“Good-bye…My Sarah Jane!” the Doctor said with a grin, pulling her into his arms and off her feet, trying not to see the unshed tears in her eyes. He’d broken her heart so long ago…but she did not yet know how terribly she’d broken his. Both of his hearts ached to tell her; Sarah, when you start to feel sick in a few years, please, please go see a physician. Time was already written, though, and he could not undo what was to come without undoing her entire life. So he stepped into the TARDIS and dematerialized.
“Mum, I’m home!” Luke Smith shouted the obvious up the stairs, a look of consternation on his face. “Mum?” Sarah Jane’s car was still in the drive; so why hadn’t she come to the train station to pick him up as promised? He was home on a long weekend from New College at Oxford — in fact he was always chided for going home so much — but this was the first time his mother had not been there to meet him, though he’d told her over the phone last night what time his train was arriving.
Setting down his school bag, Luke climbed the stairs slowly, his own home-fashioned sonic screwdriver slipping out of his pocket and into hand. But no alien threat waited around the corner, so he crept down the hall and into Sarah Jane’s room. She was sleeping peacefully in bed, dressed to go out save for the shoes. Luke’s pounding heart slowed some, only to be replaced by the gut-wrenching feeling that something was not right. His mother looked ashen, her normally thin features now painfully gaunt, and he could see bruising on her collarbone and forearms.
“Mum?” Luke whispered, sitting on the bed next to her and taking a hand gingerly in his.
“Hmmm?” Sarah Jane took a deep breath and turned her head to the side, eyes finally opening, but slow to focus. “Luke, is that you?”
“Hi, Mum,” he greeted, forcing a smile, but not out of relief.
“What-?” Sarah stopped and thought hard, then shot up in bed, looking over at the alarm clock. “Oh, god, I was supposed to be at the station an hour ago, wasn’t I? Oh, Luke, I’m so sorry! I was just going to close my eyes…”
“What’s wrong, Sarah Jane? And don’t lie to me,” Luke insisted. He was always serious when he used her name. There was no hiding anything from her son, and as a medical student in his last year, Luke already knew more than enough to know she was not well.
Sighing, Sarah lay back down, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t know. I thought it was just a long flu or some such. I’ve been so tired, no appetite at all, weak as an infant.”
“And this?” Luke prodded, running a finger over her bruised arm.
Sarah flinched and drew it back, pulling her sleeve down. “Oh, I don’t know. I do so much running around its hard to remember. They just seem to pop up.”
Leaning further over his mother, Luke made sure he could see into her eyes. “Are you in pain?”
Offering a wan smile, she looked away from him, but that was all the answer needed. Reaching into his pocket, Luke withdrew his mobile and immediately started dialling.
“Who are you calling?” Sarah asked suspiciously.
“Doctor Merriman, one of my tutors, is in London this weekend to present a paper. He’ll make a house call for me. He owes me.” But Sarah Jane reached up and took Luke’s phone away before the call could go through, cutting the connection. “Wha-”
“Not tonight, Luke, please,” she begged, gripping his hand tightly. “Tomorrow, alright, I promise. He’ll tell you it’s just a bug. I’m sorry I didn’t come to meet you at the station. Let me make it up to you; dinner at Jai Liu’s?”
They locked eyes in a silent battle of wills, sizing up each other’s determination, before Luke finally relented, as he always did when Sarah Jane would not be moved. “Fine. Tomorrow, first thing in the morning. But we’re not going out; you’re going to stay in bed and let me cook.”
It was a fair compromise. And truth be told, Sarah Jane did not much feel like going to a restaurant and being around people. She was nearly asleep again when Luke called up from the kitchen that the food was on the table. Forcing herself upright, Sarah fought the swimming of her head and took a quick look in the mirror. Wincing at the sickly visage, she pinched her cheeks to give them colour, ran her fingers through her thick auburn hair and forced a smile. Better.
They made pleasant conversation over dinner, Luke telling his mother about his research into viral corrections of hox-2 mutations, and Sarah Jane sharing her latest investigation into a new bio-tech company in Plymouth that was releasing technology far too advanced for the present. She suspected it was related to a piece of space debris that had fallen into the waters off the coast last year. Though their deal had always been that one cooks, the other cleans, Luke still insisted on helping tidy the kitchen and wash the dishes. The entire time he watched Sarah Jane out of the corner of his eye, looking for signs of muscle fatigue, loss of dexterity, general disorientation. She was putting on a good show, but Luke remained unconvinced and wished he had put the call through to Doctor Merriman anyway.
“Right. I’m knackered. Off to bed,” Sarah Jane said cheerily, planting a kiss on Luke’s cheek. “Don’t stay up too late on school work.”
“Good night, Mum.” Luke took her shoulders and placed a reciprocating kiss on her brow (having grown much taller than her over the years). “I love you.”
It was just a small cry from the darkness of the upstairs hallway, but Luke’s mind registered it immediately and he shot up on the couch where he had fallen asleep analysing his last experiment. Dumping the laptop unceremoniously on the floor, he vaulted over the end of the couch and dashed up the stairs.
“Mum?” She was there, a shadow crumpled on the floor of the bathroom. “Sarah Jane!” Luke was immediately at her side, rolling her over onto her back. A large, painful bruise was already spreading down the side of her face, and a trickle of blood came from the corner of her nose and mouth. As terrified as he had ever been, Luke ran back to Sarah’s bedroom and found his mobile on her nightstand where she had left it, dialling 999. “Yes, it’s an emergency! I need an ambulance at number 13 Bannerman Road! Please, my mum’s ill!”
Luke waited for the paramedics with Sarah Jane in his arms, using a damp cloth to stop the bleeding where her head had hit the floor. Her blood pressure was low and heart fluttering madly. All of this he passed onto the ambulance crew, who seemed indifferent to the medical student’s concise report, which only infuriated Luke. It seemed an interminable ride to hospital and another eternity of waiting on an uncomfortable bench while tests were run. Every half hour Luke went to ask the duty nurse for an update on his mother, and each time was told to wait for the doctor. It was not until half eight in the morning that a stern woman in a white coat came up to Luke.
“Mr. Smith?” she started, though did not wait for a confirmation before continuing. “I’m Doctor Abdouni. Your mother is still resting comfortably right now. We have her on a morphine drip for the pain. I can’t believe she made it this long without medical treatment. Now, we can begin chemotherapy immediately, but if we could test you as a bone marrow donor-“
“Wait!” Luke ordered forcefully, holding up a hand that cut off the physician. “What? What’s wrong with my mother?”
“You didn’t know? She has leukaemia, Mr. Smith, rather advanced judging by the multiple infections and hematomas.” The young woman sounded like she was delivering a university lecture, and not a death sentence. Luke felt his blood run cold. “We need to begin testing all relatives for marrow matches.”
