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Shadow Play

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"Is this the theatre? Bit on the seedy side, isn't it?" Amy says.

It's a dim booth, one in a long row of rickety wooden stalls – dark inside, with slivers of sunlight piercing through the cracks in the boards. The Doctor closes the door behind them and Amy blinks. There's something pale in the middle of the small space and for a moment she forgets to breathe, thinking it's already too late, her eyelids have closed, the angel has all the time it needs. Then her eyes adjust and she sees not a statue but a white cylinder, about a person's height, with a diameter large enough that she could fit inside if she wanted to. There's nothing else: no stage, no curtain, no seats.

"Bit quick to judge, aren't we?" the Doctor says, and flits over to the cylinder. "It's not the outside that counts."

"I'm judging by the inside here, Doctor. And still waiting for my theatre."

The Doctor shoots her a look that says just you watch and makes a casual circuit of the booth, hands in his pockets. It's not that she's sceptical: when the Doctor gets this purposeful, something interesting must be imminent. But she's not about to let him think she's hanging on his every word.

"Amy Pond, prepare yourself," he says. "You are about to see something extraordinary." He turns to stare meaningfully at the cylinder. Amy follows his gaze. There's a moment of silence in which nothing happens. Then another one.

"You've stopped talking. That is extraordinary."

"Shhh."

She hears, or maybe feels, a distant hum. It's low, barely there, and she has to strain her senses. She puzzles over it, so engrossed that she doesn't immediately notice the other change: the cylinder is showing a tiny hint of movement, the slightest tendency toward rotation. Then a light sparks, a cool glow from inside it. Like the movement, it's sluggish, building without hurry to a languid throb. It makes the room feel colder; she shivers.

The Doctor paces around to the far side of the brightening contraption. His shadow appears on its surface, following him like an image in a mirror. Only the light – the light's coming from the inside. Even odder: he raises his hands as if to make the shape of a dog, but the shadow's hands form a bird.

"Excellent. Perfect working order," he says.

"Doctor?" She stares, squints. She couldn't have imagined that. It must be some kind of trick.

He says something in reply that Amy doesn't quite hear. It's eerie – the light. It makes her feel exposed. Images come into her mind of criminals on television shows being interrogated with bright lamps shining on their faces. She resists the urge to draw her jacket tighter and takes a step closer – only one – and leans forward for a better look. The material is slightly translucent, like paper.

"Don't touch it," the Doctor says. "Really, though, Amy. I mean it this time."

"You always mean it," Amy murmurs. The slow rotation is almost hypnotic. Another shadow flits by with surprising clarity: she thinks she saw, just for an instant, a pendulum.

"The shadows," she says. "Doctor? What's causing them?"

"You are. And me. We're creating them."

The silhouette of a short man with curly hair and a long coat appears, turns around as if hearing someone call, and vanishes.

"Did you do that?" Amy says.

"Yes, that one was definitely me. Yours seemed a little more abstract. Not doing calculations in your head, are you? No, no, no, a pendulum, what could that symbolise… are you a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, by any chance?"

"Why would I be – " There's a new shape: a child's drawing of an awkward, angular figure, one she recognises only too well. Her raggedy Doctor. And then she understands.

"Psychic paper! I thought it looked like paper."

"Psychic shadow theatre," the Doctor agrees. "Lovely idea, doesn't work everywhere, though – this planet's a bit more psychic than most – planets can be psychic too, you know. Can be awkward for unsuspecting colonists, that." He bounces on his heels with a tiny expectant smile, waiting for her to ask for details. She files it away for later; one psychic-thing-that-oughtn't-be-psychic at a time, please.

At the Doctor's words, the shadows react: some kind of spaceship, a waving banner, then a cupcake. Amy wonders if the last one really belongs or if he's just having a craving again.

"I like it," she says.

"Oh, lovely." He sounds a bit smug, but well – she'll let him have that one. "Amy Pond approves."

"It knows what we're thinking, right?"

"Oh, not exactly. It only catches impressions – subconscious, mostly. In the posh versions, there's a plot programmed in, but here you're left to make up your own story. Imagine, it's meant to be less fun!"

Of course, she likes this version better, too. Amy's had a lot of practice making up stories. (On the shadow theatre, the TARDIS appears, fades, reappears, almost as if it's materialising.) She told herself so many stories about the blue box that when it came back – when the Doctor came back – it was like living out her daydreams. Just like she'd imagined, eyes shut tight and hands over her ears to block out the dullness of the real world: thrilling adventures, wonderful monsters, worlds no human ever set foot on. Sometimes, when she steps out of the TARDIS into a new impossible setting, she thinks it must really be a fantasy after all, and in a second someone will shout at her to come wash the dishes. Or call her mental.

But she's not, and it's all real. The Doctor shows her that every day.

