Disclaimer: Dr. Who is owned by the BBC. This is non-profit fanfiction with no copyright infringement intended.
"I said LET ME GO!"
He knew he sounded childish, but he didn't care. It was ridiculous, completely ridiculous. He shouldn't even have been arrested to begin with! This was what happened when you went somewhere you'd never been before and acted on an impulse…
"Honestly," he muttered aloud. "You pull one wrong flower and suddenly an entire village goes crazy. At least they didn't get Sarah…"
But was it only a matter of time? Was she being dragged somewhere kicking and screaming at that very moment? When he saw them approaching, grim expressions under their green and purple face paint, he'd pushed her into the trees towards the TARDIS. What if she didn't make it? She was probably scared out of her mind somewhere, waiting for him to rescue her!
He wrenched at his bonds, but the vines were strong and tough. He surveyed the grass hut he was in with a frown. He'd have to get someone's attention, talk his way out of it.
"Hello out there!" he called. "I'd like a word with the leader, please!"
He heard the sound of voices in the distance, but they were too far away for even his hearing to understand what they were saying. He sighed, his head falling back against the bamboo pole he was tied to, the wood making a dull thunk against his skull. What did they do to heretics here, he wondered. Surely they could see it was an honest mistake?
The voices stopped, and he heard footsteps approaching. Good. Now he'd get this sorted out. A little charm, a little dazzle, a bit of confusion (them, not him) and he'd be off.
Five tall, muscular humanoids entered the hut, each carrying a short, sharp-tipped spear. They looked equally unfriendly. One of them, a female with long dark blue hair, pointed at him.
"You took a sil'eth flower, trespasser."
"Yes, I did. But it was a mistake, you see," he said eagerly. "I didn't understand it was a sacred flower. I'm terribly sorry, honestly. Tell me how I can make amends!"
"You are not one of us. How did you get here?"
"Well, that's a bit complicated," he said breezily. "My name is the Doctor, by the way. What's yours?"
"You are not answering my question," she replied. "You will do so now!"
"I came from the woods," he answered, glancing uneasily at the spear tip she pressed close to his throat. Not the entire truth by any means, but not a lie.
"From the woods?" she gasped.
"Yes," he said. He watched her eyes widen and the smooth copper skin of her face turned pale. "Does that frighten you?"
"Only Chosen Ones come from the woods!" she exclaimed. "You must be a Chosen One!"
"Well, I don't like to brag, of course, but I have been told that before," he said, giving her his most dazzling smile.
She withdrew the spear tip and turned to the others. "Prepare for the ceremony. He is a Chosen One!"
Two of them rushed out, while the other two besides the female began to do some sort of dance in a circle. The woman looked at the Doctor and smiled. He returned her smile, but an uneasy feeling had crept into his stomach.
"Um, yes, well now… would you please tell me your name?"
"Well, now, Illania. I'm glad we sorted that out, but I'm afraid I don't know what this means. What ceremony are you talking about?"
She blinked. "Our marriage ceremony."
The uneasy feeling leapt from his stomach and lodged itself firmly in his throat. "Our WHAT?" he gasped.
"Our marriage ceremony," she said slowly, as though talking to a child. "It was foretold three days past that a Chosen One would arrive for the night of the Double Moons. This Chosen One would be my mate and rule the people by my side."
"Now, wait just a minute," the Doctor said in alarm. "I haven't agreed to this. I haven't even been consulted!" He frowned. "I think I've said that before," he murmured.
"There is nothing to consult," Illania answered. "If you were not a Chosen One, you should not have picked the flower. Otherwise, you would be put to death. But for a Chosen One to pick a sil'eth is a sign of marriage. You are meant to be my mate."
The Doctor weighed his options, considered his circumstances, and arrived, as always, (well, almost always) at the best conclusion to the problem.
"Well, of course I am!" he said brightly. "Why else would I have come from the woods and picked the flower! Shame I didn't get a chance to give it to you, but I was dragged off, you see…"
She laughed. "It does not matter. Now come! We must have our lover's feast before the ceremony."
"Yes, of course, certainly," he said. "Perhaps you could untie me, then?"
"Of course, mate of my heart," she answered.
"Thank you," he smiled. Right, not to worry, I'll just wait until I'm left alone for a moment and make my escape. For now, best to play along, he thought. And soon I'll be back in the TARDIS with Sarah. Poor thing, must be out of her mind with worry…
They released him, and he jumped to his feet. "Lead the way, my dear!" he said brightly, taking her arm in his. "I say," he pondered, "I wonder if any of you could play "Chapel of Love" for our wedding song…"
It took over an hour for their feast to be prepared, and according to Illania the ceremony itself would take place when the moon rose, which would give him a bit more time. He was walking about free as you please, entertaining their entourage with bits of humor and amazing stories. All in all, his plan was going splendidly.
Except, of course, for the fact that he couldn't get them to leave him alone. Not for a minute. Illania was practically glued to his side, and the "entourage" consisted of half a dozen Nusams (he'd managed to find out a bit about them between jokes) who served as a combination of servants and guards. Guarding them from harm. One simple sentence and he'd gone from being on the verge of getting executed to being the second most important person in the village. Life certainly is strange that way, he thought.
He couldn't even get them to let him be to, well… relieve himself. They'd stood with their backs turned, but they were only about ten feet away. It was bad luck to leave the groom alone before the wedding, he learned. Tough luck, that. He hadn't really needed to go, but managed to talk loudly enough so they didn't notice. He'd started to take his chances anyway when he saw two Nusams walking around in the direction he'd started to head off to. They were everywhere, making preparations for the wedding, his wedding!
His latest idea foiled, he resigned himself to waiting until after the feast. He'd make some excuse to get Illania alone, throw his newfound weight around if need be, then make up some story to her. He'd tell her he had an illness, injury, Time Lord cooties: whatever it took to get off the hook!
A messenger approached. "High Priestess, the feast is ready."
"Thank you." She turned towards the Doctor. "Come, Doctor. We shall eat and drink and celebrate our destiny."
"So we shall!" he beamed. These people placed a lot of emphasis on portents and fate, he realized. He was considering if he could somehow turn that to his advantage when they entered the grove where their banquet awaited.
He had to admit, it was a magnificent sight. The long wooden table was covered with dishes made of a shimmering stone, heaped high with savory meats, nuts and fruits. They sat in the shade under a tree whose broad yellow leaves smelled like mangoes and reminded him of a tree on Denib Seven. Plates were brought to them, and goblets made of the made stone. An attendant poured a dark purple liquid tinged with red into them from a jug. It smelled of cherry and spice and inexplicably made his mouth water. He watched as the attendants bowed and withdrew to the edge of the grove. Excellent. Wait a few minutes, make sure they were off guard, and he could make good his escape. He ate everything on his plate, not wanting to do anything suspicious.
