Aurora Eight, peak festival season."

Graham opened the door to reveal that they had landed on a scenic path running through a colorful forest.

The Doctor looked out the door past him with a scowl. "Missed the town square by a fair bit," she said, then cast an annoyed glare directed toward the ship's console. "But no bother. Looks like a lovely day for a walk."

"The festival food had better be worth it," Graham declared as he marched forth, with Ryan in tow.

Ryan laughed. "Because the three sandwiches in your pocket might not last the afternoon?"

Yaz hung back, waiting as the Doctor fussed a bit around the console then finally stepped out onto the forest path and shut the door. "Everything all right?"

"My lovely and sensitive TARDIS has a bit of a strop on today," the Doctor replied, poking the wood of the door with a frown.

"Everything seemed perfectly fine?" Yaz said, tilting her head with some confusion.

The Doctor glowered. "A lot of attitude in that 'fine,'" she muttered. She did a small twirling dance, checking her pockets and realizing the boys had already disappeared up the path. "You didn't have to wait up."

Yaz shrugged. "Thought I'd walk with you."

The Doctor beamed at her. "A walk in the woods with Yaz," she said. "Amazing." She gave the TARDIS one last pointed look, and prodded it with her foot. "You pull yourself together, please," she directed, before spinning away, taking Yaz's arm, and tugging her along. "Kind of mind blowing, how far we've come together, innit?" she rambled amiably. "And I don't mean literal distance, because that is immense, but definitely quantifiable. I mean Ryan and Graham, being all proper fam these days. Does my hearts good to see."

"Mine too," Yaz said, smiling easily. "But I think we're all proper fam, because of you."

The Doctor nodded agreeably. "'Found' fam, right? I am lucky I found you lot on that train. What if I'd been stuck with Karl?" She shuddered, enjoying Yaz's answering chuckle. "But you're all brilliant, and my lovely-and-sensitive TARDIS couldn't have picked a better time or place to chuck me out. She does have a sense for good companions, people keen for a journey. Even if the boys are on a different journey than we are, for now we're all going the same way. It works out."

Yaz's stomach lurched as she processed all the pieces of that comment, but she tried to play it off with some observation about the prettiness of the foliage. That successfully distracted the Doctor, who proceeded to launch into a lecture on xenobiology and cheerfully prattled onward for several minutes.

When she paused to take a breath, she realized Yaz wasn't really listening, instead seeming quite preoccupied. The Doctor slowed her pace and and tried not to fidget. "Thinking awfully hard over there, are you?"

Yaz tucked her hands into her pockets, as her steps stuttered a bit, unsure if she wanted to hurry through this particular moment. "What you said, just then," she said, venturing forward carefully. "Are we on a journey? As in, you and me, together?"

The Doctor regarded her sideways with a soft, slow smile. "I think we are." She tugged at the ends of her sleeves, turning suddenly shy. "That okay with you?"

Yaz exhaled a tiny, surprised laugh. "Yeah, I just didn't think..." She shook her head a bit. "It's more than okay with me."

"Good, then," the Doctor concluded, with a fond lean against Yaz's shoulder.

There were too many sensations at once. Yaz's face heated with a flush, and the flock of butterflies the Doctor's attention usually sparked in her belly erupted in a vivid, chaotic dance.

After a few more steps the Doctor slowed, then stopped and turned to her. When a lock of dark hair slanted across Yaz's face, she reached up to tuck it away, and she smiled. "Traveling with you is one of my favorite things, Yasmin Kahn," she said, quietly. "And you know the risks by now. You know I'm like as not to run towards danger..."

"That's one of the things I love most about you," Yaz blurted, ignoring the depth of what she'd just admitted, and the resulting climb of the Doctor's eyebrows. "And if you're heading into danger, I'll be there to help."

They smiled at each other for a long moment until Yaz blushed deeper and ducked her head, and the Doctor turned them back down the path with a grin.

For a bit, they were just meandering together, casually bumping against each other as they strolled.

"Can I ask you a question?" Yaz asked.

"Always," the Doctor replied, in that gentle tone that made those damned butterflies lurch.

"When we first met, you said that you didn't know you, yet. You didn't know your likes or dislikes, your own personality."

