There was a party happening in her house, and she opened the back door laughing. The laughter slipped away in a breath and then there was just the smile stuck to her lips like it hadn't quite caught up with the alarm in her eyes. She was dressed in sapphire blue velvet, very appealing. He could hear the champagne bubbles bursting in the glass in her hand. He took a deep breath.
"Sarah Jane Smith, I love you."
Years passed before she thought to close her mouth, and a moment later she downed the champagne in a gulp. A furtive glance over her shoulder through the kitchen and down a corridor to the far away universe where people he didn't know were laughing and talking about things that had nothing to do with him. He was fairly certain she wouldn't be inviting him in. He suspected this was a good thing. No questions to answer, or speculation about the nature of their relationship, she wouldn't have to lie about him. Sarah Jane had never cared for lying. Or liars. She belched softly, looked at him, worried frown moving glacier-like between her brows as she stepped out, closing the door behind her, but not all the way. "I was expecting pizza," she said.
"I must be a terrible disappointment."
Swaying from drink, she cast a wary eye at him. "You love me."
"Yes." He smiled a reassuring smile so she wouldn't think he was mad, madder, but she kept looking at his eyes so he thought maybe the smile hadn't quite reached them yet. "You needn't feel obligated to say it back."
"Oh. Thanks for that. I love you too. Now, what's going on?"
"Nothing. Just thought you should know."
She peered around him, looking for someone, something else, some substantial reason for his very real presence in her little garden. "Is Earth being invaded again?"
"End of the world, some kind of apocalypse?"
"No! Look. It's- it's a sort of New Year's resolution... thing, I'm trying. "
"Since when do you—"
"Hush! My resolution is to tell everyone I love that I love them. With actual words."
She spent a moment getting her empty champagne glass to sit on top of the fence post. "And you started with me?" Charmed (and drunk) as she was, she knew him too well not to be a little suspicious.
"I was in the neighborhood." Hands in his trouser pockets, he scuffed at the garden dirt with the toe of his shoe. "And. Also. There's a good possibility you're the only one left, so…" He felt the grin stretch across his face. It kind of hurt. Her eyes, looking at him, suddenly huge, limpid, those hurt too. He looked down. "…yeah…so…"
In the silence that followed, all the tiny sounds of the world went jazz percussive. The plink of laughter. Clinking ice in a glass. Tires on gravel. Bark of a dog. The sound that came out of her and into the beat of the world was a low keening that freaked the hell out of him. Both hands clapped over her mouth to keep the sound in. Time was that would have been her trying not to laugh at him. Instead, this breathless sobbing, trying not to disturb the neighbors. "Jesus. Oh God. They were just kids."
He started waving his hands about in panic. "No no no no no. Don't. Please." He clasped his hands together, begging. "Please don't. That's not— I didn't come here to dump on you. Honest." He threw his head back and groaned at the night sky. "I really really suck at this. I came here to tell you I love you. Really. That's all. Because you need to – I mean, it's clearly important for you all to know, and apparently not evidenced by my actions. And also, it's good for me. To say it. To make it clear in no uncertain terms – " Deep breath. "Look. The past few days have been bad, I'll admit. Well, past week, I suppose. Month. Month, tops. And before that there were some bad bad increments of time utterly meaningless to your kind, but that's all over now, and it's better, I swear, and I wish I could tell you more because you don't need to cry for any of it, for them. Or me. Could be so much worse, you've no idea. And plus side – big tick on the plus side – you're still here which is the best thing ever. So, go back to your party, back to your mates. Please, please, Sarah-Jane, my dearest friend that I love, just go have a beautiful rest of your very long life."
She stared at him, horror and terrible pity and a sharp little shock he interpreted as betrayal. Her betraying him, not the other way around. And, for a moment, he thought he'd start crying too, and that would be so lame after such a heartfelt speech. But then she sucked in a snotty breath, and palmed the moisture from her eyes and cheeks. Her voice, when she finally used it, was huskier than usual. "Christ, Doctor. Don't be such an idiot."
He blinked. "Gee, Sarah Jane, don't hold back. Tell me how you really feel."
She snorted. "If you think I'm going to send you on your way now, you're a bleeding idiot. Just give me twenty minutes to clear everyone out."
