In the half-world between waking and dreaming John reached out for Marianne, but he only felt the creases of cold sheets. His eyes flew open, the dim lights dancing on the wick and in the hearth gentle on his eyes. Marianne was indeed gone. He curled his hand into the linen and squeezed his eyes shut.
Unwilling to acknowledge her absence, he rolled onto his back. She had left, just like their first time together; he made himself believe that she'd had to get home to her grandaunt's, but he couldn't fight the lingering doubt that she'd left to avoid the pain of saying goodbye.
His gaze settled on their half-empty glasses of wine and his cuff links on the upturned box beside the bed. To his great surprise he saw that her hair pins and combs were still there. He reached out to touch the raspberry-coloured feathers and silk flowers on one of the combs.
A movement in the shadows caught his attention and he propped himself up on his elbows. His heart was racing and he was about to ask who was there when Marianne detached herself from the darkness. She was only clad in his shirt and a smile. It faded quickly, however, when she saw his expression.
“I just had to nip outside for a moment. And I put on another log,” she said, perching on the edge of the bed, taking his hand. Her fingers were surprisingly warm. “You thought I'd left you.”
“I...” he began.
Marianne picked up their glasses and waited for him to sit up before giving his to him. “I wish I could stay,” she said, sipping at her wine.
He didn't answer her because there wasn't anything he could say. She had to go to London but she'd be back and they'd spend as much time together as possible. He smiled and drank. “Come back to bed. You must be freezing.”
Marianne set her glass on the crate with a thoughtful gesture before slipping off the bed. The shirt fell open as she did so and he could see her breasts beneath the white fabric. The sight of her in his shirt did things to him. He averted his eyes and swallowed, sipping at his wine. It was unbelievable how much he wanted her. Again he was tempted to ask her to stay.
Marianne was crouching by the side of the bed, fishing for something underneath it. When she had found what she was looking for, she straddled him and wrapped the blankets around them with one hand; her left hand clutched a package wrapped in buff-coloured paper. “I've got something for you.”
He set his glass next to hers and took the gift. “Thank you,” he said, stealing a kiss from her.
“You don't know what it is yet,” Marianne chuckled.
“Well, let's see then,” he said, untying the string and loosening the paper. His eyes went wide when he realised what it was.
“I understand you need a new diary,” she whispered, suddenly self-conscious. He could feel her eyes on him as he thumbed through the thick, creamy pages of handmade paper and ran his fingers over the soft, light brown leather.
“It's... it's beautiful. Thank you, Marianne.”
“Something to... while away the time when I'm gone,” she said. “Or for... however you want to use it.”
“It's... I don't know what to say. Thank you.” He carefully set it aside and wrapped his arms around her for a kiss. Pleasure washed over him at the taste of the red wine on her soft lips and tongue. He moaned, pulling her closer, reaching between them to pull the shirt up and over her head. The need to feel her skin against his was almost overwhelming.
“Someone is very grateful,” Marianne chuckled, pressing her pelvis close to his, trapping his erection between them. She saw him colour in the ever-changing light and kissed him tenderly. Then she bent, tilting her pelvis just so her mons was massaging the base of his penis, to whisper in his ear, “Have your way with me, John.”
“Can you... just sit in my lap, like you did earlier?” he managed to say. “That was... it was... I've never felt closer to you.”
Marianne regarded him intently for a couple of heartbeats before she shifted. Just like before, she took him into her slowly, looking at him. “Like this?”
“Yes,” he rasped, his hands sliding up and down her back to support her. When they were finally joined, Marianne shifted again so she could wrap her legs around his waist, taking him deeper. “Oh... God, Marianne...”
“Sshh,” she said. She kissed him playfully and tenderly, her fingers restless on his cheek and back. He began to return the gesture in kind, and somehow, as their kiss lengthened, they ended up lying on their sides, facing each other, Marianne's leg wrapped around his hip with him still buried inside her.
“What now?” he asked when they lay still, just staring at each other.
“You have your way with me,” she suggested, smiling. “If you want.”
He did, rolling them over so she was beneath him. He once again made slow and gentle love to her. Something about her made him want to worship her, to take this slowly again, to make the most of it. She came before him, quietly, and she held him as he drove himself to completion. “Ngudia sam, Marianne,” he cried as he rose up to the stars and fell into her arms.
Rose woke during the night because her shoulders and arms were cold. She felt for and found his shirt and slipped it over her head, noting that the button tape stopped where it disappeared beneath the waistband of the trousers. That particular pattern was lovely and sexy, and it also made the shirt longer than the oxfords she owned. John lay prone, one knee drawn up, his lips slightly parted.
She got up and quickly added another log to the dying embers. Before slipping back into bed, she finished her wine and studied John's sleeping form. She wanted to treasure the moment, realising that it was a rare one. The Doctor didn't sleep much; besides, she had no idea if he would want to share his sleep with her, if he trusted her enough to do so when he was back.
