It wasn’t really the last thing she ever expected to see parked in her garden when she returned home, though it was hardly the first, either. But there it sat, an out of place, out of time blue police box, parked haphazardly amongst the flowers and bushes. It rather ruined the effect of the landscaping.
She was less surprised to see it now than she would have been a week previously, since she’d had a strong suspicion that the Doctor had definitely had something to do with the mysterious Harold Saxon and the incredible events that had been televised to the world from the aircraft carrier Valiant. The President of the United States assassinated by aliens, the charismatic new British Prime Minister apparently barking mad and quite dangerous… the Doctor had to have been involved.
It had been two days since those events had shocked the world, and things had not quite returned to normal. The aliens were again being passed off as a hoax, the deranged PM being blamed for the assassination and luckily not the entire British nation, though relations were somewhat strained. Saxon, himself, was supposed to be dead, but there had been no convincing proof as far as Sarah Jane could tell. She had been one of the precious few who had not been instantly won over by Saxon’s not inconsiderable charm, and she knew that there was something more to what had happened than what the world was apparently prepared to believe.
So she really wasn’t all that surprised to see the TARDIS sitting in her back yard mere days later. A bit confused, perhaps, since she hadn’t honestly expected to see him again. A bit worried, for the same reason. What had brought him to her doorstep?
Loathe to waste time in finding out, she carefully placed her bag of groceries atop her car and then shoved her keys into a convenient pocket as she made her way to the TARDIS. She contemplated knocking, but then decided to try the door first. It was unlocked.
She stepped inside, and had only a moment to take in the sight of the still unfamiliar new console room before she was abruptly blindsided. She found herself with an armful of clingy Time Lord and was absurdly glad that she had left the groceries behind.
“You’re alive! Sarah Jane Smith, you’re alive! You’re breathing and everything!” he babbled, holding on to her tightly. She returned the embrace, stunned at his frantic monologue. “You’re actually alive! Well, of course you are. I mean, I knew you would be. No reason to expect otherwise. None at all. Of course. But here you are! And you’re alive! And that’s just brilliant!”
She waited patiently for him to run out of words, looking him over carefully as best she could while he was so closely wrapped around her. This was the same incarnation that she had met at the school, which at least meant that he hadn’t gotten himself killed lately. He was just as full of manic energy as ever, but he seemed to have picked up a desperate edge that worried her. Even more troublingly, he was acting as if he’d truly expected to find her dead despite an intellectual knowledge that she was alive. She couldn't fathom what would cause such a reaction in him, and wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to know.
But she asked him anyway, because asking questions was what she did and she knew that he knew that.
“Hello, yourself, Doctor. Any particular reason for this reaffirmation of my continued existence?” she asked mildly when he finally fell silent.
He didn’t give up his hold on her, but rather mumbled his oddly succinct reply into her shoulder, “No.”
“Are you sure?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he answered, his voice still muffled into her jacket.
“Really? Because you don’t sound sure at all,” she said gently.
“Yes,” he said a little more firmly, though his actions spoke differently as he squeezed her a bit tighter.
“Are you going to go monosyllabic on me, now?” she asked.
“No,” he sighed, finally pulling away from her a bit. “Sorry. I just… sorry.”
“That’s better,” she smiled at him. “Though I’m not entirely sure what you’re apologizing for.”
He mutely shook his head, dropping his arms and taking a small step back to give her some space. As he moved away she could see him properly for the first time, and didn’t much like what she saw. He looked his age, an impressive feat for a 900-year-old who lived in the body of a 30-year-old. He looked tired, his eyes red as if he’d been crying recently, and he wouldn’t meet her gaze. He stood before her, arms wrapped around himself now that they were no longer wrapped around her, a frightening air of defeat about him.
“What happened?” she breathed, reaching out to him again.
He shrunk back from her touch, turning away to lean against one of the TARDIS railings.
“You were… nothing. I just wanted to see you, that’s all,” he said, the lie pathetically clear in his tone of voice.
“Doctor,” she said warningly, not about to let him get away with some misdirection and a liberal coat of whitewash. Not after the greeting he’d just given her.
His shoulders were hunched up as he leaned heavily against the railing, resolutely facing away from her, one giant ball of tension. She moved beside him and reached up to place a hand on his back, rubbing what she hoped were soothing circles across the smooth fabric of his coat.
