twitchbell: <user name=twitchbell> (amygasp)
[personal profile] twitchbell
Title: Once Upon a Fairy Tale
Author: twitchbell
Fandom: Doctor Who
Rating: Teen
Characters: Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory
Summary: Something extraordinary has been seen in the forests near a small mining settlement, and there are plans afoot to hunt it down. Plans which include the kidnap of Amy, Rory and the Doctor.
Word count: 7120
Warnings: Some swearing.
Spoilers: Doctor Who Series 5
Author's Notes: Set before 'Amy's Choice'.

Amy Pond thought she could write a book about the trials and tribulations of travelling through space and time with the Doctor. But not today. Right now, her mind was fully occupied with more important things, such as what was happening to the Doctor and how they would get out of this situation in one piece. So she ignored the grass sodden with heavy dew and the way the ropes chafed her wrists, and concentrated instead on wriggling forward to get a better view. She made her every move as quiet and cautious as possible to avoid attracting notice; both she and Rory were perfectly aware that their well-being didn't feature highly on their captors' agenda.

The world that met her eyes was cloaked in soft grey, the forest caught between night and day. Mist wove through gaps between the trees and wrapped itself around the nude body of the Doctor as he stepped slowly forward, looking oddly self-assured about the role he was about to play.

He also looked as hot as hell. Amy knew quite well this was an inappropriate thought on several levels – not the least of which was because her fiancé was only a few feet away – but, well, she'd need to be a saint not to at least sneak a peek, and Amy would've been the first to admit she was no saint.

Then the leaves rustled, like a light breeze had blown up from nowhere to stir the uncanny silence.

And something moved out of the mist.

The day had started out so well.

Rory had wanted to see aliens: 'Really alien aliens. Not aliens that look exactly like humans except for wrinkly noses or strange ears.' The Doctor had been obliging and brought them to a small thickly forested planet, one of what he described as the Outer Rim Worlds,. 'Like Endor,' Rory had said, but there were no Ewoks there. What they had found were furry, belligerent Traidor, spindly red-skinned Skrel and tiny, scaly Phindeli – all mixed in with the transient human population in a small mining settlement. With the recent discovery of rich mineral deposits, this area of the planet was attracting a number of different races all itching to make their fortunes, just like the various Gold Rushes in Earth's history.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory found a bar doing brisk business where the atmosphere was lively without seeming in any way threatening and settled in for a convivial evening.

It was only when they left, threading their way back to the TARDIS along a dark, narrow lane, that everything went horribly wrong. A thin metallic net dropped, snaring them like animals and giving them no time to react. Amy had felt a tiny pinprick as something was driven into her neck and then – nothing.

She struggled back to consciousness to find herself still mostly in darkness, lying on a filthy floor, and panicked when she realised her hands and feet were bound with rope. Her head hurt, her mouth dry with the aftertaste of whatever had been used to drug her, but at least she wasn't gagged.

'Doctor?' she said muzzily. 'Rory?'

'It's all right, Amy.' Not Rory's voice, the Doctor's. Amy was torn between a surge of relief and irritation.

'Is 'all right' some Time Lord expression for everything's gone to hell in a hand basket? Because, hello? Being drugged and tied up doesn't quite fit my definition of all right. And where's Rory?'

'To your left. Oh, and close your eyes and count to ten. Your eyes will adjust quicker to the level of light. Rory's breathing, he's fine. Just taking a little longer to come round than you. And me. Definitely longer than me. Interesting cocktail of chemicals. Either they gave me a lighter dose, or I'm not as susceptible to its effects.' The Doctor sounded remarkably cheerful. It was extremely annoying .

'Doctor, shut up,' Amy said, even though she followed his advice about closing her eyes and found it actually worked. She could now see that they were in a dimly lit stone room. The Doctor had managed to work himself into a sitting position in spite of being bound hand and foot. Unable to give her a thumbs up, he opted instead for a bright and breezy smile. Amy treated him to one of her most expressive eye-rolls, and then she twisted her body until she could see Rory. He was also tied up . No surprises there, then. 'Rory!'

He groaned and opened his eyes. 'Amy! Are you - '

'She's all right, you're all right, I'm all right,' interrupted the Doctor. 'Now, all I need to do is create a bit of wiggle room and get these ropes loose. Did I ever mention my old mate Houdini? Very big on wiggle room, Houdini. Oh. And the odd dislocated shoulder, now I come to think of it, which I'd rather -'

The door to their prison slammed open as it was booted back on its hinges and they all blinked at the sudden influx of light.

