15 April 2007

Oxford Ostinato - Prologue Part 1

The Doctor looked up from the screen at which he'd been peering and grinned at the young woman beside him.
"What's the grin for?" Saskia asked, readily grinning back at him.
"I've just figured out how to repay you," he answered, his grin turning smug.
"Repay me for what?"
"For your gift for my unbirthday. We're going on a picnic, then to a concert."
"What sort of concert?" Saskia asked cautiously, aware that their tastes in music were rather different.
"Classical music," he answered. "It wouldn't be much of a treat if I took you to hear Elvis or someone, would it?"
"I probably wouldn't enjoy it quite as much," Saskia said tactfully.
"Trust me, you'll enjoy this one." He beamed widely. "But first, the picnic."
"So where are we going for this treat?"
"That'd be telling," the Doctor answered, long fingers dancing across the TARDIS controls.
"You can give me a clue, can't you?" She nudged his shoulder with her own. "Can't you?"
He grinned even more widely at her wheedling. "Uh-uh." He shook a finger at her, pretending to peer sternly at her over his dark-framed glasses. "If you ask too many more questions, we won't go."
Saskia pulled a face, then grinned mischievously and placed both hands flat on the console. The Doctor spotted what she was doing and snatched her hands up.
"Oh no you don't!" he said. "Asking the TARDIS is cheating. Come on." Still holding her wrists, he pulled her away from the console. She started to laugh and went where he led, which was to the kitchen. He managed to keep hold of her wrists with one hand, whilst removing and pocketing his glasses.
"OK, I surrender," she said, breathless with laughter. "I promise, I won't ask the TARDIS."
"Really, really," she assured him.
"Good." He let go of her wrists and she sat down at the kitchen table. "Right. Let's have some tea. Then we'll pack a picnic."

He made the tea, then began rummaging in the cupboards and the fridge. Saskia watched his spare frame moving energetically about the kitchen, musing on the fact that the Doctor seemed far more at home in a kitchen than she ever did. Which was interesting given he'd spent nearly all his life wandering through Time and Space, and had only settled down once, during the period when he'd been exiled to Earth during his third incarnation. Whereas she had been settled down for a dozen years and still relied on other people: friends, neighbours, or the nearest takeaway, to cook for her.

Finally the Doctor was satisfied that he had assembled everything necessary for their picnic. He folded the large picnic blanket on top of the wickerwork picnic hamper, that Saskia had seen once before. She flinched a little at the memory of that picnic. It hadn't even been a week ago, but the events of the past few days had been so intense that it felt like much longer. The Doctor caught sight of Saskia's abstracted gaze and guessed what she was thinking about. He sat down beside her and put his hands over hers.
"OK?" he asked, squeezing her fingers.
She nodded. "I will be, once this picnic is under way."
"Good." He stood up fluidly and picked up the hamper. "Would my lady care to step this way?" He gestured to the door.
Saskia smiled at him and got up, following him back to the Control Room. The Doctor put the picnic hamper on the bench and checked the TARDIS scanner. The next moment she dematerialised with a small bump. The Doctor picked up the hamper and the blanket, then offered Saskia his free arm. She smiled again and slipped her right arm through his left one. Opening the TARDIS doors, they stepped out into bright sunshine, with a blue sky above and green grass underfoot.

"Oh," said the Doctor quietly.
Saskia looked at him curiously. He sounded disappointed. "What is it?" she asked.
"I don't think this is New Earth," he answered. He put down the picnic hamper and plucked a blade of grass. He sniffed it, then bit the end off. "Definitely not apple grass," he said, shaking his head.
"So where are we then?" asked Saskia.
"I think this is Old Earth."
"Oh! When?"
"21st century, I think."
"So long as it's not the early 20th century," Saskia said.
The Doctor gave her a quick glance. "Definitely not," he said emphatically. He cast a sweeping glance across the landscape, then inhaled sharply. "Too many petrol fumes," he said.
"Are we going to have the picnic here then?" Saskia asked.
"Is that OK ?"
Saskia shrugged. "I don't mind."
"Let's try over there, then," the Doctor said, pointing towards a small group of trees. "On the riverbank." He picked up the hamper again, then held out his free hand to Saskia. She took it gratefully, aware that he knew she wasn't entirely comfortable about being back on Earth. She decided not to think about their previous visit and to concentrate instead on enjoying their picnic.

The Doctor picked a spot at the edge of the shade cast by the trees and spread out the picnic blanket. He and Saskia both took off their overcoats, folding them neatly and placing them on the edge of the blanket. The Doctor knelt down and opened the picnic hamper.
"Hang on," Saskia said. She put her left hand on his right shoulder, reached out and deftly pulled undone the already loose knot of his tie, which she then pulled from his neck. She tossed it on top of his coat, then stepped behind him and lifted his suit jacket upwards from his shoulders. "Off," she said, in a rather commanding tone.
The Doctor lifted one eyebrow at her, but didn't resist when she pulled off his jacket.
"Happy now?" he asked quizzically.
"Yes thank you," she answered, folding his jacket neatly and putting it on top of his coat and tie.
"What was that all about?"
"I refuse to have a second picnic with you when you're wearing a suit and tie. It looks silly, especially on such a warm day.
The Doctor shook his head. "As my lady wishes," he said smiling.
Saskia poked his shoulder. "Are you going to keep calling me your 'lady'?" she asked.
"Don't you like it?"
"It sounds rather formal, that's all," she answered.
"Then it suits you. You're quite a formal person. You don't often use slang or colloquialisms, and you're always dressed fairly formally too." He smiled at her. "Do you mind?"
"I suppose I don't," Saskia answered, returning his smile.
He finished unpacking the picnic hamper.

"You do know we're in Oxford, don't you?" Saskia asked as he poured out a glass of apple juice for her.
He stopped pouring and looked up, startled. "Are we?"
Saskia nodded. "There's a chap on the other side of the river who was just wishing he was in London still, instead of Oxford."
The Doctor glanced across the river, but didn't see anyone there. He looked back at Saskia. She could read his thoughts far more clearly than those of any stranger and answered the question he hadn't voiced.
"I've taken a couple of my pills, but it's going to take a day or two for them to be fully effective at blocking out other people's thoughts, particularly if there are only a few people in the area."
The Doctor finished filling her glass, then passed it to her. "OK." He picked up a second glass. "Do you think your telepathic powers will start to weaken, now the Devron is dead?"
"I really don't know," Saskia answered, sounding frustrated. "Since nothing like this has ever happened to anyone before, your guess on this would probably be just as accurate as mine. Only time will tell." She rubbed her temples absently.
"What did Dr Karg say, when you spoke to him before we left?"
"He suggested that I take a double dose of the pills twice a day for a week, then halve the dose for a week, then halve it again for a third week.
"And then presumably stop taking them altogether?" the Doctor asked.
"Yes, if I feel that my telepathic powers are manageable."
"Well I hope for your sake that they become more manageable," the Doctor observed.
"What if they don't, though?" Saskia asked.
"We'll cross that bridge if we come to it," the Doctor answered firmly. He took her free hand in his own. "I'm not going to take you back home because of this. If, at any point, you want to go back home, we can go, but I'm not going to abandon you." He squeezed her fingers. "We've already been through too much together for me consider that an option."
"Thank you."

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