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Hearts That Endure

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The first time the Doctor hugged her was after a particularly intense round of Venusian Backgammon, after Yaz completed a triumphant and improbable move that secured a win over Graham and Ryan. The hug was a mere fleeting contact, barely more than a bodily collision with arms involved, but Yaz savored the sensation (and felt entirely foolish about doing so).

She knew the Doctor's general lack of physical contact wasn't for lack of affection; the Doctor practically bubbled with positive regard for every living thing, amplified ever further for her fam. Instead, Yaz reckoned it was a strategy the Doctor used to insulate herself from any risk of heartbreak, from the loss of so many lifetimes. A beloved companion at arm's length wouldn't hurt her as much when they inevitably left.

Yaz was sympathetic to the reasoning, and tried her best to respect the apparent boundary. A friendly shoulder bump, the very occasional press of lips to cheek or hair... that was just how it went, what they shared. She reciprocated with a ready smile, and a friendly squeeze to the Doctor's arm or shoulder.

So... the hug was nice. Really nice, if unexpected and entirely too short. (Although somehow her mother had scored the same awkward hug well before Yaz herself did, but she wasn't actually petty enough to keep score.)

When the Doctor pulled away, she laughed, then pressed her palms to her face, apparently surprised by the heat of a blush crawling up her cheeks.

Graham effectively ended the moment by insisting on snacks and a rematch. Ryan gathered the pieces for a reset, grumbling about the game's ridiculously obscure, conflicting rules, the Doctor's selective disclosure of which usually-almost-definitely favored Yaz's turns.

"Don't be a sore loser, son," Graham admonished. "I'm sure the Doctor wouldn't set us up to lose just because Yaz is her favorite."

Ryan laughed aloud, ducked the cushion Yaz launched in his direction, and enjoyed the utterly gobsmacked look on the Doctor's face while she tried to muster any response at all.

Notably, neither she nor Yaz bothered arguing the point.

Yaz had always liked the night shift on the job in Sheffield. When it was quiet, it was really quiet, peaceful in a way that made her appreciate her hometown in fond nostalgia.

When it wasn't quiet, aliens fell out of the sky and changed her life forever. So really, she had a lot of positive associations of the wee hours, and it wasn't all that surprising that she found herself up and wandering the halls of the TARDIS in the human equivalent of the dead of night.

The Doctor didn't even seem surprised, anymore. "'Lo, Yaz! Made you a cup of tea," she announced from halfway under the central console when Yaz wandered in to the control room.

It was Yaz's favorite blend, some mid-40th century variant on Darjeeling. She grabbed the waiting mug and sat on a step near where the Doctor toiled. "What's tonight's project?"

"There is an array of processors in here that's the size of my pinky finger, made of incredibly pure, incredibly rare elements that can only be mined from a particular asteroid fifteen million light years from Earth," the Doctor explained, slightly muffled from within the TARDIS' innards. "The locals are so protective of their resources that they hold a lottery once a year to see who will be allowed to purchase a single gram of material." She pulled her head out from under the console, mussed hair gone absolutely wild and bunched up around welder's goggles. "And I got biscuit crumbs in it," she admitted sheepishly.

Yaz snickered. "Need any help?"

"Nah," the Doctor said. She slid out fully and tugged the goggles off her face, letting them dangle around her neck. "But I welcome the company, as always." She smiled at Yaz and sat back against the console, propping her elbows against her upraised knees. "Anything in particular keeping Yasmin Khan up this evening?"

Yaz took a moment to watch the steam rise from her tea. "I was thinking about home," she said. "Not because I want to go back," she added in a hurry. "Just... there's a particular smell, in the summer, you know? On a humid night after the rain? It immediately takes me back to being a little kid and my mum taking me down to the shop for an ice cream, just because." She stopped speaking, and realized that the Doctor's rapt gaze was cocked her way, studying her.

"Sounds like a good memory," the Doctor observed.

"It is, but... I think being on the TARDIS feels like that memory, all of a sudden? Does that make sense?"

"Oh, absolutely. It means she likes you," the Doctor said, with an enthusiastic nod. "She wants you to be happy here."

Yaz peered around skeptically. "Really?"

The Doctor nodded again, as if no further explanation were required.

