When You Turn to the Subject of Harry

by Daystar Searcher [Reviews - 5]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Character Study, Humor, Introspection, Missing Scene

Author's Notes:
Disclaimer: It all belongs to the BBC. Except the title, which comes from the musical Calamity Jane. Check out sjswas' awesome Harry fanvid using this song; it is made of LOL and partially inspired this.

Harry Sullivan had just begun to settle in to his new tour of duty. U.N.I.T. was certainly a different kettle of fish than the Navy, but Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart seemed a decent chap and that Benton fellow had been jolly helpful getting him set up in the sick bay. Hadn’t even laughed when Harry had gotten lost for the fourth time trying to find the canteen, which was more than could’ve been said about even certain members of the Sullivan family, whom in their last letter had expressed astonishment that Harry had managed to find U.N.I.T. headquarters in the first place. There was a bit of ribbing from the other lads now and then when Harry flubbed up and did something according to Navy rather than U.N.I.T. protocol, but it was all in good fun.

Yes, he was just starting to get the hang of the place when he turned the corner and crashed smack dab into a very pretty girl.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” she exclaimed, clambering up and offering him a hand. She had very small hands, clad in white leather driving gloves. She was very small in general. Possibly he was still stunned, but Harry had a sudden urge to try to put her in his pocket. “I wasn’t paying any attention to where I was going–”

“No, no, terribly sorry, my fault entirely,” Harry said, sticking his hands in his pockets and doing his best to affect an air of I do not in fact run into things on a regular basis and have certainly never tripped over nothing at all or accidentally crushed a half dozen boxes of beakers, why do you ask? “No harm done, in any case. And you, Miss…?”

The hint went sailing over her head like one of those UFOs that the lads kept pulling his leg about. “Quite fine, thank you.” And just like that she closed off to him, something behind those big bright eyes snapping shut as she flashed a quick, tight smile at him and started to walk past him.

“Hold it now!” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and it was to his great relief that he found a legitimate excuse for them just as she turned around. She wasn’t dressed like a soldier, after all, not in that smart pink suit and those heels. “Er…pass, please?”

She sighed and fished around in her purse for a bit before handing it to him. “The Brigadier cracking down again?” Then her lips curved up, and she almost laughed. “Well, I suppose it’ll make a nice change. It was beginning to feel a bit pathetic, everyone remembering me well enough to just wave me through.”

The genuine smile made her cross the line from pretty to beautiful, which distracted Harry for a few seconds from the fact that what she had said didn’t make any sense. What was pathetic about being well-known to an elite security organization?

“Well? Am I all in order, then?”

Oh. The pass. Right. He glanced down at it quickly. “Quite in order, Miss Smith.”

xxxxx

He saw her again two days later, coming out of the old unused lab and heading towards the car park.

“I say!”

He sped up so that they were walking side-by-side. His heart was pounding. “Miss Smith, isn’t it?”

“Checking my pass again, Lieutenant…?”

“Oh, just Harry’s fine, miss, Harry Sullivan, that is, I’m a doctor as well but I’m off-duty, so…” Oh hell, the words were spilling out too fast, even though he’d practiced for ages last night. “And you’re Sarah Jane Smith, well, of course you know you are–” Oh, that was brilliant, he sounded like a bloody imbecile. “What I meant was–that is, I saw you and–some of my mates and I are heading down to the cinema to see the new James Bond film, but one of them canceled, so if you’d like to come…” He clamped his mouth shut before he could babble any further.

She stopped right in the middle of the hallway. “Did the Brigadier put you up to this?”

Of all the possible responses Harry had imagined, some of them quite vividly, this was not one of them. “What? Why? No!”

“He did, didn’t he? Oh, this is just like him!”

“But why would–I wasn’t–I say, I mean–”

Sarah Jane Smith drew herself up, eyes flashing. “You can tell Lethbridge-Stewart that I am not pining, and that I have a perfectly healthy social life without him interfering and sending me on…on…on pity dates with whatever pretty face he can scrounge up!”