'Awake, are you?' sneered a female voice.

'Yes! We are!' The Doctor was clearly annoyed at being interrupted before he'd completed his escape routine.

'Who are you?' Amy demanded. 'What do you want?'

'What makes you think we want anything from you?' The speaker stalked into Amy's line of vision, revealing herself as a Traidor. Short and aggressive, her rust-brown fur sticking up in greasy spikes, her wild yellow eyes glared as if to terrorize them into compliance.

'The whole drugging us and tying us up thing,' Amy told her, trying not to sound as intimidated as she felt.

'Yeah. Bit of a giveaway, that,' Rory concurred. 'If you didn't want anything from us, then drugging us and kidnapping us would be pretty pointless.'

'Might have just wanted to kill you. Slowly. Properly.' The Traidor grinned, her teeth sharp and white like those of a predator.

'Well, that would still be a reason,' Rory pointed out. 'Just not a very nice one. And if that wasn't the reason, then maybe you could tell - '

'And maybe you could just shut up!'

The Traidor lost patience with words, reacting with a violence none of them anticipated. Snarling, she kicked out hard at Rory.

Amy, seeing what was coming but powerless to intervene, shrieked, 'Don't!' as Rory cried out and doubled up in pain.

'There was no need for that.' The Doctor's voice was charged with sudden anger.

'Shut it!' a male voice snapped from the doorway. Amy looked over and saw a man glaring down at them from a face so pale he resembled something grown in the dark, like a mushroom. He also seemed vaguely familiar but she couldn't quite place him. She turned anxiously back to Rory and the Doctor. Rory's eyes met hers, trying to reassure and, she suspected, caution her to silence.

'No more games.' The Doctor's face was thoroughly stripped of any good humour. 'Tell us why we're here, and let's sort this out without anyone else getting hurt.'

'I said, shut it!' The man, clearly unimpressed, rounded on him and raised a fist, but the Traidor's voice stopped him mid blow.

'No! Not him! It might not come for damaged goods!'

With a muffled oath, the man turned away from the Doctor and reached out for Amy, jerking her head up hard by the hair.

Amy yelped. 'Let go! That hurts!'

'Stop that!' Rory ordered, struggling vainly to get to her.

'Whatever you want, this isn't the way to get it.' The Doctor's voice was very soft, but there was nothing of sweetness in it. 'Leave her alone and talk to me.'

Amy felt like her hair was being pulled out by the roots, but she bit her lip, refusing to give the man the satisfaction of crying out again. She saw the Doctor open his mouth to remonstrate once more, but the Traidor beat him to it.

'Are you stupid, or what?' she snarled at him. 'He doesn't want to talk to you, so shut up! Or we hurt your friends properly. Got that?'

Amy could see that the Doctor had. In a show of acquiescence, he lowered his gaze. But there was a glint in his eyes that she suspected neither the man nor the Traidor had spotted.

The man released Amy, stood up and swaggered across to the door. He beckoned at someone outside. 'Get them into the truck.'

The three Skrel who entered were full-grown adult males, the frail appearance of their skeletal bodies masking a considerable strength: they lifted up the Doctor, Rory and Amy without any difficulty at all. Skrel culture permitted them to speak only to others of their own kind, the Doctor had said, so there wasn't much point attempting to start up a conversation with them. There was also the inconvenient fact that once they'd taken payment for a task, they had a reputation for seeing it through to the end with remorseless tenacity.

Slung over the Skrel's back and trying to keep her face away from the ridge of short black-tipped spines that marked out the backbone, Amy caught only the briefest of glimpses of their surroundings. The building they were being carried out of looked like it was on the edge of the settlement. It had an abandoned air to it; the privacy offered by its enclosed courtyard was probably the reason it had been selected as a temporary prison. She caught a glimpse of the unfamiliar stars patterning the night sky, and the two moons casting a strange, cold light.

Then she was deposited in the closed, windowless back compartment of an elderly wheeled vehicle, not dissimilar to an old army truck, and Rory was slung in next to her. When the Doctor was placed alongside them, it was with rather more care.

The man leaned over him, sneering. 'Now I'm ready to talk, pretty boy. You want to know what we want from you? We want your virgin body to catch us a unicorn. How about that?' He grinned unpleasantly and backed up, nodding at one of the Skrel.

'Pretty boy?' The Doctor repeated blankly. 'You're confusing me with the last me – hang on! Unicorn?'

The truck door slammed down and they were left in total darkness.