Lying down facing him, she took his hand and brushed a kiss over its back as she made herself comfortable. “Sweet dreams, John,” she said barely audibly. She didn't want to wake him. She didn't want to sleep either, didn't want this wonderful night to end. Because tomorrow, she was leaving him.
He made love to her again in the morning, like he had dreamed. The fact that he was entering her from behind was so very arousing that he did not last very long. He rolled away from her in embarrassment, knowing that the inevitable had happened; he had disappointed her because of his inexperience. Marianne didn't move; she just lay there, clutching the sheets and pillows, her shoulders shaking.
“I... I'm sorry,” he mumbled, staring into the watery early morning light that obscured most of the room but not what had just happened between them.
Marianne turned to look at him. “What for?” she asked, dropping her hand onto his chest.
He didn't move. “For... being such a... such a...”
“For not cuddling with me?” she finished the sentence for him.
He looked at her in surprise. She had propped herself up on her elbow, her hair wild and her skin flushed. “For... not taking my time.” He gestured at her; he hadn't even bothered to undress her.
Marianne stretched, supporting herself with her arm on his chest, to kiss him lightly. “We took our time last night. This was... wonderful in its own way.”
“It was?” He couldn't help smiling.
“Oh yes,” she whispered. “Good morning. My love.” She paused briefly before adding the last two words, as if she were unsure of their appropriateness. She drew her fingertips over the stubble on his chin.
“Good morning.” He sat up a little to meet her as they kissed.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
When he smiled at her he saw her pause momentarily, as if she'd seen something she recognised, but the moment was gone too quickly and he lost his nerve to ask. “Very,” he said softly.
“I can't offer you a full English, but I have some fruit,” she said, kissing the tip of his nose before rising. He felt the cold acutely as she left him.
“A full English?” he asked, sitting up. He wanted to lie back and draw the covers up to his chin, but he needed to get up and stretch and step outside for a moment.
She paused briefly, and for a moment he thought she didn't understand what he was on about; that particular expression was replaced by realisation and annoyance. He was about to ask what was wrong, when she said, “Breakfast. A... rich, cooked breakfast. It's... it's what we call it.”
“Ah, well. I'll be fine. Speaking of which, I... I need to...” he said, getting up. He found his drawers and pulled them on, tying the strings so the garment didn't slip down his hips, and donned his vest. Although the rough floorboards were icy beneath his bare feet, he didn't want to bother with his boots.
Marianne had picked up a basket covered with a tea towel and set it down on the bed. She stole a quick kiss from his lips and said, “I'll try to rekindle the fire.”
He wanted to tell her that there was no need because he'd have to leave soon; he had to be back at the school for lunch, but ultimately he didn't have it in him. If he washed and shaved quickly upon his return he could draw out being with her a little.
The damp morning air was a shock and goose flesh erupted almost immediately on his arms. The wet ground, on the other hand, felt surprisingly good beneath his naked feet. Curling his toes into the soft black soil he watched as his breath hung before him in small clouds. He'd better make this a quick one.
It must still be early; the light was muted by the mist hanging over the fields as if the sky had bled into the earth like in a watercolour that didn't turn out. He could make out the shape of the low stone wall and the gate at the far end of the path and, more like an idea, the smudge of a scarecrow on the back of the hill. John shivered and hurried into the woods behind the outbuilding for his morning ablutions. When he returned inside he went to the fireplace; Marianne had managed to get the fire going once again. He squatted in front of it, basking in the warmth that prickled on his skin as it enveloped him.
“Hey,” she said softly. She was sitting on the bed with the basket of fruit and a cutting knife, the towel spread over her bare knees.
“Hello,” he replied, smiling.
“Banana?” she asked, holding out the mottled fruit for him. Bananas were hard to come by and when he found some he always savoured eating them. Something about the way Marianne was holding out the fruit for him struck him as oddly casual and yet expectant.
“Oh yes,” he said, standing to join her on the bed. He quickly wiped his muddy feet before drawing them up and covering them with the blankets. Marianne peeled the fruit and passed it to him; whole. “Don't you want any?”
“I'll be fine,” she replied, smiling. Something seemed to please her a lot. He broke a bit off the banana and popped it into his mouth, humming with delight at the rare pleasure.
They ate in silence, Marianne cutting up the fruit and passing bite-sized pieces to him; apple, orange; tinned peaches, fished out of the juice with their fingers; no pears. It was silly, of course, but John thought he'd never had a better breakfast, or sweeter, juicier fruit. They ended up kissing and licking the juice dribbling down each other's chin and fingers.