Exhaling slowly and looking at the floor, Luke whispered, “I’m not a match. I was adopted. Sarah Jane doesn’t have any surviving blood relatives. We only had — have — each other.”
Doctor Abdouni pursed her lips in displeasure, and then softened some. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Smith. I don’t think there is very much we can do other than make her comfortable at this point. We’ll search the national marrow donor database for a possible match, but it’s doubtful. Not with the short time she has remaining.”
Luke was not so ready to give up. “Isn’t there anything experimental? What about the synthetic marrow generation they’re doing at Royal Hope Hospital using the patient stem cells?”
The physician was shaking her head before he had finished. “The cancer has spread too far, Mr. Smith. I did not want to come out here without answers for you. I looked at the blood work; there is an amazing amount of corruption in your mother’s DNA. I’ve not seen anything like it since I was an intern at an army hospital doing routine check-ups on our astronauts.”
“That sounds about right,” Luke mumbled. “All that time with the Doctor...”His voice trailed off. Yes, that was the answer. The only answer. There was still hope. He had to help. If Luke could find him in time. “Can I take my mother home?” he asked quickly.
Sarah Jane was still ambulatory and insisted on walking out of the hospital. She and Luke did not speak; he had merely told her that he was taking her home for an experimental treatment. Even though he did not elaborate on the seriousness of her cancer, she could guess. What he had in mind, though, she could not fathom, and decided to be patient. Sarah Jane knew she was dying, and allowing Luke to believe he could save her would at least mitigate some of his own pain, for now.
Before leaving the hospital, Luke had talked Dr. Abdouni into giving him some medical supplies under the guise of using them temporarily until he could arrange hospice. Taking his mother straight to bed, Luke insisted on starting IV saline with a mild sedative and analgesic, and a portable heart monitor that would sound an alarm if anything was amiss.
“Rest now, alright,” Luke instructed gently, throwing a light quilt over Sarah Jane. She reached up and grabbed his wrist before he could turn away.
“Luke, you know we need to discuss this,” she said, voice unsteady.
He placed a kiss on her crown to silence any further comment. “Later, alright? Everything is going to be okay, I promise.” Then he was gone, sprinting up the stairs to the attic, calling out “Mister Smith, I need you!”
With trumpets and steam, the ostentatious sentient computer emerged from the wall. “What is it, Luke?”
“Mum is sick, Mister Smith, leukaemia. It may be too late for anything on Earth to save her.” Luke took a deep, steadying breath. “So I need you to find the Doctor. If anyone or anything can save Sarah Jane, it’s a Time Lord.” Luke’s toned turned bitter. “He owes her that much at least.”
“I will begin broadcasting an interstellar mauve alert using a Terileptil frequency,” Mister Smith decided, after a second of consideration and a few trillion calculations. “If we know anything about the Doctor that should get his attention. In the meantime, Luke, I suggest you prepare several alternative plans. I will forward all the most recent articles on Leukaemia research to your laptop.”
Luke could almost have kissed the super-computer, already feeling the weight lifting from his shoulders. Everything would surely be alright once the Doctor got here. “Thank you, Mister Smith.”
After two days of waiting, Luke was beginning to grow concerned. At least Dr. Merriman had come out to visit at Luke’s request and admitted that while Sarah Jane’s condition was grave, he would take a sample of her marrow and stem cells to the labs at Royal Hope Hospital and work on generating artificial marrow. Luke held his mother’s hands tightly while the physician dug large needles deep into Sarah Jane’s bones and veins, but she never made a sound. Only a single tear slipped free to admit how much it hurt.
“I will let your tutors know personally that you are taking a leave of absence from the University to care for your mother,” Dr. Merriman promised, resting a hand on the young man’s shoulder, a rare display of affection for an Oxford professor. “Take good care of her, Luke. I’ll get the results from London Hope back to you as soon as I have them. In the mean time, if you need anything, give me a ring and I’m sure I can find someone to help.”
Luke nodded solemnly. “Thank you, Dr. Merriman, for everything. Good night.”
Going back into the kitchen to clean up the remnants of their tea, the hair on the back of Luke’s neck suddenly stood up and he quickly shut off the tap to listen. He heard it, that pulsing sound that heralded a tear in the space-time continuum that would materialize a Police Box unlike any other on Earth, and with it a man unlike any other in the universe. Dropping the sponge back into the sink, Luke sprinted up the stairs, taking them two and three at a time, exploding through the attic door.
There is was; that magical blue box which could make everything better. “Doctor!”
The door opened and a strange man with curly brown hair, a wide mouth and intense brown eyes poked his head out. “Did you send for me? Because you don’t look like any Terileptil I’ve ever met.” He sniffed the air delicately. “Don’t smell like one, either.”
Luke was taken aback. He knew this man only from pictures and Sarah Jane’s stories. “Are you…the Doctor?”
“The definitive article, as I’ve said before,” the middle aged man beamed, stepping more fully into the room, an impossibly long scarf dragging at his heels. A look of consternation came over him as he examined his surroundings. “I say, this doesn’t look much like Terileptil architecture either. More like an attic. Where am I?”
“An attic,” Luke answered.
“Ah, well, that would make sense…But not really.” The Doctor scratched his head in thought. “Why would an attic be issuing a mauve alert? Looks like a duck, quacks like a Terileptil vessel with engine trouble…Unless you didn’t issue the mauve, in which case, this has all been a terrible mistake.”
Luke hesitated. “No…I issued the alert. Well, my computer issued the alert.”
“What on Earth for?” the Doctor asked, shocked. “There’s no Terileptils here…at least I don’t think so. I don’t even see anything dangerous except for the giant dust bunnies in the corners. They’re sentient, you know, once they reach the right size and -”
There was no time for this, and Luke cut in. “I needed you to come here. I think you knew my mother, a long time ago.”
The Doctor’s face fell and his large eyes grew wider. “Now wait just a minute. Wait wait wait. If you called me here on a paternity suit, I can assure you-”
“No, no, it’s not that at all,” Luke insisted quickly.
“Well then I wish you would come to the point of why I am here. My time is quite precious, you know.”
Luke swallowed the lump in his throat. “My mum is sick. I think she travelled with you. Sarah Jane Smith.”
The Doctor stopped flipping his yo-yo about and grinned. “Sarah Jane!” he exclaimed. “Yes, my dear Sarah Jane. I thought I only left her a few weeks ago. I was coming back, I promise. Where is she? What year is this, anyway? How old are you? And don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t look anything like her.”
“I was adopted.” Luke answered the last statement first, as it seemed easiest. “Doctor, there is so much you need to know, but time-“
“Luke?” Sarah Jane’s voice echoed up the stairwell. “Are you up there?” Though she could not explain it as anything more than a tingling of electricity through her nerves, Sarah Jane had woken up from the sedatives Dr. Merriman had given her and could not sleep. Something was amiss, and she knew it, so she’d taken out the IV needle and gone looking for her son when he did not answer her initial calls. “Luke?”