"You don't need to do that –"
"Please, shut up. This isn't tea and sympathy I'm offering. Pizza and wine, if anything. Have a seat on the bench there." He stared at her, afraid to move, afraid he had come with the ulterior motive of her good graces, and that he really was a selfish prick. She pressed her hand to his chest and gave him a shove. "Have. A. Seat." Into the kitchen and back out again to thrust money in his hand. "For the pizza."
"Where's the dog?" he asked, examining the bits of her life on display in the lounge. His nose was scrunched up, and she noted the freckles more than she had before, the way his brown eyes squinted a little behind the lenses of his glasses. His hair stuck out more on one side than the other. He'd removed his overcoat and tossed it on a chair. It was on the floor now, but he hadn't noticed.
"In the shed, recharging." She flipped back the lid of one of the boxes. "Do you want meat or veggie?"
"Both! You've won awards!" He looked at her, grinning his delight then back to the award in its cheap frame. "Recognition from your peers. You're all successful and stuff."
"I won that a long time ago."
"Oh wow! Look at this! Books! You've written books!"
The excited declarations were wearing on her nerves. "Just the two," she said, modulating her voice carefully in hopes of dialing his down a notch.
"Two books! That's amazing."
"They didn't sell."
"Money. Bah, what sort of quality indicator is that for art?"
"The kind that appeals to publishers."
He continued to wander, his fingers brushing along walls, over the bottles and glasses where she'd set up the bar, dragged across the spines of more books on more bookshelves, tickling paintings, caressing lamps, dancing over the flames of candles until coming to rest on the mantle. "It's a picture of Harry!" He glanced over his shoulder, looking terribly earnest. "I'm going to look him up when I leave here, and tell him I love him."
"Oh…kay. That should be fun."
"Who're these people with you?" He indicated another photo. For a second she didn't know what people he was talking about. She hardly noticed it the picture anymore.
"The woman is Naima Dante. And the man is Hollis Blessing." She peered at it, filled with a sudden painfully wistful longing for those days, her and Hollis tanned nearly as dark as Naima in her natural state, all of them dusty and smiling. "Hollis was my photographer on some pieces I did, and Naima translated for me when we were in Egypt."
"You're all so full of passion and adventure here. It just leaps out of the picture."
"Yes, well, we had a lot of passionate adventures together. Hollis and I were lovers. He left me for Naima. They've been married for fifteen years."
"Oh," he said, very obviously searching his brain for the appropriate thing to say.
"I'm their son's godmother."
"Oh. Well, that's all right then."
"1999," he said, halfway through the Veggie Extra Cheese, "seventh me steps out of the TARDIS in the middle of a gang fight in Chinatown. Bam! Shot in the heart. Eighth me wakes up in a hospital morgue wearing nothing but a toe tag. Morgue attendant thought I was the second coming of Jesus, poor sod. Don't think he was a believer before that." She was laughing, but in horror at the events or delight in the telling, she didn't know anymore. "Then, let's see…I kissed a beautiful woman, and saved the universe. Started a trend, apparently. People were always wanting to kiss me after that. You would have liked that body I think."
"What happened to him? You? That one?"
"Had a good run. Crap ending." When it became clear he wasn't going to share more than that, she asked, "And the one before this one?"
His sudden smile dazzled, took her breath, and his eyes were shining so brightly it made her ache. "Rose killed me." And he told her the story of that instead.
" – it's tied to their cultural identity, the prosperity of the family --"
"So was slavery way back when! You're not a fan of that!"
"I didn't say I was a fan of infibulation!"
"Little girls, under the knife in unsanitary conditions—"
"Aargh, I knew I should've kept my mouth shut—"
"— and if they don't die from the surgery, they die when their husbands cut them open for the wedding night. And for what? So men can feel more secure about who's the daddy? It'd be laughable if it wasn't so archaic and barbaric and bloody criminal!"
"There are worse things in the universe than misguided ritual scarification in the name of religion."
"If you say so. You're the expert on the universe."
"That's me," he muttered into his glass.
"Well, I can only address the things I'm aware of, here and now, on my little planet. The universe is your purview."
"I've cocked it up recently, so you might want to start looking after some of it yourselves. Just saying."