'Unicorn!' Amy echoed after a moment's silence. 'What kind of numpties are we dealing with here?'

'Violent numpties,' Rory said with feeling. 'With hard feet and short tempers.'

The Doctor sighed. 'I really hate it when you get that combination. They don't like long explanations, and they can't grasp short ones, and then there's the whole violence thing. Definitely not good.'

They fell silent for a moment as the vehicle began to move, quickly gathering speed. In a few minutes it had reached uneven ground and Amy thought it likely they were heading away from the settlement, taking routes that were little used – or else making their own.

Rory had been considering the situation. 'So they want the Doctor because he's a bona-fide born-again space virgin? That's ... different.'

There had been a rambling talk in the bar last night about the whole changing bodies thing, and the Doctor's lack of a love life since. It was a slightly drunken and raunchy conversation (at least on Amy's part) but she'd retained enough good sense to keep quiet about the fact that Doctor's current virgin status certainly wasn't for any lack of effort as far as she was concerned.

The Doctor cleared his throat and said in injured tones, 'I know it's dark, Rory, but I am still here, you know. And the numpties were there, too. Last night. In the bar. Listening.'

'I knew I'd seen that man before,' Amy said. 'So they overheard the conversation and decided to kidnap us. Great.'

Rory was still thinking. 'But unicorns are mythical. Aren't they?'

'No,' the Doctor said with authority. 'Or possibly yes. Well, definitely maybe. It's complicated.'

'Yeah, right,' Amy said, not bothering to hide her exasperation. 'But unicorns are an Earth myth. So what are they doing here?'

'And why would they be on a planet with a landmass almost entirely covered in trees?' Rory asked. 'If they're like horses, don't they eat grass?'

'Rory, Rory, Rory! Always with the questions! They're genetically modified, of course. From horses. Mostly. With just a touch of narwhal. They're designed to match the myth with some added extras. And yes, they eat leaves in the absence of grass.'

'And that explanation was complicated how, exactly?' Amy demanded.

'Well, that was the short version.' The Doctor sounded grumpy.

'So I assume these unicorns are rare and valuable,' Rory said, 'and that's why they want you to catch one for them.'

'But how do you catch a unicorn? Does being a virgin endow you with some super-duper unicorn-catching powers or what?' Amy asked. 'And how do the unicorns actually know if someone's never had sex?'

'In myth, the unicorn was supposed to be so overwhelmed by the purity of the maiden that it knelt down and put its head in her lap,' Rory said doubtfully.

'I shouldn't think the Doctor wants a unicorn's head with a great big horn on it coming anywhere near his lap,' Amy said with some certainty. 'So, Doctor. What are we going to do?'

'I'm working on it.' The Doctor was evasive. 'And it's a work in progress. So both of you shush and let me get on with it.'

Anything that could be said in response to that was probably going to be rude and counterproductive, so Rory and Amy fell silent. Or as silent as they could be given that the continual shaking of the vehicle kept flinging all three of them unceremoniously together, which caused a certain amount of vocal discomfort. Amy found it hard to calculate how long they'd been travelling: in the dark, time was measured only in her heartbeats and in the roaring twists and turns of the vehicle as it juddered its way forward. Dank air squeezed through tiny rust-holes bringing with it the scent of rain and earth.

Then the vehicle halted. The door was pulled up and a beam of icy-white light shone into their faces, cutting through the darkness in the vehicle and beyond. Amy blinked, turning her head away from the torchlight while her eyes adjusted. They had stopped deep in the forest. Dark trees surrounded the vehicle like a wall of night.

'I told you we were going too damn fast.' The man tossed his torch to one of the Skrel and scowled at the way Amy, Rory and the Doctor had been thrown together by the movement of the vehicle. 'He could have been damaged.' That the last referred to the Doctor was obvious when he gestured the Traidor to check him for any sign of injuries.

'No, no! Stop that!' the Doctor protested, doing his best to wriggle away from her intrusive paws.

'He looks lively enough to me,' she grunted back at the man, baring her teeth in what might have been a smile.

'I'm fine!' the Doctor snapped. 'And I'll be even finer when you get your claws away from ... there.'

'Humans! So pathetically soft and tender.' The Traidor stepped back with a smirk, raising a paw and admiring her sharp claws much like Amy might check out her nails.

'I'm not even –' The Doctor stopped, drew a long breath and looked away from her at the man. 'So tell me, what do you want with a unicorn?'