And there he was; those large expressive eyes and uncontrollable main, tall, broad frame clad in a heavy velvet coat and tattered scarf. She surely must be hallucinating; he had been gone for so very long. Then that deep, resonating voice said softly, “Hello, Sarah Jane.”
All the strength left her as a hundred emotions flooded in and she fell to her knees, gripping the banister for some support. “Mum!” Luke cried, rushing down to her side. “Mum, please, you shouldn’t be up.”
“I’m alright, really,” she insisted, shaking her head to clear away the fuzziness. Looking up again, he was still there, a look of deep concern on his features and he descended the flight down to her. “My god, it really is you. How can you be here?”
“Like a bee to honey, a Doctor to a Terileptil’s mauve alert,” he jested. Without instruction, the Doctor scooped his old companion into his arms and waited for Luke to lead the way back to her sickbed. “You haven’t aged a day since last I saw you, Sarah.”
“And you’ve regressed a half dozen life times since last I saw you,” she mused, smiling at his compliment. “Somehow, I think my son has some explaining to do.”
Easing her back onto the mattress, the Doctor said seriously, “That can all wait, Sarah Jane. I think you need a good bit of rest.”
“Still putting me off, I see. Listen, Doctor, I don’t know what-“ Sarah cut herself off with a hiss of pain as she rolled over onto the hip Dr. Merriman had drawn the bone marrow samples from.
“Now you listen to me, Sarah Jane Smith.” The Doctor took her by the shoulders and forced her to lie back. “Look into my eyes, Sarah.”
She knew immediately what he was trying to do. “Oh no you don’t, not again!”
Lightly placing his hands on her temples and silencing her instantly, the Doctor continued to intone softly, “Relax, Sarah, there is no pain. There is nothing to worry about. You feel nothing. No pain. You can rest now.” Her eye lids fell shut and she relaxed back into the mattress, breathing slowly. Luke reached down to reattach the IV line, which exposed the hideous bruising on his mother’s arm. Taking note, the Doctor silently rolled up her other sleeve, finding the same. There were more on her torso, and placing an ear against her chest he heard the grating rattle of fluid in the lungs.
“Leukaemia?” he whispered, looking up at Luke, who nodded in confirmation. Running his longer fingers through his hair, the Doctor gritted his teeth in anger. “All of that radiation she was exposed to. I thought she had escaped the worst of it.” Standing up, the Doctor went into the hall and began to pace madly. “Is this why you brought me here? To save her?” he demanded of Luke.
“You have to,” the boy insisted. “This is your fault!”
“You-don’t-know-that!” The Doctor’s finger punctuated each word of the forced denial. But there was no denying the hurt and anger on the face of Sarah Jane’s son, and the Doctor’s shoulders slumped forward in resignation. “But it might be. It could be. After all these year…how many years?”
“Nearly 40,” Luke answered.
“Maybe it took this many years to manifest the radiation damage. I don’t know. But…” The Doctor looked helplessly to the ceiling for answers. “But there are rules, young man; rules about interfering in the natural order of time and evolution. Certain rules about living and dying that apply to everyone…”
“What have the rules ever meant to you?!” Luke demanded. “You’ve already interfered. You took Sarah Jane out of her natural time and space. She belongs to all of time and space, and somewhere in all of that is a cure, one that you owe her for the risks she took on your behalf-“
“She chose to come!” the Doctor insisted.
“And you could have said ‘no’, but you didn’t, because you wanted her there at your side as much as she wanted to be there.” Luke steadied himself against the wall of the hallway and closed his eyes so that he could focus on the words of his argument, because the life of his mother hung on their power to convince the omnipotent Time Lord. “I think Sarah Jane wouldn’t change anything about her life, except perhaps for letting you go off too easily and leaving her behind. Meeting you again — well, the last you we met, the future you-“
The Doctor held up his hands to stop Luke. “Don’t tell me anything about it. Regeneration can be such a ghastly thing.”
Nodding slightly, Luke continued. “Meeting you again re-opened so many wounds for Mum, but they finally healed over, and she’s been doing so much good on Earth. You’d be proud of her, you really would. I’m only here because of her. The entire planet is still here because of her. So Doctor, though she would vehemently deny that you owe her anything, I say that you do. I am asking you, begging you, to save her life one more time. Pick any reason you like, but please, save her. I can’t let go of my mum yet. And I think the world still needs her as well.”
Taking a deep breath, the Doctor’s unblinking gaze measured Luke and his argument, and weighed his principles against his heart. For a moment, Luke thought he had failed, but then a smile slowly spread over the Doctor’s face. “You are a very, very clever boy. Who were you parents?”
“Long story short, didn’t have any.” Luke shrugged. “Grown in a tank by the Bane. Sarah Jane is all I’ve ever had.”
“I’ve heard worse. Besides, parents can be so much trouble…I would know,” the Time Lord said sincerely. Pausing, though, he added, “But I can’t think of a more wonderful mother.”
“She is,” Luke agreed.
They stood in the dimly lit hall in reflective silence for several moments, concluding their mental assessments of each other. Finally, the Doctor broke in. “You look exhausted. Maybe a short kip?”
So much was at stake; Luke was not going to let the Doctor out of his sight until Sarah Jane was taken care of, lest the Time Lord slip away again. “How about a cuppa instead?”
The Doctor smiled and nodded, sensing the young man’s thoughts. “Your kitchen or mine?”
“Really?” Luke perked up. He had never been inside the TARDIS before, and his natural curiosity could not be dampened under any circumstance. As every first visitor to the TARDIS, Luke walked the perimeter of the police box, assuring himself of its diminutive external size, before stepping into the bright white control room that was as large as the attic outside. The Doctor hung his coat and scarf on the old fashioned coat stand by the door and put his hands in his pockets, watching Luke run his fingers delicately over the controls. “Do you like it?”
“It’s just like she told me,” Luke breathed, drinking in every detail. “Every adventure, thrilling and terrifying; She had the time of her life with you.” Pausing in his reverie, Luke looked up at the Doctor with consternation. “How are you here in this present? Why not the you I’ve met before?”
The Doctor opened his mouth, then closed it again, attempting to organise his thoughts. “You see, the first mistake is to assume this is the ‘present’ or that such a thing even exists.” He began to pace as he lectured, using his hands to great emphasis. “Time is this...wibbly-wobbly sort of thing; shapeless, malleable. I, and every past and future incarnation of me, have crossed this universe from one end to the next, across a trillion years of time. Now and then, I run into me. Dangerous business, that, sometimes. When you sent out the mauve distress call, I was the incarnation of me closest to this point in space and time, so I answered. Whichever me you were expecting is off some-where-time else. Do you understand, Luke?”
“Yes, I think so,” the boy said slowly, squinting his eyes as he wrapped his brilliant mind around the true expanse of existence. “But that means this has always been, doesn’t it? And yet you never said...“ He did not finish his thought. Why had the Doctor half a dozen regenerations from now not mentioned this meeting to Sarah Jane? “Can time be rewritten?”
