"Doctor Who" and all associated character names and likenesses are owned by the BBC. Used here without permission.
Another sort-of Doctor Who short story; Second in the Songbirds Series
by Mayumi-H, a.k.a. BonusParts
Spring should have been a time to think of birth, not death, but the day necessitated remembrance, and Sally Sparrow remembered. Specifically, Sally remembered one Katherine Costello Wainright (nee Nightingale), a woman of dark, curling hair and dark, twinkling eyes, and a most wide and winsome smile, one that had been beautiful simply by virtue of it being hers.
It was a smile shared by her brother, Lawrence Nightingale, a man himself of dirty blond hair and clear greyish eyes that looked sometimes blue and sometimes not, who should have been only three years older than Kathy, but for fate's strange and wondrous circumstance. Specifically, the circumstance of an Angel that wasn't exactly, and a Doctor who was more than the title implied, and a police box and its not-so-ordinary Yale lock key, and a thirty-eight-year-old – well, forty, now – message hidden on a mix of seemingly unrelated DVDs.
Or, rather, it was a smile dear, sweet Larry usually shared with the memory of sister Kathy: when he laughed, which was often; when he talked about stories which struck his fancy, which was even more often; when he simply slept, content and cuddled close to Sally after a day of long hours at the shop they shared six days a week, in the bed they shared only slightly less often.
Unfortunately, brother and sister didn't share that winning smile today. Because this was the day Sally reserved to pay her respects to the memory of Katherine Costello Wainright (nee Nightingale), at the large community cemetery on the outskirts of Hull, in East Yorkshire, a little over three hundred kilometers away.
"Why would you want to go to bloody Hull?" Larry muttered with a disparaging sniff when Sally told him of the day's destination, after making a furrowed-brow inquiry as to the reason for her earlier-than-necessary rising on their day off. "What in Hell's even there?"
She paused at the table, fighting the urge to drum her fingers upon the back of one kitchen chair.
"You know perfectly well what's in Hull," she replied, softly, because this was not a new argument for them, and because she knew how very much the subject hurt him. He never said so, of course, but Sally could tell; over the last two years together, she'd learned to read him almost as easily as she could read a book.
So, she changed tactic, and tried to sweeten his mood with an invitation: "Why don't you come with me? We could stay over, make a holiday of it. No reason we can't open the shop late tomorrow."
Larry shot her a look she might have called cold if it weren't for the twitching of his nostrils. "I'll pass, thanks," he said, turning his attention back to the rest of his toast and whatever was left in his teacup.
Sally couldn't help pressing her lips together at his passive-aggressive behaviour. Still, at least he hadn't completely dismissed her, as he'd done before when she'd brought up the subject of visiting Kathy's memorial.
"I think it would be good for you," she said, turning her voice quiet and coercive again. She pulled out the chair and sat down, moving her hand halfway across the table toward him. "You've never been, to my knowledge, and it might give you some closure. She was your sister-" she started to tell him, her tone emphatic, when he snapped at her.
"Do you think I don't know that?" he said, the normally straight line of his nose scrunching up. "I know it's difficult for you to stay out of things that don't concern you, but I'm asking you this one time to just leave it."
The words made Sally stiffen, on instinct.
She'd seen him frustrated before – notably, when she used to be so preoccupied with trying to piece together the mystery of the Doctor and the Angels – but also over minor things, like a stubborn disc that wouldn't play, or when the accounts didn't add up, or even something so ridiculously trivial as a sequence in a video game. But, she'd never seen him angry. Certainly not at her.
The feeling wasn't pleasant.
Refusing to be cowed, though, she rose from the table with a huff, her chair making an ugly screech against the tiles of the floor.
"Fine," she uttered from between clenched teeth. Pushing her chair back into place beneath the table with a shove, she grabbed for her shoulder bag, which swung wildly on its strap as she strode toward the steps. "I'll reserve my meddling concern for someone else. Someone who appreciates it-!"
"Wait," Larry said of a sudden.
Sally stopped. Not so much for the word, but for the abrupt change in his voice.
