Yaz was nearly knocked off her feet as the TARDIS gave a deep, juddering thump.
Her daemon, Theo, flapped his wings to keep his balance, but stayed perched on the crystal pillar.
"That were a rough one," the Doctor said cheerfully, as she dashed about the TARDIS console. Shalos, her own daemon, was more sensibly seated on a bare spot on the console.
"What was it?" Yaz clutched at the pillar, as Theo fluttered down to rest on her shoulder.
"No idea," the Doctor said, and she shot Yaz a delighted look. Shalos' eyes were closed, and he had pulled his legs underneath him, so that he looked a bit like a loaf of bread. He was always calm, regardless of what the TARDIS was doing.
"Aren't you a little nervous?" Yaz came to stand by the console, finding a safe place to grab as the whole TARDIS shook again.
"Nah," the Doctor said. "The TARDIS will take care of us. She always does."
"Except when she doesn't," said Shalos' dry little voice.
The TARDIS made an indignant noise, and Yaz was vaguely proud that she could tell that it was indignant. It was a little bit like when she started being able to understand her best friend's cat's noises.
"It's only been a few times," the Doctor protested, and she gave the console a little stroke.
The TARDIS gave another long, juddering shake, and then it went completely still. The stillness was giving her the creeps - the TARDIS always had some background noise, something humming or chugging or rattling. But now it was deathly, painfully silent.
Theo shivered, and he pressed closer to Yaz, tucking himself under the curtain of her hair to press against her bare neck. Yaz brought a hand up to comfort him, and her own anxiety spiked up in her stomach.
The Doctor was frowning at the console, and she was pushing buttons.
The crystal pillars were slowly going dark, and even the viewing screen had gone entirely dark and empty.
"Is everything okay, Doctor?" Yaz asked, and there was a bit of a tremble to her voice.
"I'm sure it's fine," the Doctor said, and her voice was full of the false cheer that always got under Yaz's skin. "Just a little... pause."
Shalos began to pick his way across the console, squinting down in the darkness and occasionally prodding a particular knob or lever with a paw. "Completely drained of power," he announced.
"Well, not completely," the Doctor protested. "Just... something seems to be siphoning it off."
Yaz frowned. "Siphoning?"
"Yeah, like how people siphon petrol," the Doctor said. She picked up Shalos, draping him over one shoulder and going to rummage through one of the storage compartments in the roundels that lined the walls. "Sometimes there are the types who will siphon artron energy or... well, a lot of different things that TARDIS give off." There were various rattles and clanks as she leaned further in, then she made a face. "Shalos, I can't see, you check."
The Doctor stood up fully, as her daemon disappeared into the storage compartment. "You know, I'm really lucky he's so portable," she told Yaz, leaning against the wall as more thumps and bangs came out from inside the compartment.
"Portable?" Yaz came closer, careful not to trip on the steps as she made her way towards the Doctor.
"I've had some big daemons," the Doctor said. "Last one wouldn't have fit. She were huge."
"Weren't that huge," called Shalos, his voice echoing.
"You're just being contrary," the Doctor scolded, but Yaz could make out a smile, even in the dimness.
"Where are we?" Yaz asked, as Theo began to gently nibble on the edge of her ear.
"That is an excellent question," the Doctor said. "One of the things I'm checking." A pause, then; "we should have enough air. But we've also got the environment suits."
"Running out of air was an option?" Yaz hadn't thought of that.
"Don't worry about it," the Doctor said quickly. "I know where we are. More or less."
"Doctor," Yaz said sharply, "that's your reassuring voice."
"What's wrong with being reassuring?" The Doctor protested. She held an orange environment suit out to Yaz. "This should fit you. It were too big for the last person it belonged to."
"I don't want reassuring," Yaz said, taking the orange suit. "I just wanna know what's going on."
"This kinda thing has happened before," the Doctor said, shrugging out of her coat and kicking off her boots. "TARDIS are whole ecosystems, like whales, and so there's loads of things that parasitize 'em."
"We don't seem to run into 'em that often," Yaz said, taking her own shoes off and stepping into the suit. "Where does Theo go?"
"He'll fit in your helmet with you, no problem," the Doctor said, and then she was doing up buckles, one after another. "There we go, see, easy as anything." Then a pause. "Snap me up?" She jerked a thumb over her shoulder.
"Do you know if we're... on a planet? In the Time Vortex?" Yaz carefully snapped up the back of the suit.
"We were on our way to a planet," the Doctor said, and she held the neck of her suit open, just as Shalos came out of the compartment with some kind of device clutched in his jaws. "Were gonna be a nice surprise," she added, and she was grumbling. "Proper gorgeous place." She took the device, and she winced as Shalos climbed down into the neck of her suit. "Claws!"
"I'm not gonna puncture the suit," came Shalos' muffled voice.
"You're puncturing me," the Doctor countered.
"I'm sure we'll be able to go there when we've sorted this out," Yaz said, and it was her turn to be reassuring.
"Let's just get this..." The Doctor said, and she was fiddling with the various buckles along Yaz's suit, as Theo crowded closer on Yaz's shoulder. "I'll open the door, we can track down the signal, figure out who's latched onto us."
"Is this gonna be like space barnacles?" The Doctor was tightening the straps around her thighs, the ones across her chest. She blushed, her whole whole body tingling, and she looked down. She caught Shalos' eyes peering out at her from the recesses of the suit, and she blushed harder, as Theo preened her hair, trying to hide his own embarrassment.
"I'm thinkin' more like a Time Leech," the Doctor said thoughtfully, as she took out a helmet and handed it to Yaz. "But I've got the signal!" She held up the gadget, which looked a little bit like an old iPod speaker crossed with a microwave oven.