She stormed out, leaving a very confused Harry in her wake. Pining? Pity dates? The Brigadier actually caring about any of his subordinates’ social lives, let alone interfering with them?

After a few more moments, it occurred to him that she had, in a rather roundabout way, called him handsome. Well, pretty.

He stuck his hands in the pockets of his lab coat and continued on his way, whistling.

xxxxx

The next day he cornered Benton and found out that Sarah Jane Smith was a journalist, from a top magazine actually, and that she’d been a sort of assistant to a civilian science consultant who wasn’t in London at the moment. The sergeant got oddly close-lipped about the whole matter when Harry asked what the devil a journalist was doing mucking about in top-secret matters with a U.N.I.T. scientist and why she was still about all the time if the scientist fellow wasn’t there anymore.

“The Doctor’ll be back,” Benton snapped at last, turning away to polish his rifle with a finality that said the conversation was over. “The Doctor always comes back.”

After wrestling with the Hippocratic Oath for the better part of five hours, Harry decided that dash it all, it wasn’t as if he was trying to hurt the fellow, and waded into the medical records. The file he wanted was so thin that he almost missed it between Smith, Jacob and Smithers, Katherine. There was no date of birth or immunization record or even a basic height-weight-blood pressure checklist, nothing but a neatly typed work-up by a Dr. Shaw about certain procedures rendered inadvisable by the patient’s (unspecified) cardiovascular irregularities, and a hastily jotted notation about a severe allergy to aspirin.

Harry flipped the piece of paper back and forth a few times, just in case he’d somehow missed something. “Dashed curious,” he told the air.

And then it hit him.

“Oh, I say,” he breathed out.

Scientist, his foot. And assistant, his foot, come to think of it. Oh, he could bloody kick himself for not seeing it. In his defense, ‘Smith’ wasn’t exactly a rare name, but still. Benton’s reticence about the missing man, the file with all identifying material removed or never put in, “Miss” Smith always dropping by, I’m not pining…

“Well, you’ve gone and done it now, Sullivan,” he said out loud. “Gone and fallen for some secret agent’s girl. And a good thing he’s not in London right now, or you’d probably be getting run over by an Aston Martin or decapitated by a bowler hat this very minute.”

He replaced the folder in the file cabinet, then took it back out and gave it a hasty wipe-over with his sleeve, just in case they ever got checked for fingerprints or anything. You never knew, did you? No sense in taking chances.

He tried not to feel disappointed as he went about his work for the rest of the day. There was no sense in that either. He’d never really had a chance with her in the first place. Even if some international man of mystery hadn’t been waiting in the wings, he would’ve mucked it up somehow like he always did, said the wrong thing or spilled tea all over her or whatnot.

“Chin up, Sullivan,” he told himself with forced cheer as he swept up yet another shattered beaker, thankfully empty this time. “Tomorrow is another day.”

xxxxx

He didn’t see her again for almost a week, perhaps partly because she was avoiding him, but also because one of the captains had held a training session in some exotic form of karate–Venetian or Venezuelan or something–that it became apparent far too late the good captain was only a beginner in himself. Harry was up to his elbows in other people’s sprained elbows and twisted ankles, and more than a few bloody noses. He himself had been exempted from the session, but seeing as his exemption was due to slipping and falling on a needle full of morphine–and hadn’t the other chaps had a field day with that one–he didn’t feel as though he’d gotten off any easier.

He was just strolling down to the barracks for a much-needed kip when he heard crying coming from beyond the unused lab’s door. Sniffling, really, jerky and muffled, as if the person in question was trying to force the sounds back down their throat.

Harry eased open the door as slow as he could manage, just in case it was one of the green young lads having a private cry. But it was Sarah Jane Smith. She was facing away from him, towards a dusty old coatrack, her hands fisted in the folds of a velvet opera cape, almost pulling at it. Her head was bowed, and her shoulders were shaking with the effort of trying not to sob.

