Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: Tim Latimer, Joan Redfern
Word Count: 2635
Summary: Stuck at school weeks before the term start, Tim Latimer tries to enjoy an afternoon of peaceful solitude.
Sticking his head in at the door and glancing around, the skinny, red-haired boy ran his tongue over his lips as he determined that the dormitory was empty. Latimer had finally managed to give Coleman the slip and was happy to finally get some time to himself. Striding across the room to the trunk beside his bed, he fished the key out of his pocket and opened it, then dug under his neatly-folded uniforms, schoolbooks, and supplies to pull out a large sketchbook and his pencils. Closing and locking the trunk, he checked it a second and third time out of habit; three years of attendance at Farringham had taught him that he should never leave an unlocked trunk in a room full of devious schoolboys.
It wasn’t that he disliked Coleman, he mused as he walked. The boy was decent enough. Like Latimer himself, he’d arrived at the school early, two weeks before the start of the year, but unlike Latimer, Coleman was a first-year student, unfamiliar with the school that will be his home for much of the next few years and missing his family acutely. The only friendly face was Latimer’s, and the boy had latched himself onto the older student, following him around everywhere. This was the first time in three days that Latimer had lost his little shadow, as the matron had taken it upon herself to befriend and console the little boy, and he planned to enjoy every moment of it.
Latimer trotted down the steep back staircase closest to the dormitory, Lloyd House, clutching his sketchbook close under one arm while he straightened his jacket and shorts with his free hand. Even though he wasn't required to wear his uniform whilst still on holiday, the few teachers who were around would expect him to look his best, to uphold the reputation of the school. He skirted around a maid dusting the bannisters and stepped into the first-floor hall.
The school, a huge converted manor house, was silent and somewhat spooky. Without the press of boys everywhere distracting him, Latimer could appreciate the beauty of the building and its furnishings, kept spotless and shining by the maids and footmen every day. The brass fixtures gleamed and the mahogany paneling almost glowed from its polish. The boy stole a surreptitious glance around before dragging his hand over the smooth wood as he walked; being caught doing so by the headmaster would earn him a beating.
Pushing open a heavy door, Latimer stepped onto the back terrace of the school, then crossed it to a spot on the stone wall that enclosed it. This was a favorite spot of his, where he could sit against a post and look out over the lawn where, during the school year, the students practiced their shooting. During the holiday, the targets were removed and his view was clear to the distant trees. Maybe later he might walk into the wood and find a place to sit and sketch, but for now, the wood itself was his subject.
Settling down, he opened his sketchbook to the first empty page, selected a pencil, and started drawing. He tended to lose himself in his art, ignoring time and everything around him if he wasn't careful. Of course, he didn't need to be careful right now: he was on holiday, and few people were around to bother him.
Some forty minutes later, he paused in his work and rolled the stiffness out of his shoulders. He then glanced down at the page and pursed his lips in disapproval. He had started to draw the lawn, ringed by the trees, but part of the way through the preliminary lines, he had abandoned it and drew up in the corner of the sheet a rather detailed image of a woman lying in bed in a plainly decorated room, the expression on her face making her look rather ill. Latimer had no idea who the woman was; he just drew what he saw in his mind. He did wish that the impulse to draw these strange ideas didn't happen on the same page where he was trying to draw something else.
He flipped to another page and began drawing again, this time keeping himself aware of what he was doing so that he didn't ruin another picture. He'd finished the guidelines and had lightly pencilled the outlines of the trees when a pleasant female voice sounded behind him. "Your work is excellent, Mr. Latimer. Have you been taking art classes, or have you taught yourself?"
Latimer dropped the sketchbook on the wall and hopped to his feet in a formal stance. "Matron. Good afternoon, ma'am. I'm, uh, self-taught mostly."
Matron Redfern, the nurse who ran the school's infirmary, was a plain, kind-looking woman who, when in her nurse's uniform with her light brown hair tied into a severe bun, usually looked far older and sterner than she was. As the school was on holiday, she was in civilian clothes, a flowery day dress without her usual apron, and her long hair was tied back in a loose bun at the nape of her neck. Latimer was a frequent patient of hers; while he was not one to catch colds, he often found himself in her office being treated for unexplained scrapes and bruises. Well, unexplained to her, anyway.
