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Grounded

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Weeks later, Yaz would wonder if the TARDIS wasn't trying to warn them, in her own unique way. In a matter of hours, the ship's apparently unlimited supply of hot water ran out in the middle of her shower, the kettle exploded while Graham was trying to make tea, and his bedroom door slammed shut on Ryan's fingers when he tried to yank it opened. Even the controls seemed to be moving away from the Doctor's reach, forcing the Time Lord to run back and forth around the console every time she wanted to activate a lever.

The TARDIS has been in a foul mood for almost a full week before her four passengers gather around in the control room, staring at the central column in different stages of disarray.

"I get it, you're cross." The Doctor interrupts the tense silence, pacing up and down the stairs. "But do you have to take it out on us?"

"I vote no." Ryan answers, doubtfully observing his granddad's attempt at wrapping a bandage around his swollen fingers. "I'm fine, Graham."

"What's wrong with her though?" Yaz asks, watching both the Doctor's nervous wandering and Graham's poor medical skills from her spot, leaning against the opposite wall, arms folded in front of her.

"I don't know. I've checked the fuel level, the Artron energy carburetor, every single subsystems - which took a while, she has 972. I even did basic maintenance last night." The Time Lord sighs. "Still sulking."

"Maybe you've made it cross with all your repairs." Graham suggests, handing the rest of the bandages to Ryan who takes over the taping job on his own fingers.

"She's not an it, Graham." The Doctor snaps, glaring at him. "And I know how to work on my ship, thank you very much. Maybe you've made her cross by calling her a thing too often."

"Now what? Can you force her to land?" Ryan interrupts, drawing another sigh out of the alien. He's right, they've already been drifting into the time vortex for three Earth days, the TARDIS derailing her every attempt at landing.

"I could, but I'm not sure..." The blond trails off, picking up her sentence with a worried glance over the console. "I don't want to hurt her."

"Well, we can wait. Maybe she just needs time." Yaz shrugs.

"She's getting worse. I need to sort this out and I've tried everything I could from here."

"Is there a TARDIS’ repair shop? Surely someone can help." Graham says.

"It's where I found her. In a repair shop." The Doctor grins.

"You bought a broken TARDIS?"

"Eh. Didn't exactly buy her."

"What?"

"If you stole a time ship, I don't want to hear about it." Yaz cuts into the conversation, giving her best police officer stare to the Time Lord.

"Sorry, Graham. Don't want to get arrested." She comes to a stop next to the younger woman, resting her back against the same wall before lowering her voice. "You wouldn't, right?"

"Maybe. Don't try me." Yaz answers, leaning in to bump their shoulders together. She ends up clutching the Doctor's elbow when the TARDIS hits a sudden drop, sending both Ryan and Graham flying. They land against the floor with a loud thud and identical groans, while Yaz is only kept upright by the grip the Doctor manages to get around her waist.

"Everyone alright? Boys?" She glances at the two men slowly helping each other off the floor, before bringing her attention back to the younger woman. "Yaz?"

"I'm fine. Nice catch." She replies, clearing her throat. It's a struggle to focus on anything other than the slender arms wrapped around her. Her head falls against the taller woman's shoulder, and she allows herself a few seconds to catch her breath in the loose hug. She's surprised to find that the Doctor smells vaguely of sugar with just a hint of mint, not unlike those chocolate biscuits the old lady living next door used to share with the neighborhood's children in Sheffield. Mixed with the few droplets of mechanic oil clinging to the blond's shirt, it creates a combination that should be odd but is somehow completely fitting. Yaz has to will herself to take a step back - this crush is really getting out of control - and to put a more reasonable distance between them.

"I didn't catch anyth... Oh, you mean you?" Yaz's pointed look is her only answer, and the Time Lord shrugs it off. "Don't worry about it. There's a planet in the Nildor galaxy where it's a popular dance move. The dive-and-catch, they call it. Bit dangerous, but amazing to watch. I wonder if I'm any good at dancing this time ar..." She trails off when she notices the humans' impatient eyes turning towards her, awkwardly clearing her throat. "Right."

The Doctor strides closer to the console, jumping over the steps. "Alright, you. It's enough. We're landing, now." The edge in the alien's voice doesn't affect the ship that keeps on humming in a slightly higher pitch than usual. The strange tone was the first symptom that caught the Doctor's attention a few days earlier, and it only aggravates the woman's exasperation.

Squaring her shoulders, the Time Lord slides near the dematerialization lever, her fingers gripping the handle tightly before the TARDIS decides to move it away. "Hang onto something, fam. Landing might be a little bumpy."

