"That was - wow," Martha said. "Really, really wow. The best meal I've ever had and the best show I've ever seen! Well, apart from Shakespeare's, of course."
"That's Lyrae for you!" The Doctor smiled down at her. "They specialise in wow here. Wait a minute, you sound surprised! I told you to expect a perfect evening, didn't I?" He paused. "Yep, expect a perfect evening, I said that, I remember."
"Yes, but, no offence, your definition of p-"
The Doctor stumbled hard against her, causing her to nearly fall out of her heels and into the snappily-dressed alien couple next to her in the crowd. "Sorry," she said, disentangling herself as quickly as she could and getting her arms where they needed to be, around the Doctor. "Are you all right?"
"Peachy," he said, against his teeth. "Now sssh. Sssh sssh sssh."
But Martha wasn't ready to take the patient's word on this one, and she wasn't about to sssh. His eyes were closed, his face had gone ghost-white, and if she were to let go he'd probably end up smack on the floor. "We're almost to the lobby, when we get out there you can sit down -"
A rejuvenating thought, apparently. "The lobby! Yes! Brilliant! Come on, what are you waiting for?" Suddenly she was being dragged through the sea of people patiently waiting their turn to exit the theatre by a companion shouting about routine aisle velocity-threshold testing.
They came to a halt eventually in front of a reservations counter, Martha working to get her breath back. It was a very grand and very large lobby they'd just run through - it had to be, it served not only the thousand-plus-seat theatre they'd come out of but also the thousand-plus-room hotel above. And served it well: the counter was very long, with a load of stations, and astoundingly, there was an employee at each one.
"Hello, yes, we don't have a reservation, but we were just at your show - stunning, by the way, really stunning, especially liked the feathers - like I was saying, no reservation, but we just aren't ready to go home yet, are we Martha?" The Doctor dropped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed.
"Doesn't seem like it," Martha said. She smiled winningly at the person behind the desk, who sported the obsequious air of posh hotel employees everywhere, along with four arms. She was looking forward to seeing him type.
She was also looking forward to finding out what the bloody hell was going on.
"And what name, sir?"
"Mr and Mrs Smith," the Doctor said smoothly.
Martha's eyebrows went up. She couldn't stop them.
Four hands began tapping at a keyboard, which was disappointingly out of sight. "Certainly, sir. And what sort of view would sir and madam prefer? Urban, alpine, or aquatic?"
"Think aquatic means sea view?" Martha asked, looking up. The Doctor's eyes were open, but very, very far away. Too far away for opinions on views, or much else, she suspected... but if the objective was simply to get a hotel room, well then, consider it dusted. "We'd like aquatic, please."
"And your midnight snack? Would you prefer salty, sweet, or a tasty mixture?"
"A tasty mixture," Martha said.
"And your breakfast? Would you prefer hot or cold? Tea or coffee? Juice or milk?"
"Hot," Martha said. The arm around her shoulders was getting heavy, too heavy. "Tea." She put one of her arms around the Doctor's waist, in case she was going to have to hold him up again. "Juice."
"And what sort of tray would you prefer your breakfast served on? We offer -"
"Surprise us," Martha said quickly. "For all the rest of it too," she added, as the clerk made to open his mouth again. "If we could just get the key -"
"Mrs Smith is anxious to begin her the rest of her lovely evening as soon as possible," the clerk said. His eyes looked the Doctor over with what was a definite gleam of approval. "We at the Lyraitana Palace cannot blame her for her enthusiasm. If she and Mr Smith would just sign here...." One hand produced a paper, another a pen, while the other two kept clicking at the keyboard.
Mrs Smith was just glad when Mr Smith proved alert enough to sign his own fake name.
The lift was crowded, packed tight with couples standing hand-in-hand (in hand, in hand) or with arms around each other. Martha had noticed that the people here all appeared to be members of the same species - this planet was more like her Earth than New Earth, then, where you found humans beside cat people beside fifteen-foot faces. Everyone had been perfectly polite to them so far, but she wondered just how much comment her and the Doctor's two-armed-ness was causing really.