She turned to look back at him, silently.
He rose from the table, his shoulders sagging as he muttered, "I'm sorry." There was something in his expression, something that looked almost like fear, but she didn't have the time to analyse it fully before he dropped his head into his hand, rubbing at his temples.
"I know you mean well," he said, mostly into his palm, and sucked another breath that came out as a sigh.
She stepped close to him again, laying her bag back upon the table and reaching for him, now.
"I don't want to force you to do anything," she said, cupping his cheek just as he let his own hand fall to his side. "But I worry. I worry you're bottling this inside. And you don't have to. You shouldn't have to," she said, and stroked her fingers over his skin, lightly, before she made her offer again:
"Come with me. I don't enjoy going alone. And, I think this is something you need to do," she said, and smiled, gently.
He didn't smile back, just held her gaze for a long minute.
Sally knew she could convince him to do almost anything...but this wasn't about the thrill of an adventure or the excitement of a mystery. This was about him, and his wellbeing. And, in the end, when at last Larry blinked his eyes and gave a slow bob of his head, she could tell he knew that, too.
So, they packed a small sling-bag with a change of clothes for them both and a handful of essentials, and less than an hour later, they were sitting together on the ten-forty-five First Hull Train.
Seated on the aisle, Sally flipped through the pages of her book, but her brain never quite registered the words. Larry, sitting beside her, stared out the window, his knee jumping for minutes at a time as he chewed distractedly on his thumbnail. Every once in a while, she'd ask if he wanted something to eat or drink, or if he'd like to watch something on the laptop, but it always took a few tries of saying his name simply to get his attention. Eventually, she decided to just snuggle up against his arm, as she sometimes did when they'd cuddle-but-not in a cinema or the park. They didn't speak much for the rest of the three-hour ride, but his knee stopped bouncing, and he didn't stare so worriedly out the window any longer. And, even though they didn't doze like she thought they should do, Sally felt the muscles in Larry's arm relax a little as the distance sped by beneath the clicking rails.
Arriving in Hull didn't change his mood. He still followed her in oddly quiet preoccupation, as she picked up some flowers at a stand near the station and they rode a mini-cab to the cemetery, where they finally made their way through barely familiar paths to the Wainright plot.
It was there Larry stopped, frozen in his step a few short strides from the pocked granite headstone bearing the name of a long-dead woman who used to be his sister, and said:
Blinking, Sally turned round to look at him.
Larry broke his off-into-space stare for a second, to meet her gaze, and shook his head. "I can't do this," he said, the words nearly spitting out from between his lips.
Reaching for his hand, she assured him in a low voice, "Yes, you can," but he shook his head again.
"No," he said, tugging back on his arm, as though to make her let go.
She held fast.
"It's all right," she said, taking another step toward him, now, close enough she had to crane her head up to see his face. "There's nothing to be afraid of-"
"You don't understand," he said, his focus darting across the line of grey granite memorials.
Sally didn't follow his gaze; she never took her eyes from him. "What?"
His lips trembled as he made the words:
"If I go, then...then, it's real. It's real, and she's never coming back. And all those horrible things I said...! I can't...I can't ever take them back." He trailed off, pulling a sniffling breath through his nostrils as his eyes turned shimmery and wavering. They cleared only with a blink, and a trickle of tears that fell from his lashes to his cheek.
Tilting her head, she watched that lonely line draw down his face. Squeezing at his fingers, she pressed her hips to his and exhaled his name like a softly-spoken prayer. "Larry. Love...!"
"I hate you," he blurted, still staring into the distance.
Sally sucked a breath that was half-gasp, half-whimper. "...What?" she said again.
"Those were the last words we ever said," Larry muttered. "That morning, before she left." He sniffled up another reedy breath. "Before she left, to go to that house. Where that Angel took her away." He pulled a stuttering, stammering gasp. "She said...she said, 'I hate you.' And I...I said," he began, when his gaze suddenly wet and clear and wet again with a fresh fall of tears. And she almost didn't hear when from between spit-wet lips he croaked, at last, the words he'd been hiding: "I said, 'I hate you back.'"