Illania raised her cup in a toast. "To our marriage."
"To our marriage!" he echoed, grinning at her in what he hoped was his most charming grin. The drink tasted even better than it smelled, and knowing his Time Lord physiology would help safeguard him against poisons, he drained the contents of the goblet in a few gulps.
And knew almost immediately that he'd just made a horrible mistake.
The drink licked a path of flame down his insides. It roared up into his brain, where it settled in and left him with a first-class ticket to light-headed euphoria. He gasped.
"What is wrong, mate of my heart?" Illania asked.
"What was that?" he managed to ask, a silly smile forming on his lips.
"Direll juice. It is the customary drink of the wedding feast. Did you not like it?"
"Like it? It's amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I'm not sure if I can stand up, let alone get to the altar," he answered.
She shook her head. "It does not affect us the same way it seems to affect you."
"Obviously," he grinned, wondering if he could stand up to do a few pirouettes.
She smiled. "I have heard stories that Chosen Ones are different. It has been a long time since one came, so it is hard to know what the truth is."
"Oh, believe me, it's true," he told her, struggling to get to his feet.
Illania took hold of his arm. "Where are you going?"
To find Sarah, he almost said. But he was able to stop himself in time.
"I want to try a few waltz moves," he said instead. "There will be dancing at the wedding, won't there? What good is a wedding with no dancing!"
She laughed. "You say strange things, Doctor."
"Well, if you'd been around as long as I have, you'd say strange things too!" he rose, and promptly stumbled.
Illania caught him before he could fall, and he managed to straighten up. "There, see? I'm perfectly fine!" He started doing a waltz as she watched in amusement. After a few steps, though, he decided he should perhaps save that for later and settled for grinning at her again. "Lovely dance, the waltz. I'll have to show you. Why, I remember once in Venice in 1597…"
Illania moved to stand close to him. Very close. Too close, the Doctor realized with the small part of his mind that was still functioning normally. He nervously backed up a few steps and found himself trapped between her and the table.
"Erm... is something wrong, my little jungle queen?" he asked.
She smiled. "It is traditional for the couple to kiss during the feast."
"Oh," he said faintly. "OH," he repeated with more force as she moved closer. "Well, not all traditions have to be followed, do they?" He twisted and slipped away from the table, but Illania was still only a few feet away. And apparently she was not giving up so easily.
"All traditions must be upheld," she said, but she didn't seem angry. Quite the opposite. Her eyes were full of amusement. "I know what you are doing, Doctor."
His eyes boggled as he had a flash of panic. "You do?"
"Yes." She smiled. "You are shy and playing a game with me. It is very sweet. I will play your game if it makes you happy." And she stepped closer again.
And he moved away again.
"Now, look, Illania," he said hastily, moving back towards the edge of the table, "I am shy, very shy, and I think that people should wait until they're married…" he moved so that the table was between them, struggling to get his head clear of the juice-induced buzz.
"And I think we must obey tradition," she laughed.
"Oh, tradition is overrated!" he said lightly, trying to second-guess which way she was about to go, berating the part of his brain that was simply humming along and not working with the other part to help him. "My people used to have a tradition of wearing big purple hats. It was ridiculous; everyone looked as though a plum was sitting on their head–"
She moved to the right. He moved to his right, only to find that she had feinted and went left. Fast. So fast, in fact, that she easily caught him. And put her arms around him.
He glanced down at their bodies with wide eyes. "You know, I think you were just toying with me before. You're very fast. And strong," he added, as he found he couldn't simply disengage himself from her.
"I have won the game, Doctor," she said with a feral grin. "Now I will take my prize."
The Doctor gulped, trying to come up with a response that would keep him from having to kiss her yet not make her suspicious or hurt…
And had no clue that about forty feet away, well-hidden in some bushes, Sarah was watching, her hand over her mouth to stifle her amused– and horrified–gasp.
Sarah had been trying to find him for several hours. She'd managed to elude the natives: most of them seemed to stay near the village, and none of them ever entered the woods where the TARDIS had landed. She didn't know what was going on at first, of course, and then she heard a few talking about the "pale stranger" who was a "Chosen One." Apparently the Doctor was unharmed, which was a relief.
Then she'd heard something about "marriage."
Sarah didn't have the Doctor's knowledge, but she deduced enough to know that they were going to marry him off to a priestess, because his arrival was a "sign." And she also knew enough to know she had to find him and help him get out of the jam he was in before he was the victim of a shotgun wedding.
So she'd patiently and slowly crept around. Years of being a journalist combined with her time with the Doctor had taught her a few things about sneaking, and though she wasn't used to it being in the great outdoors she managed. Other than one close call when she'd stepped on a twig and a native had turned her head for a few seconds, so far so good.
When she had finally spotted the Doctor, it was all she could do to fight the impulse to run out and hug him. But the last thing they needed was for her to be in a bind too, so she'd resisted the impulse. And judging by the way that priestess kept looking at him, the arrival of another woman would not bode well for either of them.
Sarah had found a good spot in some bushes and settled in, watching closely as she was a bit too far away to properly hear them talk. She smirked when the Doctor stumbled, and almost snickered when he started dancing around. When the priestess began chasing him around the table she nearly laughed aloud. She couldn't help it: it was like some sort of romantic comedy gone awry!
But when the woman caught him, everything changed. Well, not everything. It was still amusing in a way. But then it hit her: this woman was about to snog the Doctor! Some mystic tart was about to snog her Doctor! She had to stop it!
Sarah frantically looked around her. She quickly dug out a few stones, moved out of the bushes far enough so that her arm was unhindered, and tossed them with all her might at the trees above their heads. Then she moved back.
"Ow!" the Doctor exclaimed loudly, loudly enough that Sarah heard him. "What was that?"
Illania frowned. "It is as though the tree was raining stones."
"Perhaps that's a sign that we should wait until after the ceremony! Don't you think so? Hmm?" the Doctor asked. "We wouldn't want to cause any offense, now would we?"
Illania nodded, releasing him and moving back. "You may well be right, my Doctor. It would not do to start our marriage on the wrong foot with the Gods."
"Well, of course I'm right, and of course it wouldn't!" he exclaimed. He reached out and enfolded Illania in a hug. "Plenty of time for that later, my little leopard." As he held her, her head tucked to his shoulder, his eyes scanned the direction the stones had come from… and widened in disbelief.
