"Where do you fancy next?"
"Somewhere new. Somewhere alien."
She'd had enough of humans for a while.
"Ah," the Doctor said, staring up at the sky. "Yes. Misjudged a bit, I'm afraid. I was going for day."
Martha helped him up, careful with her own feet, not wanting to end up spread-eagled against the ice herself. The sky was very dark but not quite black; she could see colour in it, blues and purples shifting against the stars. The real blackness, the utter, absolute dark, was here below, stretching out in front of them, going on and on and on. The sort that might contain anything, or nothing at all.
"What's out there?"
"The frozen sea of Sapat," the Doctor said. "And a bit of a drop. So watch how you go. Mind the gap."
"Yeah, no problem." Martha felt certain that 'a bit of' probably meant something like 'a thousand foot', so she pressed her back safely against the TARDIS. In the light streaming through the doors she could see the Doctor's face clearly; it was very, very still, and she thought this meant that either they were about two seconds away from running for their lives, or he was brooding on what had come before, or he was feeling sulky about having tried to show off a pretty view and failed. That last was probably the best one to hope for, but when the day came that you were hoping you were being pouted at by a grown bloke, well. "It sounds nice," Martha said. "And the other direction?"
"See for yourself," the Doctor said. He shooed her with his fingers. "Go on, around the corner."
Watching how she went, Martha took a few steps and peeked around the TARDIS. "Oh."
"And that's the night castle, also of the Sapat," the Doctor said, and he was close behind her now, at her back, not quite as reassuring as the TARDIS, but welcome, definitely welcome. "One hell of a snow fort."
It was massive underneath the purple-blue-black sky, and definitely a fortress, all battlements and slit windows and defensive hostility... but it was also made of snow, a fairytale glittering cold and blue in the starlight. And even though Martha knew better than ever that there were no such things (the universe was full of monsters and enchantments and heroes saving the day, but not happily ever afters, never happily ever afters), she couldn't stop smiling.
"You like it?" The Doctor leaned down and peered at her sideways. "Ah. You do."
"Yeah," Martha said, the word slipping out like a breath. "I'm going to need a coat, though. A heavy one." She turned, losing her footing a little, but the Doctor was there to steady her (a hand on her waist, an arm at her back, her body still insisted on paying attention) before she could fall.
"What about me? Don't I get a coat?"
And that was definitely grown-bloke pouting, something the Doctor had down to an absolute art form - but then, he'd had centuries to work on it. "You have a coat," Martha pointed out. "You'll find it wherever you left it."
"No, no, no, a different coat."
"What, a thicker one?" she asked, surprised at that, surprised too that he hadn't yet let her go. "All right, I'll bring you one. Back in a minute. Don't... don't go defrosting any sea monsters, or anything."
Over the clatter of her footsteps on the TARDIS ramp, Martha heard, "Not even if they want me to?"
The last time she'd been in this room, she'd needed something a servant would wear. Overwhelmed and uncertain already, desperate to get them out to that field before the not-Doctor woke up, she'd stared up at the racks spiralling out of sight and felt like screaming or crying or both.
She'd taken a deep breath, walked to the nearest rack, slid some clothes back... and found herself looking at a simple, grey, perfectly 1900s dress. That was when she'd started talking to the TARDIS, Martha realised: she'd said, Thank you.
Martha left the wardrobe room this time wearing a black down parka and carrying three more coats over her arm. She found the Doctor close to where she'd left him, no sea monsters in tow, busily pushing up snow into an uneven rectangle. Some people made snowmen; the Doctor made snow TARDISes.
"Going to make it travel in time and space? Here, I brought you some to choose from."
The Doctor pounced on a furry monstrosity that she'd been tempted not to bring out. "Brilliant!"
"That one. Really?" Second time in five minutes Martha had said that, first time for it to fall on human - well, human-looking - ears.
"What? I know, in your time fur's a bit ehhh," he fluttered his fingers, "but there's a reason animals in the tundra tend to wear massive amounts of it, and anyway, you're one to talk. All that leather."