"What's out there?" Yaz stood on her tiptoes, peeking out of the window in front of her. She couldn't make anything out, other than the feeling of openness.
"No idea," the Doctor said. "We were in the Time Vortex, but..." She shrugged, and then she yelped, as Shalos moved under the floppy orange fabric of the suit. "Claws!"
"I need them to hold on," came Shalos's muffled voice.
Yaz snorted, and she waited for the Doctor to come closer to the doors. The strange device in the Doctor's hand was quiet, but it was glowing faintly orange.
"Let me do a check of you real quick," the Doctor murmured, as she adjusted the helmet and fiddled with... who knew what. Yaz didn't entirely know how the suits worked, just that she trusted the Doctor.
"And this will protect us?" Yaz's voice was hollow and echoing inside of the helmet, and Theo's claws pricked into her shoulder. It was cramped with the two of them sharing the helmet like this - she didn't want to think about how warm it must have been in the Doctor's suit.
Then again, maybe Shalos was cool to the touch, like the Doctor. It wasn't as if Yaz had ever had the chance to check. Nor would she.
"Yeah," said the Doctor, and she was doing her own helmet up. "Rated for just about anything! I made sure of it." She grabbed the TARDIS’ door handle. "You ready?"
"I dunno what I'm getting ready for," Yaz said, "but I'll try anythin' once!"
The Doctor's other hand came out, and then it was grabbing Yaz's, and that was... novel. The Doctor wasn't usually touchy-feely, although she'd gotten into the habit of standing closer since Ryan and Graham had left. And it wasn't as if any of their skin was touching through the suits.
Yaz's heart was beating faster than usual, and Theo was shifting his weight on her shoulder - he'd have been flitting about, if he'd had the option.
As one, the two of them pushed the door open, and stepped out into the unknown.
It was a flat plain, lit by some unknown light that she couldn't see. The Doctor took her sonic out of one pocket and held it up, squinting through the visor of her helmet as she scanned. Yaz could just make out Shalos, staring at her with his green eyes.
"The air is breathable," the Doctor told Yaz, "just a slightly higher oxygen content than on Earth." She was removing her helmet, and then Shalos was wriggling out from inside the suit, to pad along the ground.
Yaz cautiously removed her own helmet, and took a deep breath. It smelled like... well, it didn't smell like anything. She wrinkled her nose, trying to figure out what she was reminded of, and Theo flew straight out, circling her several times before landing on her head. His elation at being free (and his obvious distress from being trapped) bled into Yaz, and her face stretched into a grin.
"Better?" The Doctor shot her a sympathetic look.
"Much," Yaz admitted. She glanced over her shoulder. "Should we... take these off? What about the life support systems?"
"They're self regulating," the Doctor said absently, as she clipped the helmet to one of the straps around her waist. "As soon as the seal is broken, it stops giving you any life support."
"Right," Yaz said, and she fumbled the helmet onto her own belt. "So.. now what?"
"Well," said the Doctor, and she was circling around the TARDIS, frowning. "Gonna see if I can find..." She trailed off, still frowning, and Yaz, lacking anything else to do, trailed after her.
"See if you can find?" Yaz supplied.
"The source of it," the Doctor said. "Where it's coming from." Shalos was going in the opposite direction, occasionally prodding the TARDIS with the flat of one paw.
"The source of the thing draining the power?" Yaz paused. "Wait, is the TARDIS going to be okay?"
"She's in reserve power," the Doctor said. "Sort of. Think turtle. Or maybe armadillo. Everything tucked away. Whatever is siphoning will have to work extra hard to get at it."
The mental image of the TARDIS curling itself up into a ball dropped into Yaz's mind like a cannonball, and she blinked. "Oh," she said, lacking anything else to add. Theo's claws gripped her hair a little tighter, as she leaned over to look closer at the TARDIS herself.
"Once we figure out where it's coming from, we can see if we can find a way to wake her up again." the Doctor's voice was earnest, and now she was taking the device out again, and was fiddling with it. "I've got faith," she said, and she patted the surface of the TARDIS the way other people sometimes patted their daemons.
Maybe she's the TARDIS' daemon, Yaz thought, and Theo moved down to her shoulder and nipped her ear in reprimand at the ridiculous thought.
Yaz squinted. The device was beginning to get brighter... or was it just getting darker? She looked up... and then she froze. "Doctor?"
"One sec," the Doctor sounded distracted. She was doing something with the device, and Shalos was on her shoulder, staring down at it as well.
"Doctor," Yaz said, a little louder.
"Yaz, I'm busy," the Doctor said, her tone testy.
Yaz grabbed the Doctor's arm, turned the other woman around, and the Doctor looked over at her to glare... and then she went still.
"Oh," the Doctor said.
There were walls all around them. Walls that were higher than skyscrapers, and they seemed to be forming... corridors.
"Doctor?" Yaz was remarkably calm. Look at her, standing here and being calm. "Where did that come from?"
Theo's claws dug into her shoulder, tighter now. He was trembling, and she absently reached up to wrap a hand around him. It wasn't skin to skin contact, but it was better than nothing.
"Haven't the foggiest," the Doctor said, and her tone was full of false cheer. She always got like this when she was nervous, and Yaz didn't want to think about the Doctor being scared. "Shall we find out?"
"What about the TARDIS? Is it safe to leave it alone?" Yaz rested her own hand on the blue wood, and was she imagining things, or did it vibrate, just a little bit?
"She'll be okay," the Doctor said. "She's a tough old bird." She took a deep breath, tucking the device under one arm and rubbing her hands together. "This thing'll show us where we need to go." She waved the weird device. "Shall we?"
