Le quattro stagioni / The Four Seasons
La Primavera / Spring
“Well, Doctor?” Sarah Jane leaned partway out of the TARDIS, squinting in the reddish light of the rising sun. The Doctor’s shadow was long against the pale green grasses, scarf trailing through a patch of dandelions as he paced, and he didn’t turn when she spoke.
“Extremely well, thank you,” he said absently, bending to inspect a patch of wildflowers.
She grinned and stepped outside, shrugging into a jacket. “That’s not what I meant.” He didn’t reply, and she crouched down next to him. “They’re pretty,” she said, carefully touching the half-opened buds. “Or will be, at any rate.”
She liked to think she was growing used to these strange silences of his, but they still unsettled her a bit after the easy banter they’d had, back when he’d been-
When he’d been what, exactly? He’d explained to her that he was still the same man, and he certainly seemed to have all the same memories, if not the same manners. Still the Doctor, that was all.
He cleared his throat and pointed to a smaller, shrivelled bud, all covered with dew. “Doesn’t look like that one will open,” he said, and she couldn’t tell what emotion coloured his voice, if any at all. He wouldn’t meet her gaze, this Doctor, not often. She wondered if he sometimes saw his old reflection in her eyes.
“No,” she said, feeling a little ridiculous. “No, they don’t all manage it, do they?”
He withdrew his hand, staring down at the flower and chewing his thumbnail for a moment, and she cautiously patted his shoulder. “Lovely day, though,” she said, as cheerily as she could manage. She stood, stretching her arms above her head. “Feels like anything could happen.”
With a shrug, he followed her gaze to the horizon. “Oh, I expect it will. Always seems to, anyway.”
Sarah was about to ask where they were, when a frantic-sounding voice called from the interior of the TARDIS. “Sarah! Doctor! Where are we?”
She laughed. “Sounds like Harry’s given up on the idea of a lie-in.”
The Doctor finally flashed her a brilliant, toothy smile. “Pity,” he said, and clambered back to his feet at a particularly loud crash emanating from the open door of the TARDIS. “Harry, stop throwing things around in there! You’ll do yourself a mischief!”
“I tripped!” Harry protested. “Someone’s left a-” There was a pause. “I don’t even know what this is!”
The Doctor stomped to the door, then turned and grinned conspiratorially at Sarah. “Probably something absolutely vital,” he said.
“Oh, probably,” Sarah agreed, following him as he bounded into the TARDIS. She tried not to grin too broadly at the sight of Harry glaring at a chunk of whirring, flashing machinery, but it was a losing battle.
“That’s my eggbeater!” the Doctor scolded, snatching it from his hands.
“Sounds fearsome,” Harry said, smoothing back his hair and staring distrustfully at the complicated contraption. “I suppose it actually receives intergalactic radio waves or something?”
The Doctor stared at him as though he’d gone utterly mad. “It beats eggs.”
“Ah,” said Harry.
“And now,” the Doctor said with great ceremony, “I’ll have to go find another.”
Sarah, laughing, turned just as he operated the door control, and caught a quick glimpse of the world outside, the dew sparkling and twinkling with the new sunlight, the patches of half-opened flowers shifting into sharp relief against the duller hues of the ground.
And then the door closed, and her mind was taken up with the sound of the dematerialisation, and their next adventure.
L’Estate / Summer
She was peripherally aware of the sun, of its brightness and brilliant, blinding presence, but the cold was such that it seemed a distant light on the horizon, a beacon, a warning.
And then Harry’s hand was on her arm. “Sarah, old girl,” he said, and she felt a chill at the clinical note in his voice. “Sarah, can you hear me?”
She felt herself shudder at the strangeness of the situation, reached for his hand with fingers that were suddenly numb. It occurred to her that he must be waiting for the answer to his question. “No,” she mumbled, and realised for the first time that Harry suddenly looked very tall.
And then the Doctor’s face appeared over Harry’s shoulder, and he looked taller still, and then she realised that she must be lying on the ground. “How is she, Harry?” the Doctor demanded. The brim of his hat was torn in front, and there was a scorch mark on the shoulder of his long coat.
Harry didn’t reply, which Sarah was beginning to find somewhat worrying. And she still wanted to remonstrate him for calling her ‘old girl’, but the words weren’t forming themselves properly on her lips.
“She’s disorientated,” he said finally, and brushed her hair away from the side of her face with a familiarity that startled her. She tried to shrink from his touch, but her body didn’t seem to want to work properly, either. The Doctor was wearing an unfamiliar expression, and the word ‘stricken’ kept popping up in her mind, but it wasn’t quite right, couldn’t be-
Harry murmured something that sounded very much like: “She’s lost a lot of blood,” which was strange because she couldn’t recall having been so careless with her blood as to leave it lying about the place, and then he spoke louder, with words that made more sense. “She needs to be in hospital,” he said, and she felt a chill rush over her.
When she’d been seven years old, she’d had to have her tonsils out, and she remembered sitting at the edge of her hospital bed, staring out the window at the kids in the park across the street, playing and laughing in the loud sunlight while she sucked morosely at a bowl of ice cream, and the sun kept streaming in the window and waking her while she tried to sleep, always bright and harsh and glaring-
“Sarah.” Harry’s face eclipsed the sun overhead for a moment, and she smiled sleepily as she realised that it wasn’t the sun at all, just an ordinary light fixture. “Sarah, you’re all right. We’re in the TARDIS now. I’ve patched you up.”
“I told you to stop,” she mumbled, and felt as though she were trying to speak around a mouthful of ice cream. She sat up slowly, swallowed, and tried again. “I told you.”