“At a price,” the Doctor said ominously, levelling his eyes at Luke gravely. “If you are asking me-“
“No, no,” the young man reassured him, afraid of chasing the Time Lord off. “I —we — you can’t rewrite time when we don’t know what is going to happen. This is still the present for Sarah Jane and I, and you, too, whether you recognise the ‘present’ or not as real. If you did not say anything before, I’m sure you had your reasons, not contaminating the timeline chief among them.”
The Doctor smiled in appreciation. “Clever boy. Smart enough to know that sometimes it’s best not to know. Look at poor Pandora. I wouldn’t wish that upon my poor human friends. All of time and history pounding around your head? It’s enough to even drive some Time Lords stark raving mad.”
“An agreement, then,” Luke suggested, holding out his right hand. “I won’t talk about your future if you don’t.”
“Agreed.” The Doctor pumped Luke’s hand vigorously, hoping that his own concerns did not show through on his face. “That’s much better, then. Now how about that tea?”
When Dr. Merriman came to call the next day without forewarning, Luke knew it could not be good news. He introduced the Time Lord to his mentor as a ‘consultant from Liverpool’ and the Doctor jumped into the part admirably.
“We’ve ‘eard ‘bout your work at Royal ‘ope on marrow synthesis, sir,” he complimented eagerly, shaking Merriman’s hand vigorously. “Most impressive. Lookin’ fo’ward to the results.”
The Oxford professor took his hand back and straitened the cuff with a sniff, avoiding the Doctor’s gaze. “Yes, well, I wish I was here with better results. There’s not easy way to say this, Luke...” Merriman sighed, looking tired and genuinely upset. “Your mother has some sort of mutated protein in her blood and marrow, one my colleagues and I have never seen before. At first we thought it was part of the Leukaemia and would be filtered out via transplant, but we came to realise it was naturally a part of her, present in every vital system. At one time it must have produced a super-immunity, but now it’s breaking down. She needs that protein in her marrow to live...and we can’t replicate it. I’m so sorry.”
Luke stiffened and the muscles in his neck stood taught as he fought to maintain composure. Even in the face of this devastating news, he would not break down in front of his august professor. Instead, he nodded curtly. “Thank you, sir, for trying,” he said hoarsely.
“We’re going to keep working on that protein, Luke, but it could take years to distil its properties. I’ll tell the Dons at New College you will not be rejoining us next term. If you like, I could see about having your studies transferred closer to home.”
Looking over at the Time Lord who was remaining conspicuously silent, now, Luke answered, “No, sir. Thank you, but I will return to Oxford as soon as I am able.”
Merriman patted his shoulder and smile sadly. “No rush, lad.”
When the door closed, Luke and the Doctor stood in the entry way, weighing what had just transpired. The young man spoke first. “This protein; was it your doing?”
The Doctor raised his hands in exasperation. “I don’t know! Possibly. The TARDIS is designed to protect its travellers from most naturally occurring viruses and bacteria on alien planets, or else everyone would die off from a common cold within hours of arrival because they haven’t any immunity. But no one else...at least, as far as I know...”
Sighing, Luke leaned his head back against the doorframe. “I doesn’t matter, Doctor,” he whispered, sounding truly defeated. “I just doesn’t matter anymore. Saving mum is all the counts, and you’re the last person on Earth who can do it.” He opened his eyes and stared intently at the Time Lord. “So will you?”
From somewhere in the hypnotically induced sleep, Sarah Jane began to stir. There was someone near the bed, lowered voices, rustling sheets. “Wh-what’s going on?” she demanded weakly, struggling to find her way into the present world. She saw the Doctor bending over her, deftly taking the IV needle from her arm, though she still hissed at the final sting.
“Sorry,” he said quietly, dabbing at the little drop of blood with a cotton ball, than putting a plaster over it. “How are you feeling?”
Why was he here? When had he come? “What’s going on here?” Sarah Jane repeated, looking from him over to Luke, who was throwing some of her clothes into a suitcase.
“Just a little trip, Sarah Jane,” the Doctor reassured her, swiftly bundling the sheet around her and scooping his old friend up into his arms.
“Now wait just a minute!” Sarah was fully alert now, and began to kick her legs furiously. “Put me down, my legs aren’t broken! Luke, stop whatever it is you’re doing and you explain this to me, young man.”
Looking at Luke, the Doctor shrugged his shoulders, then complied with Sarah’s wishes, letting her legs, but keeping a steadying hand under her arms until she proved that standing upright was no great challenge. When she swayed a bit, a latched on tighter, but she quickly righted herself and backed away from the Time Lord. “No one else touches me until I get some answers, starting with you!” She levelled an accusatory finger at him. “What, no, how are you here?”
The Time Lord scratched his mass of hair. “Well, if you really want a technical explanation for it, I’m going to need-“
“I sent for him, mum,” Luke interrupted, abandoning his packing and walking over to Sarah Jane to take her hands in his. They were frightfully cold. “I asked Mister Smith to transmit a distress signal that would bring the Doctor here. Except, due to space-time proximity to our relative present, this is the one who showed up.”
Smiling coyly, the Doctor waggled his fingers at her. Distressed, Sarah Jane refocused on Luke. “But why?”
“Because you’re dying, Mum,” Luke wailed, fighting his tears. “You’re dying and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve exhausted my last possibility. But maybe, certainly, the Doctor can help.”
She looked over at the Time Lord with uncertainty, but his wide-eyed grin was irresistible. “Just a short trip to New Earth, Sarah Jane, I promise, and we’ll still be home in time for tea.”
“Yeah, I know what your short trips can be like,” she scoffed, but visibly eased a little. “Just so long as I don’t land in Scotland,” she warned, earning a look of confusion from the Doctor. “Oh, never mind, you’ll figure it out one day. So,” she took her hands back from Luke, “If you two will excuse me, I’d like a hot shower and a fresh change of clothes before I go gallivanting across the galaxy again.”
An hour later, Sarah Jane was still standing under the streams of water, which were now barely temperate, a hand covering her mouth as she tried to stifle her sobs.
There was a knock at the bathroom door. “Mum, are you alright? I’m fixing lunch.”
Clearing the lump from her throat, she called out firmly, “Just fine, thanks. I’ll be along shortly.” Looking up into the showerhead, she let the liquid clear away the salty tears and cool the flush of her cheeks. She was going to be strong now; she had to be, for Luke’s sake. Sarah could have screamed, but only grumbled as she shut off the taps, “Damn time travel.”
“Right, all set then?” Luke asked eagerly, his travel bag and Sarah’s slung over each shoulder.
“No.” Sarah Jane stood in the centre of the kitchen arms crossed defiantly. Luke looked at her, perplexed. “You’re not coming.”