Yaz licked her lips, looking around. The great walls (the walls of a labyrinth?) had come out of nowhere.
What else might just pop out at them?
The walls of the labyrinth were tall enough that the sky was just a grey sliver overhead. The space was wide enough that the two of them could walk shoulder to shoulder, and it was eerily quiet, apart from the light wind that would occasionally pass through. The walls themselves looked less like they had been made, and more like they had been extruded from the ground, or maybe eroded into their current formation. Apart from their eerie smoothness, which Yaz brushed her hand against once, before wincing, rubbing her palm on her leg, and resolving not to touch it again.
Something about it had been... dry, but there was an oily note to it, like something that had been polished over endless centuries.
She didn't want to think about that.
"So we're just... going to the center?" Yaz asked, to break the eerie silence. The Doctor was still staring intently at the device, which was glowing a very faint green now.
"We're following this," said the Doctor, waving the device. "And maybe it'll take us to the middle of the labyrinth. Or out of it."
"How did it just... appear?" Yaz scratched Theo's neck, and he nibbled gently at her fingertips. "I know that it wasn't there before." She could almost doubt herself, but the flatness of the plain had sent a shiver up her spine. There was something unnerving about endless flatness.
There was something equally unnerving about the endless turning, surrounded on all sides by the high stone walls. But Yaz was very much not thinking about this.
"No idea," the Doctor said, "but I'm sure we'll figure it out." She sounded less anxious, at least. She always seemed to do better when she had a mystery to pursue. "Y'know," the Doctor added, her tone thoughtful, "it's a good thing it's you 'n me here."
"Is it?" Yaz glanced over at the Doctor, and she was very definitely not flushing.
"I had a companion who were terrified of mazes," the Doctor said.
"Terrified of mazes?" Yaz asked. That was a new one.
"Yeah," the Doctor said. "Or any kind of winding, tight space."
"That's an odd phobia," Yaz said.
"All phobias are odd," the Doctor countered. "Somethin' in the brain decides that it's going to be terrified of something, and you're stuck with it."
"Some things make sense to be afraid of," Yaz argued. "Can y'blame someone for being afraid of sharks or spiders or heights?"
"There's a difference between a fear and a phobia," the Doctor said, and now she was taking on her lecturing tone. "A phobia is an intensely irrational fear. Or a rational fear that makes you act irrationally."
"What are you phobic of, then?" Yaz asked, half teasing.
The Doctor put a hand on the shoulder that Theo wasn't resting on. "D'you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Yaz paused.
"Something is up ahead," the Doctor said. "Around that corner." She'd stopped walking, and Yaz stopped with her.
Yaz frowned, and she stopped as well. She could... faintly make out some kind of noise. What kind of noise was it?
"Theo," she said, "fly ahead, see what it is?"
He set up off of her shoulder, winging forward, and Yaz went to stick her hands in her pockets, realized she had no pockets, and crossed her arms over her chest. That felt too defensive, and she let her hands drop back to her sides. She wished Theo was there for her to pet - she never knew what to do with her hands, when she was nervous and he was away.
She'd heard the Doctor talk about worlds where people didn't have daemons, and what did they do with their hands? Assuming they had hands and not tentacles or polyps or... whatever.
And then Theo was back, and his confusion was evident through their connection. "It's a shark," he told the three of them.
"What?" Yaz frowned, holding her hand out for Theo to land on, scratching his chest with her other hand.
"A shark," he repeated. "There's a... swathe of water, and it's got a shark in it."
"How big a swathe?" The Doctor asked. "A shark needs a decent amount of space in order to be comfortable."
"It was the size of the pedestrian crossing by the police station," Theo told her.
"That's nowhere near big enough," the Doctor said, and then she was dashing off, Shalos clinging to her back with all four sets of claws.
Yaz dashed after her... and then she skidded to a stop, because there was indeed a swathe of water, right in the middle of the path, as if the whole thing had been built around a hole in the ground, full of water.
And there was a single, slender fin moving its way across it in circles. It was like something out of a cartoon, and Yaz just stopped and stared.
"It might not be a shark," the Doctor said. "Might be an alien that looks like a shark. Or someone playing silly buggers and wearing a fake fin. Me 'n Jacques Cousteau did that once, did I ever tell you about that?" She was kneeling now, setting the device down on the ground.
"I don't fancy getting in the water 'n checking," Yaz said.
"I can speak shark," the Doctor said, hunkering down on the very edge of the water. "Of course, I can only understand it when I'm underwater, but I'm sure if I stick my head under it won't be a problem..." She was already crouching down and leaning forward, her fingertips in the water.
It seemed as if the land just stopped, and it had been filled with water. There was no gradual shift, like with a swimming pool - just a drop off.
"Doctor," Yaz said, as the fin began to move towards them, "I'm not sure if that's a good idea."
"Just gotta get my head down," the Doctor said. Her hair was brushing the water now, and the fin was moving towards her.
Yaz wasn't thinking, as she grabbed the Doctor's harness, pulling the other woman back from the edge and falling on her own backside with the Doctor on top of her, Shalos nearly kicking her in the face.
The shark lunged forward, and it was a proper shark, like something out of a blockbuster movie. Yaz was reminded of watching Jaws with her parents, telling herself firmly not to scream when the giant shark's mouth opened wide.
"Really," the Doctor said, and she sounded more perturbed than scared, "that weren't necessary."
Yaz's heart was beating so fast that it felt like it would break out of her ribs. "D'you want me to let you get eaten by a shark next time?" Yaz said, nettled. Her fingers were still clutching at the harness around the Doctor's waist, and she couldn't seem to uncurl them.
