The night sky exploded with diamonds; a sea of white hot sparks that hung in the air for a split second, motionless, before raining down on the heads of smiling onlookers. Couples and families huddled together, eyes wide and watching, to form a barrier of scarves and woolly hats. The sound of their laughter, joyous and light, blended with the perfectly timed eruption of fireworks to create an autumn symphony.
A pleasantly cool breeze blew the scent of gunpowder against his face, tossing the curls at his temples like a lover and bringing the memories of other nights spent under a sky dancing with lights to the forefront of his mind.
Oh, how he loved humans - a smile tugged up the corners of his mouth - only they could be so fascinated by a simple chemical concoction exploding in the atmosphere.
Enthused by the moment, and how glamorous and remote the stars looked from the Earth — it really had been too long since he’d been able to gaze at them from this angle - he threw his arms into the air and twirled around until he was giddy; smiling happily, with no thought of how he must have looked to the few who spared him a glance as they passed by. Until quite suddenly he saw her.
He came to an abrupt stop that left him reeling, his hands reaching out of their own accord to try and steady him, wound themselves into the material of a man’s jacket as he brushed quickly past. Ignoring the glare and the shove he received, the Doctor stumbled over to a nearby tree and braced himself against the rough bark, wishing for some vestiges of life to return to his legs and for his hearts to extricate themselves from his throat.
How he had even spotted her in amongst the crowd, picked her perfect face out of the hundreds that had swirled past in a blink of an eye, he had no idea, but for the rest of his lives he would be forever grateful that he had.
She was older now than she had been that day in South Croydon, her hair shorter and lighter in colour. Oh, but lady time had been good to her. She was even more beautiful than his memories had led him to believe.
She was surrounded by children, well, three of them to exact; laughing along with them as they wrote their names in the air with sparklers, her arm wrapped loosely around the shoulders of a young girl. Were any of them hers? He wondered. Both the dark haired girl and boy held some resemblance to her; there was something in the way they both smiled. Even as that thought piqued his sometimes jealous nature, he hoped they were. He had always known she would make a good mother; she had so much love to give, so many stories to share. And if the smile that lit up her face — the very same one that had haunted his dreams for a century after Kastria — was anything to go by, she had found the happiness he had wanted for her in the very thing he could never have given to her.
“Oh, Sarah Jane.” The Doctor found himself smiling along with her; his hearts warmed by the scene before him.
* * *
A cool tingle travelled down her spine. Goosebumps broke out across the exposed flesh of her arms and face, almost as though someone had run fingers chilled by the night air down her back. If it hadn’t been for her heavy coat and the woollen scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, she would have blamed it on the frosty weather, but there was something about the sensation that felt… almost familiar. She couldn’t quite place it; the feeling of being watched combined with something completely new, and old at the same time.
Rubbing her arms, she took a quick look around, hoping to catch a glimpse of something out of the ordinary amongst the crowd to explain the odd feeling. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of green and brown at the base of a tree, but by the time she turned to look, it was gone. A trick of the light? Maybe the reflection of the fireworks? She mused, frowning at her sudden paranoia. These days she saw alien menace behind everything.
“Wow! Did you see that one, Sarah Jane?” Maria asked, smiling up at the older woman from beneath her bobble hat, and pointing to the part of the sky where the firework had been just moments before.
She turned with a jolt back to the kids, realising that she had been caught staring into space. With a guilty smile, she hugged Maria closer; resting her cheek on top of the girl’s head as she tried to ignore the feeling of unease and settled in to watch the rest of the display.
“Excuse me.” A rich, sophisticated voice whispered, in a way that seemed to envelop her from head to toe, against her ear, followed by a tap on the shoulder.
Sarah jumped, instinctively pushing Maria behind her as she turned to face the strange man dressed in a green frock coat, her eyes wide and chest heaving from fright. He backed away from her, his hands held up in front of him in what, she assumed, was meant to be a harmless gesture.
He was taller than her, but not by much. In his mid-thirties, perhaps, maybe older. The bones of his face were delicate, regal even, and finely chiselled like the Roman statues of old. Brown hair tumbled down around his face in gentle curls that brushed against his shoulders. To say that he was handsome would have done him an injustice, and even though Sarah had never seen him before, she had no qualms in thinking of him as beautiful.
But those clothes! Dressed like a Victorian gentleman, he was so out of place in a present day field in early November yet somehow he managed to look completely at ease. There was only one person she knew of who could pull that off successfully. No, it couldn’t be. Could it?
He mouthed something that was lost between the bangs of the fireworks.
Sarah shook her head, indicating with her hands that she couldn’t hear him over the noise.
He stepped closer to her, almost hesitant in his movements as though he were afraid she’d run away at any moment. But she didn’t. Whether she was rooted in place by fear or curiosity, she didn’t know. The only thing she was certain of, however, was that whatever had caused her to shiver was somehow linked to this man.
For her to be able to hear him over the fireworks, he had to lean his mouth next to her ear. She closed her eyes as he spoke, savouring the words and the tone of his voice like a man discovering a cool pool of water in the middle of the desert. His hair fell around her face in a scented cloud, tickling her mouth. He smelt vaguely like tea leaves and old library books.
He pulled away, small smile playing at the corners of his mouth, and ducked his head so that he could look into her eyes. His hands, that had wound themselves into her hair during their exchange, came up to cup her face. An open question in his eyes.
She leaned into his caress, marvelling at how she could ever have forgotten the coolness of his skin, and nodded once. Yes.
Grinning like a madman, he pulled her into his arms; spinning her in a dance to music she could not hear.
Setting her back on her feet, he took her small hand between his two and placed a kiss on her knuckles in the fashion of the Victorian gentleman he was dressed as. He squeezed her hand once more, then, without another word, turned and walked back into the night he had so suddenly appeared from.
“And what was all that about?” Maria asked with raised eyebrows.
A blush crept up Sarah’s face. She had forgotten she wasn’t alone. Looking very much like a child with its hand caught in the cookie jar, she turned with a shrug. “I’ve never seen him before in my life,” she answered honestly.
Clyde made a noise in the back of his throat. “Just when I think things can’t get any weirder with you lot, you start going around hugging complete strangers.”
Sarah rolled her eyes at him.
“What’s that?” Luke asked, pointing to his mum’s hand.
She looked down to find a lone orange jelly baby sat in the palm of her hand. The corners of her mouth twitched. “A promise,” she said quietly to herself. “Come on, I want to give those dodgems another go.”