You’d think the Doctor would have gotten the hang of this after a few millennia, but turns out that some lessons, you never really learn—this particular one being: Feelings are a lot.
She’s never felt happier, she thinks; but she also feels a Sword of Damocles hanging over her head in the form of her apparently imminent death. (As for Damocles himself, he’d been fine after the Doctor had given Dionysus II a firm talking-to, but never mind that just now.) And this constant push-pull between joy and despair—both emotions stripped of the armor she insulated them inside in the past—is bloody exhausting.
And so the Doctor indulges in what has become an alarming but gratifying new habit these days: She talks about it. Actually out loud. With her words.
“Feelings are a lot!”
Yasmin Khan looks up from where she’s lounging on a patch of cerulean moss, reading a book whose title the Doctor can’t make out. “Hullo to you, too. And I’m gonna do you a favor and not ask for context.”
“You’re the context,” the Time Lord says, flopping down beside her. “You’re the text, really. The whole novel. A 300-volume encyclopedia.”
“Mmm, tell me more about my word count,” Yaz says, bending down to plant a kiss on the Doctor’s lips.
“Lengthy. Erudite. Cult classic, not bestseller.”
“Did you just quote the Streets at me?”
“S’pose I did.”
“How millennial of you.”
“Which millennium?” the Doctor asks.
“The Earth one.”
“Oh, yes, of course, that one millennium the planet Earth has had.”
At some point during their banter-slash–makeout sesh, Yaz has rolled on top of the Doctor, and the warm, human weight of her is now pushing the Doctor’s body into the plushy moss, her breath sweet against the Doctor’s mouth. Lovely. Nice. Happy.
“This is what I’m saying, Yaz! Feelings!”
Yaz laughs. “Okay, now I do need context.”
“I just…I really love you, and you make me really happy, and it’s bonkers.” Not the Doctor’s most eloquent speech ever, but it gets the point across.
“I love you too,” Yaz says easily, because it is easy these days, for them to say things like this to each other.
“But I’m also really sad sometimes? Because…you know, the whole ‘Your time is heading to its end’ thing. And I just feel both these things at once, all the time, and it’s…”
“...A lot,” Yaz finishes for her.
“Yeah. And it’s not like there’s anything to do about it. It’s all very new for me.”
“It’s new for me, too.” Yaz sits up, and the light of the purple sun on the horizon strikes the peaks and valleys of her face, casting them in bronze, and she’s so beautiful that the Doctor wants to die. (Except that she specifically doesn’t want to die. That’s the whole problem!)
“Does it scare you?” the Doctor asks.
“’Course it does. You know it does. And it also makes me really happy, and really sad. But that’s just life, yeah?”
It’s a sign how much she’s grown since the two of them finally made it official that the Doctor doesn’t say anything like, I don’t deserve you, or Run! Run away from me as fast as you can before I inevitably and irreparably hurt you!
Instead, she says, honestly: “Historically, my reaction to this sort of thing is to pop off into the middle of an intergalactic war or something so I don’t have to, y’know, think about it. The feelings.”
“Sometimes you just have to sit in them, I suppose.”
“Sitting still and feeling things. Right. I’m top-shelf at that.”
Yaz smiles knowingly. She always knows. “I mean more like metaphorically sit in them. You can still run around and have daft adventures and all that while you’re feeling feelings.”
“That sounds like a lot of multitasking.”
“…Says the woman who spent the morning repairing the Chronometric Astrometer while simultaneously brewing tea and giving Dan a lecture on the history of the Lost Moon of Poosh.”
“Have I ever told you it’s very sexy when you casually remember the names of TARDIS components?”
“You may have mentioned. And I may have been studying up on schematics to impress you.”
“Is that right?”
With a wicked grin, Yaz leans in until her breath is tickling the Doctor’s ear. “Thermo-Buffer. Zigzag Plotter,” she whispers. “Artron Energy Capacitor. Lambent Tachyonic Visualizer.”
“Yasmin Khan, we are way too far from our bedroom right now for you to be engaging in this level of foreplay. It’s downright irresponsible.”
“Sometimes I get to be the reckless one in this relationship.”
The Doctor balks at this. “Blimey, does that mean I have to be the reasonable one?”
They look out across the vast expanse of Philadelphia (the planet, not the city)—its vistas of creeping ivy spires, giant snails making their glacial way across the landscape—and the Doctor allows herself to feel, for just a moment, content.
“The days, the days they break to fade.
What fills them I’ll forget.
Every touch and smell and taste.
This sun, about to set
can never last. It breaks my heart.
Each joy feels like a threat:
Although there’s beauty everywhere,
its shadow is regret.
Still, something in the coming dusk
whispers not to fret.
Don’t matter that we’ll lose today.
It’s not tomorrow yet.”
—Kate Tempest, “The Point”
Chapter 2: A Different Sort of Brave
In which Dan is a good boy.
Dan finds her crying in the console room. Yaz really ought to find a more private place to do her weeping, but sometimes it just hits you wherever you happen to be. Besides, it’s not like Dan hasn’t seen her much, much worse.
He doesn’t say anything at first—just sits down on the steps and wraps a bracing arm around her shoulders. She decides to take the offered kindness and buries her head in his shoulder.
“Talk to me, Sheffield,” he says softly.
“I’m so tired, Dan.”
“I’m guessing you don’t just mean the knackered kind.”
Yaz wipes her nose on the back of her hand and tries to put into words what she’s feeling. “I have to be so strong all the time. So cheerful. For her. She doesn’t ask me to be, but she doesn’t have to. Sometimes I think I know what she needs better than she does, y’know?” She chuckles. “What am I saying—’course you know. You sussed us both out long before either of us got round to it.”
“One of me better qualities, I’m told,” Dan says.
“She’s so scared. She’s told me so. Hell, I’ve told her I am, too. But I always feel like it’s down to me to keep her head above water. ’Cause it’s so easy for her to slide into one of her black moods. Not that she ever takes it out on me, but…it hurts to watch her take it out on herself. So I have to be this rock, holding us both steady against this current that’s sweeping her away, a little more every day.
“But I’m not a rock, Dan,” she continues. “I’m just a person. And she’s this, like, huge thing. And I’m so honored that I’m the one she’s chosen to be with. Me, of everyone in the whole universe! But sometimes I just want to…fall apart, I guess. But I can’t.” Yaz breaks off there, winded by all she’s just confessed.
“Have you told her any of that?” Dan asks after a long moment.
Yaz shakes her head. “I don’t want to burden her with it. She’s already under so much pressure.”
He turns to face her. “Yaz. I haven’t had many long-term relationships in me life; but as I understand it, being with someone, loving someone and them loving you back, means that this whole being vulnerable thing is a two-way street. Give the Doctor a chance to be supportive. I reckon she’ll rise to the occasion. And if she doesn’t,” he finishes, “then maybe she doesn’t deserve you.”
“Have you ever thought about writing a book of relationship advice? Or, like, becoming a therapist? ’Cause you’re really good at this.”
“A shame me talents are going to waste in the space-time continuum,” he says with a laugh.
“A proper shame,” she agrees. “I know you’re right, but. I don’t know if I’m brave enough to say all that to her.”
Dan scoffs. “I’ve watched you physically fight more than a few very large, angry blokes in the 1900s. I’ve even watched you stare down a cosmic god or two. I think you’re brave enough to be honest with your girlfriend.”
“That’s a different sort of brave,” Yaz says.
“You’re also the sort of brave that tells people what they need to hear when they need to hear it. So come ’ed and stop being a meff.” He stands and holds out his hand.
She lets herself be pulled to her feet. “I was with you for most of that, but then you went all super-Scouse at the end there.”
“It means go talk to your girlfriend, Sheffield.”
“You are the same compass you have always been
You are the same friend who never left my side
During my worst year
You caught every tantrum I threw
With your bare hands
Chucked it back at that blood moon
Said: It’s okay, everyone’s survival looks a little bit like death sometimes.”
—Andrea Gibson, “Angels of the Get-Through”
Chapter 3: Heart and Shaking Skin
Chapter title is from “Nightlights II” by Nana Grizol.
It wasn’t until she was on the verge of losing it that the Doctor began to actually consider this body, and what it’s been like to live in it—what it’s still like to live in it.
In all the ages of her existence (or at least, the bits she can remember) she’s never had a woman’s body, soft and strong, complex in a way male bodies just aren’t —concavities and opacities, swells and valleys. Lithe neck, curve of hips, breasts, labia, clitoris. (Fortunately, not menstruation. She’s heard all about it from her female companions over the years, and just…no thanks, very much.)
And now, in these waning days, she’s come to really love this body, to feel at home inside of it. That hasn’t always been the case. Some regenerations hung on the Doctor like an ill-fitting suit; others fit her like armor, keeping the bad things from getting in, and worse things from getting out. (She’d needed that, after the Time War.)
This regeneration, though—it’s teaching her so much. A new way to move through the world, lightly and adroitly—not with grace, exactly, but with easy animation. And the thing that really makes her appreciate this body is the way Yaz appreciates it. The way she looks at the Doctor, the way she touches her. The way this body feels when it’s pressed against Yaz’s body, like the Doctor is the question and Yaz is the answer.
And in whatever time she has left, she swears she won’t take it for granted. Even if it is all absolutely terrifying.
It’s in this frame of mind that the Yaz in question finds her, as the Doctor soaks in the TARDIS’s architecturally improbable natural hot spring.
“Thought I might find you here,” Yaz says, walking across the rocky outcropping that leads to the hottest pool, which faces a vista of mountains and a waterfall in the distance that may or may not exist (the Doctor’s never bothered to check).
“How’d you guess?”
“I’d like to say it’s ’cause I know you so well, but actually it’s because it was the first door the TARDIS put in front of me when I walked down the hall.”
“Meddling again, old girl?” the Doctor asks fondly, looking up at the clear blue sky.
“Only in a nice way,” Yaz says, sitting on the rim of the pool. “I think she knows I needed to talk to you.”
“Well, that sounds slightly scary.”
Yaz meets her eye. “Doctor, I’m not leaving, or breaking up with you, and you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m basically addicted to you at this point, so you’re stuck with me.”
The Doctor knows why Yaz is saying it, and she appreciates it: heading the Doctor’s insecurities, her guilt, off at the pass. Like basically everything her girlfriend does, it’s an extraordinarily empathic gesture.
Yaz skims her hand across the water, and the Doctor finds herself entranced by the delicate bend of her fingers reflected in the still surface. “Mind if I join you?” she asks.
“I’d mind if you didn’t,” the Doctor says with a grin.
An old version of the Doctor would have been mortified by this vulnerability—Yaz stripping down, leaving her clothes in a heap on the rocks, and climbing in across from the Doctor. The anxiety has long since fallen away, but even half an Earth year into their relationship, the novelty hasn’t. Yaz! Naked! In a pool! With her! Who is also naked! Brilliant.
It’s suddenly dark, and she looks up to see that the TARDIS has made night fall fast; a starry sky now spreads above them like a cool blanket, twinkling with a pattern of constellations the Doctor has never seen outside this room. She watches Yaz through the rising steam, looking at the view overhead with a delighted fascination the Doctor never tires of seeing light up her face.
“Bit heavy-handed with the mood lighting,” Yaz says to the TARDIS.
“Yasmin Khan, don’t tell me you’ve gone all anti-romance on me. Not when I’ve only just figured it out.”
“Never.” To drive her point home, Yaz swims towards her and fits her body against the Doctor’s, and they kiss like they’re just regular people having a nice night, and not a 3,000-year-old alien with trauma issues and a human who spent three years stranded and heartbroken in the wrong century.
“Were we going to talk about something?” the Doctor says, a bit dazed after they break apart.
Yaz sighs, and swims back to the other side of the pool so she can face the Doctor properly. “Yeah. We were.” There’s a long pause before she says, “As usual, Dan put me up to this.”
“Ahhh, so it’s about emotional honesty, then.”
“Got it in one. It’s about…” The Doctor watches Yaz searching for the right words. “I want to start by saying that none of this is on you. It’s me, and my hangups.”
“Yasmin Khan, I bet even your hangups are lovely.”
Yaz grins. “Shut up.”
“Shan’t,” the Doctor says simply.
“Anyway, it’s… Look, I know you’ve been through so much, and you’re going through so much, and I’m so proud of you for learning how to be open and honest about your feelings.
“But I’m realizing that I don’t think I have,” she continues. “I want to be there for you, see. To be supportive. Be…optimistic. ’Cause I know that what’s behind you, and what’s coming up for you, is scary as hell.”
She looks down for this next part. “But it’s scary for me, too. And I don’t mean just in a way where I tell you it’s scary and then say something encouraging. I mean in the way where it makes me frightened all the time, and sad. And I’ve been keeping that from you, because I didn’t want you to have to deal with the burden of my feelings when you’re already carrying so much. I want to be strong for you, Doctor. But sometimes I fall apart, too.”
The Doctor waits until Yaz seems to be finished with her speech, which is another new thing she’s learning—not jumping in and interrupting whenever the mood strikes her, which is basically always.
“Yaz, look at me.”
Yaz does, and the Doctor can see unshed tears shining in her eyes.
“Nothing about you is ever, ever a burden. I love you, more than I’ve loved anyone in centuries. And it’s not weakness to feel your feelings. In fact, I reckon it takes more strength than just about anything. You taught me that.”
Yaz is well and truly crying now, and it’s something that, in times past, would have sent the Doctor running for the hills—or another galaxy. But now, all she wants is to be there for her, to stay close.
“And even if I’m falling apart,” she continues, “which I bloody well will, a lot, that doesn’t mean you can’t fall apart too. I love all of you—the good stuff and the hard stuff. I want the entire spectrum of Yasmin Khan. Richer and poorer, sickness and health, all of that.”
Yaz’s eyes go wide and her cheeks turn the absolute best shade of pink. “Doctor, did you just…do wedding vows at me?”
Did she? Well, how about that. “Oh, huh. I suppose I did. …Whoops?”
And then Yaz is launching herself at her, and she’s abruptly in the Doctor’s arms, her smile pressed against the Doctor’s lips.
“You lovely, mad, wonderful alien. You didn’t even propose.”
“Yeah, well you know me. Always skipping ten steps ahead.” The Doctor’s shocked how easy this is—bringing this woman all the way into her life. But: “I don’t really believe in marriage, though, Yaz. Awfully traditional and institutional, you know.”
“Awfully,” Yaz agrees.
Plus, the last time I got married it was…” She tries to think of a succinct way to describe all the conflicting messages she visited upon River Song, in her callous, arrogant eleventh incarnation. “...It was for all the wrong reasons.”
“River. I remember,” Yaz says, because the Doctor has been—slowly, over the course of many late-night chats—telling Yaz her history, particularly when it came to romance.
“But I do want to spend my life with you—however much or little of that is left. I mean, I reckon you knew that already, but.” The Doctor can’t exactly kneel in water up to her shoulders, but, again, to hell with tradition. “Yasmin Khan,” she says, not moving an inch. “Will you not-marry me?”
Yaz’s eyes are so full of love just then, it would break the Doctor’s hearts if they weren’t already bursting. “Doctor, I will absolutely not-marry you.”
They melt into each other, there under the unreal stars, and the TARDIS—inveterate wingwoman that she is—kicks off a full-bore meteor shower. It reminds the Doctor of the fireworks exploding from the ruins of ELF Storage, nearly a year ago now, the night she first allowed herself to look at Yaz and truly consider what they could be.
“You can fall apart on me now,” the Doctor murmurs. “If you like.”
Yaz smiles at her, mischievous and incandescent. “I think I’m pretty much done with activities that involve talking, just at the moment.”
“Fair do’s,” the Doctor says.
And they pass a sweetly measureless amount of time after that, not talking at all.
That is, until they’re interrupted by the Doctor’s absolute least favorite sound, so loud it makes ripples in the water around them.
”Doctor,” Yaz says. “I’ve heard that before. During the Flux, when things were…well, really bad.”
“It’s called the Cloister Bell,” the Doctor says, climbing out of the pool and pulling Yaz after her. “And it means…”
She’s trying to be the strong one now, after Yaz’s recent admission. But that funereal tolling makes her feel like she’s tearing in two.
”…It means we need to try our very best to stay alive.”
“If you have someone that you think is the one, don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, ‘Okay, let’s pick a date. Let’s plan this and make a party and get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.”
Chapter 4: My Brother, My Killer
Chapter title is from Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
An icy Gallifreyan wind whooshes up from the chasm below her, where the Doctor lies prone at the edge of a cliff in the barren wastes of the Myridian Mountains. As she bleeds out, she can feel the familiar fizz and crackle of her body beginning to transform.
It’s a pain that is, honestly, worse than the actual getting mortally wounded part. She’s never told anyone that, mostly because Time Lords (or whatever species she is) are thin on the ground—besides, of course, the one standing over her now, cackling in a way that’s, frankly, very trite.
“Oh, Doctor. I’ve finally, truly and properly, fucked you all the way up,” the Master says.
“You don’t have to be such an arsehole about it,” she manages to get out through the haze and pain.
“Are you kidding? This is all I’ve ever wanted, and I’m going to bloody well marinate in delight.” He kneels down at her side, having the audacity to run a hand along her cheek. “Well, it’s not all I’ve ever wanted,” he continues. “I’d quite like to be god-emperor of a galaxy or two, but, you know. It’s nice to have something to work towards.”
“You know I’ll just come back, you right knob,” the Doctor says, too weak to lift a hand to push him away.
“Oh, I know you will, but I’ve a feeling it won’t be for quite for some time.” The Master stands once more, his purple coat billowing obnoxiously behind him, and presses his boot into the center of her chest.
The Doctor tries to deny him the pleasure of hearing her scream in agony, but fails spectacularly. So embarrassing.
“I’m sure you know that the abyss below us, Doctor, is the real fucking deal. As far as I know, no one’s ever discovered how deep it goes.” As he speaks, he begins to roll her body toward the cliff’s edge with the toe of his boot, like she’s not worth him dirtying his hands for. She cries out in pain as loose gravel digs into the open wound in her side.
“You’ll regenerate down there, of course,” he continues, “And I’m sure that clever little brain of yours will eventually find a way out. But it’s going to take you a while. A few centuries, say? I’ll be curious to see how long. Then our great game can begin again.”
“Drama queen,” the Doctor grunts, regeneration energy filling her vision with golden light. She doesn’t want to die, nonexistent god she doesn’t want to die, but at this moment, she knows her best bid for survival is to regenerate now, and quickly. Let the next Doctor take care of it.
He rolls her over again, and now her arms are dangling over the edge. She can’t see it, but she can feel untold leagues of dark space yawning below her. The Master is flirting with his own doom here, too, standing on a jagged rock not much wider than the Doctor’s body; doom has always been his favorite mistress. If she could just lift her arm or her leg, kick out and trip him, that would be grand. But her limbs hang limp and useless at her sides.
But then, something incredible happens. A big, gnarled stick swings out of seemingly nowhere—or at least, not from anywhere in the Doctor’s field of vision—and clocks the Master directly on the side of his stupid head.
“You fucking bitch,” is all he manages to get out before he lists sideways, his body describing a grotesque pirouette, and then he tumbles off the edge of the cliff. The Doctor can hear him shouting obscenities until his voice dopplers out of range. See you next go-round, old friend.
“Help me with her, Dan!!!” shouts a familiar, infinitely dear voice. And then Yasmin Khan’s face materializes overhead, dirt-stained and bruised, but so alive.
“Yaz,” the Doctor chokes out.
“Don’t try to move, Doctor. We’ve got you.”
Dan appears at Yaz’s side, bleeding from a nasty-looking gash on his forehead. “Oh, hell,” he says, and from the look on his face, the Doctor knows she must be in a right state.
With effortful care, her two companions manage to half-carry, half-drag the Doctor back to solid ground. They both collapse, wheezing, once she’s well away from the precipice. But in short order, Yaz is at her side again. “Doctor. Oh, god. Fuck me,” she says.
“Wish I could,” the Doctor says, trying for levity even now.
“Perv,” Yaz says fondly, one hand on the Doctor’s cheek, another between her hearts.
“You saved me.”
“Not soon enough.” Tears trace lines through the dirt caked on her face.
“We both knew this was going to happen,” the Doctor says.
“Doesn’t make it any easier,” Yaz replies, her voice thick with tears.
“Plus, we just got not-married.”
“You got what?” Dan says from a few yards away.
The Doctor tries her best to smile, but her whole body spasms with fresh pain, and the bright haze around her intensifies.
“You’re glowing,” Yaz says, half grief, half wonder.
“That’ll be the regeneration energy,” she grunts. “You don’t have to watch this part. Probably better if you didn’t.”