All in all, it was a sight to shred any fellow’s heartstrings. Harry cleared his throat, reaching out to pat her shoulder. “Er, Miss Smith–”

She whirled around. “What are you doing here?” Her eyes were wide, her cheeks tear-streaked in criss-crossing trails. “Are you spying on me?!”

Harry sputtered, helpless, words utterly failing him. “What–I–wh–”

But she was already apologizing. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that! I’m so sorry, I’m just being awfully rude to everyone lately, and I can’t seem to stop it–” She took a silk handkerchief out of her pocket and mopped at her eyes. Took a deep breath. She was still trembling a little, but she pasted on a smile. “If you’ll let me stop taking off your head for a second, I would like to apologize for the other day. The misunderstanding.”

“Oh, no need.” Harry stuck his hands in his pockets. He wished he’d though to offer her his handkerchief. “I expect you’re under a lot of stress.”

“It’s just…” she swallowed. “I keep thinking he’ll be back. Hoping, really. But he never is.”

There was an awkward silence, the kind Harry always felt obligated to fill by saying a lot of things very quickly.

“I say, the canteen’s open but nobody will be in at this hour. We could get some tea, fortify your constitution. And they do a jolly good shepherd’s pie. It wouldn’t be any kind of date, and definitely not a pity one.”

She gave a small but real smile through her tears, and it was like the sun through the rain.

xxxxx

In one of the universe’s small but wonderful mercies, Harry managed to carry the food tray to their table without tripping over his own feet. He handed Sarah Jane her cup and plate. “Right-o, then, here’s your pie.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

They ate in silence, Harry desperately trying to think of something clever and charming to say. Then Sarah Jane set down her fork with a definitive well-that’s-done clink, and he panicked, blurting out the first thing that came to mind:

“I say, I know it’s all very hush-hush about this Doctor Smith fellow, but if you want to talk about it a bit, none of the specifics of course, just, you know, get it off your chest, like. Well, then, you can.”

“That’s very kind of you.” She didn’t say anything else for a few moments, and Harry, having been the recipient of the fine art of the polite brush-off many a time before, had began to cast about for another subject when she took a deep breath and started to speak. “There was–a mission. He had to go away.” She swallowed. She was still holding the handkerchief in one hand, and her fist clenched around it. “Oh, but he didn’t need to! It was all over and done with, but he just wouldn’t rest until–” She turned away and dabbed at her eyes a bit. When she spoke again her voice was more controlled. “Oh, sometimes I didn’t–don’t–sometimes I don’t understand him at all.”

“What was he like?”

“Oh, he was marvelous!” Her whole face lit up, and she leaned forward, clasping her hands in front of her. “Sometimes it seemed like he knew everything. And he cared so much about humanity–that is, people, and he was so gentle and kind…” Her eyes softened. “And he was a bit ridiculous as well. Well, more than a bit. And he could be so arrogant sometimes, oh, he’d get this lofty look in his eyes and start going on about how he might as well be in the Dark Ages for all the scientific equipment he could get here–”

Harry had never known it was possible to feel that one might actually physically burst from jealousy. But he couldn’t ask her to stop; there was an almost hungry, no, starving look in her eyes, as though she’d been dying for a chance to talk about the man. He thought of how defensive she’d gotten when she thought she was being pitied, and realized she probably hadn’t talked to anyone at all.

He tried very hard not to feel like he was getting a consolation prize.

Sarah Jane pulled a photo out of her purse. She handed it to Harry. “This is him. Well, us. Just after we’d first met.”

The first shock was how old the chap in the picture was. Harry’d been picturing a man somewhere in age between himself and the Brigadier, some strapping fellow all tall and dark and handsome like the heroes in his gran’s secret stash of romance novels. But staring out from the photograph was a man in a velvet jacket who could’ve been Sarah Jane’s grandfather, with a nose you could’ve used as an umbrella and a shock of silvery hair that looked as though it’d been attacked by an aggressive hair-dryer. He had his arm around Sarah Jane and was grinning with a decidedly proprietary air.