"Like telling ghost stories under the covers with only a torch? Bet you know some scary ones, Doctor."

"I do. I know some terrifying ones. They'd freeze your blood. Too scary for you, really." He glances over at the psychic theatre and when the silhouette of what is very clearly Santa Claus appears, raises an eyebrow meaningfully.

Amy snorts. "Is that an excuse for not telling them? You probably don't know any after all. Which means it's up to me to save the day. Again. Whatever would you do without me?"

"Probably get in a lot less trouble." Santa Claus disappears and it's the Doctor's shadow again, snapping its fingers in silence. The dark shape of what is clearly Amy runs across the paper and comes to an obedient stop, hands folded before it like a naughty child.

Amy glares, doing her best to telegraph waves of irritation. The shadow with her shape reaches out and pokes the Doctor's bowtie, which grows to an enormous size. "Someone has to get into trouble," she says, pleased that she's getting the hang of things. "Right now, if I weren't here to tell you a ghost story – you'd be stuck. Imagine how boring that would be."

"Maybe your story's just as boring. I can't know until you've told it." He's fiddling with his bowtie, Amy notes with satisfaction. Chastened, but with the familiar mischievous glint in his eye. She'd better tell a tale now while the telling's good.

"Fine, fine. If you feel the urge to scream, just tell me first, all right?" The setting is perfect: the dark little room, the alien glow, the shadows moving of their own accord. She doesn't think she can actually scare the Doctor, but she wants to see how the psychic paper will react. He's always so secretive; she might learn something, really see him in a way she's never had an opportunity to before. She concentrates. "Now then. Once upon a time – "

The roof of a house takes shape on the paper screen; then the rest of the building grows below it, slowly this time as if it's being inked. Light shines through the windows.

"Oh! Once upon a time, there was a house."

As the cylinder turns, the house vanishes around the bend and the figure of a little girl in a dress takes its place.

"In the house, there lived a little girl who had no family except for her mean old grandmother. The grandmother was very strict; she never let the girl play for long, or have sweets or stay up later than eight o'clock."

"Sounds like my grandmother," the Doctor says wistfully, staring up at the ceiling. He turns in a slow circle, seemingly not noticing, as if his legs have a mind of their own.

She manages not to blurt you had a grandmother? Of course he did. Of course, he was a child once. She knew that.

"This grandmother was much worse. Anyway, what she was most adamant about was that the little girl must never go up to the attic. When the girl asked why, the grandmother would say that a ghost lived there, but it couldn't come out as long as the door remained closed – but even a tiny crack of an opening would set it free."

A vague dark stain begins to form around the little girl, who remains in place despite the turning. Annoyingly, it doesn't look much like a crack, just a cloud. Amy tries to focus harder. The Doctor furrows his brow and leans forward, examining the developments on the psychic paper. There's a critical cast to his pursed lips. If he says anything, she thinks this story is going to have a very bloody end.

"The girl, however, was very curious," Amy continues. "She thought she could come up with a way to see the ghost without letting it out. She decided to – what's that?"

The darkness has taken the shape, not of a crack, not of a cloud, but of a man. Amy doesn't recognise the silhouette – she's sure she's never seen it before – but at the sight of it something in her resonates like a bell. She forgets the story. Something has come out of it or through it, she doesn't know where from, but it's come for her. Something cold and bright and devastating. There's a ringing in her bones, a terrible carol of sadness she doesn't understand. That shadow could send her tumbling into some yawning abyss with no way back. She's certain of it. Her hands tremble; she clenches them and says:

"What is that, Doctor?"

The Doctor's close by her side, watching her with one of his intent looks, even more focused than they usually are. It would be unnerving if her nerves weren't already singing.

"I think that's your ghost, Amy." His hands float a millimetre above her arm, not quite touching.

"Are you doing it?"

There's a brief flash of another shadow opposite the Doctor: a different man, still short, with a round hat and an umbrella. It disappears too quickly for Amy to take note of anything else.

"No. It's not me, Amy." His voice is low, urgent. He's holding back words, she can feel it. There's something he's not telling her. She's thought that so often lately it's almost become a mantra.

"Then what is it? Why is it so – horrible?"

"It's horrible?"

"Horribly sad, Doctor." She hears the catch in her own voice and feels rather than sees the Doctor shift, restless like a dog at the end of its chain. But he still holds back.

"You don't recognise it?"

"Of course not. It's only part of the story. I made it up. The ghost." Only part of the story, only part of the story, she repeats to herself. Just like all her other stories.

"A story can have some truth to it – especially a story told in a psychic theatre. It can be based on something that's true. Maybe if you try to remember – "

"I can tell reality from fantasy, Doctor! I don't remember it, it's not real, I just made it up. There's no such thing as a ghost. Watch: I'll make it disappear, too. 'But the ghost was never real in the first place and the little girl was safe.'"