“You know I’m not leaving.”
“Stubborn arse,” the Doctor croaks. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.” Yaz bends down and kisses the her, soft and gentle, seemingly afraid to jar her body into further pain. One last kiss from Yaz. Brilliant. Ten points. No—twenty.
“Stay with me,” Yaz pleads. “Please, Doctor. Please don’t leave me.”
“Yasmin Khan,” she manages through a death rattle. “Do you know, I think you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to—”
And then, with a massive convulsion and a burst of light, everything goes black.
“How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird which flies out its ashes,
that for a man
as he goes up in flames, his one work
to open himself, to be
— Galway Kinnell, “Another Night in the Ruins”
Chapter 5: Bless Me Anyway
I guess it’s now a rule that all my fics have to include at least one “Angels in America” reference.
…And then everything goes white. The white of clouds over the Powell Estates on a bright, balmy day, scuttling over the sun. The white of Donna’s wedding dress before it was stained by the black blood of the Racnoss. The white of Amy’s eyes right before she blinked for the last time. The white of the interior of a brand-new TARDIS.
The white of no place at all.
“Fancy seeing you here,” a familiar voice says, Estuary accent bright with amusement.
The Doctor finds that she can stand, here in this nowhere place, and she whirls around until she’s face-to-face with Rose Marion Tyler. She looks older, mature in a way the Doctor’s never seen her before, wearing a loose white shift dress and a battered khaki jacket. And her eyes… Her eyes are…
“You’re not Rose,” the Doctor says.
The Bad Wolf grins and shrugs, her eyes glowing the deep gold of all space and time. “Does that mean you’re not happy to see me?”
“Didn’t say that.” And even though this isn’t Rose, it is good to see her, to hear her, this echo of the only person the Doctor’s ever loved as much as she loves Yaz.
“I’ve been watching over you a long time, Doctor. Always at your side, even though you couldn’t see.”
“Even when I go to the loo?” the Doctor quips.
“Always side-stepping with a joke,” the Bad Wolf says. “You never change.”
“I always change. That’s the trouble.”
“Yeah. About that.” The Bad Wolf waves her arm with a balletic grace that the real Rose never had, and a pair of poufy chairs and a tea service appear before them.
“Cool party trick,” the Doctor says, taking a seat. “Care to fill me in on what exactly is happening right now?”
The Bad Wolf joins her. “You’re fond of this body, aren’t you?”
“Rose Tyler’s body, or my body? I mean…both. So, yes to that question.”
“That last one…the old man…you were tired of it even before you began, weren’t you?”
The Doctor considers this as she pours herself a cuppa. “I was pretty tired of everything back then.”
“But this one…” the Bad Wolf prompts.
“This one’s been…instructive. And awfully nice to live inside,” the Doctor says, looking down at her hands, the curve of her hips beneath her stripey shirt. “I’ve never been female before. Well, I have, I suppose. Because I met one of the old mes. But…not that I can actually remember being.”
“Many times,” says the Bad Wolf, and the Doctor has a hunch she knows what’s lurking in that fob watch.
“Anyway, it’s been nice. Different. Humbling, in a way. Helped me realize I’ve been a right git to a lot of women in the past. You included.”
“Not a woman,” the Bad Wolf says.
“See? I should’ve asked! Still learning.”
Rose’s face grins. “You’re taking your imminent death awfully well.”
“Surely you know me well enough to know I’m not.”
The Bad Wolf considers her for a moment, and then snaps her fingers. A semi-transparent image of Yaz appears, and the Doctor feels her hearts clench.
The Doctor rises to her feet, walks over to the spectral love of her life (of this one, at least), and cups her nonexistent cheek. She looks so sad.
“Look,” she says, turning back to the Bad Wolf. “If this whole thing is about some kind of boon I get to ask for before I go… Please let Yaz be okay. Please make sure she’s safe. And happy. If that’s even possible after all this.”
“You love her,” the Bad Wolf says. It’s not a question.
“Quite a lot.”
The Bad Wolf snaps again and Yaz vanishes, and the Doctor reluctantly returns to her seat.
Her host tents her fingers and leans forward. “Doctor, if you could have anything you wanted right now, what would it be?”
That one’s easy. “More time,” she says. “Time to live a real life. Time to not have the whole weight of the bloody multiverse on my shoulders. Time to figure out who the hell I am, after all I’ve found out recently. Time to breathe. Time with her. ”
She thinks of what she said to Yaz, that day on the edge of the China Sea. Not because I don’t want to. Because I might.
“A reprieve,” the Bad Wolf says.
“If you like,” the Doctor says with a shrug, because what does it matter, this little hypothetical chat with a demigod? She’s just going to disappear anyway.
“You’ve been running for so long, Doctor. Would you really like that? To rest?”
“I mean…yeah. Not forever. But for a little while.”
The Bad Wolf leans back again, looking contemplative. “The Flux diverted, the Master vanquished, the Daleks dormant… It might be just the right time,” the Bad Wolf says with a shrug.
“There will always be trouble. There will always be danger, across time and space. And the universe will always need its Doctor,” she says. “But I reckon it could do without you for a little while.”
“I…” The Doctor trails off, dumbfounded. “I don’t understand.”
“You know, for an immortal genius, you’re awfully thick.” She sounds so much like Rose when she says it that the Doctor feels a tug at her hearts. She leans in. “I’m offering you a gift, Doctor. Time. A life. A rest. I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you make mistakes, and fall down, and get back up, and grow. I’ve seen your kindness get the better of your anger. I think you’ve earned it, and I can grant it.”
“But… Time. He said my time was ending.”
The Bad Wolf shrugs. “Yeah, well he may be Time, but I’m everything. ”
And with that, she kneels before the Doctor and grasps her face between her hands. And the Doctor feels it again—the pain of transformation. But this time, it’s a good kind of hurt. The teacup falls from between her fingers, and as it smashes into a thousand, thousand pieces, something deep inside of the Doctor mends.
“I don’t know if it’s not braver to die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. We live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough, so inadequate, but … Bless me anyway. I want more life.”
—Tony Kushner, “Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika”
Chapter 6: How’d I Get This Hallelujah
Chapter title is from “Hallelujah” by HAIM.
The world comes back to her, or she comes back to the world. Either way. Doesn’t matter. And all of it matters.
The first thing the Doctor senses is that she’s lying on something soft, and the second thing is the gorgeous, familiar hum of the TARDIS. She opens her eyes, blinking up at the orange glow of the coral struts overhead.
She’s scared to move, to speak. Who is she now? But she doesn’t feel different, not like usual. (Though frankly, what regeneration’s ever usual ?)
Experimentally, the Doctor lifts one hand. It’s not glowing anymore, and it looks an awful lot like the hand she’s had of late. She sits up, and is immediately assaulted by a shredding pain at her side. It’s duller than it was on the clifftop, but it’s still very much there. Blimey, is she… Did she…
“ Doctor! ” She hears footsteps pounding towards her, and then Yaz and Dan are at her side, looking utterly wrung-out.
“Hello, you lot,” the Doctor manages, her voice a dry rasp, but unmistakably hers. And bloody hell, is she thirsty. “What’s…um…”
Carefully avoiding her injury, Yaz wraps her in the tightest, most sublime hug. A fantastic hugger, is Yasmin Khan. “You’re alive! And you’re still you!” she says into the Doctor’s shoulder.
“Am I?” the Doctor asks, genuinely curious.
She looks round at Dan, who’s smiling. “You gave us quite a scare,” he says. “You were bleeding a whole lot, and then you got all glowy, and then you passed out. We found an old tarp lying ’round and carried you back to the TARDIS. Well, maybe more dragged you, like.”
“You’re heavy,” Yaz cuts in, still hugging her.
“And I’m not…” the Doctor says, “...I’m not ginger?”
Yaz pulls back and laughs, ringing and wonderful. “I don’t know if that’s, like, a Gallifreyan regeneration euphemism or something, but, no. Still blonde.” She tangles a hand in the Doctor’s hair. “Still my Doctor,” Yaz finishes, and pulls her into a kiss.
Hope blooms incandescent inside the Doctor, and she remembers her dream after she blacked out, which apparently wasn’t a dream at all. A wish granted by the Bad Wolf, the Heart of the TARDIS herself. More time.
As the shock wears off, she deepens the kiss, pulling Yaz closer, smiling hugely against the perfect, perfect bow of her mouth.
She tells her companions everything she can recall, sitting there on the old mattress she and Yaz have used as a landing pad on so many adventures, and they all agree that it doesn’t make any sense, but also, who the hell cares. Then Dan and Yaz lift her up, pulling an arm over each of their shoulders, and help her stumble to the infirmary, which the TARDIS has helpfully situated right at the end of a short hall.
Ever the gentleman, Dan sees himself out so that Yaz can help undress the Doctor and check the state of her Master-inflicted wounds.
“This should have killed me,” the she says, looking wonderingly at the deep gash in her side, which has miraculously stopped bleeding and begun to close up.
“It was killing you. It was awful. I could see it happening,” Yaz says as she cleans and disinfects the wound, gentle and efficient. “And then…it wasn’t. That glow around you faded, and the color started coming back to your face. And then I checked your pulses, and they were steady again.”
“Doctor, the amount of things you’ve called ‘impossible’ since I’ve known you that turned out to be, demonstrably, very possible, is…a lot of things.”
The Doctor grins at her. “You’ve got me there.”
Yaz pauses in her ministrations. “Watching the Master do that to you… It were so horrible. I saw red. And then there was this big log on the ground, and I picked it up, and I just walloped him. And then he…” She looks down at her own hands. “I never thought I was capable of something like that.”
The Doctor reaches out to her. “You saved me,” she says. “You did what you had to do. You’re my hero, Yasmin Khan.”
Yaz smiles, but it fades as she asks, “You think he’s gonna…”
“He’ll be back,” she says darkly. “He always comes back, just like me. Even though he’s a Time Lord and I’m…something else. But it won’t be for a long, long time, thanks to you.”
Yaz nods. The Doctor knows they’ll talk about this more in the coming days: what it feels like the first time you commit a real act of violence, and how to live with it. But the Doctor will help her through; unfortunately, she’s quite qualified in that department.
And, wow. Coming days. If the Bad Wolf is to be believed, they have those now.
“So, what’s next?” Yaz asks, once she’s finished patching the Doctor up as best she can.
“Next,” the Doctor says decisively, “a bath. Preferably with you involved as well, if you’re up for it. And then—and I’m loath to say this—but I think I need to be horizontal with my eyes closed for a number of hours.”
“Most people would call that ‘sleeping,’” Yaz says, amusement dancing in her eyes.
“Yeah, well I’m not most people, am I?”
“Definitely not. And I think I could do with some horizontal-with-my-eyes-closed time meself.”
“Thought you might. Human physiology, and all that.”
“But what about after that? Is there…is there still a ticking clock?” Yaz asks carefully.
“I don’t think there is. Not anymore. The Bad Wolf, I think she’s more powerful than Time—Time the bloke, I mean. She swallowed it up, his prophecy. Took it back.”
The Doctor knows it’s true, because it’s not the first time she’s seen her do something unbelievably powerful—like, say, dematerializing an entire Dalek fleet, granting Jack Harkness eternal life, or saving that haunted man in the leather jacket the Doctor used to be from his own worst instincts.
Then she thinks of what else the Bad Wolf said, and feels a lightness rising in her millennia-old bones.
“Yaz, what would you say if I…stopped being the Doctor for a while?”
Her girlfriend laughs, confused. “I’d say I’d have no idea what to call you.”
“Oh, you can still call me the Doctor. I tried ‘John Smith’ once. Didn’t take. And ‘Jane Smith’ would be even worse. Yuck.” She takes Yaz’s hands in her own. “But I mean…what if I took a break from the whole deathly-peril-and-impossible-moral-quandaries-on-a-daily-basis thing? What if we parked the TARDIS somewhere for a bit, let it grow moss, and you and me just…lived?”
“Doctor,” Yaz says wonderingly.
“After everything that happened with the Master, and Tecteun, and the Flux, and the Master again, I honestly don’t know who I am anymore,” the Doctor continues. “So maybe I should have a long think about it instead of distracting myself by trying to solve everyone else’s problems. Or…maybe not think so much for a bit at all. Maybe just be. With you. My not-wife.”
Yaz laughs. “You really think you could turn off that big brain of yours?”
The Doctor shrugs. “Probably not. But I could, y’know. Give it diversions.”
She watches Yaz take this in, turn it over in her wonderful mind. “I can help with diversions,” she says with a grin. “But d’ye mean, like we’d…get a house? Settle down somewhere? Get jobs, or whatever?”
The Doctor hears the long-ago echo of Rose’s voice, the real Rose: You’d have to get a mortgage, she’d teased, under the shadow of a black hole. And: Stuck with you—that’s not so bad.
“If you like,” she says to Yaz, because this decision is as much hers as it is the Doctor’s. “Or not. I think we’d both get a bit bored. And we don’t need jobs. I can just sonic an ATM or whatever whenever we need money.”
“As a former police officer, I feel like I should scold you for that.”
“ Former being the operative word,” the Doctor says. She remembers the day a few years back when, after a particularly nasty run-in with a Judoon “peacekeeping” force, Yaz had fished her South Yorkshire Police badge out of her jacket pocket, stared at it for a long moment, then chucked it into the nearest dustbin.
Yaz makes her thinking face, which numbers among the Doctor’s top ten favorite Yaz faces. “Can you do that, though? Just…stop doing Doctor things? ’Cause ever since I’ve been traveling with you, the universe seems to be in peril pretty regularly.”
The Doctor makes her own thinking face. “You know I’m not generally someone to take things on faith, Yaz. But the way the Bad Wolf talked about it, I think there’s something…different going on right now.”
“She called it a reprieve, ” the Doctor says. “Like it was something I’ve earned. And I think I believe her. I’m trying to do this thing where I’m, y’know, nicer to myself.”
She hops to her feet, only remembering that she’s still got a gaping wound in her side when she lands. Yaz reaches out her arms to catch her as she doubles over in pain.
“Careful!” Yaz says, taking her weight and helping her sit down on the examination table once more. “If we do this, I’d still like to help people though. It’d be hard for me to stop helping people. Hard for you too, I imagine.”
Holy shit, but the Doctor loves her so much. “Yasmin Khan,” she says. “First off, you are a blindingly good person. And second off, I’d never ask you to stop helping people. Never would ask me, either. I’m just thinking, y’know, in a more low-key way. Like, saving a village instead of saving the whole universe.”
“Last time we tried to save a village, we did end up saving the whole universe,” Yaz points out.
“Hmm. You’ve got me there.” The Doctor thinks again, but her head is well done in for the day from, you know, almost dying. “But I’ve got a hunch the universe might do us the favor of chilling out for a bit.”
Yaz shakes her head, wide-eyed, in a way that the Doctor knows means I suppose I believe you, even though it makes no sense. Another of her top ten favorite Yaz faces. “This is all absolutely mad, and I am extremely out of my depth,” she admits.
“So, a regular old day for us.”
A slow smile grows on Yaz’s face. “Okay. Yeah. Let’s do it. Maybe just start with a proper vacation. No Sea Devils this time. And then we’ll just…take it from there?”
“I like the sound of that,” the Doctor says. “Where d’ye want to go first? The frozen seas of Women Wept? The iridescent cloud city of Duvernesque? The outer rings of Galavrox, which are edible and taste like matcha tea? Eurovision 1974?”
“The bath, obviously.”
“Sounds like an absolutely brilliant start.”
“we will wear
new bones again.
we will leave
these rainy days,
break out through
into sun and honey time.
worlds buzz over us like bees,
we be splendid in new bones.
other people think they know
how long life is.
how strong life is.
—Lucille Clifton, “New Bones”
Chapter 7: Stay With Me, Go Places
Chapter title is from “Go Places” by the New Pornographers.
(I watched Eurovision for the first time this year, and my first thought was: The Doctor is definitely super into this.)
Their first stop is, in fact, Eurovision 1974—Yaz and Dan raiding the TARDIS wardrobe for bell bottoms and paisley, then the three of them shouting at the top of their lungs as ABBA introduces the world to “Waterloo.” The Doctor uses her Psychic Paper to get the three of them backstage to meet the band after the show—who, they discover, are actually time travelers from the 52nd century.
“We wound up in the Earth ’70s by accident and just decided to stick around,” Björn Ulvaeus says. “Just suited our vibe, y’know?” He rolls up one bell sleeve to show the Doctor his vortex manipulator. “Nicked a few of these off a Time Agent.”
“You ever met a bloke named Jack Harkness?” she asks.
Agnetha Fältskog laughs. “Oh, we met him, alright.” The band all trade looks amongst each other that the Doctor knows mean: We had a five-way with Jack Harkness and we still don’t know how to feel about it.
For once, and a while at that, the TARDIS takes them everywhere they want to go, Yaz copiloting with an infectious grin as they hop from place to place. Fin de Siècle Paris to catch a can-can show at the Moulin Rouge, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the surface of Pluto in 2015 to wave at New Horizons as it passes, the outskirts of the Eagle Nebula to watch a migrating pod of Star Whales.
And, because they’re them—the Doctor and her fam—they of course still help people along the way. Over absinthe, they talk Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec down from despair over the end of his latest affair, and they use the TARDIS to tug a lost Star Whale calf back to its mother. It’s just that nothing world-ending happens; no one dies; and most importantly, Yaz never winds up in mortal peril. ( Just this once, everybody lives! she remembers jubilating in the middle of the London blitz, many centuries ago.)
Eventually, like most of her companions if they stay with her long enough without dying or worse, Dan asks to be dropped off back on Earth to pick up the threads of his once-linear life. The Doctor finally manages to unshrink his house, which she puts back in place in time for Diane to meet him at the door with a pair of tickets to the Liverpool Philharmonic.
“I hope I showed you a good time out there in the universe, Dan,” the Doctor says, wrapping him in a tight hug that he returns with gusto.
“The absolute best, Doctor,” he says into her shoulder. “Just time to move on, is all. Besides, I imagine the pair of you might like some time without a third wheel.”
“I quite like a tricycle, though,” the Doctor quips, to cover up how much she’s going to miss him, this sweet golden retriever of a man without whom she and Yaz might never have plucked up the courage to tell each other how they felt.
“You better not be a stranger, Scouse,” Yaz says, not bothering to hide the tears in her eyes. (The Doctor forgets, sometimes, that her two companions spent years together that she herself never experienced; she makes a mental note to check in on how Yaz is feeling later that night.)
He waves his phone, which the Doctor has programmed to be able to reach them wherever they are. “Couldn’t if I tried,” he says. “You take care of each other, alright?”
The Doctor wraps an arm around Yaz’s shoulder. “Not a problem.”
And then it’s just the two of them, dancing across time and space like it’s their own personal nightclub. And in a way, it is; they spend a giddy few months visiting festivals and celebrations on every planet the Doctor can think of. Picking iridescent confetti out of each other’s hair at the Triple Solstice Celebration on Karmaretti, slow-dancing at the wedding of the King and King of the Twelfth Fabraxian Empire, donning sequined SCUBA suits to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the City of Atlantis.
They pop back to 2022 Sheffield. It’s partly to see Graham and Ryan, who are so excited that Yaz and the Doctor are together that they treat them to a five-course dinner they can’t afford. (The Doctor clandestinely sonics a few hundred quid into Graham’s credit card on their way out the door.)
But they’re primarily visiting so Yaz can do something she’s spent a long time working her way up to: come out to her family. To Yaz’s surprise and the Doctor’s relief, her parents and sister are lovely about it.
“I sniffed it out even before the pair of you did,” Najia says with a knowing smile.
“Oh, right! The day with the spiders!” the Doctor says.
Yaz looks at her mother with a happy sort of incredulity. “You did, didn’t you? Don’t think I even knew back then.”
“I did,” the Doctor says.
Yaz turns to her. “You did?” she asks softly.
“Well, sort of. Don’t think I could’ve put a name to it back then, plus I was still working out the kinks of this body, but…yeah. I reckon so.”
Yaz squeezes her hand and gives her a smile that could melt clotted cream.
“Hang on,” Hakim says. “What d’ye mean, ‘this body’?”
Yaz gives her a look, and the Doctor figures that she’s not keen to have the whole “I’m in a long-term relationship with a time-traveling alien” talk on top of the “I’m gay” talk.
“Oh, just, y’know. Had just gotten a new haircut back then. Started going to the gym, all that. And look at these guns now!” The Doctor pulls up the sleeve of her henley and flexes her bicep, which is very much not toned in any way.
Sonya shakes her head. “You really know how to pick the weird ones, Yaz.”