He saw Sarah. And Sarah saw him.
She smiled, and mouthed the words, "I know."
He couldn't think of anything to tell her. Even though his mind was coming back to its normal self, he was struggling to figure out something that she might understand. Assuming she could read lips, which he didn't think she could.
And then she mouthed: "I have a plan."
His eyes widened again, and he winked at her. Then he released the priestess. "Well, Illania," he said loudly in the hopes that Sarah could hear, "Perhaps we should head back to the village and get some rest before the ceremony?"
"Yes, mate of my heart. Let us do that," she answered, equally loudly. Perhaps her Doctor was speaking so that the Gods would hear.
The Doctor beamed at her and took her arm and they headed off towards the entrance to the grove.
Sarah waited for a few minutes once they had all gone before she started moving. "Mate of my heart," she muttered as she crept along the outskirts. "What kind of ritualistic romantic rubbish is that!"
More than angry, though, she felt guilty. Because she didn't have a plan. Not yet, anyway. But she'd wanted to reassure the Doctor. And when he had winked at her she'd wanted to laugh, or cry, or both. Because she knew what it meant. It meant I trust you, Sarah. I have faith in you.
Sarah set her jaw in a hard line. She'd spend the time until the ceremony creeping around, listening for more information, so she could figure out what to do.
"I will save you, Doctor," she whispered. "I promise."
Two hours, a slip in the mud and a close encounter with something that resembled a hornet's nest later, Sarah had the fleeting thought that perhaps it would be a good marriage and she should leave the Doctor to his own devices. She shook her head at her own petty silliness and continued in stealth mode. She had just finished washing off her muddy feet at the edge of a stream when she heard some of the natives approaching. She scurried for cover, managing to hide seconds before they came into sight. There were two of them, carrying large stone jars which they began filling up with water from the stream.
"I do not like this Doctor, Tasmeer," one male remarked to the other.
Tasmeer shrugged. "He is a Chosen One. Did you see the way he is dressed? Wearing that striped serpent around his neck? Only a Chosen One could have such pale skin and come from the woods. We must have faith, Selam. It is a sign."
"A bad sign, if you ask me," Selam answered.
"Illania knows best. Did our prophet not foretell of a Chosen One's arrival only a few days ago? What more could you ask for?" Tasmeer asked in amusement.
"I suppose so. We must hurry and return. Illania wishes for us to give the Doctor more direll juice while we help prepare him for the ceremony. She says he seems nervous and it relaxes him."
"It makes him act strangely," Tasmeer remarked. "But as our priestess wishes."
Their task completed, the two left and headed for the village.
Sarah felt a rush of anger. So this priestess planned on giving the Doctor more happy juice, did she? She was doing the equivalent of getting the groom liquored up before the wedding. And if she kept that stuff in the Doctor's system, he wouldn't be in much shape to escape on his own.
Which means I have to act fast, Sarah thought.
But listening to those two had given her the last bits of information she needed. Now Sarah really did have a plan. She only had to be able to pull it off. I've got to, she thought grimly. He's counting on me. For all the times he's saved me, now it's my turn to save him.
And wasn't that a switch. For a second she faltered. What she had in mind was a bold move and would require every bit of courage and bravado she possessed. If it didn't work… well, the Doctor should still be safe. She might be thrown into a volcano, but he should still be safe. That mattered to her more than anything. Not that she wanted to die. But to try and save him there was no sacrifice she wasn't willing to make. He was the Doctor, her Doctor…
Wait a bloody minute. Did I just think he's my Doctor? Oh, dear. I did. Again.
Sarah swallowed hard, quickly trying to tamper down the traitorous thought. She sighed. There would be plenty of time to think about that later. Right now she had work to do.
Sarah pulled herself together and headed for the TARDIS.
"I am NOT wearing THAT!"
Selam blinked. "It is the traditional wedding outfit, Doctor. We can get another color if you prefer–"
"The COLOR, good sir, is the LEAST of my concerns!" the Doctor snapped. "You cannot mean to tell me that I have to be seen in public in this… this…"
"This what, Doctor?"
"This sack of feathers!" the Doctor exclaimed indignantly. "For Rassilon's sake, I'll look like a chicken! A colorful one, granted, but a chicken nonetheless!"
"You must wear it," Selam insisted. "It is the–"
"–Traditional wedding ceremony outfit, yes, I am well aware of that, thank you," the Doctor said tartly, backing away from Selam as though he was offering him a dead fish. "I think my first act as the new high priest will be to make some new traditions!"
Selam shook his head. This would not do. He glanced at Tasmeer, who nodded. Perhaps if he...
"Illania wishes for you to have some more Direll juice, Doctor," Tasmeer said, proffering a cup.
The Doctor frowned. "And be doing the bossa nova an hour before my wedding? No, thank you. Once was enough."
"It is her wish," Tasmeer said plaintively.
"I don't give a fig if it's her wish: we're not married yet. She'll have plenty of time to boss me around later. Right now my answer is NO, to the juice AND the clothes!" the Doctor bellowed.
Selam sighed. Were all Chosen Ones this difficult?
"You would feel better if you drank some," Tasmeer coaxed.
"No, I wouldn't. Well, all right, maybe I would, but I still don't want any. And I'm a Chosen One and that is that." The Doctor crossed his arms and glared at his two "helpers."
Selam and Tasmeer slowly advanced on him. "Doctor, you are acting like a child," Selam said.
"So I am," he said airily, redistributing his body weight to prepare to try to run if needed.
"If you truly do not wish to drink the juice, you must at least change into the clothing," Tasmeer told him.
"You cannot be married if you do not. And if you cannot be married, you are not the Chosen One, and you will be put to death for picking the sil'eth," Selam said quietly.
The Doctor sighed. "I hate when someone other than me is the logical one, because that usually means I have to do something I really don't want to do." He nodded. "All right. I'll change. But you two have to step out. No," he added, seeing the looks on their faces, "You can stand right outside this hut and technically I won't be alone. But I refuse to get dressed with an audience!"
"Very well, Doctor," Tasmeer said. They withdrew to the entrance and dropped the curtain, leaving the Doctor to sigh and shake his head.
He had no idea what kind of plan Sarah had going, but whatever it was, she needed to get it moving. Being married off to a stranger was nowhere on his list of "the ten thousand, three hundred and eighty-seven things I really want to do before my last incarnation."