He wasn't just crying, now, but shaking, in his lips and shoulders and chest, almost seizure-like, and Sally felt something in her gut clench. All she wanted at that moment was to make this horrible pain stop, to make his smile bloom on his lips again. But she didn't know how to do that, so she just moved up against him again and put her arms around him, the cellophane wrap of the flowers in her right hand crinkling against the back of his jacket.
As soon as she took him in her arms, Larry nearly collapsed against her, his embrace crushing. Burying his face into the curve of her neck, he started a mantra of apologies that made Sally tighten her hold on him, too, until his shuddering became hers, and the fierce patter of his pulse became hers, and even his tears became hers, too.
"I'm sorry," he said, his breath wheezing as he choked out the syllables. "I didn't mean it. I swear, I didn't mean it! Oh, God, Kath, I'm so sorry!" The rest became lost in a string of sobs, as two years' worth of regret and guilt and shame poured out of him, like water from an un-dammed ford.
For a stretch of minutes, he did little more than weep into the curls of her hair. Sally just held him, sniffling softly around the remnants of her own tears as she pressed her lips to his neck, feeling the rapid thump of his heartbeat start to slow beneath her kisses.
Eventually, the sobs turned to sighs, then to short if measured breaths. He still stayed pressed against her, though, and she still held him, the two of them rocking almost imperceptibly in each other's arms. Then, giving one last grating sniff, Larry pushed himself up from her.
"Sorry about your coat," he mumbled, brushing his fingers over the dampened wool.
Sally chuckled. Even though his eyes were still red and his nose and cheeks were still puffy, Larry managed a low chuckle in return.
"Feel better, now?" she asked, reaching up with her free hand to briefly stroke her fingers over the high part of his cheek.
Larry nodded. "I think so." He let go another sigh then, one different from the ones before: less weighty, somehow, less regretful.
"She was a good sister, you know," he said, raising his head to look over the row of headstones further up the path. "We didn't always get on, especially after Mum and Dad died, but...but I never wanted anything to happen to her." He shrugged, and a crooked smile tweaked his lips; it wasn't the lovely lively smile for which Sally had been hoping, but it was closer than a frown.
"I just wanted her to be all right," he said. Then, he swallowed, and muttered, barely audible even in the stillness of the cemetery, "She was my little sister."
Looking up at him, Sally smiled for him. Taking his hand again, she knit her fingers between his. "Come on," she said, as she gave a gentle pull on his arm. "You can tell her that."
Holding her hand, he walked beside her at pace, until they reached the nondescript, curved-top stone, where Sally crouched down to brush some stray-blown flora from around the base. Unwrapping the bouquet of white mums from its cellophane, she settled the flowers in front of the stone, just below Kathy's name.
"It's a nice day this year," Sally said, as she fidgeted with the flowers. She looked around, frowning slightly. "If a bit empty. But I'm not alone this time," she added, and she felt her smile return. "Larry's here with me. We thought it would be nice to take the day, spend some time with you for a bit, the both of us." She offered a bit more chatter, as she'd done before during these times: idle news and gossip that meant little, but always helped fill the sombre silence.
After a few minutes of this, she gave the flowers a parting touch, then looked over her shoulder to Larry. "Did you want to say something?" she asked, not quite willing to pressure him.
Hunched over with his hands in his pockets, he just stared at the stone for a long time. Then, seemingly from nowhere, he mumbled, "Eighty-seven."
Sally turned back to the stone, focusing on the numbers carved beneath Kathy's name. Returning her gaze to Larry, she was about to rise, when instead he crouched down beside her, still staring.
"You were three," he said, in something like a daze. "Mum and Dad gave you my old bicycle that summer. The one I'd painted with red stripes, so it would look like an X-Wing," he said, and beside him, Sally chuckled, to imagine a blond boy and his dark-haired sprite of a sister, cavorting and causing chaos on the council block, their smiles wide and winning.