"Sorry, Yaz," the Doctor said, and she turned to look over her shoulder, nearly nose to nose with Yaz. Her hair brushed against Yaz's cheek, and Yaz's whole body was getting hot. "I were talkin' to the shark, not you."
"Oh," Yaz said. She managed to unclench her fingers, but she didn't move back. The Doctor was still sitting between her thighs, and her back was warm and solid against Yaz's front.
"Although," the Doctor added, speaking a little louder to be heard over the shark's thrashing, "he wouldn't hear me, since we're up in the air."
"Why wouldn't he hear you?" The two of them were still pressed together, and the Doctor was almost cross eyed, trying to keep her eye on Yaz. The Doctor's helmet was digging into Yaz's thigh.
"Same reason you can't hear someone speaking underwater," the Doctor said. "Air is like water, for fish!"
Yaz snorted. As close as she is, I could count her eyelashes, she thought. I'm close enough I could kiss her. Theo was perched on her head now, and Shalos was all puffed up.
"Right," Yaz said. "So. Now what."
The Doctor stood up, and she shook her finger at the shark. "You needn't be so grumpy," she grumbled, and she picked up the device again. "Okay. So we'll need to go around."
"Will we be able to?" Yaz stood up as well. Her front was cold now, and she reached back, to make sure that the helmet hadn't cracked.
"We should be able to," the Doctor said. "There's multiple ways to the center, there always is in a labyrinth." She turned on her heel, still following the device. "We'll just have to go on the scenic route."
"Scenic," Yaz echoed, her voice flat, looking around at the walls still towering over them.
"Exactly," the Doctor said, and she was already walking out of sight.
Yaz hurried after her.
They had been walking for another couple of minutes, the Doctor staring intently at the device. It was quiet - even their steps seemed to be muffled. The Doctor's silence was beginning to give Yaz the creeps, honestly.
"So what d'you think it is?" Yaz asked, after they'd turned three more corners and the Doctor's frown got deeper.
"I'm beginning to get an idea," the Doctor said, "but I don't want to name it just yet." A pause. "What are you afraid of, Yaz?"
"Oh, loads of things," Yaz said, and she was aware that she was being evasive, but the Doctor didn't seem to be paying attention.
Truth be told, the Doctor didn't seem to be paying much attention to anything but the device in front of her. She was walking faster now, and Yaz was having a bit of trouble keeping up. The orange of her suit was very loud in the endless grey walls, and Shalos was a little flash of light, his dun fur blending in with her blond hair as he balanced on her shoulder.
The Doctor turned a corner, and then she just as quickly came around, grabbing Yaz's hand and walking very fast in the direction they had just come. "We're not going that way," she said firmly.
"Why? What's wrong with it?" Yaz frowned, looking over her shoulder.
"D'you remember that time we went to your mum's workplace? With the giant spiders?" The Doctor was still holding on to Yaz's hand, and even through the gloves they were both wearing, her fingers were tingling.
"Yeah," Yaz said, and she shivered.
"It were like that," the Doctor said, "but moreso."
"Moreso," Yaz echoed.
"Spiders as big as... a very big thing," the Doctor said, and they turned another corner. "I don't remember if y'like spiders or not, but that were... that were a lot." The Doctor gave another shiver. "I like spiders," she told Yaz, "but this lot looked mad."
Yaz nodded. She wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that, but if something left the Doctor this shook up, it must have been one heck of a spider.
"So," the Doctor said, her tone thoughtful, "if my theory is correct..." The Doctor was walking awkwardly - Shalos balanced on her shoulders, clutching Yaz's hand with one hand and holding the device out in the other. "Hold on."
They had both stilled now, and Yaz paused as well. The Doctor's head was tilted to the side, and so was Shalos'. Yaz titled her own head to the side, listening intently, but she wasn't sure what it was that she was listening for.
"Aha!" The Doctor let go of Yaz's hand, and began to run.
"I wish she'd tell us what's going on," Theo grumbled, as he flew after her. Yaz followed.
And then she stopped suddenly, because once again, the ground just... stopped.
It was the same as the shark's... pool? Tank? It was as if a piece of the land had just been cut, only now they were high up. Somehow.
Yaz looked down, and saw clouds scudding along distant mountain peaks below her. There was an odd rushing in her ears, and her head spun. Her mouth was very dry, and then Theo was biting her on the ear, hard enough to jerk her out of whatever trance she'd been in.
"How is that possible?" Yaz took another step back from the edge, and wiped her sweaty hands on the legs of the suit.
"It's complicated, but we gotta get across."
"What," Yaz said flatly.
"Well," said the Doctor, "it's this or the spiders, and they weren't listening to reason."
"How rude of them." Yaz's voice was flat in her own ears.
"Spiders aren't the best at manners, admittedly," said the Doctor. She was stepping back, and she was fiddling with something in her pockets. "You sit tight. I'm gonna rig something up."
Yaz sat on the ground, her knees drawn up to her chest, and she petted Theo. She was tired, down in her bones, but there was an odd... restlessness to it as well. Theo was hopping from one knee to another, his wings outstretched, and she smiled in spite of herself, every time he nearly unbalanced.
The Doctor was mumbling about... something. Yaz wasn't really keeping track - something about narrativium resonance and traces of xeno-Dust. She let her head tilt back, so that she was looking up at the grey, grey sky, and she stroked down Theo's back with one finger as he settled onto her knee.
"So," the Doctor said, after it had been long enough that Yaz's backside had fallen asleep, "I've figured out how to get across!"
"That's good," said Yaz.
"But we'll have to put your helmet on," the Doctor said. "And black it out."