She wills the silhouette to vanish, but it won't let go of her mind – or her mind won't let go of it. It grows darker and more defined instead. It turns its head and something about the profile, the line of the nose makes her gasp. She can feel tears pricking, but no matter how she searches her memory, there's nothing. Nothing that could explain why she wants to cry. She doesn't like not knowing.

Then the figure reaches out as if it has a mind of its own and touches the shadow of the little girl. Amy feels it, deep and incorporeal, like waking up from a deep sleep to sudden clarity. She knows him, this person. The memories are piled like thunderheads in the depths of her mind, dark and ready to break open. All the sadness is overlaid with yearning; she can sense the answers waiting for her, needing only a nudge to pour out, and without thinking twice, without being able to stop, she reaches out and touches the silhouette on the psychic paper.

The white light flashes, not just in her eyes but in her mind as well. It's far too bright: she feels like she's looked at the sun and the sun has looked back. It swallows the little room and the Doctor and Amy Pond. For an unknowable time, there's nothing but light. Then colour and darkness come back and she can see again.

She's on Earth, back in Wales. In her memory, it was her and the Doctor, just the two of them and the village's inhabitants against the Silurians. Now there's someone else here. She recognises the figure from the shadow theatre. He's insubstantial, like a shadow himself – he doesn't seem to quite belong. A dream that's wandered into a memory. But she recognises him. The name is on the tip of her tongue, but before she can say it, she catches sight of the little red box in his hand. Even as part of her knows the ring inside fits her own finger, another part recoils instinctively because no, that's not right, she's not the marrying type. She's the type who remains unattached and uncommitted; when people leave, she doesn't cling to them, and when she's the one who leaves, there's nothing to tie her down.

As soon as the words cross her mind, however, the man and his red box vanish and with them, the name she was about to say. She clutches at the memory melting away, but it's slippery and insubstantial and soon she's left in confusion, wondering what she was thinking about.

Then she's in the TARDIS. There's snow everywhere; the chill should penetrate to the bone, but it feels distant. The Doctor is gripping her by the shoulders. That feels distant, too.

"Which one, Amy?" he says. His voice is desperate. She gets the feeling he means something else by the question – more than what it seems on the surface. Frustration makes her shake off his hands. It must be a trick question; the answer's so obvious she almost thinks he's attempting to make some kind of joke.

"Would I be happy settling down in a place like that?" she asks. "Would I get married – and pregnant? Of course, it's the TARDIS that's real. You know that."

There's a movement in the corner of her eye like someone fidgeting, but when she glances over, she doesn't see anyone. It's only Amy and the Doctor.

"There isn't anyone else here, is there?" she asks.

He follows her gaze. "Did you see someone?"

Again, the hidden meaning. There's a phantom ringing in her ears, as if someone's shouting in them but all the sound has been turned off.

After a moment, she shakes her head. "No. This is it, this is real. You and me in the TARDIS."

Without any kind of transition, she's in her bedroom in the house in Leadworth. They've just faced the most terrifying thing she can imagine – more terrifying than she had ever imagined in all the make-believe monster stories she'd invented as a child. They've faced the stone angels that kill you faster than you can blink and lived. Her body is humming with relief and energy, the adrenaline still coursing through her like electricity. She feels constricted, lightning pent up with nowhere to strike.

"I've been thinking about who I want," she says.

The Doctor stares at her like the idiot he can be at times and refuses to grasp what she's saying. Since words seem to be failing, she decides she'll have to take a more direct approach.

He protests, of course, when she kisses him. He babbles on a bit about humans and life-spans and little girls. She refrains from rolling her eyes. He's probably afraid she's being clingy.

"I wasn't thinking of anything quite so long-term," she says. They're alike in that way: neither of them is long-term, they both want the freedom to come and go. But that's no reason not to have a celebratory shag when you've just escaped having your neck twisted by angels. She explains as much to him while she's pulling off his braces and fiddling with the buttons on his shirt.

When she slips her hand underneath, his skin is cooler than she would have expected. Cooler than a human's. This is an alien, she thinks, someone who's come unimaginable distances through space and time only to end up in her bedroom. She wants to know what else is unexpected about him.

"Amy," the Doctor says, "you don't realise what you're doing."

"Oh, I think I do, Doctor." She's sprawled half on top of him on her bed; she's just got his shirt properly open. He isn't kissing her back yet, or trying to pull away. He keeps talking to her.

"No, you don't." He holds her face cupped in his hands, forcing her to look at him. "This isn't how it happened. We didn't…" His lips twitch as he searches for an appropriate euphemism.

"Yes, I know. You had some silly excuse. Can't quite remember what it was."

"Try, Amy. Try to remember."

