It was already getting late, and Sarah Jane thought it best to start heading home.
“Oh, do stay for another cup, won't you, dear?”
Regardless, she still reached for her coat. “I'm sorry, Aunt Lavinia, but I really should be going. I told them I'd try and be home by seven.”
Dismissively, she waved a hand at her, leaning back in the armchair. “They're sixteen, aren't they? Another ten minutes won't hurt them, Sarah.”
“I'm afraid that the roads might be bad if I wait any longer. Thank you for having me, thought–Happy Christmas, again.”
They embraced briefly, a quick kiss on each cheek, and Sarah Jane was out the door before she had even managed to get her coat on all the way.
Already, the snow was coming down much harder than before, the flakes blowing in hard torrents across the shadowed countryside. She held up a hand to shield her face from the biting wind, and cautiously crossed the icy driveway, reaching for the dial to the heater the second she slid into the car.
“You alright back there, K-9? Hope it's not too cold.”
Underneath an old throw blanket, the metal dog whirred to life. “Only extreme temperature conditions affect my ability to function, Mistress. If you are asking about the condition of my circuitry, my function rate is normal.”
She laughed, and reached back to adjust the blanket around him. “I won't turn the heat all the way up, then.”
His little ears turned back and forth for a moment, and he paused, as if thinking. “Weather conditions have deteriorated since my last observation. Caution is advised, Mistress.”
“Yes, I know, K-9. Thank you, anyway.”
The added effect of thick snow flurries and harsh winds wasn't pleasant to drive through, especially considering that the winding country roads were mostly slick with thick sheets of ice. Though it wouldn't normally take too long to get back home, it all seemed to take forever. However, it was quiet–everyone else must be at home, she thought to herself.
And she didn't realize that they were sliding on the frost-covered road until it was too late.
In the eerie silence that followed the crash, K-9 sat quietly, sticking his tiny suction cup scanner out over the front seat.
“Mistress has acquired sustainable amounts of damage,” he stated, after receiving no response from Sarah Jane for some time. “Contacting assistance.”
Half-buried in a snow drift on the side of the road, K-9 put out an intergalactic distress call.
- - - - -
“Doctor,” Leela said, eying the TARDIS console suspiciously, “Your controls are ringing.”
“Ringing? Must be the phone, let me see.” He brushed her aside, swung a loose end of his scarf over one shoulder, and smoothly picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“K-9? But you're right...here.”
“The current version traveling with you is a past version of myself. I have been assigned by you, in your future, to Sarah Jane. The TARDIS has been added to my call system in need of emergency. As now is such a time, I am currently making this call. I can transmit our current space-time coordinates. Transmitting....processing complete.”
“I don't understand,” Leela whispered, reaching to cover the phone with one hand so that her voice wouldn't be picked up. “What's going on?”
The Doctor confirmed the coordinates, and put the TARDIS to action before turning to her. “I want you to stay put, first of all. But whatever's happened, if K-9's decided that it's all serious enough to phone me, then I'd say that it's rather serious. And that worries me.”
- - - - -
He left Leela safely inside the ship, and trudged his way to the snow drift all the way to the wreck at the side of the road.
He noticed immediately that there was so much glass. He was no professional medical official, but he could definitely infer, and determine several things–broken leg, probably a few broken ribs, most likely cranial trauma, and perhaps some mild injury to the spine, or at the very least, her neck.
It wasn't her fault, no–could have happened to anyone, really.
“Master.” K-9 wagged almost happily, upon seeing him. “The coordinates provided were effective?”
“Yes,” he said, patting the dog's little metal head. “Good boy, K-9.”
The Doctor scratched lightly underneath the dog's chin. “However, I do have one question–why call me? I believe that you said it was 2012...?”
“The year is 2010.”
“Yes, 2010. So I'm on which regeneration?”
“Your tenth, Master.”
“Ooh, sounds like fun–so why me, so far in the past? You could have called anyone, K-9.”
There was a quiet, cold moment, and K-9 seemed to nod towards Sarah Jane (at least, as best he could).
“She remembers you more fondly than any other regeneration. In a state of emergency like this, I felt that it would provide her the most comfort.”