"That's not what I meant," Martha said. And, God, she'd thought it was bad, just hanging on the rack, but it didn't even fit. There was a great deal of pinstripe showing at both the wrists and legs, but not only that, somehow it managed to be both too small and too large all at once. It ballooned out at the top, and the overall effect was that of a furry brown marshmallow balanced precariously on two stripey matchsticks.
"This suited me very well in Tibet, I'll have you know," the Doctor said, sniffing as he tossed the unwanted coats back into the TARDIS and locked the doors.
"I'm sure it did," Martha said, desperately not laughing. "Wait, when did you wear that? Had a growth spurt since then?"
He reached for her hand; both of theirs were covered by thick gloves, and they didn't fit together very well, but Martha didn't mind. "Nineteen-thirty-four. Or was it 1935? Now, I don't know if you've ever been to Tibet, Martha, but there's this monastery...." And he was off, babbling about monks and Yetis and aliens and robots, and Martha smiled, letting it wash over her as they began crunching through the snow toward the castle.
She hadn't just missed the person who could save the day, back in that long-ago English autumn, and she hadn't just missed the person who was her ticket out. She'd missed her friend, too, and now here they were, out amongst the stars, the Doctor and Martha Jones.
"When we get there, I'm not going to be the Doctor," he said, slamming that thought away and leaving nothing in its place but cold.
Martha, who was rarely speechless, just swallowed.
"I need to be called something else." Too dark to really tell, but by his voice she imagined him smiling down at her, his gentle smile. "Name me, Martha Jones."
Warmth trickled back in. It's just about the name, she thought, just about the name, and he's thought about it and he knows I can't call him by that other one right now and he's letting me choose.
"Hmm," Martha said, mock-thoughtful. "Draco Malfoy."
"Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy? Why not Harry?"
Martha tilted her head. "Let's see, constantly getting into trouble, always breaking the rules," no real home, no family, "and you've got the magic wand all right, and the glasses... yeah, okay, Harry it is."
"Oh, I don't know, just seems like you could have fit, 'Always standing up to bullies, thwarting evil-doers, and being really quite handy with a sword' somewhere in there. "
Martha rolled her eyes.
"Can't be Harry Potter, though."
She nudged him with her elbow, even though he probably couldn't even feel it through that wall of fur. "Why not? And why're you changing names, anyway?"
"Because they'd know. How about Harry somebody else? Harry Sullivan?"
"Harry Sullivan," Martha said, trying it out, ignoring the flash of red behind her eyes and the little girl's voice that sing-songed in her head: First his coat and then his name, will he ever be the same? "Pleased to meet you, Harry Sullivan."
"Likewise!" he said, all sunny and bright, and Martha thought that maybe it was good that at least one of them meant it.
The entrance they approached was narrow, blocked completely by two men standing shoulder-to-shoulder. At first Martha thought that they might actually be some of the Yeti-robots the Doctor had gone on about, but as she drew closer she realised they were simply people wearing head-to-toe fur suits. There was a lot about them that seemed human (two legs, two arms, two eyes, one nose, one mouth), but their faces were very like eggs: oblong, smaller at the top than bottom, and oddly smooth. Martha was suddenly terribly curious to see them with their hoods thrown back. How far did the resemblance to Humpty Dumpty go? Was there any hair on top of those heads?
"State your names," said the alien on the left.
"Martha Jones and Harry Sullivan," Martha said.
"And what do you seek?" asked the one on the right.
"Now that, that is a question, all right," the Doctor said, "definitely one of the big ones. Talk about existential, don't get me started - Martha, were you aware that one of your fingers just poked me rather fiercely? Accommodation. We seek accommodation."
"And what do you offer?"
Good question, Martha thought. "A swipe of the old credit card?" the Doctor asked. "No, I suppose not." He huffed a small sigh. "A story," he said.
Martha sighed her own sigh, expecting to hear the Sapatan version of, "Bugger off and freeze to death," but it didn't come.
"May it please," said the guard on the right, and with a stamp-stamp of feet, the aliens pressed back against either side of the entrance, allowing Martha and the Doctor to pass.