When they’d finished eating they set things aside and lay down facing one another, the shirt slipping off of Marianne’s shoulder and exposing her breast. He stared at the mound of creamy, soft flesh for a while, smiling as the nipple rose into a firm peak in the relative cold. He traced patterns with his finger on it before cupping her breast with his hand. Her nipple was hard against his palm, and Marianne sighed. “I wish we could stay like this forever,” she whispered, looking at him. Her light brown eyes were serious and he was at a loss for what to do. He kissed her tenderly, his hand still on her breast. When she slid her fingers into his hair, he hummed in delight, and he started to kiss his way down to her breast to caress it with his mouth. Marianne squirmed a little beneath him, making herself comfortable. A moan escaped her as he swirled his tongue around her nipple and began to suckle gently. It was amazing, and not a little scary, how insatiable he was when it came to making love to Marianne. He let go of her, sliding his hand beneath the cotton of the shirt to cup her other breast.
“Why did you stop?” Marianne asked.
“I fear if I... if I don't stop now I won't be able to go,” he whispered, kissing her temple.
“I have to be at the school for lunch,” he said, withdrawing his hand from her breast and brushing back her hair. “And I'm afraid it's my turn at homework supervision this afternoon.” He leaned in for a kiss which they soon deepened.
“So this is goodbye?” Marianne said, her smile a little watery.
“We could meet tonight. If you... I mean... won't they miss you? Your grandaunt?” he asked.
“I told them I was staying overnight at Donna's. I'll set off for London from her place; it's much more convenient,” Marianne explained. “So... you don't want to...?”
He sat up. “I do! I do, Marianne. God, I do,” he cried, running his hands over his face.
Marianne had sat up as well and pulled him into her arms; it felt so good, just being held and being close to her. He shivered a little as she began to drop kisses onto his hair. “I'm looking forward to tonight,” she whispered, rubbing his back.
As he calmed he had a wonderful idea; if he wasn't mistaken, there must be a pencil in one of his many pockets. He pulled away from her. “Can I... can I draw you? In my new book?”
She looked at him, surprised. “I...,” she laughed. “No one's ever asked me that.”
“Is that a yes?” he asked, hopeful.
Marianne nodded, smiling her gorgeous, coy smile. “Yes.”
After he had found two pencils, one in his overcoat and one in his jacket pocket, they settled on the bed. He had his book on his knees and Marianne curled up at the head of the bed, her hair tumbling and the shirt falling open to reveal her creamy skin. He began to sketch her, humming softly to himself.
Marianne's laugh roused him from his flow. He looked up askance. Her expression shifted to one of bewilderment.
“That song... I... it's nice,” Marianne said.
“Don't you like it?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I like it.”
He nodded, smiling, and resumed his sketching.
“If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?”
John made it back to the school just in time for lunch; he washed, shaved and put on a fresh shirt before he settled down at the teacher's table. Marianne had still worn his shirt when he left her, and so he'd hurried back to Farringham School with only his vest beneath his suit. Fortunately, no one had seen him return as he stole to his rooms via the back entrance. Homework supervision was so calm and uneventful that there came a point when he wondered if time was standing still. It didn't help that the boys had been set quite a lot homework and had to revise for the first set of written tests. The sky beyond the warped old panes of glass was flat and grey, and if he looked hard enough he could even tell when it stopped and started drizzling.
No matter how hard he tried to focus on his own chore — marking history homework — he found both his mind and gaze wandering to Marianne, and as he gazed out the window his eyes were drawn in the direction of the shapeless damp trees at the edge of Clarke’s land.
“Oh! Oh... oh, no!”
John's head whipped around, his eyes searching the rows of heads facing him to find the origin of the disruption. Most boys looked up as well.
“No,” whispered the voice.
John's gaze settled on Timothy Latimer. The boy looked as white as a sheet, and when he noticed that his teacher was looking at him, his expression of bewilderment changed to one of barely disguised terror. “Timothy, what's the matter?” John asked in surprise. He gestured for the others to go back to their work.
Timothy looked at him, his mouth opening and closing.
“Timothy?” John repeated, standing to walk to the boy's desk. “Are you unwell?” the boy seemed on the verge of tears.
“Sir, I... I...”
Before he could form a coherent answer a green flash of light outside the window caught everyone's attention. The boy, if possible, paled even further. “That's... that's Clarke's outbuilding,” he whispered, his voice cracking.
John frowned. “I'm sure,” he said, straightening and touching the edge of the boy's desk with his fingertips, “that was just a trick of the light. Or Mr Thompson's target practice class. No need to worry, Timothy.”
“But, Sir!” the boy protested.
“Go back to your work,” John said mildly, pointing at the boy's English composition. The boy stared at him for a couple of heartbeats, obviously debating the benefits of further protests, and eventually picked up his fountain pen to resume his writing. John turned, his hands clasped behind his back, and walked back to his desk. He cast another glance in the direction of the outbuilding. He would go and see Marianne there later that afternoon, and this time he would bring the food.