“Good dog,” The Doctor said, proudly. “Oh, good, good dog. Either way, I'm here to help. Do you know where her phone is?”
“Most likely suggestion: pants pockets. Alternative suggestion is coat pockets.”
He does find her cell in her coat–which he was thankful for, as it didn't require him to shift her injured leg at all–and he began to search through the listed contacts.
- - - - -
“Luke, your phone's ringing,” Rani called, over the melody of the music (some collection of holiday-related pop songs that she'd found in her room and put in as background noise), and she tossed the cell to him from her place on the couch.
He descended the step ladder halfway to answer the call, holding the star for the tree in his free hand as he picked up. “Hey, mum–we were wondering where you were. You said that you might be held up, no big deal–we were just putting the star on top, and–who is this?”
Rani couldn't quite hear what he was saying over the obnoxious music, but she noticed the drastic change in his expression; the fear that flooded into his eyes.
“Doctor?” he went on, setting the decoration aside and sitting down on the steps. “Which one? Oh. I see. Yeah...that's fine. Thanks.”
He closed the phone slowly with shaking hands, and Clyde reached over to turn the volume on the CD player down. “Something wrong?”
“Rani, your parents are still home, right?” he asked, sweeping aside the living room curtains to double check whether or not the porch lights of the house across the street were still on. As usual, they still were, the light fragmented here and there with the flurries of snow that fell to blanket the street.
“Yeah,” she said, as if it were plainly obvious. “Why?”
He didn't turn to them. “Could they drive us over to the hospital? Sarah Jane's been in an accident.”
- - - - -
The Doctor left this K-9 under Leela's watchful gaze, and took charge of the situation almost instinctively. After an hour of patient waiting, worrying, and hoping, he crossed out into the proper waiting room, and recognized several anxious faces there.
At the sound of footsteps on the linoleum tiles, Luke's head snapped up. “Hey!” he called, catching the Doctor's attention. Nervously, one of the boy's hands tightened into a fist around the edge of the chair. “They won't tell us anything–is she going to be alright?”
Though he would admit that things had been rather rough at the start, it seemed that it all was looking rather good, now. “It's all going to be just fine,” the Doctor answered, coming to stand beside the small group. “Besides, you know Sarah Jane–not going to let something like this keep her down, yeah?”
“Yeah...” And for a quick moment, Luke flashed him a genuine smile.
The silence developed an awkward air to it, and the Doctor grinned, clasping his hands together. “I'm sorry, where are my manners at a time like this? I don't believe that you remember me at all, Mrs. Chandra?”
She thinks for a moment, and though she recognizes the face, she can just barely place it in her mind. “You were here for Sarah's birthday, I think? Yes, the one with the scarf. Can't quite remember your name, though...”
He jumped on this, throwing his hand out and shaking hers a little too enthusiastically. “Yes, yes I was–John Smith. Lovely seeing you again, all of you, though I do wish that it were under happier circumstances. Sarah and I are....old, old friends. And, on that note, they've just put her through to recovery. She's doing just fine. They won't let you all in, of course, but I can take you up if you'd like. Shall we?”
- - - -
Luke, eager only minutes ago, froze in the doorway to the room, took a deep breath, and told himself not to cry. Softly, the Doctor tapped him on the back.
“Go on, then,” he urged him gently. “Go and see her.”
He solemnly took a chair at her bedside, and held her hand in shaking fingers. Though he tried to withhold his tears, several slipped from the corners of his eyes.
She looked so lifeless.
Though he knew, he knew, that the braces and the plaster casts were there for support, to help her, they made her look so much more broken. As if, once they removed those, she would fall apart. He ran his thumb over her palm, tracing the creased lines on her skin, and he noticed for once just how much those lines stood out–on her hands, her shoulders, her face, and just how old she looked, like this.
“No need to cry,” the Doctor said gently, placing a hand comfortingly on his shoulder. “She's fine. We'll just have to wait and see how things go now, I think.”
“Yeah...I know. And I'm glad that she's alright.”
The two of them kept a quiet vigil in the drawn-out minutes that followed, in the seemingly suffocating silence, waiting tensely for her to resurface from unconsciousness. And after a short amount of time, she did.
