“Mum, somebody’s at the door!”
“Then answer it, Luke! I’ll be down in just a moment.”
Sarah Jane supposed she should be happy - judging by the stories told by all her friends and associates who had teenagers, Luke’s behaviour was entirely normal for a boy his age. She had wanted him to be normal... just not quite that kind of normal. She shook her head, then straightened her blouse and took a critical look at herself in the mirror. Not bad. Not twenty-five, mind you, and she did miss how... perky everything had been at that age, but overall...
“Mom, it’s Doctor Sullivan!”
“I know, Luke! Just put the kettle on, and I’ll be down in a moment!”
...Overall, she rather wished Luke had been a girl. Judging by Maria, Sarah Jane rather thought a girl would have been easier all around to raise. She was quite sure she hadn’t been that difficult at that age. Although, to be fair, she’d given her aunt a thousand headaches on entirely different matters. In any case, nothing could be done about it now, except to recruit help from those quarters available to her. Which was exactly what today was all about.
“Lovely as ever, old thing,” Harry announced as she descended the staircase.
She gave him a dirty look, for old time’s sake, and then hugged him and pressed a companionable kiss to his cheek - also for old time’s sake, and for all the times between then and now.
“Still corrupting the young, I see.” Harry gestured at Luke’s backpack in explanation.
“I’m not allowed to stop anymore. That legal custody thing...”
“Mmm, indeed. Our young friend seems to be getting on well from what I saw before he disappeared. Had that growth spurt I was predicting last time I was by, I see.”
“Sticking me with the bill for an entirely new wardrobe, I’ll have you know,” Sarah Jane groused as she took Harry’s coat and hung it in the hall closet. “Made worse by bringing his friends shopping with him. I had no idea there was such a thing as high fashion in the world of boys’ trainers.”
“I can imagine.”
“I really think you can’t.”
“In any case, he looks quite healthy. Getting to be the fine figure of a young man. And yourself...?”
“I’m fine, thank you. Getting plenty of exercise--”
“And sleep, thank you very much. I’m even following those nutritional guides you left, so don’t think you have to go snooping through my cupboards like you did last time. The kids find whatever junk I do manage to hid in the house, anyway, so I’ve given up trying. Worse for me than it is for them, in an event,” she added, settling a slightly rueful hand on the slight cushioning that thirty years had added to her stomach.
Harry shook his head. “You know that’s not why I mentioned it. You look the same as ever.”
She smiled fondly up at him. “Don’t lie to me, Harry. You’ve never been good at it. I’ve turned fifty-nine this year, do you know that?”
“I do, as a matter of fact. Largely because I came to it four years ahead of you, but...” Harry dug into his pocket and pulled out a box wrapped in jaunty, bright blue paper with a yellow ribbon. “Happy birthday, Sarah. I know it’s a month late, but--”
“You didn’t need to.”
“I wanted to.”
Sarah gave him a reproving look, then perched on the arm of the sofa and set to opening the package.
“I know I missed the party the kids threw for you--”
She looked up, surprised. “How did you know about that?”
“Luke called me. I wanted to come, but Benton - I’ve told you he’s in the Brigadier’s old spot, haven’t I? Done quite well for himself these past years. Good chap. Anyway, he wanted me to check something out down in Cardiff. Bit of a mess down there these last few years, and this was a bit of a... time sensitive issue. So I thought I’d just give it to you the next time I came up for a visit.”
While he spoke, Sarah had opened the little box, and now was staring at it with no little shock. “Harry...”
“I saw it in the shop, and it reminded me of you. Go on, then. Try it.”
The recording device was tiny - delicately-wrought metal receiver that could easily be tucked into a pocket or even threaded in a buttonhole, with a recording-wire as fine as a thread and a digital recorder so small and thin Sarah was sure she’d have no trouble at all hiding it on her person.
“They don’t sell things like this in shops, Harry...”
“Not exactly,” he admitted, plucking the recorder off the card it was wired to and holding it in the palm of his hand while Sarah fiddled with the microphone part at her collar. “Don’t worry about keeping it outside the fabric, the sensitivity is quite good.”
“You’ll be drummed out one of these days, giving UNIT technology to civilians.”
“No one in UNIT has counted you as a civilian for thirty years, Sarah. Anyway, I told you - Benton’s in charge, now, and you know the old boy would still do anything for you. His wife says hello, by the way.”
“Oh, say hello to her, too. I promise I’ll get up there sometime, it’s just--”
“They know how busy you are. I’ve told them about Luke, and they’re all pleased to hear it’s working out so well. Now, how is that fitting?”