'We fancied a little pet, didn't we?' The man sneered. 'What the hell do you think we want with a unicorn? The horn sells for a thousand credits a gram, and aphrodisiacs like that aren't going out of fashion any time soon.'

'It's our ticket out of this place,' the Traidor said. 'Beats mining for minerals in the hope of striking pay dirt.'

'Lucky you walked into our bar last night.' The man took his gun from his holster and Amy watched in alarm as he hefted it meaningfully in one hand. 'Lucky for us, that is.'

'I'm not going to help you.' The Doctor said it flatly. No emphasis, just a clear statement that he would have nothing to do with their plan.

The Traidor yelped with laughter. 'Oh, you're funny. You think you're being given a choice?'

'Unicorns are living, breathing and sentient. I'm not going to lure one here so you can slaughter it and hack off its bloody horn to sell as an aphrodisiac. Is that clear enough for you?' There was a tight, pinched look to the Doctor's face. He was properly angry, Amy realised. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not because they were all tied up and there was a man with a gun, a short-tempered Traidor and also the Skrel, looming up in the background.

'If you don't do what we want, we're going to kill your friends. Is that clear enough for you?' The man pressed the muzzle of his gun to Amy's head and she froze. Okay. Definitely not a good thing, then. 'They die or the unicorn dies. You choose.' His finger tightened on the trigger and Amy tried not to flinch. It sounded like Rory had stopped breathing beside her; she daren't turn her head to look at him.

'It doesn't have to be like this. What you want to do is wrong, very wrong. Think about it!' The Doctor's voice was urgent. 'I may be able to –'

'I'm going to count to five,' the man cut across him. 'And the only word I want to hear from you is "yes". If I don't hear it before I finish counting, this gun goes off. One.'

Amy's heart was pounding so hard, it hurt. She vowed she wasn't going to beg or whimper.


'Doctor!' Rory's voice was low and full of entreaty for him to do something.


'Yes!' The Doctor spat out the word as if he couldn't bear the taste of it.

'There's a good boy,' the Traidor mocked, patting the Doctor's head like he was a pet who'd just learnt a new trick.

'Cut him free.' The man nodded at the Traidor, who used one of her sharp claws to slice through the ropes binding the Doctor's wrists and ankles. 'Now, get out of the truck and over there.'

'Not until you take that gun away from her head,' the Doctor said, all quiet and cold.

'Anything to oblige. The man's grin was full of derision as he slid his gun back into its holster. Amy sucked in a lungful of air and felt lightheaded with relief. She turned her head to Rory and he managed a small smile of support.

His legs still numb, the Doctor stumbled out of the truck in an even more ungainly fashion than usual. He pulled himself up straight and then leaned against the truck to steady himself as the feeling returned to his limbs. 'What about my friends?'

'Coming with us, but they're staying safely tied up. Nice little hostages for your good behaviour.'

'We need to move further into the forest: the unicorn might get spooked if it sees the truck,' the Traidor said impatiently. She seemed to have taken on the role of resident unicorn expert.

The man gestured at the Skrel. 'Bring them.'

As Amy and Rory were lifted out of the truck, Amy wondered about the Skrel: did they mind being ordered around like this, or was the promised pay off just too good for them to care? She could ask them, but it wasn't like she was going to get an answer. The Traidor, now in possession of the torch, took out a scanner thing and began tapping in coordinates with quick clicks of her claws; Amy assumed it was some sort of satnav. The Traidor headed off into the trees and the Skrel followed, carrying Amy and Rory. Amy caught sight of the man pulling the Doctor away from the truck and then pushing him after the Skrel.

It had been raining, quite recently by the looks of it, and even the light from the twin moons failed to penetrate much of the dense, dripping foliage. The trees looked old, and here and there Amy saw weird lumps on the trunks, like melted faces. The leaves were also strange: some had glossy fringing and others multiple thin lobes, like bunches of feathery green knives. These last kind dangled low from branches and brushed against her face with damp fingers as she was carried under them; they smelt pungent and vaguely spicy. Amy wondered which sort of leaves the unicorns preferred to eat.

The further their path took them into the forest, the mistier it became. The trees began to thin out a little, and the pale moonlight now stealing through the hazy branches made Amy feel as if they were walking into a fairy tale. Except for the nightmare element where she, Rory and the Doctor were prisoners, and the Doctor was about to be forced to act as unicorn bait so the creature could be slaughtered for its horn. So, one of those unreconstructed fairy tales, then, like where the Ugly Sisters hacked off their toes to fit their feet into the glass slipper, or –

'We're here.' The Traidor stopped suddenly in a clearing and snuffed the air. 'Not long till dawn and that's the time it's been seen. We need to get in position. You, take off your clothes.' She gestured impatiently at the Doctor as the man pulled him forward.