"Hold on. I thought you implied you'd saved us all. Again. In the recurring Christmas miracle starring you as Baby Jesus."
"What? You can't even cast me as one of the Wise Men?"
"Don't play that, I mean it."
"But it's a really good song. If you'd just listen—"
"Yeah, afraid I'm going to have to put my foot down on this. U2 yes. Coldplay no."
"I fell into a burning ring of fire. I fell down, down, down, and the flames got higher and it burned, burned, burned – "
"And heeerrrre am I sitting in a tin can, hiiigh above the world. Planet earth is blue and there's nothing I can do. Duh dun duh duh duh, duh duh DUN. This is ground control to Major Tom… "
" – and I won't get any older now that angels wanna wear my red shoes. Red shoes, the angels wanna wear my red shoes, red shoes–"
They were in the middle of the chorus on the third replay of that one when Mrs. Jarvis from next door called and threatened to send the police round.
"It's a bit…Bridget Jones in Space," he commented, flipping the pages of her novel, glasses clinging precariously to the tip of his nose.
"I'm sure they would have happily promoted it that way were it not for the fact it was published three years prior to Bridget Jones's Diary."
He turned to the front of the book. "Oh, so it was," and proceeded to skip back and forth through the text, making hmm noises, and ah, and huh, and oh reallys, until it was all she could do not to snatch it out of his hands and hit him over the head with it. Instead she asked, "How'd you cock it up?"
"The universe? How do you cock up a universe? I mean you keep alluding to something very big and tragic, but—"
"Rose being dead isn't big and tragic enough for you?"
She closed her eyes. "God, I am so sorry, Doctor. I should've –"
"She isn't dead. Neither is Mickey."
"You – you! Why'd you let me go on believing it?"
"No one's supposed to know. No one can know." He shot her a glance that made it clear he hadn't trusted her with the information before this point. "She's dead as far as anyone here is concerned, and that's the way it has to remain."
But the timing of his confession was suspicious. Stirred a depth of rage in her that went rushing up along her spine, and was on the way out the top of her head when something in his expression made it go poof. "I'll never see her again," he said. "Not ever. Not unless I do something really stupid, stupider than what I've already done. I only did that because you told me I should." This last was muttered under his breath, almost petulantly. He was blaming her?
"You actually did something I told you to? Find that hard to believe."
"Ha ha. Yes. I said goodbye. It took a feat of engineering that must never be repeated and shouldn't have been attempted, and that I am embarrassed even to be reminded of in the first place, but I did it. That closure bit you were harping on about. I said goodbye. It didn't make her happy. I think-I think I may have made things worse. For her."
"It usually doesn't make people happy, Doctor. It merely allows them to move on."
"Oh. Wish you'd mentioned that part before."
"Wouldn't you want her to move on then? I mean, if you couldn't ever be together?" She tried hard not to give added emphasis to any word in that sentence. But then it hit her. Like a bleeding clout on the head. "Oh, it all becomes clear. The real reason you've come here tonight. Not because you said goodbye, but because you didn't say something else, and now you can't."
"That's not why," he said quietly. But he didn't look at her when he said it. His knee began to bounce, fingers drumming on his thigh. Then he got up and started rifling through her DVDs.
They were watching the crew of the Nostromo wake from hypersleep when he put his hand on her knee.
"What are you doing?"
"Petting your dress. I love velvet. I used to have a velvet jacket."
"I know. I remember."
"You do, don't you?" He said it with such a sense of wonder that she wondered if he remembered what that jacket looked like. "I actually had two," he said. "Velvet jackets."
"I don't recall you spending a lot of time petting yourself in the one."
"Well, I hardly ever got to do what I liked back then."
The petting was quite nice, she had to admit; a gentle rhythmic stroking along the nap of the fabric then up again, against the nap in a way that rucked the skirt up a little more with each pass of his hand. Nice in ways she wasn't prepared to acknowledge quite yet. She picked up his hand and gently dropped it onto his own lap. "Get your own velvet."
He had one hand over his eyes, fingers spread so he could see what was happening anyway, and her hand clasped tight in his other one, and even though they both knew what was coming because they'd seen it dozens of time already, they both jumped.