“Lovely.” Sarah shifted around a little, and then twirled. “Not jostling a bit. How much recording memory has it got?”
“In that little thing?” Sarah laughed. “I remember when... well, I remember when it was all done with tape, but I don’t like to admit that around the children. I think the very thought scares them. Harry, this really is too much, you’ve outdone yourself.”
“Just try not to get yourself caught quite so often. I think we’d all prefer having you to having the tape. Which is why this little fellow has a GPS chip in it,” he added, suddenly serious. “I’ve entered its information into UNIT’s systems, and there’s a last resort button right here on it, to set off a distress signal. Whoever has you might pick it up as well, but at least that way we’ll know where you are, and be on our way.”
“I’ll have none of that. It’s bought and paid for, and I know you won’t refuse good equipment. I can’t be here all the time, you know, and it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve needed a hand getting home after one of your adventures.”
Sarah gave him a sad smile. “Alright, alright. I don’t need it, but if it makes you feel better...”
“Good girl.” Harry ignored her glare and handed the box back to her. “Now, you’ll want to read the information on the back of that card...”
“What’s... oh. Harry...” Under the card, a plain gold ring with a single stone of lapis lazuli flanked by two diamonds nestled in tissue paper. “Harry, not again.”
“I told you I wasn’t giving up.” He crossed his arms over his chest, somewhat defensively Sarah thought.
“I don’t want to get married, Harry. I’ve told you that.”
“Then don’t. Just take the ring, and... I suppose I’m old enough now to live in sin, hmm?”
“Scandalizing, I know. Can hardly believe I said it, myself.” He chuckled and looked oddly pleased with himself - a sixty-three year old man who suddenly looked like a teenager congratulating himself for breaking his parents’ rules about curse words. “Just think about it, alright, old thing? Honestly think about it, this time.”
“I don’t need this, you know. If you’re trying to be a gentleman, trying to protect me from...” She flailed awkwardly, gesturing around the house. “I don’t need a man around the house. I manage just fine on my own.”
“I know you do. I’m not likely to miss that after all this time, am I? Anyway, that isn’t the idea. I just... want you to marry me.”
“Harry, this is silly. Have you even thought about this?”
“Of course I have.” Harry drew himself up, affronted. “I’ve thought about it every time I’ve asked.”
“Every time,” Sarah scoffed. “You’ve asked so many times, I don’t think even you’ve been keeping track.”
“Twelve times. Thirteen, counting this one.”
Sarah blinked. “Has it really been that many?”
“It has. Once on the trip from Aberdeen to Croyden, once at the UNIT holiday party that same year, once on that training out in the Orkneys - Corporal Miller still makes fun of me for that, I’ll have you know - New Years’ at that Brigadier’s the year after that...”
“I still say it was absurd of you to go down on your knee right there.”
“How was I to know Alice meant to open the curtains to the balcony at midnight?”
“Everyone in the garden could see you, even if she hadn’t.”
“Hmph. Yes, well. I wasn’t thinking of that just then.”
“You were drunk is what you were, Harry Sullivan. Don’t think I didn’t smell the whiskey on your breath.”
“That was entirely the Brigadier’s fault. He thought I needed loosening up.”
“And you fought him tooth and claw all the way, I’m sure, while he plied you with his best old whiskey.” Sarah laughed and shook her head at him. “You’re a lovely man, Harry, but you don’t really mean all of this. You’re just being a gentleman, like you always have.”
“I do, though! I mean it. Sarah...” Harry looked around, then stepped in close to her, lowering his voice. “I love you. I’ve loved you... oh, probably since the day you and the Doctor kidnapped me and we ended up on that strange ark ship with the giant bugs that wanted to eat all of us.”
“You’d only just met me that day.”
“I know. Which is why I’d understand if you’d pushed me off if I’d asked you to marry me back then, or any of those days when we were gallivanting all over the universe. You had other things on your mind back then, anyway.”
“The Doctor,” Sarah agreed softly.
“You weren’t un-fond of him either, you know.”
“No, I wasn’t,” Harry admitted - a lot more easily than Sarah had expected, actually. Had he loosened up in the years since then, or had she just never noticed how relaxed he really was underneath all that stuffiness? “And that made it easier, a bit. I didn’t want to get between you, if that was going to happen, but it didn’t. At least, if it did, I never...”
“It didn’t,” she assured him, when he trailed off with a slightly nervous questioning look. “He never noticed. Or won’t admit it, if he did.”
