Note: To break writer's block, I gave myself permission to jump around with the prompts instead of proceeding in strict alphabetical order. So now there's this. It's full of words and things, and I am very short on sleep and I don't even know. Also I'm kind of in love with this one, possibly because it's the first semi-postable thing I've written in a while. Not that that means anything in particular, just throwing it out there.
Prompt: ulvose - filled with reeds or weeds.
When, after washing off the mud of the Olgabrian swamps, Amy asks to be shown somewhere civilized and beautiful, the Doctor declares he knows just the place.
He takes her to the moon of Chinolous to see the Grand Antiquary, the famed museum of Emplic's Shadow Archeaologists. Only he takes her before they've finished building it, when the flat white stones are still scattered around in stacks that reflect the moon like mirrors, and the naked scaffolding of the great glass dome webs across the sky. When she looks up, it's like looking through a net cast out to dredge up the stars.
From the outside, the museum's halls are hardly beautiful, at least not in the way Amy expected. They're almost crumbling, half-roofed and full of holes, so newly-built that they look as though they've been standing for thousands of years. But the Doctor insists that this is the only way to see the museum, really – no, really, because to get in once it's been built properly there's a bothersome ritual you have to do with a squid and a hairpiece, and it's much easier to come in this way, under the cover of disinterest.
Disinterest is a very effective cover; the place looks disused as well as deserted. There are no floodlights, no fences, and no security guards in the vast shadowy entrance hall to raise a fuss when the beam of the Doctor's torch flicks out across the mingled frost and sawdust of the floor. When Amy asks where everyone is, the Doctor explains that on Chinolous, it is widely believed that unfinished things have no soul, and therefore nothing worth stealing and nothing to guard.
"What do you mean, no soul?" Amy asks. She can see her breath in the light of the torch as the Doctor shines it into her face, making her squint. "It's just a building. How can a building have a soul?"
"That's the question, isn't it," the Doctor says. "Depends on what you want to call a soul. There's a ring in the Carvox system where they keep their souls in teacups – makes for an awkward High Tea with the queen, I'll tell you that, as if tea with queens isn't bad enough. It's always chopping things off with them, if it isn't your head then it's your – ah. I'm drifting. Never mind. Souls, though – could be anything. Could be bones, birds, computer chips… on Parralistair they use flowers. One of those metaphors, I expect."
Amy manages to stifle a giggle at the thought of the Doctor being menaced by a queen at High Tea, and glances around at the dark recesses of the hall. There's nothing even vaguely metaphorical in sight. "So what do they use here, then?"
"Gizmos, doodads, and thingamajigs," the Doctor says promptly. "Parts that enable the working of the whole. Irreplacable things." His hand finds hers in the darkness, and the torch switches off, plunging them into a gloom lit only by starlight on the pale stone walls. "Come along, Pond," he says, his grin swimming into focus as her eyes adjust. "Let's go and have a look."
So they go and look at a strange, multi-limbed ring of sculptures draped in musty sheets, and a small blue pyramid balanced on its point, which the Doctor claims is supposed to be some sort of cutting refutation of a 33rd century Aldebaarian philosopher's musings on the unnatural perturbations of anti-gravity machines. On a raised dais there's something that looks like it's made of popsicle sticks, and something that looks like it was painted by Pollack, only in 3D and through a microscope, and there's a tall, swirly trellis thing entirely covered in brown beetles. The trellis used to be covered in lit-up vaccuum filaments, the Doctor says, but these particular beetles feed on light, and the way they've colonized and repurposed the original artwork looks so much more dynamic, doesn't she agree?
Actually, she's pretty sure she does, even when the all the beetles start wavering their little feelers in a way that makes her skin crawl and she draws back instinctively against the scratchy tweed of the Doctor's jacket. The beetles make it more disgusting, she declares, but probably more dynamic as well.