Graham, Ryan and Yaz have all figured out that "A little bumpy" is Doctor for "Find something solid, don't let go and hope for the best", and they quickly move towards the stairs' railings. They slide to the ground, leaning against each other with Graham stuck in the middle. The older man gives a thumbs up, and the Doctor nods at him, before bringing the lever down and sending the ship into a violent tumble.

"Wha..." The Doctor's complain is cut short when she slips, loses her balance and falls heavily on the edge of the upper stair. The impact sends a wave of pain through her upper body, and she feels her ribs protest as gravity drags her to the lowest level of the control room. "If that's broken, I won't be doing maintenance for a very long time." She mumbles through gritted teeth, trying to find purchase as she slides across the floor along with the TARDIS' jerky movements.

In a last effort, she manages to wrap her legs around one of the column and blinks quickly, trying to recover a sense of balance as the ship keeps wavering. She trails her fingers across her ribs, pushing gently against the skin and hissing at the burst of pain. She has barely decided that nothing is broken, before Yaz's concerned voice snaps her out of her self examination.

"Doctor?" The Time Lord looks around, realizing that her resting spot is on the opposite side of the control room.

"I'm fine."

"Ryan is turning green, anything you can do?" Graham asks.

"Well, we're probably going to crash soon, so ju..."

"Crash?" The younger man interrupts, his voice squeaky.

"Yep. Sorry. Don't let go, and please don't be sick Ryan. Last time someone was si..." Her sentence is cut short by a last swerving motion, before they hit the ground violently. The impact shakes the entire TARDIS, echoing in a loud vibration that travels through the walls. The chaos of the last seconds leaves place to a stunned silence that stretches across the control room, until the Doctor lets out a relieved sigh and tentatively makes her way up to her feet.

"Is it over?" Graham speaks, and Ryan clears his throat before answering.

"So everyone agrees we're never doing this again. Right?"

Yaz grunts, leaning against the railings and sparing a moment to appreciate the stable floor under her feet. "Never again."

"Good or bad news first?" The Doctor interrupts from where she's now standing, crouched over the TARDIS' display.

"I don't think I can take any bad news right now, Doc." Graham replies, as he climbs up the stairs.

"Well, good news is that we're on Sinda Calista, and their technology is pretty advanced. We should be able to buy spare parts for the TARDIS, once I've figured out what's wrong." She pauses, frown deepening at the Galifreyan symbols traveling across the screen. "Bad news is, those readings are all over the place. Something is wrong." She runs down the steps, heading for the door and grabbing her coat from where it's draped over a column.

"Something is wrong where we've landed. Shocking." Graham deadpans, watching as both Ryan and Yaz joins the Doctor.

"If you don't want to come..." The Time Lord trails off, and he makes his way across the room with a sigh. "All right, all of you stay close until we know what's going on."

***************

"And no interfering, we know." Ryan teases, skipping around the blond. "Ready?" He doesn't wait for a response, before pushing against the door and drawing a loud whir from the unhappy TARDIS. He wavers under the force of the wind outside, taking a step back as he tries to slam the door shut. It's too late, and the younger man loses his breath as biting cold air blasts through the ship, traveling around the control room.

In a matter of seconds, a thick layer of ice is covering every visible surface from wall to ceiling, and a somber silence falls onto the TARDIS. The only movement in the room is a swirl of lost snowflakes traveling through the air, until the lighting flickers and dies, leaving the dimmed central column as the only source of light.

"What... Just happened?" Ryan asks quietly, blinking as he sees his own breath crystallize in the chilly atmosphere. The Doctor doesn't reply, barely noticing as her feet takes her closer to the console. The sound of her boots hitting the metallic stairs echoes eerily, and Yaz realizes that the ship's characteristic hum has disappeared from the background. She watches as the Time Lord stares at the control panel, rooted to her spot until she sees the blond's hands softly trail around the switches and levers. The Doctor leans on her elbows and lets her head fall forwards, propelling Yaz to join her. Ryan tries to follow, but Graham wraps his arm around his shoulders, holding him back.

"Doc?" He tries, gently.

"She's dead." The shakiness in her voice is enough to make the humans stop breathing as they let the news sink in.

"But you can fix it, right?" Ryan says, gulping when he sees the blond head gives a certain shake.

"There's nothing to fix. She's just... Frozen. Forever."

Yaz stops moving, forcing herself to stay calm. The Doctor is the thinker of their group, coming up with the best plans whenever they're trying to solve a crisis. But there's something about the TARDIS that triggers an unusual emotional response from her friend. Yaz noticed it on Desolation first, when the ship didn't appear at the finish line of the race. It happened again on Tsuranga, when the medical spacecraft took them away, leaving the TARDIS at the mercy of scavengers.