“Hmph. Well, he always was a fool about some things,” Harry said, suddenly fierce.
“I’m serious, Sarah. If I had the chance... good God, Sarah. Watching the two of you together... it was all I could do to leave, but I was losing my mind watching you both, just watching, not being able to...” He shook his head. “Well, I was young.”
“We both were.” Sarah set the box she’d been holding on a side table, and touched Harry’s arm gently. “That’s exactly the problem, you see. Harry, we were so young back then... Don’t you suppose it’s likely all of this is just holding onto something that happened decades ago?”
“It isn’t like that. I don’t know what I can do to make you believe me, but...” Harry frowned, and bent to one knee.
“Harry, not on the wood floor! You’re going to hurt your knee again--”
“Sarah Jane Smith--”
“Harry!” Exasperated, Sarah burst into embarrassed laughter.
“Sarah Jane Smith, if you would do me the honor of accepting my ring and proposal, you would make me the happiest man in this universe, with possible exception of the newly appointed Brigadier General John Benton, who by the way sends his affection and wishes that you would, I quote, ‘accept me, god damn it, so that I’ll stop whining at him after our board meetings,’ and also” Harry continued, apparently desperate to keep going now that he’d begun and hadn’t been interrupted, “excepting the former Brigadier General Lethbridge-Stuart, who also wishes very earnestly that you would accept my suit so that he doesn’t have to put quite so much effort into keeping an eye on you. Considering these very fine references, as well as that I have several times proved more than capable of picking you up and carrying you bodily - albeit while unconscious, I must point out, as when conscious you have a nasty tendency to kick and bite - out of harm’s way, while still managing to irritate the hell out of you while you’re awake, and also keeping in mind that I have to drag my old bones all the way up here every six months anyway, to check you for any of the various cancers and other exotic afflictions you might express after a very eventful youth involving far more radiation than is sane or healthy--”
“What’s going on?”
“And considering that I can cook more than three meals that do not involve a freezer package, I... Luke?” Harry twisted his neck around toward the sound of the intruding voice, then winced and pressed a hand to the side of it. “Ow. Ah. Luke, hello. Er... Tea ready, then?”
“It’s been ready for almost twenty minutes.”
“Ah. We’ll be out in just a moment, then. I was just... er... talking to your mother about something.”
Luke tilted his head, regarding them both with solemn, dark eyes. “Are you asking Mum to marry you?”
“Er,” said Sarah Jane.
Harry took a deep breath. “Yes, actually. I am. Is that... er... what would you think of that, Luke? If it were to happen, that is. Because - and please do note that I’m making this statement very clear - your mother hasn’t yet answered me. This time, that is. Er. Because I haven’t got all the way through what I was saying just yet, but that’s rather beside the point, now.”
“It’d be cool, I guess. I mean, Alan says marriage is a mistake, but you already don’t live here, so I guess if you left again it wouldn’t be a big deal, right?”
“That’s Maria’s dad,” Luke supplied, somewhat unhelpfully.
“Maria’s parents went through... rather a bad divorce just recently,” Sarah Jane put in, grateful for a change for a topic of conversation so solid and indiputable as the marital relations of the neighbors. “Her mother moved out.”
“Ah. Well. I would have to say that’s... rather unlikely to happen with your mother and I, Luke. Sarah and I have known each other for quite some time, and she hasn’t yet felt the need to send me packing without a suitcase.”
“Yeah.” Luke continued to watch them closely, then nodded. “Okay. If it’s okay with Mum, it’s okay with me.”
“Sarah?” Harry turned his attention back to her, eager to build on the momentum of this small victory. “What do you think?”
Sarah Jane shook her head. This was all too unbelievable... and for her, that was saying quite a lot, she thought with a little smile. “Get off the floor, Harry. You’ll hurt your knee again, and I’d rather not have to go to hospital today, alright? They’ll ask all sorts of awkward questions.”
“They’re probably used to you as a repeat customer by now,” Harry grumbled, hauling himself up. “I say, that didn’t used to be nearly so difficult. One of these days you’ll have to just accept me, to spare my poor old joints the stress.”
“You’re not old,” Sarah assured him scoldingly.
“Older than you.”
“Then we’re neither of us old, are we?” She patted his chest fondly, and smiled up at him. “We’re... learning, I suppose. Come on. Let’s have some tea, and you can finish what you were saying where we’re both comfortable.”
“I don’t remember where I was, anymore,” Harry admitted with some amusement.
She slipped her hand into his as they walked to the kitchen. “You were just telling me about the radiation...”