The Doctor doesn't argue; he only chuckles and rubs her shoulder reassuringly, then lets his fingers trail down almost as if by accident, ghosting over the goosebumps on her arm with a feather-light touch. There's a dangerous moment, one of the ones that have been happening more and more ever since Quavon – a moment where Amy's universe narrows down to his fingertips against her skin and the thudding of his hearts, one beneath each of her shoulderblades, and she breathes in the emptiness of the night and the museum and the entire moon with only the two of them on it, and she realizes how easy it would be. All she needs to do is twist around and she would be close enough to curl her nails into the seams of his jacket, close enough to run her fingers through that fluffy, ridiculous hair and kiss that lopsided smile.
And then she feels the Doctor leaning towards her, and for a wild moment she thinks he's going to press his lips to her neck, her shoulder, and maybe those strange, half-supressed yearning looks he gives her over the TARDIS console when he thinks she can't see them will finally start making sense -
Then the moment passes. The Doctor only leans close enough so that the warmth of his breath on the back of her neck makes her shiver, and he whispers into her ear, Come on, and then he's pulling her along by the sleeve, leading her further up and further in. They hurry past empty galleries and amphitheaters, between a pair of crystal pillars that rise loftily to support nothing, for what seems like ages, until finally he stops her outside a little alcove off the transept.
Amy peers into the alcove, looking for something worth being dragged around for, but it's almost entirely empty except for a smallish covered painting, framed by thin windows that look out onto the moon's featureless grey plain and the stars beyond.
"All right, so what's this then?" she asks.
The Doctor shifts from foot to foot, rubbing his hands together. "This? This is, well, all sorts of things. You might even say, myriad things."
"Looks like a painting, is it a painting?" Amy teases, maybe a little bit sharper than she'd meant to, but the Doctor doesn't appear to notice. He's giving her that irritating smile she can't resist, like he's conspiring with her about a secret he's forgotten to let her in on.
"You could say it's a painting," he concedes. "You could say it's the soul of the museum, the piece that keeps the rest of the collection incomplete, the only piece that ever gets stolen, now about –" he checks his watch "—twenty-two minutes and thirty-seven seconds before it vanishes for eternity. You could also say -" He steps forward and pulls the sheet aside with a flourish. "It's our next stop."
On the way into the half-finished museum they wandered and rambled, but on the way out they run, not because there's anything chasing them but just because it's wonderful and exhilarating and they can.
Holding hands so as not to slip on the frost of the floor, laughing as they slide and slip anyways, Amy and the Doctor dash through the strange kaleidoscopic exhibits, through the half-built arches and shadowy entrance hall, and straight across the grey plain towards the TARDIS. The Doctor tries to open the doors with a snap from a few feet away, but is just a second too slow; Amy crashes into his back, knocking them both into a breathless, giggling heap on the TARDIS floor. Then the door swings shut, the quiet night shivers with a noise like a rusty key being scraped along a piano wire, and the ship is gone.
In a broom cupboard behind the crystal pillars in the museum's transept, the first art thief in Chinolous' history checks his watch, runs a hand through his hair, and steps out into the now-empty gallery. There are two sets of footprints in the dust on the floor, showing him the path through the twisting, tangled exhibit halls. He knows the way by heart, of course, but he follows the footprints anyway.
He finds the painting still bare, the musty sheet that covered it still crumpled on the floor, and he's grateful. That gratitude surprises him - he had told himself this would be easier to do without looking at the thing, but now he realizes how foolish that was.
As paintings go, it isn't the most fantastic, or even the most beautiful. It's a simple scene, painted with wide brushstrokes – a human girl, dancing barefoot with a shadowy partner over a field of exquisitely yellow flowers, under a lavender sky. It's true that the girl's fiery hair and brilliant red dress seem to blaze with a certain vivacity of color, as though awaiting just the right spark to set the whole world aflame; and it's true that the way she's painted, the way her edges blur in motion, make it look as though she might continue the dance at any moment, whirl away laughing over the field and out of frame. But there are other paintings that capture movement and color just as well or better, and (a critic might say) this particular painting doesn't do anything that hasn't been done before, much more impressively, by someone else. If it wasn't for the fact of its theft, probably no one would have been inspired to think of it as the museum's soul, or even a particularly exciting attraction.