The Doctor was beside her, propped against the dark-paneled wall, his face in the muted lighting a thing of shadows. Martha tilted her head and looked him up and down, assessing. She didn't think he was drunk. She didn't really think it was possible - hard to imagine Time Lords letting a little thing like a banana rum cream get the better of them - and anyway, his handwriting had been perfectly clear and steady. She didn't think it was exhaustion, either. She'd never seen him too tired to pilot his ship, not even after being hit by lightning or possessed by a sun, for God's sake, surely sitting through a nice meal and a little singing and dancing wasn't going to do it.
So that left 'mysterious alien illness that he wanted kept out of the TARDIS'. Swallowing against what that thought did to her stomach, she stretched up on tiptoe and said, "You'd better not be contagious."
The Doctor blinked. "Sorry?"
Martha placed a hand along his neck, trying to get a reading on body temperature and pulse. "You're feeling ill, right?"
The Doctor shook his head and leaned into her. Way into her, ending up with his cheek on her cheek and his mouth on her ear. "Someone's playing with Time," he whispered, and she couldn't help shivering as his lips formed the words. "Stretching it, if I had to guess."
Okay, so she hadn't thought of that one. "Is that your Spidey-sense talking?" she whispered back.
"Spidey-sense?" The Doctor huffed in her ear. "Super-evolved spiders are nobody's friend. Never ever ever forget that, Martha."
"But Spider-Man isn't really a sp... all right, all right," she said, as the Doctor pulled away and gave her a look. "I won't forget. Super-evolved spiders are nobody's friend, somebody's messing with time, and we're suddenly married because...?"
The Doctor jerked upright, his eyes darting around the lift. Martha looked around too, but everyone pretty well occupied and unlikely to have overheard. The couple beside them certainly were - eight hands between them and she couldn't spot a one. And even though this was the future and an alien planet, it was still a lift, so there was lift music helping to cover up her voice. Actually very enjoyable lift music. Imagine that.
Not that her voice needed covering up, since she hadn't been talking any louder than the Doctor anyway, thanks very much.
A hand, warmer than it should have been, warmer than it usually was, rested on her neck and pulled her back close. Then softly, so softly that if it weren't for the air moving over her ear, she would've wondered if he was talking inside her head, a voice said, "Because the Lyraens have very, very strong views on bliss. Specifically, they're only keen on it if it's wedded."
"But - but that street where we left the TARDIS - it's like Las Vegas out there. With the showgirls, and the casinos, and the showgirls..."
"Ding-ding-ding! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner." The Doctor was rubbing his cheek slowly against hers now. Nuzzling. She was being nuzzled. And, quite frankly, she was liking it. "The Lyraen entertainment industry revolves around showing married couples with very disposable incomes a good time. So that they'll be inspired to show each other a good time. In a manner of speaking."
"Leading to more little Lyraens with very disposable incomes."
"Bingo!" The Doctor pressed his lips against her jaw, then pulled them away with a soft pop. Before he could leave her entirely, Martha slid her hand along the nape of his neck and brought his head back down so she could return the gesture.
They'd be running up and down hotel corridors soon enough. Right now they were in a lift, they were undercover, and she would feel just terrible if her part weren't played convincingly.
But they didn't run, at least, not at first. They walked arm-in-arm down a hushed, tastefully opulent corridor behind several other couples, stopping outside the door to what Martha assumed was their new base of operations. If time was expanding somehow (and how did that work, anyway?), then maybe for once they weren't going to have to rush into a plan. The door clicked safely shut behind them, and she started to ask, "So who do you think is behind this?"
- but found herself pinned against the wall, the Doctor's finger on her lips, before she got anywhere near the query mark. "They're listening," he breathed. "They're always listening."
Martha stared. "Who?" she mouthed.