"God, that thing was a beast for a three-year-old!" Larry said with a half-laugh. "But you were so determined...! You wanted to ride on your own bicycle, not on the back of mine, any more." And here he paused, turning quiet again, and serious. "I don't think I ever told you, but I was so proud of you when you finally figured out how to ride that thing on your own." Another pause, before he sniffed again.
"I was proud of you for a lot of things," he murmured at last, his brow wrinkling beneath his scattered fringe. He drew a shallow breath, holding it for a long second, then let it go, his shoulders falling with his chin. "I'm sorry it took me so long to say that."
Sally watched him for a count of ten, then reached over and very lightly stroked her fingers through a dangling cluster of brown-and-blond hair near his temple.
"It's all right," she whispered. Leaning close, she pressed her lips to his cheek.
When she eased back from him, he turned to her with a faint, tremulous twitch of his lips. "I'd like to stay a bit longer," he said. "If you don't mind."
Taking his hand again, she cuddled close with her head against his arm. "I don't mind at all."
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly: the relatively uneventful walk back to the city centre, with St. Stephens and the train station, and a bit of aimless traipsing around the shops while the hotel prepared their late check-in room. Sally led them into a book shop where they stopped to listen to a charming children's reading circle; Larry dallied in a retro art store with a selection of colourful and odd-looking international film posters. The quaintness charmed, of course, and they chatted along the way about both realistic potentialities and dreamy might-bes. But through it all, something was missing, something hovering almost expectantly in the air between them when they stopped at a corner, or paused in conversation, or shared a quiet look over tea and biscuits in a coffee shop.
When they returned to the hotel and made it up to their room, Sally sat down beside Larry on the bed, leaning her cheek close to his shoulder as she babbled off in a mirthful variation of the local accent their choice of eateries from the pamphlets provided on the room's foyer table. Though when she raised her chin to gauge his reaction, she stopped, frozen by the transfixed and searching look in his blue-grey eyes, the same look she'd seen all day from him today. She wasn't certain how to read that look...until he smiled.
It started slowly, but it was unstoppable: a stretch of his lips followed by a curling at the corners of his mouth, and a rounding of his cheeks and crinkling around his eyes, and a bold show of white eyeteeth. There was a low laugh in there somewhere, too, and a charming and bright twinkling in his gaze.
It felt far too long since she'd seen that smile, and, for a moment, she wasn't even sure how to react. But then she felt herself smile, too, and the rest simply fell into place.
Taking his face in her hands, she pulled them together, leaning in to press her forehead to his. She nuzzled briefly at the point of his long nose, giggling under her breath. Then, she lifted her chin, just enough to start kissing softly at his smile: three pecks of her lips, each kiss longer than the one previous.
By the time they reached the third of these, Larry mirrored her motion, hooking his hands behind her head and holding her close for another round of kisses, adding even more seconds to their duration. And by the time they reached the third of these, they were rolling and climbing over each other on the top of the bed, pulling needfully at buttons and collars and straps.
Perched over him, Sally itched her fingers on the sides of his waist, gathering the bottom of his shirt in her fists. She pressed her cheek close against his, exhaling the words of her desire into his ear – "I want to be with you," – before returning her mouth to his.
Larry pushed them apart, only far enough to ask, "Do we have-?"
"In the bag," she replied with a brisk nod, and he gave a little grunt of approval.
"You think of everything," he said, and they laughed at their silliness and desperation, as well as the uncomplicated joy they took in having each other, as they resumed their energetic, amorous play, stripping down to eager skin.
Sex between them was usually measured and deliberate, mostly for concerns of size...but every so often, they'd let go of inhibitions and anxieties, to simply be, together, giving and accepting without worry the fullness of each other's affection. This was one of those times, and so with every movement, every kiss and clutch, they hummed a little longer, pushed a little deeper, until at last they felt almost like one, wound around and nuzzling against and moving with each other in perfect synchrony.