Something is scratching at the edge of her mind and maybe if she could focus long enough, if she really wanted to dig it up, she would be able to tell what it is. But it's so difficult, and she's tired of remembering and not remembering, of the past being made of possibilities instead of facts – a different, phantom reality hidden behind her memories like a shadow. A shadow that keeps growing fainter until she can barely discern it. It's impossible to concentrate on that fading wisp of a recollection when she can feel the Doctor breathing against her skin. She knows what's real: this is it.

"You had a fiancé," he says. It's very, very soft and that's how she knows he's being serious. Only he can't be serious. She won't let him.

She shakes her head. "Silly. I would never have a fiancé. I'm not the marrying type – don't like to be tied down, me." She's Amy Pond, adventurer in space and time. Her best friend is a mad man with a box. She's spent a lifetime dreaming of this and those dreams don't have room for an ordinary human boyfriend tagging along. Marriage is a word for boring afternoon teas and naff wedding invitation cards. It doesn't belong in the TARDIS.

Her words have an effect. They seem to make up his mind, dispel whatever doubts he had, because when she kisses him again, he responds willingly enough. And now she has everything she wants. She's happy – she would be ecstatic – if only she wasn't so bloody cold. All the warmth is draining out of her, leaving her hollow. She clings to the Doctor, but of course, he's not as warm as a human would be.

"Amy." Someone keeps saying her name. She tries to brush it aside, but the voice grows stronger, dissolving the memory-dream around her. The harder she digs her fingers into the bed, the covers, the Doctor, the faster everything vanishes. The voice pulls her out into the light.

Amy opens her eyes to find that she's lying on the ground, head cradled in the Doctor's lap. There's a sunbeam falling directly on her face, tickling her nose. She lifts a hand with a vague idea of warding it off. It's the earth that's so cold; she can feel it through her clothing.

"Amy! You're awake." His hand is on her cheek, cool and dry against her skin.

"Was I sleeping?" she murmurs.

"You were unconscious. Only briefly – it looks like you didn't get hit too badly."

"Hit with what? What happened?"

"Psychic feedback. Your subconscious got linked back to your conscious mind. Amy, Amy – this is exactly why I told you not to touch the paper." He sounds worried, and something else she hasn't quite got the energy to decipher. A bit shrill. Like he might snap into one of his moods any moment. She doesn't really mind; they pass so quickly, like summer storms, and she likes knowing how important she is to him.

She sits up, taking her time and blinking into the sun. The door is standing open and a warm breeze wafts into the room. The paper cylinder has stopped turning; the light inside is gone. She feels as if she's had a vaguely disturbing dream, the details of which are already fading. Her head hurts slightly, like a mild hang-over. "Sorry. Guess I got a bit carried away with my story."

The Doctor's hand stays wrapped around her upper arm. "What do you remember?"

She suddenly feels very tired. "What do you mean?"

"You saw someone in the shadow theatre. The psychic paper reflected something hidden in your unconscious mind. Do you remember what it was?"

"I tried to tell a ghost story and scared myself a bit," she says. "That's all. It was silly."

"No, I – you've blocked it all out. Buried it even deeper than before, if it's even still there. This isn't what was meant to happen." The shrillness escalates and he digs a hand into his hair, eyes a little wild. It's himself he's angry at, she realises after a moment. Though she has no idea what exactly he's on about: she doesn't feel like she's forgotten anything.

She can tell he wants to argue more, so she cuts him off by standing up. She hates it when people question what she remembers – question her reality, all the while implying there's something terribly wrong with her. Four psychiatrists spent years doing that. In the end, they were the ones who were wrong. When she's right, she knows she's right, and she won't let anything shake her convictions. Not even the Doctor.

"I don't know about you, Doctor, but I could use a few hours of sleep after that. Preferably in a bed and not on the ground." As far as she's concerned, that's the end of it. No more hinting about things she's supposedly lost. She wants to keep a firm grip on what she has. The Doctor. The TARDIS. The stars. It's more than enough; it's everything she's ever wanted.

She steps outside and blinks again as her eyes adjust. It's warm and arid; there are two suns in the sky, almost perfectly identical. One is the tiniest bit brighter. Maybe they can see a little of this planet before they leave.

The Doctor comes out beside her. "I'm sorry, Amy," he says, so seriously it almost makes her shiver again.

She shrugs it off. "No harm done. Next time you've got a burning need to visit the theatre, could you pick one with seats? Not that I mind floors as a rule, but that one was cold."

He agrees and she has the feeling she's gained the upper hand in their relationship in some way. It's something about how he looks at her; she can feel him watching her as they stroll through the cheery sunlight back towards the TARDIS. Attentively, carefully. But he talks the same as always.

Amy puts it out of her mind. Whatever unpleasant ghosts keep trying to haunt her, they can stay buried. She's sick of shadows. She wants the light, bright and blinding.