Maybe he was here just because he wanted to see her. But he knew her, knew that she would ask questions and refuse to let him off the hook until he either explained himself to her satisfaction or fled in the TARDIS. She knew that he understood that, had always understood that. So that’s exactly what she would do.
“Doctor,” she repeated, gentler this time. “Tell me what happened.”
“I…” he took a shuddering breath. “I don't even know where to begin.”
She was sorely tempted to tell him to begin at the beginning, but she realized that his life was hardly linear and that it might be a bit more complicated than that. She would have to ask him leading questions, and choose them carefully. She decided to start with one that she had a bit of a personal interest in, having grown to like the companion she’d met with him at the school.
“Tell me what happened to Rose,” she said.
His next breath sounded suspiciously like a sob, and his knees buckled. She was surprised when he actually let himself crumple to the floor beneath the railing, as if he didn’t have the energy to prop himself up any longer. She sat beside him, reaching her arms around him again, letting him hide his face in her shoulder. His breathing remained oddly steady, though it was a long moment before he spoke, his voice again muffled by the fabric of her jacket.
“Do you know what happened at Canary Wharf?” he asked her.
She considered her reply carefully. “Only what’s in the official records. I wasn’t sure what to believe.”
“The official records are pretty much accurate,” he admitted quietly.
“Oh, Doctor,” she said sorrowfully. The official records told a horrifying story of millions of Daleks and millions of Cybermen, with the Doctor caught between them. In the official records, Rose Tyler was listed amongst the dead.
“She’s… she’s not dead,” the Doctor explained, still speaking into her shoulder. “She’s just in the other universe. With her mum, and Mickey. She’s got her family there. A life. It’s… it’s good. But she’s trapped there. I can’t ever get her back. I sent a message, to see her again, to say goodbye. You taught me that, Sarah Jane. But you know me, I talk too much. Time Lord, me, and I ran out of time. I didn’t get to tell her… and now I’ll never see her again. She’s gone.”
Sarah wasn’t sure that this was really a better outcome from the Doctor’s point of view, leaving him with regrets and bereft but yet with nothing to mourn. So she latched on to the one bright spot she could see. “But she’s alive.”
“Yes,” the Doctor agreed. “So alive. I’m... it’s been a while for me since then. I miss her… so much… but she’s alive. And that’s good.”
They were silent for a moment, the Doctor sitting slumped against her and Sarah thinking about what she’d just heard. He seemed to be dealing with the loss of Rose as well as could be expected, and he’d said that it had been a while for him. Something else had happened to put him in a state where he would visit her more than half expecting to find her dead, and would then let her hold him as she currently was.
“Have you traveled with anyone since then?” she asked her next leading question when the moment seemed right.
“Yes. There was Donna, temporarily. Donna was… unique,” he said, his voice momentarily lighter. Sarah had to wonder what Donna’s story was. Then the Doctor continued, “And then I met Martha Jones. I hadn’t meant to take a companion, rather wanted to be alone, but Martha was so brilliant… she saved my life, you know, when we first met. Just like Rose did.”
He seemed wistful, reminiscing about adventures of which Sarah had no knowledge. She kept quiet and let him tell her shoulder about Martha, the brilliant med student who had saved his life and then somehow worked her way into the TARDIS and his hearts. He told her of some of their adventures, both the happy, like the time they met Shakespeare, and horrible, like the time he’d nearly been killed, possibly permanently, by an angry sun creature. She let him talk, listening more to the emotions in his voice than to the stories themselves, until he finally seemed to run out of words again.
She felt like she understood Martha just a little, yet another companion who had fallen in love despite knowing better. And the Doctor did love her in return, just not in the way that Martha and Sarah and no doubt others had wished. She thought perhaps he had loved Rose that way, but she knew now it was too late for them and it would only be unnecessarily cruel to ask.
“What happened to Martha?” she asked instead. He stiffened in her embrace, just for a moment, and Sarah knew that she was nearing the heart of the matter.
“Nothing. She’s back with her family now,” the Doctor replied, relaxing again, letting Sarah support his weight.
“But that’s not the whole story,” Sarah pointed out.