The thief stands and looks at it for a very long time. Apart from the first few minutes, he mostly remembers to breathe.
There is no morning on Chinolous, but the thief's attention is finally distracted by the distant roar of shuttle engines bringing the first shift of workers to the moon's surface to begin the day's construction. Focused again, he moves quickly and efficiently, unhooking the grav-clasps around the wall and sliding the painting down from its place. He slips it awkwardly under his jacket, trying to conceal the completely obvious bulge of the frame, but he needn't have bothered. He doesn't run into anyone on his way back to the broom cupboard, and no alarms go off as he spirits the painting into his ship and closes the doors.
The crystal pillars shiver with a noise like a rusty key being scraped along a piano wire, and the thief's ship (bluer than any blue ever achieved by artists in any museum) is gone.
They arrive on Parralistair just as the Feast of Perennials is beginning, and for a moment Amy looks out at the cracked, blasted, dusty plain and thinks that the Doctor might have yet again landed them in the wrong place. But there's no mistaking that the heartbreakingly lavender sky is the same one from the painting, and anyway the Doctor's hand is on the small of her back, shoving her out and locking the doors behind them. The dust is inches deep, and it sifts into her shoes as she follows the Doctor around the back of the TARDIS.
The festival is already beginning. There's a line of Parrali women all being handed something by a moss-green, antennaed man in a gray sash – the Priest of the Plantings, the Doctor whispers, before he's ushered away to wait with the other men by the musicians' stand. Amy hurries to join the end of the line, and then tries to swallow the prickling sense of strangeness that comes from being the only human in a line of seven-foot-tall alien women, each with three eyes and skin like beaten bronze.
The Priest is slow-moving, bent over in a way that makes Amy think he's absolutely ancient, though his face is no different from the others. His third eye blinks languidly at her as he reaches the end of the line and hands her a small reed-woven basket, full to the brim with star-shaped gold blossoms. Suddenly nervous, Amy thanks him, but he only stares at her for a long moment, the tips of his antennae waving. For a moment it seems like the rustling of the wind in the trees and the distant crunching of footsteps form themselves into words, whispering Welcome, offworlder directly into her mind; but she might be imagining things.
Then the Priest moves away, over towards the cluster of men around the musicians' stand. Amy cranes her head, looking for the Doctor, but he seems to have vanished into a group of Parrali clutching sinuous stringed instruments and talking to each other with solemn waggles of their antennae. She starts to go and look for him, but the woman next to her in line tugs at her sleeve with a large seven-fingered hand and shows her how to scatter the flowers from her basket, a few at a time, onto the dusty earth. The blooms lie on the ground for a few seconds; then, as Amy stares in wonder, their threadlike roots start creeping and wriggling into the dust, and the flowers spring upright, turning their petals up to sky.
Then the music strikes up, a whirl of drums and dusky flute, and that's the last time Amy stands still for the rest of the night.
She's never been a brilliant dancer, but all the Parrali are suddenly moving at once in a storm of yellow blossoms, and Amy finds herself being whirled around by a tall green-skinned man who then passes her off to another, and another, each one closing his third eye as an affectionate joke at her strangeness, and before long Amy is laughing at her own strangeness as well as theirs, laughing at the strangeness and heartbreaking beauty of the whole world, letting the drums place her feet for her and the flutes teach her how to breathe and laugh and dance all at once.
Someone hands her a rough goblet half-filled with some sort of wine; copying the others, she takes a small sip and hands it off to someone else. The wine starts working on her as soon as it passes her lips; it feels as though she's swallowed a small sun that burns gently in the center of her, its fire filling her to her fingertips so that she must move or burn. The music strikes up a change, there are strings now in with the drums and flutes, and the dance increases in tempo as the firewine starts working on all the Parrali as well.
