The Doctor flipped his cell phone open, grinning as he read the caller I.D. “Jack! How are you? It’s been a while.”
“It has,” Jack agreed, sounding far less cheerful than the Doctor. “When you hear what I have to say, you’ll probably wish it was longer.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the Doctor asked. His smile faded at the grim tone in the Captain’s voice. “Has something happened? Are you alright?”
“Me?” Jack laughed softly into the phone, entirely without humour. “I’m always alright.”
“Then what’s happened?”
“Are you sitting down?”
Jack sighed. “You probably should.”
The Doctor listened for a long moment as Jack spoke. When he stopped, there was a long silence, and he wondered briefly if Jack could hear the loud pounding of his hearts through the phone. He mumbled something to Jack, then thumbed the phone off. Backing up a few paces, he sat down hard on the sofa as his legs gave out. His arm flopped limply to his side, and the phone slid to the floor.
Amy came awake abruptly in the middle of a dream. Something in the back of her mind was uneasy. Looking around the room, she was unable to spot anything amiss. Rory was still sleeping soundly beside her, one hand on her shoulder. The rest of the room was peaceful and still, the quiet broken only by the gentle hum of the air vents and the occasional snore from Rory. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right. Unbidden, an image of the library sprang to her mind. Suddenly she understood. She wasn’t uneasy, but the TARDIS was, and it wanted her in the library.
Carefully, she slid out of bed, pulling the sheet back up over Rory and gently stroking his hair. She pulled on her dressing gown and eased the door to the hallway open, making her way down the corridor. The ship was at half-light, as it sometimes did at night, and Amy was struck by how quiet it was. If she was ever up this late, she usually heard the Doctor clattering around in the console room, but tonight there was no noise. Odd. A little disconcerting even, if she was honest.
The library was dark as well, but Amy felt the TARDIS gently nudging her in the right direction. One hand out in front of her, she carefully wound her way through the maze of shelves and seating areas. She finally saw a faint light flickering from behind one of the shelves. Rounding the corner, she found herself in an empty room. She’d never been in this part of the library before, and, even though there was no one there, she felt as though she were intruding. The room was small and dark, the only light coming from a fire flickering in a small fireplace. The carpet was old and tatty on the edges, and the only furniture in the room was a battered sofa and a massive wooden desk in the corner. The desk was covered in untidy stacks of journals, sketches and albums. One of these, a giant, leather-bound volume, lay open on the sofa. Crossing the room cautiously, Amy kicked something as she neared the couch. It was the Doctor’s cell phone. She laid it thoughtfully on the arm of the sofa, then turned to look at the album.
It was open to a photograph of a young woman, maybe in her late twenties. She was small, with a soft face and dark hair that hung to her shoulders. She was wearing a bright yellow jacket, standing in a wood in the fog. She had turned back to look at the camera, her face split into a charming, delighted smile. That photo took up an entire page, and the page opposite held smaller photos of the same woman. In one, she stood with a man with an overwhelmingly toothy grin and a wild mop of curls. Another showed her sitting on a rock with a different man who looked as though he should be on a boat, rather than an alien planet with a purple sky.
Amy supposed she had stumbled across the Doctor’s old family album or something, though why the TARDIS should want her to see this, she had no idea. As if on cue, she felt the TARDIS nudging her again, and she picked up the book and made her way out of the library. She arrived in the console room just in time to see the Doctor slipping out the front door. She made to follow him, but the TARDIS seemed to be telling her to stop. “Am I just meant to wait here?” In her head, the TARDIS nodded. Wherever he was going, the Doctor needed to go on his own. But she should be waiting for him when he got back.
Stepping out of the broom cupboard he’d parked the TARDIS in, the Doctor sighed. For a moment, he considered going back in and running away. “Coward,” he chided himself. Squaring his shoulders, he made his way down the quiet, darkened hallway.