“No. No, it isn’t,” the Doctor sighed. Then he seemed to go off on a tangent, saying, “We met up with Jack again. Oh, but you don’t know Jack. Right… Jack Harkness is an ex-Time Agent who traveled with me, and Rose, back before this regeneration. He was killed, exterminated by a Dalek, and then brought back to life. Changed. Turned into an impossible fact of nature, a man who the universe refuses to let die. He’s immortal. And he’s wrong, all my senses just crawl even thinking about him. I was busy dying, myself, regenerating, and… and I ran. I left him there. But he found me again, when Martha and I stopped off at the rift in Cardiff to let the TARDIS recharge. He found me, and he followed me to the end of the universe. Literally. And that’s where…”
He trailed off, trembling slightly at whatever memory he had come to. There was so much Sarah wanted to ask about this impossible Jack, but she didn’t want to lose the momentum that the Doctor finally seemed to have gained in his story.
“And that’s where what?” she prodded gently.
“The end of the universe… the very death of Creation, itself… that’s where the Master was hiding,” the Doctor said.
“The Master?” Sarah questioned, having to think for a moment to place the name. “Do you mean that other Time Lord we met when multiple versions of you got pulled into the Death Zone?”
The Doctor nodded without looking up from her shoulder. He was trembling again, ever so slightly.
“Who is he, Doctor?” she asked him. All she remembered of the Master was a slightly shifty character who had been something of a nuisance during that adventure, and that the Doctor hadn’t trusted him.
“He was…” he paused, gathering the courage to put his thoughts into words, and Sarah Jane did not miss the change in verb tense. “He was my best friend, and then he was my best enemy. But he’s gone now, Sarah. Gone. They’re all gone. Everyone died.”
The despair was so thick in his voice, it was all she could do to hold him tighter.
“You… you said that before. In the school. I wondered what you meant,” she prompted gently.
“There was a war,” he replied, barely whispering now, and she had to strain to hear him. He adopted a flat monotone, as if he were reciting these words for the hundredth time and they no longer held any meaning for him. “A Time War. The last great Time War. My people fought the Daleks, with the entire universe at stake. And we lost. Everybody lost. Gallifrey burned, and most of the Daleks with it. And I survived. But everyone else died.”
It was too big, too horrifying. Sarah couldn’t imagine mighty Gallifrey burning, the Time Lords destroyed, the Daleks winning. The Doctor, left alone and devastated in the aftermath. She found herself rocking him gently as he spoke, desperate to give him some small comfort. He allowed it, as he allowed her embrace, sitting passively in her arms.
“What about the Master?” she asked, guiding him back to the thread of their conversation.
“He ran,” the Doctor answered, his voice harder now but yet not unkind. “The Time Lords brought him back again, to fight, and maybe it was one too many times. He couldn’t take it… he hadn’t been well since we were children, but he’d always been in control… but this time… it was too much for him. He told me he saw the Daleks take the Cruciform. He told me that he was so scared he ran… ran to the end of the universe. And that’s where I found him. Oh, Sarah, I’d thought I was the only one left! Despite everything I was so happy to see him…”
“What happened at the end of the universe?” she asked when he trailed off again.
“He stole the TARDIS,” the Doctor replied simply, though Sarah could read a much more complicated story behind what he wasn’t saying. “He stole the TARDIS, and left Martha, Jack, and I stranded.”
“How did you get back? How did you get the TARDIS back?” she questioned.
“Jack was a Time Agent, he had a Vortex Manipulator. I had my trusty sonic screwdriver. It was a bumpy ride, but we made it back. We arrived just a few days ago, in fact,” the Doctor mused.
“So the Master took the TARDIS here? Now?” Sarah inferred.
“I fused the coordinates before he left. He could only travel between here and now, and the end of the universe. Give or take about eighteen months on either end,” he clarified.
“So he came here, eighteen months ago,” she said, a statement this time instead of a question, as she started to piece together a wild theory. All that research into the too-good-to-be-true Harold Saxon… research that a journalist friend of hers might very well have died for… research that proved Harold Saxon only became a real person eighteen months ago.
“He did,” the Doctor confirmed.
“He was… he was Harold Saxon! The Prime Minister was a Time Lord!” Sarah said, voice tinged with wonderment.
“He was,” the Doctor agreed, his own voice more subdued as he trembled again.
It brought her back to reality. Something had happened, something very bad. Something that, on top of everything he had just told her, had left the Doctor as this emotionally exhausted, so very human seeming man in her arms. And here she sat, holding him, bringing him closer and closer to the memory of that something with her endless questions. She began to second guess herself, wondering if she was doing the right thing in leading him through this conversation, despite how willing he seemed to follow. Was she correct in assuming that he’d come to her because of her ability to ask the right questions? Or was she just fooling herself and taking advantage of his unusually vulnerable and talkative state?