It took Luke a moment to recover his wits. “But, mum, I have to come.”
“Why? I’m going to be home by tea, aren’t I?” she noted, looking over at the Doctor pointedly.
“But — but what if something goes wrong?” Luke asked, gripping the straps of the two bags tightly. “What if they can’t treat you on New Earth? Or the Doctor sets down in the wrong place?”
“Well then its best I have you here to call and come pick me up,” Sarah Jane insisted. “Besides, what do you know of medicine in the year 5 billion? Or fixing TARDIS navigation? No, Luke, just a quick trip out and back, and I would feel much better knowing you were safely here.”
The young man looked ready to cry, the bags slowly slipping off his shoulders. Sarah Jane came forward and gently set the bags on the ground, then wrapped her arms around her son, not fiercely, but with a tenderness of compassion. “Please, Luke. I love you more than anything in all the universe, but I am asking you to wait here for me.”
Luke lowered his head into her neck and returned her hug. “But what if you don’t come back?”
“Oh, Luke, don’t imagine I’ll slip away that easily. You’ll hear from me, I promise. And there will be other chances to see the stars. You’re still young. ” Forcing herself to detach from him, Sarah Jane stepped away and smiled. “Back before tea. Will you have something waiting?”
“Of course,” Luke promised, trying pitifully to return her smile. “I love you, Mum.”
Though her heart tumbled madly, Sarah Jane kept her features firmly set. “And I love you.” She walked backwards out of the kitchen so that she could see her son for every moment possible, then finally turned and marched up to the attic where the Doctor and his TARDIS were waiting. Pausing to turn a full 360 degrees, Sarah Jane took in the cosy weird ambiance of her secret base from which she had saved the world so many times. “Good-bye, Mister Smith,” she whispered to the super computer.
“Good-bye, Sarah Jane,” the smooth, proper voice responded. Though sentient, it did not ask any further questions, unaware that it should, or that this farewell was any different from any other. Taking a deep breath, she stepped through the TARDIS door.
Hunched over the navigation panel, the Doctor looked up when he heard her entre. “Right then. Off to New Earth. Course already plotted for the year five billion, M87 galaxy.”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to pop a few centuries into the future here on Earth?” Sarah Jane asked suspiciously.
“What would the fun of that be?” the Doctor scoffed, grinning. But seeing that Sarah did not share in his attempted humour, he added more seriously, “A few centuries wouldn’t do it anyway. Cancer is a disease that effects almost all life in the universe, Sarah; its a devious bastard to fight, and in your case, made complicated by your unique blood proteins. No, trust me; the best place to be is with the Sisters of Plenitude. They’ll fix you right up the first time.”
Nodding her head in understanding, Sarah muttered softly, “I do trust you.”
“Well, then, if we’re all in agreement that I do have some idea of what I’m talking about...”The Doctor finished his sentence with the flip of a few switches, sending the TARDIS off into space and time.
“Bugger all!” the Doctor cursed as he and Sarah Jane were thrown sideways, gripping the control console for support. Frantically, he flipped several switches to bring up the operational readouts. “We’ve just been proverbially sideswiped by a massive gravitational distortion entering the Earth’s atmosphere. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was another TARDIS.”
“Another one of you coming to answer Luke’s distress call?” Sarah Jane speculated.
“Well, if it is, then I’m awfully late.” The TARDIS righted itself, but at the expense of some its circuitry, which started to throw sparks, forcing the Doctor to disengage full power. He cursed at his beloved machine, then himself. “Well, we aren’t going to go anywhere for the moment. We’re stuck somewhere between galaxies. Dark, rough place to be. I’m going to have to realign gravitational stabilization before I dare dematerialise again.”
Sarah Jane smirked. “Take your time. I’ve got plenty to spare.”
The blue box materialised on the shady edge of a row of trees that divided the plot sections. It was a beautiful day, the kind that made you sigh contently simply to be outdoors and alive. He could not check the TARDIS’s date readout; it was smoking from the heavy gravitational ‘bump’ he’d encountered when landing. But he did not need it; he knew what day it was. He had been planning this trip for a long time. Opening the floor grating, he rummaged around the trunk labelled ‘L’, and finally found the tattered, faded envelope.
“Why didn’t you warn me?” Sarah Jane asked suddenly, looking up from the TARDIS controls. She loved to watch them, even though she could not hope to understand most of their functions. Opening the door and acting as 1/6th of a pilot was about as far as she’d gotten.
“Pardon?” the Doctor asked, popping his head out from the smoking circuits.
“You could have warned me about the cancer years ago, but you didn’t. Why?”
“I’m assuming you are talking about a me that is yet to be, and if I know him at all and he’s anything like me, I can only suspect that he had his reasons.” The Time Lord paused and ran his hand over his face, concerned. “Or maybe I will have forgotten. I admit, regeneration can take its toll on the synapses, but I can’t imagine forgetting this. But just in case, you should leave me a note.”
“Ha! You wouldn’t know where to find it — or that you even need to find it — when you forget about me!” Sarah Jane teased. “What good would it do?”
The Doctor looked truly hurt. “Oh, no, I’m never going to forget you, Sarah Jane. I —“ He was cut off when the consul suddenly sparked again, and the TARDIS engine reengaged. “There we go! Brilliant! On our way again. Coming up, New Earth!”
They landed with a rough thump. The Doctor donned his coat, hat and scarf, and offered an old jacket to Sarah Jane, just in case. Placing his hand on the door handle, he looked at her and let his wide eyes shine. “Once more unto the breach, dear friend?”
“Lead the way, Henry,” Sarah instructed, holding out a hand, which the Doctor gripped.
They stepped into a war zone.
Sirens sounded from all around. The gleaming steel and glass towers were in flames, windows shattered, smoke and the acrid stench of burning everything choking the air. Madness was everywhere; dirty, bloodied people screaming, running, bashing their heads against walls, throttling each other into unconsciousness, leaping form windows, or just lying in the streets, trying to die quietly.
“What’s happening?” Sarah Jane screamed into the Doctor’s ear over the din. “Is this New Earth?”
“I thought so,” the confounded Time Lord answered, suddenly unsure of his navigation. Reaching out, he snagged the nearest person by the arm. It was a young man with wild red eyes, deep scratched in his cheeks from his own fingers, the slightest froth at the corner of his mouth. “What’s going on here? What’s wrong with you?”
In response, the young man tried to bite the Doctor’s hand, and the Time Lord quickly flung him away.
“Well, that was helpful,” Sarah Jane noted wryly. “Maybe try for one of the ones a little less mad-looking, if there are any.”
“Sarah,” the Doctor said her name slowly, and she was waiting for a sarcastic response, but he ordered in all seriousness, “Don’t let any of them bite you.”
“Hadn’t planned on it, Doctor. But thanks anyway.” They watched the insanity around them for a little longer, looking for some pattern, some reason, or just someone to interrogate. But then they noticed the mob thicken, as people flooded the street from further up. “They’re, um, flocking this way,” Sarah Jane pointed out, taking a step backwards.