“Someone I met once told me that good-hearted weirdos are the keepers, so…I’ll take that as a compliment,” Yaz says.
Before they leave Earthside again, they arrange to meet up with Jack Harkness at the London Pride Parade. And the Doctor supposes she should have guessed what she was in for when Jack appears in leather short shorts and strap-on angel wings, a pansexual flag painted across his bare chest, sandwiched between two sweaty, beautiful men.
“Glad to see you’re still you!” Jack shouts into the Doctor’s ear over the blare of “I Want to Dance With Somebody” from a speaker system on a passing float.
“Almost wasn’t!” the Doctor shouts back. “But an old friend of ours gave me a bit of help.”
“Of ours?” He turns to her, studying her eyes. “Not…”
The Doctor nods, and understanding dawns on his face. Of course he knows. The Bad Wolf is the reason he can never die, after all.
“Well, I’m glad she’s still keeping an eye on you,” he says seriously. “And I’m very glad you two finally sealed the deal.” He nods over at Yaz, who is currently whooping with delight as the Dykes on Bikes roll past, glitter-caked face alight with joy in the sunlight.
“Hey, you guys want some Molly?” Jack asks.
“Who’s Molly?” the Doctor shouts back.
“We’re good, thanks!” Yaz tells him with a laugh.
“You don’t want to meet Molly, Yaz?”
“I don’t want you to, or I’ll be peeling you off the walls in the console room,” Yaz says.
It’s meant to be a surprise, but then the Doctor thinks for a moment and remembers that her “surprises” in the past have been more like “making unilateral decisions without consulting anyone else involved.” So instead, it begins as a suggestion.
“Wow,” Yaz breathes the moment they step out of the TARDIS.
As lunar biomes go, Blostoverius’s is damned near perfect. In fact, the only problem with Blostoverius is that it’s called “Blostoverius.” With its rolling hillsides, dramatic vistas, and prismatic beaches, it’s like if you mashed together New Zealand, Costa Rica, and Western Ireland in springtime.
“Doctor, it’s gorgeous,” Yaz says. “And the air smells like…coffee ice cream?”
“They call it the Vermillion Moon,” the Doctor explains. “No war has ever been fought on this soil. It’s populated primarily by tea monks, landscape painters, and refugees from the Ood Sphere. Everything runs on renewable energy, and it’s some of the most fertile farmland in the galaxy. They distill fantastic whiskey, too. The best-kept secret this side of Betelgeuse.”
They watch as a herd of animals that look like they’re halfway between an elk and a harp seal flop-gallop across a field. The Doctor can’t remember what they’re called—she’ll have to look it up later.
“Not a bad vacation spot,” Yaz says.
“Actually…” Here goes. “You remember what we talked about back when I first didn’t die? About parking the TARDIS somewhere for a spell?”
“Well what if…” She grasps Yaz’s hand. “What if we stayed here for a while? I know a bloke who knows a bloke who has a little cottage on the base of a mountain near here he’s been looking to offload. Owes me one for the time I saved him from a Weeping Angel. And introduced him to his wife!”
“Before you say anything,” the Doctor says, nervous as she’s ever been, “I need you to know this is totally one hundred percent optional. If you want to keep traveling, we can keep traveling. Or if you want to go back to Sheffield for a while, we could do that too. Spend some time with your family, and the fam. Or if you want to go be on your own for a while, that’s fine too! You know I can always find a way to fill my time, so, you know. Whatever you want.”
“This is daft, isn’t it? It’s absolutely daft. I never should have brought you here. What shall we do instead? Ooh! What about a Nina Simone show? The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. You’ll love it.”
She finally shuts her gob and turns to Yaz.
Yaz cocks one eyebrow, which the Doctor adds to her list of top ten favorite Yaz expressions. (There are loads more than ten at this point, but who’s counting?)
“Let’s do it.”
“The world is big, and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
Chapter 8: The Country of Here Below
In which I give the Doctor my restlessness, and Yaz my love of poetry.
(Chapter title is from “How to Live, What to Do” by Wallace Stevens.)
It’s been a long time since the Doctor has stopped to feel the wind on her face. Or stopped in general, really. But here on Blostoverius, she stands on a high promontory, the landscape stretching out below her, closes her eyes, and loses herself in it: a steady gust that blows her hair back from her face, curls warm fingers around her body, loosens everything she’s spent centuries keeping knotted tight. It’s a simple gift, freely given. She’s not from this moon—she’s not sure where she’s from, anymore—but the temperature feels calibrated to her, soothing in its gentleness. Everything around her is moving, so alive. But for once, the Doctor herself is standing still.
“ There was neither voice nor crested image, ” a familiar voice behind her recites, “ no chorister, nor priest. There was only the great height of the rock and the two of them standing still to rest. ”
“Yasmin Khan,” the Doctor says. “You’ve been raiding the library again.”
“I don’t think it counts as raiding if it’s my own library,” Yaz says, wrapping her arms around the Doctor from behind.
“Mmm, I beg to differ. Those pirates were a bad influence on you.”
“Says the kettle of the pot,” Yaz murmurs into the nape of the Doctor’s neck.
“I beg your pardon! I’m a fantastic influence,” the Doctor replies, and grabs the open book from her partner’s hand. “ There was the cold wind and the sound it made, away from the muck of the land that they had left, ” she reads, “ heroic sound, joyous and jubilant and sure. ”
“ How to Live, ” Yaz reads over the Doctor’s shoulder. “ What to Do. ”
“Wallace always did have a way with titles,” the Doctor says, turning in Yaz’s arms.
“You met him, then?”
“’Course I did. Brilliant poet. Terrible drunk, mind you, but brilliant. Did you know, Yaz, that there really was an Emperor of Ice-Cream? Sycorax invasion of the Florida Keys, 1928.”
“The Sycorax… They’re the ones who—”
“—cut off my hand right after I regenerated, yeah.”
It’s been seven Earth months since they put down roots on the Vermillion Moon, and in that time, the Doctor and Yaz have been trading stories back and forth about their lives. Yaz talked about the girls who used to bully her at school, in the dark days before she met the Doctor, and how she grew strong instead of giving up; the Doctor talked about the Time War and the new life that came after, Rose and Martha and Donna and Amy and Rory and Clara and Nardole and Bill, and everyone in between and before—Sarah Jane and Ace and Tegan and Jamie and the rest. Yaz told the Doctor about stowing away in steerage on a transatlantic ship in the 1900s, and how Professor Jericho had an annoying habit of clipping his toenails on bare mountainsides in the Himalayas, and the Doctor told Yaz about traveling to the last days of the universe, about meeting Vincent Van Gogh and Agatha Christie and Queen Victoria, about all the men she remembered being.
It would take a lifetime to tell it all, but if the Bad Wolf is to be believed, they have a lifetime now. Or whatever a lifetime means for a human and an immortal alien. But they’ll worry about that later.
It only takes a month before the Doctor throws her hands in the air and decides to make their cottage dimensionally transcendent. (“There’s only one coat rack, Yaz! Where am I meant to put all my coats?” “Doctor, you only have one coat.”) The result is nothing like the infinite, ever-changing labyrinth of the TARDIS, but it’s definitely bigger on the inside. Yaz is very much in favor of the change, especially after she claps eyes on the trampoline room and the four-story library.
The Doctor is restless at first—taking long hikes to the other side of the moon, watching the suns set in fast-motion; venturing into town to meet the locals and see if they need any kind of saving (they don’t); approaching wild animals to study them, half-hoping she’ll come away with a scratch or two and a wild story to tell later (she doesn’t).
“So how’s ‘just being’ going for you?” Yaz asks one night when the Doctor comes home out of breath and caked in an unreasonable amount of mud. The question isn’t cutting, just a little exasperated and a lot more fond.
“I almost had it this time,” the Doctor says, hanging her dirty coat on the closest of their sixteen coat racks.
Yaz abandons the book she’s reading face-down on the ottoman. “The little jumpy blobby thing? Or the big clompy tusky thing?”
“Jumpy blobby thing,” the Doctor says, leaning down to plant a quick kiss on Yaz’s lips. The two of them have been working on a taxonomy of the moon’s flora and fauna, because apparently none of the locals have before. But it turns out coming up with names for thousands of species is hard.
“I’m getting…itchy,” the Doctor says through gritted teeth, plonking herself down on the rug.
“That’d probably be all the dirt you’ve got under your henley.”
The Doctor laughs. “You know what I mean. Itchy to… go. To do. To fix. ”
Yaz slides off the chair and joins her on the floor. “So let’s go. Let’s do. Let’s fix.”
“Dammit, Yaz, you’re not supposed to encourage me!”
Yaz gives her a crooked smile. “But I like encouraging you. It’s sort of my whole thing.”
The Doctor sighs and worries at the straps of her bracers. “I told myself I’d try settling down for a while, not be so… Doctory all the time. But it turns out I’m actually pretty bad at it.”
“You don’t have to,” Yaz says earnestly. “ We don’t have to. No one says you need to change your whole way of life just like that.”
The Doctor meets her eye. “ I said I need to. I want to prove to myself that I can do this, that I can stay in one place for a while without getting bored and running off.”
“Sounds to me like you’re just finding a new and creative way to be hard on yourself.” Yaz’s voice is always at its gentlest when she’s offering constructive criticism.
The Doctor simply shrugs.
“Look, settling down? It’s not for everyone. Bloody hell, I’m not even sure it’s for me. But that’s okay. There’s loads of different ways to, y’know, live a good life.”
Panic rises in the Doctor’s gut. “Oh, bollocks, have I trapped you here? Have I talked you into this thing you didn’t want to do? I’m such a…”
Yaz cuts her off with a hand on her cheek. “Stop. You haven’t trapped me here. I want to be here. With you. I miss our old life sometimes, too. But other times, I don’t. I like watching the same suns set every night, seeing them move across the sky from day to day. I like when you burn the eggs and then I have to make proper eggs. I like seeing you get color in your cheeks from being outside all day.”
The Doctor feels all the adrenaline melt away, feels herself going soft. “You’re right, I am absolute rubbish at making breakfast.”
Yaz laughs. “ That’s what you took away from what I just said?”
“Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m pretty crap at not being mean to myself all the time.”
“You don’t say.”
“Look. Traveling, and the TARDIS, and adventures, and all that? It’ll all still be there for us whenever we’re ready. But if you feel like you really want to give this whole thing a fair go, I say let’s do it.”
The Doctor cups her not-wife’s face in her hands, taking in the whole of her—the expressions that play across her visage like sunlight on water. “Yaz…I don’t deserve you.”
“You do, actually.”
She barters in town for the equipment she’ll need: a pair of sturdy gloves, a shovel, a trowel, shears, and as many different kinds of seeds as she can find. Because if the Doctor’s going to put down roots, she reckons literally putting down roots is a brilliant place to start.
“Don’t help me, Yaz,” the Doctor says.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” the other woman says, watching her from the front door, sipping Blostoverian chai in an attitude that says, Can’t wait to see how this turns out.
The Doctor is, once more, covered in dirt as she digs out a plot for a garden, sweating beneath the rays of Blostoverius’s double suns. Lately, she’s been experimenting with wearing just one shirt instead of two—a sign that, if she were to psychoanalyze herself (which, no thanks very much), she’s become more comfortable in this body. Less eager to hide herself beneath three layers of aggressive whimsy.
(Plus, Yaz says she likes seeing the Doctor’s “guns,” which appalled the Doctor at first before the other woman explained that in 21st-century Earth slang, “guns” means “wicked biceps.”
“Can’t we call them ‘sonics’ instead?”
“No we cannot, you swole nerd.”
“Oh, no, is something swollen?!”)
In the following days, elbow-deep in the rich loam outside the cottage, the Doctor finds herself thinking back to her time with Madame de Pompadour. So here you are, my lonely angel. Stuck on the slow path with me. She’d spent years and lifetimes since avoiding the slow path with all her might, careening sideways into the Time Vortex. (Hell, she’d gone so far as to pawn the previous love of her life off on a mildly genocidal clone of herself. Talk about manic.)
But here the Doctor is, on the slow path with Yaz, learning to dig down into a single place and time rather than skim across its surface. And she’s pleasantly surprised by how satisfying it feels: washing the perspiration and soil off at the end of the day before collapsing, pleasantly exhausted, into the poufy blue chair by the fireplace. (“Yaz, have you ever heard of a shower beer ? Best Earth invention since the wheel.”)
Once the plot is dug out and the seeds are planted, the Doctor begins to learn the rewards of waiting and watching: charting which plants grow at which rate, watching leaves and flowers unfurl, photosynthesize, transform. She teaches herself about the science of cultivation: soil pH levels, which plants require more or less water or sunlight, which insects help the plants and which insects harm them. Yaz catches her talking to a Blostoverian soda fly one afternoon, bent over a green leaf and explaining the history of human space exploration. That night, Yaz wordlessly hands her a book she found in the library: “A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard.
The Doctor reads it in half an hour (she’s getting slower at reading, she discovers), then reads it two more times through.
“I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down. Simone Weil says simply, ‘Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love.’”
The Doctor carries over handfuls of knickknacks and devices from the TARDIS—which is parked in the backyard and has, indeed, begun to grow moss—and gets to work building herself a new lab. First, she uses it to synthesize a new kind of fertilizer that makes her garden turn into a small forest that swallows part of the house. Next, she splices together plant DNA until she’s invented something that’s a bit like an avocado, but also not at all. In any case, it grows fast and abundant, and she and Yaz bring cuttings to everyone they can find on the moon; no one on Blostoverius will ever go hungry again.
After a while, she sets her sights on grander and grander projects: a bright purple butterfly whose proboscis can cure skin cancer; bioorganic TARDIS components that she gradually introduces to the console room; an injection that can stave off Alzheimer’s; and one day…
The Doctor bursts into the yard, where Yaz is painting a landscape with colors derived from neon pink berries she found growing along the beach.
“You’ve got your Eureka face on,” Yaz says immediately. “What’s happened?”
“I think I’ve figured it out,” the Doctor says, breathless.
“Figured what out?”
“A way to fix one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made.”
“Having come so close to losing everything, I am freed now of all fear, hesitation, and timidity, and, once revived, intend to devoutly wander the earth, imbibing, smelling, sampling, loving whomever I please; touching, tasting, standing very still among the beautiful things of this world.”
— George Saunders, “Lincoln in the Bardo”
Donna is walking home from Budgens with an armful of grocery bags, thinking about everything she needs to do that night, when a hand reaches out and pulls her into an alley.
“Oi!” she says, wrenching her arm away. “I’ll have you know I’ve got pepper spray in my purse, sunshine, and I ain’t afraid to use it.”
Her assailant smiles at her, and it’s so soft—and somehow familiar—that Donna drops her defenses without even meaning to.
“Donna Noble,” the woman says. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Do I know you?” She feels like she knows her, somewhere deep and ringing in her bones.
“That’s the million-quid question.” The woman has a blond bob that she’s clearly growing out; a bonkers-looking jewelry situation in one ear; a long gray coat that seems to blow in its own breeze; short pants that look like they came from a charity shoppe; and chunky boots that have clearly seen better days.
But still: “If you want my wallet, you’ll have to fight me for it,” Donna says, brandishing her pepper spray. (She’d rolled her eyes when her mum had given it to her, but now she was glad for it.)
“I don’t want your wallet, mate,” the woman says.
There’s something so…uncanny about her, and warm. Donna feels like she’s staring into the sun. And it’s then that a dull pressure starts in the back of her skull, growing sharper by the moment. She doubles over without meaning to, the pepper spray—and all her groceries—clattering to the pavement.
The woman catches her, hands firm around her shoulders.
“My head,” Donna grits out.
“I know. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault.”
“No shit, you bleedin’ weirdo!”
The woman crouches before her, eyes shining. “Do you trust me, Donna?”
Donna chokes out a bitter laugh. “ No! ” But the thing is, she does. And she can tell that the other woman knows that she does.
“This is going to pinch a little,” she says, and lightning-quick, a bizarre-looking device materializes in her hand. It looks like a cross between a taser, a digital thermometer, and a checkout scanner.
“Don’t you flippin’ dare,” Donna growls.
“I promise you,” she says, “this is the last time I’ll ever do something without your permission.” And before she can get away, the woman presses the thing into the center of Donna’s forehead. As it pulses acid-green light, it does indeed pinch.
Donna collapses to the ground, but the strange woman throws the machine aside and catches her, lowering her gently till she’s leaned up against a brick wall. She’s watching her intently—lovingly?—but before Donna can decipher the meaning of that expression, her eyes slam shut at the onslaught of a thousand, thousand images:
A cobbled street in ancient Rome. A tentacley thing holding its own brain in its hand. A torn wedding dress. A towering woman with red eyes and eight legs. A giant wasp, flying directly at her. A library as big as a city. A woman in a purple leather jacket with long blond hair and the saddest eyes. Cooing little blobs of fat rising into the night sky. A wrinkled old man in a tiny, nobbly tank. A planet made of diamonds. “Camptown Races”?
They’re coming faster now: The searing heat of a volcano’s guts. An impossible choice, and another, and another. A funny blue box lurching past the stars. A ship with a thousand rooms. A tall man in a blue suit and a long brown coat with the most ridiculous hair, as brilliant as he is foolish, as incandescent as he is pitch-black, as kind as he is ruthless, as funny as he is deadly serious. A genius, a madman, the silliest god.
Her very best friend.
Donna opens her eyes and sees a pair of green ones staring right back at her. His were brown, but somehow she knows: They’re the same.
“Hello!” the Doctor says tremulously.
“You’re a girl.”
“Well isn’t that wizard. ” Donna’s trying to sound flip, but it’s not working in the least, because she’s already crying. She lunges forward and wraps the Doctor in a hug tight enough to bruise. The Time Lord is stiff at first, as if she’s not sure she deserves this affection, but she soon melts into the embrace.
“I missed you so much, you daft alien git,” Donna murmurs into her shoulder. “And I didn’t even know it.”
“Donna. You have no idea,” the Doctor replies.
And then she remembers what he did to her, that day when her brain had filled with cosmic light, and he’d taken her best memories away from her even as she begged him to stop. Donna pushes that sudden anger outward, extricating herself from the hug and shoving the Doctor away, hard.
The Doctor sprawls on the pavement, bob disheveled, looking hurt but not surprised. “I deserve that.”
“Bloody right you do! Didn’t you hear me say no about two hundred times, you arsehole?” Donna says, rising to her feet and brushing herself off. She knows it’s been ages since the Doctor did what he did, but they’ve all just come back, so the wound feels as fresh as if it happened yesterday.
“I have no excuse,” the Doctor says, standing up. “I should never have done that without your permission. I was trying to save your life, and I thought I knew what was best for you. But I’ve lived a long time since then, and I’ve realized that making unilateral decisions on behalf of other people is…maybe not the best approach.”
Donna considers this, and realizes that, when it comes to the Doctor, she needs to recalibrate her definition of ages. “How long’s it been for you?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“I do, actually. Kind of the whole point—you giving me information instead of sucking it out my head.” Donna crosses her arms, playing tough even though she knows the Doctor can probably see right through it.
The Doctor looks slightly ill. “A couple millennia? And, erm…three regenerations ago.”
“And you’re only just now coming back for me, you knob?!”
“I only just figured out how to bring you back without your head exploding!” she says. “Also, and this is going to sound daft, but I think it took being in this body—being a woman—for me to realize how shitty it is when other people—blokes, specifically—decide they know what’s best for you better than you do. And since I used to be one of those blokes, I reckoned I ought to fix the mistakes I still could. Starting with undoing what I did to you.” She scuffs the ground with her boot. “Also, I missed you and wanted to see you again. Selfish old alien, me.”
Donna knows there’s much more to the story than that. There always is, with the Doctor. There’s something behind her eyes that was never behind his—something so lost and unsure. But there’s another thing, too.
“Doctor,” she says carefully, “did you find someone else? After me? After…Rose?”
She expects the Doctor to wince at that name, but she doesn’t. “Oh, loads of someones. Someones upon someones. They all left after a while, of course. Or worse. But…”
And there it is, plain as day on the new-old face of her new-old best mate. “But you’ve got someone now, don’t you? A big someone.”
The Doctor smiles. “Donna Noble. You always could read me like a book.”
“A pulpy paperback. One of those crap ones you get in the checkout line at Sainsbury’s.”
Donna approaches her old friend. “So, who is she? Or…he? Or…they?”
“Her name’s Yaz. Yasmin Khan. She’s from Sheffield and she’s… Oh, Donna, she’s…”
Donna raises her eyebrows and she shoves the other woman again, but gently this time. “You’re in love!”