As if sensing her sudden discomfort, the Doctor finally raised his head off of her shoulder to look at her, meeting her gaze for the first time. “Sarah?” he asked, searchingly, looking for something in her eyes.
She didn’t know if he found what he was looking for, but she saw her answer in his gaze and it reaffirmed her resolve. This was why he had come to her. He needed to tell this story, and she could help him do it.
“Shh, I’m alright,” she said, bringing a hand up to the back of his head and gently guiding him back to her shoulder, where she knew he felt more comfortable, as if hiding from the world. When he was settled again, she quietly requested, “Tell me what really happened on the Valiant.”
“The Master was using the Archangel network to hypnotize the entire population. That’s how he got elected. That’s how he got control of everything. Then he turned my TARDIS into a Paradox Machine, and tore a hole in the very fabric of reality to let the Toclafane through. Six billion of them, swarming over the Earth bringing death and destruction with them,” the Doctor told her.
“But… wouldn’t I have noticed that? There were only ever four of those metal alien ball things,” she asked, confused.
“No, you’re right. But you did notice. Everyone did,” the Doctor replied, simply confusing her more. She decided to just let him continue. “The Master ruled the Earth for a whole year, the Toclafane were his shock troops. He decimated the population on the first day. Enslaved the rest through terror. Turned entire countries into weapons factories.”
Sarah felt as if she’d lost the thread of reality, or perhaps the Doctor had. She didn’t remember any such year, and she knew that only days had passed since the events on the Valiant. But she stuck with his story, willing to believe in impossible things where he was involved.
“What about you and Martha and Jack? What did you do during that year?” she asked.
“Martha escaped the Valiant that day. She traveled the world, spreading stories and hope. Brilliant Martha Jones… she saved us all. As for me and Jack… we didn’t escape,” the Doctor explained.
Sarah swallowed thickly. “What… what happened to you and Jack?”
“We… the Master… he was… I think he killed Jack hundreds of times just for fun,” he finally said.
This was another horror that she could barely imagine. An immortal man, killed repeatedly for the amusement of his captor. She swallowed again, and asked, “What about you?”
“He… do you know about the Lazarus technology?” he asked, and when he felt her nod he continued, “He modified it… used it to suspend my regenerative capabilities and age me. I spent that year looking and feeling as old as I really am. And the whole time there was nothing I could do but wait and hope that Martha would succeed.”
And this, too, was hard for her to imagine. The Doctor, usually so full of energy and life, unnaturally aged. Helpless, in the hands of a homicidal madman. She wondered how he had survived it, let alone been restored to his youthful form. And she still didn’t understand when this horrible year had taken place. The Doctor’s description would place it as starting this very week, but she knew that the events he was describing were not taking place. There was only one explanation that made any sense.
“How did you undo the paradox?” she asked him, surprising him with her clever perceptiveness.
“Martha spread hope amongst the remaining human population while Jack kept the Master… occupied… and I spent my time tuning myself to the Archangel network. When a year had passed, and the Master was about to launch the triumphant war fleet he had built with the slave labor of a conquered Earth, Martha allowed herself to be caught and brought to the Valiant. We used his countdown against him. She had spent that year spreading the instruction across the planet for every single human to tune their thoughts to the Archangel network and to me at that very moment. I had the combined psychic power of what was left of the human race running through me. It restored me to my proper form, and allowed me to defeat the Master,” the Doctor paused, and then chuckled darkly. “And Jack shot the hell out of the Paradox Machine. Everything rewound to the moment before the Master had let the Toclafane through. Nobody will ever remember the Year That Never Was except those of us who were on the Valiant at that moment.”
She hugged him tighter again, not liking the dark tinge to his voice. A thought occurred to her then, one she could not let go, and she asked, “So I lived through that year, too, but I won’t ever remember it?”
“No,” the Doctor contradicted. “It was completely undone. It never actually happened, except in the memories of a few unlucky people. But no… you didn’t live through that year.”
“What?” she asked, unsure what he meant by his last statement.
He didn’t respond, and it took her a moment to realize that he was caught in a memory from that phantom year. She pushed him up slightly, trying to catch his eyes, shake him back to the present.
“Doctor?” she called.
“You didn’t live, Sarah,” he said then, not really speaking to her but rather narrating the scene replaying itself in his mind, his eyes glazed over. “None of you did.”
“None of who, Doctor?”