Then suddenly the Doctor is there, jacket-less and flushed, being shoved towards her through the crush by helpful green and gold hands. His mouth is already open to say something, but Amy doesn't stop to let him question or talk or analyze, she just grabs his braces and pulls him forward, further into the crowd and golden madness. He hesitates for a split-second but then draws her in close to keep from losing her in the crowd, and she can feel his skin against hers like cool glass on a hot summer's afternoon, feel his hand rumpling the fabric of her dress at her hip, hear him laughing underneath the music, so loud that the vibration of it in his chest shakes her heart into a new rhythm, just a bit out of sync with the wild drums.
She turns in his arms, wanting to see his face, and then suddenly his hand is sliding up her back, cupping around the back of her neck, and he kisses her. On his lips she can taste the salt tang of sweat and the sweetness of the firewine, but only for a quarter-beat of the music; then it's over and she's staring up at his expression, more shocked by his own actions than he ever has been after ad-libbing a gizmo to save the galaxy out of string and postage tries to pull away and let her go, but she suddenly feels far too much like the Girl who Waited, and she's waited long enough, so she grabs his bow tie and pulls him back into the kiss.
There's no resistance this time around, no protests, no pulling away; there are no words at all, just his hands roaming restlessly over her back, and against his chest her heart pounding in the space between his with more adrenaline than after a beautiful brush with death, and a moment of perfect timelessness beyond the capabilities of any time machine, and then he's pressing his forehead to hers, whispering Amy, Amy, I love you, so in love with you, magnificent Amy, I love… before she captures his lips again.
When they finally stop for breath it's to find that the dance has moved on without them, leaving them standing still in the middle of a wide clear space, ankle-deep in a riotous carpet of yellow flowers.
There's a rest in the music, just enough silence for the beginnings of shock and double-guessing; then the band plunges into a new song, and the flush of firewine rises again into both their faces, and suddenly the TARDIS seems much more inviting than the dance still carrying on under the sun and the three eyes of the Priest of Plantings.
The TARDIS has hidden itself in a shadowy cedar grove (on purpose, Amy has no doubt), and it takes them a long time of tumbling through dark leafy hollows before they finally find it (and then completely by accident); but truth be told, neither of them really mind.
Years and years after the fairy-tale of Pond and the Doctor is over, years and years after the perfect devastation of that Happily Ever After, the strays and stragglers who accompany the madman in his box start asking questions about a strange locked door.
Years don't accumulate reliably on the TARDIS, but locked doors do, and it's not unusual to see them everywhere (including, in one memorable case, hanging – and falling – from a cathedral ceiling). But this locked door is different. It's not that it moves around – all the doors do that – but that it moves in straight lines, in predictable patterns, and even sometimes while you're looking at it. It's also painted blue, with paint that looks like it might have been fresh and vibrant once but is cracked and flaking now, shedding little bits of sky wherever it goes. More than one companion, embarrassed but suspicious, confides in the Doctor that it seems like the door is coming to get them.
It isn't, of course. It's coming to get the Doctor. And after the third companion brings it up with a nervous over-the-shoulder glance, the Doctor resolves to go and meet it. Running away is one thing, and it's a great thing, he should know; but it has its limit, and its limit is his ship.
After that, of course, the door is waiting for him under the stairs to the console room, its brass handle shining in the shadows as though it's just been polished, though the rest of the door is indeed in miserable shape. As if even that was too subtle a signal for the TARDIS' liking, it swings open easily the second the Doctor tries the handle, as though it had never been locked at all.
Beyond the door is a small room with a low ceiling, barely bigger than the TARDIS' largest broom cupboard (although broom cupboards on the TARDIS have admittedly evolved quite a bit from their mundane counterparts). The walls were probably saffron-colored once, but it's difficult to tell because almost every inch of them is plastered and strangled with greenery, and the floor has been entirely given over to a shallow marsh of stagnant water. A dense stand of cattails grows in the center, swaying gently in a nonexistent breeze.