The corridor was low, almost a tunnel - the Doctor had to duck his head a little. It hadn't just been hollowed out of the snow, though. It had been built; the walls were blocks of snow, sculpted and stacked and layered.
"What was all that about, a story?" Martha asked, thinking again of fairy tales, but then the corridor emptied out into a great cavern of a room, and she was too busy staring round to press for an answer.
She couldn't see the ceiling, but she didn't know if that was because it was too high above them or because the room was too dimly lit. There were tables, quite long tables, and they were made of ice. The benches beside them were made of ice. The lanterns on top of them were made of ice. Everything was ice, but not like an ice sculpture at a fancy do, all crystal-clear and delicate and unreal. This ice was cloudy in some places and transparent in others, like an ice cube in a glass, solid and practical, and okay, maybe just a little unreal, because it was furniture made of ice, and you didn't see that every day. Martha wondered exactly what the temperature was here, then decided she probably didn't really want to know.
There were people sitting at the tables grouped here and there, people of every size, shape, and colour. Martha saw antlers, she saw wings, she saw scales, she saw multiple heads, dizzying amounts of eyes.... They talked and laughed and drank and ate off platters heaped high with some kind of meat, and the whole scene reminded Martha of a hog roast she'd been to after a wedding once.
"Fancy a bite?"
She shook her head.
"I knew day was the way to go," the Doctor said. "It's all seafood, then. Much better for you. Well. Assuming you don't live in the sea."
"Better for you?" Martha laughed. "I didn't know you cared about that sort of thing, Mister I Love Nibbles."
"Maybe not, but you do. Right then! Shall we skip to the entertainment?"
They set off down the long aisle between the tables, towards the other end of the room. It wasn't until they were halfway there that Martha was able to see past the diners to the area beyond the tables, where there was a roaring fire - an actual fire inside a snow castle. That certainly begged some questions, like how come the whole place hadn't melted around their ears, and Martha decided that either fire here behaved differently from fire on Earth, or these people were engineering genuises.
As she and the Doctor drew closer, Martha could see that there were people around the fire, sitting on furs, which, she suspected, probably had a lot in common with whatever the people at the tables were eating. Someone was standing before the fire in front of the group, and even though Martha couldn't hear what was being said above the noise at the tables, she knew what it was she was seeing.
She looked up at the Doctor. "You really meant - a story?"
"This is what they live for, during the night," the Doctor said, loving her surprise, grinning at it.
"And what about during the day?"
"Oh, right, of course!" Martha said. "Well, this worked out in our favour, then. We can skip the hypothermia, and your mouth can earn its keep."
The Doctor started sputtering and was still at it by the time they reached the gathering. Martha chose a spot near the back and sat down on one of the scattered furs, drawing her knees up to her chest to keep in as much warmth as she could. She did so as quietly as possible. There was a hush down this end of the room, the noise from the tables now only a low background hum, everyone silent except for the orange-antennaed speaker. Martha looked around the group, wondering. She knew how she was able to understand the aliens, but how did they understand each other? More telepathic translating at work, or did they all have at least one language in common? She'd have to ask the Doctor later....
She'd expected him to sit down beside her, or queue up for a go (scratch that, hard to imagine the Doctor queuing - make that bop up there and join straight in), so it was a shock when he was suddenly close at her back, his legs on either side of hers, pointy knees rising towards her face.
Martha's first instinct was to turn around, eyebrows raised. But she let it pass, and went with her second, which was to say nothing; and then her third, which was to let herself slowly relax until she was leaning back against him. It was nice, letting him hold her up. It was a change.
And then she turned as much of her attention as she could to the storyteller (she would've had to have been a different person, made up of different blood and bones to have been able to offer it all), and she began to listen. There was a desert in this story, but not the hot kind, the kind with deep, bitter cold - she wondered what possessed a person to tell a story like that to a bunch of people sitting round and trying not to freeze in a palace made of snow. Next, she supposed, would come one about an avalanche....
