With thanks to Sunfall, who encouraged me to continue this tale.
"Voila! Marmot Hash Deluxe," the Doctor said with a flourish. He set the plates with their pathetic little mounds of diced leftovers on the table. The Master eyed his fellow Time Lord over the steam from his own portion and poked at it with his fork.
"Exaggerating the palatability fails to deceive once again," he said, critically examining the forkful. "A hash usually involves some manner of tuberous root, doesn't it?"
Jo passed the salt to him as she took her own seat. "Grow us a few potatoes and we'll put them in."
The Doctor killed the generator. Their fuel was getting low enough to concern all of them and the snow still hadn't let up. Not that they had anything left to cook…
It was something on all their minds, this being their singular meal for the day. Only a few spoonfuls of tinned fruit and a small box of rather old dried milk remained; none of them had wanted to open it.
The Master carefully chewed his forkful then sat back to consider his companions. "I've a notion of how we might bait a bear-trap after all," he said.
The Doctor barely glanced up at him. "There haven't been bears in Switzerland since the beginning of this century."
"Ah, that's right. Wrong time. A shame, they used to be positively everywhere." He'd produced several sketches the previous evening, conceptual riggings that would entrap an edible mammal of various sizes, but all of his elaborate plans for trapping had come up on the same problem of lacking anything to bait them with. "Aren't there any meat-eaters, then?"
The Doctor considered. "You might bring in a lynx, but not a bear."
"Lynx meat?" Jo made a face.
"Potentially palatable given enough seasoning," the Master said, shaking pepper generously over the rest of his food.
"I personally don't care to find out," said the Doctor. "Forget the predators, what we really need is something like a chamois."
"Bear-like?" the Master wondered hopefully.
"Sorry to disappoint you; they're more like goats."
"Ah. Then Miss Grant would not be suitable bait for them."
"What?" Jo said, almost choking on her own bite. "You…!"
"No," the Doctor interrupted dryly, holding up a hand to stop her. "She wouldn't. And I think it might be best if you reconsider that particular line of thought."
The Master sighed. "Doesn't this incredibly unimaginative environment have anything of use?"
"We might try lichens…" Jo suggested after a moment, glad to turn the talk away from the idea of her being bait for anything. With the Master you could never tell when he meant it and that gave her shivers.
The Doctor nodded. "True. Nearly all lichens are edible, or at least not poisonous."
"'At least not poisonous' isn't exactly an encouraging description for potential cuisine," the Master noted.
"Perhaps not, but it's practical and makes use of what we have. We can search while gathering wood; there should be a moderately harvestable amount growing on those trees if we keep an eye out."
"You're serious. Lichens." the Master said. He sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. "Ah, what lows I've been reduced to on this miserable planet!" He pushed away his empty plate.
"Either that or you could help us find a squirrel nest," Jo said, ignoring his melodramatics. "I've heard of those being eaten." She ate another tiny bite of marmot, trying to fool herself into believing there was more of it than there was. She noticed the Doctor had given her more than either of them, but didn't want to make an issue of it.
The Doctor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I think you're on the right track, Jo. There's bound to be some, red squirrels are all over these mountains. We may even find some fungi… hm. There's a few stone pines among that stand of trees, the cones may have a few edible seeds in them."
"Ah, the forests of Earth! A veritable cornucopia," the Master said, rubbing his hands together with pretended relish. "Lichen-stuffed woodland creature served with unknown fungus; a meal fit for a king. What do you say, Doctor? I'll construct a squirrel trap, you fetch us some of this delectable native lichen?"
"I might; we're nearly out of wood," he replied with mild good humor. "Let's see what comes to hand."
The Master gathered up a handful of bits and wires from the snowmobile parts and considered which of a variety of trap-patterns to try first. At the other end of the cabin, Jo scrubbed the plates as best she could in cold water while the Doctor wrapped up the marmot-bones for a possible thin soup, just in case nothing better could be found. Jo peeked over at the other Time Lord, who seemed engrossed in his own work. She still hadn't been able to let the Doctor know about the message she'd gotten from UNIT, that they might be there later, maybe that very day, and that they'd look for the smoke from the cabin chimney to help locate them. The Master had keen hearing and the cabin wasn't exactly private.