"Gah!" "Jesus! Oh shit! Shit!" "Ew, ew, ew."
She hit him in the chest. "Why did you make me watch this?"
"This is still the best one, bar none! Oh! Could we watch Predator next?"
"Why have you got all these films about nasty aliens?"
"Why do you like watching them?"
"Right. Who's up for Bollywood?"
The doomed love of Jai and Rhada was making her twitchy, especially since she knew they'd never be able to consummate their doomed love. Or even get married. "Seriously, though," she said. "How do you cock up an entire universe? And why haven't I noticed it's cocked up?"
"Because you have a tiny human head."
"Oh. So it's something too vast for my tiny human head to comprehend, then?"
"Well, Sarah Jane, it is the Universe after all."
"Perhaps you could explain it to me using very small words that will fit inside my head."
"No. Stop asking."
"You know I can't"
"Curse you and your pesky girl-reporter instincts," he said, shaking a fist at her. His other fist poured more wine into his glass then waved the bottle at her by way of a query. She shook her head. He took a drink. "Fine. Like this. First you try to save the universe. Then you try to stitch together the shredded pieces that are left after you've saved it using surgical techniques the cosmic equivalent of infibulation. Nothing can get in or out unless it's got a big knife or a really big head." He dropped his own head into his hands with a moan. "I used irony quotes. Kill me now."
"But what happened? Why did you have to save the universe in the first place?"
"I'm always saving the universe."
"One planet at a time usually. With, you know, a sonic screwdriver, a ball of string, and your big gob."
"I was younger then. I carried more stuff in my pockets. And things got a lot more complicated." He paused, chewing on his lower lip. Then he sighed. "There was a war. A really big war. The kind of really big that make words like 'really' and 'big' seem very silly. Ball of string approach, charming, but ineffectual. Although… I did defeat the Sycorax with a well-aimed Satsuma. Your Prime Minister finished the job by blowing them the hell up. And I don't want to talk about this anymore. Have you got any biscuits?"
She went to the kitchen, brought back a packet of All Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies from M&S.
"Ooh, who's my little crack pusher, then? You are." He tore open the bag with his teeth.
"Shouldn't you talk about it though? I mean, you might have PTSD. You could need counseling."
"If you knew how incredibly stupid an idea that is you'd be prostrate with embarrassment right now."
"You could go off the deep end any minute, start lobbing Satsumas at the average citizen on the street."
"Sometimes I want to. Oh, we should do that tomorrow!"
"Have you ever talked about it?"
"I never told anyone before Rose."
He sighed, feeling deeply put upon that he was required to indulge her all-too-human pettiness. "Look. Told her the same thing I told you. Pretty much. War. Everyone dies, blah, blah blah." He bit into a cookie and closed his eyes, chewing with orgasmic pleasure. When he opened them again, she had her arms crossed over her chest, mouth all pinchy. It made her look old. "Anyway. It's not the same with you."
"Right. Got it." She turned away. He grabbed her arm and tugged her down to sit beside him.
"I don't want you to know," he said, carefully, looking hard into her eyes. "You'll look at me differently. You'll think of me differently."
"How can you say that? And why did none of this matter with her?"
"She didn't know me already! Don't you understand? I want to be who I was when you knew me best. Can I be that please? Just for a little while?" He handed her a cookie. "Stop picking at my scabs."
"What are you doing?"
He opened one eye, and saw her two eyes looking back. "I believe your people call it snogging. Kissing. Locking lips. Swapping spit. Tongue wrasslin'"
His tongue tasted buttery, and chocolate chunky. She'd actually let it in long enough to taste what was on it. "I mean. Why?"
"Do you not want me to?"
"Do you think I want you to?
"I want to."
" If you don't want me to then you say no."
"It's not that I don't. Exactly. I'm just suspicious of your motives."
"Er... what motives do you suspect?"
"You're using me to escape your troubles. You're using me because you're sad and miss someone else. You're trying to distract me from my pesky girl-reporter tendencies. Or you think you're doing me a favor. Somehow."
"Wow. Those are a lot more complicated than my reasons.
"What are they?"
"Because I always wanted to."