The Doctor pursed her lips. "Mhm, unsettling stuff, really. After regeneration, none of the bits are where you last left them... in some cases literally." She gestured in the vague area of her crotch with a grimace. "That was different. Brilliant," she added thoughtfully. "But different."

Yaz snorted. "I mean, I get that. But the thing is... You were you, immediately. You were brave and curious and kind. And, you know, really eccentric."

"Oi," the Doctor objected, with no real annoyance. She took a few more steps, considering the point. "Those are just the parts I like," she said with a shrug. "Those are the easy bits. Some of the rest of it is... not as flattering. Not as fun to integrate."

"Like what?"

The Doctor took a long, thoughtful breath, and exhaled noisily. She absolutely was not looking forward to this particular revelation, especially on such a pretty day, while walking alongside such a pretty girl. "Genocidal, murderous rage, for one," she replied, reaching for a tone that was something casual and failing miserably.

She kept her eyes pointed forward, trying to avoid Yaz's inevitable disgust.

"Because of the Daleks?" Yaz murmured.

The Doctor flinched. Leave it to clever, amazing Yaz to immediately pinpoint that particular pain.

"Because I didn't see rage," Yaz continued. "I saw terror. I saw you panic, and try to fight that thing alone."

"And I failed," the Doctor added, her voice hitting an angry register Yaz had never heard before.

Yaz stopped, and turned to face her fully. "Because you forgot you're not alone," she said, low and careful.

The Doctor made a frustrated noise, not really hearing the interjection. "That thing had no business on Earth. No business anywhere near you. You have no idea what they are capable of..."

"So tell me," Yaz said.

They had come to a halt in a clearing, and the Doctor shifted in agitation. "Be sure you mean that," she warned, holding up a finger. "Because you won't like what you learn."

"Tell me," Yaz insisted.

The Doctor clenched her jaw, then lifted a hand to Yaz's cheek, and closed her eyes.

For a split second, Yaz felt a connection, a touch of delicious, familiar consciousness she couldn't help but crave, then... chaos.

It was a blasting cacophony of violence, loss, and anger, bloodshed beyond measure, stretching across unfathomable eons. Yaz staggered where she stood, but grabbed the Doctor's hand to hold it steady, not letting the contact break.

Most of what she saw was incomprehensible; war upon war upon time-locked war, underscored by a fear she recognized, borne by a dozen bodies different from the one she knew: What if I fail? What if they win? What if I lose everything, again?

Yaz gasped as the Doctor finally broke away and dropped her hand from Yaz's face to grip the lapel of her leather jacket. The hold kept both of them upright in the faint forest breeze, maintaining their respective balance.

The Doctor's head was bowed, her eyes screwed shut, her entire body clenched in what Yaz recognized as a blend of fury and shame. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Yaz took the Doctor's hand, carefully unwound the fingers clenched white-knuckled in her jacket, and slid under the open collar to flatten their fingers together across her chest. Her heart was racing, but steady and strong beneath their interlaced grip. "Hey," Yaz murmured. "We won, yeah? Still here."

Yaz felt a tremor rattle across the other woman's limbs before the Doctor retreated, pulling away and dropping her hand at her side, then shaking it as if it stung.

"I'm sorry," the Doctor said again, acute misery evident in every syllable. "I should never have burdened you with that."

"I asked you to tell me," Yaz reminded her. She shook her head a bit, trying to sort the sheer volume of input dumped into her brain in such a short period. "I don't think I understand everything I just saw, but I can see why they frighten you."

The Doctor reeled away and uttered an agonized cry. "I had no right," she said. "I'm sorry, Yaz. I'm so sorry. If you'll let me, I can take it away." She lifted her hand again, and found her sleeve gripped and held firmly in place, away from Yaz's face.

"You can share memories by touch?" Yaz asked. "And take them away again?"

"Yes," the Doctor said, urgently. "It was selfish, but I can fix it." She searched Yaz's face with a desperate intensity, before realizing: "You're not surprised." She straightened, and dropped her hand again. "What aren't you telling me?"

Yaz sighed, and hooked her thumbs into her pockets. She cast a look down the path. "I've been reading," she admitted. "The TARDIS helps, I think? There are always new books in my cabin. Histories of planets I've never heard of..."