"Doctor," Jo said in a casual voice. "I've something…"
He looked at her curiously, coming closer as she reached out to him with one hand, the other still sloshing a plate. She purposefully took his hand. "I've so wished we could get even one message," she said, squeezing his hand to emphasize the words. "through."
He nodded. "That's completely understandable," he said, squeezing back.
"It's just this storm, it never ends! And that radio is no use, it just keeps coming up static. Tonight looks just as bad," she continued, squeezing his hand on key words. "You'd think all that wind would blow the smoke right back down the chimney."
"Well, it's only to be expected," he replied. "at this time of year, thanks to Old Man Winter, as they say."
"Old Man Winter?" the Master grumbled from the living area. "Are you pandering to Earth mythology now as well? Really, Doctor."
"Myths usually have their roots in history, as you should well know," the Doctor replied, reaching for his cloak. "Who knows who the original old man was?"
"Some mad hermit blamed for the weather, I expect," the Master said absently, frowning as he worked a wire loose from a snowmobile part. "Most likely at the beginning of their Ice Age." He snapped it off and examined the bent connector at the end.
"Wish me luck, Jo," the Doctor said as he fastened his cloak. "I'll see what I can find. You may get your stuffed squirrel after all, if the Master does his part. I'll start with restocking our wood before the daylight fails us. We still need a new hatchet handle as well."
He opened the door and headed out into the icy whirlwind that had become their world. The door shut behind him and she huddled by the fire, waiting for the cold breeze to dissipate again. The fire was burning low and warm and the cabin was quiet aside from the never-ending moan of the storm outside. The Master puttered with something at the table.
"What do you think, Miss Grant? Do you think the squirrels might be drawn to something like this?" She looked up from where she'd been staring into the fire. The Master came over to her, half-kneeling to show her his work. He was dangling something on a wire, a shining bit of metal from one of the snowmobiles, twisting it back and forth so the flames flickered across it. The flames flickered across it. The flames flickered….
"Look at it," he said, his voice was soft, friendly, compelling. "Look at it shine…"
By the time she came to her senses she was tied to one of the heavy wooden chairs in the middle of the room, gagged with the marmot-scented rag from the kitchen. She tried to say something, but none of it came out intelligibly.
"I'm so sorry, I don't seem to understand you," the Master smiled. He efficiently tightened the knots on her hands and ankles, making sure she was firmly fastened to the chair. He came around to the front and watched her squirming against her bonds. "Ah yes, I seem to remember you did have a talent for working loose," he observed with exaggerated courtesy. "But I do implore you to just relax and make yourself comfortable. You see, I've work I really must tend to."
She watched in frustration and horror as he took up their water bucket and poured it over the fire which immediately collapsed into a bubbling black pool of ash and soaked charcoal. One large cloud of steam went up, hissing, and then it was silent. "A good start," he observed, "But not quite good enough." He went out the door, scooping snow in the bucket and returning to dump it over the wet remains, repeating several times until the formerly warm firebox was filled with snow.
One more bucketful was dumped on the hearth for good measure as he chuckled. "There Miss Grant. Your UNIT friends will have a hard time finding that smoke signal, I think." He glanced back over at her. "And yes, I do know they're coming. I'm quite capable of understanding the rather primitive attempt you made at codifying it when you were talking to the Doctor." He picked up her coat and boots, went to the door and opened it to pitch them out into the drifts.
"We don't want it to be too easy for him, do we?" he smiled, as if it were a grand joke.
Working quickly, he stuffed the last tin of fruit and the box of dried milk into his pack, rolled all but one of the blankets around the radio and donned his gloves. Looking over at Jo where she glared over the gag, he sketched a brief bow. "Farewell, Miss Grant. I'm sure our mutual friend will be along before too much time passes. At least we'll hope so, for your sake. Please don't take it personally, I have the greatest admiration for the both of you, of course, but I do need him to be kept occupied and I'd rather not partake of UNIT's hospitality again."
Shouldering his pack he walked out the door, a stray bit of snow being kicked towards the cold fireplace then went. He left the door wide open behind him.
Jo's eyes widened as she realized the enormity of what he was doing. Icy winds swirled through the cabin; in moments the warmth of their formerly snug retreat was swept away, snow and ice blowing in freely. Furrowing her brows in concentration, she managed to work out the gag, then worked at the knots that bound her shaking hands behind her; if she couldn't get them off soon she knew she'd be too numb to even feel them.