"So you decide now is the right time? I'm fifty-four for God's sake! And you look… really young. I mean, young, young. It makes me feel like a filthy old lady."
"You're fifty-four not ninety-four! Not as if you're going break a hip falling off of me."
She pulled back with a startled laugh. "You're awfully damned sure of yourself. What makes you think I'll be in a position to fall off of you?"
"Figure you liked to be on top," he said, and leaned in to kiss her again.
"Oh. Oh. What are you doing there?"
"Yoga," she said, pressing her thighs tight along his rib cage and rising up slightly.
"Yoga! Yes! Okay! Don't be alarmed if I scream at some point."
"Wow," he laughed, somewhere, down there, in the country between her legs, "You're so… really…bossy."
"Well, if you'd take some of the more subtle hints – "
"Don't get huffy. Come on, come back. I like it. Spurs to the flanks, cracking the whip."
"There's a joke I could make right now –"
"I've already made it in my head. Boss me around some more. Go on."
"Not how the scenario usually works, cowboy."
"What's yer pleasure, ma'am?"
"There you go."
"Oh, Sarah, oh no, nonono, what's the matter?" She squeezed her eyes shut trying to stop the tears sliding down the sides of her face. "Am I hurting you?"
She shook her head, afraid to open her eyes.
"Yes, well, I can't really do this if you're crying."
She blinked, sniffed, and blurry-eyed reached up to cup his cheek in her palm. "No, it's all right. This is- this is nice. Thank you."
"Don't thank me. Don't, don't—" And though his body hadn't moved to do it yet, she could sense him pulling away. She clutched at his biceps, the sharp angles of shoulder blades, digging in with her nails, and her will. But she couldn't stop crying for some reason.
"It's just- it's just that I forgot." Joy buried, struggling to the surface. "I forgot. How could I have forgotten?"
"Forgot what?" he whispered. There was something small and terrified in his voice. His arms, holding himself still, above her, started to tremble. "What have you forgotten?"
She looked into eyes that were different eyes than she remembered, and for a quivering moment she could see all the way inside. Who you are, she answered. His hearts jigged to a rhythm, the periphery of her awareness, but something always present, always now. Who he was hovered in the ether, tethered briefly to her womb, to the earth, his little backwater.
He gasped, shuttered his eyes, closed the window, and at the same time lowered his head like bull, and with a grunt, pushed in deeper and started to move faster. Who he was slipped away until he was just a man working his frantic way to climax, his body sliding over and inside her, and the sweet heavy weight of him, and skin to skin, the strange delightful curve of his cock stroking her just right, just there.
It was something else she'd forgotten, and only then, in that moment, remembered.
"More," she said. "Harder.
"It's like…okay." He put an arm around her, wriggling in anticipation of whatever supposition he was about to make. "Suppose you have a friend, a close friend. You share drinks and laughs and maybe passionate overwrought conversations about, oh, Gloria Steinem or something—"
"Yes, because the feminist manifesto decrees that every conversation must include at least one mention of Gloria Steinem."
"Fine, Camille Paglia, Andrea Dworkin, you pick." She groaned and rolled her eyes. "Anyway, what I'm getting at is you think you know this person based on the drinks and the laughs and the conversations, and then one day she lets slip that she was, I dunno, raped and tortured in a Columbian prison. Suddenly, an event that happened to her ages ago, now colors every interaction between you from that moment on."
"Is that what happened to you?"
"You don't actually expect me to remember how many prisons I've been tortured in, do you?"
"Have you ever been raped?"
"Erm…depends on how you define it. Possibly. Sort of. Doesn't matter. You're missing the point. And we're not talking about me."
"Of course we're not"
"Point. It could be any tragedy sufficient in scale. Could be her parents were murdered in front of her when she was child, and the killer was never caught. Could be she was married to a serial killer for twenty years and never even suspected. Maybe she committed acts of genocide against her own race. Or she shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Point is, after that revelation, nothing is the same between you. You can't laugh and make jokes and get all passionate about the things you used to get passionate about, not without this gargantuan horror crowding the space between you. It alters your perception of that person irrevocably."