Predictably, Yaz's curiosity did require additional explanation. "The TARDIS can do that? Pull a sensation out of my memory and... replicate it?"

"Remember the telepathic circuits that read your Nani's watch?" the Doctor asked.

Yaz shifted. "I don't think I've ever touched them."

"You wouldn't have to," the Doctor said. "Humans broadcast their feelings so openly... much easier to read than an old hunk of glass and gears." She reached back over her head and patted the console with distinct affection. "She's very clever, even when she's full of crumbs."

Yaz pondered that, and decided that being aboard a sentient, telepathic ship that apparently liked her enough to go to lengths to make her comfortable was less worrisome than most aspects of her current adventure. She smiled, offered what she hoped was an appropriately grateful impression outward, and took a sip of her tea.

While Yaz was otherwise occupied, the Doctor looked off into some unknown middle distance with a scowl. "Should I apologize to Graham and Ryan, d'ya think?"

"For what?"

"For you being my favorite."

"Am I?" Yaz asked brightly, with a cheeky grin.

"'Course," the Doctor said. "I don't see Ryan or Graham wandering the ship in the middle of the night just to keep me company."

No, that was definitely not something they did. They also didn't stare at the Doctor like Yaz was doing right that second, with profound affection and a dash of longing.

They looked into each other's eyes for a moment that stretched out, until Yaz lost track of her mug and sloshed a bit of hot tea across her hand. She hissed and turned to set the mug aside, and when she turned back the Doctor was kneeling before her.

The Doctor took Yaz's hand in both of her own, produced a handkerchief from somewhere, and smoothed it across the irritated skin. "There, now. Can't have a burnt Yaz," she murmured softly. She sighed, tucked the handkerchief away, and sat on the step at Yaz's side, far closer than strictly necessary. "Reckon you're the TARDIS' favorite, too. That's why she looks after you."

Yaz frowned reflexively, wondering what machinations of the universe had convinced either this brilliant woman or her mad time traveling box that she was anything worth their respective attention. She looked over at the Doctor, who had an amiably distracted look on her face before she noticed Yaz's scrutiny and leaned back against her with a grin.

Yaz couldn't help but smile back. Rather than dwell on all those confusing human feelings she was apparently broadcasting for various and sundry telepathic beings to hear, she launched into her favorite way of distracting her friend. "Ancient Greece," she said, with a pointed look.

The Doctor frowned. "'Ancient' by whose definition? Time is relative, yannow."

"According to me," Yaz said, with fond exasperation.

"Ah. Yep, been there, done that," the Doctor replied, launching into a comfortable patter. "A few different times, actually. Descendants of the followers of Artemis traveled onward to nine different star systems and still swear an ancient pact to kill me on sight for accidentally wandering into one of their sacred groves. Of course I was a bloke at the time. Bet they'd be a little more tolerant now." She lit up with an idea. "Oh! We should go meet Sappho!"

Yaz agreed with a laugh, which turned into a profound yawn that she could not successfully stifle. That set the Doctor to fussing, leaping to her feet and making a lot of gestures that looked like she was trying to herd the stubborn human in the general direction of her room.

"C'mon then, off you pop," the Doctor said, coaxingly, as she waggled her fingers toward the hallway. "Can't have my favorite human be sleep deprived. You lot are fragile enough as it is."

With a grin and a shake of her head, Yaz relented and pushed herself to her feet. "Okay, but only because you're my favorite, too," she said. Before she could think better of it, she flung her arms around the Doctor's shoulders, squeezed heartily, then disengaged and ambled off into the depths of the TARDIS. "G'night, Doctor!" she called.

Had she looked back, she would have spotted the Doctor having gone very still, leaning against the console with a vague look of consternation.

The TARDIS beeped at her, twiddling in a cascade of noises that sounded distinctly amused.

"Hush, you," the Doctor said. She tried to shake the warm sensation of Yaz's arms around her, and put her goggles back on with a sigh. "Or I'll leave those crumbs right where they are."

They didn't make it to Ancient Greece. Instead, a distress call from the 33rd century summoned them to Tau Ceti, where a human space station had gotten caught in a violent solar storm.

The TARDIS materialized in the station's hydroponics subsection, surrounded by exotic flora that shuddered and shook as the station's stabilization systems struggled to compensate.