He approached the outfit as though he was approaching a hungry tiger: warily with serious doubts about being able to make it work. At least the clothes couldn't leap for his throat…
"Personally, I'd rather take my chances with a tiger," he muttered.
With a heavy sigh, he began to undress.
"I was wrong. It isn't awful. It's bloody awful!"
The Doctor surveyed his appearance in a piece of glass that passed for a mirror and groaned. The animal skin garb resembled a poncho with matching leggings. It wouldn't have been so bad, except for two things:
1. It was covered in bright purple feathers.
2. It was COVERED in BRIGHT PURPLE FEATHERS.
"The chickens would disown me," he sighed to himself. Still, it was better than risking being killed. If they decided to jump him he'd be done for, and Sarah would be stranded, unable to go anywhere, forced to live alone in the TARDIS or worse.
The Doctor frowned. If anything happened and her plan backfired, it would be up to him to try and save her. Which would likely involve sweet talking Illania into sparing her. He'd say Sarah was his sister or some such, perhaps convince Illania to let him take her home. And then… he'd come back and rule by her side.
If it came to it, he'd marry the priestess without hesitation to save Sarah. And once he married her, he'd have to do right by her. No matter how much he felt otherwise, he simply wouldn't be able to do anything else. Even if it meant losing Sarah to save her life.
The thought upset him more than he wanted to think about. It wouldn't come to that. Somehow Sarah would get him out of it. She was more clever than she knew, and braver than she usually gave herself credit for. Sometimes he had to goad her, and push her, but she always rose to the challenge. And she'd do it again.
He heard drums in the distance, a steady pounding that oddly matched the beat of his left heart. Selam and Tasmeer entered and bowed. "It is time, Doctor," Selam said.
The Doctor nodded. "Let's not keep the fans waiting then, shall we?"
With one last rueful glance in the glass, he left the hut. A wooden dais awaited him outside. He settled into it and it was picked up by four Nusams. They slowly carried him through the trees as the drums continued their relentless beat.
"Ask not for whom the drum tolls," the Doctor sighed.
They entered the Grove of the Sacred Heart, the orange-white glow of torchlight flickering over the happy faces of those in attendance. Which looked, in the Doctor's estimation, to be nearly everyone in the village. Well, it was an important event. The marriage of the high priestess was significant in numerous cultures on many worlds. Why, that one group on Gevera, for example…
The drums increased in tempo, jolting him out of his reminiscing. Illania stood before an altar at the end of the path, dressed in an outfit similar to his except it was little more than a feather-covered bikini. Her hair was swept up into an elaborate headdress. Tiny jewels glittered in the twisted blue mass of curls. He sighed to himself. Well, at least his future wife was pretty. And tolerant. Not very advanced mentally, but he could work on that. He smiled and turned to look at people as he passed them, giving them a friendly little wave. It helped him to look around for Sarah without seeming suspicious. There was no sign of her yet.
He swallowed hard. Anything could've happened to her since he saw her. He should have just chucked it earlier in the other grove: done some fancy verbal footwork, ensured her safety, and prepared to live unhappily ever after. But he hadn't, because then he would've had to live with her thinking he didn't believe in her. Why did everything have to be so complicated!
They lowered him to the ground. He stepped onto the path, feeling his hearts sink with every step he took. By the time he reached Illania's side he was bordering on despondent.
She smiled. It was a genuinely happy smile, and for a second he felt awful that she could be so pleased to be marrying a stranger. To be marrying him when he felt nothing good about it. But she was following the sign, and that was enough for her. He almost wished it could be enough for him, too. Well, no help for it. As soon as they were married he'd have them start searching for Sarah if need be…
A bearded Nusam wearing a turquoise robe, whom he knew now was the prophet, moved to stand in front of them. Illania reached out and took the Doctor's hand in hers. He let her do it, fingers limply intertwined with hers. He closed his eyes in resignation as the drums stopped.
He opened them as the prophet began to speak. "I, Laster, stand here on this night of the double moon for the joyous occasion of the marriage between Illania and the Doctor. On this blessed night these two shall become one. And as they prepare to walk down life's path together, I say to them–"
The voice was thunderous. And it was Sarah's! The Doctor's hearts did a joyful flip.
Laster stopped, looking uneasy. The Nusams shuffled their feet, looking equally nervous. Illania clenched the Doctor's hand tightly. "That voice came from the woods!" she said. She turned in that direction and said: "Who dares speak out at a sacred wedding!"
"I DO!" the voice answered. There was a loud snapping and cracking sound, and suddenly there was Sarah, pale as death, half a foot taller, and dressed in an exact copy of the Doctor's normal outfit right down to the scarf. He stood frozen, unable to do anything except look as stunned as he felt. What was she playing at?
Then he knew, and had to stop himself from smiling. You clever, clever girl!
Sarah slowly advanced, looking rather frightening. "I am Sarah. I am a Chosen One, and this Chosen One is not the one for you. I am here to take him back!"
"For what reason!" Illania demanded. "His coming was foretold! He is destined to be my mate!"
"SILENCE!" Sarah bellowed. "He is not the one for you. You must give him back."
Illania shook her head. "No. By the laws of our people, I invoke the Rite of Challenge! I challenge you, Chosen One, for the Doctor!"
"And I accept!" Sarah returned. "State the nature of the challenge."
Here Illania looked confused. "I… I do not know. There has not been a challenge in many, many years."
Laster nodded. "I must make an offering and divine the wishes of the Gods." He moved away and entered a nearby hut. The Doctor wanted to go to Sarah, but Illania still had his hand in a death-grip. Besides, he couldn't seem happy about it exactly.
The bride-to-be turned to him. "Doctor? Do you know why the Gods would want you to leave?"
No, but I certainly do! he thought. Aloud he answered: "I have no idea, my dear. Surely they have their reasons, though. Perhaps it would be best if we…"
"No," Illania said firmly. "If I win, it is a sign you are not truly meant to go. The Gods are merely testing my faith and my love for you!"
"Love? For me?" The Doctor was truly stunned. "Illania, we only met today. How can you possibly love me?"
She blinked. "You are the Doctor. My Chosen One. Do your people not believe in love?" Now she looked as though she was about to cry. "Are you going against the will of the Gods?"
Oh, devil. How was he going to handle this! "Illania, I promise you, if I am meant to marry you, I will do so," he said in what he hoped was an assuring tone. If "meant to" means it's how I'm going to save Sarah and myself, he thought. "And I will do everything I can to be a good husband," he added. And he meant it. Because if he did, he would. Whether he liked it or not.