'What?' The Doctor stared at her, looking deeply confused. 'Why?'

'We need the unicorn to catch your scent. Clothes might confuse it. So strip.'

The Doctor glanced over to where Amy and Rory had been dumped unceremoniously on the grass and sighed. 'Or else? Oh, I see. You're not going to bother with the 'or else' this time. You're just going to meaningfully tap your gun and grin at me. All right!' He flipped his hands up briefly in capitulation. 'I'll strip. This is me stripping. Look? This is me putting my clothes on the grass where they'll get all wet, but you don't care about that. Of course not. Everything?'

'Everything!' The Traidor glared at him, her claws extended and gleaming.

'Everything. I see. Amy, Rory, no peeking,' the Doctor ordered.

'You didn't mind last time,' Amy reminded him. 'In the hospital,' she added off Rory's look, because he seemed to be imagining that the Doctor had made a habit of shedding his clothes in front of Amy during their travels.

'Yes. Well, that was different,' the Doctor said, adding with almost matronly reproval. 'This is still the night before your wedding. So not the time for either of you to be looking at other people. Other naked people.'

There was plenty Amy could have said to that, but she decided not to. Mostly she decided not to because the Traidor looked about ready to explode with rage at the Doctor's conversational distractions, rage which Amy knew would be directed at her and Rory, and they'd had quite enough of that already. So she bit back some pithy responses, dutifully averted her eyes from the Doctor and gave Rory a look, the kind of look that spelled volumes. Rory stared back, unfazed.

'Any particular place you want me stand?' The Doctor's voice was stupidly chirpy, which Amy hoped meant he had a plan. 'Or should I sit? Actually, no. I'd rather not sit. Damp grass, you see. Bit chilly round the nether regions. On account of me not wearing any trousers. Or pants.'

'By that tree.' The Traidor told him through gritted teeth. 'Just stand over there and shut the fuck up.'

'As you wish.' The Doctor sounded unexpectedly docile – to Amy's ears at least. So it was likely he did have a plan, then, she thought with a surge of relief. Had their captors been little less relieved that he was finally doing as he was told, the thought he might have something up his (metaphorical) sleeve might have occurred to them, too.

'Let's get these two out of the way,' the man said. 'We don't want any distractions.'

Amy and Rory were carried by the Skrel to a place on the edge of the clearing where the dark, misty forest loomed behind and above them, blocking out much of the light. Amy managed to see the Doctor standing next to a lone mossy tree at the opposite side of the clearing: he was experimenting with arm positions and looking rather like he was trying to model a late-night advert for a racy shower gel. Nice. Very nice, Amy decided, feeling a pang of regret for the might-have-beens. It was positively a crime that he was currently untouched. Someone ought to see to him, er, that, pretty soon. Not going to be her, though. She was getting married to Rory, so she could look but no touching. And only platonic kisses. Fairly platonic.

'No funny ideas.' Amy saw the man move forward into the Doctor's space, forcing the Doctor back against the tree and blocking her view of him. 'When the unicorn gets here, you don't try scare it off or anything. Or you'll regret it. Understand?'

'You have my friends. You'll hurt them if I disobey. Yes, I understand.' The Doctor's voice was preternaturally calm, at least to those who knew him well. It made the hairs on the back of Amy's neck stand on end and when she flashed a look at Rory, she knew he felt it too.

'Good boy,' the man said, and Amy saw him raise his hand and pat the Doctor on the cheek. Patronising git, Amy thought with a flare of anger. None of this motley crew was fit to lick the Doctor's boots. Or her and Rory's boots for that matter.

The man sauntered back towards them, grinning, and Amy almost expected him to high-five the Traidor but, mercifully, he didn't. Both he and the Traidor hunkered down behind thickly-leaved bushes while Amy and Rory were deposited nearby. The Skrel took up positions a short distance away, screened by trees. The torch was switched off. Amy used the Doctor's trick to help her vision adjust, but it was still pretty gloomy.

After that there was nothing to do but wait.

When she thought about it later, Amy supposed it wasn't a long wait (as waits went), but it felt worse than it was because she was so uncomfortable. Her vision was mostly limited to Rory and foliage. The ropes rubbed at her ankles and wrists, and while it wasn't cold, it was unpleasantly damp and clammy. Added to that was the ever-present worry about whether or not the Doctor knew what he was doing, and if he did know what he was doing, would it actually go without a hitch? Neither of these was a given as far as Amy was concerned and, judging by Rory's expression, he had similar misgivings.