Love? Me? Naaah. That’s what Donna expects her to say. The old Doctor would have. But instead, she smiles and says, “Yeah. I am.”
“Doctor,” Donna murmurs, feeling soft inside. “Blimey, I’m really happy for you.”
The Doctor looks mortified at the idea that anyone would be happy for her. “What about you? Still with Shaun?”
“How d’ye know about Shaun?”
The Doctor examines her feet sheepishly. “May have stopped by your wedding, before I regenerated. Told your granddad to wish you well.”
It’s this that makes Donna tear up all over again. Even after everything that happened, the Doctor was there. “Yeah,” she says after a long moment. “Yeah, I’m still with Shaun. You’d like him, I think.”
“I’d love to meet him sometime,” her friend says. She looks at Donna hopefully then. She’s a bit like a puppy, this new Doctor. “Listen, have you, er, got anywhere pressing to be, or…”
Donna looks down at her groceries, spilled and broken all over the pavement. “Well, I was on my way home with supper.”
“Oh. Alright then. I won’t, er… Right.” The Doctor looks crestfallen. “Well, I can stop by again, or… I should… Yeah. Yeah I should go. Yeah. I’ll just pop round again sometime and… Alright. Tell Shaun I said… Yeah. Okay.” With this, she turns and starts walking away.
Donna bends down to the ground to grab the nearest thing she can lay her hands on—a jar of Marmite—and whips it at the Doctor’s retreating back. It explodes on contact.
She turns back, eyes wide. “Oi! I just got tomato juice out of that!”
“Well if you don’t want a massive flippin’ stain on your coat, maybe you should stop being an incredibly thick prat. ”
“ What? ” She sounds so much like the old Doctor—her Doctor—when she says it that Donna almost starts crying again.
Donna strides toward her. “’Course I’m comin’ with you. Shaun’ll understand. Just don’t accidentally bring me back home five years in the future, or whatever nonsense.”
“ Obviously, Spaceman. Space…woman. Blimey, that’s gonna take some gettin’ used to. I mean, look at you. You’ve got knockers. ” Feeling slightly unhinged, she puts both hands on the Doctor’s chest and squeezes.
“Oi! Hands off the merchandise!” the Doctor says, batting her away, but she’s laughing.
“Two hearts, two tits,” Donna quips, on a roll now.
“Donna Noble,” the Time Lord says, slinging an arm over her shoulder and pulling her in, “I can’t take you anywhere.”
“You flippin’ kidding me? You can take me everywhere. ”
They stroll down the alley, effortlessly falling into their old rhythms, even after so long apart. Then Donna sees it, parked ignominiously between two overflowing dumpsters: the TARDIS.
Donna extricates herself from the Doctor and sprints toward it, and the doors open wide, as if the old girl had been waiting for her to come back all this time. As she skids to a halt in front of the console—which, like the Doctor, is so different and yet so the same—she runs a hand across the knobs and levers and twisty bits, and her head doesn’t hurt anymore. Not at all.
“To ensure that the self doesn’t shrink, to see that it holds on to its volume, memories have to be watered like potted flowers, and the watering calls for regular contact with the witnesses of the past, that is to say, with friends.”
— Milan Kundera, “Identity”
Chapter 10: A World Without Walls
I’m back! Sorry for the long delay. Here, have some more Donna.
It’s six years later, aboard a Venusian Abstract Painting Guild vessel bound for the Plagura Sector, when the Doctor first notices it. She’s washing her hands in the crew restroom when she catches her reflection in the mirror and gasps.
“Oh god, wot’s happened now?” Donna says from the next sink over.
The Doctor is struck dumb with surprise, simply staring at herself in the mirror.
“Doctor, seriously, you’re scarin’ me a little.”
Right. Not the end of the world. Just another inexplicable thing in a life full of inexplicable things. She turns to her companion. “Donna, I’ve…”
“Bloody hell, are you regenerating or something? Should I go find Yaz? I’ll go find Yaz.”
The Doctor stops her flight with a hand on her wrist. “No. It’s not that. It’s just that I’ve got, erm…a gray hair? Hairs, really.”
Donna gives her one of her most withering looks. “Are you flippin’ kidding me? That’s what L’Oreal is for, you knob.” She grabs a handful of her own red hair. “You think this is one hundred percent natural? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly a spring chicken.”
“You don’t understand. I’m not like you. My body doesn’t age. Not like this.” She turns back to the mirror, examining the offending locks: a gray streak running down one of the shorter sections of hair framing her face. (She’s been growing it out lately, as an experiment—and because Yaz likes it; it now flows down well past her shoulders.) “This is…well, it’s just…”
“ Impossible! ” Donna says in perfect sync with her.
“Oh, bugger, have I become that predictable?”
“Hate to break it to you, sunshine, but you’ve always been that predictable.”
“It’s not funny, Yaz!” the Doctor shouts. But her not-wife can’t seem to stop laughing, as they’re gessoing canvases for the Guild on the upper port deck, with a curving skylight open to the stars.
“Sorry, sorry,” Yaz says, composing herself and wiping a tear from her eye. “It’s just, this is really normal human stuff, and it’s kind of adorable to see you so flummoxed about it.”
“I’m not adorable,” the Doctor grouses, crossing her arms over the front of her paint-splattered rainbow overalls.
“Sure you’re not, Lonely God, ” Yaz says, pecking her on the cheek. “Is this really the first time you’re noticing your gray streak?”
“You knew and you didn’t say anything?!”
Her girlfriend shrugs. “Figured you knew and didn’t care. I mean, I’ve got a few grays. Have done since me late twenties.”
“And they’re very sexy, just like the rest of you,” the Doctor says. (She’s always paid much more attention to Yaz’s face than her own, tracking its changes like weather.) “But I’ve been around for millennia, and it usually takes me at least a hundred years in a body to start showing any signs of aging.” She thinks back with a shudder to her three centuries on Trenzalore.
“So this is weird, then.”
Yaz looks at her probingly. It’s something that would have made the Doctor feel horribly vulnerable in the past, but they’ve been a couple for more than ten years now. She’s got nothing to hide from Yaz anymore, nor would she want to.
“I hadn’t really thought about it before,” the other woman says after a long moment. “But now that you mention it, you do look a bit older than you did when we first met. A few wrinkles that never used to be there.” She runs a finger along the Doctor’s cheek.
The Doctor knows herself—at least, the parts that aren’t trapped inside that fob watch rattling around somewhere in the TARDIS. So she’s surely noticed before now: the laugh lines deepening around her mouth, a new crinkle in her forehead when she raises her eyebrows, a twinge that hits her in the lower back after an average day of running for her life. There’s no denying it: She’s getting, well, older. The way a human would.
“I’m offering you a gift, Doctor,” the Bad Wolf had said, in that nowhere place between existence and existence. “Time. A life. A rest.”
“D’ye think…” Yaz begins, and the Doctor knows she’s already got there herself. Her clever Yaz.
“Maybe? Dunno! And isn’t that exciting, to not know?” The Doctor twirls in a circle, gesticulating with her paintbrush in hand, and she doesn’t realize she’s splattered gesso everywhere until a stone-faced Venusian artist strides up to her, one of their five arms raised in an angry fist.
The Doctor whips out her sonic and begins to erase the stain. “Sorry, sorry,” she says. “Only, I’ve just discovered that I get to find out what aging feels like!”
When the pair of them get back to their quarters that night, the Doctor finds a packet of hair bleach and a bottle of developer in her dimensionally transcendent footlocker, and wonders how in the worlds Donna Noble managed to find a Sally’s Beauty Supply in the middle of interstellar space.
The Doctor, Yaz, and Donna travel in the TARDIS together for another three years after that, dropping in everywhere from Heian-era Japan, where Murasaki Shikibu is just polishing off the final chapters of “The Tale of Genji,” to inauguration of the first transgender president of Second Pangea. All the while, terrible things continue to, miraculously, not happen.
Then, somewhere in Messier-83, Donna meets a brash but softhearted freedom fighter named Hendrick Zhao who sweeps her off her feet.
“But what about Shaun?” the Doctor asks, after Donna has poured her heart out to her two traveling companions in the TARDIS cocktail bar one night over Pimm’s Cups.
Donna gets a distant, sad look in her eyes. “Honestly? We’ve been growing apart ever since I got my memories back.” (She pointedly never says since the Doctor gave me my memories back, because, as she’d made clear years ago, you can’t give what you stole in the first place.) “I’m off flyin’ about with you two so often that I’m pretty sure he’s got someone else on the side anyway. And, frankly, the fact that’s never wanted to come along for the ride is…well, it’s boring, isn’t it?”
Yaz eyes Donna shrewdly. The two of them have become thick as thieves in the years they’ve been traveling together, and it warms the Doctor’s hearts. “You and Shaun haven’t been on the same page for a long time, have you?”
Donna shrugs and fiddles with the cucumber slice in her drink, not meeting Yaz’s eyes. “Sometimes, people just fall out of love.”
The Doctor lies awake that night in bed, turning Donna’s words over in her mind, making herself ill with them. And suddenly she needs to speak to Yaz immediately. When she turns on her side to wake her, the other woman is already watching her in the dark, eyes shining in the moon-blue TARDIS night.
They both speak at the same time, at the same frenzied, desperate pitch.
“Yaz, no matter what, I’ll always—”
“Doctor, you know I would never—”
They smile at each other, and the Doctor feels a weight lifting off her chest. “You first,” she says.
Yaz gathers the Doctor into her arms. “Oh, you already know.”
Donna was right—Shaun has found someone else. But there seem to be no hard feelings between them. The Doctor knows that the years her companion has spent traveling the universe have made Donna realize that serial monogamy isn’t for everyone—and neither is Chiswick.
“You’ve come a long way since you first showed up in my TARDIS in that wedding dress, Donna Noble,” the Doctor says.
“God, wasn’t that thing hideous ?”
They’re standing in the cargo bay of Hendrick Zhao’s 38th-century star skimmer. Donna’s packed up most of her things from the TARDIS, and a familiar pile of suitcases, duffels, and hat boxes sits beside the Doctor’s ship. Her old friend, ready to head off to parts unknown in the company of a Hydran corsair.
The Doctor let Donna raid the TARDIS wardrobe as a going-away present, and she’s put together an ensemble worthy of, well, a Time Lord: a tailored red velvet overcoat with a flipped-up collar and gold accents over a royal blue blouse, tight black trousers, and knee-high silver boots.
“And look at you now,” the Doctor continues. “A regular 38th-century space pirate.”
“Suits me, dontcha think?” Donna says with a cheeky wink.
The Doctor turns her attention to Hendrick, who’s standing a few respectful feet away, fiddling with the switches on the pommel of his laser rapier. She bears down on him, mustering all the intimidating bravado of the Oncoming Storm who made the Daleks run.
“If you ever hurt her,” the Doctor says in a low, dangerous voice, “I will hunt you down across time and space, wrap you in chains forged from Gallifreyan zinc, and throw you into the black heart of a neutron star.”
Far from being cowed, Hendrick lifts his head in defiance. (At moments like this, he reminds her uncomfortably of Jack Harkness.) “Big words, coming from someone who once mind-wiped and abandoned the most brilliant woman in the galaxy. What do you think I might have done to you for that, Doctor?”
The two stare each other down for a long moment before the Doctor’s face cracks into a grin. “Knew I liked you,” she says.
Hendrick smiles back warmly and wraps her in a bear hug, which she returns easily. “You two don’t be strangers, all right?” he says.
“We would never.”
The Doctor turns around to see Yaz and Donna grasping each other’s hands, deep in conversation. She doesn’t mean to eavesdrop, but, well, super sensitive Gallifreyan hearing, and all that.
“You should’ve seen him back then,” Donna’s saying. “Spiky hair, standing in the rain, looking like a wet pencil. He was so lonely. Came off him in waves, like bad B.O.”
Yaz laughs. “She was the same when I first met her. ’Cept she always smelled really, really nice.”
“Oh my god, Khan, it was a simile, alright?” Then, Donna’s expression turns serious. “I’m so bloody glad you two found each other.”
“Seems like the Doctor always finds who she needs to find, yeah?”
“But I’ve never seen her look at anyone the way she looks at you, like she can actually stand still with someone for a moment. At least not since…”
“…Rose,” Yaz finishes for her.
Even years on, it’s a strange experience for the Doctor to hear two of her companions discussing deeply personal parts of her past without feeling a wild, raging panic. Amazing how you can spend centuries stagnating, but a decade changing more than you ever imagined.
“What are you lot talking about?” the Doctor asks, sauntering up to them. “Me, and how brilliant I am?”
“Big head,” Yaz says fondly.
Donna looks between the two of them, then pulls Yaz into a tight embrace. “Take care of that one, won’t you?” she says. “She thinks she’s a genius, but she’s a right dolt.”
“Don’t I know it,” Yaz replies.
“Oi, aren’t you going to tell me to take care of her?” the Doctor chimes in. She may have grown a lot, but she still loathes not being the center of attention.
“Oh, I’m not fussed about Yaz. She can take care of herself. ” Donna moves to the Doctor and brushes back a stray piece of her hair—the gray bit, which has gotten a bit grayer. “S’you I’m worried about.”
And suddenly, she can’t bear to say goodbye to Donna again. It feels like Dårlig Ulv-Stranden all over again, divesting herself of a whole pack of companions, then pulling impossibly cruel tricks on the two she loved the most. She thought she was doing them all a favor, back then: Their lives would be so much easier, free of her mess.
Except, she counsels herself—looking between her best mate, who’s going on her next great adventure, and the love of her life, who’s not going anywhere —it’s nothing like that awful day at all.
The Doctor hugs Donna hard enough to imprint into her skin. “It’s been an honor to travel with you again, Donna Noble. Now, go do fantastic things.”
Donna pulls away and quirks an eyebrow. “Bloody hell, Martian boi, you don’t have to be so flippin’ dramatic about it. We’ve already invited you to Christmas.”
“Ta, we’ll bring a pudding,” Yaz says with a little wave, grabbing the Doctor’s hand and pulling her toward the TARDIS.
And the Doctor allows herself to be pulled along, because, as usual, Donna Noble has made a very good point.
“I look at my yesterdays for months past, and find them as good a lot of yesterdays as anybody might want. I sit there in the firelight and see them all. The hours that made them were good, and so were the moments that made the hours. I have had responsibilities and work, dangers and pleasure, good friends, and a world without walls to live in. These things I still have, I remind myself—and shall have until I leave them.”
— Beryl Markham, “West With the Night”
Alone again once more, the Doctor and Yaz return to their cabin on Blostoverius to find that, left untended for years, the experimental garden has swallowed most of the house. It takes them the better part of a day to cut back the vines around the door without injuring any of the plants; when they finally make it inside, it’s to find a thick layer of dust across all the bric-a-brac they left behind in the excitement of going traveling again, after the Doctor brought Donna back.
“What d’ye reckon?” the Doctor asks, poking at an old, blackened log in the fireplace. “Stay here? More traveling? Home to Sheffield to see the fam?”
Yaz fixes her with a thoughtful expression. “You know, it’s funny—I don’t think of Sheffield as home anymore.”
“Here, the TARDIS, our quarters on the Rothko, 14th-century Svalbard—it all feels like…” She trails off and shakes her head. “Never mind. It’s cheesy.”
“You know I love a good cheddar,” the Doctor says, walking up to her.
Yaz smiles sheepishly and links their arms. “I s’pose it’s just that…as long as you’re there with me, anywhere is home. Even if we’re strung up by our ankles over a sea of acid. …Speaking abstractly, of course.”
“Yasmin Khan,” the Doctor says, pulling her closer. “I quite like it when you get cheesy.”
In the end, they decide to bring Sheffield to them. Yaz invites her parents to stay with them for a little while in their spatially improbable cottage on Blostoverius. In short order, Hakim takes over tending the garden—which suits the Doctor just fine, because her roving attention has since moved on to other projects. And unsurprisingly, he makes it a much more orderly affair than she ever could have dreamed.
Still, the Doctor can’t help putting in her two quid. “I don’t know,” she says over Elaichi chai one night, as the pair of them are sitting on the porch. “I think I prefer it growing wild meself.”
He raises his eyebrows at her through the steam rising from his mug. “Is that why you haven’t married my daughter yet?”
The Doctor lets him have his way with the garden after that.
Meanwhile, Najia takes an interest in the TARDIS, and she and Yaz start taking short mother-daughter trips through the Time Vortex. The Doctor accompanies them sometimes, but she’s also careful to give the two of them their space. Can’t be a Yaz hog, after all. Plenty of Yaz to go around, she counsels herself.
There’s something painfully tender about watching her not-wife teach Najia how to copilot the ship. The Doctor put her trust in Yaz when she first taught her the basics of the controls all those years ago, so it’s not a difficult leap to let her teach her mum to do it. Unbidden, an image of Jackie Tyler at the console floats into the Doctor’s mind, and she laughs so hard that Yaz worries she may be regenerating.
One day, while the Doctor and Yaz are on holiday in 416 BC, Yaz’s phone buzzes persistently all through Aristophanes’ speech at Plato’s Symposium, until he finally stops mid-sentence and glares at her.
“Sorry, should probably take this,” Yaz murmurs, and steps outside.
Just as the Doctor is preparing to explain away 21st-century tech to a bunch of ancient Athenians, she hears a cry from the other side of the door and stands herself. “Sorry, should probably take that,” she echoes.
Hakim, it turns out, has fallen very ill, and not even the Doctor’s genetically engineered butterfly probosci can save him. Back on Earth, an oncologist confirms what the Doctor already suspected: late-stage cancer, detected too late. He hangs on for a few weeks after that, Yaz spending most nights in a chair by his bedside, the Doctor hanging back in the waiting room.
She doesn’t know whether it’s the right thing to do—to give the Khans their space or stay close. So she hovers around the edges, fixing things that she can, because she can’t fix Hakim. (If the staff and patients at Sheffield Teaching Hospital wonder why all the vending machines on the ninth floor now dispense an unlimited supply of custard creams, they never say.)
The man who tended the Doctor’s garden, who loved to make pakora, who helped make wonderful Yaz the wonderful person she became, passes after only a few weeks. The three remaining Khans stand in a tight huddle at the funeral, and the Doctor stands back at a respectful distance. She doesn’t know if it’s the right thing to do; historically, by the time this bit happens, the growing old and getting sick and dying bit, she’s already long gone. She may be the smartest woman in the universe, but right now, she’s sorely out of her depth.
The Doctor expects Yaz might want to stay with her mother and sister for a bit after that; but after the last mourner has left Najia’s apartment, she leans into the Doctor’s shoulder and murmurs, “Let’s go.”
“Where to?” the Doctor asks.
“Anywhere but here.”
The Doctor is prepared to do whatever Yaz says she needs—but the trouble is, her not-wife isn’t giving her much guidance. As an immortal alien orphan, the Doctor has never really understood the concept of parents. So she has no idea what to do with Yaz’s grief, which, once the initial shock of her father’s death has cooled, transforms her into someone distant and unreadable. Yaz has always been so transparent, so communicative, so fierce and bright, and now the Doctor feels like she’s losing the ability to understand her. And she can’t help but feel that it’s somehow her fault.
But dammit, she’s the Doctor, and the Doctor fixes things. So why shouldn’t she be able to fix this? One sleepless night, she drafts a plan on a chalkboard in one of her labs, filling the blank space with comforting charts, graphs, and equations. Across the top, she scrawls: Operation Make Yaz Not Be Sad Anymore.
She begins by taking her partner to the most fun places she can think of: a Harlem salon in the Roaring Twenties, Duke Ellington tickling a piano in the corner of a crowded apartment while Zora Neale Hurston charms the room; the Karwallorzian Fun Fair of 3429, when the Korwallorzians first debuted their famed puppy-bearing flying firework trees, which miraculously don’t harm the puppies but in fact delight them. They even go to the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, which to be fair, may be an event only the Doctor finds fun.
But none of it helps. If anything, it only seems to make Yaz more remote, more despairing.
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor says to her in the console room, shaking Korwallorzian confetti out of her hair. “I feel like I’m letting you down.”
Yaz glares at her with red-rimmed eyes. “Oh, really? Is that how you feel ?” Her voice drips with uncharacteristic sarcasm.
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Have you ever considered that maybe, just this once, what I’m going through isn’t about you, Doctor?”
Before the Doctor can formulate a response, Yaz throws her silver Korwallorzian party robes onto the jumpseat and disappears down the hall.
“That was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it,” the Doctor says to no one.
The Doctor moves on to phase two of her plan: distracting Yaz from her sadness by giving her complicated historical problems to solve.