The dark haired woman doesn't really understand their connection - it's still hard to wrap her head around the concept of a sentient ship - but the Doctor might be letting that emotional attachment clouds her judgement. Someone else has to step up, and Yaz carefully climbs the stairs to join the motionless Time Lord who's leaning against the dematerialization lever.

Standing behind her friend's shoulder, she takes a moment to examine the state of the room. The green glow of the central column is fainter than usual, but the TARDIS is still producing enough light to allow them to move around safely. The few snowflakes that trickled into the room have melted, leaving the smallest of puddles on the floor. Yaz can still feel the cold biting against her exposed skin, but her leather jacket is enough to stop the shivers that ran through her when Ryan opened the door. In fact... She glances back, confirming that both men are fine. They're humans and the cold hasn't killed them. So, unless the TARDIS has some sort of structural weakness that makes her vulnerable to snow or ice...

"Why are we not frozen?"

"Because she's protect..." The Doctor suddenly goes very still, before letting out a quiet gasp. "She's protecting us. She can't be dead, if she's protecting us." She turns around, and Yaz barely has time to notice the tears shining in her hazel eyes before they're brushed away, and she finds herself caught in a hug by one perceptibly relieved alien.

"Yasmin Khan, you are brilliant." The words are whispered against her ear, and Yaz ignores the shiver traveling up her back in answer. She sneaks her arms around the Doctor's waist and allows herself a few seconds to indulge in the rare feeling of comfort brought by their bodies pressed together - the blond is not a hugger, despite what today's events might indicate - before she loosens her hold on the alien. Her breath catches when it's the Doctor who doesn't let go, only bringing Yaz closer with a choked noise that sounds a lot like a whimper.

The reaction triggers the dark haired woman's protective instinct, and she's surprised by the fierce warmth surging through her chest. She tightens her grip on the Time Lord again, shifting until the Doctor lets her head rest against her shoulder with Yaz's fingers gently trailing up and down her back. "You're all right. You're not alone, we're right here." She hesitates, drawing courage from the content sigh she feels against her neck. "I'm here." She whispers, and the Doctor's hands grips into her jacket in a wordless answer.

"Yaz is right. You just tell us what to do, and we'll help. You and your ship are going to be just fine." Graham gently adds, and the Doctor suddenly notices him standing right besides her, Ryan on his left. She swallows and takes a deep breath, releasing her hold on the younger woman with a tight smile. The familiar urge to put some distance between herself and her friends floods through her mind after that unexpected display of vulnerability.

"Of course, I'll be fine. I just don't know what to do yet." She answers, with an awkward clear of her throat. She pushes the rush of conflicting emotions flowing through her brain in a corner of her mind, choosing to focus on the more urgent task. "But we can't stay here, I hope you lot like winter."

***************

"Maybe she needs help." Ryan suggests, after a few minutes of the group standing noiselessly around the central console. The Doctor disappeared into the depth of the TARDIS' hallways a few minutes earlier, with nothing more than a quick "Be right back" thrown over her shoulder.

"She told us to wait." Yaz reminds him distractedly, her mind still preoccupied by how shaken the other woman looked, when she thought the TARDIS was dead.

"I'm sure she'll give us a shout if we can do something." Graham adds, and the humans fall quiet again. There's something troubling about the control room, a heavy silence that makes everyone uncomfortable. They didn't realize how attached they had grown to the chaotic energy flowing through the ship, fed by the odd relationship between the TARDIS and her pilot. Now that they're both missing, it feels wrong to be standing around the console.

The thought has barely gone through Yaz's mind, when the Doctor appears in the doorway, a heavy backpack on both of her shoulders and another one in her hands. She throws the bag she's holding to Graham, who grunts when he catches it.

"You took your time."

"Sorry I can't engineer dimensions fast enough for you, Graham." She fires back, motioning to the bags. The Doctor seems back to her usual self, if the familiar banter is any indication. "Also, all the doors are frozen." She sighs. "Fixing her might take a while."

Ryan starts digging into the bag at his feet, finding an extensive collection of winter clothing. His eyes widen when he sees a pair of heavy boots, woolen socks, coats, googles, and a ski hat. "Do we really need all that?"

Yaz is already putting on trekking pants over her every day trousers, and she gives him a pointed stare. "Look around you."

"Okay, but why two coa..."

"First one is a more of a jacket. It's a windbreaker, water proof and supposed to be tight on you. The other one..." The Doctor points to the noticeably heavy piece of clothing Ryan is holding. "Is insulated. That's what's going to really protect you from the cold." Ryan sighs, glancing between the alien and the winter gear scattered around him, before he starts taking off his regular shoes.