He smiled and stood to examine the readouts on some sort of machine. “Why would you want me to stop patching you up?”
She laughed, and was surprised at the catch in her voice, at the sudden streak of pain along her jaw. “I told you to stop calling me ‘old girl’,” she said, reaching up tentatively to prod at the bandages on the side of her face.
Harry glanced over. “Does it hurt? The Doctor had some sort of magic formula whipped up, and he said you’d be all better in no time.”
And then she remembered the rebel leader, spinning as she crept up behind him, and then his knife had glinted in the cruel sunlight and-
“Sarah!” The Doctor was standing in the doorway, grinning broadly. “Feeling better?” He strode to the machine and ran a finger along the readouts. “Harry and I have been planning a little vacation - haven’t we, Harry? To Pirranilius 17.”
“What’s-” She cleared her throat and tried again. “What’s on Pirranilius 17?”
He shrugged in an offhand way. “Well,” he said, “it’s been some time since I was there. But last I saw of it, it was a very dark place. Very quiet.”
“Absolutely ideal,” Harry added, with just enough sarcasm that Sarah knew he’d had no say in their vacation plans. She grinned, feeling encouraged when the twinge along her jawline was weaker this time.
“Of course,” the Doctor said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I might be confusing it with Pirranilius 16, which is well known for its flesh-eating giant scorpions.”
“Absolutely ideal,” Harry repeated quickly.
Sarah swung her legs over the side of the bed, then stood up slowly, conscious of Harry’s worried gaze on her every step of the way. “There,” she said, once she was on her feet. “Nothing to it once you know how.”
“Good,” said the Doctor, beaming.
But when they stepped out onto the sunbaked soil of a planet that was very probably neither Pirranilius 17 or 16, Sarah felt a shiver of fear at the heat and the brightness.
“Light blinds,” she said, months later, to the Doctor, in some prison cell or other on an alien world. “More than the darkness ever could.”
He smiled, leaning up against the bars to watch the sun streak through the window. “Nothing’s perfect, Sarah.”
L’Autunno / Autumn
“It only happens once every millennium, such a perfect coordination of so many diverse biological processes,” the Doctor said, breaking the stunned stillness. He turned, peering at them from under the brim of his hat with a faint grin. “Do you like it?”
“It’s-it’s amazing!” Sarah breathed, and Harry stuttered something that was probably rather similar.
They were standing on the balcony that wound its way round the steepest parapet of the tallest tower of the largest castle in all of Lorsland Mivlair, and all around them were trees and forests and woods of such infinite variety that Sarah soon gave up on trying to count them all. Blues and oranges and purples and fierce, brilliant reds, and colours that faded slightly out of view when glanced from the corner of the eye, and still more colours that flashed haphazardly with mottled patterns, echoing the wisps of cloud above.
The Doctor rested his elbows casually against the railing of the balcony and stared out at the impossible vista. “The townsfolk should just be aware of- ah, yes, there they are!”
There came a great cry of surprise and wonder from the small town below, a cacophony of celebration and awe. The Doctor laughed, and soon Sarah and Harry were laughing along with him, standing together at the very centre of such a perfect sea of colour.
The dusk brought with it a heightening of brilliance from the forest below, a flickering as nocturnal insects began to wend their way through the falling phosphorescent leaves. The people below were still celebrating with bonfires and chants and songs, perhaps aware of the uniqueness of what they were witnessing.
“They’re never going to see anything like this again,” Harry said suddenly. “Once every millennium, you said. This is the only time they’ll ever see it.”
The Doctor straightened, shoved his hands into his pockets. “Well,” he said, “we can always come back and see it again, if you like. A thousand years backwards or forwards. You decide.” He grinned. “I only picked this particular time because of the handy viewpoint.”
But Harry only flushed slightly and looked away, out to the stars starting to appear above the forest. Sarah touched his arm. “Harry? We can always come back.”
“There’s nothing else like it,” he said, and his smile was suddenly sad. “It only happens once in so many generations, but we can see it any time we like. Doesn’t that-” He looked up at her, then shook his head. “Never mind me, Sarah. Just a touch of melancholy.”
“Homesick, Harry?” the Doctor patted him on the shoulder. “Happens to the best of us.”
“I expect so,” Harry said, and they went back to watching the dying embers of the fire of light and colour below, and Sarah couldn’t help feeling that something else was ending along with the falling leaves.
L’Inverno / Winter
The air is chilled and waiting, dusting the fallen leaves and dying grass with a flicker of frost, painting the ground the same dull grey as the sky overhead.
A flash of light, suddenly, and a whirr of motors and a grinding, a creaking that echoes on and on, until a squat blue box appears quite firmly in the midst of ordinary things.
“Oh, this isn’t right at all!” groans a voice from inside. “It’s not even Ranalthus!”
“Are you certain?” calls another.
“Am I- of course I’m certain! K-9, would you tell her how certain I am?”
“The Doctor-Master’s level of certainty,” intones a third voice, “has historically had a margin of error of point-nine-six-seven-three-one-”
“Oh, shut up, K-9. I don’t know what could have-”
“You hit that button twice.”
“I did not!” A pause. “Do you know what I did, Romana? I hit that button twice.”
“You astound me.”
“Just a quick course correction, and we’ll be back on our way.”
“It’s a curious sort of place, though. I wonder what-”
And then the sound of ancient engines grinds its way into existence again, whirring and rising and falling in uncomfortable unison, and the blue box disappears, taking with it the voices and the mystery and the impossible.
Out across the fields, dotted here and there by patches of the season’s last dying wildflowers, a silence reigns.
The first snowflakes of winter fall.