"You landed in a forest in the middle of the night!" Martha complained.
"It was bound to happen sometime," the Doctor said.
Martha picked a cocklebur off her pantleg and glared at him, even if he was letting her lean on his arm. "So where are we?" she said, disgruntled.
"Dalmorion. Earth colony world. Every once in a while Earth explodes with colonists going out in all directions, like fluff off a dandelion," the Doctor explained. "The result is dozens of worlds in early stages of colonial development."
"So you landed us on a sparsely populated planet in the middle of a forest," she said sarcastically. She stood up and put her hands on her hips. "Are there even any people near here?"
"Bound to be. Look, there's light ahead."
The lights turned out to be a large family settlement, a large main house with rough ancillary cabins for extended family members.
When they walked up they found a man on a ladder hanging a string of multicolored lights. He saw them and waved. "Hello," he smiled. "Happy Peacemas!"
The Doctor perked up and waved back, grinning, obviously pleased. "Happy Peacemas!" he called back.
"Peacemas?" Martha asked.
"Later," the Doctor muttered quietly, still smiling as the man clambered down from his ladder and strode to them, arms outstretched. He was a tall, burly man with thick black hair. He had the ropy forearms and calloused hands of a farmer. He shook the Doctor's hand heartily and shook Martha's when the Doctor introduced them.
"Welcome, welcome. I'm Logan. Come in, we have Soothe and ale and Peacemas cookies," the man said, he herded them jovially inside.
The house was a second generation colonial dwelling, the original spartan prefab shelter having been built onto and expanded with natural wood and stone.
Virtually every interior wall and lintel was draped with chains of flowers and fruit, interwoven with greenery and colored lights. The scents of warm chocolate, cinnamon, and vanilla wafted through the air from the kitchen at the back, and a huge log burned brightly in a large stone fireplace that took up most of one wall.
"Guests!" a middle aged woman cried happily as she emerged from the kitchen, she wiped flour-stained hands on her apron and came toward them with arms wide. She hugged them both, kissing their cheeks. "Happy Peacemas!"
Martha stared at the Doctor at this unusual welcome, but rather than looking uncomfortable he was grinning like a loon and hugged the woman back. Martha wondered if he knew them, he hadn't mentioned knowing anyone on the planet.
"The Saint!" a high pitched young voice yelled in awe.
The Doctor and Martha turned to see a three year old boy standing on the wooden stairway leading to the upper levels.
The boy scrambled down the stairs and ran up to the Doctor, planting his pudgy, sturdy little body in front of him and staring up at the Doctor with awe.
He had baby brown hair and big blue eyes wide with wonder.
The Doctor threw back his head and laughed, a big-bellied laugh of sheer delight that Martha had never heard from him before.
The little boy's eyes went huge.
The child's father laughed and scooped his son up, twirling him around. "No, he's not the Saint, Toby. The Saint doesn't come until all good little boys are tucked up in their beds asleep." He bounced his son in his arms. "And you have been a good boy this year, haven't you?"
The boy stared at the Doctor over his father's shoulder and nodded solemnly.
The father noticed the direction of his son's stare. "Sorry about that," he said, turning to face them. "He's excited about Peacemas."
The Doctor grinned and shook his head. "I've definitely been called worse."
"Come, come," the woman waved them in. "Into the kitchen. I'm Marta, by the way." The little boy dashed past her. "Mind you leave some biscuits for our guests, Toby."
The friendly couple herded the Doctor and Martha into the sweet smelling kitchens and plied them with Peacemas cookies and Soothe, which turned out to be hot cocoa, to Martha's delight.
"So, are you on planet for the holidays?" the man asked, finishing off his cookie and washing it down with the light, golden mead that passed for Peacemas ale here.
"Might as well be," the Doctor shrugged. "We were just traveling. Thought we'd stop and see the planet."
"No relatives here then?" the woman asked.
The Doctor shook his head, Martha noticed that, for once, the mention of relatives didn't bother him.
"Then you must pass Peacemas with us!" the man swept his arms wide in a gesture of generosity. "We're having a huge party tomorrow for Peacemas Eve, everyone in the neighborhood will be coming. You're welcome to join us. There will be gifts and games and singing and food and the Ceremony of Lights at midnight. Which reminds me, I'd better finish getting the lights up or there will be hell to pay." He peeked sneakily at his wife out of the corner of his eye. She saw it and popped him with the end of her tea towel. He grinned smugly.
"Can we help?" the Doctor offered.
The man unstraddled his backwards chair and stood up. "Gladly. Many hands make light work."