Amy noticed that the little pieces of sky she could see were turning lighter and then she tried to distract herself by listening for any sound of a unicorn. It would have hooves, so presumably would make a horse-like noise. But how noisy did hooves sound in a forest? Did unicorns have a stealth mode? Would it realise it was walking into danger? Or was there no unicorn anyway, and if nothing turned up what the hell would their captors do to her, Rory and the Doctor? They didn't have the best of tempers in any case, and if their plan was thwarted, things were bound to get ugly.

As distractions went, this was worse than useless, Amy decided. She was desperately casting her mind about for something less discouraging to occupy her thoughts when there was a sound. A soft sound, like the whisper of a leaf. Very, very carefully, she inched forward so she could see.

There was the Doctor, moving away from the tree, through the mist and into a sudden shaft of light. Once Amy got over the initial (and totally understandable) distraction of his nudity, she saw he had a look on his face that suggested something was about to happen. There was a rustling sound and–


Yep. That was a unicorn. A very male unicorn, strongly muscled and disconcertingly flesh and blood, high-stepping out from the misty forest, his tail flickering like quicksilver. The world seemed to hold its breath and then the creature snorted suddenly, shattering the silence. Abruptly, he lowered his head and the single spiralling horn on his crest angled forward in deadly warning at the Doctor. Which, as the Doctor would probably be the first to say, was very not good.

Amy bit her lip, the tension stretching her nerves to screaming point. Her attention was so focused on what was happening, it took her a few seconds to become aware of a sweet, musky scent in the air. Then she heard a soft sound behind her. Several soft sounds, in fact. Slowly Amy turned her head and her eyes widened. Because she was staring at legs, white and equine-shaped legs with rather odd shaggy fetlocks. She drew a deep breath and looked up.

Oh boy. Unicorns. Plural. As in lots and lots. Possibly a whole herd of unicorns, in fact. They were congregated behind the man and the Traidor, both of whom were only just realising that they each had a unicorn horn poised at their backs ready to skewer them. The looks of blind panic on their faces were a joy to behold. Amy couldn't make out what was happening with the Skrel, but she could see that neither she nor Rory were being directly menaced; in fact, the unicorns seemed to be keeping a respectful distance from them, which was very reassuring.

'I suggest you put down your weapons,' the Doctor called to the man and the Traidor. Amy glanced back just in time to see him put a friendly arm across the shoulder of the unicorn next to him. The unicorn snorted and tossed his head as if in imperious agreement. 'You see, the unicorns really don't like you, and I don't like you much either. But, unlike me, the unicorns have these horns. Long, spirally horns. Very pointy. So you need to make your next moves carefully.'

'Fuck you!' the Traidor snarled, the very picture of thwarted rage.

'Oh, do shut up.' The Doctor sounded only mildly irritated. 'It's my turn to talk. Now, I want you to use those lovely sharp claws of yours to free my friends – oh, and no drawing blood by mistake, or you'll upset the unicorns . And you don't want to upset the unicorns because of the pointy horns, remember? Well, go on, then! They're waiting!'

There was no doubting what the Traidor would rather have done with her lovely sharp claws, but she managed to restrain her temper as she followed the Doctor's instructions. The man stayed silent throughout the whole procedure, although his expression clearly showed that he was no more cheerful about this turn of events than his partner.

'Well, this is unexpected. In a good way. Obviously.' Rory got to his feet, a little unsteadily, and as the last of Amy's ropes fell away, he reached out a hand to help her. 'Doctor, have you been ... talking to the unicorns? I mean, telepathically?'

'Absolutely I have. I speak unicorn. Well, I speak it in my head. Not out loud. Wrong sort of mouth and vocal chords and ... stuff.' The Doctor twisted his face about and managed a sort of whinny in an apparent attempt to prove his point. The unicorn snorted.

'Yeah, I know. That was a rubbish accent. Sorry, mate.' The Doctor patted the unicorn's neck.

'So how are the unicorns with the whole patting thing?' Rory frowned slightly. 'Don't they find it a little, well, patronising? Given that they're sentient beings and you're treating them a bit like a horse.'

'Most of them is a horse. And patting's perfectly all right amongst good friends. Which we are, aren't we?'

The unicorn snuffled at the Doctor's hair and then lifted his head, swishing his tail.