The matron smiled at him in a friendly manner. "You don't have to do that. It's holiday. You're not a student now, and I'm not the matron."
"Thank you, ma'am." Latimer didn't feel comfortable being more familiar than that, and though he shifted his feet to stand casually, he fiddled with the pencil in his hand as a nervous outlet.
"I wanted to thank you for looking after Mr. Coleman. He's a bit young to be left here alone during holiday and he misses his family quite a bit." She glanced back at the school building. "I have him writing a letter home right now. It should keep him occupied for another half an hour."
"It's really nothing, ma'am," Latimer assured her. "It's nice having a friend. The school is too quiet, especially at night."
Matron Redfern smiled. She knew that Latimer was trying to discount himself. "Timothy. I know it's not easy to take responsibility for another child, especially when I'm sure you'd like your time to yourself. You should know that it's not gone unnoticed."
The boy mumbled a thank-you. He always felt uncomfortable accepting someone's gratitude.
"I noticed that you arrived here much earlier than he did, almost three weeks before the start of school. I thought I had heard that you weren't going to be attending Farringham this year. If I may ask, is everything all right at home?" She peered at him with polite concern.
Latimer hastened to assure her that he and his father were fine. "We were going to move down near London and I would go to school there. My father already had a buyer for the house, but he was suddenly transferred to a different regiment, in Calcutta. He only had the time to secure a bed for me here." He shrugged. "Perhaps next year, I'll be going to school in London."
The matron nodded in sympathy. "I'm sorry that your father had to leave. You must miss him dearly."
"I do, thank you," replied Latimer with a slight bow, because he knew that was the expected reply. When he pictured his father, he saw a severe, strict army colonel who had little time for his son but expected him to follow in his footsteps. While he loved his father, he felt just as at home at the school as he did with him.
She patted the boy on the shoulder. "Well, if you need someone to talk to, or just want to chat, you know where to find me. I'm not here every day right now, but as the school year nears, I have more and more to do to prepare the infirmary, so I'm not too hard to find."
“Thank you, ma’am.” Latimer bowed. Matron Redfern bestowed another gentle smile on him before she turned and strolled back into the school building.
Perching himself back on the wall and picking up his sketchbook, the boy started working on the individual trees, filling out the foliage and branches while musing on the conversation he’d just had. The matron was a kind woman. She played mother to the students while they were at school and away from their family, but most of the boys tended to treat her more like a governess: someone who should have authority and who they paid lip service to while the teachers were around but who otherwise was the target of practical jokes and what they thought was subtle insubordination; she weathered it all with a stoic bearing. And yet, when they needed comfort or protection, she was the one they ran to.
Latimer was sure that the matron was a lot more observant than she let on. He liked to pretend to himself that whenever he arrived in the infirmary with unexplained injuries, she didn’t notice how often it happened or that he was hiding the cause from her, but he knew she understood what was going on; she simply couldn’t do anything until he was willing to point a finger. And he wouldn’t. Such an action would get him in far worse trouble with his housemates.
Pulling his knees up and propping the sketchbook on them, he finished up the last of the trees, then began to draw the path that led into them from the armoury. As he tried to decide if he should draw the building that held all of the school’s military equipment or replace it with the detached dormitory, a deep voice sounded behind him.
“What are you frittering away your time with now, Latimer?”
The boy didn’t need to turn to know who was speaking; the raspy boom was undeniably Mr. Davenport, the history teacher. A very tall, portly man who had been teaching at Farringham longer than any of the other faculty members, he was easily Latimer’s least favorite teacher: stern, humourless, set in his ways. The boy knew that even a moment’s delay in response would anger him, and, dropping the sketchbook, he jumped up immediately to stand at military attention, in a far more rigid and formal stance than he had favored Matron Redfern with, a more formal stance than any other teacher would require, even the headmaster. The book hit the edge of the wall and fell at his feet.
