If someone had suggested to Sarah Jane even just a few years ago that she wouldn’t jump at the chance to travel with the Doctor again, she’d have questioned their sanity, or at least doubted that they’d ever met the Doctor. Who wouldn’t want to travel with him?
She made the decision to leave him, sure, but she’d never intended it to be forever. She’d been holding onto the hope that he’d come back for her for years and years, so that when it turned out that it was completely accidental that he finally ran into her again, it really hurt. He’d have gone his whole life — hundreds, maybe even thousands of years — without ever seeing her again if he’d had his way.
That was why, when he stood there and asked her to come with him again, the way she’d always dreamed he would, Sarah Jane hesitated. She couldn’t keep letting her whole life revolve around him. She’d wasted too much time already.
She very nearly said no, to the point that her lips even formed the beginning of her denial. The response fell away, though, when she glanced at Rose. It had been at Rose’s urging that the Doctor had asked in the first place, and Rose’s encouraging smile was dazzling. It would be to Rose more than to the Doctor that Sarah Jane would be saying no.
Sarah Jane looked at Rose and saw herself back before the Doctor had broken her heart. And even though Sarah Jane had finally seen what the Doctor looked like when he was in love — a look Sarah Jane now accepted would never be directed at her — she wondered whether it was going to be enough. He was still the Doctor. He still had no idea how to deal with women, as he’d proven the night before when Sarah Jane had overheard the Doctor and Rose arguing.
He was undoubtedly going to hurt her, in the end. And Sarah Jane couldn’t just let history repeat itself without trying to do something about it. She didn’t want Rose to end up alone, as she had.
Rose needed her. And Sarah Jane thought she might need Rose as well. She’d felt lighter than she had in years when the two of them had laughed together the night before after working out their jealousy. There were so many similarities there, despite the age difference. There was a connection that she couldn’t quite deny. It was certainly more than Sarah Jane had waiting for her back at home.
Maybe, she thought, being physically away from the Doctor wasn’t what she needed. Years spent without a whisper from him hadn’t made much difference, after all. Right by his side just might be exactly where she would manage to finally move past him.
“Maybe just a few trips,” Sarah Jane finally agreed. She knew she sounded as uncertain as she felt about that decision, but it didn’t seem to matter to them.
In her peripheral vision, she could see the Doctor’s pleased expression. He seemed so much easier to read than either of the versions of him she’d known when she was younger. Or maybe it was just that she wasn’t quite as blinded by him anymore.
His expression was still barely a shadow of the smile Rose bestowed on her, though. Sarah Jane found herself unexpectedly pulled into a hug. Rose’s excitement was contagious. She could see what the Doctor (and Mickey as well, from what Sarah Jane could tell) saw in this girl; she was like a force of nature.
That did, of course, mean that it was just as obvious when she was angry or sad as when she was happy. Rose looked absolutely livid, and a little stunned, at the fact that Mickey was suddenly going to accompany them all on the TARDIS as well. Sarah Jane looked between the three of them and wondered how the Doctor could fail to see it. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.
Reflecting on that, Sarah Jane didn’t quite know what to say when, with the Doctor and Mickey distracted by bickering with each other, Rose sat down heavily on the TARDIS deck, looked up at Sarah Jane with sad eyes that left Sarah Jane’s chest feeling strangely tight, and asked her why she thought the Doctor agreed to have Mickey along.
“He never wanted him around before,” Rose said quietly enough that Mickey himself wouldn’t overhear. “He used to pretty much hate him, even. I thought he might’ve been jealous. I thought we were... But then he went and regenerated, and it’s been weeks, but I’ve still got no more idea what’s goin’ on with him than when he first changed.”
Sarah Jane found it hard enough to adjust to the Doctor’s newest regeneration, even though it had been decades since she’d last seen him and she’d been through this process before. It must have been so much harder for Rose, with it all being so fresh. Sarah Jane was glad that she’d said yes after all.
Somewhat paradoxically, she found herself being even happier again that she’d agreed to come along when the Doctor stranded them all on a spaceship just a few hours later. Sarah Jane saw an opportunity to make a difference. She had some experience with the Doctor leaving her behind to draw on, after all.
While Mickey was stressing about how they’d get out of there and Rose was silently staring off into space, Sarah Jane was pointedly refusing to let herself feel equally disappointed. Someone had to stay strong, and she figured she could play the listening ear while she was at it. She gently pushed at the defences Rose had erected around herself the moment the Doctor had gone through that mirror with a crash of finality. Eventually Rose broke her silence, venting the way Sarah Jane knew she needed to.
As Rose voiced her uncertainties, Sarah Jane met Mickey’s eyes and knew he was thinking the same thing she was.