'Now that was actually the unicorn equivalent of a pat. Sort of. Well, not really. Did I mention that the language of unicorns is very, very –'

'Let me guess. Complicated?' Amy sighed and shook her head. 'So, Doctor, how long have you been talking to the unicorns?'

'Since not long after the truck stopped. Lucky I did. This one - my first contact - was already on his way to see me. Having detected another creature with advanced telepathic skills, he was fascinated. Perfectly understandable.' The Doctor smoothed one hand over his hair, looking so smug he was practically preening. 'The unicorns thought two-legged creatures with their kind of abilities were nothing more than fairy tales.'

'So, nothing to do with the whole nudity and virgin thing?' Amy clarified.


'Good,' Rory muttered.

'Although he -' the Doctor began.

'Stop! Don't!' Rory raised his hands. 'Whatever you're going to say, I don't want to hear it!'

The Doctor huffed a little. 'Humans. You're so judgemental about these things! All right, moving on, then. We had a good long conversation. And came up with a plan.'

The unicorn stamped a hoof.

'Yes.' The Doctor nodded in agreement. 'It was a good plan. A brilliant plan, in fact. And now we have just a few more loose ends to clear up before -'

'Talking of loose ends, Doctor, where are the Skrel?' Amy interrupted, suddenly realising there were no tall red life-forms anywhere to be seen.

'The unicorns let them leave. Seems Skrel have a little rudimentary telepathy themselves. So words were exchanged, with my assistance, to encourage them to go away and never come back. Which they were happy to agree to.'

'So what about these two?' Amy gestured towards the man and the Traidor, who were now being herded at unicorn-point into the clearing.

'Ah! The remaining loose ends,' the Doctor said, clasping his hands together. 'The unicorns have agreed to let me pass judgement upon them.'

'Isn't there a law enforcement officer person back in the settlement?' Rory suggested. 'We could all press charges for kidnapping and assault.'

'Wouldn't stick. We didn't actually kill any of you. We only threatened you, roughed you up a little.' The Traidor shrugged. 'On the Outer Rim Worlds, that doesn't even count as a minor misdemeanour.'

'I see.' Rory didn't look impressed, and Amy didn't blame him.

'Not what you're used to?' The Traidor gave him a derisive grin. 'Yeah, well, you get to leave this place when you've had enough. Us? We're tied to a contract unless we buy our way out of it. We were just trying to speed up the process.'

'You know, I'd have a lot more sympathy for your situation if you weren't trying to do it by slaughtering a member of a sentient species,' the Doctor told her, an edge in his voice.

'We didn't know the bloody things were sentient!' the man protested.

'You didn't really make any effort to find out, did you?' The Doctor shook his head. 'And, sentient or nor, what you set out to do was still vile. So ... you need to start looking for another way off planet, one that causes no harm to any creature. I hope that's understood. Because I might not be so lenient if I pop back this way and find it wasn't.'

Amy folded her arms, less than delighted by the Doctor's decision. 'So you're just going to let them go, then?'

'Well, I'm not taking them with me,' the Doctor said firmly. 'Think about it, Amy. The Skrel have already left so they'll nab the truck and the unicorns will take us to the TARDIS, but these two will have a nice long walk back to the settlement. It'll give them plenty of time to reflect on the error of their ways.'

Amy wasn't convinced about this being a proper punishment. Okay, she didn't want them slaughtered out of hand (or by unicorn), but they needed locking up for a bit at least. Rory was also considering the Doctor's words.

'It'll take them a few days to walk it,' he said. 'Are they going to be able to find food and water on the way, because if they can't then letting them go is actually just an extended death sentence.'

'It rains here nearly every day.' The Traidor rolled her eyes. 'Believe me, we won't run out of water.'

'And we have the navigator,' the man said, looking almost pathetically anxious for the Doctor's plan not to be overturned. He patted his pockets. 'And some emergency rations. We can make it.'

'Well, there you are, then.' The Doctor rubbed his hands together. 'It's all sorted. Amy?'

'I suppose so,' she said. It wasn't going to be a pleasant jaunt for them, she realised. In fact, it would probably be a lot less comfortable than a few days locked up in jail. And certainly more strenuous. 'Oh, all right.'

The Doctor took a step towards the man and the Traidor, flapping his hands at them like they were troublesome wasps at a picnic. 'Well, don't just stand there, then! Go on, clear off! Before we change our minds.' He paused. 'Or, more importantly, before the unicorns change their minds.'