The story ended, the desert-travellers got home safe and sound, and Martha clapped politely. The Doctor's hands were on her knees and they didn't move, but suddenly she felt his forehead against the tiny bit of skin exposed at the nape of her neck, and for a flash of a moment Martha forgot all about cold and thought only of heat, of fire, of burning alive.
The story was for the lady to choose, they said. Martha had just assumed the Doctor would do it - he knew these aliens, he knew what they'd like, and he certainly knew how to talk. But no, it was up to her, apparently.
The aliens were so silent, so still, waiting with a politeness that bordered on reverence. Waiting to be transported.
Her story to choose.
The Doctor was up there with her, at least, in front of the crowd, the fire at their backs. She didn't have to do it all alone; she just had to make the start. He smiled at her, waiting too, nothing but confidence in his eyes.
Martha took a breath, let it out.
She had one they were going to love.
Once upon a time there was a man called Will, and he was visited by three witches.
They told it in turns, back and forth, and the audience hung on every word, even though the Doctor talked far too fast and couldn't stick to a linear sequence of events to save his life.
But what they told wasn't the truth. It wasn't real.
Martha left something out, not because she forgot or because it didn't matter, but because it mattered too much. Sentences spoken in a bed went unspoken by the fire, and just like that, something new took life, something a little less cold.
They tore down worlds with words.
And the Doctor spoke of Bedlam and the architect but not the architect's broken mind; suddenly Peter Streete told his tale freely, and Harry Sullivan was not a man with the power to open up the thoughts of another.
I name you.
The aliens applauded at the end but did so solemnly, no whooping, no yelling. The Doctor grinned and applauded too. Martha smiled tightly.
This time her hands were the only ones that didn't move.
After being so close to the fire, the corridor was bitingly cold. A Sapatan had met them at the fireside and ushered them through the crowd, and now they were being escorted down a long, frozen passageway, presumably to wherever they were to spend the night. Martha was trying to think of ways to get the alien to slip back his hood, just for a quick second, long enough for her to see if he was in fact a real, actual egghead, when the Doctor slipped his arm through hers, and pressed in close.
She almost stumbled in her surprise. No, she thought, not the Doctor, it wasn't the Doctor that did that; that was Harry Sullivan, or John Smith, or whoever he was, because the Doctor didn't take her arm. He stuck out his elbow and expected her to do the taking. She might have thought it was just an excuse to get closer, to warm up, except she knew exactly how much cold his body could take, and it was a lot more than this.
Their escort stopped suddenly in front of a doorway hung with an animal pelt. "Accommodation," he said, and stamped his foot.
"Yes, well, thank you very much," the Doctor said, pushing the pelt back. "Martha?"
"Thank you," Martha said, and slipped past the Doctor to go inside.
The room was small and round, and a little fire burned dead in its centre, in a pit positioned to warm all sides of the room evenly. By its light Martha could see that the furnishings were what she'd come to expect - furs spread on the floor in front of the fire. There was also a window, which she hadn't expected; a block in the wall that wasn't solid, dark-shadowed snow, but more of that thick, cloudy-clear ice. She went to look through it, out at the night and the stars, but the only light that came through did so at the edges, and it was hard to make out much of anything.
When Martha turned away, she saw the Doctor sitting close to the fire, hunched up inside that marshmallow of a coat. Maybe she'd been wrong, maybe he was cold, and if he was, what did that mean? Were his cells still unstable, slipping around between human and Time Lord, leaving him not quite either? Staying a little further back from the fire than he had, Martha went over to sit down beside the Doctor. She peeled off her gloves, and held up her palms to the flames, and asked, "What now? Are we staying 'til day?"
She didn't realise she would hate the words until she spoke them, but she did, oh God, she did. Always his decision, always his rules, it had been like that since their first just one trip... he was always the one in charge, no matter what name he wore, and if she got to choose it was because he let her.
Never just a passenger, he'd said, and she'd taken it for an admission, a crack in the facade, and yes, okay, it was that, but it was also a reassertion of control.
Martha dropped her hands, not cold now, not anymore. The worst part was that she couldn't just be angry at him, because it wasn't like he'd done this alone.