Yaz frowned. "Black it out?"
"You can black them out so that you can't see anything," the Doctor said. "You can have Theo in there with you as well."
Yaz raised a skeptical eyebrow. "How would me not being able to see anything help?"
"It will," the Doctor said. "Trust me."
Yaz was still frowning, as she carefully put her helmet on. Theo was perched awkwardly on her shoulder, smushed into the helmet with her. "How are we getting across?" The Doctor was pressing some buttons on the suit, and then Yaz was enveloped in darkness. With the helmet darked out, she couldn't see anything - she was reminded of that special pain, the one that was blacker than black. It was like being in a room painted with that, and it was beginning to trigger her hitherto unknown fear of the dark. "Is it gonna be dangerous, me not being able to see?"
"I'll take care of it," the Doctor said, and then she was taking Yaz's hands in her own. "Gonna need to walk backwards a bit."
"Okay?" Yaz was walking very slowly backwards, holding on to the Doctor's hands in her own. She wished she wasn't wearing the gloves, wished she wasn't on this weird planet to begin with. "Can you tell me what we're doing in the first place?"
"Something super high tech," the Doctor said, and she was jostling Yaz around. Her voice was muffled through the helmet, and most of what Yaz could hear was the rapid beat of Theo's heart, and the shifting of his wings. The darkness was so complete that she fancied it would try to burrow down her throat.
Yaz was being turned around, until she wasn't sure which direction she was pointing. But now she was walking forward again, holding on to the Doctor's hands. "So what are we looking for, anyway?"
"Whatever it was that's draining the TARDIS," the Doctor said. "I've a theory that it's hiding in the middle of this maze."
"What's with the shark and the spiders and... all of it?" Yaz could hear the wind whistling louder, and she was shaking, the environmental suit's boots heavy with each step she took.
"Oh, I've a theory about that," the Doctor said.
There was more quiet, apart from Yaz's heart in her ears, her rapid breathing. "So what's your theory?"
Anything to break the silence that still managed to be too loud.
"I've got a theory that this is a mind trap," the Doctor said, and she was walking a little faster. Yaz walked with her - she wasn't sure how far back they'd gotten, but they had to almost be at the edge by now, right?
"A mind trap?" Theo's voice was very loud in the helmet, but the Doctor didn't seem to hear him.
"A mind trap?" Yaz repeated.
"Think spiders,” the Doctor said, “only don't think spiders too hard," she added quickly.
They were still walking, and Yaz's hands were sweaty in her gloves. "Are we almost to the point where I gotta cross?"
"Almost," the Doctor said, and was Yaz imagining things, or did the Doctor sound anxious?
"So what is a mind trap? What does it do?" Yaz let herself be soothed by Theo's feathery head rubbing against her cheek. He was making quiet little peeping noises, the same ones he did when she had been young and scared and angry.
"It traps the mind," the Doctor said, as unhelpful as ever.
"Okay, yes, it does that," Yaz said, "but how? What does it do?"
"You can stop now," the Doctor said, although she hadn't let go of Yaz's hands.
"Are we near the edge?" Yaz had stopped as well. If I keep walking, I'd walk right into her.
"Yeah," said the Doctor, then; "you can take your helmet off."
"I thought you said I needed it on to cross?" Yaz fumbled the helmet off, blinking. The light wasn't bright, but after the intensity of the darkness, it was like a kick to the face.
The wind was still whistling, but the gap wasn't... there anymore. Then Theo gave a cry, and Yaz spun around as well.
The gap was behind her. Fully behind her, at least five paces away, and Yaz's whole body seemed to seize up. She sat down heavily, staring at the clouds as they serenely moved across the sky in the huge hole in the ground, and she shook.
"Yaz," the Doctor said, and her tone was getting frantic. "Yaz, I need you to be okay right now. We can have a proper freak out when we've got the TARDIS up and running - I've got a whole room for it, we can have ice cream or chips or whatever you want. But here and now we need to deal with this."
"I need you to tell me what's going on," said Yaz. Her voice sounded very far away.
Why was she so bothered by this? She'd seen stranger things, more terrifying things, but some vital part of her psyche had pinged off into the corner somewhere, like the tiny screws in a watch.
"I couldn't tell you until we'd gotten across," the Doctor said, and her tone was earnest. She was sitting next to Yaz now, and her bare hand was on Yaz's knee. She must have taken her glove off, when Yaz wasn't looking. Shalos was sitting on the ground, watching Theo flit back and forth. He kept extending a paw, then setting it back down. "The way it works, it's a mind trap. And a mind trap works... by your mind, but if you weren't sure then it might not work, and we needed to get across. So if you couldn't see it or know where you were walking, you'd be safe."
Yaz's hand was shaking as she took her hand out of the glove, and she let the Doctor's fingers slide through her own. "Don't do that," she said, and her voice was quiet, as she kept her eyes on the gap. The wind ruffled her hair. "What is a mind trap?"
"It's a psychic... web," the Doctor said, and now she was talking a little faster. "My theory is that there's some kind of entity that's picking up on the psychic residue of previous people who've been in the TARDIS. So that's why there's the labyrinth. And even the heights - one of my previous selves was really bad with heights."
Theo was beside Shalos now, and Shalos was gently bathing his head.
"I'm sorry," the Doctor said, "for not telling you. And for scaring you. Sometimes... sometimes I need to do things, and they aren't fair."
A memory - the listening silence of the empty TARDIS, the memory of the Doctor stepping into the portal with the Master - and Yaz stood up awkwardly, her knees weak. "We should get going. Find this thing." She let go of the Doctor's hand, and shoved her gloves into the straps of her harness, as Theo flew up and landed on her shoulder.