She subsided and gave him a smile. The Doctor breathed a secret sigh of relief. He hugged her again, and over her shoulder he looked at Sarah, hoping she would understand.
It seemed she did. She looked faintly amused, and a bit nervous.
Actually, Sarah was more than a bit nervous. She had no idea what would be involved with a challenge to these people. And if she didn't win, then what?
Then she had to watch the Doctor get married off. And she knew him well enough to know that while he might be able to take her back to Earth, he would feel honor bound to return and take his place by Illania's side. Sarah stood calmly, but inside she was biting her lip.
Laster returned, a serious expression on his face. "The Gods have decreed that the challenge must have three parts. The one who wins two of the three shall claim the Doctor."
"What are the three parts?" Three voices asked almost in unison.
"A trial of body, a trial of mind, and a trial of spirit."
"Then lets us begin! What is the trial of body?" Illania asked.
"A race on foot. From here to the waterfall and back."
Sarah gulped. There was no way she would win that.
And she was right.
Ten minutes later she was doing her best to appear unconcerned over losing. Illania was smiling, grinning really, and beaming adoring looks at the Doctor, who was returning her smile while still managing, in Sarah's well-trained-in-the-ways-of-the-Doctor eye, to look as though he wanted to hide under the nearest bush. Well, that outfit did him no justice, but she knew it was out of fear, not vanity.
"Are you sure you do not wish to give up now, Chosen One Sarah?" Illania purred.
Sarah grinned her best evil grin at her. "Quite sure. What is the next trial?"
"The trial of the mind," the prophet said. "I will ask each of you a riddle. The first one to fail to answer her riddle is the loser."
"Very well, proceed," Sarah said.
The Doctor was glancing at each of them in turn, but he was quiet. Sarah took a deep breath and forced herself to focus.
Laster turned to Sarah first. "Round as an apple, deep as a cup. All the priest's men can't dig it up. What is it?"
"A well," she replied.
He nodded, turning to Illania. "What must be broken before it can be used?"
"An egg," Illania said.
Laster smiled. "Yes. I will ask harder ones now."
He looked at Sarah. "I come at the start of eternity. I come four times in every week, but only once in a thousand years. What am I?"
"The letter E," she said quietly. The Doctor hid his smile behind his fingers.
"Forward I am heavy. Backwards I am not. What am I?" Laster asked Illania.
"A ton," she replied.
A ripple of excitement stirred the crowd. They were tied.
"They have not flesh, nor feathers, nor scales, nor bone. Yet they have fingers and thumbs of their own. What are they?" Laster quizzed Sarah.
She thought. The Doctor held his breath.
"Gloves," she answered.
Back to Illania. "Until I am measured, I am not known. Yet how you miss me, when I have flown."
Illania looked down, lost in thought. Everyone waited. Sarah was as tense as a coiled spring, and she would've sworn she could hear the Doctor's hearts beating.
At last, Illania looked up. "I do not know," she said.
"She said she doesn't know," Sarah prodded.
"Do you know, Chosen One?" he asked sulkily.
"I don't have to, but yes, as a matter of fact, I do," Sarah said. Looking into the Doctor's eyes, she answered: "Time."
He didn't return her smile with his lips, but she saw it in his eyes.
"Correct," Laster acknowledged. "Chosen One Sarah wins the trial of the mind."
"Only one trial remains," he said. "The trial of spirit. Bring the Reflection of Truth!"
A nearby female hurried to obey. The Doctor turned to Laster. "What, exactly, is the Reflection of Truth?"
"It is a magical gift from the Gods," he answered proudly. "It allows one's deepest feelings to be seen by all. There is no way to deceive it. And whoever has the most powerful feelings, the strongest spirit, will win."
The Doctor nodded, glancing at Sarah. Sarah was an even whiter shade of pale.
The woman returned with what seemed to be a heart cut from a diamond, the size of an actual humanoid heart. Laster stood before Illania as everyone moved back. "Reveal your spirit to us," he said. "Show us what is in your heart."
A soft white light spilled from the stone. It blurred into shades of pink and blue, and flared out about halfway through the crowd. The Doctor blinked at it, squinting to look. Across from Illania he saw Sarah looking almost terrified. He frowned. Why would she be afraid of this? She was his friend; surely she knew he understood humans had affection for their friends… that was no cause for her to worry…
Laster lowered the stone after a few more seconds. "Illania shows pure love and caring," he announced. He moved to Sarah. "Let us see what lies within the heart of this Chosen One. Show me your heart, Sarah!"
He raised the stone–
And almost dropped it as the light exploded.
The crowd gasped, and everyone but the Doctor shielded their eyes. Golden-white light so bright it was like a flame swept through the trees like fire. It was like looking into the sun, so radiant it was painful. Wave after wave of color washed over them: red, yellow, blue, violet, green… and all the while the heart never lost the blinding white.
The Doctor was in shock. He knew what symbolism different colors held, and Sarah was running the gamut. Passion, respect, friendship, desire… and through them all a love so pure and deep it rendered him unable to think. Dumbly, he looked at Sarah; saw a tear running down her face. She wiped it away when she saw him looking, her pale face flushed with something he couldn't identify until she looked away from him. Then he realized: it was shame. She was ashamed. Because now he knew the truth she'd worked so hard to keep from him. She was in love with him.
"I think that's enough," The Doctor said, quietly but with an edge of steel in his voice.
Laster nodded, lowering the stone. "The Reflection of Truth tells no lies. The spirit of Sarah is blinding in its pure love. The Chosen One wins."
Sarah blinked. Illania choked back a sob. The Doctor stood in a daze.
Illania moved to stand beside him. "It is the God's will. I will obey them. You may change into your Chosen One clothes and leave with Sarah." She wiped her tears.
The Doctor shook his head, clearing it, and then gazed at the high priestess. "I'm sorry, Illania," he said quietly. And he was sorry: sorry for her pain. But he had far more urgent emotions to deal with. Like Sarah Jane's. And his.
She nodded, looking at Sarah. "You love him more than I ever could. May you rejoice in that together." And she ran back up the path away from the altar.
Everyone began to leave. The Doctor turned to Sarah. "Sarah..."
"Let's go, Doctor," she said. "Let's get your clothes and go."
He wasn't sure what to say to her yet, so he simply nodded and they left.
There was much that needed done aboard the TARDIS.
The transmat stabilizers needed recalibrating. The axion jump needed a good cleaning. And that wasn't even mentioning the main circuitry cross-temporal cortex. Yes, loads of things the Doctor could have been doing.
But he wasn't doing any of them.