"Come on, Martha." The Doctor took her elbow and herded her out of the kitchen, both of them pretending not to notice as the man kissed his wife before following them.
"Peacemas? Is that like Christmas?" Martha asked once they were outside out of earshot.
"Sort of. Remember, we're centuries after your time, traditions have changed a lot. Peacemas is the celebration of generosity and peace. Also known as the Festival of Lights."
"Hence the lights," Martha said, looking at the large boxes of tangled light strings they'd found sitting in front of the house.
"Exactly." The Doctor beamed and bounced on his toes. " I love Peacemas!"
Logan joined them, and between the three of them they decorated the whole compound. It seemed his mother and father, and several cousins all shared the homestead, each with their own cabin around three sides of the central square. They were off visiting other relatives at the moment, or shopping at the spaceport, buying last minute supplies and presents.
Martha found that even with centuries of advancement, Christmas lights still ended up in a tangled knot when stored, and it took a lot of patient unraveling and a few judicious bursts from the sonic screwdriver to shake them loose.
The lights themselves were fascinating. They came in every shape under the sun. There were normal bulb shapes of various sizes, but also blob shapes, humanoid shapes, star shapes, curlicues. Every possible permutation.
They wrapped the boles of the trees with webs of fiber optic lights. They draped the windows with holographic projection lights. And they outlined every curve, corner, and eave with strings of lights. Logan handed them up from the ladder while the Doctor scampered across the roofs like a spider-monkey attaching them.
They fussed with the placement and drape of the lights for a good hour before Logan pronounced himself satisfied.
The Doctor handed Martha the end of the first light string. "Would you plug that in?" he nodded to an outlet near the bottom of the front door. It took a broken fingernail before Martha realized the plastic child safety cap on the outlet didn't pry off, but slid downwards on a hinge. The outlet underneath was a flat disk of metal with no place to "plug" anything into. She looked at the plug on the end of the string and found it was an identical flat metal disk. Shrugging, she pressed it to the "outlet" where it stuck magnetically. Simple. A closer look at the safety cover showed it had a slit at the top just wide enough to allow it to be slid back up over the contact point. She did, seeing that it assured the magnetic contacts wouldn't slip loose, and allowed the string to emerge from the top. A nice, simple bit of engineering.
The Doctor was grinning at her when she turned around. She realized he'd been watching her figure out the plug. Like a grownup watching a child figure out a new toy. She shrugged and smiled back. "It's elegant."
He nodded and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He swiveled and looked out over the compound. Surveying the lights. Martha realized they weren't on.
"Did I do something wrong?" she asked, looking back down at the plug.
"No. They won't turn the lights on until later. Should be splendid though."
Logan finished pushing the empty boxes up against the side of the house and dusted his hands off with satisfaction. "A job well done. Thank you. And unless I miss my guess it should be just about..."
"Dinnertime!" Marta shouted from the open front door.
Logan grinned, as if he'd planned it. "Come on." He waved at the Doctor and Martha. "It's just potluck tonight, with all the cooking needed for tomorrow. But Marta is the best cook on the planet." He slapped his firm stomach. He wasn't fat, but he was a solidly built man. A man used to hard work, good food, and a good life.
They dined on homemade soup that had been simmering on the back of the stove all day. And reconstituted dinner rolls which Martha had been amazed to see start out as a packet of six individually sealed pills, that Marta tossed into a device that looked like a microwave, turned a dial and walked off. Martha watched through the device door, fascinated, as the packet of pills burst open and grew into large fluffy dinner rolls, browning as she watched. The device dinged, and Marta transferred the rolls to a cloth draped wicker basket. There was no sign of the plastic packaging.
Martha turned to the Doctor. "I could use one of those in my flat."
He grinned at her. "I'll put it on your Peacemas list."
He turned back to his discussion with Logan, and Martha looked across the table at Toby. The little boy was sitting, slowly eating a gingerbread cookie, his eyes never leaving the Doctor.
After dinner they spent the rest of the evening sitting around the fireplace. It was odd for Martha, accustomed to the noise and bustle of London happening around her at all hours, or the constant background hum of the Tardis. But here it was quiet. The only sound was the crackling of the fire and their own voices, punctuated by the occasional creak of the rocking chair the Doctor sat in.
Martha listened with interest to Logan's tales of coming to Dalmorion as a teenager with his parents to settle. It was an odd combination of high tech - spaceships, hypersleep, testing for local allergies and the practical and legal battles of claiming a homestead - and the long, but satisfying work of taming the land and building a home.