After a moment spent sorting out the sleeves, Yaz tugs on the laces of her heavy jacket's hood. The additional layers are not exactly comfortable, but she feels a little more prepared to face the cold that's awaiting them outside. She wriggles her toes inside the cramped space of her boots, and gives a satisfied nod when she realizes that the heavy socks still leaves enough room to move with ease. Raising her head, she freezes when she finds the Doctor standing right in front of her.

"Everything all right?" Yaz asks, lowering her voice.

The Doctor hesitates, pursing her lips before nodding. "Fine. You need any help?" She tilts her head to indicate Ryan and Graham, busy helping each other put on thick gloves.

Yaz fetches her own gloves from the front compartment of her bag, handing them away with a small smile. The Doctor slides the first one over her left hand, and the younger woman does her best to ignore how the blond's fingertips brush teasingly against the skin of her wrist, as she rolls up the tight sleeve of Yaz's windbreaker.

"Cold?"

Yaz opens her mouth to answer negatively, before noticing how the Doctor is frowning at the arm she's holding. The human follows her eyes, realizes that there's goosebumps all over her inner arm and grasps for an answer. "Ah, yes. Just a bit." She pulls down her sleeve, wriggling the fingers of her glove covered left hand. "Better now though."

The Doctor smiles and repeats the same actions on Yaz's right hand, before raising her gaze back to the younger woman's. The warm affection shining in her brown eyes takes the Time Lord by surprise, and she stumbles for words. "There. Can't have a frozen Yaz."

"Thanks." Closing her fist to test how comfortable the gloves are, she spares a grateful thought for the soft material enveloping her fingers. "I like them. But what about you?" Yaz frowns, noting that the Doctor is still in her usual combo of shirt and light grey coat. The rainbow scarf draped around her neck is her only acknowledgement of the harsh weather waiting for them outside of the blue box.

"I can handle the cold, don't worry." She nods towards her feet. "Look, I even got long pants."

"Right. That's going to keep you from freezing." Yaz raises a dubious eyebrow, but it only draws a quiet chuckle from the Doctor.

"I'll be fine." She raises her voice, turning to Ryan and Graham waiting silently in the background, buried under several layers of clothing with their backpacks firmly placed on their shoulders. Yaz does the same, sliding the straps around her body before snapping the clasp closed around her waist.

***************

"How about you go see if you're warm enough?" The Doctor asks, letting her eyes travel to the central console. "There's a few things I need to do before we can leave."

Yaz opens her mouth to protest - they should wait and all leave together - but Graham interrupts, gently guiding her towards the door. "Come on. We've done enough waiting around for the day." Pushing the two youngest members of the group forwards, he turns back and gives a tight smile to the alien. The Doctor nods gratefully in reply, before turning her attention back to the TARDIS.

Once she's left alone, she slowly makes her way up the stairs, trailing her fingers against the iciness of the metal railings. The cold burns her fingertips, but the sensation doesn't register as she stands in front of the console, rooted to the spot with the Sonic held loosely in her right hand.

“Hi.” The whisper breaks the eerily quiet atmosphere. “I’m going to shut you down, just for a bit.” A soft whine echoes into the Doctor’s mind, and she can’t remember the last time she was so happy to feel the ship in her head.

“I know, don’t like it either. But I have to fix you, and you'll need all your energy. Can't waste it keeping an old Time Lord warm.” Another protest, weaker this time, and the Doctor's gaze snaps to the console when she catches a movement from the corner of her eyes. She smiles, watching as a custard cream biscuit slides down towards her.

“I’ll miss you too.” She takes the food, biting into it sadly. “A lot.” She swallows against the sudden tightness in her throat, before gently tapping the end of her screwdriver against the central column.

“Ready?” The Doctor waits for a reply, sighing at the sad purr she receives. “Won’t hurt.” She activates the Sonic, sending sparks flying all over the controls. “Sorry, I lied.”

The expected protest doesn't come with the TARDIS now powered down, and the silence sends a startling feeling of dread coursing through the Time Lord’s body. Pilot and ship have been separated before, but never in that kind of semi-permanent way. Her mind is empty without the comforting presence of her oldest friend, and she has to force a deep breath into her lungs.

“Right. I’ll be fine.” She eyes the central column somberly, pressing a kiss against her index and middle finger, before touching the darkened crystal. “Sleep well, old girl. I...” She hesitates pursing her lips as she glances around the empty room. “I love you.”

Ignoring the tears prickling in her eyes, she jumps over the stairs, exits the ship and turns back to lock the door. She leans her forehead against the wood for a second, before tucking the key into her shirt, keeping it safe from the cold wind blowing around her as she leaves the blue box behind.