For two days now, Sarah had been avoiding him. She hadn't asked him to take her home: not yet, anyway. She was too busy being ashamed and feeling guilty. He had spent the past two days very carefully poking around in his mind, trying to sort through the tangle of emotions he'd been experiencing.
"I never wanted you to know," she had sobbed when they got back to the TARDIS. "I didn't want to lose your friendship."
"So you kept this inside you to let it eat away at you? That doesn't sound much better, Sarah," he'd said, puzzled.
She had just shaken her head and looked at him sadly. "You don't understand. I don't think you're capable of understanding. Why should you? You're the Doctor, who can calculate pi to 50,000 decimals without a blink. Who saves the universe like most people fix supper. Why should you understand the feelings of a simple human?"
"Now, just a minute! First of all, it's 50, 432 places. Second, how can you say I don't understand feelings? And you're not just 'a simple human' to me!"
Sarah had laughed through her tears. "You just proved it! It was more important for you to correct me on something intellectual than to talk about emotion! Head first, hearts last. It's just how you are." She turned. "I was a fool to think it could be any different."
He'd moved towards her, but she had shaken her head. "Please, just leave me alone for now."
And that was that.
Now, with the prospect of losing her, he was facing one of his greatest challenges ever: to put his hearts first in a way he had not done for a very long time.
He frowned, absently pushing strands of unruly curls aside. He had found what he was looking for: a box in his mental attic so secret he'd almost forgotten where he put it. A plain brown box whose ordinariness belied the contents. He carefully opened it, sat down on the floor of his mind, and gingerly began taking memories out.
Here was Sarah as he'd first seen her after regenerating. She'd been so worried. The way she fretted over him, you'd think she didn't know he knew what he was doing!
All right, so he didn't always know. It was a warm feeling, being cared about that way.
The nasty business with Morbius. Sarah, blind but still struggling to help him. Her sheer nerve had astounded him. There were others, some wrapped up with danger, some not. Sarah reading a book and smiling at him. Her eyes lighting up when they'd discovered a lost play of Shakespeare's. (Pity they'd had to let it stay lost). Running a hand through his hair to check a gash, her fingers slick with blood from her own wounds.
The box slipped from his fingers, and as he grabbed for it all the memories came tumbling out, too numerous and fast for him to contain. They whirled around him like a tempest, replaying, tossing him about in words and emotions until he reached the eye: the image of Sarah's heart, so strong, so full of love it had almost been too much to see.
The Doctor sank back with a gasp, feeling drained. How had he missed it? She'd hidden it well: well enough to fool him, that was certain. Now she was sitting somewhere in reality (if you could call the TARDIS that) probably still ashamed and hurt.
"What can I do?" he whispered. "What should I do?"
The attic was silent. He shook his head. The final answer wouldn't be found in here. He would have to go someplace else.
He carefully placed everything back in the box, put it in place, and descended the steps. He knew where that "someplace else" would be.
He hesitated before he went in, hand stilled on the chipped white doorknob. Once he entered this room of his mind, there was no going back. One way or another he'd have an answer. But he had to know. He'd never in any of his lives been able to resist not having an answer. There was a lot at stake here. Their friendship. His companion. Her love.
He drew a soft, deep breath and opened the door.
Cinnamon rolls and jasmine tea. Very comforting smells, those. He went in, liberally helped himself to both things, and sat down at the faded white wooden table. He took a few sips of tea and a bite of a roll and waited. He didn't have to wait long.
"You could've put icing on them," the voice said, warm with amusement.
"That would be a bit much, don't you think?" he replied.
He felt the shrug. "I like 'a bit too much,' sometimes" came the answer.
He nodded. "Sometimes. Only sometimes." He raised his eyebrows. "Are you going to come sit down or stand and sulk by the stove?"
"I haven't decided yet," came the airy reply.
The Doctor sighed. "Look, you know why I'm here. Can't you give me some credit? Do you know how long it's been since I've been in here?"
"Of course I do. Let's see, Susan, was it? No. Zoe. Both of them. And you've not come in here since, and not for anyone else."
"And I'm here now," he said.
"So you are."
He sighed, glancing down at his fingers twisted like knots in his lap. "Please, please come sit down. I have to talk with you if I'm going to sort this out."
"Always about you, is it?" But he heard the scrape of the chair being pulled back.
"No, it's not. All right, yes, it is, but it's also about others." He looked up, blue eyes piercing and dark. "This time it's about Sarah."
The Doctor of his mind tilted his head. "Go on, then." He bit into a cinnamon roll.
"She's in love with me…us… whatever you want to call this."
"I see," the other Doctor answered. He took a sip of tea, grimaced, and added two sugars. "And you want to know how I… we… feel about that."
His other self shot him an angry, affectionate look. "Don't you know?"
"How would I know? You're the part of me that feels. This is your territory. You're supposed to bridge the gap, combine the two things."
"You're going to sit here and claim you've no clue? Flapdoodle! You're awfully good at deceiving yourself."
The Doctor sighed. "Is that you being clever?"
"It's me being honest."
He sighed again. "All right, tell me. How am I deceiving myself?"
The Other smiled, grabbing another roll. A tiny pot of sugar icing appeared and he drizzled it liberally on the new treat. He took a quick nibble and said: "How did you feel when you were up in the attic?"
The Doctor considered. "Amazed. Content."
"Think about Sarah right now. What comes to mind? Don't rationalize it, do it quickly!"
"Humor, affection, enjoyment, warmth…"
"Do you miss her?"
He blinked. "What?"
"You haven't seen her for two days. Do.You.Miss.Her?"
"Well, I…yes," the Doctor said. "Yes, I do."
"How do you think you'd feel if she was gone?"
"Gone?" the Doctor echoed dumbly.
"Gone. As in, wanted to leave. What comes into that lofty head of yours at the thought of dropping her off in South Croydon?"
The Doctor swallowed hard. "I'd miss her. Terribly. I'd feel…"
"Loss," he said simply. "Absence and loss."
"Bloody awful, isn't it." It wasn't a question.
"Yes." He turned to watch the Other pour more tea for both of them. "But does that mean…"
"That we love her? You tell me."
"You're supposed to tell me, not the other way around!"
"Who put you in charge of everything?"
"And THAT, dear fellow, is the problem." He sipped and added sugar again as the Doctor waited. "You've been ruling the roost for so long, you've forgotten how to feel. Really feel, the way we used to. I don't mean indignation, or righteousness, or anger at injustice. I mean love. You've shoved it neatly aside until something makes you panic and you come running in here expecting me to hand you all the answers like a cinnamon roll." He glanced up, and despite his harsh words he was smiling. "My advice to you is: physician, heal thyselves."