"Til day? You Scheherazade, then?"
"What?" Curiosity overrode anger, pushed aside blame, even as a quiet part of Martha said, He relies on that, you know. "Do we have to keep telling stories to get to stay the whole night? One every hour, something like that? Or do you mean they'd kill us if they didn't like our story? Oh my God, they would, wouldn't they, you said, 'Live for it', I remember now, and you, you let them make me choose!"
"Nahhhh," the Doctor said. "Worst thing that could've happened, bit of uncomfortable silence. That's all. Wait, no, worse than that, really the worst thing, a round of insincere applause." He shuddered. "Can't abide that."
Martha raised an eyebrow, and waited.
The Doctor looked at her looking at him, and his forehead wrinkled. "What - oh! The point is, we'd need a bucket-load of stories, because, let me see, rotation velocity, current distance from the sun, spin-orbit resonance... yes, if we stay here there's another two thousand twenty-seven hours to go before we'll see daylight. And then - whoosh."
"Everything melts, and they build a new castle. And oh, you'll like this bit, guess what they build it out of? Guess! Sand!"
"So when it's night, it's winter," Martha said, parsing it through, "and when it's day it's summer?" The Doctor nodded. "So this planet's like Mercury."
"Yep yep yep. Like Mercury. But -" A person with delicate green wings fluttered in, a smaller, sleeping, purple-winged person in its arms - or were those forelegs? Martha blinked as the pair began settling down on the other side of the fire, then thought, well of course. Communal meals, communal entertainment, communal lodging.
The Doctor was still talking. "-not nearly so much fun on Mercury. Always worrying about whether this or that is safe or not. Takes all the joy out of things. I mean, honestly, what's the point of having a parade if you're not going to chuck candy at the crowd? Hmmm?"
"I don't know, but -" Martha said, nodding toward the other side of the fire, "I think it'd be appreciated if you kept it down a bit."
"Really? Why - oh! Sorry!" the Doctor called, earning a glare from the green-winged person that made Martha think how lucky he was that the universe seemed to be short on aliens that could actually kill with a look. An arm hooked itself around Martha's waist; the Doctor's body slid over to join it. "But the Sapatans," he went on, whispering now, "oh, they're marvellous, they'll let you eat the seafood - raw if you like - ride the waves, swim the swims...."
The Doctor was smushed up against her, his breath was in her ear, and it really was time she acknowledged the fact that there really was a perfectly simple explanation for his behaviour.
He missed the touch of a human. Or at least, his body did; Martha wondered if that ancient, alien brain had any idea, if it even knew what the (so strangely young) flesh and bone was doing.
But she knew what she was doing, and that was not particularly a comfort, but close, still, in a way: at least she knew. At least she knew. Martha Jones, playing the substitute, once again. And if his body was acting without his brain then hers must be too, because it wouldn't pull away.
"So why didn't we just get back in the TARDIS and give daytime another go?" Martha asked.
"Well, you liked it here, didn't you?"
He sounded so surprised, as if it were so terribly obvious, so simple... Martha turned her head but she still couldn't get a clear look at him, because of the darkness and the flickering firelight and the fact that his face was so bloody near to hers.
Maybe it was really was that simple. He gave what he could: that was a fact, one she'd been struck by the day she met him. And sometimes what he could give was his life, and sometimes what he could give was worlds.... She'd admired it then, standing in that hospital on the moon, him on the floor at her feet. She'd been dazzled by it. And it was almost admirable, she thought. Almost.
The king hadn't wanted to kill Scheherazade, and so he had given life. Her life, his to give, and it hadn't even been given freely: she had had to earn it, night after night, tale after tale.
The king didn't want to kill her, but he was still the king. And the man beside her - she felt his breath on her skin, heard his voice in her head (just one trip; you are dismissed) - he wouldn't see anything wrong with that at all.
"I did," Martha said.
He'd stayed for her, because she liked it, and that was nice. He'd given her this, but he'd never stopped to find out if she preferred her castles made of sand.