"A thousand people on this station," the Doctor announced, as she lead the way through the foliage toward the command deck, holding her sonic screwdriver aloft to scan the place. "Mostly scientists and their families."

"Families?" Graham echoed.

The Doctor nodded grimly, and pointed to a small room walled off from the plants behind glass, where small desks waited in a row for the start of the day's lessons.

"Children?!" Yaz exclaimed. "Why would anyone bring children out to a dangerous space station?"

"Not usually dangerous," the Doctor said. "Something's gone really wrong." After hurdling a few substantial tree roots, they reached the end of the bay, marked by a massive white bulkhead that was punctuated with doors and system monitors flashing various alerts.

The Doctor aimed her sonic screwdriver at a sealed door, waited for it to open, then peered into the empty elevator shaft beyond. "The command deck is four levels up. We'll have to climb." She cast a concerned look over her shoulder, landed on Ryan, and came to a quick decision. "Ryan, Graham, the residential subsections are that way," she said, pointing through the foliage. "And the evacuation pods are that way," she continued, pointing again. "Standard emergency procedure on a station like this is to 'shelter in place' until the automated systems issue an evacuation order, but if they don't get moving now, it'll be too late. These people will not be inclined to leave, so you'll need to get creative."

"On it, Doc," Graham said. He clapped a hand to Ryan's shoulder and they charged off to help.

Yaz watched them go, then took a peek into the elevator shaft. "Ryan could have handled the climb," she said mildly.

"Under normal circumstances, yes," the Doctor replied. "But have you noticed the gravity going a bit wonky?"

Yaz swallowed against the lurching sensation that teased her equilibrium, and nodded.

"Right," the Doctor said. "This place is in bad shape and its own systems don't even know it yet. Up for a really dangerous scrabble up an unstable elevator shaft on a doomed space station?"

"Right behind you," Yaz said, steeling herself.

Four levels and some mildly nauseating peril later, the Doctor was sonic-ing her way into the command deck.

"Please return to your quarters," barked a young woman in uniform. "The station's systems..."

"Are on the verge of catastrophic failure," the Doctor panted, as she leaned over to haul Yaz over the threshold, safely out of of the elevator shaft. She spun on her heel and presented her psychic paper. "I'm the Doctor," she announced. "This is my colleague Yasmin Khan, of Hallamshire PD."

The woman eyed the paper in confusion. "Why are you showing me a warrant for your arrest? And who are the Followers of Artemis?"

The Doctor blinked at the blank paper and stuffed it into a pocket. "Not important. Why haven't you ordered full evacuation yet?"

The woman straightened in obvious offense. "Because the computer indicates this is just a solar storm, and it will pass shortly."

The Doctor eyeballed her and picked out her rank insignia. "Lieutenant, is it?"

"Flinders," the woman answered, by way of introduction. "Marybeth Flinders."

"Lieutenant Marybeth Flinders, your computer systems have been compromised," the Doctor said. She picked the nearest console and promptly availed herself of elevated access, unlocking the alert functions that had been suppressed.

Flinders drifted up behind her and swore under her breath as the full scope of disaster finally came into view.

"You are not the ranking officer aboard," the Doctor continued. "Where is your commander?"

Flinders twitched, and her facade of calm control promptly evaporated. "I don't know. He was supposed to relieve me at the top of the shift."

The Doctor pushed past her to another console, scanning frantically with her sonic screwdriver.

"That unusual for him?" Yaz asked.

"Very," Flinders replied. "He's hyper-punctual. None of this makes sense."

"No, it doesn't," the Doctor said absently. "Awfully coincidental, though."

Yaz stepped closer, following the Doctor's train of thought. "Coincidence that the computers play up just when a solar storm hits and the commander goes missing?"

"Someone doesn't want this station completing its mission objective," the Doctor concluded. "What are you lot studying out here?"

"Tachyon emissions from the neighboring binary cluster," Flinders explained, swiping her hands above a control strip to display the most recent data. Another alert caught her attention, and she changed the display to a different view. "Two evacuation pods are launching," she snapped. "What did you do?"

"Fifty points each, Ryan and Graham," the Doctor muttered. She swiped through the system interface, digesting the results with growing concern. A moment later, the deck buckled, casting them all off their feet.