The Doctor sat back in his chair, lost in thought. At length he said: "I do…"
"I do care for Sarah. A great deal. I feel things for her I haven't felt in a very long time. She makes me…"
"Want to shag?" The Other grinned.
"Want to smile, you letch," the Doctor retorted.
"Do you desire her?"
The Doctor blinked. "I… it's been so long… but… I think I do."
The Other stood up. "Then I think you have our answer."
The Doctor rose as well. "Yes. I think we do." He grinned. "You're awfully decent to put up with this."
The Other shrugged. "It's what I do. Now, shall we go and have a chat with a certain Sarah Jane Smith?"
"Yes," the Doctor said.
The Other smiled, and stepped inside him.
In a garden in the TARDIS, the Doctor came out of his trance.
He sat for a moment, absorbing it all, carefully settling in to the feelings that went with the thoughts. Then he opened his mind.
He found Sarah. She was in her room. She was no longer crying, but he could feel her pain, sense her sadness. It tore at his hearts.
He raced down the corridor. There was no time to waste, and even if there was, he didn't want to waste it.
Sarah's hands trembled on the book. It was an autographed copy of Winnie the Pooh, a present from the Doctor for her birthday last year. "I really identify with Tigger," he'd said, completely straight-faced.
Sarah remembered laughing at that. He certainly was animated enough to be like a dozen Tiggers! But she saw him more as Pooh. Thoughtful, wise, constantly getting himself into situations he had to turn around and get himself out of through cleverness, or luck, or both.
"So that means I'm Piglet," Sarah muttered. "Lovely."
Tiny Piglet, so afraid yet so brave when it came to helping others. Willing to follow Pooh anywhere. Helpful and kind. Yes, that was Sarah Jane Smith, all right. All they needed was a pot of honey and they'd be all set…
She felt the wetness on her face before she even knew the tears had fallen.
"Oh, damn!" she whispered angrily.
She was going out of her mind, and she was glad she wasn't a Time Lord, because she couldn't imagine having a brain that big and having this feeling. It was bad enough to have a… what did the Doctor like to say? Tiny human mind? Yes, a tiny human mind right now. It was still more than she thought she could bear.
She would have to leave. There was no help for it. Not now.
A pounding on her door snapped Sarah out of her thoughts. She hastily wiped at her face and called: "yes?"
"Sarah, I need to talk to you."
She sighed. "Doctor…"
"Please, Sarah Jane. Please let me in."
The tone of his voice puzzled her. It was a tone she'd never heard before, and she didn't know what it meant. That more than anything made her sigh again. Well, she had to face him sometime. Might as well let it be now…
She slowly went to the door, and even more slowly opened it. She'd only gotten it halfway when he pushed it–and himself–in. She tottered back. "Oy, you, watch what you're doing!"
"Sorry," he muttered, closing the door behind him. She didn't understand that, either: they were alone on the TARDIS. Something was very odd indeed.
He turned to face her, and the look on his face made her breath stick in her throat and her chest squeeze painfully tight. It was a look she'd never seen before, and like the tone, she had no idea what it was. She felt confused and a bit frightened.
"Doctor," she said uneasily.
That was as far as she got. He peered at her face, took it in his hands and smoothed away the tears. She struggled to keep more tears from falling at the feel of his fingers, cool and gentle against her skin.
"Doctor," she managed to whisper, "You should–"
"You're quite right, Sarah," he said softly. "I should."
And he kissed her.
Sarah's world exploded.
The fortress fell. The walls were torn down. The line was erased. Every barrier she'd ever put up between her feelings and the Doctor was obliterated by his mouth on hers. He kissed her as though she was water in the desert, heat in the winter. It was clumsy and eager and she wanted it to go on forever. Not her concept of forever, or even a Time Lord's concept. More than that. Further than that. Her hands were in his hair, fingers twined tightly in his curls like snakes, afraid that any second now he would try to pull away, or she would wake up.
But he didn't, and she didn't. She heard a moan and realized in shock that it had come from her. Reality intruded in her head. What was he doing? This wasn't the Doctor she knew. As badly as she wanted this, she had to know what was going on.
She managed to pull back to look to him. "What the devil are you doing, Doctor? Have you gone potty?"
He stared down at her. "Well, it's possible, but I don't think so. To answer the former: I was kissing you."
"I realize that!" she answered. "But… why?"
He frowned. "Is this some sort of trick question? I'm really not good at those, you know."
"Doctor!" Sarah exclaimed. "Tell me what's going on in that oversized head of yours!"
He smiled briefly, then his gaze darkened into the serious expression he usually reserved for very bad things. "I have a feeling you have decided to tell me to take you back to Earth."
Sarah looked down. He tipped her head up, pinning her with his words and his eyes. "I don't want you to go."
"Why not?" she whispered. "Don't you understand how hard it would be, for both of us? I'm miserable, you'd be miserable–"
He sighed. "Sarah...please sit down."
Almost without thinking she moved to perch on the edge of the bed. He followed suit, sitting close enough to take one of her hands in his. He stared at their joined hands: his large and cool, hers warm and small. Hundreds of years and several lifetimes stretched between them, bridged by their entwined fingers.
She looked at him, part timid, part bold. "All right. Yes, I have decided to go home."
"That isn't your home," he said. "Your home is here. With me."
She sighed. "Doctor, please…"
"Don't leave me, Sarah." The words were soft, but they descended like a clap of thunder into her head. "Those things you feel for me… I feel them for you, too."
She jerked involuntarily, eyes wide. She tried to speak but couldn't. After a moment she managed: "you do?"
"Yes." His eyes wandered over her face before settling to look into hers again. "It took some time for me to sort it out, and for that, I'm sorry. But as soon as I understood, I came here to tell you. To ask you not to go. To give me a chance."
"Give you… a chance…"
"Give us a chance," he explained. "Now, I've no doubt I'm going to be terribly bad at
this in some ways. I've never done it before, you see."
"But… surely you've felt this before, haven't you?"
He pondered. "Yes, and no. I have loved, but it was different. I have been in love, but it was still different. It wasn't in this incarnation. The best way I could describe it is to think of someone you used to be in love with, versus how you feel now."
She nodded. "Yes, I can relate to that."
"Sarah.. the most important thing for you to remember is this is going to be different for you as well," he said quietly. "I'm not human, and I know you know that, but nevertheless I have to say it."