“In, now!” The Doctor flung her back into the TARDIS, following close behind and slamming the door shut. They could hear the bodies of the half-blind, all-mad rioters slamming into the TARDIS as they fought each other to get past.
“What are they running from?” Sarah asked, and the Doctor opened the viewer window. In the opposite direction of the tide, they saw the hulking warriors, the Judoon, marching in ranks down the wide avenue, shooting the few that were insane enough to attack, and scanning every prone body they passed. “Should we go?”
“Without answers?” The Doctor scoffed. Straitening his hat, the Doctor opened the door and stepped out onto the streets of New New York, his companion standing just a little behind. “Excuse me!” he called to the row of alien police, waving to flag them down.
“Halt!” the leader in the centre of the line ordered.
“I’m already not going anywhere,” the Time Lord pointed out. “I was just wondering-“
“State your business on this planet,” the Judoon captain interrupted.
“Well, yes, I’m trying to get to that. You see, I’m looking for a hospital-"
All the Judoon raised their weapons in unison, trained on the two travellers, who raised their hands almost as quickly. “Are you infected with the Bliss virus?” the captain asked.
“Stand and be scanned,” they were instructed, and a pair of scarlet beams ran over their bodies. Sarah couldn’t help but flinch, feeling the nerves in her body tingle at the invasion. “Cleared. No Bliss virus present. But the female is immune-compromised.”
“Yes, that’s what I was trying to say,” the Doctor continued. “We’re trying to get to the Sisters of Plenitude hospital-“
“That facility is no longer in operation. This entire planet is now under quarantine by order of the Shadow Proclamation. ” The Judoon captain reached and put an ‘x’ on the back of the Doctor’s hand. “You are cleared to leave; the female will be quarantined.”
“No, no please,” the Doctor pleaded, throwing up his palms imploringly. “We just got here. She’s not sick, I promise. Well, she’s not got this Happy-whatever virus anyway. Please, if you leave her here, she’ll die, and that is a clear violation of section 12 of the Shadow Proclamation articles on sentient rights.”
A Judoon guard did not need to be quoted the rules of law. “Per sub-section 37 of the intergalactic health codes, this female will come with us to the Shadow Proclamation for further study. If she clears quarantine, you may collect her there.”
“Doctor?” Sarah Jane looked uncertainly at her companion.
“Go with them, Sarah,” he told her quietly, taking her arm and pushing her towards the Judoon. “I’ll meet you there, I promise. At least we’ll be able to get medical help there.” He tried to reassure her. “We’ve been in far worse situations. This is just a little detour.”
Nodding hesitantly, Sarah went with her captors, looking over her shoulder at the Time Lord repeatedly, until he and the TARDIS were gone. Walking through the streets of death, she tried not to cry, even if there was no one just a Judoon to see it. At the police camp where their ships had been parked, other samples of survivors were being packed into clear coffins and loaded. Sarah Jane felt a thrill of fear grip her heart, and then the sting of an injection in her neck before she could object, then blackness.
With infinite care and finesse, the Doctor piloted his TARDIS into the main receiving hall of the Shadow Proclamation’s asteroid headquarters deep in the neutral space of the Andromeda galaxy. By his calculations, he should have arrived at the same time as the Judoon garrison ship carrying Sarah.
He missed, per usual. By over a week.
“Sarah Jane won’t let me hear the end of this,” he grumbled, spooling down the TARDIS controls. “At least I didn’t land in an attic this time. I don’t think.” Flinging open the door, the Time Lord suddenly stopped in surprise. “Oh, hello there.”
The heavily armed Judoon were assembled and waiting to meet him, along with a contingent of the albino-hued Architects of the Shadow Proclamation.
“Come with us, please,” the Chief Architect requested coldly, his slim hands primly folded before his robes. “A special hearing of the judiciary has been called to address the issue of your quarantined female companion.”
Both of the Doctor’s hearts began to race wildly. “She’s not sick with the...well, whatever it was, is she? We weren’t hardly there long enough.”
“No, but during our analysis of her, very grave concerns were raised.”
“Oh, really?” The Doctor tried to pitch his voice in nonchalance. “What kind of concerns?”
“You cannot do that!”
The Doctor’s furious voice echoed off the walls, but the row of stern Shadow Proclamation Architects sat upon their high benches, unmoved.
“This is a clear violation of the laws on temporal interference, Doctor,” the Chief Architect admonished, holding up a copy of the report on one Sarah Jane Smith. “Your female companion cannot receive medical treatment.”
Pacing the floor wildly, his long scarf rebounding from his ankles with each step, the Doctor tried to hide his desperation. “How can I make you understand? She’s my friend! My responsibility! It’s a common disease, one easily treated-“
“But not in her temporal point of origin!” a white-haired junior Adjudicator countered, her red eyes betraying no sympathy. “If you are really a Time Lord, as Miss Smith claims, then you should know better. You cannot just take people wherever and whenever you wish because they are sick. They are supposed to grow old, Doctor, to become sick, to die. We are all of us subject to this natural order.”
“I know, dammit!” The admission of this acknowledged fact left the Doctor’s mouth before he could stop himself. Now he gritted his teeth in an attempt to control his words. “I am a Time Lord, and I am very old. Sometimes I am also very foolish, and sentimental. But Sarah is already here, the damage done. You cannot condemn her to die because of my transgressions.”
The Judiciary board was silent; the entire hall was silent. Finally, the young Adjudicator leaned forward over her bench and said coldly, “Perhaps in the future, Time Lord, you will remember this and consider your actions more carefully, and the consequences they entail.”
There still had to be a way out of here. “Then please, let me take her home. We’ll look for a cure there, but let me take her back to her family and —“
“No.” The Chief Architect interlaced those long white fingers and them before him as if in cynical supplication. “You cannot be trusted to return to her temporal point of origin. Your companion will remain here until nature has followed its prescribed course.”
They were lost. All the death-defying escapes he and Sarah Jane had made, only to be stopped here by this panel of unfeeling albinos who could do nothing more than quote their law books. Swallowing hard, the Doctor whispered, “Let me at least see her, I beg you.”
It had been such a long week, and certainly would not have been the worst, if Sarah Jane had not felt her own mortal end so close at hand. Once she had arrived at the Shadow Proclamation and been reawakened, she thought the Doctor would be there to meet her with two pills in hand to cure her leukaemia. No such luck.
The physicians of the Shadow Proclamation had not been cruel, at least providing analgesics for the pain that was becoming acutely worse. There was not much to do, especially since they had insisted the Sarah Jane not leave isolation, and in truth, she was too tired to go exploring any more, sleeping away most days. But she had the distinct feeling it was not for her health. One day she had managed to steal the transparent data sheet her records were on, and found the flashing red warning ‘Restricted per Temporal Containment’. So they knew she was not when she was supposed to be. Sarah Jane wished the Doctor would hurry up and arrive already to sort this out. Now, more than anything, she just wanted to go home.
