At Belle Vue Park, Sarah Jane Smith approached the TARDIS. A glistening monument in a beautiful grove.
As she stared at the door, she was hesitant to knock.
It had been an emotional and draining couple of hours for her, reuniting with the traveller that she had spent much of her young adult life, seeing things no other journalist born to Planet Earth had the fortune to see, only to be unceremoniously deposited back on Earth. No farewell, no meaningful conversation.
He’d tried a few times to make it up to her, an attempt to attend a Jazz session at the Royal Albert Hall led to an adventure with the insect-like Kalik who were abducting passenger trains, intending to feat on the occupants. She and The Doctor succeeded in thwarting the attack.
And then, she forgot. It seemed he forgot too.
She wondered why that was the case, perhaps forgetting had been an adventure all its own.
Perhaps it didn’t matter at this point.
He was here. Now. The Doctor had come back.
And in the wake of his return, great tragedy had been averted, and personal loss had occurred.
The greater tragedy involved the enslavement of children in an attempt by the Krillitane race to crack the code necessary to rewrite all of universal creation; they were thwarted by the heroic acts of her loyal robot dog K-9.
The personal loss had come with K-9 selflessly sacrificing himself to level the school and kill all the Krillitanes inside.
Sarah now stood before the primitive majesty of the TARDIS, completely humbled and emotionally broken, eager to see The Doctor one last time before he departed.
She wondered if he could even face her after forging her dog into a weapon to use against the enemy.
She was fine with that, she understood.
An apology wasn’t what she was hoping for.
Finally, The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS doors; he froze as Sarah approached him, her hands shaking, her face raw with longing and a need to communicate.
“Oh yes, right, hi, spot of tea?” The Doctor asked.
“Oh god yes” she said.
As she entered the ship for the first time in decades, observed by Rose Tyler and Mickey Smith, who were already inside awaiting their next adventure, she took note of its majestic coral appearance; it was as if she’d flown into a honeycomb.
“You’ve redecorated” Sarah said.
“You don’t like it?” The Doctor asked.
“Oh on the contrary, I love it, it’s just, not what I was used to from our time together”
“You don’t know how many times my old selves have critiqued my desktop choices”
“I thought you told me once that time lords can’t retain memories of meeting your other selves?”
“I take notes” The Doctor remarked.
“Really?” Sarah asked, excitedly curious.
“Notes. Pen to paper, like leaving reminders on the fridge. Rose, does the TARDIS have a fridge yet?”
“Mum won’t let me install the one we’ve got” Rose admitted as she made the tea.
“Oh she probably just hasn’t defrosted anything yet, give her time” The Doctor remarked.
“Did I hear you right? You’ve met other versions of you?” asked Mickey Smith.
“Tolerated would be a better word” The Doctor replied.
“Of course, it’s so simple, leaving notes to pick up on later; I wonder how much of your future you’ve learned?” Sarah inquired.
“Reminders for a time traveller are a bit like a spaghetti junction, lots of bends and turns that you need to navigate carefully otherwise you’re going in non-linear circles. What I did twenty years earlier may just be what I’m about to do tomorrow. It’s best me and the others stick to yesterday and compare what we did then with how we handle the here and now” The Doctor explained.
“Tea’s ready” said Rose as she headed back with a tray of hot mugs.
“Oh that hit the spot, thank you” said Sarah as she took a sip.
The Doctor downed his mug’s contents in one long gulp.
“Sure your throat won’t be too toasty?” said Rose.
“Nah, I’ve got a high tolerance for heat, I once survived the molten temperatures of the gravel pits of pavilore pits while hopping. Oh, and I also survived the angriest whopper from Burger King”
Sarah and Rose both giggled, The Doctor and Mickey both beamed at this.
“Yeah, that shows you’re cooking mate, you warmed both the ex and the latest both up to you, that tin dog may be gone, but you’re out of the doghouse” said Mickey.
The laughter stopped and all three of them stared coldly at Mickey.
“Oh, sorry” said Mickey, realising he’d been inappropriate.
The Doctor glanced over at Sarah.
“We’re about to head off now, but you could come with us, see the universe all over again with wiser eyes, maybe mentor Rose, give even Mickey the idiot a telling off that could last a lifetime”
Sarah’s eyes lit up, but the spark quickly faded as her sense of mortality kicked in.
She took one look at Rose and realised this was a sport for the young. There was no place for her.