“My companions,” the Doctor answered, meeting her gaze for a moment before sliding away again. “He found you, all of you who are living on Earth now, and brought you all to the Valiant. To me. None of you escaped. He killed you. Killed you all…”
She choked at this, tears forming unbidden in her eyes. The Master had rounded up everyone the Doctor loved, and killed them in front of him. Including her, as frightening and impossible as that idea felt. It didn’t matter that it had been undone, had never truly happened. The Doctor remembered it, and would never be able to forget.
“Oh, God, Doctor,” she cried, reaching up to cup his cheek tenderly.
He still seemed lost in the memory, and didn’t respond to her touch, instead repeating his horrible mantra, “He killed you all. You died, Sarah. I saw you die.”
She shook her head, stroking his cheek, trying to reach him. “But you undid that year. It never happened. I’m alive, Doctor, we’re all alive. Please, look at me. I’m alive!”
The Doctor’s eyes finally focused on her again, and he reached out to touch her face hesitantly. “You’re alive,” he breathed, not quite believing it.
“I am. I’m alive. Breathing and everything,” she laughed a bit hysterically through her tears, quoting the rant he had greeted her with earlier.
“You are, you are,” he agreed, collapsing against her again, his arms wrapped around her waist as hers cradled him, his head once again coming to rest on her shoulder. “You’re alive. My Sarah Jane. Alive.”
She felt him calming marginally as she caught her own breath. What he’d told her so far was enough to give her nightmares for weeks, and she knew that there was more to come.
“What happened to the Master?” she asked when they had both calmed, knowing that this was where the story led next.
“What he did… I wanted to hate him. But I couldn’t… he was all I had. Do you understand? All I had left. So I forgave him everything. I thought I could help him. Fix what had driven him so dangerously mad,” the Doctor told her, now sounding infinitely tired. “But Lucy… the woman he married as Harold Saxon, the woman he abused as Harold Saxon… she shot him. She wasn’t the only who wanted to, but she was so quiet, so… unnoticeable… I never saw her. And she shot him.”
“He regenerated?” Sarah assumed, knowing to expect it from a mortally wounded Time Lord.
“No,” the Doctor denied, still sounding so tired. “He didn’t. He should have. But he refused. I held him, begged him to regenerate, and he looked up at me and laughed. Said he’d finally won. He died in my arms, Sarah. He’s gone, just like the rest of them. I’m the only one left.”
The despair she’d heard in his voice before was missing now, a lack which frightened her. In its place was now a deeply exhausted detachment. He sounded lost.
She knew they were nearing the end of the story, and that this was better ended quickly than dragged out any farther. She could only pray that whatever had forced the Doctor to seek her out for this hopefully therapeutic question and answer session would lose its power over him when he finally finished telling her about it. So she forged ahead, asking the final question.
“What happened to Jack and Martha?”
He was quiet for a long moment, and then he began to speak again. “I asked Jack if he wanted to come back on the TARDIS, even sort of apologized for reacting so badly to his… condition. But he has responsibilities here, now… a team he cares for and a job he believes in. I undid my modifications to his Vortex Manipulator the day after we rewound time, and then he went back to his beloved Torchwood.”
Torchwood… Sarah knew that name. Again, there were so many questions about this Jack that she wanted to ask. But, again, she knew that this wasn’t the time. She was beginning to understand what had driven the Doctor to her.
“And Martha?” she asked, wondering if the med student had made the same decision as the immortal.
“Martha… her family was on the Valiant. Her mother and her father and her sister… they all remember that year, all except her brother. They were… the Master was not kind to them. She told me they were devastated. I can understand that. I can. She had to stay with them. She had to help them. And she needs to finish her degree,” the Doctor explained, sounding very much like he was trying to convince himself equally as much as Sarah.
“So she stayed behind as well,” Sarah summarized.
“She did,” the Doctor confirmed. “I brought her home to see her family just after we dropped off Jack. She decided to stay a few hours later.”
Sarah nodded to herself. She understood now, after hearing all the pieces of the Doctor’s painfully remembered story. She couldn’t help hating Martha Jones and Jack Harkness just a little, despite knowing everything they’d gone through with the Doctor. She didn’t know them, but she knew that they’d abandoned him. And she found herself hating them for that.
The Doctor wasn’t human, she knew that. But he did have emotions, and he could be hurt the same as a human. He had just told her how he’d lost his entire species, then lost Rose, then been taunted with the discovery of another Time Lord, and then lost him again. Not to mention having seen several of his previous companions murdered in front of him, even if it had turned out to have never happened. Jack and Martha had been with him through a lot of it, had surely understood the alien at least as well as any companion inevitably could.
