Romantic

By Elsa Frohman

A Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane story

"You know I love you, old girl."

"What?" Sarah Jane Smith looked up when she heard the Doctor speak.

"I didn't say anything."

"Yes, you did. I heard you. You said, 'You know I love you, old girl.' And while I'm touched, I really have to take some issue with being called 'old girl.' I mean, that's strange coming from someone who claims to be seven hundred and fifty years old."

"Seven hundred and forty-nine."

"All right, seven forty-nine. But you did say it."

The Doctor frowned. "I wasn't talking to you."

"If you were talking to yourself, I've really got to wonder about your gender identification."

The Doctor didn't answer. He had already forgotten the conversation. His attention was back on the console.

"You were talking to the TARDIS," Sarah said with a laugh.

"What? What are you going on about?" he said, looking up at her as if she had just come into the room.

"Don't try to cover it up. You were getting romantic with the TARDIS. I always suspected you were carrying a torch for someone. I just never realised it was a 'something.' "

"The TARDIS isn't a 'thing.' She's a sentient being. And I wasn't getting romantic. She simply needs some encouragement every now and then."

Sarah shrugged. "I suppose you weren't. When it comes right down to it, I don't think you know what romantic means."

"Nonsense! Romanticism is the rejection of Classic and Neoclassic ideals, particularly where they address order, harmony and balance, in favor of the subjective, irrational, emotional and personal principals of artists and architects of late 18th- to mid-19th Century Earth."

"Right -- just as I said ..."

Sarah Jane shook her head and wandered off to find something more interesting to do than watching the Doctor commune with the TARDIS. She didn't give much more thought to the conversation until she started to get hungry for supper and found her way to the TARDIS galley.

On the way, she'd been thinking about programming the food machine for pizza, possibly with sausage and mushrooms. Or maybe some black olives and onions.

She was surprised to find the Doctor already in the galley, hard at work preparing something by hand on the big Jenn-air restaurant-style range that had seldom been turned on during Sarah's time in the TARDIS.

The counter was strewn with chopped vegetables, including onions, bell peppers, carrots, aubergines and several Sarah Jane didn't recognize. There was a large pot of something bubbling on one burner, and the Doctor was sautéing something else over another. The gas flame flared up around the skillet as he shook it, throwing a few drops of oil into the fire. The air was redolent with the odor of garlic and tomatoes, and the pan the Doctor was holding over the flame hissed and sputtered as the food cooked.

It smelled delicious.

"I didn't know you liked to cook," she said with a chuckle.

"What? Oh, you're here already. I thought it would be another twenty minutes at least before you got hungry. Well, it will be ready in a few minutes, so why don't you sit down?"

"So what made you suddenly decide to become a chef?"

"Hardly sudden! I'll have you know I cooked for Louie the Sixteenth. He thought my Potage du Gardin was the best he had ever tasted. He raved about my soufflés. He said my Crème Brulèe was to die for."

"And eventually, he did," Sarah Jane piped up.

"Well, yes. But you really can't blame the French Revolution on my Crème Brulèe. I think that would have happened anyway."

"All right. But why the big production now?"

"You'll see. Now, have a seat while I finish the antipasto."

He led her to a small, round table in the corner that was covered in a white linen tablecloth. It was set with silver flatware and the napkins were folded into crowns. There were cut crystal wine glasses and in the center of the table were two slender white tapers in tall silver candlesticks.

The Doctor pulled a match from one of his pockets and struck it against the sole of his shoe. He lit the candles then pulled out a chair for Sarah.

"I'm impressed," she said with a smile. "Best silver. Candles. Folded napkins. Are we having company?"

"I'm entertaining a lady tonight," the Doctor said with a flourish. "Now if you'll just be patient for a moment."

He returned a moment later with a small serving cart that held two gold-rimmed, white china soup plates and a pottery tureen. He lifted the lid and a plume of fragrant steam rose to curl around his head and dissipate. The Doctor ladled the soup into the plates and set one at each of the places.

Next, he then pulled a bottle of wine from the lower shelf of the cart. "Ah, a Barbaresco, Fontana Fredda, 1991. I think that should go well with the soup course." He uncorked the bottle and poured just a bit into his own glass, sniffing it first then tasting it.

"Yes, a very good year indeed." He filled Sarah's glass then his own.

"Mmmm, Minestrone, my favorite." Sarah said with a smile. "But you've forgotten something."

"I have?" The Doctor's face fell.

"This is a candlelight supper, right?"

"Yes, candles right here ..."

Sarah nodded. "But to get the effect, you need to turn down the room lights."

"Oh!" The Doctor slapped his forehead. Then, on cue, the room lights went down, leaving the two in the candle glow. Sarah shivered a little. It always threw her a little bit when the Doctor made the TARDIS do something telepathically.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yes, that's more like it."

The Doctor sat down and picked up wine glass. The crystal and its ruby contents glistened in the yellow candlelight. "To romance," he said, holding out the glass for a toast.

Sarah, smiled to herself. She'd suspected that was what this was all about. She raised her glass and tapped it lightly against his.

The soup was delicious -- just the right balance of herbs with red and white beans, green beans, garbanzos and ditali pasta. Reaching under the serving cart, the Doctor produced a basket of warm, crusty rolls. Sarah dipped hers into the soup to soak up every bit of the broth left after the vegetables were eaten.