The Doctor stands at the threshold for a while, watching the tips of the lianas roving restlessly over the corners of the ceiling. When he understands what they're trying to tell him, he steps into the brown brackish water, which immediately soaks his socks and starts seeping up the legs of his trousers, and moves carefully through the cattail forest, parting the stems with his hands where he can so as to break as few as possible. The room is much longer on the inside than it looks from the outside, and the Doctor reaches the end of the cattails before he reaches the far wall; after he lets the last stem swish back into place behind him, he turns to look at the problem the lianas were lamenting, although of course he knows exactly what he'll see.
Through the murky water he can see the silver glint of a drain, long clogged up with rotting leaves, and the concrete edges of a shallow basin, perhaps the bowl of a fountain, that gave rise to the marsh. He bends and cleans out the basin as best he can, clearing the debris with his fingers until he can hear the telltale gurgle of the water beginning to drain away. Only then does he raise his eyes to the painting hung on the wall; the only depiction of the only human to participate in the Feast of Perennials on Parralistair. His Pond, eternal and unchanging and gloriously alive, the frame of her portrait devoured by ivy but the picture itself untouched.
There was a reason he stole the painting, a reason that goes beyond mere historical accuracy. He always has a reason, even if he doesn't know what it is right away, or ever. His soul and bones still ache quietly with the losing of her, and they always will, but the intervening lifetimes have doused the all-consuming brushfire between his hearts and swept the ashes clean, and in its place is the reason for everything, soft and new and clear.
"Thanks for bringing me here, old girl," the Doctor says quietly, as the marsh drains around his shoes. The water level is sinking already, revealing a cluster of sodden gold flowers at the base of the cattails.
The TARDIS hums comfort and celebration and remembrance in his head in bright harmonics, and in her own roundabout code of strange geometry she repeats back to him (rather sternly, he feels) his own words of long ago; about the endurance of retold fairy tales, and how stories are most brilliant and most powerful when they're all that you have left.
That's not quite right, the Doctor muses; stories are at their most powerful when they're being lived.
But still, it's good to be reminded.
Some time after they leave the Feast of Perrenials (Amy has no idea how much time, but there are still yellow flowers half-braided into her hair), the Doctor takes them back to Parralistair, to a terrace overlooking a sprawling city far from the fields and festivals. The city is vast, with flat rooftops and spires stretching all the way to the horizon, but nothing in it moves except the wind she can hear whistling between the high windows. At first she thinks it's because of the sheen of crystal that's formed over everything, entombing the city like a bug in amber. Then she steps out of the TARDIS and feels the slick chill of it against the soles of her feet and realizes that it isn't crystal at all, but ice.
"The first morning of winter," the Doctor says.
The now much-rumpled red dress doesn't cover much, but she isn't cold, because the last few embers of the firewine are still smoldering in the pit of her stomach and warming the inside of her skin. But she shivers anyway, because of the sky and the shine of the ice and the sound of his voice.
He might have put his jacket around her shoulders, only he doesn't have a jacket; Amy feels an unexpected pang as she thinks of it, no doubt lying buried under flowers in a distant field, and finds herself already missing the feel of scratchy tweed against her cheek and her bare arms, and the enveloping smell of books and cold space and fireworks (and sometimes custard). Even the Doctor's braces are hanging at his sides – she's vaguely aware that he slipped them off his shoulders to stop her twanging them - but the bow tie, at least, is still intact. The Doctor starts fiddling with it as he crosses to the edge of the terrace, gazing out over the city.