“Sarah?” The voice penetrated her deep REM, breaking off her pleasant dream of running through an abandoned warehouse with Luke and Clyde, chasing down a lost alien. There was the sensation of fingertips ever so gently brushing her brow, and Sarah Jane’s eyes finally opened. The relief on the Doctor’s face was palpable. “Oh, good,” was all he said aloud.
“Ah, Doctor, good morning,” she greeted sleepily. “Late...again.” It was getting hard to breathe."
“Sorry, bureaucratic matters, you know.”
“You detest bureaucratic matters,” Sarah Jane scoffed, struggling to sit until the Doctor put a hand on her back. “You either ignore them, or blow through them, or find some ridiculous way around them.” Pausing to examine the Time Lord’s worried eyes, Sarah felt her heart sink. “You have found a way out of this...haven’t you?”
The Doctor flashed a manic, yet unconvincing, smile. “Of course. Come on, then.”
It really was not much of a plan. Taking out his sonic screwdriver, the Doctor set off the Shadow Proclamation station’s fire alarm and disabled the security monitors...or so he thought. Ducking down corridors, sliding past scrambling, panicked people, the way seemed clear until they reached the reception hall where the TARDIS sat. The Architect stood flanked by a dozen Judoon, barring the door.
“I thought you might try something like this, Doctor,” the pale man intoned evenly, those longer fingers motioning to the Judoon, who raised their weapons. “So I give you a choice; you can let nature take its intended course or you can both die here and now for gross violation of Temporal Containment laws. What will it be, Time Lord?”
Radiating important rage with his bared teeth and dagger gaze, the Doctor’s mind raced for a solution. There always had to be answer, he just needed to change a variable in the equation. Just think!
“Doctor.” She actually said his name twice, and only when he felt the small hand gripping his arm did the Doctor break his death glare from the immovable Chief Architect and look down at Sarah Jane. “Please, Doctor, can we go sit down somewhere?”
Her letter finished, Sarah Jane capped the pen, closed her eyes and lowered her head onto her hands, the bone-aching exhaustion becoming too much to bear now. But then she felt the strong arms wrapping themselves around her shoulders and under her knees, felt gravity defied as she was swept into the air and held tightly to the Doctor’s chest. She was in no condition to argue with him, just let her head rest again his shoulder and he strolled over to a well used couch that sat before the vast viewing window.
“Open your eyes, Sarah Jane,” the Doctor cajoled, stroking the side of her face gently. “Look at what’s out there. It’s beautiful.”
“I know,” she mumbled, still not conceding to his request. “I’ve been watching it for the last hour. I think it’s made me motion sick.”
“Come on, Sarah, let me see those beautiful eyes.” He always knew what to say to con her into cooperating, and she forced her eyes open once more. “There we go. Not so hard.”
“The letter is still on the table, Doctor, don’t lose it,” she pleaded. It was becoming harder to speak, and the wheezing in her chest was growing worse. “Promise me you will get it to my son and read it with him.”
“You have the word of a Time Lord, Sarah Jane,” he vowed, realizing he truly meant it, no matter how afraid he was of what the letter said.
She sighed, placated, and allowed herself to look over and out the window once more. “So this is how it really ends, eh? When you — the last you I met — told me that night in the diner that you couldn’t come back for me, this was what you meant. Because you did come back for me, and you were forced to watch me die. For that, Doctor, I am sorry. I know how much you hate long good-byes. I’ll try to slip away a little more quietly.”
The joke about his last regeneration was not lost on him, but he could not find any levity with which to smile. Instead, a single tear slipped free from the Doctor’s left eye, and he made no move to wipe it away, choosing to run his fingers idly through her hair. “Sarah Jane, I am sorrier than you can imagine. I never thought-“
“I know, but you probably suspected, and so did I. Poor Luke. Maybe I should have let him come, but I didn’t want him hurt...in any way.” Sarah coughed weakly and tasted blood in her mouth. “No, it’s alright, Doctor. I’ve come full circle in my life now. And what a grand life it’s been, thanks to you.” Her vision lost focus for a moment, and then the starscape returned, more vivid than before. “I’d forgotten how beautiful it was out here. I should have let Luke come, but...” She did not finish the sentence, then looked up at the Doctor and reached her cold fingers up to touch his face, to ensure that he was listening to her. “Tell him it was peaceful, that there wasn’t any pain. That will be important to him.” She coughed again, fighting for breath to form words. “Make sure he knows how much I loved him, how proud I was to be his mother, and that I’ll always be with him. You’ll tell him that, won’t you?”
“It would be my honour,” the Doctor whispered, unconsciously holding her more tightly to him, as if that would stem the tide of the life slipping away.
Nestling her head into the softness of his scarf and closing her eyes, she added, “Don’t forget me.”
“Never, Sarah Jane Smith, never,” he promised, resting his cheek on her silky hair, which absorbed his tears. He added something ever so quietly, he was not even sure he had said it aloud. It was a whisper that barely penetrated the darkness descending on her, but she heard it.
“And I you, Doctor. Thank you again, for everything...everything...”
“You’re most welcome.”
“And thank you.”
Only her frozen visage of serenity could answer.
There should have been rain. It always rained during funerals, and it almost always rained in England, yet there at Sarah Jane’s graveside, the sun was shining. Everyone else had gone but the Doctor; Luke had asked them to go, even Maria, Rani and Clyde. Now he sat by the fresh dirt, staring intently at the inscription so he did not have to look at the Doctor.
Sarah Jane Smith
Beloved Mother and Friend
She Saved Us All
“She loved you, you know, waited for you for 30 years,” Luke lamented softly to the tall man standing behind him.
The Doctor cleared his throat, uncomfortable with the emotions threatening to expel themselves. “I promise you, I didn’t forget her, I was coming back, but the distress call-”
“I know,” Luke hissed, digging his hands into the Earth and squeezing hard to fight the pain. He closed his eyes, but the tears spilled free, and he could hardly breathe. “I know! It’s my fault! Whether she got the cancer from travelling with you or not, it doesn’t matter. I inadvertently set the course of her life before I was born, all because of that stupid mauve alert, pulling you back here when it was too late to change anything!”
Kneeling down next to the grieving young man, the Doctor gripped Luke’s shoulders fiercely, half hugging him for comfort, half shaking some sense into him. “Listen to me, Luke, and listen well. This is not your fault. You can’t rewrite time, and not even Time Lords can see the outcome of their actions.”
“It was all a mistake!” Luke wailed.