And yet on the eve of the devastating events of the Year That Never Was, instead of pulling together and helping each other, they had scattered to their independent support systems. Hadn’t they known that they were the Doctor’s support system? Hadn’t they known that he would need support, just as much as themselves? They must have known what he had gone through, and yet they had left the Doctor alone.
In Sarah’s eyes, it was an unconscionable sin. She could sympathize with their experiences, could even bring herself to understand why they had both run. But she was the one faced with the aftermath, the one who sat on the floor of the TARDIS console room with a distraught Doctor curled up against her, listening as he poured out his own devastation and heartbreak.
She wanted to scream, cry, break priceless china, and rage against the cruelty of a universe that had so badly abused the man in her arms. Feeling decidedly impotent, she resigned herself to simply holding him. He whimpered into her shoulder, a sound that nearly drew a helpless sob from her own throat.
“They left me, Sarah,” he told her, his voice breaking. “They all left me. I don’t want to be alone!”
It was one of the most basic necessities of most sentient life, Sarah knew. The desire for companionship. The need to share one’s existence with another. The Doctor, for all that he often denied it, so obviously thrived on it that he seemed to attract traveling companions almost without meaning to. He might give her a furious Time Lord glare for saying so, but he was ultimately a very social creature.
And in a reaction completely understandable in any sentient being who had lost so much, he could no longer bear to face the world alone.
“I’m here,” she told him, rubbing soothing circles on his back again. “Shh, I’m here. You aren’t alone. I’m here.”
“Why!?” he sobbed, the eternal refrain of frightened little boys, lonely widowers, and battle scarred soldiers.
There was no answer, and she knew that he wasn't asking her for one. So she tried to keep reminding him that in this moment, at least, he was not alone.
“I’m here, Doctor, I’m here.”
The world outside the still partially open TARDIS door had faded from late afternoon to evening as they’d talked, and now it faded from evening to night as they cried. It seemed somehow fitting.
Sarah felt drained, nearly as worn out from pulling the Doctor’s story out of him as he was from the telling of it. On one level she was glad that he had come to her, and that she had been able to ask the questions he needed her to ask. But mostly she was deeply saddened that he had needed it at all.
When he quieted, again falling limply against her, she realized that he had cried himself to sleep. It was good, he could use the rest. She looked down at him, seeing the exhaustion on his impossibly young features. It felt wrong to see him this way, when he should be all manic grins and bouncing energy. She found herself wishing that there was some magical cure she could give him to ease his pain, other than the simple passage of time.
She knew he would wake fairly soon, that he never slept for long, so she was content to sit on the mildly uncomfortable TARDIS floor and hold him until he woke on his own. And she knew that when he did wake again, he would still be unnaturally quiet and clingy. She would lead him out of the TARDIS and into her home, remembering to rescue her groceries along the way, and install him on her sofa.
She would make tea, which he would drink as long as she continued to place it in front of him, and she would join him on the sofa. They would talk more, through the night and into the morning, both about the Year That Never Was and about pleasanter things. He wouldn’t cry again, nor would he sleep. She would stay awake as long as she could, to keep him company.
But she would nod off eventually, probably sometime in the late morning, and he would remain on the sofa, unmoving, to watch over her. When she woke again he would still be there, as if she had only blinked her eyes for a moment.
And as the hours passed, she would notice him beginning to return to himself. He would smile again. And then laugh. He would be his old self in time for a late supper, at which point he would probably make a god-awful mess in her kitchen.
After supper, and inevitably after more tea, he would hug her tightly as they stood in the garden near the TARDIS. She would hug him back just as tightly as he whispered his thanks almost inaudibly. She would whisper back a reminder that he was always welcome, and never alone.
Then he would smile again, that beautiful, brilliant smile that she loved so much. They would say goodbye, almost cheerfully. And then he would leave, the odd little blue police box disappearing back into her memories and dreams with a wheeze and a bang.
Because he would be fine, she knew. He was always fine.
She could help him, this time, give him the reassurance that he needed to navigate the quagmire of loss and guilt that currently ensnared him. She knew all the right questions to ask, to help him tell her the things that he needed to share with someone. After all, that’s what Sarah Jane Smith did. She knew what questions needed to be asked, and she had the courage to ask them.
Even though she knew he would leave her again.