That did it. The man and the Traidor moved off with as much dignity as they could muster, giving the unicorns the widest berth possible. This controlled retreat lasted only as long as it took them to reach the cover of the forest. Then, judging by the amount of crashing and rustling that ensued, dignity was abandoned in a desperate rush to get away.

The Doctor smiled, the very picture of contentment. And Amy smiled, too, as she focused her mind (and her eyes) back in his direction and enjoyed the view, because naked Doctor standing next to a magnificent mythical creature was quite possibly one of the most delightful images she'd ever seen.

Rory viewed it rather differently. 'I'll get your clothes, Doctor,' he said. 'Don't want you to catch cold.'

Amy stared appreciatively at the Doctor. 'Oh, I don't think it's all that cold. No rush on the clothes.'

'What? Clothes? Oh. Clothes!' Belatedly remembering he wasn't wearing any, the Doctor flailed his hands about, as if unable to decide where to put them, and then settled for shuffling awkwardly behind the unicorn. 'Amy! Rory! Don't look!'

'I think that bird has flown,' Rory said resignedly as he fetched the Doctor's clothing, which the unicorns had kindly avoided trampling. He eyed Amy's phone as she pulled it out of her pocket. 'Someone you have to call?'

'I'm going to take a photo of the unicorn.'

'And the Doctor.'

'It's a unicorn, Rory! Stuff of legends!'

'And it's the Doctor. Who is naked.'

'Come on! He's hidden by a unicorn now. Mostly. Which makes it practically art.' Amy patted his arm. 'Relax. It'll be fine. Just to be safe, I'll run it through a Pre-Raphaelite filter before I post it on Facebook. You okay with that, Doctor?'

'Oh, Art! Art is cool. Go ahead. You can call it 'Time Lord with Unicorn'.'

Amy gave the Doctor the thumbs up and then went for her shots with a focus she thought any professional photographer would be proud of.

Rory shook his head slightly and dropped the clothing in a pile at the Doctor's feet. 'Look , Doctor, just ... put your clothes on.'

The Doctor prodded them with a toe and pulled a face. 'They're all damp.'

Rory sighed. 'Remind me: how are we getting back to the TARDIS?'

'By unicorn.'

'Then, as one man to another, I think you ought to put some trousers on.'

The Doctor thought this through. 'Good point.'

It was quite possibly the first time a unicorn had ever been used as a dressing screen. Amy wasn't sure what the unicorn made of it, although presumably the Doctor had cleared it telepathically with him beforehand. It was also probably the first time a unicorn had been used as a clotheshorse ... or was that now clothesunicorn? ... she thought, as the Doctor arranged various items of clothing haphazardly on the creature's broad back.

'So, what happens to the unicorns now? I mean, once they've taken us back to the TARDIS,' she asked, popping her mobile safely back in her pocket.

'There are bound to be others out here who decide to have a go at catching one,' Rory said.

'I know.' The Doctor slipped his arms into his shirt and fumbled at the buttons. 'They're very aware it's not safe for them here anymore So the whole herd is coming with us. I'm going to take them to a place where they'll be out of harm's way.'

Rory said, his voice flat with disbelief: 'You're going to put all the unicorns. In the TARDIS.'

'It's a big TARDIS,' Amy said brightly. 'Remember?'

'You're serious, aren't you?' Rory blinked, possibly trying to imagine thirty or so unicorns trotting one by one into the TARDIS.

'Oh yes. Very.' The Doctor reached for his trousers and then began wrangling the braces into submission. His voice floated back to them from behind his patient makeshift dressing screen. 'You see, the unicorns asked me. They can't communicate properly with anyone here, and those who know they exist are quite prepared to kill them just to get rich quick. Now what sort of life is that?'

'Not much of a one,' Rory acknowledged.

The Doctor stepped out from behind the unicorn, now mostly dressed and (sadly) decent again. He looked decidedly rumpled with his bow tie still unfastened, tweed jacket draped over one shoulder, and boots dangling loosely from his hand. But he was smiling, his high spirits infectious as he looked from Amy to Rory.

'I know a world, a wild and beautiful world, with clear, open skies and vast, green forests. And people living there who always keep a warm welcome for strangers. That's where I'm going to take the unicorns. Want to come with me?'

It was an invitation Amy found utterly irresistible. She grinned at Rory and held her breath, suddenly aware of just how important it was to her that he feel the same way.

'Wouldn't miss it for anything,' Rory said, and grinned right back at her.

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January 2015


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