The Doctor withdrew minutely, squaring her shoulders as if bracing for a blow. "Oh."

Yaz swallowed, feeling the sheer fragility of the moment between them. "So those stories are true, then. And they're about you."

"They are," the Doctor said, quiet and dark. "All those amazing and terrible things. All mine."

"And all those people you've traveled with..."

"All those people I've lost," the Doctor corrected, harshly.

Yaz took a moment to respond, and found herself fighting off tears. "Did any of them ever know all of you?"

"How could they?" the Doctor said, with shrug and a sardonic laugh. "How could I ask any of them to stay, if they knew?" She turned quiet again, giving Yaz an utterly heartbroken look. "How could I ask you?"

"Because you're not the sum of your past selves," Yaz said. She chased the Doctor's retreating eyes, shifting to stay in front of her while the other woman tried to turn away. "Those are a lot of people I've never known. You're you, and you're..." She hesitated, and could only shake her head in awe. "You're wonderful."

You're like the best person I've ever met.

The Doctor didn't really know how to process everything that had just happened. She tilted her head up, toward the forest canopy darkening above, and exhaled a ragged breath.

"And don't go saying I'm young or naive," Yaz continued.

"You are young," the Doctor said immediately, exasperated. "Brilliant, amazing, and so, so young."

"Fine. Then I'm young. And you're brave, and kind, and inspiring, and eccentric. Like, proper mad. And I love it, you know? I love... this," she finished, awkwardly, holding her hands out. "I know who you are, Doctor. The person you are now. I know the woman who fell onto that train in Sheffield. And I know I want to be here with you."

The Doctor went very still. "Be sure," she commanded, low and serious as before, while trying to summon the apparent indifference that had gotten her through lifetimes of loss.

"I am," Yaz said immediately. She lifted her chin in defiance, ready to keep arguing if she needed to.

A moment ticked by. "Right then," the Doctor replied. She sighed, and drooped a bit in sudden exhaustion. "This was not a conversation I was looking forward to." She cast a look down the path, where the TARDIS waited placidly. "And I think someone thought it was past due. Meddling Ghost Monument."

Yaz followed her gaze and squinted in confusion, but stowed her curiosity for the moment, instead staying quiet to protect the fragile understanding they'd reached. In the ensuing silence, deep, heavy history hung in the air around them, threatening to smother them both.

She noticed the sky was darkening, heading toward the dramatic nighttime festival that the Doctor had originally described to coax them there. No doubt Ryan and Graham were wondering where they were, in between scouting for food and the best possible vantage point for the impending event.

"If I promise we can keep talking later, can we just go and enjoy the festival?" Yaz asked. Her voice felt rough, overused, and she couldn't remember having been more tired.

The Doctor nodded, and fell into step at her side as they went the remainder of the way into town in uncharacteristic silence.

If they seemed subdued when they arrived, the boys didn't comment, instead cheerily handing them each different kinds of festival foods on sticks, while Graham pointed to the rooftop he'd reserved for the night.

The skies were singing.

The Doctor explained something about charged solar particles interacting with the planet's magnetic field, and the unique atmospheric conditions that imparted molecular vibrations as sound waves all the way to the surface.

Yaz didn't understand the science, nor did she care. She just felt the hum, the primal, beautiful, purely ancient sound, and suddenly tears were streaming down her face. For a moment she was horribly embarrassed, and she didn't dare look over to Ryan or Graham, in case they were somehow not as affected and she was suddenly the weepy girl of the bunch.

She gasped when a hand slid around her waist, and she sensed the Doctor sidling up behind her.

"So beautiful," the Doctor murmured in Yaz's ear, before pressing a kiss to her soft, dark hair.

Yaz shut her eyes and leaned back into the Doctor's safe warmth, and let the tears come freely.

The night was short, and the festival drew to a solemn end as the sun crested the distant horizon. Eventually Yaz wavered a bit on her feet, and turned within the Doctor's loose embrace to see pinkish dawn light slant across her gentle, open expression.

The Doctor smiled, and reached up to swipe soft fingertips at the remnants of tear tracks on Yaz's face. "Still fancy that journey, then?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm well in," Yaz replied, with a tremulous smile. She leaned in, resting their foreheads together. "Lead the way."