As she listened to his deep voice, and his obvious love of the land, Martha looked over and grinned to see that somehow, Toby had crawled, unnoticed, up onto the Doctor's lap. He was sitting there, very politely, looking up at the Doctor with wide eyed sincerity. Martha was surprised to notice the Doctor didn't seem to mind, he even had one arm curved around the boy's back, holding him securely. He was returning the boys sincere gaze look for look. Martha almost expected them to be telepathically communicating, they were so intent on each other. She heard Logan chuckle behind her. She looked over to see the boy's parents grinning at the scene.
Toby sat very straight in the Doctor's lap, his hands clasped in front of him. He bit his lip, obviously preparing to say something. Martha expected him to say he wanted a pony for Christmas. But he apparently decided against it. He gnawed on his lip for a minute then gave it up. Instead he laid down comfortably against the front of the Doctor's brown pinstriped jacket and the Doctor used a sneakered foot to set the chair to gently rocking. He joined back in the conversation, as the little boy's thumb stole furtively up into his mouth and he fell asleep.
The Doctor didn't seem to mind. He regaled Marta and Logan with his adventures trying to locate Martha in a 20 year metropolitan traffic jamb and had the two parents quietly laughing with tears streaming out of the corners of their eyes. Martha rolled her eyes at him with chagrin. She hadn't realized all he'd gone through to find her. He edited out the sadder parts and even Martha, who'd been there found herself laughing.
"You never got that coat from Janice Joplin!" she exclaimed softly.
"I did too."
"Who's Janice Joplin?" Marta asked as she banked the fire and placed a firescreen in front of it.
Martha waved the question away. "Famous singer back on Earth."
"Ah, well, we're a bit out of touch out here. Here Doctor," she reached for her son, "give him to me and I'll put him to bed."
The Doctor stood up, unfolding his lanky frame, still holding the sleeping boy. "I'll carry him, Marta, just show me where."
The woman nodded and led them up the stairs. Martha followed along. She looked sideways at the Doctor. Marta and Logan may look more mature than him, but she knew the Doctor was much older. He held the boy with practiced ease.
Marta led them up the roughhewn stairs and down a hallway, she opened a door and preceded them in, turning down the sheets on a small bed. The Doctor deftly circumvented the toys littering the floor and laid the boy in his bed, his long hands automatically slipped off the boys tiny boots, untangled the purple stuffed animal from the sheets, and tucked it into the crook of the child's arm. Toby turned on his side and curled around his toy, sucking on his thumb. The Doctor pushed back a lock of his baby fine hair and stepped back from the bed, allowing his mother to tuck the covers around the boy. Something in the Doctor's stance made Martha's chest ache.
"No use waking him up just to change him into his pajamas," Marta said, ushering them out of the room. "Now, I've made up the guest room for you, along here." She led them farther down the hall and pushed open a door at the end. Inside was a spacious guest room, a large wooden chair sat by the window, the wood rubbed down to a satiny finish from years of use, an armoire stood by the wall on the other side of the room, and a large plush bed sat in the middle, the fluffy quilt covering it screaming of comfort.
"I'll leave you two to get settled in. Bathroom's down the hall. Just yell if you need anything. I'll see you in the morning." The woman smiled at them and shut the door.
"So, one bed again." Martha said. "This is getting to be a habit." She refused to acknowledge the tickle of sensation in her stomach. The Doctor wasn't interested, he'd made that clear, but it wasn't her fault he was such an attractive man. Even if he wasn't strictly speaking a man.
"I'll take the chair," he said with his normal, although occasionally irritating, gallantry. He sprawled down in the huge heavy-armed chair and propped his feet up on the windowsill. Martha allowed herself to be annoyed at him, it was better than other possible responses, and went to investigate the bed. The quilt covered a blanket and sheets. She stripped the quilt aside and dragged it over to him.
"It's a bit nippy out. You take the quilt."
He grunted but didn't answer. He was looking out the window, which was cracked open, letting in the cool night air. He was not quite melancholy, but calm. Calmer, in fact, than she'd ever seen him. He was usually so full of energy that he was bouncing off the walls, but now, it was like something in the air soothed him. She watched as he looked out the window at a dark starry night, no city lights, no traffic sounds, just the silent pinpoints of the stars and the dark bulk of the forest.
"Silent Night," he said, as if he had read her thoughts. "Do you know," he said thoughtfully, "they still sing that."
Martha looked out the window, at the silent night that was indeed somehow holy. Her eyes shifted and she saw the reflection of the two of them in the glass. The tall gangling alien in his ultra urban pinstriped suit, and the Londoner in her tight fitting jacket and pineapple hairdo. Clutching a hand sewn quilt.
