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Vintage Season

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Young Jolyon packed up his color-box for a morning in the Botanic Gardens. His series of watercolors of notable London places was underway with, if not immediate success, at least the potential for success. He'd done Big Ben, as a bit of a warmup, and the dome of St Paul's at dawn and at dusk. Now it was time for something sunnier, greener. Flowers. A bit of nature easy to reach for a man on his income, and on a sunny day like this, he was determined not to miss his chance. He kissed Helene and his children and set off by train to Kew.

He was well into his initial sketches of the rubber trees and the benches below them when his quiet was interrupted by a couple wandering quite close to him and not immediately moving away. He hated it when people watched him at work, so he prepared himself to glower at them, if necessary, to drive them away. They were a strange couple, now that he looked at them more closely-- foreign, perhaps. The man wore a close-cut black jacket with a bright scarlet lining. The woman's dress left Jolyon almost blushing, for she was in trousers if he could believe his eyes, though in a long light coat that covered her so he had to look twice. Bare heads, no hats in hand. The woman had her dark hair free, as if she were a girl, but she was anything but that.

He couldn't decide what he made of them. Lovers? Perhaps, but strangely open ones if so, for their hands were joined. They walked slowly, hand in hand, closer to him, where he stood in the shelter of his rubber-tree. There was something in her face, something haunted, as if she were in the grip of fear even there, in the warmth and sunlight of the Gardens. She walked unsteadily. Was she ill? Or perhaps recovering from illness.

Jolyon looked away hastily lest they see him staring. The pair sat on a bench quite nearby him, with their backs to him. They were, it seemed, completely unaware of him or of anyone else in the world. A strange pair. The man was striking, with that unruly mop of silver hair and that profile. And so was the woman. So small next to him, yet her face was perfect and fresh.

Jolyon dug in his coat pocket for a pencil and his little sketch book. He wasn't any good at the human form, but something about these two made him reach inside for what skill he had. Bent toward each other, heads almost touching. Focused on each other. He ought to feel ashamed for this moment of observation, but was he not a student of the human condition?

"It is pretty, Doctor."

Ah, there was his theory about illness borne out. But her voice was perfectly English, so his other theory was wrong.

The man said, "Something lovely and horrifying about the empire at its height, I always thought. The perfect bliss of all these people, at the pinnacle of the economy, all this wealth pouring in here."

A Scotsman. A doctor and his patient, perhaps. Jolyon's pencil sought the line of that nose, strong and laden with character.

"Nothing bad has ever happened to these people. They probably can't imagine it. The blitz."

"There are many moments like this in history. Golden ages. Vintage seasons. Perfect moments. This, I suppose, is a perfect decade."

"Not the Edwardian?"

The man she called the Doctor shrugged. "The fruit was over-ripe, I think, though it was pretty. I can introduce you to Kenneth Grahame if you want, though his wife--"

The woman sighed. "Bad things will happen to them all. They can't be stopped. This vintage seasons ends."

"Some things endure. This place, for instance. Still standing in your time. Quite nice."

"I'm not worried about this place. Or the planet. The big things, they work themselves out. I'm thinking about the little things. Me and you."

"Clara--"

"The terror of those moments, personal moments. It's not the same as the terror of the people who die because a Dalek kills them. Or a bomb falls from the sky on them and they never knew. I thought-- I thought I was going to die there. In that casing. I knew what was happening and I knew it couldn't be stopped. I was ready for it."

"I thought I was going to kill you. When I realized how close I had come--"

This conversation-- it was mad, but something in the man's voice made tears spring to Young Jolyon's eyes. Such tenderness. Such ravaged affection. The man reached out and touched Clara's face, tenderly, with his fingers just brushing her temples. And then he rested his forehead against hers, his hands wrapped around hers.

Clara said, "What do you do? How do you keep going?"

"Ah. We do this." The Doctor held their joined hands up between them. "And we remember that love is a promise. You wouldn't hurt me, not even when your every emotion was twisted. Your love stayed true."

"You wouldn't kill a Dalek that wasn't attacking, even when your finger was on the trigger."

"Ever-faithful to our promise."

"Doctor-- it's-- someday it won't go right."

"I know." Ah, and that was what he sounded like when the grief was too much for a man to bear.

"Do you know how it's going to happen?"

"No. And I refuse to look."

"You could." A question, a perfectly mad question.

"Yes. But it would make it so. It's a terrible burden, Clara. Don't ask me to--"

"Never. Just-- just-- let's not waste time?"

Silence between them for a moment. Then the Doctor said, "Gather rosebuds while we may?"

"Something like that. I suppose you know a planet full of roses."

"Well, of course. Sentient roses. A lot of opinions about being gathered. Thorny opinions, even."

Clara laughed again, and it was a lovely sound even though Jolyon could hear tears behind it.

"Shall we go?" the Doctor said.

"Not just yet. Let's sit here a while. Enjoy the vintage season while it lasts. The flowers. The air is so sweet."

"Of course," the Doctor murmured. He shifted on the bench and Clara's head came to rest on his shoulder.

By the time the conversation wound around to this quiet moment, Jolyon had made five sketches of Clara and the Doctor, and a sixth to come of them as they sat there, her head on his shoulder, utterly indifferent to everything around them but the scent of flowers. He even dared pull out his color-box and paint them, poor renderer of the human form though he was. Capture that hair, that pretty face, that slim man and his nose and the red lining of his coat. Such an impossible pair. Improbable. Was this a vintage season? It hadn't always felt that way to him, cast out from his family and making his own way. But he was wealthy, he supposed, in ways he hadn't thought to consider. He always had milk for his tea, after all. And the empire was peaceful and prosperous. Paint these two, therefore, and gather ripe fruit, and when he found himself at home again he would tell Helene he loved her. She knew already, oh she knew.