He passed a window as he found the room he was looking for. It was night. He’d missed the memorial service. Good. He didn’t think he would have been able to bear to hear some stranger ramble on, saying vague things about how she was a loving friend and how much she would be missed. It was true, all of it, of course, but there was so much more than that. So much more that she was than a stranger like that could ever know.
Slowly, reverently, he nudged open the door to the hall. At the far end, illuminated by a lone lamp, lay the coffin, regal, solemn and sad. Rows of chairs, now empty, lined the floor. By the door was a guestbook, and he couldn’t help a small smile as he glanced down at it. Mickey and Martha Smith, Jack Harkness, Harry Sullivan, Tegan Jovanka, Jo Grant, Benton, even Yates was there…She would have meant more to some than she did to others, and certainly not as much to any of them as she did to him, but these were people who really knew her. People who knew the kind of life she had led, the kind of things she’d seen and done. People who knew how special she was.
He sighed and looked back up towards the front. The thought of seeing her like this sent a cold shiver down his spine, but he knew he would regret it forever if he walked away. He took his first step towards the front and stopped. The room wasn’t quite as empty as he had thought.
At the front sat two men, a few seats apart. The man on the left sat tall, dressed in a fine black suit with a magnificent cape thrown over the chair. His silver hair glinted in the light of the single lamp. His face was solemn, unmoving, and his eyes stared straight ahead, although one who knew him as well as the Doctor knew him could detect a slight tremble in his lower lip. The other man sat with his head down, his fingers knotted in an impossible mop of curly hair. The Doctor could see just enough of his face to tell that for once, there was no wild smile, only closed eyes, and tears dripping down to land on his muddy boots.
A flicker of motion caught his eye, and glancing over to the left corner, he was just in time to see a flash of technicolour as a coat-tail trailed its owner out a side door. Further along in the shadows, he was able to make out a young man, dressed mostly in white, his blond head bowed, a hand clutching a hat to his chest. Beside him, a shorter, older man placed his own hat back upon his head, touched the younger one gently on the shoulder, and the two left in silence.
The Doctor heard something shifting behind him, and turning to the right, he saw three men gathered in the back corner. They didn’t speak to each other, but stared ahead in silence. The one with long hair closed his eyes and touched his handkerchief to his lips, whispering what sounded like a prayer. Next to him, a tall, severe looking man in black leather stared ahead with cold, hard eyes, and the Doctor knew he was wondering why the pain of another loss hadn’t killed him yet. The last of the three, a tall, thin man in a pin-striped suit, broke away from the other two and came to stand by him.
“I know we all shouldn’t be here,” he said. He’d been crying, and his eyes held more pain than a face that looked that young should ever have had to bear, but he made a brave attempt at a friendly smile. “But it’s Sarah Jane. How could we stay away?”
“If you hadn’t been here, I would have wondered what was wrong with me,” the Doctor said. He sighed and nodded towards the front. “I envy that lot up there, you know. One day, they’ll be us, and they’ll see her again.”
“Something to look forward to,” said the other one, sighing himself. “Look, like I said, we’re not all supposed to be here, so could you…” He cast his eyes up to the front and hastily looked down again. “What we all want to say, you…well I suppose you know it all, don’t you? Tell her good-bye for us, hey?” His eyes glistened as he looked back up at the Doctor.
The Doctor reached out and took his hand. “I will.” They shook hands firmly, the other one smiled briefly in thanks, and then he was gone. Looking up, the Doctor saw that all the others had gone as well. He sighed again, squared his shoulders, and made his way up the lonely aisle.
She looked so peaceful and serene, she could have been asleep. More than anything, he wished she was, that she would wake up and smile, and tell him to stop being so silly and making all this fuss. “Oh, Sarah,” he whispered, tears prickling at the edges of his eyes. He thought he’d been prepared, but how could you be ready for something like this? To see someone you loved, someone who should have been so vibrant, so full of life, to see them so…still. So small. So broken.