There was no concept of how long it had been, an eternity of cold, before he returned; time was going hazy and white and she had long since lost all feeling in her limbs. He was suddenly there, a dark shape in the doorway, cautious, knowing something was wrong as soon as he'd seen the open door. Edging in to scan the room, his eyes widened in consternation when he saw her.
"What…? Jo!" Rapidly kicking at the small drifts working their way into the living area, he managed to force the door closed then whirled to come to her.
"Good heavens," he said, kneeling down beside her, feeling her face. "Jo? Can you speak?" He set about untying the ropes that had defied her earlier efforts. "Are you hurt?"
She looked at him sleepily, "Jus…c-c-cold…"
"Now, no sleeping!" he said, inwardly cursing having left her with the Master. They'd all grown so used to one another over the past days he'd let his guard down. She was in deadly danger of hypothermia; he had to warm her up. Where was her coat?
The last of the ropes fell loose and she slumped towards him. He looked about for anything of use; only one of the blankets remained where they'd been folded by the fire, half-buried in snow. Quickly shrugging out of his cloak, he wrapped her up in it and propped her back up in the chair. "Stay right there. I'll see what I can do."
Shaking the snow out of the lone blanket, he wrapped it over the cloak then went to start the generator.
Jo held the layers around herself, trying to stop the aching clenching of her jaw. It helped having the wind blocked out again but she was so incredibly cold she almost didn't feel it anymore.
The Doctor came back in looking grim. "He's sabotaged it."
"Why…do that?" Jo said, trying to make her lips work. "Smoke's already gone…"
"Because he knew he wouldn't be followed this way." He threw down the remains of a generator part, looking over at the snow-filled fireplace with disgust. "The petty…"
"How - how does it s-stop…from f-following him?" The Doctor didn't reply but she could see it in his face. He wouldn't leave her and he couldn't take her with him. He was trapped.
"Jo," he said, his blue eyes meeting her hazel ones with an expression she couldn't read. "The temperature doesn't affect us the same way…"
"But it d-does me."
"…but the going will be quite difficult for him even so. This storm system isn't finished with us and there are drifts that would go right over his head. UNIT will hopefully find us anyway, even without the smoke, they're clever enough chaps. I'll rig a signal from the radio if I can. If they arrive quickly enough, his trail might not be completely cold."
"Haha," she said without humor. She could hardly feel her face and she felt so heavy...
He stamped snow off his boots and managed a wry smile. "Sorry, didn't mean that." He turned to consider the problem of the snow-heaped fireplace. "Good grief, he doesn't do anything by halves does he?"
She didn't reply, her eyes closing again.
"Jo? Don't go to sleep, come on now," he was suddenly in front of her, patting her hands.
She looked at him with unfocused eyes and didn't reply.
"I hope you'll forgive the impropriety of it, but it appears the only warmth we have right now is ourselves." As she struggled to make sense of that statement he was picking her up. He'd pulled the thick rug out from the snowy hearth and flipped it to its dry side, propping it into a trough against one of the walls. Setting her down in it, he settled beside her and then pulled her over to him, rearranging the blanket and cloak to encompass them both. She huddled down against him, only vaguely aware that he'd added his own velvet jacket to her layers, her cold hands curled against him, a comforting warmth beneath the thin fabric.
The Doctor waited quietly, curling down over her as best he could, trying to hold in their shared body heat, his cheek against her hair. After a little bit she began to tremble more violently, shivering until her teeth chattered again. This was a hopeful sign. If she could get just a little warmer he would be safe to leave her long enough to see what he could do about that fireplace. The meagre light of the snow-covered windows was already fading away and without the fire the formerly cozy cabin seemed little better than a cave.
Her chattering slowly stilled and he could feel some small warmth returning. She buried her face down into his chest, ducking in beneath the edge of the cloak. "My nose is cold," she muffled, curling up even tighter.
He smiled to hear her sounding more herself. "I'll be sure to make you an electric nose-warmer as soon as we get back to the lab."
"That would look silly," she mumbled. There was a long pause. "Do you think you can get a fire going again?"
"Certainly. But you'll need to be warmer first."
She shifted, curling into a ball against him. "I can feel my face."
"A useful attribute." He adjusted the cloak to be sure she was still covered and waited, holding her close.