"The management," the Doctor said, even more quietly than he'd done in the lift. "All part of the service. So they can adjust the temperature if we get too cold, or hot, suppose that's more likely. Bring in the midnight snack before midnight if we look hungry, or put it off if we seem busy...."
Martha rested her hand on the Doctor's chest, over the pocket where he kept the sonic screwdriver, and gave him a meaningful look. He shook his head. "Can't cut them out. They'd panic and come running."
"Then what should we do?" she whispered. Around his finger, since he hadn't dropped it yet.
The Doctor bounded away from her. "Look at this room!" he said, all of a sudden at full volume. "Look at all the... furniture. And the carpet, that's nice carpet, you could lose a foot in that carpet. And ooh, little mints! I like a little mint. Sometimes I like two."
"The room is gorgeous," Martha said loudly, following his example. And it was, too. Everything her eyes fell on was pleasing, utterly and completely. The furniture looked both elegant and comfortable, the carpet was indeed impressively thick, and the walls were a very pretty shade of lavender - which, she realised, matched her dress exactly. That couldn't be a coincidence... she spun round with her mouth hanging open, speechless at the level of customisation that implied. The Doctor nodded, a smile breaking out, the one he wore every time the universe took her breath away.
She went over to the wall that was covered in floor-length drapes. "Let's see the view." She pulled on the cord, and gasped. "Oh my God," Martha said, "so that's aquatic?" She was looking out on an endless sea - giant, spiky fishes, coral, the works. Was it an aquarium? Some kind of projection? She tapped at the glass, and the nearest fish darted away.
She turned to the Doctor again, but this time, he wasn't smiling. "So it is," he said, sitting down heavily on the bed. Something flickered across his face - pain, Martha guessed, from the way his fists were balled at his sides, as if he were fighting the urge to press them against his head. Was that because the management was looking as well as listening? Or was that control all for her benefit?
Martha hesitated for a second, then crossed to the bed, kicked off her shoes, and climbed up to kneel behind him. She raised her hands above his ears and began to press with the tips of her fingers, slowly and carefully, moving skin ever-so-slightly back and forth above bone. She half-expected - no, three-quarters expected - him to slip away from her, to bounce up and start the adventure, but he sank into her instead, eyes fluttering closed.
And maybe it was meant for show, this concession to comfort, allowed only because of who might or might not be watching; but there was truth in it too, in the weight of him against her, the soft slump of his shoulders, the dip of his neck.
"Loosen your tie," she said, pushing it and not caring.
He did, and let out a soft sigh when she slid a hand under the collar of his shirt and began rubbing the back of his neck with a steady, careful pressure, using her hands to smooth away hurt. She did it for now, but also for then, for the day of the sun and the day of the Daleks and the day of the alley; she did it for all the days to come.
Including this one, probably.
"What's it like, then?" she asked, speaking at his ear. "Is everything all slow-motion? Like in a film?"
The Doctor shook his head and hair prickled her cheek. "Not like that. It comes and goes. It's..." he fluttered a hand in a gesture she couldn't begin to interpret. "Your voice is kind of whooshy, though. Whooosh. Whooosh. Kind of annoying, in fact."
"So sorry," Martha said, feeling both sarcastic and completely sincere. "Is that it? I mean, is this all just annoying to someone with Spi- your senses, or is it dangerous?"
"Mmm, depends, what's your opinion on giant extra-dimensional planet-eating pterodactyl creatures? Not a fan myself, but you know how easy it is to hold a grudge." He shuddered. "Giant extra-dimensional pterodactyls with sharp teeth, did I mention the teeth? Sharp planet-munching Time-Lord-chewing teeth."
Martha's stomach took a nosedive. "Is that what's doing it?" she whispered. "Time-eating dinosaurs?"
"Nah, that's who'll stop it if I don't." The Doctor sprang off the bed and extended an arm to Martha. "Mrs Smith, I think it's time we saw about a wake-up call."
Out in the corridor again, Martha kept her eyes open for giant dinosaur things and her feet ready to run.