"Doctor!" Yaz called, crawling over to her side.

"I'm fine, I'm fine. But we have a new problem," the Doctor muttered, impatient as she clambered to her feet and studied a new urgent alert. "There's a power surge building in the engineering subsection. If it isn't contained, it'll take out the entire station, and the evacuation pods."

"You should be able to rupture the umbilical and jettison the subsection," Flinders said, panic coloring her voice as she barely peeked over the console from the spot where she'd been knocked to the deck.

"Remote overrides aren't working," the Doctor said, frustrated as she fought the inefficient systems interface.

"Then it'll need to be manual. One of us has to go down there," Flinders said.

Yaz stepped in and nodded. "I'll go."

The Doctor froze, and a dozen different reactions flashed across her face in quick succession. "No," she objected. "I'll do it."

"Doctor," Yaz said, firm and sure. "Lieutenant Flinders needs your help to hold this place together long enough to get everyone out of here. I'll go."

Flinders looked back and forth between the two women, unsure of the dynamic she was witnessing. She held up a communicator, which Yaz plucked out of her hand and affixed to her ear.

"Yaz," the Doctor whispered, rough and scared.

"Find the power surge, try to shut it down, or manually jettison the affected subsection," Yaz recited. "I've got it."

Flinders nodded. "I'll guide you from here, and help the Doctor stabilize as much as we can."

The Doctor's lips were pressed together in a tight line, as if restraining sentiment she couldn't yet voice. She stepped forward and pressed a hand to Yaz's shoulder. "Be careful," she ordered, low and intense, hoping it communicated everything else she wanted to say.

Yaz dipped her head, and gave the Doctor a similarly meaningful look. "Yeah. You too."

With that, she charged off in the direction Flinders indicated, ducking sparks as they shot out of mangled conduits, and struggling to stay on her feet as the deck rumbled.

The Doctor watched her leave, then spun to the task of holding the station together with sheer force of will until everyone was safe.

... everyone, but especially Yasmin Khan.

"Turn left at the next junction," Flinders directed into her comms, as Yaz made her way into the bowels of the station.

The station was coming apart. The Doctor knew it, knew time was her enemy as she flitted between the command consoles and manipulated the station's systems at the lowest possible levels to keep them stable. A minuscule shift here, a rippling burst of energy there, and it was all she could do to keep the whole massive structure from ripping itself to shrapnel.

"Oh," Yaz's voice came over the comms.

The Doctor's eyes flicked upward, waiting for her to continue.

"There's a man here. In uniform. He's dead."

Flinders sagged against her console. "Probably Commander Dixon. Can you tell what happened to him?"

Yaz bent to kneel alongside the man's body, looking for obvious clues. There was charring on his hands, which looked like it matched up with an exposed plasma conduit in the bulkhead above. "Not sure," she reported. "Looks like some kind of shock?"

The Doctor grit her teeth. Someone had murdered the station commander, sabotaged the systems, and left a thousand people to die. Why?

"The last of the evacuation pods are away," Flinders reported. She cast a sideways look at the Doctor. "I assume we have other transportation?"

"My ship is parked in hydroponics," the Doctor replied, absently.

"How..." Flinders began, before shaking her head and scrolling through the pod manifests. "All crew and civilians are accounted for, save Commander Dixon and two junior officers in engineering." She looked up and keyed Yaz's comms. "Can you keep an eye out? Midshipmen Perkis and Bonsal."

Yaz sighed and replied in the affirmative. She placed a hand on the dead man's shoulder, sparing a thought for his family before pushing herself back up to rush down the corridor.

The lower decks of the station were predictably darker, more cramped and more strictly functional than the expansive living areas above. She was following a bundle of cabling along the corridor's ceiling, drawing closer to the source of the power surge. The entire station felt like it was rattling around her, threatening to rend from deep within.

When she emerged into the main engineering subsection, the corridor opened into a series of catwalks suspended over massive reactor banks. Yaz paused, peered over the handrail, then asked Flinders where she should go next.

"There's a power management station at the base of the reactors," Flinders explained.

"So, down, then?" Yaz said. She took a deep breath, swung her legs out over a rickety service ladder, and made a rapid descent. Once she reached the main deck, she spotted a man and a woman in uniform flitting around what she presumed was the aforementioned power management station.