"I knew that when I fell in love with you," Sarah told him. "I don't want you to be anything but yourself."
"Good, because there are some things even I can't manage," he said dryly, and she laughed. Then she took his other hand.
"So…you do love me?"
He got the look again. "I love you, Sarah Jane. There. Did that satisfy your very human need for words?"
"Very HUMAN need for words? Your lot never shuts up either, you know!" she retorted, grinning.
"Well, we can't, really. Oversized head, oversized mouth. They go together!"
She laughed. "I wouldn't have it any other way, Doctor."
"Though, maybe, we could, you know, make an exception… long enough for you to kiss me again?" Sarah asked.
"I think I can do that."
And he did.
Sarah wasn't sure how long it went on, or how they ended up lying down on her bed. She only knew that they did. His lips settled at the base of her throat, and she felt his laugh as she shivered at his cool breath. It was odd, how she could be so cold yet so hot at the same time. Freezing, burning… it all blurred together under the touch of his hands and mouth.
The same mouth that shouted at beings pointing death guns at him had found her breasts and was nuzzling them through the thin cotton of her nightgown. He traced damp circles around her nipples with his tongue until the fabric was wet, both at her breasts and between her thighs. She panted and whimpered and he showed no signs of letting up.
"For someone who isn't used to this, you're awfully good at it," she gasped.
She felt his smile against her chest. "I've discovered that some things are instinctive no matter what your species is. And I have watched quite a few films in my time."
She chuckled, pulling him back up so she could kiss him more.
It was amazing. It was such a simple word, but she didn't have a better one. She understood with new insight why he got so frustrated sometimes with English. It had its limits, especially for someone like him, who defied limits in so many ways.
She also wondered if he remembered that, unlike him, she had no respiratory bypass capabilities and needed air. Because he didn't seem willing to stop consuming her to let her have any. She pulled back with an effort, holding his face in her hands. "Here now, you, you've got to let me breathe a bit," she said between gulps of air.
He smiled again, brushing her hair away from her face. "Sorry. I do tend to get carried away." He smoothed his lips over hers, softly, gently. "May I try again? I promise to let you have some air."
She laughed, and he took it as assent and gave her a kiss. Slow, tender, almost painfully intense despite his care. Sarah wasn't used to being the single focus of everything he was capable of focusing on, and it was powerful to say the least. At last he stopped, his long, cool fingers reaching to her knees for the hem of her pale green nightgown, watching for her reaction.
She nodded, and he eased it up as she wriggled beneath him to help. He pulled it off her with the same slow deliberateness as kissing her, folding it neatly and resting it on her nightstand. Sarah almost laughed at the care he was taking… until she saw how his eyes had darkened into a storm as he looked at her.
For a moment she'd forgotten she was now naked beneath him. She felt hesitant before the fierceness of his gaze and watched him nervously for a response.
"My Sarah Jane," he breathed, and all her uncertainty vanished.
She lifted her arms to him, and he went into them, wrapping his own tightly around her as though afraid she'd somehow disappear. They stayed that way, holding, touching, tasting, until Sarah couldn't stand it any longer and began to fumble with the buttons of his shirt. She worked it open, pulling it free and off his shoulders, continuing down until he was naked as well. He watched her undress him, a gleam in his eyes, moving to assist her when needed but otherwise simply enjoying it. When she'd finished she drank in the sight of him and sighed.
He raised his eyebrows. "What is it?"
She shook her head. "Nothing. I'm just happy." At his slightly skeptical look she added: "you're gorgeous, you know that?"
It turned out that Time Lords could blush, because he did. Just a little, but she saw it.
"Thank you," he said quietly.
She wanted to know if he thought the same of her, but he sensed the question and answered it before she asked. "I don't see beauty the same way a human does, Sarah. There aren't degrees and comparisons. But I can tell you that I enjoy looking at you, and I desire you." He looked into her eyes, and she saw a hint of anxiety there. "Is that enough?"
"More than enough," she replied, and saw the relief on his face.
She wrapped her legs and arms around him as he gently entered her, holding him as close as she could, feeling him inside of her as being separate yet the same. It was a body poem they composed together: her gasp a line here, his lips on her neck a line there. He whispered words to her she didn't understand, bits of nonsense that were strange and magical. She whispered back words of her own, simple but strong, and he shivered against her as the need for her built from soft notes to a symphony. She was conducting him without knowing she was doing it, and he moved in rhythm with her as though he had done it all his lives. They played each other eagerly, altering the tune when it was needed into what pleasured them most.
When he climaxed, it was with a force so strong he felt like he would break. He held Sarah tight, saying her name over and over like a prayer, as she clung to him until his body stilled. He kissed her, returning the smile she gave him, and began moving inside her again, as hard as he'd been only moments before. He altered the tempo, shifted his position, and when she whispered "can you keep that up?" he knew she was on the verge.
When Sarah came it was with a cry of release and ecstasy that he knew he wanted to hear every possible day for the rest of this life.
Afterwards they lay together, entwined and blissful. Sarah rested her head on his chest, getting used to the rhythm of his two hearts. It was, she decided, the most beautiful sound she'd ever heard.
"That's a bit strong, isn't it?" he asked, voice rich with amusement.
Her head jerked up. "You read my mind?"
"Not intentionally, no," he replied. "But a bond of sorts exists between our minds now, and occasionally I'm going to pick up a stray thought from you." He looked down at her. "Is that more than you can handle, Sarah? I can try to shut it off if you want…"
She shook her head. "No, don't. It's… odd, but I like it."
"Are you sure?"
"I don't want to keep things from you, Doctor. I know you'll always be honest and open with me as well, even if I can't read your thoughts."
"Well, now, I wouldn't rule that out, my dear," he answered, chuckling at her confused look. After all, it's a mutual bond.
She gasped in amazement and delight. "I heard you! Right here!" she tapped her temple.
He nodded. "You'll hear me at times as well, especially if I'm deliberately projecting."
Sarah shook her head. "And to think all this started because you picked me a flower."
"Yes, it was quite an adventure," he grinned. "That reminds me: I need to give you the sil'eth."
"What? You still have it!" she exclaimed.
"Of course. It's in my coat pocket," he replied, nonplussed. At her look of astonishment he said: "Really, Sarah. After all we went through, how could you think I wouldn't keep it?"
He grinned as she laughed. "You're mad, you know that?"
"That, my dear, is a relative term," he said. "And right now, there are a number of other things I'd rather be relating to." He kissed the tip of her nose. "You, for example."
"Relate away, Doctor," she said with a smile. "Relate away!"