Now that was a solution to a problem all right, planet-eating dinosaurs, but a pretty drastic one. These creatures reminded her of some surgeons she knew, rip it out first, ask questions later.... Martha pulled against the Doctor's arm, struck by a thought. He followed her meaning and tilted his head down to her. "If someone's messing with - that thing they're messing with," she said quietly, "wouldn't they have to be someone like you?"
"Another Time Lord, you mean?" The Doctor shook his head. "No. And it doesn't matter what the Face of Boe said," he went on, cutting that off before she'd even got her mouth open properly.
He was staring straight ahead, but she knew the line of his jaw, and part of her said: Let it go.
Another part said: No.
"Will you tell me why?"
At first she thought he wasn't going to answer, not even to tell her no, and when his mouth opened after a too-long pause she thought, here it comes, here's where he bounds off in some other direction and leaves me struggling to catch up -
But he didn't, he said, "Because there's a hole in my head, Martha."
- and she didn't know what that meant, but she knew that tone of his voice, could never forget that tone of his voice, and she knew that whatever it was, it was the absolute truth. And that it hurt.
She held onto his arm a little bit tighter.
"It's funny, once I would have welcomed it, I think. More than once. Many times. But now, now I wouldn't wish it.... aha!"
Was that a Time Lord skill, getting distractions placed just right? Granted, this one didn't come as early as it might have done. He'd pulled her to a halt in front of a wide, discreetly unlabeled door. The Doctor put his head in, put his head out, and said, "After you, Mrs Smith."
On the other side was a service corridor. Brightly lit and gleaming, everything - walls, floors, ceiling - was the dazzling white most people called clinical but Martha had never seen a medical establishment actually manage.
"What are we looking for, exactly?" she asked.
"Oh, you know, your basic temporal laboratory."
"And that looks like?"
"A laboratory? Containing equipment used in the manipulation of Time?"
"Oh, right, of course," Martha said, eyes rolling. "Tell you what, you look for that, and I'll just look for anything that doesn't seem to go in a hotel."
"Excellent plan! Knew I married you for a reason. Off we go."
There weren't any temporal laboratories behind the first door they opened, or the second door, or the third. Nothing out of place in a hotel either, just storerooms and boiler rooms and laundry facilities.
"How many floors does this place have?" Martha asked. "I, ah, didn't pay attention in the lift."
"Two hundred and twelve," the Doctor said, poking suspiciously at a laundry basket.
"Great," Martha said, squatting down beside him. "Can you tell if we're on the right one? Or within a certain range, or something?"
"Not sure," he said, with that faraway look again. "Been trying to pin it down, but I can't... feels close, though. Really very close." He switched to poking her. "You'd tell me if you'd altered the fabric of space-time, wouldn't you Martha?"
She rolled her eyes again. "Yes Doctor," Martha said, hopping to her feet and away from his finger. The Doctor stood up too, and moved for the door. "Did anything weird happen the last time you were here?"
"Never been here before," he said absently, flick-flick-flicking the light switch on the way out.
Martha stole a smile behind his back. "Do you think it's definitely staff behind this, or could it be a guest?"
"Good question, good question. There's, what would you say, two thousand people in this building? Could be a guest, could be staff, could be insect people living in the walls. But Martha, think back to the last time you had a perfect evening. You didn't want it to end, did you?"
"No," Martha said, looking away, remembering the last time she'd been done up this posh with him at her side, how she'd dressed slowly that night, done her hair slowly, even walked more slowly than she would have normally - these shoes, she'd said, so sorry - all because she'd wanted to stretch every moment of what might have been their last evening together.
"The management couldn't offer that, but they could make a night's stay here literally longer than one you'd get anywhere else. All part of the service."
"Good theory," Martha said, giving the Doctor a smile. He was leaning back against the wall, which she rather hoped was not full of insect people, and under the bright lights she could see sweat standing out on his forehead.