The entire compartment shuddered, and Yaz struggled to stay on her feet as she approached. "Oi!" she called.

The young woman turned and gave her a look of panicked confusion. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm here to help!" Yaz explained. She ducked a dangling conduit and closed the remaining distance at a jog. "Are you Perkis and Bonsal?" she asked. Up close, she could see that the junior officers were painfully young, and clearly terrified. This crisis was way beyond their training and experience, and for a second Yaz wondered if she'd looked the same back on that train in Sheffield.

"I'm Midshipman Bonsal," the woman said, then pointed to her teammate. "That's Perkis."

"Brilliant," Yaz panted. She took a moment to bend at the waist and catch her breath. "So, long story: The computers have been malfunctioning, and the solar storm has done a lot of damage to the station. We're working on evacuation, but there's a power surge somewhere in this subsection that will take out... everything." She punctuated the last word by casting her hands apart widely.

She immediately regretted the glib disclosure; both junior officers paled, and gave each other wildly alarmed looks.

"Who are you?" Bonsal asked again.

"Yasmin Khan, but that's not important," Yaz replied. She pulled the communicator from her ear and handed the device over, then waited out the one-sided conversation while Flinders explained the situation to her crewmate. She looked up, eyeing the tangled mess of machinery that made up the station's power apparatus, and wondered just how she was going to figure out where the surge was, and how to stop it.

Bonsal acknowledged her orders from Flinders, then conferred quietly with Perkis. Eventually they both turned to Yaz, with a shared grim expression.

"You'll have to get back up to the main corridor to sever the umbilical," Perkis reported. "Then you can safely jettison the subsection."

Yaz nodded. "Right, so let's go."

"You don't understand," he countered. "You can't just sever the umbilical. The static discharge would immediately fry the remaining subsystems, and wipe out containment on the antimatter storage."

Yaz sifted through her brain, trying to remember what she'd learned about antimatter while aboard the Tsuranga. "That's bad?" she ventured.

"That's disastrous," Bonsal said. "We're going to have to manage the power systems here, and try to keep them from surging until you've cleared a safe distance."

"But if you're here when the subsection gets jettisoned..." Yaz began, then shook her head. "C'mon, there has to be another option."

"There's not," Bonsal said, firmly. She handed the communicator back to Yaz, and pointed up to the series of gangways that would get her back to the main corridor. "This is our job, Yasmin Khan. The evacuation pods need time to get to a safe distance. If you're here to help, then help."

The realization was a punch to the gut, and Yaz could only stare dumbly at the two officers for a long, agonizing moment.

Bonsal had already returned to her station. "Hail us when you get to the umbilical. We'll signal back when the power levels are safe."

Yaz hesitated for only a second longer before nodding and spinning on her heel to do even more climbing.

At the top of the gangway, she followed Bonsal's instructions to seal off the subsection, and held her breath when the umbilical disconnected without incident.

When the engineering subsection disconnected from the rest of the station, the entire structure around her calmed. She exhaled and slumped against a nearby bulkhead, allowing herself just a moment to cry.

Flinders breathed a sigh of relief, but noticed that the Doctor was still concentrating deeply on the station systems. She watched for a moment, then gasped. "You're firing the maneuvering thrusters?"

The Doctor kept grim attention on the sensor readouts. "Eventually the antimatter containment will fail within the detached section," she muttered. "We need to get the station superstructure between it and the evacuation pods."

The lieutenant didn't even hesitate, instead immediately hailing Yaz to help get her back to the upper levels, where there would be more structural protection.

There was no question when everything went to hell. The two women were launched across the command deck, while the system alarms sounded in loud, discordant klaxons. "That's our cue," the Doctor said, as she pushed back to her feet once more. "Time to go."

Flinders grabbed a portable computer unit and followed, forcing herself to ignore the building panic as they escaped down the elevator shaft.

Graham and Ryan were waiting for them anxiously back at the TARDIS. Graham pulled Flinders aboard and offered a cursory explanation for the tiny blue box parked amongst the trees, while Ryan ran out toward the Doctor.

"Where's Yaz?" he yelled, while the deck rocked beneath them.