After a few minutes she said something, muffled against him.
She peeked up from down in the cloak. "I said your ruffles tickle."
He smiled down at her, just glad to have her talkativeness coming back. "I see."
"And you can't use a radio signal," she said, already halfway down into her cocoon again.
"He took the radio."
"Ah. Well, we'll see what else we have to work with. We've still some kitchen appliances, and the rest of the generator. Should be something I can do with that."
"How about the sleepiness?"
"Mm." She had her nose down in his shirtfront again, apparently to try to warm it up. "Better."
"How did he manage to tie you up like that?" the Doctor wondered.
"I don't know… he was asking me about…something, and the next thing I knew I was tied to the chair. It's all muddly."
The Doctor's brow furrowed at this. "Jo, look up at me. Just for a moment."
She looked up, her eyes going slightly wider as his own blue ones searched very seriously, then seemed to pierce her. Somewhere down inside, something snapped. Something she hadn't even realized was there.
"Oh! Oh, he hypnotized me!"
"Yes," the Doctor sighed, giving her a reassuring embrace. "Can you remember now?"
She burrowed back down into his chest for a moment then reemerged. "He was asking me about the radio," she said. "Why, he got me to tell him the whole message! No wonder he knew about the smoke. Which means…" she unaccountably giggled. "He was lying."
"He's been known to do that. What about?"
"About being able to figure out what I was telling you. He tried to say my encoding it was easy for him to figure out, but if it were he wouldn't have needed to do that, would he?"
The Doctor smiled. "No, he wouldn't."
"How did he do that? I thought he couldn't hypnotize me anymore," she grumbled. "It's enough to make me quite cross with him."
"I'm sure it wasn't easy. He must have caught you by surprise and with your guard down."
"Too bad you can't use it for something better."
"Better? What, hypnotism?"
"Like… can you make me imagine that we've a nice, roaring fire over there?"
He smiled, still holding her close. "No, but I'll be glad to make you a real one."
"Here's your coffee, Miss," the Sergeant said, handing out steaming mugs. Jo cuddled hers close, enjoying the heat of it.
Yates reached for one and took a swig, promptly scalding his tongue. "Hot," he commented.
"Isn't the heat nice?" Jo asked, blowing across hers. She met the Doctor's eyes over the top of her mug and smiled, then looked out the window where snow was driving past in horizontal streaks. The peak they'd been trapped on for so long wasn't even visible. "I wonder how the Master is doing? Hasn't there been anything?"
Yates shook his head. "He's bound to be out there still." He frowned unhappily into his own cup; he'd been in a poor mood ever since he'd led the supposedly heroic rescue for her only to find her pink-cheeked and smiling, cuddled up with the Doctor in front of a warm fire, sharing his cloak - and it had practically been a bonfire, why had they needed a cloak? Benton had remarked he was surprised they hadn't burned the cabin down.
Still, the Captain couldn't get that image out of his head: a golden-haired petite figure all wrapped up in a too-big velvet coat, or the way her hand lingered on the older man's arm when she got up to greet them.
He took another swig of bitter coffee, in spite of the heat of it.
Benton set the Doctor's coffee down on the table and took up his own. "Do you think we should mount another search?"
By way of answer, the Doctor unrolled a long bit of paper on the table, the recent records from their monitoring devices. He significantly tapped a squiggly area circled in pen.
"What does it mean?" the Sergeant wondered.
The Doctor sighed. "It means he's already signaled to his allies, whoever they are. Some time ago. And they've responded."
"So where is he?" Yates asked.
"Long gone, Captain." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the table's edge. " Long gone. Whoever his allies are, he's gone with them and I'm sure we'll be finding out in due time. Most likely before we really even want to know."
"You know, it's strange," Jo said, pulling up a stool and perching on it. "I'm almost glad that he's escaped. He wasn't that bad, was he?"
"Wasn't that bad?" the Doctor looked at her as if scandalized. "Jo, he tried to freeze you to death!"
"All right, apart from that bit."
"And when he wasn't trying to kill us, he was an insufferable bore."
"Oh, I don't know. I think you enjoyed it."
"Enjoyed being trapped with…. I'm beginning to wonder if that hypnotism was completely broken or not, what you're saying makes no sense. Are you aware of that?"
Jo just smiled, sipping her coffee. There was still plenty of winter to go.