“No. I can’t do this anymore. Besides, I’ve got a much bigger adventure ahead. Time I stopped waiting for you and found a life of my own” she said.
The Doctor glanced over to Rose, whose demeanour had surprisingly changed; she gave the Doctor an interesting look back, one that was apprehensive and remorseful, the Doctor’s eyes dug deep into her own, almost apologetically.
“Can I come? No, not with Ms. Smith, I mean with you lot. Because I’m not the tin dog, and I want to see what’s out there” Mickey added.
“Oh, go on, Doctor. Sarah Jane Smith, a Mickey Smith. You need a Smith on board” Sarah said.
“Alright fine then, only at your request, not his insistence. Rose, you on board?” The Doctor said.
“Rose, is that okay?” Mickey asked.
“No, great. Why not? “Rose replied, acting almost as if her day couldn’t get any worse.
“Well, I’d better go” Sarah said.
“Catch you later” Rose muttered. Sarah wasn’t sure what she meant.
The Doctor and Sarah made their way out of the TARDIS, away from the prying eyes of envious companions and overexcited newcomers.
“Is Rose alright? She looked kind of…distant”
The Doctor stretched his arms and felt a tense tingle in the back of his neck, he scratched it slightly.
“Pure intuition I imagine. Knows what’s coming”
“Is what’s to come that bad?” Sarah asked.
“She’s ready, knows where she stands, that makes it a little easier”
“Make what a little easier?” asked Sarah.
“I’m really not good at this” The Doctor remarked as he fidgeted with his right trouser pocket.
“Don’t tell me you lost your key” Sarah said, laughing.
“No, not the key, something just as important, though frankly if I found myself stuck here, this would be even more easy to get through, because then I wouldn’t always have to say goodbye”
Finally, The Doctor pulled out a studded blue diamond ring. It had four sharpened edges, resembling a miniature star.
Sarah’s eyes widened in astonishment as The Doctor got down on one knee.
“When I told you my other selves and I wrote ourselves little reminders, we stuck to dealing with yesterday, all our regrets and how to make up for them. This was always at the top of my to-do list”
He held Sarah’s hand tightly and squeezed it; his eyes stared intensely into hers.
“I came back for you one time, in my seventh body, to say how sorry I was for abandoning you, we were going to listen to Jazz together. When I was drafted into the time war, I took that previous moment of reconciliation from you to keep you from worrying about me, so you wouldn’t be kept waiting for a wounded soldier…but seeing how far you’ve come, seeing how you’ve coped with my absence and how, through all of that, still willed yourself to move forward, I knew now was the time Sarah, to ask you to keep the faith, and to keep waiting, because I will come back. I will return from my weary travels and I will come home to you. Tried and true you. Your song is the only one I want singing me to my inevitable sleep”
Sarah could do little to hold back her humbled tears or to keep the bravest man she ever knew from coming apart at the seams, all she could offer was the simplest answer to the question all men ask when reach this point of the procedure.
“Sarah Jane Smith, there’s only way I can make this promise mean something, will you…” he began
“Yes, you crazy old wonderful man, yes” she said.
“My Sarah Jane” The Doctor remarked, his face a mix of sadness and content joy, he got up and whisked her up in his arms, cradling her in an ecstatic embrace.
The pair stared at one another, transfixed by their mutual love and admiration, trapped in a single moment in time neither wish would slip away from them
A faint purring sound from the TARDIS engines prompted The Doctor into action; he carried Sarah over to the doors and urged her to let him carry her over the threshold. Sarah held firm on her intentions from earlier.
“I meant what I said Doctor, you’ve got the legs for eternity, I’m not that spry, but if there’s anything that needs handling on home soil while you’re not here to clean it up, I’m game for that. I’ll keep my neck of the woods safe, you keep whole worlds from toppling, go bedazzle dimensions and glue together cracks in time, just know when the time is right to come home. We’ll make this work, I know we will”
“Go get ’em Tiger” said The Doctor, kissing Sarah on the forehead and putting her down before charging through the TARDIS doors.
As Sarah watched the TARDIS dematerialized, she spotted a familiar metal dog come into view as it faded from sight.
“K9” she said.
“Mistress” said K9.
“But you were blown up”
“The Master rebuilt me” K9 confirmed.
“Yes, he does that. He rebuilds. Come on you, we’ve got work to do, my world needs to look it’s best for my soldier when he comes home”