"On her way," the Doctor replied. She ran right past him, bolting into the TARDIS and making a quick beeline around the console to fire up the engines and prep for a rapid departure. "Graham!" she directed sharply. "When I tell you, flip this lever."

"You got it, Doc," he answered.

She stalked back to the TARDIS door, and she waited. Around them, the station groaned and rumbled, occasionally screeching in the agony of impending structural failure.

"C'mon, Yaz," Ryan whispered, at the Doctor's side in the doorway.

The Doctor bit her lip, bouncing in place, willing Yaz to emerge from the overgrowth, silently begging the TARDIS to stay put and help their friend escape.

From her handheld device, Flinders read off status updates, including the moment when the evacuation pods had cleared the destructive radius from the station's imminent demise. Eventually, she couldn't keep up with the feed of rapid-fire data, and went quiet, instead reading it to herself as the station came apart.

A burst of movement parted the leaves across the hydroponics bay, and Ryan immediately pumped a fist in triumph. "Go Yaz!"

The Doctor tensed, watching Yaz's steps, counting to herself and matching up the cadence with her mental timer estimating complete catastrophic structural failure. By her math (which was usually rather precise), Yaz would not get to the TARDIS in time.

Her mental timer hit zero, and several things happened at once.

Behind her, Flinders uttered a noise of profound alarm.

The station's pressure hull split at the seams with a monstrous roar, enhanced by sudden vacuum greedily yanking all the atmosphere out of its contained space.

With an unheard cry, Yaz launched herself into the rushing air, her limbs pinwheeling as she careened toward the TARDIS door.

The Doctor flung herself forward, reaching for Yaz.

In an unexpected display of coordination, Ryan followed the Doctor's movement, and caught hold around her waist with one arm, bracing against the TARDIS door with the other.

The station gravity failed, changing Yaz's momentum into a leap with no end.

And finally, the TARDIS dipped, bending reality ever-so-subtly to align the Doctor's hand with Yaz's outstretched arm.

The Doctor's fingers wrapped around Yaz's wrist and held tight. She pulled with all her strength, wrapping her arms around Yaz as Ryan yanked them both backwards, over the TARDIS threshold and slamming to the deck. He whirled and shut the door.

"Now, Graham!" the Doctor yelled.

Graham obliged, and the TARDIS plummeted, dropping for an impossibly long moment as it tumbled into the time vortex and away from the relative space inhabited by the disintegrating space station.

Eventually the transit stabilized, and the TARDIS settled into a stable pocket that let the passengers aboard catch their breath.

"Oh my days," Graham breathed, slumped against the console. "Is everyone in one piece?"

Clinging to one of the TARDIS' crystal pillars like a life buoy and looking more than a little green around the gills, Lieutenant Flinders could only manage a faint nod.

Ryan whooped in exhausted jubilance. "All good here!" he cried, as he fell to his knees next to Yaz on the TARDIS deck, and grabbed at her shoulders. "Yaz! Are you okay? That was amazing. Proper superhero-like."

She smiled, and reached vaguely to pat at his hands. "M'okay," she murmured.

On the deck beside Yaz, the Doctor stirred and propped herself up on an elbow, resting her other hand on Yaz's belly. She exhaled loudly and let her head drop forward. "Well done, fam," she breathed, patting Yaz gently and trying to catch sight of the rest of the team from under profoundly disordered blonde hair.

After a moment she and Yaz braced against each other to get slowly get upright again. Yaz still had a hand clenched in the lapel of the Doctor's coat when she turned to Ryan.

"The evacuation pods?" she asked.

"All got far enough away before everything went boom. You saved everybody."

Yaz looked down, and clenched her jaw. "Not everybody," she said. She straightened and turned to Flinders, who had gotten to her feet and was looking around the TARDIS with wide eyes. "Perkis and Bonsal. They wouldn't abandon their stations. They're the ones who managed the power systems and gave us time to escape."

Ryan's face fell as he processed that information, and he held his hands out, open and useless.

Flinders exhaled a shaky breath and nodded, then keyed a few commands into her handheld computer. "I've logged as much in the final station manifests. Thank you." She turned her attention to the Doctor. "We owe you and your friends a great debt."

The Doctor smiled kindly. "No debt owed, Lieutenant. Happy to help. We'll let the sensors recalibrate and drop you back with the evacuation pods shortly."