“Mr. Davenport, sir. Just sketching, sir.”
“At ease, Latimer.” Mr. Davenport, dressed in a casual sweater and trousers, ducked down and snagged the book. He glanced at the top page, then dropped it on the wall, none too gently. “Just because you’re on holiday does not mean you can afford to ignore your education and idle away your time. Lazy sods, all of you. You should be practising your drills. Maybe improve your shoddy performance on the guns last year. Have you been working on it?"
"Yes, sir," Latimer lied. He really disliked that part of the curriculum and ignored it when he could. "Mr. Baines took some time last May to train me, and I practise every morning."
"Good, good," murmured the teacher. "We'll make a soldier of you yet. Your father would be proud. How is your summer reading coming along?”
This time, the boy could tell the truth. “Well, sir. I’ve finished all of the history and military books, and am nearly done with the Latin translations.”
Mr. Davenport harrumphed; he’d clearly not expected that answer. “Not enough, eh? Come by my office later today. I’ve a good account of the Pretoria Convention that should be instructive, prepare you for this year's subject matter. I'm sure you could digest it into an essay for me.”
“Yes, sir.” Latimer managed to sound convincingly eager, concealing his resentment of the new holiday assignment.
The teacher stepped to turn away, but turned back, his expression softened a bit. “Come by at tea time. We can have a drink and a chat. I don’t get to talk with students much.”
Taken aback, the boy stuttered out, “Er, oh, yes, sir. I’ll be there, sir.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Latimer? A bit of a chat? And scones and cream, and cakes you boys don’t get in your dormitories. We get the good food,” the man bragged, jabbing his thumb at his own chest.
“Yes, sir, I would. Thank you, sir.” Trying to get into the teacher’s good graces, he added, “And I hope your wife feels better soon, sir.”
His eyebrows crinkling into a hard stare, Mr. Davenport leaned into Latimer’s face. “What did you say, boy?”
Latimer realised only after he had spoken that the woman in his drawing was the teacher's wife, and that, like usual, mentioning such a thing only got him in trouble. “I’m sorry, sir. I was just hoping she’ll be okay.” But it didn't take strange visions to tell him that the woman was dangerously ill; he could see the desperation in Mr. Davenport's eyes, in the way he attempted to conceal it by lashing out at the boy in front of him.
“Are my troubles so well known that you schoolboys are gossiping about me behind my back?” the teacher growled. “How dare you speak to me like that? Idle, ignorant boy! Apparently you don't have enough to do. Report to the armoury this instant!"
"But, sir -"
Glowering, Mr. Davenport drew himself up to his formidable full height. "Don't you think you've said enough? Perhaps, as you clean every gun in the magazine, you'll think about it and learn to keep your nose out of other people's business. Each one, completely taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled. Do you understand, Mr. Latimer?"
The student knew more protests would only dig his grave deeper, and he snapped to attention. "Yes, sir. I'm sorry, sir."
"And you will keep your mouth shut about my wife. Do you hear me?" Without waiting for an answer, the teacher spun and stalked off toward the main school.
Latimer waited for a moment before relaxing his stance. Sighing, he snatched the sketchbook from the wall and slumped off toward the armoury. Even with the additional reading and essay-writing Mr. Davenport had assigned, the encounter had gone fairly well, and then he had to go and mention one of the strange ideas that so frequently popped into his head. Invariably, they got him into trouble, so why couldn't he learn how to ignore them, or at least not tell anyone about them? The problem was that they were as natural as thinking, and he usually never realised that he couldn't possibly know them before he said them out loud.
Well, there really wasn’t much he could do until he learned to be discreet. Do as you’re told. Keep your head down. Don’t stand out. Keep your mouth shut. And, he reminded himself sternly as he dropped his sketchbook next to the wall and pulled open the armoury’s heavy door with both hands, for God’s sake, keep out of Davenport’s sight! Groaning, he surveyed the racks of munitions before stepping to the cabinet to gather the cleaning supplies.