"I thought so," he said, puffing up a bit. "And speaking of management -" suddenly the Doctor reached forward, lifted her up off the ground, and stuck his tongue in her mouth.
Martha thought rationally for about two seconds - this is in case they scan us or something to see if we've been getting on properly, oh my God these people are insane - she enjoyed herself thoroughly, no thinking required, for about five more - and then -
"Sir and madam? Pardon me please, sir and madam? Sir? Madam?"
The plan appeared to be to keep snogging until the employee went away. Martha couldn't conceive of any objections to the plan, and wrapped her legs around the Doctor's waist in an attempt to further it. Judging by the little noise he made in his throat, this development met with approval.
"Sir and madam!"
She felt the Doctor slipping away from her; opened her eyes and saw that he had tilted his head all the way down to rest on his shoulder so as to see around her. "Hello, yes, sorry, so sorry, it's just my wife and I got a bit swept away, happens to the best of us sometimes. You know."
Martha found the floor under her feet again. She turned, saw that the man behind her was pushing a cart with a broom sticking out the top, and groaned inside her head.
The man - Helpful Employee #475, according to the tag on his shirt - gave a stiff smile. "If sir and madam would care to describe how they came to be in this area?"
"Looking for the ice machine," Martha said quickly.
"That's right, my wife, she likes ice."
"But -" Distressed, Helpful Employee pushed up his sleeve and began fiddling with a little device on his wrist. "There has been no report. I would have addressed madam's wishes with all due haste had there been a report." Hands fluttered and jabbed and things beeped and Martha felt terribly sorry for him.
"It's all right," she said, "it was just a sudden fancy, that's all. Nothing to worry about."
"Nothing -" Helpful Employee closed his eyes briefly. "Madam is too kind," he said. "If she and sir would care to return to their room, I will endeavour to make retribution for this grievous error by providing ice in abundant quantities. Of course, if she and sir would prefer to end their stay at the Lyraitana Palace, a complete refund will be -"
"Seriously, don't worry about it," Martha said, interrupting before they ended up out on the street. "No retribution. No refund. We'll just forget this ever happened."
"Forget -!" Visibly, Helpful Employee pulled himself together. "Thank you, madam. Thank you very much." Looking at the Doctor, he said, "Sir is a fortunate man indeed."
The Doctor said, "Yes, yes sir is," and the weight in his voice filled Martha up and left her lighter than air.
Helpful Employee insisted upon escorting them all the way back to their room. When the door closed behind them this time, Martha grabbed the Doctor's arms and pulled him to her. She could feel heat soaking through his jacket, warming her palms, and somehow that almost unnerved her more than the thought of planet-eating dinosaurs. "What now?" she whispered. "Do we sneak back in there? Or check out the next floor up? Or down? Or, wait, couldn't you use the sonic screwdriver to trace -"
The Doctor started to shake his head, stopped abruptly, and swallowed. "Hypersonic waves increase temporal instability." His eyes darted away from her. "Hang on a tic." He tore away from her, opened a door, the door to the loo, and disappeared inside.
Martha stared. She realised her hand was on her hip, and dropped it. A call of nature, or was he going to come out of there with some mad solution cooked up from little shampoo bottles and a complimentary shower cap? Shouting through the door to find out wasn't an option, though. Someone had to keep up the show for their mad multi-armed hosts.
So she left the little entryway and went over to the bed, kicking off her shoes but being careful to note where they fell. Chances were good she'd need to jam her feet in and run. The pillows were absolutely everything anyone could want pillows to be, and Martha settled back against them, trying to look as if she were waiting for Mr Smith to come out of the toilet not so they could save the world, but for more... recreational purposes. Not too difficult, not too difficult at all... well, as long as she didn't think back to the last time they'd shared a bed, because then she'd look as if she were waiting for Mr Smith in order to give him a slap.
The Doctor emerged, finally, looking ruffled, damp, and just a tad sheepish. A tad suspiciously sheepish. He plopped down by her feet.
Martha raised an eyebrow. "Well?"