But for some reason, Yaz isn’t keen on helping rebuild the government of Gallardia 6 in the aftermath of the Gallardian Spring, or in helping Marie Curie crack the secrets of radium.
“I don’t get it,” the Doctor says one evening as they’re wandering the streets of Fin de Siècle Paris after a long day in the lab with Marie. Yaz is walking ahead of her, head bowed, lost in some bubble of grief the Doctor can’t penetrate.
“What don’t you get?” Yaz says. She sounds so exhausted and defeated.
“How to make you happy again.”
Yaz whirls around and glares at her as if the Doctor had just kicked a kitten. “Excuse me?” Her voice is low and dangerous.
“I’ve tried everything,” the Doctor continues. “I even made charts! And graphs! But you’re still sad.”
She’s never seen Yaz look more wounded and betrayed—not even that day when the Doctor coldly rebuffed her on Gallifrey. She braces for her partner to lose her temper, break down, anything. But instead, a veil falls over her face. “I’m going to find a hotel to stay at tonight,” she says quietly.
“Yaz…” the Doctor begins, with no idea where she’s going to end.
“Go finish what you need to with Madame Curie. I’ll meet you at the TARDIS in a couple of days.”
“Where will you go?”
Yaz’s eyes are shining with unshed tears when she replies, “Somewhere I don’t have to pretend to be happy.”
The Doctor reaches for her, but Yaz pulls away. “Have fun, Doctor,” she says, and vanishes into the lamplit Paris night. And the Doctor feels like a hole has opened up in the center of her chest.
True to her word, Yaz is waiting in the console room two days later. The Doctor has missed her like a limb. She wants to run to her, hold her close, but Yaz is standing with her arms crossed tightly across her chest, leather jacket zipped up to her shirt collar, all her walls up.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” the Doctor says, then reaches for a joke. “Always told you lot not to wander off.”
Yaz’s expression goes pitch-black at this, and the Doctor knows she’s said the wrong thing. (It’s so hard to know what the right thing is, these days.)
“Yaz, I want to help. I love you! But I’m cocking this all up.”
The other woman turns away. “I’d like you to drop me back home in Sheffield. I need to be with my family right now.”
Home. The idea of home simply being the place where you come from is such a foreign concept to the Doctor. It has been ever since she stole this TARDIS twelve regenerations ago. Gallifrey never felt like home, and that’s become even truer since the revelations of the Master and Tecteun.
As long as you’re there with me, anywhere is home, Yaz had told her not too long ago, but it feels like it’s been a lifetime since then. But this is the first time Yaz has said what she does want in months, so the Doctor seizes on it like a lifeline. “No problem. We’ll head to Sheffield, stay at your mum’s, or at your old apartment—wherever you like.”
For a moment, Yaz looks as if she’s going to crack open, but she quickly closes herself off again. “No. I’m going alone.”
“Oh.” The Doctor feels around for the right thing to say, and once more comes up with empty hands. “All right. If that’s what you want.”
Yaz does break open then, and it shakes the TARDIS to its very core. “No, Doctor, that’s not what I want ! I want you to be there for me, as my girlfriend! As my partner! As my not-bloody-wife!”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do this whole time!” the Doctor shouts.
“Well, you’ve been doing a terrible fucking job! You’ve been making me feel like shite! Like I have to…I don’t know, perform being okay for you!” Tears are streaming down her face now. “But I’m not. I’m not okay. My father died. It hurts. ”
“I know, I know, and I’m sor—”
“Oh, stop bloody apologizing as if you have the slightest inkling of how I feel! As if you’ve experienced a single human emotion even once in the thousands of years you’ve been faffing around the timestream!”
“I’m not human, Yaz!” the Doctor shouts. “How many times do I have to say it?”
The anger goes out of Yaz then, and it’s replaced by something so far worse. “You’re right. You’re not. You’ve told me that so many times, but I never got it through my thick head.”
“You’re not thick. You’re brilliant!”
Yaz holds up a trembling hand. “Stop it. Please. Just…stop.” She sighs and cradles her forehead against her hand. “All those times you told me I shouldn’t get attached to you, that you were no good for me… I didn’t want to listen, because I loved you so much.”
The Doctor feels something foundational crack inside her at this use of the past tense.
“But you were right,” Yaz continues. “We’re too different.”
“Are you… Are you…breaking up with me?” the Doctor asks, voice so small.
“Since it seems I have to spell everything out for you: Yes, Doctor. I’m breaking up with you.” Then Yaz begins to move around the console, coldly, methodically, throwing the switches and turning the dials that will take the TARDIS to Sheffield, 2034.
“Yaz, please.” It’s all the Doctor can get out right now—it’s so hard to speak, or stand, or breathe. She feels as if all the air has left her body.
But the other woman pays her no mind, throwing the final lever that will send them hurtling down to Earth.
The TARDIS lands with nary a thud or jolt; Yaz is the steadiest pilot the Doctor’s ever known. It’s just one of a thousand things about her that make her absolutely extraordinary. Then she picks up her luggage—so little, even after so many years—and walks toward the doors.
The Doctor stops her with a gentle hand on her shoulder. Her words, usually too numerous for polite company, have all fled. All she can manage is: “Don’t go.”
Yaz’s beautiful lips, the ones she’s kissed innumerable times, curl into a sneer. “Get off me, Doctor,” she hisses, ripping herself away from the Doctor’s touch.
And, oh, Yaz. Clever Yaz. She couldn’t have cut deeper if she tried.
So the Doctor moves to one side, leaving her a clear path to step through the TARDIS doors and out of her life.
“Grief is an amputation, but hope is incurable hemophilia: you bleed and bleed and bleed.”
— David Mitchell, “Slade House”
The Doctor’s bewilderment over how to help Yaz through her grief in this chapter is inspired by a time in my life when a dear friend lost her brother, and I couldn’t figure out the best way to support her—so much so that our friendship was never the same afterward. This all happened years ago, and we recently had a frank conversation about it and mended a lot of fences, so it was fresh in my mind.
Chapter 12: All the Umbrellas in London
A few more chapters of angst, but I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!
(Also, just a little note that the emotional fallout from writing this chapter factored heavily into a recent mushroom trip 🍄)
Given the long, tragic span of her many lives, the Doctor is certain she’s felt more lost than this before. But right now, alone in the TARDIS for the first time in years, she can’t recall a time when she’s been more at sea. Eager to be anywhere but 21st-century Sheffield, she flings her ship into the familiar womb of the time stream which, without Yaz, is the closest thing she’s got to a home. She steadies herself against the console, feeling sick, then returns to a familiar old crutch: angry bravado.
“Is this what you brought me back for?” she shouts to the Bad Wolf in absentia. “To have everything I ever wanted, and then fuck it all up?”
There is, of course, no answer.
“I’ve changed my mind! Give me a crisis! Break the universe again! Throw me at a whole army of Daleks! Put me in, coach!”
All the energy drains from her in the ensuing silence, and she falls to her knees on the grating. “Please,” she says, her voice breaking. “Anything but this.”
The Doctor loses track of how many days she spends floating in the vortex, suspended in this nowhere place between everything and everywhere.
Without her prompting, the TARDIS sets up a new bedroom for her, filing away the one she shared with Yaz somewhere far down in its infinite labyrinth of forgotten rooms. This new one matches the Doctor’s mood—gray and unadorned and empty, just a twin-sized bed, a nightstand, and an armchair. She opens what she assumes is the closet and finds a sidewalk in the rain—a vague approximation of a lonely London street where it’s always a soggy January afternoon.
She lies down on her back on the cold pavement and lets the downpour soak her to the bone, grateful to the TARDIS for giving her a place where she can be as melodramatic as she likes without any prying eyes. Eventually, she walks back into her room and finds a fluffy towel folded neatly on the bedspread and a late 1990s-era Earth boombox on the nightstand with a thick compact disc box sitting beside it: “69 Love Songs” by a band called the Magnetic Fields.
She shrugs and puts the discs on shuffle while she towels off her hair and changes into dry clothes. And oh, blimey, does the TARDIS have her number. A man whose vocal quality she might qualify as a Star Whale if it could sing in English begins to moan:
Time stands still
All I can feel is the time standing still
As you put down the keys
And say, “Don't call me, please”
While the radio plays
I think I need a new heart
I think I need a new heart…
“Are you taking the mickey?” the Doctor asks the TARDIS, which vwoorps noncommittally in response. And she gets it: With these small gifts, her ship is reminding her that she’s not alone—that she’s never alone, as long as she has her first, oldest companion.
“I wanted to see the universe,” she remembers the TARDIS saying, that day on the asteroid House when she briefly took humanoid form. “So I stole a Time Lord and I ran away.”
“Well old girl,” the Doctor says, patting the wall fondly. “Let’s keep running, shall we?”
The Doctor figures out a way to pipe the boombox into the console room, and she listens to “69 Love Songs” on an endless loop as she careens through the cosmos in search of distractions. She finds tracks for her manic highs and her depressive lows alike—“Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long” for her trip into the heart of a sentient nebula; “The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be” when she barely manages to stop a stranded cargo ship’s crew from resorting to cannibalism; “Busby Berkeley Dreams” after she goes to see Chet Baker’s final concert in West Germany, a few weeks before he overdosed; and over and over, in any situation, “I Don’t Want to Get Over You.” (She invariably skips past “The Book of Love.”)
She barely escapes with her life from a firefight between the Judoon and the Sontarans, and belts out “Papa Was a Rodeo” at the top of her lungs while she patches up her wounds in the TARDIS infirmary.
To the strains of Stephin Merrett’s tortured baritone, the Doctor throws herself in the way of danger after danger, reckless for the sake of recklessness. Maybe if she regenerates, she can finally move on. But over and over again, she walks away relatively unscathed; and she knows her “gift” from the Bad Wolf must have something to do with that. She finds herself wishing for Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Silence, Davros—anything and anyone that wants to annihilate her; but they never make an appearance.
Her mobile buzzes with concerned messages from Donna, asking why she and Yaz missed Christmas; from Dan, asking if she needs a friend; and a few from Ryan and Graham that she can’t bring herself to look at because of their proximity to Yaz. She ignores the lot, and considers chucking her phone into the heart of the TARDIS to lie dormant beside that wretched fob watch. Instead, she puts it on airplane mode (which, given the circumstances of her life, is a bit hilarious) and chucks it into a pile of broken TARDIS parts in one of her many neglected workshops.
Then she’s the Lonely God once more, bouncing around time and space like a rubber ball, never staying anywhere long, keeping a careful distance from anyone who knows her or seems like they might want to befriend her.
But as it tends to, the Doctor’s past catches up with her, at a dive bar on a remote mining station somewhere in interstellar space. She’s slumped in a stool, nursing a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in the aftermath of a fist fight with a trio of rogue Slitheen bounty hunters that has left her with a black eye and a fat lip. She’s taken to wearing old black punk T-shirts and hoodies she found in a forgotten heap in the TARDIS wardrobe, an overall look that she hopes renders her unrecognizable.
“Doctor!” a bright American-accented voice says, accompanied by a strong hand clapping her on the back. “Gotta say, loving the ‘Million Dollar Baby’ look. Very different for you. Very sexy.”
“Go away, Jack,” she mutters without bothering to turn around. Of course it would be him who would find her, here at the arse end of deep space.
“When have you ever known that line to work on me?” He pulls up a stool beside her and orders a Pooshian Scotch on the rocks (which, in this case, are actual moon rocks).
When she doesn’t respond, he starts riffing. “ How’ve you been, Jack? Oh, thank you for asking, Doctor! I’m doing great! Just got railed by a smuggler from Zainofyr with three dicks! Oh, that’s brilliant, Jack! I’m so happy for your asshole! Why thank you, Doctor!”
“Having fun talking to yourself?” the Doctor says flatly.
“Man, I haven’t seen you this grumpy since your big ears–black leather jacket days.”
The Doctor finishes her drink and signals the twelve-armed bartender for another.
“Shit,” Jack murmurs. He can feel his eyes on her, reading the situation. “How long since you last saw her?”
The Doctor appreciates the shorthand between them that’s allowed her to skip the explaining part. “Ten months, twelve days, fifteen hours, and seven minutes,” she says.
“Fuck. I’m sorry. Well, I’d buy you a drink, but it looks like you’re all set in that department,” he says. “How about some antiseptic?”
The Doctor waves one bruised hand dismissively. “It’ll mend. Always does.”
She braces for Jack to chew her out, demand details, stage an intervention—or worse, try to get her to open up about her feelings. Instead, he offers every breezy detail of his latest conquests, rattles off a list of movie recommendations, and challenges the Doctor to an arm-wrestling contest. And she’s deeply grateful; if she had to cross paths with anyone familiar right now, she’s glad it’s her most hedonistic (and most functionally immortal) acquaintance.
The night slips away from her at some point, and she wakes up in her own bed in the TARDIS with a headache that could take down a Rachnoss. With a groan, she looks to her left and sees a glass of water on the nightstand—and, in the corner, Captain Jack Harkness sprawled out in an armchair in his shirtsleeves, fast asleep.
“Good man,” the Doctor murmurs, and thanks whatever bastard god has been messing with her for old friends.
“What the hell is this crap?” Jack asks, striding into the TARDIS kitchen as she’s brewing tea.
It takes the Doctor a moment to realize he means the music. “This? It’s ‘No One Will Ever Love You’ by the Magnetic Fields.”
He looks at her incredulously. “You know that bumming yourself out when you’re already bummed out is an extremely emo teenager move, right?”
“It’s being performatively self-pitying circa the early 2000s, and as an ancient Time Lord, you’re better than that.”
“I’m not a Time Lord,” the Doctor says.
“Came out of a wormhole and the Gallifreyans experimented on me to crack the secret of regeneration. So. Not a Time Lord.”
“Oooookay,” Jack says. “That’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start with: You go take a shower and put on some clothes that don’t look like you stole them from a Hot Topic, and I’ll make you breakfast.”
“What’s a Hot Topic?”
The Doctor can’t exactly blame Jack for hurling “69 Love Songs” into the trail of a passing comet, but it’s still a crap thing to do. He then instructs her to land the TARDIS on what he describes—and, in fact, is—a gay clubbing planet where it’s always night and the atmosphere produces an organic phenomenon that looks exactly like a laser light show.
“Trust me—the best way to get over a breakup is by getting back out there,” Jack says, as he’s waiting for her to change into an outfit he picked out for her from the TARDIS wardrobe.
“But I don’t want to be with anyone else,” the Doctor says.
He sighs. “I’m not saying you should find someone to date. I’m saying you should just have some fun, for chrissake.”
“I look ridiculous in this.” She steps out in a curve-hugging mesh camisole, tight black jeans, and a cropped hot pink blazer.
“Are you kidding?” Jack says, fixing her lapels. “You’re a fucking smokeshow.”
A few minutes later, the pair of them step out of the TARDIS and into a vast sea of gyrating bodies of every species, gender, and sexuality. “Welcome to Lapis!” Jack announces, decked out in only a leather harness and matching hot pants.
Electropop remixes of soul songs seem to emanate from everywhere and nowhere, as if the whole planet were one giant speaker. Ooh, maybe it is! Maybe she should go investigate that!
She opens her mouth to tell Jack just that, but he cuts her off. “No, you’re not going to investigate whether the planet is one giant speaker. You’re here to get laid. ”
“I don’t know if one-night stands are really my style,” she says. “I’m much better at looking for subatmospheric sound systems.”
“Have you had a one-night stand before?”
“Not in this body, no.” (She certainly had her fair share when she was in her tenth form, who had a thing for historical noblewomen.)
“Oh, Doc. You of all people should know that every hypothesis needs to be tested before it can be proven.” And with that, he shoves her into the heart of the sweaty, glitter-soaked throng.
The whole planet positively reeks of pheromones, and it’s all the Doctor can do not to keel over from how overwhelming it all is. A tall, green-skinned Spollarian woman strides up to her as she lingers at the edge of the crowd. She is, objectively, beautiful. But she’s no Yasmin Khan.
Still, the Doctor thinks of Jack’s words and decides to at least have a chat. It soon devolves into her telling story after story about Yaz and how amazing she is and how badly she misses her, and the Spollarian’s flirtatious smirk gradually falls into a bored frown.
“Gods alive. I can see why she ditched you,” the woman says, and leaves the Doctor alone once more.
She beats a speedy retreat to the TARDIS, because crying in the middle of the dance floor would be too mortifying for words. The ship remains parked on Lapis for a day or so, but Jack never reappears, doubtless having gotten caught up in some orgy or other. So the Doctor puts the TARDIS into gear, figuring he can find his own way off-world; if history is anything to go on, they’ll run into each other again before long.
That’s the thing about Jack Harkness: Since he can’t die, he’s the one companion she’s never had to worry about. And what a massive relief that is, to be able to cut ties with zero guilt.
The Doctor’s next stop is Thanatos 12, the graveyard planet. She walks for miles through the windswept necropolis, past crumbling mausoleums, over the graves of paupers and long-forgotten heads of state alike. “ Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay, might stop a hole to keep the wind away, ” she recites under her breath.
Finally, she finds the place she came here for: a vine-choked abbey that’s home by an order of nuns called the Brides of Death.
“Doctor,” the Mother Superior says, stepping out of the central doors just as the she’s approaching.
“Ah, my reputation precedes me once again,” the Doctor says.
The abbess shakes her head. “The vanity of the undying.”
“Yeah… About that. Was wondering if you had any tips for comforting mortals on the subject of, well, mortality.”
“Talk less,” the Mother Superior replies, then vanishes into the dark of a long hallway.
“…Smile more?” the Doctor calls after her retreating form, before realizing that “Hamilton” references are likely lost on the Brides of Death.
Having come no closer to understanding the wages of mortal mourning on Thanatos 12, the Doctor retreats to the TARDIS’s twenty-eighth library to see if there are any books that might help. It’s while browsing contemporary memoirs that she finds one called “H Is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald, about a woman grieving her father by training a wild goshawk.
“Should I get Yaz a falcon?” she says aloud. “ Hullo, Yaz, I’m sorry I was such a berk to you. Here, have this bird of prey to take care of! Ugh. No.” She flings the book across the room, disgusted at herself.
But later that night, she finds it waiting on her nightstand. “Fine. I’ll read it,” she tells the TARDIS. Afterward, one paragraph, in particular, sticks to the roof of her mouth:
“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.”
That, the Doctor can understand.
She loses the thread again, managing to evade everyone she’s ever known (the future Face of Bo included), every place she’s ever been, every mirror she’s ever faced. She travels from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe and back again without incident. She finds ways to save whole worlds while speaking to no one. She’s a shadow, a whisper, flesh made word.
The Doctor doesn’t need sleep, precisely, but she ought to sleep, especially at the rate she’s been going. But she’d rather avoid her unconscious mind just about now—and the places it might take her.
In 2172 Aberdeen, a clairvoyant teen gives her a holographic video game system, and she gets lost for days in virtual adventures that are, really, less exciting than the ones she’s had in her actual life. Still, it’s nice to pretend to be someone else for a little while.
In ancient Mesopotamia, a shaggy street dog adopts the Doctor despite her best efforts to be left alone. He follows her back to the TARDIS, and of course she lets him stay. After all, there’s nothing the Doctor loves so dearly as a stray.
She refuses to give him a name, because right now, she doesn’t want to take responsibility for any living thing’s welfare. But she takes care of him all the same, and finds that keeping him fed and walked and entertained stops her from falling into total oblivion. It’s nice to be needed again, in the most essential and basic of ways.
“You’re going to die one day, you know,” she tells him one night as they’re sharing a bench on the rainy London street in her closet. “But you’re a simple creature with only a moderately developed brain, so you don’t even know you’re going to die, or even about death as a concept. I envy you that.”
In response, he puts his massive paws on her her lap and licks her face until she’s laughing too hard to keep sulking.
One timeless day, the Doctor looks up from a nest of broken wires she’s soldering back together and realizes that more than three years have passed since she last saw Yasmin Khan. And despite hanging on by the thinnest of threads, despite the despair that has oozed into every corner of her life like a Vashta Nerada, she’s still here, still herself, still carrying on. She’s light years away from okay, and the soul-deep wound inside her has only barely begun to scab over, but she’s here. And that’s something, isn’t it?
It’s at that moment, when the Doctor has barely glimpsed a glow of sunlight through the clouds, that the TARDIS gives a sickening lurch. And she immediately knows something is very wrong.
“No, no, no,” she mutters, moving around the console, pulling levers and smashing buttons, to no avail. The TARDIS seems to be driving itself now. Then the ship smashes into something, hard, and the Doctor is thrown to the grating. “What the hell are you doing?!” she shouts up at the time rotor. But her TARDIS, usually so easy to converse with, doesn’t answer.