"But you didn't like it," Martha said slowly, thinking back, "why n... Oh I know," she said, because suddenly she did. "It was the story, wasn't it?"
He didn't say anything, not yes and not no, and Martha knew what that meant and what she was supposed to do next. And partly because she thought he needed to say, and partly because she wanted to know, and partly because anger had popped back up, and there were times when it mixed with curiosity quite well indeed, she didn't do it. Instead she asked, "So if they hadn't made me choose, what story would you have told?"
The Doctor was silent for a long time, one of those silences that Martha knew would either end in real, actual truth, or in a load of nonsense. The arm around her waist was still, but his hand jiggled against his knee, and when it stopped, he spoke. "I don't know, Martha."
His voice made her think of cathedral spires, of a night of cold shadows, and Martha swallowed, aware that she was a footfall away from a different kind of edge, and not about to let that matter. "You must have hundreds to choose from," she said softly.
No, not hundreds, she thought. Thousands. Tens of thousands. And how many of those ended in fire?
Of course he hadn't been the Doctor. They'd know. These people - these people who lived for the stories of the universe - these people would know.
"Is that what you want? Me to tell you a story?"
And now his voice took her further back, to a grotty alleyway and an upturned chair. She'd sat down and devoured his every word then, and she would've done the same with the ones scrawled in that journal, too, but she'd never got the chance.
But that was then.
"No," she said. Because now she couldn't stop thinking of the tale they'd told in front of that other fire, and of the people who'd listened, who'd been swept up in their words and taken somewhere that had never quite existed. She wanted to know so much, like exactly what had happened to the Family (Taken care of, he'd said, and she'd known all the way down her spine that that much was true; the king gave, but oh, when the king took away...), and she wanted to know a thousand other things (what did the turn of the universe feel like, what did it sound like, she wondered, was it a heartbeat, the tick of a clock?) but what she said was, "I don't need a story."
"You don't, do you?" This time he turned to look at her, pulling back a little, a tiny smile on his face, his eyes dark and, she thought, proud.
"Never did," Martha said. And she hadn't. That had never been what she'd needed.
The Doctor looked away first, his eyes flicking down. "You're wrong, you know, I did like something," he said. "Slipping into this again, I liked that. Been a long time. Very very very long."
His voice indicated that the words were offhand, unimportant, so she knew they were just the opposite. Martha thought somehow that it wasn't just a coat from the depths of the wardrobe he was talking about, but a part of himself that had been hidden away, too. One that knew how to hold people up, and how to hold on.
So she hadn't been wrong about what he'd missed. She'd just been a little too narrow in her focus.
Looking in through the edges, that was what she'd been doing, not just tonight but ever since she'd known him. Catching glimpses of things, seeing vague parts and shapes, finding reasons for this or that but never being sure she'd found the right ones and never finding them all.
"We stayed because we both liked it, then," Martha said. "I like that."
The Doctor looked up and grinned at her, a little like daylight, and inside her head a young, clear voice said, He knows all of tomorrow and yesterday, and he's unknowable, and Martha smiled, because she knew that was truth. Not-knowing was maddening, but the fact that there was too much to ever know? That was wonderful. That was a reason she was here.
That was part of why she loved.
Suddenly it was too much, just sitting, just smiling, and Martha had had enough of inaction lately to last her a long while. She leaned closer - there wasn't far to go - and pressed her lips to the Doctor's, because despite everything she still wanted to, and he knew that, and something else she'd had her fill of was pretending. And because she thought, for the moment, that he just might like it too.
That was something that travelling through time and space and yesterdays and tomorrows was teaching her: sometimes for the moment mattered more than anything.
He didn't pull away, and she slid a hand through his hair, and opened her lips a little, and he put a gloved hand on her cheek, and opened his too. Some time went by, nothing like an ever after, just time, and it was very nice. Martha pulled back when she was ready, ignoring another not-quite-death glare from their roommate with the wings. "That," she said, "was a heat exchange."
"I did fall in ice," the Doctor said, and he was still smiling.
"Yes," Martha said, "you did." She stood, and held out her hand. "Come on," she said. "Time we were off."