"Weeell..." The Doctor wiggled a finger in his ear. "There may be some evidence that I was mistaken, could I have a mint please?"
Martha plucked one off the pillow beside her and handed it over. "Is that your way of telling me it's no good, the dinosaurs are already here?"
"No. Ah. More like they were never coming in the first place, sorry for any unnecessary stress this may have caused, could I have another if you don't mind?"
She chucked it at his head, which would have been more satisfying if he hadn't caught it. "You can start the proper explanation any time now."
"Right. Yes." The Doctor crawled up to speak very mintily in her ear. "It appears that my generally stellar immune system is a bit over-enthusiastic when it senses incompatible elements, and triggers responses that might more commonly be activated by other systems in response to other elements, and whatnot, and that's an interesting fact that we've learned today, don't you think?"
Martha processed this. "What incompatible element?"
"Asparagus. You're how old and you didn't know you were allergic to asparagus?"
"Now that's an over-simplif-"
"And, ew, now you've got your mouth near my face."
"Now that's you assuming that I've gone and done something a human would do. Which is a pretty large assumption to make."
Martha pointed accusingly at the mint wrappers in his hand.
"I told you I like a mint! Sometimes two!"
"All right," she whispered fiercely, "whatever you say. How long have you thought this was a possibility?"
"Now that's a very interesting question Martha, because possibility is of course intrinsically related to probability, and probability -"
Probability, Martha thought. Right. Probability. Just by walking in this place with me on his arm, you told everyone - every employee, every guest, everyone we saw, everyone but me - that we were a couple, and that you intended on taking me to bed tonight. Everyone but me, and you. Because I'm sure you told yourself it was a lie.
But events unfold and the random element and time flows and causality spreads and free will, Martha, life would be so dull without free will, and consider a bowl of pudding -(what?)- and variables multiply and endings have a thousand beginnings and there's always a moment when anything might happen -
Step up to the table and spin the wheel, Martha thought. Watch it go round and round, see the colours blur, listen to the click-click-click of maybe until certainty falls. Walk away with something, who knows what, could be anything - except, of course, it's not what you had when you came in.
"I feel sorry for them," Martha said, deciding to interrupt. He was back on pudding again. "The Lyraens. They'll blame themselves for you being sick and our evening not being... perfect."
He inhaled. "True," the Doctor said, "that's true."
He was looking at her, unblinking, one eyebrow barely raised, his lips ever-so-perceptibly curved. It was the look that made her think he was a man who wanted to see quite a bit more of her, could take her breath and make her forget anything but that. Time Lord, alien, all the rest, all gone, and all it took was a look.
Spinning the wheel, was that what it took for him?
She reached for his hand; he twined his fingers through hers without hesitation. He didn't blink. His face didn't change.
God, but he was messed up.
Yeah, Martha, and so are you, said a voice in her head that sounded awfully like Tish. He's a person who needs someone, he's a problem to solve, he's a question to answer, and it makes you want him even more. You know it does.
"It's not really fair," Martha said. "On them. The Lyraens."
"No. No, it's not."
She slid her hand out of his, watching his face, feeling a little tumble in her stomach when it so-slightly fell, another a second later when she reached for his tie and the look was replaced with one she'd never seen before.
She took off his tie; he took off his jacket, then reached for her, pulling her even closer, no space left at all. Hands and arms automatically settled in as they'd done in hug after hug, hers around his neck, his on her waist.
His cheek rubbed hers again, and Martha closed her eyes, drawing out the moment out for one breath, for two. "What do we do?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from catching. "Do we go, or stay?"
"Your choice," he said, suddenly still.
Martha squeezed her eyes tighter, a universe exploding behind them. "Not just mine."
"No, I suppose not." One breath, then another - his, not hers, she couldn't breathe - and then a sigh against her skin. "It's nice here."
"It is," Martha said, and before he could tell either of them a lie (no just the once, no for tonight), she took his lips and began the slow slide into perfection.