Their gentle, sighing moans filled the room, around the intermittent sounds of clasping lips and the slip of flesh over the duvet and the faint squeak of a bed frame that seemed unused to their upright, rocking technique. But they didn't stop, despite the bed's protests or the ticking minutes that turned the room dim; she even quickened upon him as she fingered and kissed at his smile, which soon turned ecstatic as he hugged her so close that even their sweat couldn't come between them.
She held his head to her shoulder, pressing her lips to his temple as his breath seized in his chest and he stiffened for a long moment, as though frozen in time. Except she still felt the rapid rhythm of his pulse next to her breast and beneath her lips, and the warm blow of his breath against her skin, and finally the throbbing beat of his waning climax deep in her belly.
He paused for just a heartbeat, then gave a low grunt as he lifted her off him and shifted away. He was still mostly hard but held his rubber in place anyway. Looking sheepishly at her from beneath his messy fringe, he muttered, "Sorry."
"That's all right," she told him with a smile, despite how saddening it was to feel him go. She'd wanted him, but he'd seemed to need her. "That was nice."
"Do you want me to do anything else?" he asked, but Sally shook her head, still smiling.
"Just hurry back," she said, leaning out over both their legs to kiss him. For a moment, she watched him move to the bathroom, then scooted to the top of the bed and slipped between the sheets. When he returned a minute later, she nestled into the space under his arm and settled her head against his chest, where she drew little circles with her fingers over the faint curling hairs there and pressed her lips in tiny kisses upon his skin.
They often dozed together that way after sex, but they'd barely relaxed into comfortable position when Larry pulled a long breath and asked, "Do you think she would have approved of us?"
Sally paused, mid-circle. "Kathy?"
"Yeah. I mean, not you, obviously. Obviously, she would have approved of you. But..."
She laid her palm on his breast, feeling the low beat of his heart. "I think she would want you to be happy." Recalling words written on a piece of yellowed paper almost twenty years old, she told him, "She loved you."
"I loved her, too," he murmured, and Sally smiled again, to hear the quiet certainty in his voice.
She closed her eyes and rubbed her cheek in the hollow of his shoulder. "She knew that."
Beneath her palm, she felt Larry's pulse jump and stutter as he pulled another deep breath, and said, "Do you? Do you know that?"
She craned her head up, to try and see his face. "About Kathy?" Another smile broke, this one offering consolation. "She was your sister-"
"That I love you."
She stopped as he looked at her, unable to do more than stare back into that shimmer of naked feeling in his eyes.
Pulling himself out from under her, he rolled onto one shoulder, reaching out to cup her cheek with his hand.
"Because I don't want to let a day go by where you don't know how very much I love you. Because I do. I love you, Sally Sparrow." And, here, now, that familiar enchanting, winning, irresistible smile returned to his lips. But, this time, it didn't make Sally smile in return. This time, it made her stomach flip, and her heart skip, and her breath catch in her throat. This time, it made her vision swim, and her lip quaver, and her sinuses burn.
This time, she cried.
Larry's face went slack. "Oh. Oh, don't-" he started to say, but the rest was lost against the sudden press of her mouth to his. He pulled back in some surprise, but only for a moment before he pressed back into her kiss, softly and sweetly.
She broke the lock of their lips much sooner than she wanted, but for good reason.
Opening her eyes, she met his bright, clear gaze, and laid her hand upon his face, letting the words flow freely from her tongue:
"I love you," she said, just before she kissed him again. She repeated it, mostly against his lips but still clearly enough to be heard.
He repeated it, too, and their echoing declarations made them wind themselves around each other again, not out of any deep-seated want or need for the other, but for simple, heartfelt joy for this love.
The evening passed in another blur of activity, but, this time, the blur was wonderful. Walking, talking, eating, laughing, even another tender union after they returned to bed – the day was filled with such sweet moments, made beautiful by virtue of their togetherness, and by the presence of Larry's delightful smile.
Seeing it made Sally smile, too.
Another Sally/Larry sort-of-smuffy story. This one takes place between the events of "This Lonely Angel" and "Adaptation."
I seem to make a habit out of falling in love with unpopular couples, but I refuse to be apologetic about it. Everyone has their preferences, and this is one of mine.