"Right," the Doctor said. The look on the Doctor's face was hard to decipher - hopeful? Sad? Regretful? "I think we're getting closer to the center," she added. "Since it seems to be building on older, deeper fears."
"Yeah?" Yaz held Theo in her hand, her thumb rubbing over his chest.
"Yeah," said the Doctor. "You've always gotta mind a mind trap, they can be tricky." She paused, and then she smiled. "Oo, that was clever. I should remember that."
Yaz smiled in spite of herself, and she followed after the Doctor, and the two of them made their way deeper into the labyrinth.
They had turned three more corners when they found the mirror.
It was a big, ornate thing - old fashioned, like the one her nani had in her old flat, before she'd moved. The thing had a huge, heavy frame carved out of some dark, dense wood. It was carved with what might have been greenery and what might have been eyes.
Yaz frowned, stared into it. A woman with her face in an orange environmental suit stared back. Theo landed back on her shoulder, and now the woman in the mirror had an identical starling daemon, staring through. The Doctor crowded closer, and now the woman in the mirror shared the frame with blond hair and a dun colored cat daemon.
"I don't see what's so scary about it," Yaz said. "It's just a mirror. I just - wait a minute." Yaz stepped closer, frowning harder.
There was a flicker of motion, in the mirror behind her. Yaz looked over her shoulder, but only saw more endless grey walls.
"I had a run in," the Doctor said, her voice quiet. "A long time ago. Someone... someone ended up in a mirror."
Talk about your passive voice, some sardonic part of Yaz's mind cackled, sounding like a mix of her grade seven English teacher and Groucho Marx.
"Oh," Yaz said. "Are you... are you afraid of mirrors?" Another flicker of movement, and Yaz... didn't like that. She edged around it, and found that the other side was also mirrored. Something about that struck her as even more creepy, like someone who had eyes on the back of their head.
Theo pressed himself into her neck, jamming his face into her hair. He was trembling just as hard as she was.
"Well," said the Doctor, "that was... unpleasant." They both turned a corner, and Yaz relaxed a fraction, now that the strange mirror wasn't watching her anymore.
"So you're afraid of mirrors?" Yaz wanted to take the Doctor's hand, but would that be weird? Too much? After everything that the two of them had been through today - let alone altogether - maybe it wouldn't be?
"Not exactly," said the Doctor, and she was stroking Shalos, her fingers absently twisting the fur around the ruff of his neck. "Have we encountered any of your fears?"
“Weren’t too fond of the heights, I’ll tell you what,” said Yaz, which was an evasive answer, but it’d be hypocritical if the Doctor complained.
“Don’t think I’m too bad with them, this go ‘round,” the Doctor's tone was reflective. “What with one thing and another. I think havin’ to climb that crane first thing when I were first regenerated might have cured me of anything.”
“That were… a lot,” Yaz said. “All of it.”
“But fun, in a weird way,” the Doctor sounded downright cheerful now, and now she was grinning. “Always wanted to drive a crane.”
“I were the one driving it,” Yaz argued. “Well,” she paused. “Operating.” The mere idea of being that high up and having to drive… no. Although maybe it wasn’t a good idea to think of anything scary. But now that she was thinking about it, she couldn’t seem to stop. “This is difficult,” she said out loud.
“What’s difficult?” They turned another corner, and Shalos jumped off of the Doctor’s shoulder, padding ahead of them.
“Not thinkin’ of scary stuff,” Yaz said, wrinkling her nose.
“Mind the mind trap,” the Doctor said quickly.
“It’s like not thinkin’ of a pink elephant,” Yaz grumbled.
“Easy as anything to not think of an elephant,” the Doctor countered. “You spend loads of time not thinkin’ of them, you just concentrate on all the times that you’re doin’ it wrong.”
“It’s hard to think of it like that,” Yaz sighed.
“You’re too hard on yourself, Yaz,” the Doctor said, and her hand went to Yaz’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “I wouldn’t want to be doin’ this with anyone else.”
“I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone,” Yaz countered, but she was grinning. She brought a hand up to cover the Doctor’s, and the Doctor smiled back at her.
And then the Doctor was gone.
Yaz’s hand was on her own shoulder, touching herself. There was nobody else in the corridor of the labyrinth, just Yaz and Theo. No daft blond alien, no dun colored cat.
“Doctor?” Yaz tried to sound calm. Terror was climbing up her throat, trying to escape from between her teeth. “Doctor, where are you?”
“She’s not here,” said Theo. He launched himself off of her, hard enough that his claws bit into her, and he flew as far as he could, around a corner, around another one. Then he came back to her, and she held her hand out for him to land on.
“I can see that,” Yaz snapped, and then she sighed, stroking along Theo’s back. “Sorry,” she said quietly.
The two of them hadn’t been on the best of terms, those first few months the Doctor had been gone. Yaz had been scared enough and mad enough to take it out on him, and he’d never been one to take any kind of mistreatment.
It was better now. There had been whispered apologies and understanding passing between the two of them, and then the Doctor had come back, and now… well.
“I’ll fly up,” he said. “See if I can see over and find her.” He launched himself off of her hand, and he flew up and up, along the length of the wall, so high that their connection tugged at her heart, like a rubberband about to snap. She was trembling, all of her weight on the wall of the labyrinth, when he dropped back down to her like a bullet, and she took him in her hands quickly, pressed him up against her cheek.
They stood like that for several minutes, her tears wet on his feathers, his beak gentle as he nibbled on her fingertips. “I couldn’t see the top,” he said quietly.
“Yeah,” she said, just as quietly. “Maybe she got… taken. Or teleported.”