He pulled her closer, squeezed tight to his chest, so tight she heard vertebrae pop. "They never see you the same way again," he said softly. "They can't. It's impossible. Because every time they look at you they're trying to see the scars under the surface of the skin. And every time you laugh, they're listening for the pain beneath it, even when there isn't any— what?"
She squirmed enough for him to ease up on his grip, and said, "Significant pronoun shift at the end there. You might want to be aware of that since you're not talking about you. Also, I think you're missing the point. About friends."
"Oh, am I?"
"Yes. A good friend, given time, will stop seeing scars under the skin, and pain underneath the sparkling wit because all that pain, all those scars, those are part and parcel of the whole person that is her friend. It's like a cicatrix. After a while, we stop looking and just… see. Our friend."
Silence. Then, "I have a strawberry mark shaped like witch's hat on my right hip."
"If you did, it rubbed off."
"Damn it!" Pause. "Is there any pizza left?"
"We're too bony for this!"
"Stop. Stop. Oh god, this isn't going to work."
"Wait, maybe if I – Gah! It's like trying to rub wet sticks together to make fire. Ow. Ow. Ow! Abort! Abort!"
She collapsed onto the bed laughing so hard she could barely breathe.
"Come with me!"
Sarah Jane awoke mid-air, mid bounce, stomach fluttering like she was on a funpark ride, heart pounding, and the bile rising to her throat. As soon as she'd stopped bouncing, she grabbed a fistful of pillow and started beating him with it. "You shit! You sodding bastard! Don't you ever sleep?"
"Hee, hee," he said, ducking and dodging. "You know what I say about sleep." Bounce, bounce, bounce.
"Whatever it is, if you say it, I swear to god I will beat you with your shoes." She flung herself onto her back, and jerked the sheets over her bruised, and sticky body. "Stop jumping on my bed. It's suffered enough."
"Not until you say you'll come with me." He crawled over to her, trying to entice her with the sexy.
"You're naked with glasses on."
"I was reading the paper."
"Tell me you didn't go outside to get it. Not like that."
"They know you've had a man in." Bounced on all fours. "Come with me, Sarah Jane Smith, you know you wanna."
"God, you're such a child."
"A child who's had lots and lots of sex. Pretend I never said that."
"Gladly. My head. Oh my god. If there's coffee, I'll be your best friend."
"I'll make some." He leapt off the bed with the same sort of bound that got him on it. She realized too late he might misinterpret what "be your best friend" meant in this case.
"You're coming with me, right?"
"No. Same reason as before."
"The reason before was that I didn't need you, and now I do."
"Doctor," she began. She wanted to add something like sweetheart or darling because she did love him very much and that hadn't changed at all, and she wanted to impress that upon him before letting him down. But none of the words seemed appropriate, and she thought it unlikely they'd stick to his slippery surface anyway. "Doctor," she began again—
I can't go with you. I think maybe I don't want to, but that's not the reason I can't. I still have a lot of work to do here, and my life's half over as it is. You can save us from monsters, but we've really got to get busy if we're going to save us from ourselves. So go out and find yourself a nice twenty-year old with great tits and energy to spare who can—
"I committed genocide," he blurted, right there over his coffee. And her world stopped turning for the tiniest fraction of a second.
"I didn't mean for it to come out quite like that."
Sarah Jane breathed into her center, stillness in the center. In. Out side, birds were greeting the sun, and in side a man was turning a spoon in a cup, round and round and out bright, cold, morning and in hot cup of coffee.
"There was a war," he said. "We lost. We lost so much that we no longer exist as a people, Time Lords. Erased from continuity, you might say. And that's a shame really, because however arrogant and self-involved we were, we were still a people. We had children, and lovers, and cousins, and schoolmates, and enemies, and neighbors we didn't quite care for but nevertheless spoke politely to over the fence. We had outlaws, and rebellions, and presidents, and science, and art, and all those things that make a society whether it's good or bad. And you, Sarah Jane, you may be the only one who remembers anything true about us at all, and sad to say, I'm the one who told it to you and I probably lied.
"So, now I'm going to tell you all about us, even though you might not be able to hold it in your head – not because it's a small head, although it is, but only because you're still evolving." He smiled gently, so that she'd know he really did love her very much and that hadn't changed at all, and he wanted to impress that upon her before—
"Let me get my tape recorder," she said.