The second shock was Sarah Jane’s smile, beaming out like a star, wider than Harry’d ever seen in life. Pure delight. If he’d thought it made her look beautiful before…well. She had her arm around the old gent’s waist, and was hugging him to her so that their heads rested together, dark brown hair against silver. Almost as an afterthought Harry noted that she was wearing some sort of odd Peter Pan get-up; perhaps they’d been at a fancy dress party.

The picture had obviously been much-handled, little white lines radiating from the edges showing where it had gotten wrinkled and then been smoothed out again. There were a few smudgy fingerprints, mostly concentrated around the old bloke’s face, as though somebody had gently traced the lines of his features, stroking them. The thought made Harry’s heart hurt.

He realized he’d been staring for quite some time, and handed back the picture. “He’s got a very distinguished profile.”

She laughed. “That’s quite diplomatic of you.” She looked back down at the picture, seemed to get lost in it. “He used to tweak my nose, just because he knew it’d get my dander up. Then I did it back to him, and he sulked all day, the hypocrite.” Despite her words, her voice was soft and wistful. “I think sometimes he only liked to play at being distinguished and proper…it was all a sort of game, and sometimes he’d get things not quite right, like the costume, but it didn’t matter because it was just this wonderful game he was playing and someday the rest of us would catch on…”

A tear slipped down her cheek.

“Well,” Harry said. For a second he was afraid that was all he was going to be able to think to say, and then the rest came burbling out. “Well, no offense, I’m sure this Doctor’s a decent chap, but I can’t say I think it’s very gallant of him to leave a young lady like you in this state of uncertainty. In fact, I think it’s downright rotten. And when he comes back, I jolly well intend to tell him just that.”

He sat back with a huff. Sarah was looking at him oddly.

“Are you sure you haven’t traveled here through time?” She gave a little laugh, as if at some private joke.

“I say–”

But she was holding up her hand to forestall him. “No, no, I’m sorry. I just don’t hear many speeches about chivalry this cent--these days.” She put her hand over his. “I don’t need a champion, thank you. But you’re very sweet to listen to me natter on about all this.”

Harry’s brain was on fire. She’s touching my hand. “For all you know, I might have a fiendish ulterior motive.”

She gave him a sharp look, and then laughed again. “Oh, Harry Sullivan, I don’t believe you’d know fiendish if you looked it up in the dictionary and practiced it every day for ten minutes in front of a mirror.”

“I say, a chap’s got feelings, you know!” Harry tried to mock-glare at her, but that only made her collapse into giggles, tossing back her head as her mirth overtook her.

That moment alone, Harry decided, was worth decapitation by bowler hat.

xxxxx

In the end, no bowler hats, Aston Martins, exploding cigars, or other tricks of the trade were deployed against Harry. Though he did get jump-roped into a cabinet and then tied up by his ankles, which had to be the least dignified thing to happen to him all month.

He never did work out who the gentleman in the photograph had been (Sarah had some explanations, but he wasn’t ready to believe those until years later, when he’d forgotten most of the details).He never added anything to the small file on Doctor John Smith. He did corner the Doctor, not long before he left the TARDIS, and tell him exactly what he had promised Sarah he would. But though the Doctor nodded along, Harry couldn’t shake the feeling that he hadn’t heard a word.

Harry supposed he was just one of those fellows who wasn’t meant for the adventures, who were made to stay at home and plod on through the business of everyday life and keep it all running for the adventurers to return to. Someone reliable and prosaic and unimaginative, to whom the greater mysteries of life would always be as alien and unreachable as a nebula seven galaxies away, or as a kiss from a pretty girl.

Most days, Harry is content with that.

When he is not, you won’t hear him complaining.