“We can probably find her, if we look,” Theo said. “We can’t just stay here, at any rate.”
She looked over her shoulder, where the mirror was, the shark, the spiders, the great gap that shouldn’t have been there.
Mind the mind trap, repeated the Doctor’s voice in her head, and then pink elephants.
“I don’t think a pink elephant would help at a time like this,” said Theo.
“Probably not,” Yaz agreed, as she began to walk. He rested on her shoulder, and she brought a hand up now and then to feel him, taking comfort in the warmth of his body and the familiar smoothness of his feathers.
“We’ll find her,” Theo said, his tone forceful. “We will.”
Yaz set her jaw, and she nodded.
They ran into the clown three turns later.
It was a proper circus clown, too - big red nose, white painted face, lurid red grin. It (he?) didn’t say anything, just held out a great big red balloon to her. She paused, staring at it, and something about it reminded her of Graham of all people.
Thinking about Graham and Ryan led to a pang of sadness, and she squared her shoulders, shook her head. “No, thank you,” she said, and she backed away slowly. What was that joke her dad always made? I gave at the office. She bit back a peal of hysterical laughter, as Theo hopped to her other shoulder.
“Don’t you want to come play with me?” The clown had a rough voice, and he smiled at her.
And abruptly, it was all too much. It was like something out of a cheap haunted house, throwing every scare that it could think of at the wall until it could stick. She was tired of being ambushed by other people’s fears, tired of carrying her own terror in the pit of her stomach. She was furious, and the fury was burning away the terror.
“Yaaaaaaz,” the clown said, and his voice was a horrible sing-song.
“You’re not real,” she said to him, turning around and walking down a different path, “and even if you were,” she called, “your bit is overplayed.”
There wasn’t a response to that, thankfully. She half expected to feel the bite of sharp teeth into her back, or hear the slap-slap-slap of huge feet coming towards her.
But nothing. Just the quiet wind, and her own heart in her ears. When she’d turned three corners and the anger had died down enough for the fear to come back, and leaned against the wall and slid down, her head in her hands.
“Okay,” she said to Theo, “we can’t just wander around turning corners until we die of starvation.”
“That’d be a bad plan,” Theo agreed.
An idea was beginning to form in her mind, and she ran her fingers along his back, between his wings as she thought.
Mind the mind trap.
It was all the mind trap, wasn’t it? The labyrinth hadn’t existed, when she’d first stepped out of the TARDIS. It had been nothing but flatness, and then the labyrinth sprung up like mushrooms after a storm.
Which suggested that it was all the mind trap. As much the mind trap as the gap in the ground had been.
She stood up, carefully, and she positioned herself until she was in the exact middle of the path. Then she looked over at Theo, who cocked his head to the side and fluffed his feathers out to look better. “I’d rather just go down your shirt,” he told her.
“Just keep your eyes covered,” she said, holding the neck of the suit away from her, so he could climb down into it, into her shirt, between her breasts and right up against her sternum. His heart was beating rapidly, and he was shaking.
Her hands were surprisingly steady, as she put the helmet on herself, adjusted the seals so that it was seated right. The Doctor hadn’t cleared the visor, and it was pitch dark once again, no light peeking through in the slightest.
“I wonder why the suit needs this in the first place,” she thought, as she began to walk with slow, deliberate steps. “When would it do good to not be able to see anything at all?”
“Apart from situations like this?” Theo countered.
Yaz snorted. “Don’t think this comes up very often,” she said to him.
“For all we know it’s part of the Doctor’s everyday life, she just doesn’t talk about it,” he said. “Wouldn’t be the only thing she doesn’t talk about.” He shifted in her bra, and his feathers were soft.
“Wouldn’t be the only thing she doesn’t talk about,” Yaz said, and she was very much not thinking about how they were approaching a wall. How they were going to hit it any moment now, and this was all for naught, they’d be wandering through this endless labyrinth until -
She didn’t meet a wall. She didn’t hit anything, and so she kept walking straight, her hands hanging loosely by her sides, one foot in front of the other. “Don’t think of a pink elephant,” she said to Theo.
“I won’t if you won’t,” Theo said, as if they didn’t share a mind.
It was quiet, as they walked, apart from the muffled sound of Yaz’s boots. She was going in a straight line, and now all she could think about was that empty stretch of road with the police car, and the memory of the despair on the very edges of her mind.
“I’m a different person now,” Yaz said out loud, and she stopped, taking a deep breath. “The Doctor trusts me.” A pause. “The Doctor would never leave us.”
Because that's what she was afraid of, wasn’t it? Spiders, heights, clowns, sharks - all terrifying, on a surface sort of level. But the Doctor leaving again, the Doctor abandoning her? The terror wormed its way through her, and she forced it back.
“The Doctor would never leave us,” Theo echoed, and he gave a little starling whistle, which ended in an imitation of Sonya’s old ringtone.
Yaz gave a watery little laugh, and she stopped to catch her breath. She was sweating down her ribs, the backs of her knees, along her face. She wasn’t sure if it was fear sweat or just being overheated from the humid air of the helmet, but it was gross to say the least. “When we get back to the TARDIS,” she told Theo, “I’m gonna take such a shower.”
There was a sensation along her leg, and she bit back a shriek. Was it the mind trap pulling another trick? It didn’t feel like something scary.
In all honesty, it felt like a cat rubbing against her shins. There it was again, and she closed her eyes in the darkness, trying to concentrate. It came again - a rub against her shin, the sensation of a pointy head and a tail curling around her calf. “Shalos?” She asked, and her voice shook.
“He can’t hear you in here,” said Theo.
