“What on earth are you looking for?”
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw sipped on her white wine, and looked at her companion. He’d been gazing past her, as they sat on the piazza. Pigeons fluttered behind them — Liz could hear the flutter of their wings without turning around to see them — but she didn’t think that’s what he’d been eyeing.
“Unwanted company.” Silver ran his finger around the silver-edged lip of his demitasse and smiled at her, but Liz knew him well enough by now to differentiate between “Silver smiles” and real ones.
“Your team members?”
“An excellent guess, but no, not them,” he said. He went back to running his finger around the cup’s lip, and not looking her in the eye.
Now it was Liz’s turn to smile. “And you’re not going to tell me who.”
“I would rather we simply enjoy the afternoon, as we did this morning.”
“Ah.” She kept her response neutral. That was always the best way to react to some of Silver’s more opaque comments. Otherwise, she’d learned, he could spook, and decide to leave.
Not, she was certain, that he would call it spooking. If anything beyond battling Time was of interest to Silver, it was probably his carefully cultivated mein of careless unflappability. So he would undoubtedly murmur something about the necessity of “getting back” to wherever it was he was from, stand up, kiss her hand, because of course he would, he was Silver, and walk away without another glance.
She didn’t want that to happen today. Some days he annoyed her immensely, but today he was charming. She enjoyed their occasional and always unexpected get-togethers. For a creature who wasn’t human in the least that she could tell, who could slip between dimensions and do scientifically impossible things with a languid wave of his hand, he was fun to know and delightful to talk with. For varying and intermittently blood-chilling powers of “fun,” mind you, and delight that not infrequently edged over into terror ….
Liz put down her wine glass. She probably should have stuck with coffee, as Silver had, but the two of them had spent the day walking through Venice’s summer sun; although the afternoon shadows were growing long across the piazza, the day was still warm enough to have made a chilled glass of wine attractive.
“So will you be here much longer?” Silver asked. “I would still like to cross over the Bridge of Sighs, but the day is getting a little long in the tooth. Perhaps tomorrow?”
His hopeful request amused her. “Unfortunately, no. The conference is over, and I’m needed back at UNIT. I’d meant to leave this morning, but I ran into an old friend.” She raised an eyebrow at him.
Now his smile was genuine. “I suppose I should feel honored that you call me friend.”
“I suppose you should,” Liz said, looking as stern as she could.
A moment later, both of them were laughing enough to provoke attention from neighboring tables.
It’s odd, she thought as their laughter subsided, that I should feel more at ease with this alien force of nature than I should feel with many of my human acquaintances. I’m sure the Brigadier would say it’s my exposure to the Doctor. He might not be wrong, she thought, but only because it was through the Doctor that she had learned, like Horatio, that there were more things on Earth than she’d previously dreamed of.
In other ways, the difference between Silver and the Doctor could not be more pronounced.
The Doctor, for all his irritating tics and assumptions about humans (especially her), was a known quantity. He acted human, even if he wasn’t, and Liz could almost always predict what he would say in any given situations, even if she couldn’t always predict what he would do.
Silver, though, was quite unknowable.
He could chat amiably and knowledgeably about anything she might choose to talk about, (including, to her happy surprise, theoretical and astrophysics.) He enjoyed the art and architecture of humans, or appeared to. He even enjoyed the occasional tea time or dinner. But she could occasionally see the distance in his eyes; the vast chasm between his seeming and what he might really be.
That was part of why she liked him, she thought, although she was hard pressed to parse it more fully than that.
“Elizabeth, my dear, you are miles away from here.”
Liz started, then refocused on Silver. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he said. She noticed that he was once more looking past her. He also looked grim. “I’m sad to say that it’s also time for me to be miles away.”
“The people who you wouldn’t talk about.”
He nodded. “Indeed.”
Impulsively, she put out a hand and rested it on one of his. “Will you be quite safe?”
For the briefest of moments, he squeezed her hand, and his smile was both honest and heartbreaking.
“I am never safe, Elizabeth Shaw, but I’m touched by your concern, even if I’m rather more worried about you at this moment.”
“Me?” She thought uneasily of at least one instance when Silver’s proximity had drawn her into danger.
“I’ll take my leave of you, and then you will be safe,” he said softly. “They have no interest in humans.”
She started to look around.
“No!” Silver immediately modulated his voice, but Liz had heard the dismay in his voice. She wondered what it was that he didn’t want her to see, but she obeyed.
Quickly, he raised her hand to his lips, giving it a cool, dry kiss. “Until we meet again.”
She opened her mouth to make a joke about the cliche, but realized she was alone. She looked around; no one at the tables near hers seemed to be paying attention. She looked behind her, and saw nothing untoward. Still, she shivered. It was time to go home.
When she returned to her hotel room, she found a single white rose lying on her bed. It was hard to read the brief note in the gathering dusk, but Liz breathed a little deeper in relief when she did.
“I shall try very hard to stay safe.”