And then she feels it pushing through whatever the barrier is, fighting against something impossibly large, and the Doctor fears she’s heading into that space between worlds where Division lies in wait. Whatever it is, it’s agony, and it’s making the Doctor feel sick.
With another lurch, the TARDIS finally breaks through, and she can sense that it’s entered a planetary atmosphere. When it lands, the Doctor is both relieved and terrified.
“Where have you taken us?”
The TARDIS vwoorps once, petulantly.
“Well, fuck you too,” the Doctor grumbles, and opens the doors.
She immediately recognizes it from the William Heaton Cooper landscapes in the TARDIS’s 416th art gallery, and from her own past experience: the Lake District of North West England, verdant and mountainous under a cloudy sky, the valley shrouded in fog. She walked these hills once with Wordsworth and Coleridge—whom she’d always regretted taking with her on a trip to the planet Xanadu. And her hearts lurch, because all the green and beauty around her reminds her of Blostoverius, and the little home she’d built there with Yaz.
She distracts herself from that depressing thought by turning to her favorite coping mechanism: figuring out what the hell is going on. If she’s in this familiar location, it shouldn’t have been so hard for the TARDIS to get here. She pulls out her sonic and scans the air; sure enough, Earth, U.K., 21st century—a place and time she knows better than almost any other.
Then she sees it, drifting past just beneath the cloud cover, unmistakable: a zeppelin.
“Oh, bollocks,” she says to no one in particular.
“If I live through the night, I could be all right
It'll make a good song or something
I've been trying to give myself reasons to live
But I really can't think of one thing
I drive around
I walk around in circles
'Cause I've got no sense of direction
I guess I've got no sense at all”
— The Magnetic Fields, “All the Umbrellas in London”
It takes the Doctor the better part of a day to trek to the summit of Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. The climb is exhausting, but it clears the cobwebs in her head enough to help her think. How did the TARDIS make it back to Pete’s World without breaking the universe? And for that matter, why? She’s wary of trying to travel anywhere on her ship just yet, for fear of doing any further damage than she may have already done—at least not until she can properly assess the situation.
Despite the popularity of the hike, the summit is deserted—which suits her just fine right about now. Meeting new people is normally the Doctor’s favorite pastime; but not today. The weather has cleared a bit, and she can see for kilometers in every direction, as far east as Wray Castle and as far west as the Irish Sea.
It’s peaceful up here, wind-tossed and lonely—a good place to be as melodramatically sad as she feels right now. Unbidden, her thoughts travel to another peak, on Blostoverius. “There was neither voice nor crested image, no chorister, nor priest. There was only the great height of the rock and the two of them standing still to rest.”
Well, there’s only one of her on this rock today.
Just as she has this thought, a tall, lean figure emerges from behind the summit shelter, silhouetted by the cloudy daylight. He’s hanging his head, seeming to look inward instead of at the vista around him. Part of her wants to run in the opposite direction and remain alone with her desolate thoughts. But even at a distance, this man gives off the air of someone who’s very lost and very sad.
And whatever else is going on in her life, she’s still the Doctor; and the Doctor helps.
“Hullo?” she calls across the space between them, moving toward him. He lifts his head at her voice, pauses for a long moment, and picks up a rucksack at his side. As she watches him walk, picking his way across the jagged rocks with a gangly sort of grace, she feels a bone-deep sense of familiarity.
Cloister bells are already ringing in her head by the time she’s close enough to make out his face; but it’s too late. When they’re only a few feet away from each other, he tilts his head to one side to regard her, like a curious cat. Those brown eyes are just as fathomless and haunted as they were when she saw them in the mirror a thousand years ago, and that hair is just as wild.
As for his expression, it’s as dark as she’s ever seen it.
“Well,” he says. “You’re the last person I expected to see up here.”
They sit on a pair of boulders a few feet apart, looking out over the landscape instead of at each other.
“How long’s it been for you?” he asks.
“A millennium, give or take. And three regenerations,” the Doctor replies. “You?”
“Ohhh, about 15 years.”
She can see it on his face, this half-human clone of a man she once was, made in haste, forged in fire. His russet hair has gone salt-and-cinnamon, and he’s grown a beard that softens the sharp contour of his jaw. There are crow’s feet around his eyes and deep lines etched into his forehead, and he’s somehow even skinnier than he was before. In place of his trademark suit and Chucks, he’s wearing a burgundy wool peacoat with the collar turned up against the wind, a gray cable-knit sweater, brown corduroys, and black Doc Martens. Still a peacock, to be sure, but somewhat muted.
“What are you calling yourself these days?” she asks.
“Still the Doctor. He may have taken a lot from me, but he couldn’t take that.” He turns to look at her. “Or I suppose I should say you couldn’t.”
She nods. Another old hurt, another sin to atone for. But the last person she’s ever thought to apologize to is herself. Instead, she says, “Should I ask you why you’re up here?”
“Without Rose, you mean?” His voice breaks on the name, then repairs itself just as quickly.
“I suppose, yes.” Her past meetings with herself have always been manic, blustery affairs, but she and this version of herself—ironically, the two with the biggest gobs—are both too weighted down with sorrow for all that.
“Why else?” he says. “I cocked it all up. I hurt her. So I came up here to be, y’know, melodramatically gloomy.”
“Figured. I just wanted to hear it from you.”
His head turns sharply. “Why are you up here?”
“Same thing. Different her.”
He lets out a bitter laugh. “I never bloody change, do I?”
“No, you do. You just change back sometimes.”
“And was the Scafell Pike in your universe not up to snuff?” he asks. “Because unless the rules have quite drastically shifted, I don’t think you’re meant to be on this side of the void.”
“I’m aware of that, thanks,” she shoots back, miffed at being scolded by, well, herself. “It wasn’t my idea. TARDIS went rogue. You know how she gets sometimes.”
His eyes go hollow at the mention of his lost ship, and she regrets even mentioning it. But she’ll probably need his help if she’s ever going to get back home.
They’re silent for a long time after that, the other Doctor tenting his hands and gazing west, tapping his long, restless fingers against each other. After a while, he leans toward her and points to a spot on the distant horizon.
“See that island out there?” he says. “A few miles off the coast of Whitehaven?”
The Doctor squints at where he’s pointing, and spots it after a bit of searching: a jut of stone, black and against the waves. “I do.”
“It’s called Fairy Rock. Ever heard of it?”
The Doctor scans her considerable memory banks and comes up empty. “No, actually,” she says in wonder. “Blimey, you know something I don’t. ”
He smiles a little. “Well, how about that.”
“So tell me, Doctor.”
“There’s a local legend,” he begins, “that the island was once inhabited by—”
“–fairies. Yes, obviously,” she interrupts.
“Oi! I’m telling this one.”
“Sorry, sorry. Go on.”
“ As I was saying, the island was once inhabited by, yes, fairies. ”
The Doctor can’t help herself. “Ten points to me!”
“Bloody hell, am I this annoying?”
“Absolutely you are.”
The other Doctor rolls his eyes and continues. “ Anyway, these fairies were immortal and magical and beautiful and all that. But one day, a human man rowed out to the rock on a dare from his friends, on a dark night when there was no moon. And when he disembarked, he saw an ethereal light shining from the mouth of a cave near the top.
“So he climbed the rock and went in, naturally, because, you know, humans. And inside was a fairy queen, as radiant as he was plain. So, as these things tend to go, the queen and the man fell in love and started having lots of ill-advised sex, even though they both knew the whole thing was doomed. And then he fucked it all up and died, and she was sad forever. The end.”
“Bit anticlimactic, that,” the Doctor says.
“Such is bloody life.”
She considers for a moment. “I suppose he would’ve died before her anyway. He just sped things up. S’pose he did her a favor.”
“Ah,” he says. “I see we are in the same mood.”
The Doctor can’t quite bring herself to smile at that. “So in this scenario, are you the queen, or the man?”
He frowns. “The man, I suppose.”
“And how did he fuck it all up?” she asks, knowing she’s giving him an opening to answer a different question.
He picks up a rock and weighs it in his hand. “Well, he was grumpy all the time, and rather depressed, and he let all the excitement go out of their lives.” He lifts his arm and chucks the rock into the void. The gesture reminds her painfully of that day with Yaz on the coast of the China Sea, years ago now. It was cloudy then, too.
“And then, quite suddenly,” he says, running his fingers through the stones at his feet, “the queen’s little brother died. And the man didn’t know how to handle it, and he made everything even more awful. And then he…he left.”
She turns to him. “Not Tony?”
“Accidental overdose. He fell in with some bad mates at school, and…” The other Doctor pauses, his expression wrecked. “He was only sixteen years old.”
“And you left ?”
He looks at her, eyes moist. “I tried to help, but I was making it so much worse for her—for the whole family, really. Daft, distant, useless Doctor. Jackie always told me so, but I never understood how right she was until everything pitched sideways and I had no idea how to help. I could see it every day, how much I was hurting her. My Rose.” He flings another rock off the mountain before continuing. “So early one morning while she was asleep, I packed a bag and hopped a train north. Been on the move ever since. Just…wandering. S’all I’m good for. Not strong enough to be a Time Lord, not kind enough to be a human.” He lets out a sob. “I couldn’t… I can’t…”
The Doctor rises to her feet and glares down at him with thunder in her eyes. “So you thought the best thing to do would be to abandon her and hurt her more ?”
“You don’t know what it’s been like!” he shouts, standing too. “I’m no good at this. You made me and then you left me here, with one heart and one life and no TARDIS, and expected me to pick up the pieces of what you’d done to Rose!”
“I gave you a gift ! I gave you what I always wanted but couldn’t have! What we always wanted!”
“She’s not a gift, she’s a person !” His voice is so loud that it echoes down the mountain and reverberates through the valley.
That stops the Doctor cold, and she feels tears pricking her eyes, too.
“She’s a person. The most extraordinary, brave, kind, wonderful person,” he continues. “And I’m… I’m the worst kind of disappointment. She deserves so much better than me.”
It’s so close to what she’s thought about herself these past few years that it’s suddenly impossible to think of him as other. He’s the Doctor. They’re the Doctor.
So, potential catastrophic paradoxes be damned, she closes the distance between them and embraces his bony frame as tightly as she can. He’s stiff in her arms at first, but after a few moments, he hugs her back just as fiercely.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m so sorry.”
“That’s supposed to be my line,” he says wetly.
“Sort of an evergreen sentiment, when it comes to you and me.”
They stay like that for an immeasurable amount of time, the wind whipping around them, two people who are also one person, alone up there at the top of the world. The Doctor has hated herself in every incarnation to some degree, but it’s easier to be kind when yourself is another person standing in front of you holding their single heart in their hands. Now, she understands why the TARDIS broke the laws of the universe to bring her here.
“Go back to her,” she says after they break apart. “I know Rose Tyler, and no matter how bad you think you are for her, trust me: She’d rather have you there than not. Hell, she once stared into the bloody Time Vortex to get back to us!”
The other Doctor nods and lets out a small sob. “I miss her so much.”
“I know you do.”
“I don’t know how to make it better. How to fix this awful thing that’s happened.”
“You can’t,” she says. “I know that’s what we do, but you can’t fix this. All you can do is be there for her. Give her space. And time.”
The other Doctor chuckles at that, and she realizes what she’s said.
“Not that kind of space and time. Bloody hell, why can I never stop punning?”
“It’s a tic,” he says. “Can’t be helped.”
“You and I aren’t brilliant at sticking around when things get hard, when the people left behind have to pick up the pieces—all that messy stuff after the dust has cleared,” she continues.
“Which is why we always run.”
“Exactly. But you’re mortal now, just like her. Which means you’ve got a better chance of figuring it out than I do.”
“What if I can’t?” the other Doctor asks, and he sounds like a small boy, lost in the woods.
“All that matters is that you make an effort. That you listen. That you don’t try to fix her, like she’s a bloody TARDIS component.” A memory comes to her then—a small moment. “There’s this song Yaz played me once by this Swedish bloke. The chorus goes: You don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully. ”
He cocks his head. “Yaz?”
“Yasmin Khan. My her.” The Doctor smiles sadly.
He puts his hand in his pockets and makes a show of thinking it over. “Let me guess: She’s from 21st-century Britain, she wears a lot of leather jackets, and she’s extremely adventurous—and extremely kind.”
“We do have a type, don’t we?” she says with a laugh.
“We certainly do.” He sits down again, and she does the same. “So how about you? Are you the human man or the fairy queen?”
“The fairy queen, I suppose. If she were a complete wanker.” The Doctor sighs. “Yaz lost someone too. Her dad. They were very close. And I tried everything to make her feel better, but nothing worked. I was only making it worse. I thought I could just make her be happy again, which I now know is rubbish, obviously. So she left to go back home, and I…”
She trails off, eyes going wide with epiphany. Beside her, the other Doctor gives her a you’re almost there, just a bit more look. “Oh, bollocks, I’m no better than you, am I?”
“You are me.”
“Bloody hell. We suck.”
A grin spreads across his face. “We really suck.”
“But wonderful people fall in love with us anyway!”
“Ye p, ” he says, popping the P.
A silence stretches between them, comfortable this time. Then he looks toward Whitehaven again. “Y’know, there’s something else I didn’t tell you about Fairy Rock.”
“In the universe we come from, a terrible storm hit the seacoast in 1872. The waves tore the island apart, and the rest is underwater now. But in this universe, the storm never happened, and Fairy Rock is still there. No explanation for it. It just…is!” He turns to her with the gleeful grin she always wore so well, when she was him. “I know we don’t really believe in anything, but I wonder if there isn’t something in the universe that’s bigger than us, kinder than us.”
“I mean, I certainly hope so. No one should let us be the most powerful thing out there.”
“I reckon we could learn a thing or two from a universe that tries its very best to be just a little bit better.”
The Doctor gazes out at the distant black dot of Fairy Rock, still intact, and feels something like hope.
“So. Are you gonna go back to her?” she asks. “Rose?”
The other Doctor holds his right hand against his chest, over his single heart. “On my hands and knees. With everything good that’s left in my rotten soul. And if she’ll have me, I’ll never leave her side till this ridiculous half-ape body expires and decays into the Earth.”
“You always were a romantic,” she says.
“Yes,” he replies. “We are.”
“The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.”
—Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”
The other Doctor approaches the TARDIS as if it were a religious relic. “Hullo, old girl,” he murmurs, and stretches out a tentative hand. When he lays it on the rough wood of the exterior, he lets out a long exhale. “Missed you.”
The Doctor can’t imagine what it’s been like for him—to lose his ship, his link to all of time and space.
“I can’t feel it anymore,” he says, as if he’s heard her thoughts. “Time. The way it passes and folds and bends back in on itself. The music of it. That sense disappeared when I woke up half-human.”
The Doctor doesn’t know what to say, so she remains silent. She considers that giving him the chance to mourn what he’s lost, to be a silent witness to his grief, is good practice for what she needs to do for Yaz—if she’ll let her.
He stands back, raises his arm, and snaps once, and the doors swing wide for him. His face breaks into a smile, and he strides into the TARDIS—not like it’s his, but like he’s privileged to enter a holy place. She walks in after him and watches him take it in, not unlike a human seeing it for the first time.
“Wow,” he says after a moment. “It’s bigger on the inside.”
They both laugh too hard at this easy joke, but it makes her muscles uncoil a bit.
The other Doctor examines each strut, each knob and lever and crank. “Bioorganic components,” he says wonderingly, running a finger along the vines that now encircle the pillars, running in and out of the machine work. “Brilliant! I’d never have thought of that.”
“Would you believe I’ve started gardening?” she says.
“Nooooo. Really? But that means you’d have to have been in one place long enough to…”
“Six years in a little cottage on Blostoverius. No mortgage, though.”
His eyebrows rise nearly to his hairline. “Blimey. Guess we can change.” He cradles a large vermillion leaf in his hand.
“You can lick it, if you like.”
“Wasn’t going to ask your permission, but cheers,” he says with a grin, then runs his tongue up the length of the leaf in a manner that can only be described as obscene.
“Crikey. The oral fixation I had when I was you,” she mutters.
“Comes in handy for other things, too,” he says with a wicked smirk.
“Oh, I remember.”
“So!” he says brightly, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s figure out how the old girl pulled you into this universe, shall we?”
“Two Doctors…” she says.
“…No waiting,” he finishes.
After a brief interruption from the dog (“He’s no K-9,” the other Doctor says), they come to a quick-and-dirty solution that’s a crude version of what she did the last time she left Pete’s World: making a hole in the rift and then closing it up behind her.
Now, all that’s left to do in this universe is take him home.
“I’ve missed this bit,” he says, raising a mallet over the axiomator with manic glee. “Shall we?”
The Doctor’s hearts begin to race. “ Allons-y, ” she says.
Their movement around the console is a dance only they know the steps to. And with two Doctors at the controls, it’s a hop and a skip to get the TARDIS to London. They land in front of a stately (if slightly tacky) house in Islington.
“Jackie and Pete’s, not ours,” the other Doctor says, before she can ask about the seeming domesticity. “Me and Rose usually live in a dimensionally transcendent camper van, but… Well.” He takes a ragged breath as he steps onto the lawn. “She’s going to murder me, and I’ll deserve it.”
“At least then you’ll be out of your misery,” the Doctor replies. For her part, she feels as if all her organs have leapt into her throat. Rose Tyler is in that house—the only other person in all the cosmos she’s loved as much as Yaz. Every atom in the Doctor’s body is trying to pull her inside, to see her long-lost companion one last time. But the Doctor lost the right to see her the day she abandoned Rose on Dårlig Ulv-Stranden.
The other Doctor turns to her with a baleful expression. “I know you want to see her, but…”
“I shouldn’t.” She sighs. "Tell her… Tell her I’m sorry. About Tony. About…about everything.”
He nods, and she sees his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows down his sympathy. “Wish me luck,” he says after a moment.
“We both know luck’s rubbish.”
This, she can do for him. “Good luck, then, Doctor.”
“You too, Doctor,” he replies, before turning to go. They don’t hug goodbye. Once was weird enough.
As he walks away, the Doctor sees her run out of the house, pulled, as ever, by the dissonant strains of the TARDIS. She’s far away, but somehow she can make out every pore, every new line, on that dear face. Her Rose. She’s alive. At least the Doctor did that one thing right. And before she does something terribly foolish, she slams the doors shut and runs to the console, dematerializing as fast as she’s ever done.
Besides, she thinks as she rips a hole in the wall between worlds that never should have been breached, closing it behind her like the last chapter of a good book—she’s got her own love of her life to get back to.
Dan snaps awake when he hears an unmistakable sound from the back garden. At first he thinks he might have dreamed it—because he has before, many times, on sleepless nights when he finds himself missing the whirlwind of that old life. But then he’ll wake up and see Di snoring softly beside him, and remind himself that he’s exactly where he belongs.
But he knows it’s not a dream when a pebble ricochets off his window, then another. He pulls it open just in time for a third one to hit him dangerously close to his eye. “Oy!”
“Sorry,” the Doctor says in a stage whisper.
“Is there someone throwing rocks at you?” Dan turns around to see Di sitting up in bed, rubbing her eyes.
“Just a certain time-traveling biff,” he says.
“Hi, Diane!” the Doctor shouts from two stories down.
“ ’Iya, Doc!” she calls back in a sleepy rasp. Then, to Dan: “Do you need me for this one?”
“Absolutely not, luv. Go back to sleep,” he says, and gives her a gentle peck on the forehead before throwing on a robe, toeing on his trainers, and heading downstairs.
It’s only an hour drive between Liverpool and Sheffield if the traffic’s light, and he and Di have been seeing plenty of Yaz lately. She’s got her mum and sis—plus Ryan and Graham—to be there for her through her grief; but considering he’s seen all the ups and downs of their early relationship firsthand, it’s Dan she comes to when she’s feeling especially torn up about the Doctor.
The Doctor herself, on the other hand, he hasn’t seen since the breakup—so he has a pretty solid hunch what this visit is about.
“Been wonderin’ when you’d come round,” he says, when he sees her sitting on a bench in the garden. She looks so different from when he’d last seen her. Her face is pale and drawn, and she’s dressed in blacks and grays—a muted version of the woman he’s known for so long. When she looks up at him, he sees that the light has gone from her green eyes.
“Dan,” she says. “I’m sorry to wake you. I was aiming for teatime, but I’ve just come from another universe and the TARDIS’s aim must be all out of—”
“Come here, you muppet,” he interrupts, and wraps the Doctor in a bracing hug. She feels brittle in his arms, like she might shatter at any moment.
“Missed you,” she says into his shoulder.
“You know you could have visited at any time.”