“A mistake?” the Doctor repeated in disbelief. “A young man as clever as you should know that a mistake implies an error in judgment, a miscalculation. Your mother was sick and you called for help; that was no mistake. Time is not linear, Luke, it spreads like a spilt glass of milk effecting the past present and future in ways we can never predict.” The Doctor paused for a breath, and sensed something — someone — behind him, that tingled through his skin, and told him he needed to go. But not just yet. “Luke, do you really think your mother would have willingly changed anything in her life? Her time with me? And what about you? She found you because she was here on Earth, not running around the universe with a rebellious Time Lord. She would have given me up in a heartbeat for you.”
Taking a shaky breath, Luke pulled his hands from the dirt to swipe furiously at the tears, leaving muddy streaks along his cheeks. “She loved you,” he reiterated, and felt the hands release his shoulders. “What I want to know is…did you love her?” The Time Lord’s shadow disappeared, exposing Luke to the warm sun. “Doctor?”
He turned to look over his shoulder, momentarily blinded by the sunlight, and then a tall man in a long brown duster, with wild mousy hair stepped in front of him, blocking the sun’s glare once more. “Yes, I did. I loved Sarah Jane very, very much.”
“It’s you.” Luke breathed the word like a prayer, like his mother had once before, the first time she met this Doctor. “But…but where did-?”
“He — I, stepped away. Being with, well, myself, at the same point in space time can be a little uncomfortable. Downright nauseating, actually,” the Doctor admitted. He pulled his coat around his legs and sat down next to Luke. “I hope you don’t mind him — me — popping away like that without a proper good-bye. That’s what I’m here for, actually. I’ve been waiting over 300 years to finish this conversation. And to read this with you.” From his pocket, the Doctor produced a tattered manila envelope with Luke’s name scratched on the front in hurried, unfamiliar scribble. “She wrote this when she knew there was nothing more to be done. It was the only way she had of saying good-bye, to you and to me. She wanted us to read it together, but I — the younger I — couldn’t bring myself to do it. Knowing I’d failed her, and you, hurt so much, and I thought you would be so angry with me. So I’ve kept it all these centuries, waiting, knowing I would be here today.”
“Does it hurt any less now?” Luke asked bitterly, momentarily hating the Time Lord’s ability to spend lifetimes letting wounds heal.
But the Doctor set his jaw firmly and looked off to the horizon, his voice thick with sorrow. “No.”
“Then why didn’t you tell her?!” Luke demanded, fighting the urge to tear the very hearts out of this creature. “All those years you’ve known, carried the proof around in an envelope, and you never — said — a — word. If I’d know, maybe I could have saved her!”
“If you’d know, if you’d saved her, then you would only have negated your own existence with her!” The Doctor cried, looking to the sky for strength, trying to justify his sin of omission. “Eight years ago, if I had warned Sarah Jane to go see an oncologist, then yes, perhaps you would have stopped the leukaemia, but then you would never have sent that mauve alert, and the me that was returning to Earth for Sarah forty years ago would never have been drawn off course and into your present. I’d have taken Sarah Jane away again, and in all likelihood she would never have found you. That is the price for rewriting time. I couldn’t do that to her, not when I knew how happy you made her. I thought —“ He swallowed the lump in his throat. “I hoped, that all the pain I caused her, was worth having you in her life. It’s my fault, Luke, and you were my penance.”
Luke was not comfortable with the idea of being used as a token of atonement. With a quivering hand, he took the envelope from the Doctor and unfolded the flap, pulling out a roughly cut, flimsy sheet of plastic, the hue of copper, with bold black lettering.
My Dearest Luke,
I know I will be gone soon, and I do not know when this letter will reach you, but the Doctor has promised me that you will see it one day. The TARDIS has never been very good at precision landing. Having no proper paper laying about, the Doctor tore this sheet from the back cover of a Shadow Proclamation maintenance manual. How do you like that? I cannot even write a final will and testament like a normal person. Would you expect any different from me? What a strange life I’ve led. And that is what I really want to get to.
First you, Doctor, in case I cannot say it later: Thank you. Thank you for everything. I have lived the best kind of life, thanks to you. Good and bad alike, I would change nothing of what I’ve seen and done. I am eternally grateful for all you have done for me, and for Earth. Do not forget us, Doctor.
Now Luke, my son, the light of my life: Forgive the gushing, but words are a poor conveyance of my love for you. Being your mother has been the greatest adventure and joy of my life. I am so very, very proud of you. As much as I might insist that you not mourn me, I know you will. But do not let it last too long, Luke. And please, do not blame the Doctor. You both might think I was going dotty in my old age and illness, but I worked it all out. I knew I was not coming home again. That is why I did not want you to come, Luke. I did not want you to have to watch my passing from this life. I’m sorry if you feel cheated by that, but I want you to have only good memories of us together. And maybe I was more than a little afraid that the Doctor and I would run into trouble, and you would get hurt. I could not bear that. Finish school first, Luke, become a doctor like you wanted. Then maybe you can see the universe, if you want. But remember how much the world needs good souls in it.
This is the part where I pass on the last little bits of wisdom and wishes I have. Be kind, Luke, to everyone you meet, human or otherwise; in the end we are all the same. Be generous, with all your heart and mind; I know how much you have to give. Love unconditionally, and forever. Reach for every star. You are the most special young man on Earth, and the future holds great things for you, Luke. I hope I did enough to prepare you; I hope your life is rich and wonderful. I’m just sorry I cannot be there with you anymore. But dying is a part of living; do not ever forget that. It’s what makes life such a gift.
Looking out the windows of this ancient space station, watching the nebula gases and young stars pass, I find myself amazingly content. So you cannot be sad, my son, because I am not.
Good-bye, Luke. Good-bye, Doctor. I love you both, and thank you for enriching my life so very much.
In his mind, Luke could almost hear his mother’s musical voice reading the words. It should have made the pain even worse, this note from beyond the grave, but instead, there was a tiny spark of happiness that cracked his gloom. A small part of his clenched heart let go, and Luke Smith smiled. Though his eyes were still moist, he could not cry any more. A boy, grown in a vat by aliens in a plot to take over the world, born running, had run into the open arms of the most wonderful woman on Earth. She had given him a home, taught him everything it meant to be human, shown him some of the awesome and terrible universe, and most importantly, she had loved him. No one could have asked for more. The Doctor had been right; in the end, all the good was worth the pain.
“Thank you,” Luke whispered, turning and wrapping his arms around the Doctor, squeezing the Time Lord with all of his might. He could not hate this man, could not be angry with him. Luke could only love and admire the Doctor as his mum had. “Thank you for coming back. Thank you for showing her the stars again. Thank you for giving me a mother.”
There was nothing the Doctor could say. When Luke finally let go, the Doctor smiled at him and used the sleeve of his coat to wipe the last of the mud from Luke’s face. Rising to his feet, he helped the young man up, and in a wordless farewell, kissed his forehead. The Time Lord did not ask Sarah Jane’s son to come along. He did not promise to return. He did not know what the future had written for Luke Smith, but the Doctor hoped, with all of his hearts, that it was good things, and that they would meet again.