His eyes blurred as tears began to fall in earnest now, and he bit his lip, looking up at the ceiling. Across the universe right now, in the past, in the future, inside of him, nine regenerations were crying, and their tears brought him to his knees. He sat on the floor, head in his hands, and cried. He should have been there. Not for the funeral, that wasn’t important, but for her. He hadn’t known, but that was no excuse. He should have come back, should have taken her away. He was a time traveler for goodness’s sake; he could have taken her some time when there was a cure for cancer! Cancer. The terrors of the universe she’d faced, Daleks, Cybermen, Davros, the end of the world, but this! This tiny little disease that no one would even remember a few centuries from now, and it killed her. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair. She deserved so much more.
With a sniff, he drew a hand across his nose and rose shakily to his feet. Steeling himself, he looked down at her once more. Her face was so peaceful, so natural. He smiled sadly to himself as he realized that he was half-expecting her lips to twist into that smile he knew so well. “Sarah,” he whispered. His younger self was right; he knew what he wanted to say, what they all wanted to say, but where to start? “My Sarah Jane. It’s not fair, you know. But then,” he caught himself smiling for real, just a little bit, as a memory popped into his head. “You would be the first one to tell me that life is never fair, wouldn’t you? And quite right, too. You were always right. You always knew just what I needed to hear, even if I didn’t want to hear it.” He laughed bitterly. “I know life isn’t fair. But, oh, Sarah, why did it have to be you?” His voice caught in his throat and he stopped. He rubbed his eyes, but tears continued to trickle slowly from the corners. He let them.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I really am. You were right, I could have come back for you, and so many times, I almost did. It wasn’t fair, making you wait like that. You were brilliant though. You carried on. You kept on with your investigating, and look at you! You made yourself a life. A good one. And you kept right on, didn’t you? You and Luke and those kids, saving the world. I’m so proud of you. I always was, you know. You were brilliant. Always asking questions, always fighting for what was right. You never wavered, you never backed down. You were so brave. You always fought, right to the end. And you know what? The world’s a better place for it. The world is alive, and safe, and so much better, because Sarah Jane Smith was in it!”
He sighed and closed his eyes. It hurt, but he should have said it long ago. Oh, what he would give for the chance to say it when she was still alive! “I suppose you knew–well, of course you knew, you were clever–but, well, I don’t say this to people enough. I loved you, Sarah Jane. You were one of the best friends I ever had.” He smiled weakly, and he almost reached for her hand. “And I’ve had a lot of friends,” he whispered. “But you were one of the best. Oh, it broke my hearts when I had to let you go.”
His vision blurred over again, and he shut his eyes. Letting her go, sending her back to Croydon, that had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. But now? Now he had to let her go for good, and he didn’t know if his hearts could take it.
He opened his eyes and looked down at her. Swallowing back a great lump in his throat, he placed a hand carefully on her shoulder. “You told me once,” he began, his voice shaking. “You told me that that everything has its time, and everything ends. I wasn’t ready for this to end, but I can’t think of a time better spent than yours. I’m glad I got to be a part of it. Good-bye, my Sarah Jane. Go in peace.”
The Doctor kissed her forehead gently, then turned and sat back down on the steps with a sigh. Looking up, he saw Luke, lying down on the seats in front of him. He was asleep, stretched out across the chairs, his arm folded up under his head. Faint tearstains still showed on his cheeks. The Doctor stood, placing a gentle hand on Luke’s head. Something softened in the boy’s face, comforted by a simple, loving touch. He slept on, and the Doctor closed his eyes, gently touching the edges of his mind, granting him a quiet, dreamless sleep. “I’m sorry, Luke,” he whispered. “I wish there was more I could do.”
“How is he?” asked a voice from behind him. Turning, the Doctor saw Jack sitting on the far edge of the steps. With a sigh, the Doctor moved to sit down beside him.