“I wasn’t ready to, erm…”
“Everything’s sound. You wanna come in for a tea?”
“Can I?” She sounds so young when she asks it, not like a legendary immortal alien at all.
He throws an arm around her shoulder and steers her toward the door. “Doctor. You know I’d never leave you out in the cold.”
Around the second mug of PG Tips and the third helping of biscuits, the Doctor’s shoulders seem to relax, and she starts to look more like the woman Dan used to know. He has no idea how her metabolism works, but he gets the sense she hasn’t slept or had a proper meal in a long time.
He decides to cut right to the chase, because he knows if he doesn’t, she’ll avoid the topic indefinitely. “So. How long’s it been since you last saw Yaz?”
“Dunno,” she lies.
She sighs. “three years, three months, twenty-two days, seven hours, forty-three minutes, and twelve seconds.”
“Bloody hell,” he murmurs. In linear time, it’s been less than a year since Yaz first called him, sobbing on the other end of the line.
“How…erm… How is she getting on?”
Dan runs his hands through his sleep-mussed hair and tries to figure out the right way to phrase it. “I mean, a little better every time I see her, but she’s really lost. And really sad. I think it’s been good for her to be back home for a bit, but…she needs you, Doc. And it’s pretty obvious that you need her.”
“I’m such an idiot,” the Doctor mumbles, and he can see there are tears in her eyes.
“Oi. None of that.”
“Even if I go talk to her, and even if she gives me another chance—which is a huge if —what if I just make a mess of things all over again?”
“What if you don’t?” Dan says with a shrug. “You won’t know unless you try.”
“I’m scared,” the Doctor says in a smaller voice than he’s ever heard from her.
He smiles. “The Doctor I first met would never admit that. She’d play it flip or stone-faced, no matter how afraid she was deep down. And that’s a big step.” He reaches out and grasps her hand across the table. “Just be honest with her, and see where it goes from there.”
“You say that like it’s easy.”
“Come on, now. You’re the Doctor. And you want to not do something because it’s hard ? Thought you were much, much cooler than that.”
She cocks an eyebrow. “Are you trying to goad me into repairing my relationship by poking me in the ego?”
“Depends. Is it working?”
“ ’Course it is.”
“Look. Everyone mourns in their own way,” he says. “The best thing you can do is meet Yaz where she is. Don’t push her; be patient.”
The Doctor lets out a small laugh. “Patience. My very best skill.”
“I mean, that’s what relationships are, aren’t they? Two different people learning each other, and learning that they don’t always need the same thing. And then you meet in the middle—even if the middle is always shifting.”
“Dan Lewis,” she says. “Has anyone ever told you you’re very wise for a human?”
He chuckles. “Look, you and Yaz are meant for each other. Don’t think I’ve ever met two people who were more meant for each other. Well, ’cept me and Di, of course.”
“How is she, by the way? How are you ?”
“We’re pretty great, honestly. Both still working at the museum, and I got a promotion recently. Oh, and…” He lowers his voice for this bit. “I bought a ring the other day. Trying to find the right time to pop the question.”
“Dan!” the Doctor says, with the first true smile he’s seen from her all night. “That’s brilliant.”
“I know you don’t believe in marriage and all, but…”
“Just ’cause I don’t fancy it for myself doesn’t mean I don’t for other people. This is the best news I’ve heard in years.” And there’s that shine in her eyes, like someone just reset her inner circuit breaker. “Oooh! And if you want to give her a proper show, I know some great planets for a romantic evening. There’s one near Betelgeuse that’s made entirely of marmalade. ”
“Should I even ask how marmalade is romantic?”
“ Paddington, Dan! Are you even a true Englishman?” she says, scandalized.
“How is Paddington romant— You know what? Never mind.”
The Doctor tries to leave immediately after she’s polished off an entire box of biscuits, nearly knocking over the teapot in her haste.
“Steady on! Where do you think you’re going?” Dan says, catching her by the wrist.
“To go find Yaz, of course. No time like the present! Even though, you know, the present is merely an illusion in the grand scale of the time-space continuu—”
“Doctor. No offense, but you look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”
“Months, actually. But who’s counting?” she says lightly.
Months?! “Blimey, amazed you haven’t regenerated from exhaustion. We’ve got a spare room and a soft old mattress with your name on it.”
The Doctor looks like a child who’s just been told she can’t have ice cream until she’s eaten all her vegetables. “Suppose I could do with a cat nap,” she says at last.
“No, none of that. You’re going to sleep for twelve to fifteen hours, and then we’re going to make you a massive breakfast, and then, and only then, am I letting you go to Sheffield.”
“You’re a proper demanding bloke, you know that?”
“Learned from the best,” he says. “Come ’ed, let’s find you some jim-jams.”
“So I’ve carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship
Hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks
But I am all made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam
Lost and found like you and me, all scattered out on the seas”
— Listener, “Wooden Heart”
Chapter 15: Hearts and Bones
Been futzing with this chapter for a long time, ’cause I wanted to do our ladies and their feelings justice. Enjoy!
There’s a big blue box in front of Yaz’s house. And her first thought is: She’s alive. The Doctor’s alive. And when she feels the weight of the key she still wears on a chain around her neck, it’s all she can do not to fling her library books on the ground and take off toward the TARDIS at a run.
No, she tells herself. That’s not you anymore. It’s been eight months of heavy sadness and heavier reflection about their relationship, and the main thing she’s come away with is that she’s done being the one who runs toward first. She’s not opening those doors; she’s going to wait for them to open.
As if sensing her presence, the Doctor steps tentatively out of the TARDIS, and Yaz’s heart lurches at the sight of her. She’s wearing a midnight blue suit and a thin black tie, her long hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and she looks so gorgeous that Yaz could die. But then she remembers how they parted, and she straightens her back and makes herself cold. But god, her insides are on fire.
The Doctor approaches, so tentatively, like Yaz is a wild animal she’s trying not to spook. “Hiya,” she says when she’s a few feet away. Up close, Yaz can see that there are bags under her eyes, and she’s lost weight, and she looks older and graver. And she wants so much to take care of her again, to save her from her own worst instincts—her daft, absentminded Doctor.
“Hi,” Yaz says, and is surprised by how weak her voice sounds. She holds her books in front of her chest like a shield. “You’re… You came back.”
“Oh. Yep. Yeah.”
God, she’s here. She’s here. Yaz has cursed herself hundreds of times for walking away from everything they built together, and reassured herself just as many times that she absolutely made the right choice. But when she discovered that no one—not Dan, not Ryan, not Graham, not even Donna—had heard from the Doctor, she began to fear the worst.
“I thought…” I thought you might have fallen into a black hole and never even had the chance to regenerate. I thought you might have thrown yourself into the middle of someone else’s war. I thought you might be walking around with a new face and only a distant memory of me and what we had together. I thought you might have gone and done something horrible to yourself, and it was all my fault. “I was worried,” she finishes lamely.
“Yaz, I…” The Doctor looks like she’s about to reach out to her, but instead shoves her hands in her pockets. “I don’t even know where to begin.”
Yaz waits patiently for her to figure it out.
“Bloody hell, it’s so good to see you,” she says after a long moment. “That’s not what I came here to say, but just… Wow. Yasmin Khan. Standing right in front of me. Mint condition.” Tears are shining in the Doctor’s eyes, and Yaz fights the urge to catch them on her thumbs before they fall. “How…how are you?”
Yaz doesn’t have the faintest idea how to answer that question. “I mean…not great?”
“Right. Yes. Obviously.” The Doctor takes a deep breath, then launches into what is clearly a carefully practiced speech. “I know you don’t want me to apologize again, and I get why now. It’s an easy out. And it’s so not enough. So I won’t say sorry.” She takes a deep breath. “Instead I’ll say: I failed you. Profoundly. You were—are still—going through one of the most awful things a person can go through, and I thought it was something I could help you just…move past. Because that’s how I cope with loss. But I realized too late that it’s not how you cope with loss. I said some awful, insensitive things, and I never asked you what you needed. I just presumed I knew.” She scratches her head nervously, a tic Yaz knows well. “One of my worst traits, really.”
There’s a long pause before the Doctor continues. “Yaz, I… Blimey, I missed you so much. And it’s alright if you haven’t missed me. I wouldn’t miss me if I were you, after the way I treated you. And I can go right now, if that’s what you want. But you told me the last time we spoke that it isn’t.”
She spreads her hands at her sides, her eyes red-rimmed. “If you’ll let me, I’m here to listen. About how you’ve been doing, what you need, how I can be better to you. A better partner, if that’s what you want. But we were friends first, best friends, and even if it’s truly well and over between us, I hope we can still find a way to be in each other’s lives. Because I’m… I don’t know how to live without you. I really don’t.”
“But if you want me out of your life forever, that’s okay, too. I mean, it’s not okay at all, actually. It would maybe be the least okay thing that ever happened in all of time and space. But this isn’t about what I want. It’s about you. And you deserve the whole universe, even if it’s one without me in it.”
It’s everything Yaz has wanted to hear and then some, and it takes all the willpower she has to not run to the Doctor right then and there. “I don’t want that,” she says, her voice quavering.
“Oh, thank bloody Rassilon,” she says, her tensed-up body going floppy with relief. (Yaz loves when the Doctor goes floppy—that she’s the one who can make the Doctor go floppy.) “I had a whole plan in case you asked me to go. Have you ever seen ‘Say Anything’? There was gonna be a boombox and lots of pleading. Did I tell you the TARDIS made me a boombox?”
Hearing her babbling again, swept up in her tangents, is the thing that makes the ice around Yaz’s heart begin to thaw. “No Peter Gabriel necessary. Let’s just…talk, yeah?”
“I’d like that,” the Doctor says.
The TARDIS seems the wrong place to have this conversation, and Sonya is in the house right now. So they find a bench along a quiet stretch of the River Don, sitting a few feet apart.
Yaz has no earthly idea where to start, so she begins with the first thought that rises to the surface of her mind. “I like your suit.”
“Oh! Thanks,” the Doctor says, looking slightly ill. “Found it at a secondhand shop in Seoul in 1976. Nice bloke who ran it. Good taste. Really into Roy Orbison.”
“I like your hoodie!” the Doctor blurts out. “It looks really, uh, cozy.”
“Oh, right. Yeah. I got it at, uh…Topshop…in Sheffield…last month.”
The Doctor laughs nervously, glances at Yaz, then turns away. “Wow, I am really, really shit at doing small talk.”
“So don’t. You don’t need to, with me,” Yaz says.
“Oh, good! I was trying to, you know, do human things, conversation-wise. And I know humans do a lot of small talk. So. But if you don’t want to, that’s…that’s better.”
Yaz knows that this is the Doctor trying to be mindful of Yaz’s needs, and even if it’s awkward as hell, the effort means a lot.
“So I…thought you might be dead?” Yaz blurts out. Way to go, Khan. Smooth.
“Ah. Well. I’m not.”
“Have you been taking care of yourself? You look…”
The other woman studies her shoes. “Not really, if I’m honest. But, y’know, still here.”
“Doctor, I… God, I want to just, like, feed you soup.”
The Doctor gives her a tremulous smile. “Soup from Yaz. Brilliant.”
Yaz falls into a memory, and the ice melts a bit more. “That one I used to make on Blostoverius with those wild turnips you found growing in the hills.”
“I loved that soup,” the Doctor says quietly.
Another silence stretches between them, in which they don’t touch each other, only gaze out over the Don as if it’s more than a gray river flowing through a gray city on a gray day.
“Tell me,” the Doctor says finally. “How you’re getting on, how you’ve been coping, how your family’s doing. Or not, if you don’t want to. We can just sit here. But either way, I’m here to listen, like I should have in the first place.”
Can I trust you not to steamroll over my heart again? Yaz asks herself. Can I trust you with every bad feeling that’s been eating me alive? Can I trust you to understand, or if you can’t, at least to try to? There’s no way to answer any of these questions without taking a leap of faith, without believing that this woman, her partner for so long, can be better than she was before.
And once she frames it that way, the choice is easy: It’s the Doctor. Of course she believes in her.
So Yaz opens herself up again, expressing things she didn’t have words for in the months immediately after her dad’s death. She talks about what it’s been like being back in Sheffield after so many years away, about she and her mum and Sonya learning how to live with the smoldering crater in their lives where Hakim used to be. About going to family therapy, which didn’t close any wounds, but did give the three of them new tools to process the pain.
She tells the Doctor about a metaphor she learned from Dr. Singh: Grief is a box with a big ball bouncing around inside, and sometimes that ball hits a button on one of the edges, and the button causes terrible, wrenching pain. But over time, the ball gets smaller, and it hits the button less. But when it does, the agony is just as acute.
And she tells the Doctor about the other thing she’s been mourning: their relationship, all they’d had and all they’d lost. How even though walking away had been the right choice in the moment, she felt marooned afterwards in a shipwreck of her own making: stuck in one place, one time, with half her heart missing.
How she sometimes felt so weighed down with fear for the Doctor’s wellbeing that she thought it might crush her, but how she stubbornly refused to call her and check in, and then hated herself for it. How she hated herself even more when she realized that she’d been thinking about the Doctor all day instead of her father, and how that made her feel like she’d lost him all over again, only this time it was all her fault. How she resented him for dying; how she resented the Doctor for letting her down when she needed her most; how she resented herself for not trying harder before she walked away.
And through it all, true to her word, the Doctor listens, never interrupting, more still and attentive than Yaz has ever seen her. And when Yaz feels her throat going raw from how much talking she’s done, she stops and turns to the other woman.
“Thanks for listening to all that. I know it was a lot.”
“Yaz,” the Doctor says finally, hand between her hearts. “It’s my absolute honor.”
Without meaning to, Yaz laughs at that.
“Nothing, nothing. S’just…you’re so dramatic. It’s my absolute honor. ”
“Oi, I’m trying to be supportive!”
“I know. I’m just teasin’ you. It’s a feature, not a bug.”
“Good to know my circuitry is virus-free,” the Doctor says, then takes a deep breath. “I wish you didn’t have to go through all that. I wish life had been kinder to you. But most of all, I wish I’d been…” She trails off, and Yaz watches her change tack. “I’ve, uh, been trying to learn more about grief among short-lived species. Bollocks, I hope that doesn’t sound condescending. It’s just how I—”
“Doctor. I know. It’s alright,” Yaz assures her.
“So…I was thinking about how mourning is a little like time: always changing shape, liminal, impossible to pin down. A big ball of wibbly-wobbly, griefy-wiefy…stuff”
Yaz grins. “Leave it to you to turn all this into an analogy about time.”
“Sorry,” the Doctor says quickly. “I mean, no…I’m not sorry. But I am. Sorry. Sorry that I’m, uh…sorry.”
“It’s not anything you need to apologize for.” Yaz is starting to realize that her ex took her parting words too much to heart, so she tries her best to clear the air. “Look, what I said before about how I wished you’d stop sayin’ sorry all the time—it’s not a hard and fast rule. Not a big fan of those in general, rules. As you know.” She steels herself for this next bit. “I’m still angry at you for how you acted those last few months. I think a part of me always will be. But I know now that I wasn’t being fair to you, either. You were trying to help me, in your way, and I didn’t give you anything to go on. I didn’t confide in you. All I did was sulk and snap at you.”
“You were in shock. You were grieving. That’s not anything you need to apologize for,” the Doctor assures her.
“Yeah, but it still wasn’t fair. The way we fell apart wasn’t all your fault. It was mine, too. I just assumed you’d know the right thing to do, which is a lot to put on you. So please don’t take all of it on yourself.”
“Oh. Okay,” the Doctor says, voice small.
Yaz studies her—the tight set of her jaw, the way she’s tapping her foot nervously against the pavement. “You don’t believe me.”
The Doctor meets her gaze, and there’s a tear rolling down her cheek. “You know me,” she says. “Always easier to take all the blame.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
Another silence stretches between them, during which Yaz watches a mallard make its way down the river, legs kicking invisibly beneath the dark water. She can feel the Doctor’s presence a few feet away, the gentle tug of her unearthly gravity, the moon to Yaz’s tide.
She turns to look at her, and finds the Doctor already gazing back, bare longing in her eyes. It nearly undoes Yaz.
“What made you come back?” she asks. “Why now?”
She watches the Doctor search for the right words. “Bumped into a bloke who made me realize I should stop running away from my mistakes. And that I should spend as much time as possible with the people I…the people I love.”
The people I love. Yaz can’t stand the distance between them any longer, so she cuts it in half, scooting close enough that she can rest her hand on the other woman’s thigh.
The Doctor lets out a tiny gasp, as if of all the wide wonders of the universe she’s seen, this simple gesture is the most stunning of all. And then, so carefully, she reaches out and lays her hand on top of Yaz’s own.
The sensation of the Doctor’s touch for the first time in almost a year is a relief too profound for words, coupled with a familiar spark. She turns her hand until they’re palm to palm and intertwines her fingers with the Doctor’s, holding on tight; and the moment she does, she knows that she won’t ever let go again. It’s a simple truth that blurs all her doubts into abstraction.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Yaz says, not bothering to hide the quaver in her voice.
“Can’t believe I’ve ever gone anywhere else,” the Doctor whispers, returning the pressure.
She looks from their joined hands to the Doctor’s face, and the dam breaks. “It’s been hell without you. Every day that I woke up alone in that rubbish twin bed in my tiny little bedroom, I felt a little more of me wither away. It’s like I cut out a piece of me when I left you. When I saw the TARDIS parked in the yard today, I felt like I could breathe properly for the first time in ages.”
“Yaz.” The Doctor’s voice is shaking. “I’ve missed you so much. Every single thing about you. Your brilliant smile when we land in a place you’d never been; the way you ground me, and challenge me, and make me laugh; your bravery, your kindness, your honesty; your morning breath, your moods, your stubbornness; the touch of your skin, the smell of your hair, the warmth of you; the whole planet of you.”
Yaz wants to say something to all this, anything, but her throat is too tight with emotion to speak.
“I’ve been walking around with a hole blasted through my chest,” the Doctor continues, squeezing her hand so tight it almost hurts. “Everywhere I went, I felt like everyone could see it—that empty space in me. Three years of roaming from galaxy to galaxy, and it never closed up.”
This pulls Yaz up short. “Hang on—three years? It’s only been eight months.”
The Doctor lets out a puff of air. “Not for me.”
Yaz feels like she can’t breathe. No wonder the Doctor looks so much older. All she can manage is: “ What? Why?”
“I needed time. To figure out how to deserve you again.” She looks at Yaz with the saddest eyes in the universe. “But I didn’t want to make you wait that long. So I… I dunno. Eight months felt right. Give you some time to process without me budging in.”
And oh, god, Yaz can’t imagine how lonely she must have been, punishing herself for almost half a decade. She shakes her head, trying to quiet the alarm bells ringing. “That’s so long. Without…without anyone?”
“Mostly, yeah. I wasn’t…erm…my best self, let’s say. And I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. I didn’t want to see anyone seeing me like that. Seeing myself in the bloody mirror was enough.” She hangs her head. “I was so angry at myself, and so lost, and I did some profoundly stupid things.”
Yaz slides across the bench and presses her arm against the Doctor’s, needing to feel her solidity. “I never wanted you to be alone. I never wanted you to hurt like that.”
The Doctor nods. “I know. Trust me, it was entirely self-inflicted. I am somewhat of a genius at wallowing.”
“Oh, Doctor. I…”
“But I wasn’t alone the whole time,” the other woman adds, her voice brightening. “Jack tracked me down and made me go to a nightclub planet. Me! A nightclub planet! And this woman was trying to flirt with me by the bar, but all I could talk about was you. Must’ve been so annoying.”
Yaz grins despite herself, picturing the whole scenario as if she’d been there. “Extremely obnoxious.”
“Oh! Also, I have a dog now? Or really, a dog has me. Oh, bollocks, I forgot to walk him today. He’s probably whizzed on the console again. Are you allergic to dogs? You’re not, are you? But if you are, we can keep him in a separate part of the TARDIS. Or—” she claps her hand over her mouth. “Shit! I didn’t mean to presume… I mean… You know. If you wanted to come with me again, we could find a separate wing for the dog. You know, for your allergies. If you have them.”
A wild laugh escapes Yaz. “I’m not allergic to dogs,” she says, assuming the rest will fill itself in.
The Doctor’s eyes light up. “Ah! Good. That’s brilliant. No separate wing, then. I mean, unless you want your own wing, which I would totally understand. Me and the dog in one wing, you in another wing, maybe we can have breakfast together, or…or not. Snacks? We could do snacks. Low-pressure, snacks. Crisps, maybe. Or—”
Yaz is still laughing, almost breathless from it, and when she manages to stop long enough to take in a gulp of air, she dissolves into sobs.