"Get some sleep, Doctor." She said, tossing the quilt across him and tucking it in around him in the wide chair. She knew he wouldn't close the window. He watched her, with a half grin on his face.
"Thank you, Martha Jones," he said, half facetiously, since she'd tucked him in completely up to the neck.
"Think nothing of it, Doctor." She ruffled his hair. He scowled like a ten year old boy, fought his arms free of the quilt, and fingercombed his hair back forward into its normal messy quiff.
She laughed and went to the bed, she slipped off her shoes and jacket and slipped inside. She pulled the smooth sheets up around her shoulder and turned over to look at the Doctor. He'd hunkered back down in the chair, snuggling his arms back down under the thick quilt. He was still looking out the window. A bit melancholy, but it was a happy sort of melancholy, satisfied.
Satisfied herself, and with a little smile. She turned over and went to sleep.
The next morning Martha woke to the sound of the door creaking open. Conditioned by life with the Doctor she lay still and swiveled her eyes down past the foot of the bed to see what was stealing into their room.
A tiny little tow head peeked around the door, scanning for the Doctor, the baby brown hair turned golden by the slanting morning sun.
Martha grinned, toasty and comfortable in her bed. She rolled over to see the Doctor standing by the window looking as neat and slick as if he'd just stepped out of the Tardis cleanser unit. For all she knew, he may have stolen back to the Tardis in the middle of the night.
"Good morning, Toby," Martha said, sitting up. The little boy jumped guiltily and turned to her, tearing his eyes from the Doctor.
"G'morning. Ma says breakfast," he said with a tiny lisp that she found endearing.
The Doctor turned from the window, smiling. "Thank you, Toby. We'll be right down."
The boy's eyes widened at having his hero speak to him. "Uh huh," he answered, and beat a hasty retreat, running into the door jamb on his way out.
Martha flopped back on the bed, muffling her laugher in the pillow, her shoulders shaking. The Doctor thumped her on the back. "That's not polite," he chided.
She rolled over and stared up at him, a huge grin on her face. "He's in awe of you."
"Well, wouldn't you be if Santa Clause came to visit?"
Martha raked him up and down with a critical gaze. "You're hardly a jolly old fat man."
"Santa isn't necessarily fat here."
"What is he, then?" she asked, propping herself up on her elbows.
Her eyes snapped wide.
"It makes sense," he continued. "Normally different traditions will winnow down to a common denominator over time, but there have been so many different traditions of Santa Clause and Father Christmas, over the years, not to mention the colonial variations, that instead of becoming one thing, he became everything. He can be a jolly old fat man in a red suit, a dignified older man in ermine robes, or a tall skinny man in a dark suit, suitable for sneaking into locked houses at night and leaving presents."
Martha's grin just got wider and wider.
"Oi, you! Quit laughing at me and get up. Breakfast. I'm hungry." He gave her knee a swat and she rolled out of bed, giggling.
After breakfast, Logan left to start the day's chores. Life on a farm took no holidays and livestock still needed to be tended. After they helped Marta clear off the tables and load a wonderfully streamlined dishwasher, (that didn't use water if the zapping sounds it was making were any indication) Martha asked what else they could do to help.
Marta looked around her spotlessly clean kitchen and doffed her apron. She took up a basket by the back door and handed Toby a smaller one. "You don't have to do anything. You're our guests. But I was going to go pick berries for a cobbler."
"Berries!" the Doctor said, with one of those explosive exclamations that were so startling. "I love berries!"
"Yeah, knowing you you'd eat half of them first, or explode them trying to shake them off the bush with your sonic screwdriver," Martha said.
"I would not!" he said with a hurt, offended expression. He took another smaller basket out of the larger basket Marta held. "Lead on. We have berries to conquer!"
Marta grinned at his exuberance and led on.
"How many have you got, Doctor?" Martha asked, a couple of hours later, holding up her basket to show it was half full.
The Doctor's face appeared over the top of the bush, a suspicious shiny green circle around his lips. Martha bit down on the smile forming on her own lips as he looked down at his basket with dismay.
"I'll catch you up," he replied, not quite guiltily, and she saw his hands start moving at superfast speed, plucking the berries off the bush so fast he sent it shaking and shedding leaves.
"Easy!" she said, almost laughing. She stood up on tiptoe and looked over the bush, watching his hands blur as the level of pale green gooseberries mounted in his basket. "That's cheating you know," she pointed out.
"Whatever works," he said, he didn't look up until several seconds later when he triumphantly held a heaping basket up for her approval. She looped her own basket over her arm and mockingly applauded.
Ignoring the sarcasm, he bowed.
Martha nodded back over her shoulder where Marta was plucking purple berries on the other side of the grove. "It's a good thing she didn't see that."