“Mum,” Luke breathed, with a sigh of relief. “Hey. How do you feel?”
She blinked sleepily and smiled drowsily, reaching up to place her hand against his cheek. “Hey.” She took too deep of a breath, felt her chest radiate with pain from splinters of ribs that had only just been manipulated and twisted back into place, and she winced. “What happened?”
“Be careful,” her son warned her. “You're not in...too great of a shape right now. Too much ice on the road on your way home. You slid into a drift–but K-9 saved the day, used a couple of those contacts that you put in.”
Sarah Jane grinned–still half in a drugged stupor. “Knew those would come in handy one day. Who did he call?”
“Hello, Sarah–no, don't move your head, you'll hurt your neck. Here, I'll come closer.”
“It's you.” She struggled to focus her blurry gaze, to see his face, and to make sure that it was really him. “Really...you.”
“I know. I'm here.” Tenderly, he kissed her cheek. “And look at you–still getting yourself into trouble, I see.”
“I try my best.”
He laughed, squeezing her hand. “Are you feeling any pain, or are you alright for now?”
“Oh, I'm fine,” Sarah giggled airily, with a loopy, almost lopsided smile. “I feel just fine.”
“Good. That's good to hear. Get some rest now, won't you?”
“Yeah. Okay.” Still holding tight to them both, she closed her eyes, and lapsed into sleep.
- - -
Afterward, he only stayed for just a few hours more, once he was sure that she would be just fine. After returning K-9 to Bannerman Road, the Doctor lingered to visit the hospital once more before departing. In the dark room, the only dim lighting being that from the city outside, he settled a package on the bedside table, wrapped in brightly patterned paper and tied with a bow. He produced a small tree from one deep coat pocket, and stood it up beside the gift, fixing the branches and the tiny tinsel garland wound around it.
Quietly, among the hum of machinery and equipment, he stooped over the bed to press a kiss to her cheek.
“Happy Christmas, Sarah.”
With that, he tipped his hat to no one in particular, and left.
- - -
When all of the presents they’d brought along had been given and exchanged, Luke then noticed the odd one left on the table by the bed, and the small Christmas tree that accompanied it. “I don’t remember that being there.”
“Someone must have come and put it in overnight, then,” Sarah Jane suggested, though she couldn’t remember much of last night as it was, anyways. “Not a problem, then. Has to be here for a reason, so let’s see it. Who’s it for?”
Rani, who was closest, looked over the tag, and then handed it to her with a scandalous glance. “It’s for you, I think.”
In long strokes was written, ‘To my Sarah Jane’.
Clyde grinned. “From an admirer, I’m guessing?” Between the chairs, Rani kicked him firmly, and he made no further comment.
Delicately, Sarah Jane pulled the bow off and peeled away the wrapping--a rather rubbish job, too, with the tape uneven in some places, and some corners folded wrong. The box was a simple cardboard package, long, flat, and rectangular, and she pulled its contents out onto the bed with a knowing smile.
The scarf was ridiculously long in length, with all sorts of mismatched, multicolored stripes. She recognized the pattern all too well, having spent a good portion of her life chasing after a man in a scarf such as this one. Maybe this one was really his, and perhaps it wasn’t, but without a second thought, she held it briefly against her face, recognizing the warm feeling of the wool, and the scent almost immediately, as it wasn’t directly a cologne (did Time Lords wear perfumes such as that?), but smelled just as warm, a mixture of cinnamon and musk.
“It looks just like his does,” Luke commented, “Is it the same one?”
She shrugged, grinned, and wound the scarf about her neck. “Maybe we won’t ever know. I can’t tell, myself. Suits me, don’t you think?”
The ends were long enough to loop well over the edges of the hospital bed, the fringed edges just brushing against the floor. She moved to set the box aside, and a note fell out onto her lap, a quick little message hurriedly scrawled on a spare scrap of paper.
‘Sarah--Don’t you forget me.’
‘No,’ she mused to herself, as she looped the scarf about her arms, playfully twisting the fringe between her fingers, ‘No, I could never. Not you, Doctor. You mean too much to me, I’m afraid...and you always will.’