“Hey, hey—don’t cry. Can’t have a crying Yaz.” The Doctor runs gentle fingers along the curve of her cheek, and she leans into the touch, a plant seeking sunlight.
“That’s life, though, isn’t it?” Yaz says, collecting herself long enough to speak. Her poor body is experiencing so many conflicting emotions at once—sadness, relief, desire, regret, and something like pure joy. “Sometimes it’s a lot, and it’s good to cry. It’s like, erm…” A memory comes to her from their travels. “Oh! It’s like that time we went to Mercury, remember? And you and that meteorologist figured out how to make storm clouds? And then it rained real water, and the Mercurians could walk on the surface without their heat-proof suits for the first time?”
“Professor Vorzilon! Proper brilliant, he was.”
“And I remember I couldn’t stop watching this one little kid who took off her boots and was just running and laughing, splashing through puddles in the Vivaldi Crater.” She smiles tremulously at the Doctor, not bothering to catch the tears that fall. “It’s like that, crying when you’ve needed to for a long time: like running barefoot in the rain across the surface of Mercury.”
Yaz is amazed how many words just came out of her mouth, but when she sees the Doctor’s face, she knows she’s said the right thing.
“Yasmin Khan,” the Doctor manages through her own tears. “I love you so unutterably much.” It’s the simplest thing either of them has said in the last few hours, and they’re the only words that matter, really.
“I love you too,” Yaz says. “I really, really fucking love you.”
And then she breaks the rule she’d made for herself: She runs toward first. She threads her fingers through the Doctor’s hair, hauls her in, and kisses her like she’s the last drop of water in the desert. And the Doctor kisses her back, wrapping her arms around Yaz, pressing her close.
“Blimey. Wasn’t sure I’d ever get to do that again,” the Doctor says when they come up for air.
“Me neither.” Yaz feels lighter than air, heavier than stone.
“But hey, we did it. Go team!”
Yaz presses their foreheads together and breathes the Doctor in—the impossible, undeniable love of her whole entire life. “Don’t let me go again, okay? Not ever.”
“Never. I swear,” the Doctor says, grasping both of Yaz’s hands in her own. “Not till all the stars in the universe snuff out. And even then, we can probably find a way to switch them back on.”
They take their time walking back to Yaz’s house, hand in hand, pressed up against each other.
“Whoever that bloke is who convinced you to come back, I’d like to meet him someday so I can thank him,” Yaz says.
The Doctor chuckles. “You might have a hard time with that, considering he’s in a parallel universe. And also that he’s a half-human clone of me.”
“So you got advice…from yourself?”
“Sort of, yeah. And also from Dan, after I threw a rock at his eye.”
Yaz laughs, loud and easy. “You mad bloody alien. You’re so weird. I will never stop loving how weird you are.”
“Good,” the Doctor says. “Because I was thinking our next holiday should be on this exoplanet I came across last year that’s actually a giant sleeping space manatee that only looks like a planet because she’s curled up into such a tight ball.”
“Sounds brilliant,” Yaz says. “Oooh, maybe we can wake her up!”
A huge grin cracks her not-wife’s face, and she stops in the middle of the path and turns to face her. “Yasmin Khan. You read my mind.”
Then the Doctor’s lips find hers once more—and it’s not like coming home. It is coming home.
“Easy time will determine if these consolations
Will be their reward
The arc of a love affair
Waiting to be restored
You take two bodies and you twirl them into one
Their hearts and their bones
And they won't come undone”
— Paul Simon, “Hearts and Bones”
Chapter 16: When Your Life Looks Back
Here it is—the last chapter. Thanks to everyone for coming along on this crazy TARDIS ride; at a certain point, I feel like the Doctor and Yaz wrested the controls from my hands and took this story to places I never expected.
[Chapter title is from “When Your Life Looks Back” by Jane Hirshfield.]
Yaz doesn’t have much to pack back at her mother’s house; she’s always traveled light. But even the short time it takes her feels like an age when the Doctor finds herself alone in the living room with Sonya.
“Listen, I’m—” the Doctor begins, but Sonya cuts her off with a frigid glare.
“If you ever hurt my sister again,” she says, voice low and dangerous. “I’ll kill you. And I don’t mean that in a proverbial way. I mean that I will literally hunt you down and slit your throat. Then we’ll see how long it takes you to grow a new body, or whatever the fuck it is you do.”
In her time, the Doctor’s been on the receiving end of threats from some of the most terrifying beings in the universe. But no one—not even the Master at his worst—rivals Sonya Khan in this moment.
“If I ever hurt her again,” the Doctor replies, keeping her voice steady, “I’ll hand you the knife.” And as they stare each other down in the aftermath of that promise, the Doctor is one hundred percent sure that neither of them is bluffing.
They’re interrupted by an audible gasp from the entryway, and the Doctor turns to see Najia standing just inside the front door, keys still in hand, her mouth hanging open.
The Doctor prepares herself for an even worse drubbing than Sonya’s just given her, or maybe even a punch to the mouth—either of which would be the least she deserves. But the last thing she expects is for Najia to drop her purse on the carpet, run to the Doctor, and wrap her in a bracing hug.
“Thank god you’re alright,” she says against the Doctor’s blazer.
“Najia,” she replies. “I’m so, so sorry. For everything.”
“You haven’t been taking care of yourself,” Najia says, looking the Doctor up and down with concern. “Sit. I’ve got some leftover biryani in the fridge.”
“Why does everyone keep trying to feed me?” the Doctor says with a breathless laugh.
“Probably because you look like you just crawled out of your grave and then put on a nice suit,” Najia replies.
“Mum, stop being mean to the Doctor!” Yaz calls from upstairs.
“I’m not!” her mother calls back.
“I am!” Sonya says.
“Are you sure you don’t want to stay for a little while longer?” the Doctor asks.
Yaz sighs. “No. It’s time for me to leave. Has been for a while now. I was just…”
“...waiting to see if I’d show up,” the Doctor finishes for her.
The other woman gives her a sad smile. “Wanted to make sure you’d know where to find me.”
“Yasmin Khan. I’d’ve found you anywhere.”
Yaz links their arm together and rests her head against the Doctor’s shoulder. They’re standing in front of her father’s headstone—their last stop in Sheffield before heading off in the TARDIS to parts unknown.
“I never had a father,” the Doctor says. “Not really a thing on Gallifrey. Which, given who my so-called mother turned out to be, is probably for the best. But I’m really glad I got the chance to spend time with your dad, Yaz. He was such a wonderful person—just like you are. He was a good man, and now he’s gone, and that’s something worth standing still for.”
Yaz presses a soft kiss to the Doctor’s cheek. “Thank you,” she says. And for a long time, buffeted by the blustery wind of an English autumn, they stand arm and arm on that little hill, heads bowed before the grave of Hakim Khan, and don’t say anything at all.
“Hang on. You’re tellin’ me you named your dog ‘Dog’?”
“Well, no, I didn’t name him anything. So I just call him Dog. Isn’t that right, Dog?”
The Doctor’s nameless dog wags his shaggy tail in response, but doesn’t rise from where he’s planted himself directly on top of Yaz, pinning her to the floor.
“Told you you’d like her,” the Doctor says, sitting down beside them on the TARDIS grating.
Yaz scratches Dog’s ears and smiles. “Well, Dog, now that I’m here, you’re getting a proper name.”
“Excuse you. Who says you’re allowed to name my dog?”
“ Our dog.”
“Our dog,” the Doctor agrees. And seeing the pair of them there beside her—two lovely, lost souls who have hitched their wagon to Doctor’s star, for some mad reason—she feels happier than she thought she’d ever be again.
The Doctor has no idea where to find their old bedroom, and she frankly never wants to see the gray room with the rainy day in the closet ever again. So in a fit of nostalgia, they find their old crashpad mattress and drag it into the nearest library, where a purple-tinged fire is already crackling merrily in the hearth.
“My mum was right,” Yaz says, as they’re lying side by side some hours later, legs tangled together. “You have gotten too skinny.”
“Can we please not talk about your mum right now?” the Doctor groans.
“Fine. But I’m still making you soup later.”
“Don’t threaten me with a good time.”
Yaz laughs, and an easy silence falls between them as the Doctor remembers the incredible luxury of basking in the afterglow with the woman she loves.
“So,” Yaz prompts after a while. “three years?”
“Three years, three months, twenty-four days, two hours, twenty-five minutes, and thirty-seven seconds,” the Doctor says.
“And how long since then?” Yaz brushes a strand of hair behind the Doctor’s ear.
The Doctor smiles. “Thirteen hours, forty-eight minutes, and six seconds. …Seven now. …Eight. …Ni–”
Yaz cuts her off abruptly by climbing on top of her. “What do you say we lose count?”
The Doctor shakes her head, tossing Dog another custard cream, which he easily catches in his mouth. “Knew a Clarence once. He was a proper git.”
“Oh, so many gits named Max.”
“Fully twenty to thirty absolute gits named Zorpfriel.”
Yaz’s expression shifts between exasperated and fond. “Doctor, can we go ahead and assume you’ve met someone named every name that’s ever existed, and by the law of averages, a lot of them have been gits?”
“Mmm… Yes. A solid hypothesis.”
“Alright, so how about you start saying names of people you’ve known who aren’t gits, and I’ll tell you if I like any of them.”
“Let’s see…” The Doctor pretends to think. “Oh! What about…Yaz?”
“Oh, and another fantastic person I knew—her name was… Yes! I remember now. Yaz!”
“What? You can be ‘Yaz,’ and Dog can be ‘Yaz II.’ Just like in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’!”
“Remind me again why I’m madly in love with you?”
“Honestly? No clue.”
Turns out that, when you’ve fixed yourself to one person, the span of a human life can feel long. And yet there’s never enough time—to travel from world to world, era to era, but also to have long evenings made up of little more than lounging around or reading or eating or sleeping or counting the numberless stars, Yaz’s presence a steady anchor against the ceaseless churn of time and space.
Despite the promise they made that day beside the Don, they do let each other go a few times more. But the Doctor learns this is to be expected when you share an entire life with someone—especially a life as eventful as theirs, and especially considering how stubborn both of them can be. In any case, their separations never lasts as long as that first time. And when they inevitably come back to each other, and the Doctor learns about the wonders of a phenomenon Yaz tells her is called makeup sex.
They oscillate back and forth between traveling and staying put—sometimes on Blostoverius, sometimes simply letting the TARDIS drift through the time vortex. They spend two eventful years in Vichy France, helping the Resistance sabotage the Nazi regime behind enemy lines. (Through it all, neither of them so much as touch a gun.) They spend the next five on a pleasure cruise around the Sculpture Galaxy with Donna and Hendrick and their two teenage daughters, shaking off the shadow of the war.
Dan, Ryan, and Graham are perennial guests on the TARDIS over the years; Martha Jones even joins them at one point, following a chance meeting at a Zygon spaceship crash site in Turkey. (The Doctor isn’t surprised to learn that she’s dropped Mickey Smith like a hot potato.) And Jack manages to find them again and again in the most unlikely places, burning hot and bright and then vanishing just as quickly.
The adventures and the quiet times, the brilliant messes and the long walks and the longer voyages, spin out in hours and days and months and years until they’ve both, miraculously, grown old. And what a wild caper it is, growing old—particularly by someone else’s side. The Doctor finds that she loves watching Yaz’s face and body change over the years, aging like a fine Craxiatanian Chardonnay.
And the Doctor, against all reason, ages right alongside her. She’s fascinated by tracking her own body’s gradual decay, which for her, is just as much of a science experiment as developing Blostoverian plant compounds. By the time they’ve reached their eighties, neither of them can run and scrap like they used to, sure; but just because they’ve slowed down a bit doesn’t mean they stop.
But there comes a point, as the Doctor knew there would, when Yaz’s body starts to give out. She’s almost made it to her 90th birthday when she becomes too feeble to travel anymore, and the Doctor brings them to Blostoverius for what will prove to be the last time.
They’ve lost so many people now to the ravages of linear time—something that the Doctor has never allowed herself to experience before this body. Najia, Graham, Dan, Donna, Sonya, the dog they never named—all who, like Jonathan Swift once wrote, lived all the days of their life. It hurts like hell, but the Doctor knows that it’s a useful experience for her to have, to learn what it is to love and lose over an unbroken span of time.
As if he’d sensed the end was near, Jack appears at their cabin one day to say goodbye. Seeing him looking as young and handsome as ever, the Doctor realizes how it must feel for all the friends and enemies who’ve known her down the millennia: to grow physically old while the Doctor’s body stays suspended in seeming agelessness.
And then it’s just her and Yaz once more. The Doctor wonders what her next self will make of this experience—whether they’ll feel as keenly the sense of whooshing panic and bruising love when they remember the moment that Yaz’s breathing begins to grow shallower, when her eyes seem to look past the material world and into some unnameable place where the Doctor can’t follow.
“Do you regret it? Fixing yourself to me?” Yaz asks in a thin voice, as the Doctor is perched beside her sickbed, grasping her hand. It’s been days since she’s let go.
“You know the answer to that question, love.”
“Tell me anyway.”
The Doctor meets Yaz’s clouded gaze. “The only thing I regret is that I didn’t fix myself to you sooner. That I didn’t do it the very moment I crashed into that train. If it wouldn’t cause a massive paradox, I’d go back and give myself a firm talking-to.”
“It was worth it,” Yaz says. “All the waiting. All the strife. To finally have you in the end.”
“I never stood a chance.”
Yaz takes in a rattling breath then, her face contorting in agony. (The Doctor had offered to give her pain meds from the TARDIS to ease her through these final days, but she refused them. “I want to experience it all,” she’d said. And the Doctor couldn’t argue with that.)
“It was a good life, wasn’t it?” Yaz whispers.
“The very best.”
“I wouldn’t trade a second of it. Not even your terrible snoring.”
“Oi! There’s no definitive proof of that.”
Yaz smiles up at her, and it looks like it costs her. “Will you remember me? The next go-round?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions,” the Doctor replies without heat. “I have an excellent memory. Especially when it comes to people I spend an entire life with.”
The Doctor finds it’s physically difficult to cry these days, as if her tear ducts were drying up. But something cracks, and she starts to weep freely. Like running barefoot in the rain over the surface of Mercury, she thinks.
Yaz gasps suddenly, and her eyes go wide. The Doctor swears she can see fireworks reflected in them, like it’s New Year’s Eve 2021 all over again, like all the days they’ve spent together are folded on top of each other, every moment present at once.
“Extremely rude of you to leave when we’ve only just begun,” she Doctor manages to croak out through an Adipose-size the lump in her throat.
And she knows in her bones that it’s her last chance to say it, one more time in a million. “Yasmin Khan. I love you so much. In all the millennia of my life, I’ve never loved anyone more.”
“I…” But Yaz can’t seem to speak anymore.
“It’s okay. It’s okay. I know.”
The Doctor leans down and kisses her one last time—her best friend, her partner in time, her copilot, her not-wife, her truest love. And by the time she pulls away, Yaz is already gone.
Per Yaz’s wishes, she buries her at Tinsley Cemetery in Sheffield, in a reserved plot beside her parents and sister.
January 8, 1998–November 15, 2087
She saw the universe
The funeral is a small affair—just the Doctor and an imam from the mosque the Khans attended when they were alive. There aren’t many still alive who knew Yaz; she’d rarely made it back to Sheffield, especially not after Najia and Sonya died.
After the rites have been said and the imam has departed, a familiar presence materializes at her side.
At eighty-nine, Ryan Sinclair is stooped-over and gray-eyed, leaning on a walker for support.
“Ryan,” the Doctor says, but it comes out as a sob. They hug long and hard, two feeble bodies propping each other up against the gravity pulling them inexorably toward the ground.
“You got old,” he says.
“Look who’s talking.”
They both turn to look at the dirt piled on top of Yaz’s coffin, the old loam of Sheffield.
“You know, when granddad and I stopped travelin’ with you and Yaz decided to stay, I worried for her, a lot,” Ryan says. “I may have been right thick back then, but even I could tell how much she cared about you—how she’d put up with anything to have more time with you. And I worried that you would never be able to do the same for her, that you’d keep stringing her along till something awful happened.”
He smiles. “But the first time I saw you two after you’d finally gotten together, I stopped worrying. Because I knew she was exactly where she was meant to be.”
The Doctor can’t formulate a response to that, so she grips his shoulder tightly and hopes it conveys what she can’t seem to say.
“I knew Yaz since we were little kids. It was obvious even back then that she wasn’t made to stay in one place. Her eyes were always on the horizon, lookin’ way past Sheffield. But I wondered if she’d ever be able to find her way out.” He turns to look at the Doctor. “You gave her that—a chance to have an incredible life.”
“Ryan,” she says thickly. “I…”
“S’okay, Doc.” He coughs violently then, bracing himself against his walker.
“Are you—” the Doctor begins.
“Dying? ’Course I am. I’m old as shit,” he says with a smile.
She’s surprised to find she can laugh at that. The gallows humor of one who’s watched so many pass in so few years. That’s new, too.
“I’ve got to get back before the nurses think I’ve pulled a runner,” Ryan says.
“Or a walker,” she quips.
When they hug goodbye, the Doctor says, “I’ll come back and visit you again soon.”
Ryan smiles knowingly over his shoulder. “No, you won’t.”
He’s right, of course.
The Doctor has been so wrapped up in caring for Yaz in her final days that she’d been steadfastly ignoring a familiar tug in her own body, a distant ache growing ever closer—one that says: It’s time.
So she lands the TARDIS on Blostoverius, her hands shaking as she manipulates the controls. Taking a steadying breath, she addresses her ship. “I’ll have that blasted thing back now, I suppose. No time like the present, as they say.”
The TARDIS vwoorps once, and then a panel on the console lights up. The Doctor flips it open and finds what she was looking for: a burnished gold fob watch etched with Gallifreyan symbols. It’s warm and heavy in her wrinkled hand.
Placing it in her pocket, she pushes open the doors and walks to the cabin a few yards away. Inside, her eyes land on a thick, weathered volume splayed open facedown on the coffee table: Peter Pan. It’s the copy J.M. Barrie himself had gifted her after she’d helped him parlay with the fairies infesting his back garden.
Picking it up, she finds a familiar sentence underlined by a shaky hand.
“Yasmin Khan. Defacing a first edition?” the Doctor says fondly. “How dare you.”
She takes one last look around the home she built with Yaz, greedy to remember it all; but her nostalgia is cut short by a sharp pre-regeneration pain. No sense dallying any longer.
Before she leaves, she nails a sign to the front door, which has never had a lock:
FREE TO ANYONE WHO NEEDS A HOME
(with the caveat that you should avoid opening the basement freezer if you want to keep all your limbs intact)
Partway through the climb up her favorite mountain, the telltale golden glow has already begun to emanate from her body. Painfully out of breath, under a light drizzle, she stands on the promontory that overlooks the valley she came to think of as theirs. It’s the same spot where Yaz had read her Wallace Stevens, all those years ago.
The Doctor grips the fob watch in her hand, leaving it to the next fool she becomes to decide whether to open it or not. Then she looks up at the cloudy sky, hoping that the Bad Wolf will hear her, wherever she is.
“Thank you, from the very depths of my hearts. I never thought I’d be so lucky. And I know I probably won’t be again. But that’s alright,” she says. “You gave me that. And I’ll spend my next life doing everything I can to repay the favor.”
“This wasn’t ever a transaction, Doctor,” says a familiar voice behind her. And there she is, the Bad Wolf in the guise of an eternally youthful Rose Tyler. “It was a gift, and gifts are freely given.”
The Doctor smiles feebly. “Well, then. I suppose I should just say thank you, full stop.”
The other woman simply shrugs, as if to say, You’d have done the same for me.
“And my next life? What will it be like?”
“Spoilers,” the Bad Wolf says, in an uncanny impression of River Song, before disappearing back into the everything that she is.
“Of course.” The Doctor turns away from her and stands tall as she can manage, facing the vista she’s spent years learning so well—every plant, every change in weather, every constellation in the sky.
“I’m ready now,” she says. “For once, I’m actually, properly ready.”
Warm arms wrap around her from behind, and she catches a familiar scent of cardamom, leather, and sweet sweat.
“I know,” Yasmin Khan whispers into her ear.
Then the Doctor bursts into a blinding supernova of rebirth, feeling her body give out and then gradually reknit itself into something new and strange, the fob watch rattling impatiently in her hand. And as she changes into whoever she’ll be next, her mind goes back to that sentence Yaz had underlined in the last book she’d ever read: To die will be an awfully big adventure.
“It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.”
— James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”