“Sleeping,” the Doctor said. “He’ll be okay after a while. Sarah Jane raised him. He knows how to be strong, how to carry on.” He sighed. “Still, it’s a hard road to go, after a loss like that. Such a hard road…” His voice trailed off and he turned to look Jack in the eye. “Thanks for the call.”
Jack shook his head. “Every time I make a call like that, I hope it’s the last one. And every time, I’m wrong. I’m glad you came though.”
“We couldn’t stay away,” the Doctor said softly.
“Thought I saw a few faces I recognized while I was waiting. I knew if I stuck around long enough, you’d show up.” He put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder. “You alright?”
The Doctor sighed. “I’m always alright.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling.”
The Doctor nodded, knowing Jack understood.
Jack got to his feet, patting the Doctor on the shoulder as he did so. “Hey, I know you probably want to be alone right now, but I just wanted to let you know, he’ll be alright.” Jack nodded at Luke. “I’m going to keep an eye on him. My life may not exactly lend itself to stability, but I figure maybe a little more than yours does.”
The Doctor managed a small smile at that. “Thank you.”
“Least I can do,” said Jack, managing a small smile of his own. Carefully, he lifted Luke into his arms, cradling the sleeping boy like a child. “I’m going to take him home. Don’t worry–he’ll always have someone to take care of him.”
“It’s good to know you’ll be one of them,” the Doctor said. “I’ll drop in when I can.”
Jack grinned as he started towards the door. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less.” Just as he reached the door, he turned to look back. “I’m sorry, Doctor. I really am. If you need me for…well, for anything, give me a call, okay?”
The Doctor nodded his thanks, and watched Jack disappear through the swinging door. He folded his hands in front of him and sighed, sitting alone with his thoughts for a while longer…
Back in the TARDIS, Amy was just drifting off to sleep when the soft click of the front door woke her. She sat up in time to see the Doctor walk in. He slumped against the door as it closed, leaning back with his eyes shut. “Hello, Amy,” he said, not opening his eyes.
“Hello,” she said quietly. “Are you okay?”
He opened his eyes, pushing himself off of the door, and dragging his feet to join her on the jump seat. “No,” he sighed, sinking down beside her with a sigh. He glanced at her suspiciously. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night.”
“The TARDIS woke me,” she said, hoping that didn’t come out sounding as lame as it did in her head.
He sighed again and closed his eyes, rubbing them with one hand. “She’s a clever old thing, isn’t she? I suppose she’s had you waiting here for me this whole time.”
“Doctor, what’s wrong?”
Whatever it was, it obviously wasn’t good, and the TARDIS seemed to have put him on the defensive, so she was somewhat surprised that he answered. “An old friend of mine,” he said softly. “Sarah Jane. That was her funeral,” he whispered, nodding towards the doors. “She’s dead.” He looked up at her properly for the first time since he’d come in, and Amy’s heart clenched in her chest. Tear stains ran down his cheeks, and though his eyes were dry, they were rimmed with red, weary and heartbroken.
Amy had thrown her arms around him before she was aware she had moved. Instead of fighting the embrace, as she had half expected, he leaned into it, burying his face in her shoulder. They sat in silence for a long moment, he, not moving, she tracing her fingers in soothing circles across his back. At last he pulled away, shifting a bit to give her more space on the seat.
“You would have liked her,” the Doctor said, staring up at the ceiling. “Always asking questions, trying to ferret out the mystery–find out whatever it was that was wrong and stop it. Brave, she was, too, and she never took any rubbish from me.” He stopped, and looked at Amy, swallowing back another lump in his throat. “You remind me of her sometimes, you know.”
Amy lifted the large album from the floor into her lap. “Tell me about her,” she said gently.
He reached out a hand, gently tracing the edge of the photo of the girl in the yellow jacket. A smile flickered across his face, and for a moment it reached his eyes, tired and sad, but genuine. “That’s her. My Sarah Jane…”