The hands on the clock seemed to have hardly moved and he frowned. He picked up his fountain pen and went back to his marking. If he'd looked up from his work before Miss Noble knocked and entered the quiet classroom to put a folded note on his desk, he would have seen the smoke uncurl above the dark, damp smudge that was the wood and bleed into the sky in another watercolour gone wrong.
Donna was having tea with Dr Bennett and his wife in their parlour, like every Sunday, when the telephone rang. They fell silent and Mrs Bennett looked up in mild surprise. Her husband took one last sip of tea, knowing that this was probably a call from one of his patients and the end of his afternoon tea. Donna and Mrs Bennett went back to their conversation when he left the parlour to answer the call. They paused again when he returned.
“Not an emergency after all?” Mrs Bennett asked.
“No,” Dr Bennett said, sitting down. “Clarke's outbuilding is burning, but the fire brigade have already been alerted. Don't know why they called me. It's been empty for a while.”
Donna paled, and Mrs Bennett noticed. “What's wrong, dear?” She always adopted a motherly tone when she spoke to her.
“I think there might be... We need to go, Dr Bennett!” Donna said urgently, standing.
“I think there might be someone in the outbuilding after all,” Donna said.
“Would you care to explain?”
Donna tried to calm herself; Rose and John might have left the outbuilding already. On the other hand, they might still be in there and need help. “It's... can I explain on our way there?”
Dr Bennett nodded gravely. He never took things lightly, something Donna had noticed early on and for which she was very grateful now.
A couple of minutes later they arrived at the outbuilding in the doctor's motorcar. It was burning bright, the drizzle no serious threat to the flames. Donna gasped as she saw the fire. Part of the roof had already collapsed and she hoped that the TARDIS had taken care of herself, just as the Doctor had told her she would. They stood at a safe distance from the building. The fire brigade had already arrived but they stood by, watching. Donna realised that they didn't even try to extinguish the fire. When Mr Clarke arrived a minute or so later, he stood there calmly watching. He hadn't used it in a long time and obviously he didn't mind the loss too much.
“Have you checked the building for people?” Donna found herself asking the commandant.
The beefy man looked at her, his disbelief changing to shock. “Do you think there's someone in there?”
Donna nodded. “Yes, there might be someone inside.”
The commandant cursed. Just as he was about to bark his orders, another part of the roof collapsed in a flurry of embers and the windows burst, exploding shards everywhere. One of them caught Donna's hand.
“If someone was in there,” the commandant began but didn't finish his sentence.
If Rose was still in there, she might have made it to the TARDIS, to safety. If she had been outside the ship, that was. And if John had still been with her... Donna cursed. She needed to know if the two were safe. Wrapping her handkerchief around her bleeding hand, she ran towards the door, which the fire hadn't reached yet. Someone yelled at her, the commandant cursing as she headed straight for the danger, but she didn't care.
The door was unlocked, but it stuck a little and she rattled it. Before she knew it, strong arms grabbed her and pulled her aside. Two men passed her, one of them wielding an axe to break down the door. Donna stilled in the man's arms, her eyes watering from the smoke and the smell of fire. She hadn't noticed how hot it had been so close to the fire, and she shivered in the cold November afternoon.
She watched the door splinter and the men enter the blaze, praying to whoever was listening that they would find the building empty. She could deal with the lecture, but she'd never forgive herself if she just stood by, watching.
The firemen seemed to be gone a very long time, and eventually, her fireman let go of her. The rest of the men, as well as Dr Bennett and Mr Clarke, joined them, their gazes shifting from the burning roof to the gaping black door hole. Dr Bennett put and arm around her shoulders, reassuring her. “You did the right thing, Miss Noble.” His words were rewarded with dark expressions from those who had heard it.
Finally, one of the two firemen emerged from the building, his face blackened where it wasn't covered with a scarf. “Quick, we need a crowbar, and you, Ed!” the man cried, coughing. Ed was a particularly burly man, and he started for the building, pulling his scarf over his mouth and nose, once he had grabbed the crowbar from a colleague. “There's a woman in there; she's trapped,” the fireman informed the commandant before he followed Ed back inside.
“Oh my God!” Donna cried softly, turning away.
The commandant cursed and Dr Bennett let go of Donna. “I'd better get my bag.”
A couple of minutes later the three firemen emerged from the blaze running, their heads lowered. Ed was carrying a woman-shaped bundle wrapped in a blanket and he only put her down when he had reached a safe distance. His colleagues had already spread another blanket on the ground, onto which he gently lowered the bundle.
Donna hurried towards her, slipping on the wet grass and kneeling beside her. She threw back the corner of the blanket and looked at Rose's pale face. “Rose!”
It took Rose a moment to focus on her. “'s... jus' me. 's jus' me,” she managed to say before she lost consciousness.
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