Amy takes a deep breath of the clean cold air, tasting it like champagne, and leans her elbows on the railing next to him, resisting the temptation to glance up at his face. She suddenly feels dizzy and daring and certain and terrified, like she hasn't in ages, not since the starwhale, because this is the same sort of silence he stewed in for weeks after Quavon, and she knows exactly what it means; that unless she does something the next thing out of his mouth is going to be I should take you home. Because he's a clueless Time Lord git and he won't let himself realize that this is her home, the only home she's ever wanted in all of time and space, and she's signing on for all the risks that come with it and she won't have him treating her like a child by taking away her choice. Because he's kissed her twice before, and both times he's given her the same speeches and nervous posturing, the same protests, and now she imagines she can practically see the emergency systems cutting in behind his unreadable expression, hooking his mouth directly into the 'oblivious alien' node of his enormous brain and bypassing all the rest.
She's gearing herself up to argue with him, to give some sort of grand soliloquy on how he isn't going to dump her back in Leadworth if she has anything to say about it, and she does have something to say about, she has lots of thingsto say - but before she can start, he turns and hugs her. And it's no ordinary hug, either; he's the Doctor, he doesn't give ordinary hugs. He sweeps her up lightning-fast and hugs her ferociously, holding her so close that she can feel his heartbeats nestled on either side of hers.
"Amy," he says, "oh, Amy, Amy," and his voice sounds strange, low and hoarse and heavy, and then he draws back a little and lays one hand against her cheek with a touch so gentle that she nearly cries.
"Don't you dare," she says, but it's weak and scratchy, not at all the strong demand she was hearing in her head. The Doctor frowns, so she clears her throat and tries again. "Don't you dare tell me it's dangerous, or – or I'm only human, or any of that stuff like last time – I know you're old, I know you're alien, I know all about the monsters, and none of that has scared me away, and you know what, Doctor? It's not going to. Not ever." She's getting into stride now, finding her voice again; she takes a deep breath and plunges on. "I love you, Doctor, even though you're by far the weirdest man…alien… I've ever met, and your hats are horrendous, and so is your timing, but I've finally got you to admit you love me back, and if you think you can just ship me off back…to…"
She trails off, suddenly irritated by the faint smile on his face. "You're not sending me home, are you?"
"I was under the distinct impression, Pond, that you were home already. An impression reinforced completely unnecessarily by a pair of very pointy shoes."
"Shut up, that didn't hurt, you've got a space-head," Amy says, impatient. She clasps her hands around the back of his neck and looks him in the eye, with the most piercing look she can manage. "This is it, though, right? It's for real this time, no more of your… waffling, all 'this will have to end, exploding planets and big beasties that want to eat you', blah blah blah?"
"I don't waffle," the Doctor starts, but the look on her face shuts him up. "I think," he says slowly, after a while, "that endings are not the boss of us."
"Finally," Amy sighs. "You're a bloody time traveler, Doctor; you've got to learn how to live in the moment." She closes her eyes and rests her head on his chest, starting to feel the lead weight of exhaustion on her shoulders and the first chill creeping down her spine as the warmth of the firewine begins to subside. The Doctor's arms are around her waist, and he rests his chin on the top her head.
"You know something, Amy," the Doctor says thoughtfully, "I think you might be right."
The sun slips over the horizon, lighting up the frozen city with a blaze of reflected blue from every icicle and windowpane.
"Course I'm right," Amy says. Because if there's one thing she knows, it's fairy-tales, and years of lukewarm too-perfect endings have taught her that while the 'happily ever after' is nice, it isn't the point. All 'happily ever after' really is, is a way to fill up time on the edge of the story that could be filled with so many other fantastic and exciting things instead, if only the person telling it had a little more imagination...
Unnoticed by either of them, a single golden flower falls from Amy's hair and lands on the icy terrace. Its roots wriggle down into a crack between the stones, and even on the other side of the planet from summer, even as it freezes, it blooms and blooms and blooms.
It will bloom there for many years to come, a touch of gold at the crown of a city held in perpetual winter. But Amy and her Doctor won't see it, because after the sunrise they shut the TARDIS doors and head out into the universe to run from their Happily Ever After, as fast and far as a time machine will go.