Apparently the only ones who didn’t know how Rose and the Doctor felt about each other were Rose and the Doctor.
Sarah Jane rubbed Rose’s shoulder and reassured her that the Doctor had shown more remorse at having to leave Rose behind than Sarah Jane had ever expected from him, which clearly meant he cared. Then she tried to cheer both Rose and Mickey up. After enough embarrassing stories about the Doctor gathered from her earlier years with him, Rose’s frown slowly dissipated and eventually turned into outright laughter.
The last thing Sarah Jane expected was for Rose to suddenly kiss her in the middle of a sentence. Sarah Jane had never experienced a caress of lips against her own quite like it before, and certainly never with a woman. Rose gripped her hips lightly as she kissed her, and Sarah Jane was so tempted to just lean into it.
But Sarah Jane eventually pushed Rose away gently, unsure how else to respond to this turn of events.
It wasn’t that she hadn’t enjoyed it. It was just... she’d travelled through all of time and space, and seen all kinds of things, and yet she was still a product of her generation in many ways. She considered herself a pretty accepting person, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t take some getting used to.
But as she looked at Rose, she realised that that wouldn’t be necessary, actually. This wasn’t about Rose wanting something beyond friendship to develop between them. It was purely about comfort, gratitude and self-distraction. Sarah Jane wasn’t used to casual romantic gestures like that, precisely, but that much she could understand.
She could clearly see that Rose was far too much in love with the Doctor for her to even think about anyone else that way.
“Thank you,” Rose said tenderly to Sarah Jane.
Then, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, Rose glanced back out the window at the stars as if she could somehow see the Doctor both thousands of years and light-years away. She didn’t stare with the miserable intensity of earlier, though. Sarah Jane was glad to see that she had apparently been able to help.
“So what was that just now?” Mickey asked, snickering.
Sarah Jane answered when it became clear that Rose wasn’t intending to. “Girl bonding, I suppose,” she said simply.
Mickey grinned. “Well, feel free to do more of it any time. Really.”
“Oi, shut up, you perv,” Rose commanded. Her tone was refreshingly joking. It remained so through their now much more cheerful conversations right up until the moment the Doctor reappeared, only to immediately run off again with no acknowledgement that he’d just left them, and was intending to do so again.
Sarah Jane wondered how it had taken her so long to figure out that, actually, sometimes the Doctor could be a complete idiot.
Rose let Mickey lead her away when the Doctor reappeared on the TARDIS and refused to talk about what had happened in his absence. Sarah Jane wasn’t some nineteen year old girl, though. She wasn’t going to back down so easily.
“Are you trying to make her leave?” she asked.
“What?” the Doctor snapped distractedly.
“Rose. If you’re trying to get rid of her, you’re doing a good job,” Sarah Jane said. “And you could have just left Mickey and I back on Earth if you didn’t want us on board either. You know, you’re surrounded by people now, but if you keep acting like you’re in this alone, that’s how you’ll end up.”
She’d seen the Doctor face down countless scary things without even flinching. It was strange to see him terrified for once, though he tried hard to hide it. She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised that he feared risking his hearts far more than anything as simple as risking his life.
“You’re the smartest man I’ve ever met,” remarked Sarah Jane, “but sometimes you really could fool me.”
“Don’t,” the Doctor said darkly. “Just don’t, Sarah. You don’t understand.”
She raised her eyebrows. “That everyone leaves you eventually? That you feel like you have to leave them first to spare yourself? I think I understand that better than most, actually. That’s not the point. Will it hurt you less if you drive her away now than if you lose her in twenty years, though — that’s the question.”
The Doctor pretended to be too focused on flicking what looked like a random and pointless series of buttons at the TARDIS console to really hear her.
Sarah Jane knew she couldn’t push him any further than that. He was already glowering in a way that suggested he wanted to just completely ignore her out of spite. She didn’t think he actually would, though. He’d known her for too long not to believe that her opinion was worth something.
She left him alone to think it over, whether he wanted to or not.
“He’s gonna leave me, isn’t he?” Rose asked when Sarah Jane finally tracked her down somewhere not too far down the corridor from the Wardrobe Room. “He’s already tried to a few times now. One day he’s gonna succeed.”
“I hope not,” Sarah Jane said, unable to bring herself to lie. “If he actually uses that marvellous brain of his, he’ll realise how foolish that would be. You mean a lot to him, Rose.”
“Yeah. I guess,” Rose said uncertainly.
Sarah Jane sighed. She’d never thought she’d be playing match-maker for the Doctor, but she couldn’t quite help herself.
She didn’t think it was too much to ask that the people she cared about could just be happy for once.
If only the Doctor agreed.