“Well, I can’t very well take it off,” she said. “What else should I do?”
“Take it as a sign she’s nearby?” Theo suggested. “She has to be near him, doesn’t she?”
“Unless she’s like a witch and can be away from him,” said Yaz, her brow furrowing.
“We’d know if she could do that,” argued Theo.
“Would we, though?”
“Well,” said Theo, “I say we keep going until something else happens.”
Yaz couldn’t really argue with that. Stepping carefully, to avoid kicking Shalos (whether he was or wasn’t there), she began to walk again.
It was some time later when her foot bumped into something. She’d pause, now and then, and there would be that same rub against the shins or weight on her foot. She’d seen Shalos do the same thing to the Doctor on occasion, and it was… untoward to touch someone else’s daemon, but these were unusual circumstances. She’d have a talk with the Doctor about it afterwards. Maybe.
She walked until her foot knocked against something, and the sound of her footsteps changed. When she held her bare hands out in front of her, they brushed against something else - something that felt like… wood?
“I don’t think it’s the mind trap,” she told Theo.
“Should we risk it?”
“Might as well,” Yaz said, trying to sound glib. Her hands were shaking as they went to the seal of the helmet, and then she was pulling it up and off of her head, her hair spilling out around her, blinking in more dimness.
There was something like a tree in front of her, although it wasn’t quite a tree. It looked like someone had described a tree to a sculptor who had never seen one, and the sculptor had done what they could with crystals and glass. The texture against her hands was like bark, and her foot had bumped into one of the great roots buried deep into the ground.
The whole thing pulsed with a light that was starting to give her a headache, and when she looked up, she could see that there was a single shaft of light being fed into the crown of the tree, flashing blue and gold like the light from the crystals of the TARDIS.
“Are you the one who set up the mind trap?” Yaz’s voice was very quiet. She rested a palm on the bark, which was possibly a horrible idea, but nothing came out to bite her, so she put her other hand next to it.
Emotions flooded her. Hunger. Fear. Loneliness. Curiosity.
It was like trying to pour the ocean into a thimble, and she staggered, sagged against it. Theo fell to the ground beside her, and the jolt of the impact made her slide to her own feet, still connected to the tree.
She couldn’t get away. Whatever it was, it was old, and it held her in its grasp. There didn’t seem to be any malice, but the fear was greater than worlds. She was aware, distantly, that Theo had gotten up, that he was pressed up against her, and she tried to get her mind into any kind of shape, tried to fight off the blast of energy and feeling and strangeness that was filling her up and up.
The Doctor wouldn’t abandon us, she thought, as the landscape all around them changed. The tree was the mind trap, it seemed - a battlefield appeared, full of screaming warriors bathed in blood, and then it was gone. Fire razing through a forest, a flood crashing through a town, giant mantises as big as houses flickering around her like screens at a drive through theater.
Theo was on her foot now, pressing against her as much as he could, and she managed to detach one hand to grab him, hold him to her chest. She held him tight, and she screwed her eyes shut, her other hand still stuck to the tree.
“The Doctor would never abandon us,” Yaz said, and the fear that it was a lie - that the Doctor had left, because she was hurt or distracted or just bored of Yaz - seemed to be filling Yaz to the brim.
But she clung to her daemon, and she clung to the fact that she knew the Doctor would never abandon her, she’d faced that fear for all those months and she’d been proven wrong, and now, here she was.
The Doctor always came back. Sometimes late. Sometimes at the wrong moment. But she always came back.
And then there was a weight against her shin and a weight against her back, and a hand covering her own, soft hair ticklish against her cheek. Yaz’s eyes sprang open, and she found the Doctor’s chin on her shoulder, the Doctor’s front against her back.
“I’m sorry,” the Doctor said, and Yaz didn’t know if the Doctor was talking to her or the tree.
She didn’t care, just then.
The Doctor pried her hands off of the tree, and the flood of information cut off, like a tap being turned off. She was being held by the Doctor, and she trembled, as she was pulled away from the tree. She stared up into the Doctor’s face, almost not believing that this was real, and the Doctor’s eyes searched her own, clearly anxious.
“Yaz,” the Doctor said, and she sounded frantic, “Yaz, I’m so sorry. One minute, I was there, the next you couldn’t see me, you weren’t responding to me at all when I talked to you or touched you. I think there was some kind of field keeping you from -”
Yaz grabbed the front of the Doctor’s suit, and she kissed her, an awkward press of lips against lips. It was a sloppy, inelegant kiss, and her sweaty, tear stained cheeks rubbed against the Doctor’s, but that didn’t matter. None of that mattered, because the Doctor was cupping her face and when they pulled apart, the Doctor looked at her, eyes wide.
“I can see you,” Yaz said quietly, and her voice was rough. “You came back.”
The Doctor pressed her forehead against Yaz’s, rubbed their noses together, then gave another shy little kiss, a little glancing brush of lips to lips. “I’ll always come back to you,” she promised.
“D’you know what that is?” Yaz asked, and she was clutching at the Doctor’s suit with both hands now, Theo resting on her leg.
Shalos brought his head down, and was nuzzling against Theo, as the starling climbed up onto his back and began to preen his fur.
“Something very, very old and very, very scared,” the Doctor said. “And hungry. And… I think I know how to talk to it. Might be a while, but I know what to do.”
Yaz nodded, as her breath made the hair hanging around the Doctor’s face sway. “You’ll fix it,” she said. “You always do.”
“You have a lot of faith in me,” the Doctor said, and she sounded… sad.
“You came back,” Yaz said, as if that was answer enough.
And in that moment, breathing each other’s breath and with their fingers linked together, it was.