When the soup was consumed, the Doctor whisked away Sarah's plate and put it back on the cart. He disappeared into the dark kitchen, only to return a moment later with an elaborate platter of antipasto, two fresh plates and a new bottle of wine sitting in an ice bucket.

"Cortese Dell'Alto Monferrato, 1957, a superior dry white wine from the Piedmont," the Doctor said as he worked the corkscrew into the top of the bottle.

The antipasto consisted of pickles, anchovies, prosciutto, provalone, olives and leaves of lettuce, arranged in a spoked wheel. The dressing was olive oil and vinegar with a bit of Parmesan cheese grated over the top. Sarah lifted some onto her plate.

"Were did you get all the fresh produce?" she asked. "I know you could have just programmed the food machine to make this, but those vegetables I saw in the kitchen looked real."

"Made a stop at a couple of markets. Found most of what I needed in Venice, in 1748. But their aubergines didn't look very good, so I nipped on to Florence, 1905, and found some lovely ones. The wines came from the TARDIS cellars."

"Only you could go shopping for 157 years and make it back in time for supper."

"Only the best for my lady."

The Doctor flashed a broad grin. The candlelight glinted off his teeth and eyes. Even after an afternoon in the kitchen he was still wearing his scarf coiled around his neck and hanging down in front and back. Sarah marveled that he hadn't managed to set it on fire, working around a stove.

"It would have been quicker to just program the food machine."

"Yes, but that wouldn't have been romantic, would it?"

"No, it wouldn't."

The antipasto was at least as good as the soup had been. The vinegar was just tart enough and the oil made the crisp vegetables slid over Sarah's tongue sensuously. The salty anchovies contrasted with the smooth Provolone and the prosciutto was delicate and smoky.

As she drained the goblet of its pale liquid, Sarah began to feel just a bit tipsy. The wine was cold, sharp and fruity. The Doctor refilled her glass, then cleared the antipasto dishes away. It occurred to Sarah that when he went back to the kitchen he was working in the dark, but she didn't hear anything being knocked over, so he must know exactly where to find everything.

He was back a moment later with the pasta course. It was linguini in Marinara sauce. The wine was a red Brunello di Montalcino, 1854, from Tuscany. The pasta was al dente, firm to bite into but tender in the mouth.

"You should cook more often," she said muzzily, feeling the effects of the fourth glass of wine. "This is wonderful."

"Yes, I suppose I should. It's very relaxing. But, one thing and another, I just never seem to find time."

The fish course was Cappellini con Gamberetti, shrimp stir fried with tomatoes served over angel hair pasta. The wine was Blanc de Morgex 2013 from Val d'Aosta. Sarah began to wonder whether she was going to make it through this meal without passing out.

"So much food," she said. "I'm getting stuffed!"

The Doctor raised an eyebrow.

"You know what I mean."

"Of course I do. After all, you must admit I know what romantic means."

Sarah chuckled. "After a fashion.

"How much more of this is there? I'd better pace myself."

"The veal course is Oso Bucco, then the Tiramiso and finally a selection of nuts, fruit and cheese."

"And a new wine to go with each?"

"Of course."

"I think this version of romanticism is based on the principal that if you get a woman drunk enough, you can get away with anything."

"What? I would never take advantage of you. Surely you know that." The Doctor looked hurt.

Sarah sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid I do."

"You said, 'After a fashion.' So tell me, how does this miss being truly romantic? Surely the candlelight, wine and food are just as they should be."

Sarah nodded. "Yes, that part's perfect. Absolutely perfect."

"So?"

"It's your motive that's not right."

"My motive? I don't understand. I said I didn't want to take advantage of you. Can't you believe that?"

"I believe it absolutely.

"But, you're doing this not out of affection. You're doing it to prove that there's nothing you don't know. That's just like you.

"You got all the material particulars right. Really, I'm very impressed. But it's still not romantic, because it doesn't come from the heart."

The Doctor looked crestfallen. Sarah was instantly sorry she'd said it. He'd worked so hard to put this together. And she'd just cut him to the quick without giving it a thought. It must have been the wine.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

"No. You're right," the Doctor said sadly. "I just don't have it." He sighed deeply.

Sarah felt awkward. She didn't know what to do now. They both sat for a moment staring into their empty plates.

Then the TARDIS lurched. The bottle of wine rocked off the serving cart and hit the floor with a thud then a hiss of spilling liquid. The Doctor grabbed the table to keep it from dumping its contents. Sarah jumped out of her chair and stumbled over the cart, which had rolled into her way.

"Oh no!" the Doctor cried. "I forgot! I was working on the temporal stabilisers, then I went of on this cooking tangent. I left the forward bank half disassembled!"

He was up and rushing out of the room in less time than it took him to speak.

Sarah stumbled after him, feeling her way through the dark kitchen. By the time she got to the console room, he was already lying on the floor working up underneath the control panels, his head inside the pedestal.

"Sarah Jane," he called out. "Is that you? I need the neutron ram!"

Sarah got the tool box and sat down next to him, handing him the tool he needed.

Ten minutes and three tools later, the Doctor pulled his head out of the console.

"That should hold it for a while," he said. "Sorry this interrupted your dinner."

Sarah smiled.

"That's all right. This is sort of romantic."

THE END