The Doctor shrugged and popped another berry in his mouth, smiling smugly.
"How come there are still berries to be picked? Isn't it a bit late in the year for that? Peacemas is still in December isn't it?"
"Yes, well, on Earth anyway. Peacemas is usually held during the winter solstice on whichever planet they're on. Don't know if they're still running on local time or if they've converted to the interstellar holiday date yet. Anyway, if the stars last night are any indication I'd say we're pretty close to the solstice here."
"So why are there still berries?" Martha asked.
"Hybrids." He held up a plump stripped berry and popped it in her mouth. "Custom designed. Most Earth produce has to be engineered for local conditions anyway, so they might as well give them a longer growing season while they're at it. Best way to ensure colonies survive is to be sure they can grow enough food. What's she looking at?"
Martha blinked at the change in topic as the Doctor vaulted over the bush and trotted over to where Marta was staring down at a depression in the ground, a gap in the line of berry bushes on her side of the circular grove.
"Anything wrong, Marta?" The Doctor asked, sauntering up with his hands in his pockets. Martha's instincts went on red alert. She'd heard that innocent tone once too often. She set aside her berry basket and loped to catch up with the Doctor.
The Doctor and Marta were looking down at a bare, sandy patch in the middle of the line of berry bushes. By rights there should have been a berry bush right there. Instead there was a gap, like a pulled tooth.
The Doctor knelt down and drew his long fingers through the fine sand. It looked as if someone had dumped a load of playground sand in the spot, after ripping out the bush. But it wasn't heaped up in the middle, instead it was indented. The Doctor ran his hand under the next bush and pulled his fingers out covered with the rich brown loamy soil of the area. The sand was all in one spot.
"Does this sort of think happen often?" He looked up at Marta, a slightly worried frown on his face.
"Sometimes, not frequently. Mind you, there are some natural herbivores around here that will eat a plant right down to the ground, especially when it starts to get cold, but I don't know where the sand comes from."
"Substrate," the Doctor said.
"What?" Marta asked.
"Oh, nothing." The Doctor cleaned off his dirty fingers and stood back up. He turned to the older woman with forced cheerfulness. "Do you think we've got enough berries now?" He held up his heaping basket with a grin. Martha hadn't even been aware he'd brought it along.
"Oh my!" Marta exclaimed with surprise. "Yes, that's more than enough!" She poured some of his berries into her less full basket, before they could tumble out of his and be trampled, then stood up and pulled a wet-wipe out of her pocket and with motherly efficiency wiped the berry juice off around his mouth.
Martha wanted to jump around with glee. But the Doctor stood still, with his mouth tight closed and withstood it, rolling his eyes all the while.
"Toby!" Marta casually yelled as she tucked away the wipe and hefted up her basket. "Come on, we're going home!"
There was no answer.
The Doctor frowned and looked around. Martha felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up at the look on his face. He was worried.
"Toby!" Marta yelled again, with the longsuffering impatience of most mothers. "Come along, we've got cobbler to bake!"
"Coming, Ma!" a little voice yelled through the trees. A second later the little coverall clad body came running into the clearing, he was beaming. He ran up to his mother and held out full hands. "I found whitenuts!" he said excitedly, dropping a double handful into his mother's hands. To Martha they looked like walnuts, only smaller and ivory white instead of brown. The boy reached into the top double breast pockets of his overalls and started emptying whitenuts into his mother's basket. He'd stuffed his pockets as full as a squirrel's cheeks.
"That's wonderful. We can bake a whitenut pie. That's your daddy's favorite," Marta praised her son.
"Mine too," he said with satisfaction.
"Come on," Marta stood up and took her son's hand. "Let's get moving. We've only got hours until the party, and we've got baking to do. Don't forget your basket, Martha," Marta said over her shoulder as she headed down the path that led back to the homestead.
Martha ran over to pick up her basket then stopped in confusion when it wasn't where she'd left it. She hunted around the bush where she'd been teasing the Doctor, then looked across the grove, thinking she must have carried it with her when she followed the Doctor. Nothing.
The Doctor sauntered up, swinging his basket. "Something wrong?"
Martha forced herself to stand still and survey the area. It was empty, just a wide circle of berry bushes with a leaf strewn clearing in the center. She could see clear across it, but there was no basket. She looked back down at the bush she was standing beside, she was sure it was the right bush, she could see the new skirt of leaves the Doctor had shaken loose with his hyper-picking.
"I thought I left it right here," she said, pointing down at a spot beside the bush.
The Doctor looked down. There was nothing there but a ring of sand.
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