"Meantime, how about some tea?" Graham interjected, gesturing toward the galley. He gave Ryan a pointed look.

Ryan took a moment, then started and hurried to follow, leaving Yaz and the Doctor alone, still clinging to each other.

The Doctor waited, trying to stay still and not fret while Yaz looked around in a daze, trying to process.

"The children..." Yaz exclaimed, with sudden, sickening worry. Her voice broke on the word, and her eyes swam in sudden tears.

"All accounted for on the evacuation pods," the Doctor said immediately.

"Right. Everybody got away," Yaz said, as if reminding herself. That all seemed perfectly acceptable, except for the plain recollection of the two engineers she left behind. So young, so scared...

"They were just kids, you know? Perkis and Bonsal. Younger than me, or Ryan..."

"They were heroes," the Doctor said. She reached up to smooth away a stray bit of Yaz's dark hair. "They saved a lot of people, including us."

"I had to do it," Yaz blurted. "I had to leave them."

"You did," the Doctor agreed, softly.

"The system damage would have cascaded upward, destroying the station much more quickly."

"It would have."

"Hundreds of people would have died. Everyone on those evacuation pods."

The Doctor waited.

"The children. Ryan and Graham. You."

There it was. The Doctor shifted a bit closer and dropped her voice. "You did everything right. There was no other choice."

Yaz lifted an anguished gaze at her, and the Doctor immediately closed the distance between them, pressing their foreheads together and taking firm hold of Yaz's hand. "Yasmin Khan, you listen to me," she demanded, low and intense. "No one can save everyone. No one has all the answers all the time. You did the best you could in an impossible situation, and you did brilliantly."

Yaz felt her lungs hitch and start to get a bit out kilter, like the air was too thick to take in.

"Breathe," the Doctor ordered. "Keep breathing." She lifted her free hand to rest at the crook of Yaz's neck, stroking her thumb across the pulse that fluttered in her throat.

Long minutes ticked by, while Yaz fought the grief and guilt that threatened to choke her. The Doctor stayed close, murmuring from time to time. At some point Yaz let her head tilt backward, and she exhaled a rough noise of anguish.

"How many times have you had to choose like that?" Yaz whispered.

"Between degrees of terrible loss? Too many to count," the Doctor answered, with a sigh. She wiped an errant tear from Yaz's cheek, drawing her gaze back down to level.

"How do you do this? How have you done this, for so long?"

At that, the Doctor canted her head, giving Yaz a gentle look. "I have you." She felt the inadequacy of that explanation, so she shrugged and continued. "I mean, broadly speaking, I have my fam and the memories of all the brilliant people I've met along the way. But also, more specifically and more pertinently to this scenario, I have you, PC Yasmin Khan, the bravest police officer in Sheffield. You make thousands of years of impossible choices easier to bear." She paused, waiting for that assertion to sink in. "And for whatever it's worth, you have me."

Yaz exhaled a gasp that threatened to be a sob, but she breathed through it, and let it settle heavy on her chest, a memento of the struggle and success of the day.

This time when she leaned in for a hug, it wasn't about seeking desperate reassurance or soothing, but just a quiet, lingering intimacy, a desire to comfort and be close. It was the first time Yaz ever perceived such a difference, and the moment was downright revelatory. The Doctor's hands sliding up her back were safe and soft, holding her with profound care, and a subtle sense of wanting.

She felt treasured.

They held each other for a long, indulgent stretch time before the Doctor heaved a sigh. "I'd have done anything to keep you from this kind of thing," she murmured.

"We helped, though, right?" Yaz asked, leaning away just a bit, reluctant to separate from the warm, deep comfort of the Doctor's touch. "That's what you always do - try to help."

"We definitely helped," the Doctor said. "We helped two brave midshipmen save their entire crew."

And with that, Yaz realized something else was different, that they had reached a mutual understanding that hadn't existed the day before. They shared this moment, this burden, this tempered bit of heroism.

"Then it was worth it," Yaz decided.

The Doctor smiled at her, with an evident mix of sadness and pride accented by the few tear tracks remaining between them. "Definitely my favorite," she murmured.

Once again, Yaz got the impression that that was not exactly what the Doctor wanted to say, but for the moment, it was enough.